8 Lessons I Have Learned From My Most Annoying Coworkers
I’ve been blessed with a lot of coworkers. Many were wonderful people who propelled me to be so much better at my job. Others dwelled in the middle ground, neither adding to my work life nor subtracting from it. We often made small talk together in the break room.
And there are some whose names elicit the flash of a memory — a memory of a significant hardship I had to get over.
These ex-coworkers no longer annoy the shit out of me — I actually feel glad for the things I have learned from them. But at some point in the past, these are the people I wanted to choke to death with my bare hands.
1. Lesson from The Arrogant Over-Talker
We all know this guy! (For real, this person is a man about 80 percent of the time.) Bro often shows up to meetings unprepared, then he loves to have ideas when someone else is in the middle of speaking. He talks over people. He is not the most creative or the smartest, but he is the loudest. The crazy thing is that this guy often gets indulged by those in power. They listen to him.
I used to get mad, but then I took a page out of this guy’s book. I realized that what made him so compelling and charismatic to others is that when he talks — he touches on how people feel, instead of how people think. I was appealing too much to people’s brains, and it wasn’t always effective because sometimes people go with their gut or through something else that is abstract and hard to pin down. Now, in my work, I try to lead with emotion more often.
Nowadays, I sometimes express my legit insecurities on my work if I feel them — to team members and to clients. When people hear me express my worries, they are often great at either pep-talking or problem-solving with me.
2. Lesson from The Hot Mess
I’m kind of naturally uptight and forcefully unemotional, so one of my work-related aversions is coming into the office, asking my colleague how they are doing, and having said colleague just start crying their eyes out in front of me, telling me all about a bad performance review they got or telling me about the degradation of their personal relationship.
It’s like, this is unprofessional. Please privately do this stuff at home in the shower or at least in a stall in one of the restrooms downstairs, right?
It took me awhile to learn that people deserve compassion. From the hot mess, I learned that there is strength in allowing ourselves to be vulnerable in front of others. And often, when I display my humanity, it is actually good for teamwork and collaboration. Like, I used to be obnoxious and submit work with confidence that was shaky and contrived. Nowadays, I sometimes express my legit insecurities on my work if I feel them — to team members and to clients. When people hear me express my worries, they are often great at either pep-talking or problem-solving with me.
3. Lesson from The Lazy Asshole
Okay, this person is legit my arch-nemesis, so it’s hard for me to find some redeeming quality in someone who just doesn’t do work they have previously committed to doing. Like, what is that?
But over the years, I have witnessed, time and time again, the leniency that we all give to Lazy Assholes. I think humans are generally really understanding, and they are good at giving people extra chances.
So I have started relaxing my own standards for myself because I know now that most people are actually pretty forgiving. If I don’t have the time to prep for a meeting, I seriously just show up and say, “I’m sorry, but I didn’t get a chance to read the PDF. Can someone summarize it for me?”
Yo, someone always says, “Oh, sure! No prob!” and then starts summarizing the PDF.
4. Lesson from The Backstabber
I think most of us who have had lengthy-enough careers have had a moment when we have optimistically put our trust in somebody, only to later learn that the entire time we were thinking well of someone, that person was plotting our downfall. These moments really hurt.
Honestly, this person taught me how to treat people. I think we can either go down the route of cynicism and hold up one bad incident as a reason to just not trust people ever, or we can just risk again, with a greater realization of how much of a gift it is to trust. It stings to feel betrayal — like, it really sucks — and because I have experienced how this feels, I work really hard to never intentionally disrespect people in the course of work.
5. Lesson from The Passive Aggressive
A passive aggressive coworker is someone who expresses anger and displeasure with a smile and the words “I’m fine!” And then I make the fatal mistake of not being a mind-reader, so I walk away thinking everything is fine. Later, I come back and find that the bare minimum of work was done shittily, and other colleagues are telling me that my coworker has been telling them that the project we’re working on is doomed to failure.
While this mode of communication feels safe for a lot of people, it is the worst. From passive aggressive people, I have learned to actually be more direct. I don’t let myself communicate in an ambiguous way. And when I detect passive aggressiveness, I try to pause, sit down, and have a real talk with the person. I try to empathize.
I find that the practice of doing this creates better work harmony in the long term, even though it is uncomfortable in the short term.
6. Lesson from The BFF You Don’t Love Back
Unrequited platonic love in the workplace is real, man. I’ve had colleagues who are just so into me for some bizarre reason, while I’m just just kind of “meh” on them. For the most part, it’s benign, but sometimes it’s disruptive. Like, sometimes you find out that the one tenuous commonality you have is a love of dogs. Most people like dogs, so this isn’t like, rare stuff — but you get inundated with forty YouTube videos of cute puppies a day. And then you feel like you have to be an asshole and be like, “Look, I just don’t have the time to watch all of these videos of cute dogs. Please stop sending them to me.”
From this person, I have learned to be less of a fun-hating asshole. I have learned that I do myself a complete disservice when I surround myself with only people who are like me. I have also learned the importance of bonding with coworkers, so if it has to be the over the blandness of cute puppies, then okay. Let’s do this.
I have a choice and I have agency in who I work with, who I work for, and what kind of environment I am working in. I don’t have to stay anywhere and feel trapped and angry there. If I don’t like being somewhere, I can leave that place.
7. Lesson from The Racist/Misogynist/Homophobe
I have worked in tech, so that means I definitely stood in an ice cream line and had to be subjected to sometimes-sexist, sometimes-racist, sometimes-homophobic commentary from bitter nerds who are so pissed over the perception of their marginalization by greater society that they counterintuitively demean other marginalized groups because it feels so good to uphold cisgender white male supremacy, you know?
The lesson I took from this is that I have a choice and I have agency in who I work with, who I work for, and what kind of environment I am working in. I don’t have to stay anywhere and feel trapped and angry there. If I don’t like being somewhere, I can leave that place. That is the beauty of being a serial freelancer.
8. Lesson from The Bossy One
In the past, my hackles have gotten raised when a peer told me what to do. I’d bluster and puff up and be like, “How dare they!” In all cases, I was being an insecure tool about it. I was very hierarchy-minded, and so it was always okay for my boss to tell me what to do, but never a colleague.
These days, it’s totally fine for people to tell me what to do. Because I say, “No,” about half of the time. Or I even say, “No, and I don’t like how you didn’t ask me.”
Even then, did you notice that telling me what to do has a 50 percent success rate? Yep! So what I have learned from bossy people is to also be bossy. The worst thing you get told is, “No,” and, “You are too bossy.” The best thing that you get told is, “Sure!”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.