Welcome to “Dear Dana”, our Friday column to give you workplace advice and coaching. Please write in and tell me about a frustration you’re facing at the office! – Dana Theus
Dear Dana, I need help dealing with difficult people at work. I love my job. I’ve been with the same company for 8 years and have had great co-workers until this summer. My boss just hired a total jerk for our team and he sits next to me. So annoying! He’s loud and pushy like when I’m on the phone I have to make excuses for the background noise because he’s yelling over the cube wall to someone in the walkway. How does he not know this is inappropriate? Obviously his parents didn’t teach him any manners! What should I do? I have tried to talk to him but he just nods his head and keeps being a jerk. – Fuming in Savannah
Yuck. That sounds like a difficult situation all right. And I bet some days it makes you not want to go to the office at all.
Dealing with difficult people at work is… difficult. You may be right that his parents encouraged this behavior and/or never taught him better. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of trying to “parent” him. If he’s just nodding when you talk, you may be coming across like a parent who was ineffective, so whatever you’re doing to make him “just nod,” stop it. You’re just discrediting yourself in his eyes if it’s not having an impact.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t address this poor behavior directly. You absolutely should. As the one sitting next to him, you have a right to call him on behavior that impinges your ability to work effectively. There are a couple of things you should do, though, to increase the likelihood that he can “hear” you.
Step 1: Get to Zen
For all we know he enjoys pissing people off and when you’re pissed off he’s happy. So you have to address Mr. Annoying from a place of calm and focus. You can’t do this if you’re angry, annoyed or otherwise upset. So you have to let all that irritation go before you speak to him. If you read my blogs you know that I can be a broken record about the power of detriggering to help you get to Zen. But I’m a broken record for a reason. It totally works to help you get to a calmer place and let go of your anger and anxiety before you talk to him (or anyone). Do detrigger as many negative feelings you have towards him first.
Step 2: Make it About You
If you’ve been going to Mr. Annoying saying “stop yelling” and “your stuff keeps falling on my desk” or whatever, you’re verbally pushing him and his natural instinct will be to push back. But when you are more selfish about it and say “when you yell, it interrupts my phone calls and makes me feel stressed trying to manage the call well,” or “when your stuff falls on my desk, it messes up my organizational system and makes me feel sad and angry because I have to start over” you’re not pushing against him, your pulling him into your world and giving him a view into how hard he is to live with. The key is to share your feelings. This is an old relationship trick but it works because your feelings are your feelings and even Mr. Annoying can’t deny them.* He obviously has very little empathy so he’s not understanding this on his own. Being selfish helps give him a clue.
*Actually, because he’s a jerk maybe he can deny them, but only you can let that bug you.
Now you may say, “but I don’t want to give him a weapon by knowing how much he’s bothering me,” and I get that. It can feel vulnerable to reveal your feelings because you’re afraid he’ll know he’s getting under your skin (which we believe is his goal!). What’s worse is that if you’re not careful you can sound like a whiner. Here’s where detriggering comes in really handy. When you’re triggered, he IS under your skin. When you’re detriggered, he’s not under your skin; you’re just annoyed or angry and when you talk to him about it, he’ll understand how you feel but he’ll also understand he’s not “getting” to you, and you’re not going to accept this behavior anymore. He’ll hear in your manner that you’re going to continue to call him on it. It’s a subtle emotional shift, but it usually works.
Even if it doesn’t work, you’re still ahead because you’re not triggered and this will help you in dealing with difficult people at work in general, even if Mr. Annoying is a tough case. At that point you can take the issue to your boss or office manager by asking to be seated next to someone else. If you do this, don’t be afraid to explain exactly why you want to be elsewhere. Others have probably noticed his bad behavior and if they get too many complaints, the powers-that-be may take action. But when you ask for a new seat, be sure to be detriggered (so you don’t sound whiney) and remember to be selfish. Don’t complain about him, ask for a situation that will help you be more effective.
In situations like this, the real dialog – with Mr. Annoying and with everyone else – is happening at subconscious emotional levels. It’s not what you say but how you say it that will help you cope.
P.S. – Have a question you’d like anonymous support on? Write me!