How Can I Avoid Being Irritated By A Co-Worker?

Question:

It is my best intent to stay focused. Consciously, I want to be a good worker. But sometimes joking and/or taking the bait from another employee whom I feel is not helping the team 100% makes me very angry.

How do I dismiss these feelings, concentrate on my own work, and not get upset outwardly at other coworkers?

Signed,

Trying To Stay Positive


Answer:

Dear Trying To Stay Positive:

You pose the question that we all need to ask ourselves on occasion: How can I focus on my own work rather than on the irritating things done by others?

If there were a clear, easy to apply answer to that question, most of us would be happier and workplaces would be much more pleasant! Let me share two approaches that you might be able to adapt. 1. The first approach is one that is focused on the team and the organization. That isn’t as self-sacrificing as it sounds. It is true that employees are organizational assets, but it is also true that without a successful organization employees would not have paychecks.

Working as though you are the primary representative of your entire company will help you think of your clients and customers first and will remind you to do both the big and little things that help the business. That varies according to your business, but it might be cleaning up in an area or smiling and greeting customers as you see them. It might include straightening merchandise, checking inventory, walking a customer to an item he or she requests or simply engaging in appropriate conversation with a customer who wants to chat about a purchase.

When you combine concern for your company with concern for the success of your team or group, you begin to see it as a mix of personalities and skills, each with the potential to contribute something worthwhile. You may not think a co-worker is contributing enough, or you may view that he or she is creating problems. But, when you see yourself as a member of a team you can begin to realize that you are not responsible for the behavior or performance of others; you are only responsible for ensuring that your own behavior and performance does not create difficulties for them and that you are never lacking in your own work. There is a temptation to compare the actions of others with our own; nearly always to our credit and their discredit. The ironic thing is that they are thinking the same things about us! You can bet the employee you think is not contributing very much, isn’t going home and saying to her family, “I had a typical day at work: I didn’t do a good job and I was rude to my co-workers and made them miserable.”

Instead, she is likely saying, “I’m exhausted! I was busy all day and on top of that had to put up with Mary who once again acted like she was the only one working. What a pain!”

And while that is going on, a supervisor or manager may be thinking, “Carol and Mary are both good employees. Carol has some good points and so does Mary, and each has areas they could develop a little better. I wish I knew how to bring everyone together as a team.”

One way to think of everyone as a valuable member of your team is to think about what each day would be like if you were the only one working. Would you be able to do it all on your own? If you couldn’t, without sacrificing service or wearing yourself out, you know you need the others; even if they don’t always work to the level you think they should.

If you’re focused on valuing each team member and helping the organization, at least you’ll know you’re doing a good job. You also will be a model of effectiveness, without acting offensive or self-righteous about it. That is bound to be noticed by supervisors and managers and may help them see the lesser effectiveness of others. 2. The second approach to helping yourself stay out of the trap of obsessing about the poor work of others or the irritations they cause is to focus on your own behavior and performance as though you are being evaluated for employment, every day. This approach keeps you busy with your own development and also helps you demonstrate your value to the company. One way to do that is to occasionally view each day as a trial day on the job. Pretend it’s the morning of your trial day and you are being interviewed about what you can contribute and how you will behave and perform if you are hired. One of the questions you are asked is this, “What you will do if you encounter a co-worker with whom you don’t get along very well, or who doesn’t seem to be working to the level you consider correct, or with whom there seems to be communication problems?”

How would you answer? You know the interviewers would not be impressed if you answered, “If I have a co-worker like that, I don’t think I’ll be able to stay focused on my work. I’ll probably be so irritated and frustrated that I’ll get unhappy at work and start feeling I can’t do my job well.”

If you’d answer something better than that, apply your improved answer to real life! The next question is this, “We’re doing our best to have a great team, but there are one or two people here who we’re still working to develop fully. We acknowledge that you might have to work with those people, and sometimes they can be very irritating and frustrating. Knowing that, do you still want the job?”

What would you say? That will help you keep a perspective about how significant those irritations are, compared to your employment there. If, knowing what you know now, you wouldn’t have taken the job, you might want to consider looking elsewhere. If you would have felt the negative aspects would be outweighed by the positive aspects, that realization may help you deal with frustrations. Next, start your trial workday. Pretend there are secret evaluators who will be observing you throughout the day. Each has a rating form with the following categories: Interpersonal skills, customer service, support of management and the organization, team participation, fulfillment of job description, personal and professional role model. You may want to change or add to those, to fit your work.

You are aware that the secret evaluators can only give you a good rating in each category if you demonstrate something in the category. So, you make a point of doing so as often as possible. That means you not only have to watch how you act, but how you react. When a troublesome co-worker says something to irritate you, you are aware you are being observed. So, instead of showing your irritation by saying something back or obviously fuming, you handle it in a way that lessens conflict or confronts it and deals with it.

If a co-worker isn’t doing her share of the work, you know you’re being watched by the secret evaluators, so you either offer to help, fill in the gaps in work yourself, ask the co-worker if she would help you, or if the problem is critical, ask a supervisor for assistance.

As your day continues you do every task in that same way. You walk, talk and respond as though all of it were being observed and maybe even video-taped for later review.

At the end of the day, you evaluate yourself to see if you’d be hired or not. Or, if you were hired, might you also would be warned about some aspect of your behavior or performance?

Doing that will not only put your focus on your own effectiveness, it will remind you of the best way to handle work situations, compared to the gut-level responses you might be tempted to make.

It will also remind you that you certainly don’t want to give power to someone who you don’t respect. You want to show personal strength, without giving to others the power to make you unhappy.

Your trial workday will also remind you to develop stronger professional connections with those who are trying to do a good job, so you can support each other. And, you will work to be a model employee from a supervisor’s viewpoint.

The two approaches discussed here–focusing on the organization and the team, and focusing on your own work as though you are having a trial work day–are both ways to help you deal with frustrating, irritating, apparently ineffective co-workers. Perhaps these approaches will help you as you deal with the challenges you are currently facing.

You can’t dismiss all of your feelings, but you can accept that your feelings can be re-focused in ways that add to your work life. You can also remember that work is only part of your life. Spend time away from work gaining balance in your life.

If you have the opportunity and wish to do so, let us know what results as you develop and implement a plan of action.

Tina Lewis Rowe