Get Ask a Boss delivered every week
What should you do when someone in the office talks too much — in general, about politics, or about you behind your back? What if a guy in a nearby cubicle is a mansplainer, or trolls you on Twitter? Every week, the Cut’s “Ask a Boss” advice columnist Alison Green tackles a work-related problem, including annoying co-workers of all stripes. Below, 12 irritating scenarios you may recognize from your own office.
1. The Chatty Cathy
Politely tell chatty co-workers to go away by setting their expectations straight — right when they show up at your desk wanting to talk. Green has a few suggestions: Use an innocent white lie, like saying you’re on deadline. Tell the person you have only five minutes to chat before a phone call. And you can send physical cues with your body language — when a talker arrives at your cubicle unannounced, continue typing for a few seconds before you look up, and they’ll know you’re not particularly free.
“The great thing about being at work is that you have an easy built-in excuse that everyone will believe: You have work to do,” Green writes. More ideas.
2. The Loudest Person Ever
Maybe a loud person embodies every single one of your pet peeves. One reader said her co-worker is socially awkward, cackles constantly, and loudly blows her nose like “a horrific, nonstop symphony.” The reader was so irritated that she started ignoring the sniffler, refusing to say hi while passing her in the hallway, which made things worse.
When you’re beyond frustrated with someone’s behavior, Green says you should try to feel compassion toward that person, stop and ask yourself why you’re irritated, and remember that you’re being paid to get along reasonably well with your co-workers. “The way you treat her will reflect on you,” she writes. “You want to be seen as someone who can handle annoying people with grace.” Here’s how.
3. The Mansplainer
“How do I shut up a mansplainer?” this reader asks. She’s been promoted multiple times at her company for five years, but an older man continues to talk over her, even after she used this great line: “I’m in the middle of a sentence and I intend to get to the end of it — you need to wait.”
You can do three things, Green writes: Continue asserting yourself. Address the bigger picture — you can tell him he should listen to you rather than interject, because “it’s going to be essential to you performing well in your role.” (A direct nod to his ego.) And in some cases it can make sense to give the offender’s manager a heads-up. More tips here.
4. The Deranged Self-Talker
You have every right to speak up if a person is inconsiderately loud — especially if they’re talking out loud to themselves throughout the day. This reader’s co-worker exclaims “Uh-oh!” whenever she opens an email, wonders “Where in the hell is that document?” out loud, and swears at her computer screen.
“Really, when what you want to say is so eminently reasonable as ‘I can’t focus when you keep up a stream-of-consciousness dialogue all day long,’ it’s not a great choice to roll over and take it just because you’re afraid that the other person will respond badly,” Green says. “You can’t let yourself be scared of saying a perfectly reasonable thing.”
If talking to the person doesn’t work, get some noise-canceling headphones. But try these tips first.
5. The Food Police
Who said anyone gets to judge your desk lunch? This reader wrote in about a man in her office who gives people disapproving looks about whatever they’re eating, and offers up his non-expert advice on their food choices. Which is rude, difficult behavior for anyone to deal with, but especially for this reader, who is in recovery from an eating disorder.
“The only people with standing to monitor and comment on what people eat are people you’ve explicitly invited to do so. This guy is just out of line, period,” Green writes. She has specific scripts you can use to speak up, which you can do in the moment or one-on-one in private. Here’s what you can say, word-for-word.
6. The Idea Poacher
Maybe you share an idea with someone at lunch, and later he presents it to your boss as his own. How do you get him to knock it off without seeming petty?
Green says first, give this co-worker the benefit of the doubt and talk to him about it — he might not realize what he’s doing and back off if you mention it. After that, if it happens again, that’s different. “If you see James taking credit for your ideas again, you should say something in the moment,” Green writes. “For example, you could say, ‘Yes, that’s the idea I was sharing with James right before you came over. My thinking on this is …’” Here’s what else you can do.
7. The Loveable Screwup
Your own career is on the line if you cover for someone who’s seriously messing up — even if it’s your closest friend in the office. This reader said her company lost clients because of her co-worker — and she lies to their managers whenever they ask about it, trying to cover for her friend.
You have to stop, Green advises. “That’s really serious. Like, really serious — to the point that it could have a significant impact on you professionally if they figure out what’s going on themselves and realize that you knew but didn’t tell them. That’s the kind of thing that will deeply shake your manager’s confidence in you, make people wary of giving you more responsibility, and affect your credibility for a long time to come.”
You can still give your friend a heads-up before going to your managers to tell the truth. Here’s how.
8. The Total Slacker
This person might think no one else sees her procrastinating all day. She arrives at work late, takes over an hour for lunch, goes out later in the afternoon for a snack, and leaves work early to get massages.
“It’s frustrating as hell to feel like you’re working diligently, holding yourself to high standards, and feeling accountable to, you know, do your job, and then look around and see someone right in front of you who’s acting as if work is a minor inconvenience in her day of massages and socializing.” Green has ideas for reframing the problem in your head, and how to speak up about it. Read more.
9. The Aggressive Political Junkie
A small group of intense people gather in this reader’s break room every day to vehemently talk politics, always when this reader — who’s pregnant and often hungry — also needs the room to eat. She can’t have food at her desk. When they press her to join the conversation, she politely says she doesn’t discuss politics at work — and then they talk at her until she leaves, among even more inappropriate behavior.
“Not okay, and overtly hateful, and potentially a legal issue for your company since it veers into harassment,” Green writes. “Assuming that you’re right that neither your boss nor HR will be any practical help, I think you have a few options.” What to do.
10. The Twitter Troll
When a person is sitting right next to you in the office and tweeting awful things, can you do anything about it? This reader barely knows her co-worker, but when she starts to work with him and Googles him, his Twitter (and “fat-shaming Milo Yiannopoulos–loving” tweets) comes up first. “Do I just need to let it go, try to avoid working with him, and move on? Confront him?” she wonders. “Reporting him feels like tattling somehow, even though he’s the one who is being publicly awful and gross.”
Green says in this era, every employer has a right to know if someone’s saying hateful, vile things. “I hear you that you’re worried about ‘tattling,’ but I’d argue that that’s not really the right framework to use at work,” she writes. “In general, when you’re trying to figure out when a concern is worth raising to someone above you, the question to ask yourself is: How does this impact our work, and by how much?” Do this.
11. The Monologuer
“It is as if he has taken the traditional concept of a filibuster and attempted to apply it to working life,” this reader writes. In social situations, he’s pretty much fine. But whenever someone disagrees with him, they face a “torrent” of words.
You probably don’t want to talk to this person, but if no one else has, it’s your best bet, Green advises. “I’d say this: ‘Hey, now that we’re going to be working together more closely, I wanted to ask you something. I’ve noticed that when we’re talking about work, you tend to talk for a long time and don’t really let me respond. …’” What to say next.
12. The Gossip
Not okay! At this reader’s office, people spread a false rumor about her dating a male co-worker who was a friend. He immediately went to their boss to straighten things out and say it wasn’t true, but it still bothers her. How do you stop a rumor in its tracks?
“Most obviously, you can try to stop it,” Green writes (the awkward, entirely okay way to deal with it). “A totally different option, and one that might seem counterintuitive: You can ignore it.” Here’s why.
Get Ask a Boss delivered every week
Got something to Ask a Boss? Send your questions to email@example.com.