I'm Not Really The Best Coworker

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a coworker’s distant behavior. I’m working in a small company with around 8 employees including me. I have an issue with a co-worker who seems to be distancing herself from me for no apparent reason. We used to talk but we hardly converse nowadays.

A question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a coworker’s distant behavior.

Some of these types of problematic coworkers include the negative coworker, the overly competitive co-worker, the gossip, the bully, and the person who pushes off work. Hopefully, your office doesn’t have too many of these types of people, but if it does here’s how to—almost, anyway—deal with working alongside them. My other co-worker has met the same frustrations when trying to use this person's code. My boss doesn't often deal with this employee's code, so I'm not sure he knows how bad it is. One look at the way I operate around my co-workers and you’d think I’m anti-social and evil. I don’t talk to these people, I don’t let them talk to me, and I keep all group participation levels to an absolute minimum. Simply put, if I don’t have to interact with them, I don’t. I’m not evil, though. I have my reasons.

I’m working in a small company with around 8 employees including me. I have an issue with a co-worker who seems to be distancing herself from me for no apparent reason. We used to talk but we hardly converse nowadays.

When I addressed my concerns, she came up with a “talk less, listen more” excuse, which I gave her the benefit of the doubt. Ironically, she’s still in her cheerful personality when she talks to others, but gave me the cold shoulder when I tried to converse with her.

We had a strong interpersonal relationship, liked teasing and doing everything together; hence her current attitude is making me suffocated, plus sitting directly beside me makes things worse. I tried ignoring it but I can’t help but think what’s troubling her because I’m always her first point of contact, be it work related or personal matters. This situation is affecting my work badly. Is there any way I can tackle this issue?

Cheers, Uncomfortable & Troubled

Dear Uncomfortable & Troubled:

Thank you for sharing your distress about feeling distant from your coworker. Apparently things are different from what they were in the past. Your attempt to discuss with her why she doesn’t converse as you used to resulted in a turn off of “talk less and listen more.” Because the two of you are physically assigned to desks or work stations close to each other, her current “talk less and listen more” has caused you to feel something is wrong. This is so painful that it is affecting your work.

Of course from a far distance, there is no way of knowing what has happened and is going on within your small company. Therefore, without more details, my comments might not be more than generic suggestions, but hopefully some of them will provide you a way to interpret and re-frame what you call as “a co-worker’s sudden weird behavior.” Since I don’t know your co-worker’s name, I’ll name her Gloria, so as not to have to say co-worker over and over.

Here then are several things to consider:

  1. How does she see you? You see her “sudden weird behavior” but how does she describe yo? One clue is in her comment to “talk less and listen more” another clue is her cold shoulder toward you but cheerful talk with others. Apparently she has come to the conclusion that your talk too much. Possibly she thinks your talk is me, me, me. Or possibly she thinks you interrupt and don’t really listen to her ideas. Or possibly she simply finds you have a need to chatter, chatter, chatter. Or possibly the subjects that obsess you are overly centered on insignificant matters or the revers of that they are too intellectual. Or possibly you have offended her by being too nosy or demeaning her values. I can’t imagine how Gloria sees you. Her talk less listen more is short change for suggesting you should look in the mirror. What might that look say about how you are seen by others in your small company? How do you see yourself—as cheerful as you note’s cheers signature? As needing assurance you are OK or better than the rest? As a busy body? As sloppy or as a neat-nick? As a complainer or laid back? These possibilities aren’t meant to cause you to be overly introspective, but to suggest you shouldn’t fear to look in the mirror and to ask how you might be seen as a valued member of your 8 member company.
  2. Take her advice. Talk less and listen more. Be your cheerful self in a greeting but then get to work. That’s what you are hired to do, not to talk with co-workers. Forget about the word weird. You haven’t mentioned even one behavior that is weird.
  3. Re-farame the way you see your work. Focus on your assignments and on the good of the company. In your mind pretend what you would do if you owned the company. How might you cut wasted supplies, time, energy and duplication? What would you do to make work there more pleasant? Are there things the owners do that make coming to work fun? And to feel that your ideas matter? There are many sites describing what makes a company successful. Visit them such Susan Heathfield’s Human Resources newsletter and the Greater Good Science Center [email protected] . I predict that you will find coming to work exciting if you list ways to improve productivity, serve internal and external customers better, improve performance and make your company more money. Look up Great Places To Work For. Study what your company does. Learn it from toe to head. Join an association of companies like yours. This will get you to thinking about your job as more than a job—possibly a career that makes a contribution.
  4. Get a life beyond your workplace. Visit TED TALKS. Rather than dwelling on the sudden weird behavior of your co-worker, take advantage of the many events sponsored by your library, church and clubs. Sing in a choir. Take yoga or Zumba dancing.

I know that these suggestions are more than you expected or want, but I hope they help you obsess less on not being liked by Gloria. I recently sent a New Year’s Greeting to about 50 employees requesting that they sent me a paragraph or two describing one specific incident that made them feel good about their jobs. Here’s one from Kara who directs Habitat for Humanity for East Central Ohio. Note that she found helping a caller see his life a bit more differently was what made her day meaningful: At Habitat for Humanity, we have a group of regular volunteers called “The Habitat Crew.” Most of these volunteers are retired men and women who have decided to move on to their next stages in life. Some were former carpenters, while others were chemists, teachers, or many other professions. Folks join the Habitat Crew by either knowing another Crew member, learning about it while they were volunteering with a group, or by me (or my coworkers) reaching out to them. Personally, my goal in my job, and quite frankly in my life, is to help others feel wanted, useful, and not left out. I believe the Habitat Crew is a wonderful vehicle for that and one of the most fulfilling moments I have had so far is a simple phone conversation…

We received a donation right before Christmas with a note that this person, we will call him Dan, wanted to find out more information about Habitat for Humanity. I noted from his letter that he was retired and decided to give him a call to see if he would like to join the Habitat Crew too. At first, Dan was skeptical about my call because I think he didn’t believe that I was calling just to chat, not to ask for money. He questioned me about where his donation was going, what Habitat’s plans for the future were, my department at work, and pretty much every single thing he could think of. I answered as best I could and just barely mentioned the opportunity to join the Habitat Crew. While he didn’t really respond to my appeal, Dan mentioned to me how wonderful it was that I took so much time (over an hour) talking with him, helping him understand, and making him feel important again. He was struggling with the end of his career and a loneliness from that. I don’t know if he will ever join the Habitat Crew, but I do know that God put me in the right place at the right time to be what this man needed to feel connected again-even if for just an hour or so. While this phone conversation stuck in my head, I have had many instances at work where these men and women really reach out to our staff because the work they are doing keeps them young, involved, loved, and feeling like they have a purpose. My time with them in invaluable to me and it is what I feel best about at work.

Here’s another. This one from Brandon who is employed by Bradley Stone, a company founded over 20 years ago that serves the greater Cleveland, Akron, and Youngstown markets with fabrication and installation services of natural stone (granite, marble, limestone, soapstone) and quartz countertops. I am responding to this e-mail today for a few reasons. First, you were one of my favorite professors. Second, I believe I truly apply what I learned in your classroom to my job as a salesperson for a company, Bradley Stone, on a day-to-day basis. And thirdly, an instance like the one you have requested just happened to me yesterday.

I took a phone call from a potential customer. Typical calls last 1-3 minutes. This particular conversation lasted an entire 22 minutes. I explained numerous aspects of our business and the process of a typical granite installation project. The reason I am proud of this particular call is, numerous times throughout the conversation the customer stopped and would say, “Wow, I really like the way you talk.” Also, “How old are you? Only 26!? You sound very professional young man.” This customer was so blown away by a simple phone call he came to our warehouse today just to meet me face to face. After our short consultation I earned his business and potentially other future business from his referrals to friends.

At the end of our meeting he said, “It’s good to know there is still hope for our younger generation.” This made me feel really good and gave me a nice confidence boost to begin the New Year. Again, it was great to hear from you Dr. Gorden and I wish you a very Happy New Year.

So I challenge you to see this “weird behavior” as an opportunity to re-frame how you see yourself and your work. See it as an adventure in creative coping with distress. Think beyond this unhappy behavior by adding value to your life and to your small company. Send me one significant incident that has made you feel good about your job. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Tell me how my closing signature sentence can apply to your company and little circle of the world. If any of these thoughts ring true, I welcome hearing how they affect you.

William Gorden

At some point, everyone has experienced an annoying coworker — that colleague who, intentionally or not, drives you up the freaking wall. But here’s a terrifying possibility: What if the annoying coworker is YOU? What if you’re annoying your coworkers without realizing it?


If you’re a decent human, you probably already try to be considerate of the people around you. But even with the best intentions, it’s easy to have blind spots about your own behavior, and to do things without thinking that mess up other people’s work flows, get on their nerves, and disrupt the harmony of the workplace. I’m not talking about the giant “NOs” (such as stealing food) that everyone should recognize as rude and inappropriate off the bat. I’m talking about the many things that a generally nice person could do that would unintentionally rub other people the wrong way.

To be clear, I’m not trying to push you into panicked paranoia about what other people think of you, or suggest that it’s your job to make sure that no one is ever, ever annoyed by you. At a certain point, other people just have to learn to deal with your quirks, just as you deal with theirs, and if you have coworkers who are constantly annoyed by everyone around them, then maybe they are the ones who need to rethink their approach to life.

That said, it is your job to try to practice a little self-awareness, read the room, and reflect on how your behavior might affect other people. You spend a large percentage of your waking life with your coworkers — it’s worth taking the time to be the best colleague that you can. Here are a few of the ways that you could be getting on your coworkers' nerves:

1. Being too chatty.

It’s great that you want to be friendly with your coworkers, but be sure that you don’t speed past “friendly” and hit “hugely distracting” instead. If your coworkers seem as eager as you are to shoot the breeze, then go for it, but try to be aware of the signals they are sending you. Are they still looking at their computer screens and typing as you talk? Are they looking at the time? Are they answering you in single syllables? If so, take the hint and dial back your chatter. And if you’re ever unsure about whether your conversation is welcome or not, just ask. A simple, “Do you have a minute to chat?” should be enough to go on.

2. Smelly food.

Some foods that smell wonderful when they’re cooking in your kitchen at home smell horrible when you reheat them in the office microwave. And it’s important to remember that strong smells that appeal to you — like popcorn, for instance — may be off-putting to the people around you. Try to steer clear of foods that might bother coworkers with sensitive noses.

3. Gchat overload.

You and your work friends may be obsessed with Gchat (How better to look like you’re working when you’re really talking about The Bachelorette?), but try not to send messages to the point that your coworkers can’t get any real work done. The key is to not demand instant replies. If you send a non-work-related message and don’t get a reply, don’t keeping sending messages — instead, assume that your coworker is busy and will reply when he or she has time.

4. Not giving people your full attention.

Multitasking may make you feel like you’re getting a lot done, but it can get in the way of productive interactions with your coworkers, who have legit reasons to be annoyed if, every time they try to talk to you about a work issue, you keep writing emails and texting. Give people your full attention. If you’re not in a situation in which you can give someone your full attention (because, say, you have a deadline, or you’re currently chatting with your boss online about another work issue), ask if he or she can wait until you’re done.

5. Listening to music too loudly on your headphones.

A lot of people say that listening to music while working helps them focus. I’m one of them; especially if there are other distracting noises going on, strapping on my headphones can help me tune out the rest of the world and get to work. But it’s not fair to distract other people in your own attempt to avoid distraction — which is exactly what you’ll be doing if you listen to music so loudly that your coworkers can hear it through your headphones.

It’s easy to simply not be fully aware of how loud your music is, but it’s your job to try to find out. Either take off your headphones to test out how loud the music is, or ask your coworker if he or she can hear it. If it’s audible outside of your ears, either turn down the volume, or invest in headphones that will shield the noise from other people.

6. Telling other people how to do their jobs.

If your coworker is new or asks specifically for your help, then don’t be shy about offering advice. But in other situations, be careful about overstepping; the advice that you see as helpful may seem patronizing to others. Instead of always jumping in with unsolicited explanations of how a task should be done, try to read the situation. If you honestly think someone needs help, but you’re not sure, just ask, “Do you need any help with that?”


7. Coming into a coworker’s cubicle without asking.

In a work environment in which everyone shares the same office, separated by cubicles or simply different desks, people can feel very protective of their personal space, and won’t take well to having you walk into their cubicles or propping a hip on their desks without asking. Of course, some coworkers may love having you stop by to chat, but it’s important to always check that you’re welcome first.

8. Stealing food.

I mentioned this one above, but I listing it here because stealing other people’s food — especially the lunches they bring from home — is an absolute “NOPE.” I actually hesitated about including it on this list, because it doesn’t really fit into the category of “Ways You Don’t Realize You Are Annoying.” If you’re stealing food, you KNOW you’re being annoying, and you’re choosing to do it anyway, which officially makes you a jerk. So don’t do it!

9. Leaving food in the fridge for way too long.

At most work places, it’s everyone’s job to make sure that the refrigerator doesn’t turn into a storage unit for moldy items that may once have been identified as food. It’s a total jerk move for someone to take your (fresh) food out of the fridge, but it’s pretty inconsiderate to leave food languishing in there until it’s decomposing — you’re taking up much needed shelf space AND you are exposing your coworkers to moldy, slimy grossness. Be considerate, and remove anything you’re not going to eat from the refrigerator or cabinets in good time.

10. Asking the same question over and over and over… and over… and over…

We all need help sometimes, but your coworkers are going to feel a lot less cheerful about showing you how to use the copy machine if you ask them how to do it Every. Single. Day. If there’s an aspect of your work equipment that you find confusing, by all means, ask how to use it. But take notes, so that you can remind yourself of what to do, without driving your coworkers up the wall.

11. Replying all to mass emails.

I'm Not Really The Best Coworker Movie

Mass emails have their uses, but it is crazy annoying to get every single reply to an email that went out to 100 people in your inbox. If you receive a mass email from your boss, HR, or anyone else at work, think about whether your reply will be useful to everyone on the mailing list. If it will, then feel free to hit “Reply All.” However, if the sender is the only person who needs to hear from you, don’t blast your reply to everyone in the office.

12. Leaving the coffee pot empty.

If your workplace has a communal coffee pot, it’s common courtesy to make a new pot if you take the last cup. Interfering with people's caffeine intake is the best way to make them hate you with the fire of a thousand suns.

13. Talking to yourself when other people can hear you.

Look, I mumble to myself all the time when I’m working. A lot of people do. But I work at home, where the only person I can annoy with my incoherent ramblings is my dog, who is asleep most of the time. (Very poor work ethic, that one.) If you’re in a shared office, those random mumblings, or your whistling habit, or the way you tap your pen on your desktop, or any of the other unconscious, idiosyncratic noises you make can drive your coworkers up the wall. Of course, it can be hard to keep track of habits that are often unconscious, but at least try to be aware of the random noises you make and curb them. You’ll be amply repaid with saner coworkers.

14. Taking care of personal hygiene at your desk.

There's a time and a place to clip your toe nails, and the middle of the workday in your shared office space is not it. Same goes for flossing and other aspects of personal hygiene. Do it at home or in the bathroom — your coworkers will thank you.

15. Having loud phone conversations where other people can hear you.

In a communal workspace, everyone has to get used to a little ambient noise; there's just no way to have complete silence at all times, and doing your job may require you to be on the phone with clients or contractors. You can do your best, however, to keep noise levels down. That means not having lengthy personal calls in the space you share with your coworkers, and, if you have a long work-related call to make, it may be a good idea to take the call into a conference room or empty office.

16. Non-stop complaining.

Complaining about your boss, coworker, or a difficult client with another coworker can be a sort of bonding ritual. Having someone to whom you can roll your eyes when David From Accounting says something particularly ridiculous can go a long way toward making your workweek bearable. But complaining all the time can also be toxic and inject a lot of unnecessary negativity into your work environment. Yes, people enjoy a good moment of commiseration now and then, but being met by a barrage of angst every time somebody walks in the room can make that person really hard to be around. Take a moment to think about the energy you bring into your work place. Do you walk in the door every morning, ranting about traffic during your commute? Do you go to your coworker’s cubicle just to vent about how annoyed you are by someone else in the office? You may need to check your negativity. Studies have shown that complaining is contagious; it leads other people to pick up similarly negative emotions, and it’s bad for your health. So why not try to present a sunnier outlook?

I'm Not Really The Best Coworker Meme

Images: NBC Universal Television; Giphy (16)