There are the co-workers who are constantly interrupting you in meetings. There are the ones who don’t seem to pull their weight. And there are even the ones who blast their music or chew their gum at the loudest possible volume.
Whatever their annoying habits, these co-workers obviously aren’t all that self-aware. After all, if they knew how much of a nuisance they were, they might actually be embarrassed and put an end to their obnoxious behaviors.
Of course, you’re not one to be blunt in these scenarios. Speaking up to a co-worker who’s annoying or disruptive isn’t just a courageous act—it’s a risk in itself. It can either go over well or backfire on you, or—in the case of someone who’s not in tune with themselves—your feedback just doesn’t stick.
So how can you ensure your comment both resonates and is received positively by a not-so-self-aware colleague? Here are four rules to follow.
1. You Have to Be Super Clear
Since this person is already way behind you in terms of awareness, you have to work extra hard to explain clearly what they’re doing.
Look, this isn’t always easy. But tiptoeing around the real problem only means that the person on the receiving end is either confused, misinformed, or insulted.
So, before you chat with them, get really clear on what exactly they’re doing that’s driving you nuts. Is it what they’re saying or how they’re saying it? Is it something they always do—or only in certain situations? And, is it a habit that they can correct, or is it something that’s out of their hands?
2. You Have to Give Context
Part of how humans best process information is context.
Context makes things easier to remember. Can you remember what you wore last Thursday? Probably not. But if I asked you what you wore last Thursday when you were at a bar with your friends playing pool, you could probably easily recall what your outfit looked like.
Also, context helps explain the “why.” When you tell someone why what they’re doing is bothering you, distracting you, or insulting you, it carries more weight. Sure, you can tell someone to stop talking so loudly around your desk. But, if you tell them that their volume is preventing you from finishing that important report due tomorrow, they may have more empathy and actually turn it down a notch.
Give the person something to work with when delivering whatever feedback you have. When and where were they doing said habit? What was going on at the time? Why did it affect you in this specific way?
3. You Have to Do it Nicely
One, because this person really isn’t meaning to do what they’re doing. As author Julia Chang of LearnVest states, “Most people want to vilify low-EQ co-workers, but don’t fault them for skills they don’t have.”
Be the bigger person and assume that your co-worker is truly well-intentioned and not deliberately trying to drive you up a wall.
Two, because niceness always pays off in the end. You know how I said earlier that addressing a not-so-self-aware co-worker can backfire? That’s a lot more likely to happen if you do it in a condescending or rude way.
Let’s put these first three points together. For example, let’s say your co-worker is a bit too chatty at the desks. You might approach it in the following way:
Hey David! I was wondering if I could talk to you for a second. While I love chatting with you at our desks—I could literally spend hours talking about dog tweets like we did yesterday—I’ve been really struggling to finish this article that’s due Friday. I personally have a hard time not getting distracted by what everyone’s talking about around me, so I need to call in a small favor: Whenever you want to chat with our team about non-work stuff, could you move to the kitchen or Slack, or pop by toward the end of the day?
4. You Have to Recognize Their Efforts and Hold Them Accountable
It’s possible the first time you say something it still won’t resonate. If that’s the case, a simple poke reminding them of your talk can work wonders:
“Just wanted to remind you that I’d appreciate it if you could keep the talking to a minimum at the desks!”
“Thanks again for listening to my concerns about being interrupted in last week’s meeting. I think your idea was great and I hope we can both throw ideas out there without having to talk over each other!”
But if they’ve already made moves to improve, don’t forget to acknowledge that. Change doesn’t happen overnight—if that chronic interrupter only jumped in once or twice in your latest meeting as opposed to every time, that’s a step in the right direction. Recognize that their effort makes a huge difference for you and isn’t going unnoticed. Doing so strengthens your work relationship and encourages them to keep doing better.
My final piece of advice is, if this person just isn’t budging, you may want to bring in another player—your boss or HR, for example. Because it’s entirely possible to have a co-worker who’s both oblivious and self-centered, having that extra backing gives you more authority to shut the person down. And I highly recommend checking out this article to help you approach a conversation with someone higher up.