How to Tolerate Working With Obnoxious People

Three Parts:Learning How to Cope With Obnoxious PeopleAddressing the SituationChanging Your Perspective

It is a sad reality that nearly all work places have one or two problem co-workers. The woman that won't shut up, the chick with nasty breath and the dude that cackles like a moron. Whoever's the culprit at your job, dealing with this person can actually be easier than you think.

Part 1
Learning How to Cope With Obnoxious People

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    Try deep breathing. If you have a coworker who is really rattling your cage, you need a few relaxing tools you can count on to keep from losing your head. Remember, this is your work place, and you don't want to make a scene or get fired from your job. Practice a quick deep breathing exercise before you come into contact with the obnoxious person, or do it afterwards if he/she has really gotten under your skin. Plus, the cool thing about deep breathing is you can perform the exercise right at your desk without anyone being the wiser.
    • Sit comfortably and erect in your desk chair or in your car (before entering the workplace). Place a hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Take a deep, cleansing breath in. Notice your stomach expanding (your chest should only move a little). Hold the breath for a few counts and then let the breath out and pay attention to your stomach deflating beneath your hand.[1]
    • Repeat this exercise several times for a relaxing calm in the workplace, or wherever you need it.
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    Take breaks. That annoying coworker can seem a lot more annoying if you aren't getting any breaks away from him. Make sure you take advantage of every break opportunity you have to get away from the office, or at least get the opportunity to rest and recharge. Even small breaks - think 2 minutes every hour - can have a huge impact on your well-being.[2]
    • Phone a friend who does not work with you and chat for a few minutes. Grab your cell and play a round or two of Candy Crush Saga. Or, simply drop your head and take a quick doze (if that's approved at your office).
    • If you had more break time, maybe you wouldn't be so sensitive to minor annoyances from your coworkers.
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    Use your headphones. Do you have a coworker who has a cringe-worthy laugh, or worse, one that snorts? Bring a pair of headphones along to work and create a playlist that tunes out your obnoxious coworker. Research shows that just about any songs are effective at boosting productivity for repetitive, monotonous work. However, songs that incorporate sounds from nature are especially helpful at more creative or demanding tasks. Just be sure to pump your music at a moderate level as high volume music can actually be distracting.[3]
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    Vent to someone outside the office. It can be tempting to divulge all you wish you could do to that awful coworker over lunch or at the water cooler with some of your friends at the office. Don't give in to the temptation. It's simply more professional to talk about the coworker who is annoying you to an impartial listener.[4]
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    Leave yourself notes or reminders to stay cool. If you often find yourself irritated throughout the day because your coworker turned in documents with coffee stains or totally ignored the firm deadline for her paperwork, give yourself reminders to stay cool. Add a post-it to your desktop that reminds that "this, too, shall pass" or download a wallpaper that says "keep calm and carry on". Just seeing such helpful reminders can keep you focused on the tasks at hand, and not lose minutes or hours of your productivity fuming about what your coworker did.
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    Find an anchor word or phrase.[5] Similar to leaving yourself notes or reminders, you can also select an inspiring word or phrase that reminds you to not let the office nuisance get to you. Rather than reacting to your fellow staff member when he tells an inappropriate joke, repeat your anchor word like a mantra: "compassion, compassion, compassion" or "calm, calm, calm". Do this until the urge to react dissipates.
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    Ask to be moved elsewhere.[6] If your coworker is becoming so aggravating that you cannot focus on your job, or you find all of the other tips aren't helping, you should speak with your boss about changing the location of where you work. A change in environment a few cubicles over might be all you need to return your work life to state of balance.

Part 2
Addressing the Situation

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    Pick your battles. You simply can't take on every single issue that comes up in relation to the obnoxious person(s) at your work. If you are constantly whining to your supervisor or the person in the cubicle next to you, eventually no one will want to hear what you have to say. Ask yourself if every issue is worth discussing or making a comment on.
    • If the issue is not detrimental to your well-being or the well-being of the company, pass on it. Also, if you decide to speak up about it, be sure you have a recommended solution and aren't just pointing out the problem.[7]
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    Be discreet when you confront your coworker. If and when you do decide to speak to this person about their behavior or habits, do so in private. Pull the person aside and ask if you can have a moment of his time. Calmly state the issue, using "I" statements, and conclude with a possible solution to the problem.
    • For example, say "I am frequently distracted from my work by your snickering. I know you probably don't even know it's distracting, so I was wondering if we could try to have me signal you when you're doing it and then you can either go in the break-room or outside when we're joking around."
    • Addressing the issue in this way allows you to take ownership for your feelings and minimizes the likelihood of your coworker getting angry or offended.[8]
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    Use your work as an excuse. It can seem straight-up mean to ask a coworker to stop doing something just because we don't like the behavior. Lean on your work as a crutch in such situations. Say to the obnoxious person, "Hey, X, I am really in a crunch on this project and your music is making it hard for me to focus. Could you please turn it down/off?" You are there to work, after all.
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    Speak up about improving habits in the next meeting.[9] This is one way you can alleviate the nuisance of your coworker without actually pointing the finger at a specific person. In the next office meeting, raise your hand and offer up a suggestion that can improve everyone's productivity in the office (and get rid of the problem behavior).
    • Suggestions might include: everyone bringing headphones if they want to listen to music, being mindful of gender, cultural, racial, or other differences when telling jokes, restricting non-work related conversations to the break room, etc.
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    Talk to your supervisor one-on-one. Ask your boss for a bit of time, and discuss the problem you're encountering with your coworker if the problem continually get worse. It is also important to have a record of your complaint, particularly if your obnoxious coworker is doing something against company regulations, such as harassing you or others.

Part 3
Changing Your Perspective

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    Try to listen. This may seem counter-intuitive to what you want to do, but strive to listen to the annoying person. Frequently, when we find another person obnoxious, we have the tendency to discount what he or she says. Face it, we all have some annoying qualities. Those qualities shouldn't, however, negate our strengths in other areas of life. Challenge yourself to really listen to your coworker and get his or her perspective.
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    See this person through new eyes.[10] Get to know him/her better. As one quote puts it, "there isn't a person you wouldn't love, if you knew their story". Make the decision to learn more about the coworker that has been getting under your skin.
    • Ask the person out for coffee, lunch, or after-work cocktails, depending on how appropriate that is. Tell him/her that work is off the table for conversation and that you have been wanting to get to know him. Ask about your coworker's family, hobbies, and/or childhood. Talking to this person about non-work stuff could actually make him more interesting (and less annoying), since you have only ever know him through one context.
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    Ask yourself are you seeing his/her annoying habits in yourself. Sometimes, we see bad traits in others more clearly because we share the same traits. There's a possibility that your coworker gets under your skin because he or she is doing something that you also do. Perhaps this is a trait that you have been picked on about, or others have gotten on your case about in the past. Are you being fair to this person or are you projecting a dislike you have about yourself onto him?
    • Research has shown that when we believe we have a negative trait we are more likely to identify this same trait in others.[11] You could be annoyed by your coworker simply because the person is doing the same annoying thing you do.
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    Set a good example.[12] Surely, there is something about your own work habits that could be improved. Aim to focus on bettering yourself rather than nitpicking about every single irritating thing your coworker does. If this person often interrupts others' conversations, model respectfulness by using the appropriate manners in conversation. Maybe your good behaviors will rub off on your coworker.
    • You can also set an example for other coworkers who often nag or complain about your coworker being obnoxious. Demonstrate respect for all your coworkers, and others may follow suit.


  • You can get a bad reputation with co-workers if you regularly go to management rather than deal with problems yourself.

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Categories: Interacting with Colleagues