What’s getting on your nerves at work?
After decades in the corporate world, I’ve encountered my share of office annoyances.
Tom had a habit of dominating meetings, cutting people off or talking over them to make his points. Rachael was such a multi-tasker that I never really knew where her mind was at. At one moment we’d be discussing something I considered important, but before the conversation was over, she’d pull out her cell phone and start sending emails about something else. Karen was very sweet, and so was her perfume. It gave me headaches every time I came in close proximity. I found Gary’s constant need for affirmation and promotion exhausting. Rick liked to take his calls on speaker-phone, with his feet up on the desk. I could hear the details of his conversations even through my closed office door.
I had plenty of wonderful, considerate colleagues too, and when I look back, those are the people I think about most. But the people and personalities that challenge us at work are often the ones that offer the greatest chance for personal growth and missional impact. Learning to get along with your coworkers (maybe especially the annoying ones) is a part of your Christian calling, and it also happens to be essential for your career.
Don’t stew. The typical office annoyance starts with something very small but can quickly escalate out of proportion. If something is bothering you at work, there are two basic options for handling it in a healthy way: you can choose to take action and try to work it out with the person responsible, or you can choose to let it go. You absolutely must choose. Grumbling about office annoyances to yourself (or others) only causes distractions and wastes precious time and energy. It also tends to harden your heart towards your colleagues.
Let a lot of things go. That guy clicking his pen in the meeting next to you? He’s annoying, sure, but don’t lose sight of the fact that he is God’s perfect creation, and you are called to love him as Christ loved us. He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his peace. (Proverbs 11:12).
Are you extra sensitive to something? Consider whether your reaction to the annoyances in your office is being influenced by your own sensitivities, insecurities, or past experiences. Sometimes the things that make us the most uncomfortable about other people come back to our own issues.
Pray for clarity and humility to see if and where your own personal issues may be impacting your perception of others around you. Learning to identify those boundaries might help you avoid potentially aggravating experiences, and it can also help you to be more forgiving when someone unknowingly pushes your buttons. Colossians 3:13 tells us to “bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.”
Recognize too that you have your own nervous ticks and annoying habits. Cut the people around you some slack, and hope that they do the same for you!
Confront with grace. Sometimes you really do need to confront someone about something they are doing, especially if it is having a significant impact on your work. Try to approach those situations with grace and respect. The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered. (Proverbs 17:27). Your words should be carefully chosen, delivered kindly, and properly motivated.
If your office neighbor’s perfume is giving you migraines, go to them directly, tell them about your sensitivity, ask them if they will consider switching scents or wearing less. Acknowledge the inconvenience to them and be appreciative. There’s no need to apologize excessively, just be honest about the real problem that you are having. Most people don’t want to bother or distract others and will work to help you, some people won’t. If the person is unwilling to adjust, you can try moving to another desk or raising the issue with your boss or HR representative.
Respect your colleagues enough to go to them directly before involving other people. If you need to involve others, do so only as necessary. I’ve seen situations where people in the office complained to everyone except the person involved, to the point where the complaint reached his or her manager through the head of another department altogether. A manager put in that position is almost always (rightfully) frustrated, knowing how much time has been wasted passing this complaint around the company when it could have been dealt with simply and directly.
Look for positive changes. If you do decide to take action, start by looking for positive changes that could resolve the situation. At Trammell Crow Company, I worked with a very talented sales person who was so passionate about his job—making the sale—that he sometimes seemed to disregard the people—me and my team—who would actually have to deliver on the contract. I found it infuriating and disrespectful. But getting frustrated didn’t solve any problems. At the tipping point, I worked with our President to set up a “pricing committee”, so that not only the sales team approved deals but the team that had to deliver the business, legal, financial, and risk areas of our business were on the committee and had to approve the deal before we entered into final negotiations.
Differentiate between Moral and Menial. It’s important to point out that there are two categories of bothersome things happening at the office. What I’ve been talking about here are the small things that mostly come down to personality conflicts and tolerance levels. They are not moral issues, where someone is doing something clearly wrong or unethical. If that’s the case, you have a duty not only to not accommodate the behavior, but also to help put an end to it. Such behavior almost always comes to light, and it never reflects well on your firm. Fortunately, many companies have systems set up to deal with these issues nowadays, with ethics complaint lines and anti-retaliation policies.
Whatever may be bothering you about your workplace, be encouraged that the purpose of your work is not your own comfort, but to serve God and His greater mission: Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24).