Workplace irritations – a serious issue

Right now you might be feeling a little bit irritated by someone you work with. Most likely it is something minor – a little quirk, an almost irrelevant, repeated action that gets under your skin.

The strange part of this common situation is that it has a severe impact on our ability to concentrate and produce work. It can really take over your mind and prevent clear thinking and creativity.

Why do we get irritated?

Why do we get so bothered by annoying behaviours and actions like:

  • People chewing their nails
  • Talking loudly on the phone
  • Sighing too much
  • Too many personal calls
  • Eating smelly food
  • Searching for things over and over
  • Talking to themselves
  • Disappearing for long bursts
  • Crunching up or tearing to shreds papers

Maybe we assume there is little that can be done to prevent it. So these behaviours become an itch that can’t be scratched – and this builds tension within. We really want to avoid looking pedantic and over-reactive, so we try to ignore the person sitting next to us eating loudly. But without a release or venting of this tension the pressure becomes internalised and starts to affect our work.

What is the result?

It sounds like an exaggeration that any of these minor things could become an issue worthy of attention – but most workplace divides are precipitated by irritation towards each other. Who would have thought that leaving dirty dishes in the communal sink could have such broad-scope outcomes? It certainly happens when someone feels aggrieved (rightly or wrongly) that they act with less civility towards the person that is causing their tension. This has a direct, negative impact on teamwork, creativity and idea-sharing.

What can be done?

Firstly you need to make a decision whether you are going to address the issue with the person that is irritating you, or whether you are going to keep it to yourself. There are several methods you can use if you are going to address the issue that avoid offending the other person. Approaching them privately and sincerely, without putting too much ‘weight’ on the conversation is a good way.

It is also important to address it early. The longer you delay, the more irritated and potentially rude you will sound when you broach the subject.

Alternatively you can keep your irritation to yourself – but don’t ignore it! You need to find a way to vent, or to remind yourself that these small actions are of no real consequence. If you try to push something aside that is really driving you crazy you will eventually snap and have an outburst with an intensity you didn’t intend. So find a way to vent, or move through it cognitively before you become a part of the problem.

What annoys you in the office?

Here are some common gripes – tell us more about what you can’t stand and vote in our Facebook poll:

1. Always on Facebook
2. Careless typos
3. Constantly complaining
4. Copying the boss on every email
5. Crunching up or tearing papers to shreds
6. Dirty cups and dishes
7. Disappearing for long bursts
8. Eating loudly
9. Frowning at everything
10. Laughing or talking too loud
11. Making jokes
12. Messy workstation
13. Naming files unsystematically
14. Poor hygiene
15. Receiving emails from people next to you
16. Smelly food at work
17. Shared resources not being put back
18. Talking to self
19. Too many personal calls
20. Unproductive meetings

For all our New Zealand followers, Eve is speaking on workplace culture and motivation in Auckland and Wellington at the end of August.

Eve Ash produces a wide range of resources to help teams work more productively. Recently she has been producing hilarious comedy titles like Surviving Team Conflicts, Giving Hygiene Feedback, De-Cluttering the Office and Creating a No Blame Culture.


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