What should I do about an annoying coworker?

Employees working in cubicles
Employees working in cubicles

Whether you have different opinions, personalities or even lifestyles, working near an annoying coworker can take a toll on your productivity and stress levels. Or, maybe it’s because you have different work styles or are working in a high stress environment that causes tension between employees. Either way, it’s a good idea to try to resolve the problem before you explode.

FIRST. Is there a legal issue?

The first thing you should do is figure out if this is a legal issue. Why you are annoyed? Is it just a loud, obnoxious employee, or are things being said to you that would be classified as discrimination or harassment? Discrimination and harassment are very serious issues and you should speak with management immediately. If management ignores your complaint and you still feel like you are being discriminated against or harassed, please refer to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and file a complaint or speak with an attorney. For this article, let’s assume you are not dealing with an EEOC issue and just find your coworker annoying.

SECOND. Involve management or do it yourself?

If you were to go directly to management, most would first encourage you to try to work it out for yourself. So, that’s what you should do. However, it you do not feel comfortable approaching your coworker, or you are uncomfortable with confrontation, speak with your manager. Tell your manager the issue and that you want to try to work it out, but are uncomfortable with confrontations. Ask your manager for guidance, including some talking points, on how to approach your coworker so that the situation ends positively.

THIRD. Best time to approach your coworker?

Before approaching your coworker, make sure your emotions are in check. As hard as it may be, DO NOT approach your coworker when you are angry. Your coworker will become defensive. Remember, this is not about who is right and who is wrong, but about coming up with a resolution. Approach your coworker when they are in a good mood, like on a Friday morning before any problems arise. If you both are in a good mood, there is a better chance for a civilized conversation.

FOURTH. The conversation.

After you have figured out the best time to approach your coworker, ask him or her if they have a few minutes to speak. You don’t want to assume that your coworker should drop everything for you. He or she is also just trying to get their work done. If there are other employees around, try to find a quiet location to speak with your coworker, like a conference room or empty office.

When speaking with your coworker, try not to put blame on him or her. Make the problem look like it’s yours, not theirs, even if it’s not. For example, instead of saying “you are always so loud, I can’t get any of my work done,” say something like “I have never been able to concentrate in loud environments. I know that’s not your issue, but was wondering if I could come to you when our work area gets too loud.” If your coworker doesn’t get the hint or he or she does not see a problem, agree to disagree and try to come up with a solution. In the example just given, you could agree that one of you suggest to management to move to a different cubicle.

If you cannot come up with a compromise, reach out to management. Tell your manager that you tried to address the issue and that you could not find a solution. Ask your manager if he or she would facilitate a conversation and assist in a solution.

If you take away anything from this article, remember not to approach your coworker when you are angry and to put blame on him or her. It is so easy to build up your frustrations and then explode. I promise you, you will get nowhere and will end up looking like the bad one.

The words and other content provided in the blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as professional advice (please read the Terms and Conditions for additional information).


Alicia Lillegard, Esq.

Alicia Lillegard has over 20 years of experience in employment law, human resources and insurance, working with with large blue chip companies, startups, and not-for-profit organizations. Ms. Lillegard is currently Managing Director of New England Human Capital, a human resources consultancy which advises small and midsize businesses on Human Resources compliance, including employment procedures, employee relations and employee benefits. She holds degrees from Loyola University Chicago and John Marshall Law School.

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