Your coworker may make you feel uncomfortable or put on the spot and that may manifest itself in nervous laughter or chitchat. However, these actions may be misconstrued by your coworker as acceptance of their actions and encourage them to continue for the attention. Instead of laughing or chatting with your coworker when he/she is being annoying, just ignore it to give the message that you do not appreciate his/her actions.
I once had a coworker who would go to the gym at lunch and swim laps, then he would shower and return to the office. When he came back one day, he plopped down in the big comfy chair next to my cube and kicked off his footwear to put lotion on his feet, which apparently had dried out from the chlorine. He politely offered me some lotion as well as he enthusiastically smeared it between his toes. It was so unexpected and appalling that I burst out laughing and shrieking “ewww!” He got the wrong idea from my reaction and, subsequently, started coming over every day to lotion his feet because his impression was that I thought it was amusing. Weeks later I reached my breaking point and finally had to let him know no one wanted to see him putting lotion on his big hairy feet, but I could have spared myself weeks of nausea if I hadn’t unintentionally spurred him on the first time.
Work Somewhere Else
Avoiding the situation altogether is a viable option to get some work done. If your employer allows you to work somewhere other than your desk, that’s a great way to diffuse the situation and avoid future issues. Take your computer and go work in a common space, meeting room, or in a break room. Sometimes these spaces have better light, noise volume, temperature or other environmental differences that can help you be more productive anyways.
If you’re allowed to work from home, this is another great option because then you can work without any coworker distractions (annoying or otherwise).
Wear headphones! Always wear headphones! Listening to music helps drown out annoying coworker babble. Even when you’re not listening to music, keep your headphones on to give the indication that you need to focus. If your headphones are also your headset for calls, that’s an added bonus because without knowing if you’re on a call or not, most coworkers won’t bother you.
Leave for Lunch
Taking a break for lunch and leaving the office can help you get away and recharge to deal with your coworker for the rest of the afternoon after you return. Even if you do not want to spend the money and gas to go to lunch all the time, you can just go outside and take a short walk or read for a bit on your lunch break to help put some physical separation between you and the coworker.
At my former job, when I needed to get away for a bit, I would go for a walk around the complex where we were located or take a quick drive to the nearest gas station and buy a diet coke. By the time I got back, I was always less frustrated than when I left.
Address the Situation
If avoiding your coworker doesn’t get the message across, you may just need to sit down with him/her and discuss the issues you’re having. Depending on the nature of your coworker’s actions, you may want to include your boss, his/her boss or HR. Having an honest discussion and coming up with a plan moving forward may be awkward and painful, but it can help you avoid future issues. No one wants to get to this point because it can feel like tattling, but sometimes it’s necessary.
If you’ve tried all of these tactics and none of them worked, at the very least you can rest assured that your annoying coworker won’t actually kill you like a trapped tiger might. So, at least there’s that!
Kate Pierce is the owner of LionShark Digital Marketing LLC, a West Michigan internet marketing company. Her areas of expertise include Paid Search, Search Engine Optimization, Social Media, Web Consulting for small businesses, Copywriting and Local Online Marketing. She lives in the Grand Rapids area with her husband and enjoys cooking, watching sports and spending time outdoors. Like a true digital marketing expert (i.e. geek), she loves talking about marketing theory and SEM trends… so don’t say you weren’t warned!