21 October, 2020

Trolls, Ghosts, and Creepers: How to Deal with Toxic and Annoying Coworkers

Ever feel like your office is an obstacle course of annoying coworkers?

You’re not alone.

Table of Contents

 Introduction

According to a study by Olivet Nazarene University of 2,000 American workers, 100% of respondents reported getting annoyed at work — and 78% have been so irritated by a coworker that they confronted them.

Whether it’s the constant complainer, the office gossip, or the person who’s always commenting on your lunch choice that gets under your skin, one thing’s for sure — it can be tough to perform your job duties effectively when you’re surrounded by toxic coworkers and annoying behaviors.

You may not be able to change the maddening behavior of your toxic coworkers — but you can take steps to ensure your own sanity.

Read on to learn how to establish effective boundaries and develop coping skills. It’s your job, too: learn how to dial down the toxicity around you and thrive, even in the face of exasperating employee behavior.

 Why Do Toxic Coworkers Annoy Us So Much?

The first step to overcoming workplace annoyance? Understanding the root cause.

According to Rachel Dash-Dougherty, a licensed clinical social worker and founder of The Grounded Therapist, time and proximity are some of the biggest factors — whether you’re in a physical office or working remotely. “We spend half of our day with them! Even if it’s currently on Zoom,” she says. “Sometimes I refer to them as daytime roommates. That’s how involved they can be in our lives.”

This proximity can actually trigger feelings about your upbringing and challenging family dynamics, adds Maria Baratta, Ph.D., a licensed clinical social worker and New York-based clinician. “Just asking yourself, ‘Does this feel familiar and who in my family has the same effect on me?’ helps you understand that the irritating behavior of another might be something deeper that probably affects other areas of your life as well,” says Baratta.

Simply recognizing that a fellow employee’s behavior is triggering feelings from your own past can be helpful. Baratta adds, “Understanding the connection with your family of origin relationships can help temper intense emotional reactions when you take time to figure it out.”

 Who Are the Most Annoying Coworkers?

The next step to effectively dealing with annoying people at work? Identifying who they are and what it is about their behavior that actually gets to you. By analyzing the bothersome behavior, you can begin to develop specific methods of working with (and around) it.

Here, you’ll find a roundup of some of the most common sources of irritation in the workplace — and how to deal with them. From merely irritating to truly toxic coworkers, “the key is boundaries, not engaging, deflection and self-care,” says Dash-Dougherty.

The Chatty One

Who they are: There’s one in every office — the person who can’t seem to leave it at simple pleasantries. Getting caught in their laser beam of banter can leave you in a 30-minute time warp of talking about their cat, their weekend plans… but mostly, nothing at all.

How to deal with them: Be polite, but firm. If the chatterbox shows up at your desk (or slides into chat) wanting to talk, it’s perfectly OK to set a boundary. Say that you’re on a big deadline, or that you are gearing up for a big call — it gently reminds them that you’re focused on being a busy bee, and that maybe they should, too.

The Office Gossip

Who they are: This is the person who always seems to have the scoop about all the office drama … whether it’s true or not. Gossip can be seductive, but it’s a workplace no-no. Plus, it’s often just a matter of time before the office gossip turns on you.

How to deal with them: It’s all about boundaries. As Dash-Dougherty advises, the best approach is avoidance: “Don’t engage with them in the first place.” If that’s not possible, she suggests having an exit plan: “Set a timer or keep your eye on the clock and find a reason to walk away/sign off.”

The Total Slacker

Who they are: The slacker might think nobody’s noticed that they constantly arrive late, spend all day scrolling Instagram and shopping online, and always take an extra-long lunch. But you’ve noticed, and you’re annoyed! It can be super frustrating to feel like you’re toiling away while they’re wasting time, especially if they’re ghosting you on team projects.

How to deal with them: Dash-Doughterty suggests some subtle motivation tactics to bring them more on your level. One simple method? Delegate work to them, or “ask them how projects are going to get consistent updates.” To take it to the next level, “Have a meeting with your team and include your boss so communication is clear regarding who is doing which exact tasks.” In that way, you can create a sense of accountability for the lazy coworker.

The Constant Complainer

Who they are: Every office has a Debbie Downer-type character who can’t seem to see anything but doom and gloom. They might complain about the boss, another coworker, their kids, the world — it’s hard to avoid being dragged into their vortex of unhappiness.

How to deal with them: First off, it’s important to maintain a sense of empathy — that negative outlook probably comes from somewhere, and it probably doesn’t feel good to them, either. Dash-Dougherty suggests attempting to turn their negativity around. For example, if a coworker complains about added work due to company layoffs, you might respond “it’s going to be challenging, let’s do something nice for the team and choose to see this is an opportunity for (fill in the blank).”

The Creeper

Who they are: Someone who knows no boundaries at work. Creepers can show up in a variety of ways in the workplace, from harmless-yet-irritating food policing to stalking you on social media to not taking a hint that you’re uninterested in a relationship outside of the workplace.

How to deal with them: If someone isn’t respecting your boundaries, it’s not OK. Use your judgment — if the creeper seems harmless, a direct chat can clear things up. However, if someone isn’t taking a hint, it may be time to visit HR. You should never feel threatened or harassed at the workplace.

 Stay in Your Own Lane, Stay Sane!

To a certain extent, annoying coworkers are a fact of life (sorry.) The close proximity and amount of time spent together make it near-impossible to avoid occasional bouts of bothersome behavior.

However, by getting educated on what types of behaviors annoy you and why, you can begin to develop your own emotional toolbox of coping mechanisms. Plus, as Baratta reminds us, what doesn’t kill you could make you stronger: “All difficult situations in life are pathways to inner healing if we allow them to be.”

About The Author

Jessie Oleson Moore
Jessie Oleson Moore

Jessie Oleson Moore is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer / ghostwriter and artist. As a writer, she has written extensively on finance, day trading, personal growth, and career development and has extensive experience producing in-depth, research-based articles and guides. In addition, she is an accomplished illustrator and author who has appeared on The Today Show and been featured in Publisher's Weekly. In her free time, she’s an avid traveler, Ashtanga yoga practitioner, and unicorn enthusiast.

Dr. Maria Baratta
Dr. Maria Baratta

Dr. Maria Baratta is in private practice in New York City and Nassau County, New York. She writes extensively in the field of Social Work — she is a regular contributor expert/blogger on PsychologyToday.com and the author of “Skinny Revisited: Rethinking Anorexia Nervosa and Its Treatment,” published by NASW Press. She is currently the Chair for the NASW Private Practice Section Committee.

Rachel Dash-Dougherty
Rachel Dash-Dougherty

Rachel Dash-Dougherty, AKA The Grounded Therapist, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Mindset Coach, and 200-hour yoga teacher. She specializes in helping high achieving women manage and move beyond imposter syndrome at work and realize their power and self-worth through science-backed strategies to improve mental AND physical strength.