How to deal with annoying colleagues

THE OFFICE ROBBER

Okay, they're not really thieves; they just have a penchant for "borrowing" stationery from your desk, and then you never see it again. This may instil happiness if it were to happen with, say, some men in your life, but never for a beloved stapler or holepuncher that goes AWOL.

The antidote:

"This is easy to fix," says Jolene Yee, manager of corporate and secretarial support at Randstad Singapore, who looks after HR solutions. "When you first notice an item missing - and you know for certain that your colleague is the culprit - just be direct with them but make it light-hearted."

If you see them taking it, give them a cheeky "Don't forget to return that to me!" to demonstrate that their actions haven't gone unnoticed. "If you spot your stationery on their desk, simply say: 'That looks suspiciously like my pen/clipboard/stapler! I've been missing it sooo much! Please can I have it back?'" continues Jolene.

"And if all else fails, mark your initials on your goods so there's no doubt about what's yours. You can also cellophanetape your stationery to your desk one day as a 'joke'. This will definitely get the message across!"

THE LINGERER

You're deep in concentration in your cubicle, but you can't shake the feeling that someone nearby is watching you, waiting for a break in your concentration. And the moment that break comes, it's going to be The Lingerer who pounces and launches into a conversation about their dodgy leg/sister's marital problems/latest home air-con disaster.

The antidote:

"The best defence against ThLingerer is to always be prepared for their presence," warns Jolene.

"If you have a cubicle with a door, then you're sorted; but if not, putting your earphones in can deter others from interrupting when you're wearing them."

However, if this doesn't work, let them know you're rushing to complete a document for a meeting in half an hour, Jolene suggests. If they still don't get it, do not engage with the conversation. Instead, politely excuse yourself to "go to the bathroom".

As a last-ditch attempt, tell them that if they're light on work, they could take a few tasks off your hands. You won't see them for dust!

15 annoying things colleagues do at work

  • You can take off your shoes at your seat. But when you have to walk around the office, not one person appreciates seeing (or smelling) your feet.
  • If you want to snack on durian or douse yourself in perfume, please do it in a part of the office where there are few people. You may like the scent of these items but not everyone wants to share these smells with you.
  • It is just rude to take what is not yours. Simple rule for the office pantry: If you didn't put it there - don't eat it!
  • People who gossip or chat about all things under the sun except work can be annoying. This is escalated when they talk so loudly and so often that everybody else can hear them.
  • Lazy colleagues who encounter paper jams at the copier cannot be bothered to even clear the jam. Instead, they walk off with their documents pretending it had nothing to do with them.
  • You can eat at the office but please clean up. If you don't, someone else will have to do it for you all the time. That's not too nice, is it?
  • Some workers who want the boss to see that they are doing work will go the extra mile and include their boss in every email. But this is annoying, especially when your boss does not need to know about every single discussion you are having with your colleagues.
  • They complain about work, they complain about the air-conditioning, and they even complain about the benefits they get! Complain queens and kings can zap the energy out of you the moment they start to talk.
  • Certain types of workers type so furiously all the time that you would think they are angry all the time. It can get annoying especially when you are trying to focus on your thoughts.
  • Those who eat loudly are even more annoying if they talk to you with their mouths full. Please chomp quietly or take your food to the pantry.
  • Some colleagues dress to work like they are going to a dance party. Even if you have an extremely hot bod, showing too much skin makes you look unprofessional, especially if you tend to talk to others in a flirtatious tone too.
  • Nobody liked the smarty pants in primary school and nobody likes the smarty pants at work either. Their pompous arrogance can come across as offensive and annoying.
  • When you are trying to concentrate and get work done, the most annoying thing is to have insensitive colleagues barge in without an apology or explanation. It is even worse when they come too close to you and bombard you with all sorts of information not related to you or your work.
  • They eat healthy all the time and get all their exercises down in the morning, but do they really have to tell you about it every day and worse - tell you to put down that curry puff in your hand and give you (unwanted) tips on how to be more like them?
  • Spreading your germs in office is not cool. To the colleague who works in office despite being ill - while you may come across as a workaholic, the colleague who gets infected by your virus will not appreciate your selfish behaviour. Wear a mask if you must go into the office. Otherwise, try and work from home if you need to get stuff done.

THE TOXIC TYPE

What's that you hear? An ongoing, ranty-esque din from someone who appears only to speak in the language of "moan". You name it, they'll gripe about it - their bad day, bad week, bad life…none of which are bad, by the way.

The antidote:

They say that misery loves company, and nothing brings down office morale more than the office whinger. If they're constantly complaining about the company, the boss, your co-workers, the canteen, their chair and everything else, Jolene says: "Don't agree! Appearing to side with their dissatisfaction may end up being a career-limiting move as people will associate you with them. Combat this by stating: 'I hear what you're saying, but I don't feel the same way.'

Once they understand you're not an ally, they'll find someone else to listen to them.

Extra tip: Mention a relevant, tragic news story to put their issues into perspective."

THE DJ

This is a work environment, not a place where you should be all loud, shouty, or replicate being in Zouk, circa 1998. Shush. Please.

The antidote:

Few things are as annoying as being subjected to other people's ramblings about what they ate for dinner last night, the list of ingredients and the cooking method. You can tell the direct recipient of all that information doesn't really care, and you - seated five cubicles away - certainly don't. Jolene recommends acting disengaged and refraining from making eye contact.

As for the overenthusiastic headphone wearer who's subjecting you to tinny versions of Kenny G classics along with their own personal Dubsmash, approach them and explain nicely that you're having trouble focusing.

If music at your workplace is the norm, suggest an office roster - and agree on the volume level.

6 types of toxic colleagues and how to deal with them

  • “My colleague uses foul language, criticises our work and makes us look incompetent. He says he’s ‘just honest and outspoken’.” – Karen*, 35, event planner
  • “My co-worker boasts about being close to the boss, making me feel like I’ll get into trouble if I don’t do as she says.” – Julia*, 38, accountant
  • Don’t share anything with her, says Ser Lee. “But be civil and maintain a good working relationship. Don’t step on her toes, but don’t allow her behaviour to affect your work either. Don’t feel pressured to take instructions from her. She may be close to your boss but she’s not the boss.”
  • “When my supervisor e-mails me, she copies the entire office. If I’m late for a meeting or make typos, everybody knows.” – Eva*, 30, production manager
  • E-mails should be on a need-to-know basis, says Paul Heng, founder and executive coach at Next Corporate Coaching Services in Singapore. “She could be trying to tarnish your image, or she’s lacking in e-mail etiquette.” Paul advises that you ask her not to copy the office on such e-mails and to let you know one-to-one if she’s displeased with your work.
  • “My colleague watches my every move because she fears being outdone. She’s doing all she can to get a promotion that’s up for grabs.” – Amelia Ho, 30, sales manager
  • “She seems unsure of herself, and it’s making her paranoid,” says Annemarie Cross, personal branding expert and career coach from Advanced Employment Concepts in Australia. “You’re doing something right, and this makes her nervous. Be wary about what you disclose to her; share only what is necessary for the team. If you get promoted, you may become her boss, which will change the dynamics.”
  • “My boss doesn’t allow for mistakes and hates it when we suggest better ways of doing things.” – Patricia*, 28, publicist
  • “Your boss takes her work very seriously – it is almost an extension of herself,” says Annemarie. “Her team’s results are a reflection of her, down to the smallest detail. Because she is averse to something going wrong, she is wary of trying anything new.” Propose changes in writing and back up your claims, Annemarie suggests. Present information early and explain the benefits.
  • “My co-worker only accepts instructions in black and white. She refuses to help unless the entire discussion is done via e-mail.” – Rebecca*, 36, marketing executive
  • “She’s afraid of getting into trouble, so she’s covering all her bases,” says Paul. “For minor matters, make it clear that you will discuss the issue in person or over the phone.” If she doesn’t ease up, Paul suggests telling her how her dogmatic working style makes the team feel like they are not trustworthy.

THE GLORY TAKER

You have great ideas, and you don't mind sharing them. After all, you work in a team. But there's this sneak who takes your brainwork and gains the glory - a wrong'un on all levels.

The antidote:

It takes courage to speak up when this happens, but nip it in the bud. "When they steal your thunder in front of your colleagues, say something like 'It's interesting you raised this because...', then continue to talk through the suggestion so others can see you've been involved," says Jolene.

"If you don't feel comfortable speaking up in front of everyone this way, confront the person and ask for an explanation. Saying 'I'm not sure if you're aware, but I contributed on that project too' should do the trick."

Jolene adds: "As a last resort, raise the issue with your boss, and copy your team on e-mails so they can see who's doing all the work."

This article first appeared in the Jan, 2016 issue of Her World. Her World, Singapore's #1 women's magazine, is now available in both print and digital formats. Log on to www.herworldplus.com to subscribe!

SERVICES