Well-Being//

The Science Behind Workplace Pet Peeves — And How to Feel Less Annoyed With Your Co-Workers

No, you don’t have to resort to working from home.

MirageC/ Getty Images
MirageC/ Getty Images

That co-worker who gabs loudly on her cell phone while you’re in the open cubicle next to her, desperately trying to focus. A colleague who thinks microwaving fish in the office kitchen is perfectly acceptable. An assistant who calls out sick every Friday. “Annoying behaviors are unavoidable in most workplaces,” Jessica Methot, Ph.D., an associate professor at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, tells Thrive. And it’s completely normal to feel irritated or triggered from time to time when you work closely with others

Our workplace pet peeves — or “social allergens,” as Methot calls them — become harder to deal with when the behaviors are repetitive. After “repeated exposure, our response becomes stronger and more negative,” Methot explains.

So what is a healthy, appropriate response when your co-worker does something you find annoying? First, it’s important to acknowledge the feelings you’re having, says Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and author of Bouncing Back from Rejection: If you try to suppress the irritation of anger, “In the end, you’ll likely act it out in some way — maybe even snapping — and make the work environment more difficult.” Then, once you identify what’s triggering you, you can take some simple steps to deal. Read on for your sanity-saving solutions to four common workplace pet peeves:

The pet peeve: Your co-worker’s eating habits drive you crazy

What the science says: If the sound of your co-worker’s gum-chewing or coffee-slurping makes the hair on your neck stand up, you might have a sensitivity syndrome called misophonia — where certain trigger sounds and repetitive noises make you irritated, and sometimes enraged. Experts say there’s a lot we don’t know yet about the disorder, but many people deal with some form of it, and it can be a serious source of stress over time.

How to feel less annoyed: Often, those small, subtle sounds that bother us are exacerbated when we’re already stressed about something else. Becker-Phelps says it’s important to identify what’s really going on internally. “Address the problem within yourself,” she urges. “Pay attention to the emotions you’re experiencing, which could be a general sense of frustration or confusion.” And if you find that your misophonia is disrupting your mental well-being on a broader scale, seek help from an expert who can help you address your personal triggers.

The pet peeve: Your co-worker never says hello in the morning

What the science says: Research suggests that when your communication style differs from someone else’s, some of their tendencies could come across as rude or annoying. For example, if you’re naturally extroverted, you may be more likely to say “good morning” to your co-workers, while introverts may keep to themselves or take a little longer “warming up” to social interaction. 

How to feel less annoyed: “It could be helpful to increase your understanding of your co-worker,” Becker-Phelps recommends. Try to keep in mind that everyone has a different social rhythm and it likely has nothing to do with you. “Understanding where someone else is coming from might allow you to have more compassion for them.” In turn, you may feel less annoyed when their greetings (or lack thereof) don’t always match your M.O.

The pet peeve: Your colleague ignores social norms

What the science says: One category of social allergens is called “norm violations,” which Methot explains as non-personal, inconsiderate acts that can cause stress for other people. These “violators” could be the colleagues who are constantly interrupting conversations, coming late to important presentations, or asking too many questions in meetings. And if you’re someone who is overly mindful of your impact on others, it can be frustrating to deal with norm violators.

How to feel less annoyed: Learn to speak up and give feedback when it’s appropriate — but come from a place of assuming the other person’s positive intent. For example, if you need quiet time to focus, you don’t have to just accept that you sit next to someone who interrupts your work constant. But do keep in mind that they may be unaware of their own behavior. “Find a diplomatic way to express your difficulty,” suggests Becker-Phelps. You could say, for instance, “I’d love to connect with you when I finish this assignment, but right now I need to prioritize this deadline and can’t chat.”

The pet peeve: You work with a seriously gossip-y type

What the science says: If a co-worker’s gossiping really gets to you, it could be that you’re trying to protect your energy and not get wrapped up in negativity. (#Valid) In one 2015 study published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management, researchers found that being around a gossiping co-worker can make you more cynical about work, and can start a negative trend among your team. 

How to feel less annoyed: Give yourself permission to speak up instead of hoping they’ll stop griping or gossiping on their own, says Liane Davey, Ph.D., author of You First. “If someone gossips to you, redirect them by either addressing their grievance constructively… or helping them reframe how they’re thinking,” she suggests.

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