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Dealing With Annoying Co-workers In An Open Office

10/06/2014 01:52 EDT | Updated 10/06/2014 01:59 EDT
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If you work in an open space, you know how difficult it can be to have bad neighbours — co-workers — who don't seem to realize there are unspoken rules in an office to which everyone must adhere.

Last week, France celebrated "work neighbours day" and in honour of this holiday, and to recognize the people you are likely to spend more time with than your own family, Huffington Post France pulled together a list of the ones who, well, make each day a challenge. Here are the most feared types of people in open-space offices, and how you might be able to improve their performance.

1. The one who smells bad

According to a TNS survey published in 2013, the stinky co-worker accounts for 32 per cent of the worst office neighbours. It also poses a nightmare for human resource managers and leaders. How do you tell one of your employees their smell bothers others? Can you do it without offending them?

According to Maureen Anderson, a radio host in the United States, the risk is worth it. When she mustered up the courage to tell a colleague that his body odour was a problem, the situation was quickly fixed. Even if you never speak again, you may help solve the problem. Executive coaching specialist Tom Preston, in an interview with the Telegraph, advises people to be frank as well. As difficult as it may be, ask the person to lunch and tell them gently. Leaving deodorant on someone's desk, however, has never worked, he adds.

2. The one who talks too much (and often, too loudly)

This is one of the main problems in an open work space: the continuous noise and constant discussions. Like it or not, there's rarely such a thing as a professional environment without overhearing someone's personal confessions. Besides the lack of privacy, it can cause a problem for others' concentration.

So how do you tell a talkative colleague to be quiet ? According to Allison Green, a manager and author of a blog that answers readers' questions about managers, you must find other people who are also bothered by the noise, and then plan to speak on behalf of them, quietly and diplomatically. Asking them to be a little quieter so that you can get work done is an understandable request.

Green also suggests investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, which can block out the noise and send a clear message.

3. The one who is always complaining

They are never happy. First thing in the morning, their footsteps are heavy. When asked something (anything!), they sigh. To hear them speak, nothing will ever work, ever. Do what you can to cheer them up in the morning, and try to have lunch with them. Studies have shown that a work environment where there is a bad atmosphere has a negative impact on the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of the people who work there. It's important not to let the situation stick around.

According to human resources expert Susan Heathfield, the best way to start is by listening to the person's fears and problems. Beware though, "your role is not to provide therapy or counselling," she says. Direct the person towards a human resources manager or their superior if the problem seems long-term. Sometimes colleagues just need an ear for a few minutes.

If it's taking up too much of your time, however, you have to put up barriers. Be honest with your colleague and tell them if you don't agree with the negative feelings they're having, especially when related to work.

4. The jukebox

To live for music is one thing. To impose it on others is another. This colleague can't work without their music, at least the music that they choose. And in their opinion, music isn't played at a low volume. Even when they use their headphones, you can hear the noise coming out, while the employee hums and even plays the beat along on their desk. You sit and steam, waiting for the day when you finally get mad enough to unplug the headphones and yell at them for their questionable taste in music.

Before doing anything, you must first measure the damage. It's better to work alongside someone who is happy than a person who spends all their time complaining (see above). Before talking to your boss, it's better to take the problem to the source, advises workplace journalist Chris Penttila. Sometimes music lovers don't realize the noise they're generating in their open office. But if that doesn't work, head to the boss for a discussion.

5. The one who is hungry all the time

Initially, it is rather nice. They're hungry and they think of others. They bring breakfast and sometimes buy candy in the afternoon. But sitting next to them means listening to chewing from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. You see the crumbs accumulate on their keyboard and the cups stack up on their desk. And selfishly, they also throw all of your own good intentions out the window. You leave the apple you brought as a snack in your bag and thankfully accept the package of goodies on offer.

It's hard to argue with good intentions. All you can do is try the sweets and explain you're holding off until lunch or dinner. Don't accept the treats more than half the time, and guard your own homemade cake from hungry eyes.

6. The one with two jokes in their repertoire

Every Monday, it's always the same. You ask, "How are you?" and they invariably reply, "Like a Monday." And every Monday, you force a smile. At night, if you decide to leave a little earlier than usual, they throws you a terrible "Taking an afternoon?" But at least you can be prepared — you have the advantage of being able to plan your response.

A developer forum sought the best answers to these small struggles, such as "Yes, like you took your morning," or "If you're so worried about when I leave, you must not be that busy. Maybe you should take an afternoon too" (though that one is a bit long). In any case, if your colleague's comments aren't funny, just don't laugh — otherwise, it will only encourage them.

7. The one who corrects all your spelling mistakes

"You know, 'who' is when the pronoun is a subject of a clause, while 'whom' is when the pronoun is the object of a clause," they explain without looking up. "But it's not complicated if you just remember to ask yourself whether the word can be replaced with 'he,' or 'him.'"

The problem is that in both cases, you didn't ask this co-worker anything. Sure, you may be happy to know that helpful hint, but it came out of nowhere. And the knowledge doesn't stop with spelling and grammar. This "friend" knows everything. When you have a computer problem, they're the first to stand behind your computer, trying to figure out why it's so slow.

You could try to to beat them at their own game — they may know the pronouns, but what about passive voice? But you know that will just end in frustration. If and when you have a problem, try to solve it yourself, don't mention it out loud, or discreetly ask another competent but less condescending colleague to help you.

8. The one who is way too quick to anger

You hear them breathing loudly. They ruminate. They mutter insults. And then they can't hold it back any longer and they start kicking things, breaking the computer that was giving them problems in the first place, and only serving to anger them further. This co-worker is known for their brief, but violent, outbursts.

Ask your colleagues if they also find the anger excessive. According to professional negotiator Clive Rich, you can also try to understand anticipate when it will happen and figure out an approach. You can also use statements to draw their attention to their aggressiveness, such as "I'd like this conversation to be based on reason, not threats." If it continues, talk to your manager.

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