Being an extrovert, I consider myself a pretty easy person to get along with. I’m good at fitting into most situations, even when dealing with the many oddballs I’ve encountered throughout my career. No matter where you work, the industry, or the size of the company, I promise that you’ll inevitably find yourself one day looking at a coworker and wondering, “What planet are you from? And how did you find your way here?”
Credit: NYC Office Suites
After all, annoying coworkers are the reason “The Office” was such a hit. It’s why we clip Far Side and Dilbert cartoons to hang on our cubicle walls. And as you’re nodding in agreement, I bet one of these obnoxious characters has probably just parked themselves in your workspace to talk your ear off about their latest dating drama or their opinions about the casting of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie.
But just because certain colleagues make you want hit CTRL+Z on your latest conversation, doesn’t mean you can avoid them. They’re not going anywhere. And if you leave this job in hopes of having “normal” coworkers at your next, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
While writing my new book, “Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career“ (St. Martin’s Press, September 17), I interviewed CEOs, entrepreneurs, and tastemakers in a variety of industries about the many strange characters and situations they experienced during their climb to the top. Turns out, getting along with coworkers was one of the most critical skills for success.
That’s why it’s essential to learn to get along with anyone. This skill takes time, experience, patience, and a sense of humor. You’ll need to train your body like an endurance athlete to handle the oddballs you’ll have to work with, travel with, dine with, or be stuck in the hallway with.
Lucky for you, I’ve dissected 9 of the most awkward, rude, improper, narcissistic, and downright ignorant types who will make your job feel like the ultimate test of mental composure:
Annoying Coworker #1: Mr./Ms. Know-It-All
I get it – you went to a very nice school…And yes, you have been here longer than anyone…And you have seen it all and done it all and you know what’s best.
Mr. or Ms. Know-It-All will stop at nothing to tell you exactly how right they are/were/will be or any topic. If you went rock climbing over the weekend, they climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. If you got tickets to the big game, they once got to sit on the sideline and even call a play or two. And that great job you did on the big presentation? Well, they can do (and have done) it much, much better.
How to Handle Mr./Ms. Know-It-All: Prepare your facts. If you have to work together on a project, have your part ready, airtight, with no holes, and make sure to have supporting documents to uphold your ideas. And if you know you are right, and everyone else does too, just nod and smile at their outrageous claims.
Annoying Coworker #2: The Cubicle Invader
The Cubicle Invader has one mission: to invade your personal space at all costs. They often prefer the old “just popping in” routine. You’re hard at work and then like thunder on a sunny day, they bust into your space and start chatting about… something. If they don’t crash into the spare seat next to you, they drape themselves over the narrow opening of your cubicle, blocking you from the outside world — aka freedom!
How to Handle The Cubicle Invader: Think like an NFL coach — the best defense is a good offense. If you hear the Cubicle Invader approaching, make your area unwelcoming. Place your purse, your briefcase, your jacket, or an extra stack of papers on the extra chair or on the available space on your desk, so they can’t park it for hours.
Annoying Coworker #3: The Office Bully
This isn’t like Johnny and the thugs from Cobra Kai, cornering The Karate Kid at the water cooler. The Office Bully is not the kind of bully you dealt with in school who was physically intimidating and took pride in public humiliation.
In the workplace, The Bully has some form of authority and uses it as a weapon. The Bully is the worst of all the characters you’ll meet because they’re often not easy to avoid and could be a key player in how you’re perceived by upper management. Worst of all, The Bully could also be your boss.
How to Handle The Office Bully: It never hurts to give it back to The Bully. Don’t show you are offended by their jabs, don’t engage a pointless argument. Either use your wit and hit back with a smart remark, or simply walk away unaffected. They’ll be annoyed that you aren’t a pushover and move on to easier prey.
Annoying Coworker #4: The Gossip
The Gossip knows everything about everyone and makes it their mission to share the wealth with whoever will listen. You may not have asked, but you’ll learn more than you ever wished to know about the intrigues of company life.
Like The Bully, The Gossip, comes in many forms. It’s not always the perky extrovert who wants to know everyone’s business. In fact, The Gossip is a chameleon that takes the form of whatever situation they are in and, like the sneaky little reptile, they’re always waiting for someone to fall into their trap.
What seems like a casual trip down the street to get coffee with The Gossip can quickly turn into a Barbara Walters special of the “Ten Most Fascinating People in the Office.”
How to Handle The Gossip: The best way to stay out of The Gossip’s web is to avoid it altogether. If you’re in a group setting and you see a wave of gossip coming on, step away for “an important phone call.”
Annoying Coworker #5: The Loud Talker
Last week, Shawn and Gretchen broke up. Gretchen begged Shawn not to leave her but Shawn, who is from Connecticut but went to school in Florida and who works on Wall Street trading energy stocks, well, he’s decided to move on.
I learned about this only because Gretchen has chatted with and cried for Shawn every day – over the phone, at work – for the past two months.
I get that you might have to have personal phone conversations during the workday, but just remember that your sneeze can often be heard rows away. Never mind that screaming phone brawl Gretchen and Shawn were having last Tuesday.
How to Handle The Loud Talker: The Loud Talker needs to be handled head on. Take them aside and explain that they’re speaking way too loudly and becoming an embarrassment. If it takes you having to be a shoulder to cry on, suck it up for the sake of your colleagues. Plus, someone has to tell Gretchen that Shawn has also been seeing Abby in marketing for the past three weeks anyway.
Annoying Coworker #6: The Stud
The Stud walks into a room moving in slow motion, with the wind flowing through his hair, as paparazzi snap photos and women get lightheaded, their knees buckling.
Reality check: The Stud isn’t necessarily the gorgeous person you’re envisioning. The Stud thinks that he could wipe the floor with Brad Pitt, but the reality is often very different. The Stud’s misguided, overly sex-charged, 14-year-old behavior causes a lot of friction (and not the fun kind). There’s a little thing I like to call “Sexual Harassment” that the Stud does not seem to believe in. “Come on, I’m just playing around! Where’s your sense of humor?” This will be his response when you mention that asking the intern in the mini-skirt to pick up papers off the floor isn’t exactly kosher.
How to Handle The Stud: The Stud is actually an insecure ball of mush, surrounded by a thin layer of bravado. You should never encourage their behavior by laughing along. One quick, witty jab to his ego and he’ll collapse like the stack of Playboys on his dresser.
Annoying Coworker #7: The Best Friend
Because you are so cool, charming, and generally awesome, one person in the office has decided that you’re their new best friend, their BFF, their amigo, a member of their wolf pack. Lucky you!
The Best Friend will latch onto you like a 12-year-old girl to her life-sized One Direction cutout. This person will follow you to the copy machine, ask if you want to get coffee, email you pictures or funny articles that A) aren’t funny and B) have nothing to do with work, and of course, they’ll invite you to lunch every…single…day. And don’t you dare try to make plans with someone else! Your new best friend has already booked you for the next five years.
How to Handle The Best Friend: There are only two ways to handle the best friend: politely reject their advances and, if it starts to affect your work, alert the boss.
Annoying Coworker #8: The Email Ranter
The Email Ranter is mild-mannered and inoffensive in person, but once they get behind a keyboard, they become the most influential, powerful, humorous, and creative mind to ever grace the internet. Whether it’s politics, sports, or why there’s not enough variety of salad dressings in the cafeteria, The Email Ranter grows more unmannerly with every exclamation point and emoticon. They’re the first to complain and the last to help.
How to Handle The Email Ranter: Email Ranters are wimps disguised as over-confident imbeciles. If the ranting email is directed at you, then I suggest approaching the Ranter in person. Don’t get confrontational; simply ask what is the goal of their rudeness? I promise you, they will quickly morph into a coward.
Annoying Coworker #9: Mr./Ms. Do-You-Know-Who-I-Am?
Who doesn’t love to see a spoiled rich kid who, after taking six years to get their college degree, walks right into Dad’s company, past the guy who has been there for decades, and finds a nice cozy corner office waiting? You may have seen one of these on a celebrity reality show where people are famous because their parents did something cool—or because their grandparents founded a company a half-century ago, which they had the genetic luck to fall into.
In your professional career, you will undoubtedly run into a situation where someone has a plum position and countless perks simply because they knew (or are related to) someone at the top. This person feels entitled to a certain level of authority in the office and has no remorse about flexing their arrogance.
How to Handle Mr./Ms. Do-You-Know-Who-I-Am?: The key is finding a common interest. Whether or not you actually share his passion for cars or her zeal for gadgets is irrelevant. Use this insight to form a connection and that may loosen them up to become somewhat tolerable (or at least get out of the way so you can get work done).