Sitting Next to Madness

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about annoying coworker:

I work in a normal office environment, for the most part. Business casual dress, light conversations. An environment with order but not too strict. It’s simple Data Entry so it’s nothing too challenging either. My day-to-day challenge is the woman I sit next to. She is usually dressed like it’s laundry day with stained clothes, ungroomed hair and mild body odor. But even with those things I am able to cope. It’s the fact that she is constantly talking to herself, twitching, pointing at things that aren’t there, laughing for seeming no reason, then gasping like she forgot to breathe several seconds later, dancing when she isn’t listening to music, constantly, and I do mean every 10 minutes, eating which may include dancing or more self-conversation and sucking on her teeth even more often, grabbing her chest, slapping her stomach, and many other random things that honestly worry me about her mental state.

I don’t even know how to begin to talk to my supervisor about these things because she makes her numbers and our office is already overloaded. She’ll just become a coworkers issue if moved and they may not be as reserved as I am. Also I’m not fond of the idea of my seat being changed as I’ve been bounced around the office many times over the last few years because of changing hours and condensing job functions. Do I try my best to deal with this or do I say something to my supervisor? And what do I say?

Signed, What Do I Say?

Dear What Do I Say?:

So far, I assume you have said nothing to her about her behavior. But I expect that you have vented your frustration about her to others; to coworkers, friends or family? I might be wrong in that, but it wouldn’t be unusual if you had. However, silence or venting obviously has not lessened her distracting behavior.You add to your distress, the thought that you don’t want to be moved from your current work station. Therefore, you pose the dilemma of working beside Ms. Challenge or voicing your irritation.

Close quarters demand reasonable rules and from your description it seems, from this distance, that Ms. Challenge is breaking the rules. Although you say data entry is “nothing too challenging”, you probably can appreciate for the need for some people assigned to data entry to do something else; to move one’s body such as by dancing, eat, listen to music, and laugh at nothing. If you don’t want to request transfer to another location, your options boil down to either joining Ms. Challenge in her doing something else, biting your tongue and holding your nose, or to voicing your frustration.

If you elect to do more that vent your frustration to Ask The Workplace Doctors or someone who will empathize with you, what should you say? Two choices I think you have considered are: 1. To voice your frustration directly to Ms. C. saying, “Sara, I Know you are a good worker and seem to have found a number of ways to deal with the stress of data entry, but do you realize that there are a number of things you do that I, who sit next to you, find very annoying? Also, I hate to mention it but I think you have a problem with body odor.” A sentence like this should prompt her to ask, “What bothers you? ” Here then is when you can list what the behaviors you have described in this email to us. When and where should you confront her in this way? Ideally it would be privately during a break or by taking her to lunch. Such a meeting might escalate to tears, anger, and/or shame. It will not be comfortable for Ms. C or you. Yet if someone must confront her, you are the one who is much troubled by her behavior. Therefore is it not up to you?

2. Meet with you supervisor. Candidly ask that she/he stop Ms. Challenge’s distracting behavior and her body odor. Supervisors are supervisors for a purpose; one of those to handle problems that make your work difficult. I expect that if a coworker was annoyed by your behavior that you would like for that person to come to you first, so you will have to decide if you will elect to go to the supervisor before or after you see if you can problem-solve with Ms. C. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Effectively working with coworkers doesn’t just happen; sometimes such as in your case, it requires courage and firmly but kindly to confront what makes working with another uncomfortable and ineffective. In short, you are at a point in which you need to confront or learn to dance with Ms. C. Will you let us know what you elect to do and say and what is resolved? You are not the first to have such dysfunctional working conditions.

William Gorden