Deal with Obnoxious Co-workers with Critical Conversation Skills

Obnoxious co-workers exist in every workplace, but critical conversation skills can help you deal with them effectively. Through critical conversation, you can address behaviors that are bothering you or interfering with your productivity, and work together to find an agreeable solution.

An obnoxious co-worker might blast her iPod, slam drawers or doors, never replace supplies in the common area, talk loudly on the phone, “forget” to give credit to team members that do the work, or simply ignore what other team members say.

These types of co-workers usually are behaving unattractively for one of two reasons. They may be completely oblivious to their own behavior, or they may not realize how their behavior impacts others. Regardless of why they act the way they do, a critical conversation can stop the behavior and perhaps stop other obnoxious behavior in the future.

Here is a positive and professional way to help resolve conflict with an obnoxious co-worker.

Jane: “George, I find your loud music is disruptive to my concentration. Are you willing to talk about how we both can be productive?”

Obnoxious co-worker George listening to his music on the highest setting: “That music must be in your imagination — my music is on my headphones. I would never think of being obnoxious.”

Jane: “I understand you like your music at work, and I understand how you may think the music is at a low volume. Are you willing to work with me to find a volume that allows everyone to be productive at work?”

Now George has the option of saying yes or no. If he says no, Jane may have a valid workplace complaint that she needs to bring to a manager’s attention. However, if George has any common sense, he will probably say yes, and then George and Jane can begin to brainstorm solutions and come to a mutual agreement.

Jane mastered the critical conversation elements in this discussion. First, she examined and presented the problem without threat or negative tone. George really may have a genuine lack of understanding of what makes a respectful workplace, and with Jane’s help, he can see how a workplace needs to work for everyone.

Second, Jane helped decide what to do next by making a recommendation to change behavior that would work for everyone. And third, she asked whether George would be willing to work together to create a solution (appreciate and acknowledge feelings) and get moving forward.

This trifecta of critical conversation talking points avoids an autocrat “I’ll tell you what to do . . .” and creates solutions everyone can live with and support in the future.

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