Co-workers can be your closest confidantes, or they can be the people you dread seeing in the morning. We all know a few of both.
Other people’s annoying habits, from taking personal calls all day long to consistently forgetting to copy you on important emails, can ruin a workday or—worst case scenario—your success within the company.
So, if you’ve got a co-worker that’s driving you crazy, should you tell them?
Here’s your guide to deciding if the issue is worth bringing up (and who you should be bringing it up to):
Yes if: It’s Interfering With Your Ability to Do Your Job
A co-worker showing you endless pictures of their labradoodle isn’t worth a tough conversation, but slacking off on projects and taking credit for your work definitely is.
No if: It’s a Minor Annoyance to You, But a Major Thing for Them
But sometimes, it’s best just to follow the dog on Instagram rather than hurt a co-worker’s feelings (and your long-term relationship—you have to work together, after all).
Yes if: It’s Something They Can Definitely Fix
Maybe your co-worker has not-so-great body odor, or they blast their music at an insane volume.
If it’s something you know they could solve with something as simple as deodorant or the volume button on their phone, it’s OK to ask (but, in the case of body odor, speak to HR and see if they’ll handle it).
No if: It’s Something They Can’t Help
It’s possible their annoying habit is linked to a health problem they can’t do anything about or already feel embarrassed about (for example, allergies). Use good judgment and make sure you’re not complaining about something that’ll only unnecessarily shame them. When in doubt, talk to your boss—they may know the bigger story.
Yes if: You’ve Got the Backing of Your Manager
While it’s better to resolve co-worker issues on your own if you can, knowing your manager will be on your side if it escalates is a plus. Make sure what you’re bringing up to your co-worker is something your manager can stand behind. The more you emphasize it’s not just affecting you, but your work or other team members, the more likely this will be the case.
No if: It’s Such a Small Issue Your Manager Will Think You’re Wasting Their Time
Constantly bringing little annoyances to your manager is a sign you can’t handle problems on your own (and you’ll come to suffer from “boy who cried wolf” syndrome). Pick your battles wisely.
Yes if: There’s No Way to Avoid the Annoying Habit
If you’re trapped in a cubicle together and there’s nowhere else you can work, you can definitely bring it up. Whether it’s their messy desk or their unnecessary PDA with their significant other that’s taking over, remember: It’s your workspace, too.
No if: There’s an Easy Way to Avoid the Person
If you’re not chained to your desk, it’s sometimes better to avoid the awkward confrontation by (theoretically or literally) walking away. Wearing headphones can eliminate the noise of working in proximity with a whistler or chatterbox, or working a few hours a day in an empty conference room can grant you some much-needed distance.
Yes if: You Can Find the Right Approach
To get the best possible outcome—the person quits their annoying habit—you should be polite, direct, and respectful. Don’t let things get to the point where you’re so irritated you blow up at them or get personal. That won’t solve anything.
No if: You Know You Won’t Be Able to Keep the Dislike Out of Your Voice
In this case, you’re better off talking to your manager and asking her to mediate.
Yes if: You’re Sure You’ve Identified the Problem
If the co-worker’s always talking over you in meetings, that’s a clear problem—go ahead and address it with them.
No if: This Issue Is Just a Focal Point for Other Dissatisfactions
This can be with your assignments, your job in general, your work relationships, or even outside work issues. Examine your life and make sure that hating on your co-worker’s overly chipper moods or habit of talking about her wedding planning is just a convenient scapegoat to avoid addressing your frustration with something bigger.
Yes if: You Know Your Co-worker’s a Reasonable Person
Sensible co-workers will make an effort to fix the problem if it’s not a big deal to them. In many cases—maybe they have a tendency to hum when they’re focused—they might not realize they were doing it and are happy to try to stop.
No if: Your Co-worker Has a History of Creating Drama
It might be worth a few days of the silent treatment to get rid of an annoying habit, but if they’re likely to make a huge deal out of it and draw other people in, learning to live with it (or, if it’s a major issue, having your manager step in) is probably the better option.
It can be difficult to confront a co-worker, even if you know that you’re in the right. If you decide to say something, it’s smart to keep things civil: frame your request as a request, rather than a criticism. If you behave like a professional, they’re more likely to do the same—and everyone will be able to get on with their day in peace.
TopicsDecide This for Me by Nell Wulfhart , Workplace Relationships , Co-Workers , Syndication , Career Advice , Annoying Co-Workers , Work Relationships , Communication , The Muse Editor's Picks
Photo of people working courtesy of Gary Burchell/Getty Images.