After spending some time in corporate America in roles ranging from the trenches in manufacturing to the cube farms in corporate to running international teams for projects, there are probably hundreds of annoying behaviors I’ve witnessed (and admittedly, a few that I’ve exhibited and learned from as well) that are worth mentioning. Here are ten behaviors and tactics that are commonplace in the American workplace and are annoying at the most basic level and could actually end up hurting your career for more egregious or unchecked behavior. In no particular order, here are some of my pet peeves:
- Blatantly Ignore Calls, Emails and Meetings – Look, we’re all busy – I get that. If you get bombarded with a few calls in a day or your inbox is overflowing, for the queries that actually require a response, at least have the decency to say, “I got your note; I’m really tied up for the next day or two, but I’ll get back to you by the end of the week”. It’s incredibly annoying to send a request to someone that you’re relying on and be blatantly ignored on a routine basis. It puts you in an awkward position of either looking like a stalker by continuously harassing your counterpart or you end up missing deadlines or burdening other people with your responsibilities. What I like to do, especially when someone sits in a rather remote area like a different building (so it’s totally unexpected), is just drop in on them and say, “Hey there, I didn’t hear back from you the other day, I need your input on…”. This is especially effective when they have their feet kicked up and they’re surfing the internet or something (real busy!). I’ve done this twice and it’s worked like a charm.
- Gossip about your co-workers or the boss – This is one of the inevitable laws of human nature and Murphy’s law jumbled together. Always, Always, Always – what you say about someone will get back to them. It may take days, weeks or years, but let’s face it, alliances change. People drink together and spout off about something someone told them in confidence. And the worst – the person you’re talking about has a tendency to quietly sneak up and walk in just as you’re delivering a punchline about them! You may think that the person you’re confiding in or venting to is on your side and they’ve dished even more dirt than you have, but the reality is they will likely tell someone else what you said. Another side-effect is that you earn yourself a reputation of being someone who can’t be trusted, a backstabber, two-faced, whatever. If you’ve evolved to be “above it all”, you not only exhibit the leadership and maturity that your company is probably seeking, but you’ll earn the trust and respect of like-minded colleagues as well.
- Be an eternal Pessimist – Sure, the eternal cheerleader can be a bit annoying, and these days, they’re a bit muted, but a downer is even worse. You know, that guy who seems eternally annoyed, bummed out, hates his job, hates the company, feels entitled, etc. They keep him around for whatever reason, but when you ask, “How’s it going?”, the reply is inevitably something like, “To Hell” or “It’s going…”. You’d be surprised at the reactions you get, when you’ve just been slammed with some sort of major challenge or setback and someone sheepishly asks how you’re doing and you say, “Great! How ’bout you?”. Even if it’s sarcastic with a laugh and you say, “Livin’ the dream baby!”, it beats the loser approach. Attitudes are contagious and if you exude confidence and a positive outlook, good things happen. I’m not a strong believer in fate, karma, “The Secret” (what a joke, even at 5 bucks), but I do believe motivated, enthusiastic, happy people end up being much more successful in life than their opposites – probably due to human interactions, behaviors and outcomes that cannot be quantified. But, it’s been my experience and the experience of practically everyone I’ve ever known which is enough for me.
- Punt! Play dumb and divert responsibilities elsewhere – This one drives me nuts. There are people who are clearly responsible for a particular activity, workstream, whatever…and every time an obvious assignment heads their way there is an excuse as to why they can’t or won’t do it. The efforts these people go to in order to avoid work astounds me. Some common tactics include citing department/bureaucratic procedures that conflict with or disallow the request (inconsistently of course, depending on which interpretation benefits them for each situation), citing workload constraints, citing competing priorities, challenging the value/support/sponsorship for the request, asking “for more information on this because I need to understand this better” over and over without actually doing anything, and more. Often, the end result is that the requester just finds someone else to do it or does it themselves, while the punter has just reinforced their behavior as effective. Fortunately, I don’t interact with anyone like this in my current role, but they’re out there!
- Play Office Politics – As coy and sophisticated as one thinks they are when they’re cozying up to the boss’s boss’s boss 3 levels higher or trying to form social contacts with “the powers that be”, the brown-noser often underestimates the ability of coworkers and bosses alike to spot what’s going on and it’s usually recognized early on and results in, well, #2. People will talk about you behind your back and be annoyed by your disingenuous corner-cutting behavior.
- Gloat about your latest Achievement (or Bonus!) – Nothing fosters dissension amongst the ranks better than a department full of co-workers questioning why Johnny got a special award bonus or a huge raise last year when he was a total slacker and took credit for an idea or efforts that really belong to someone else. If you had a great year or were just recognized, that’s great for you; perhaps not great for the morale of everyone else who either a) is in no position to judge or fully grasp what you did since they’re not you or your boss or b) thinks they are much more deserving of such accolades. When you gloat, it just makes people want to see you fail – and that’s not where you want to be.
- Root for your colleagues to Fail – or worse, sabotage – We’ve all seen the show with the evil jealous friend or co-worker who’s constantly seeking to sabotage the success of the protagonist with mild success while never really being called out. It’s so annoying to watch, it makes you just want to choke the character. Well, in the workplace, it exists as well. And while choking is usually frowned upon, there isn’t much you can do other than educate yourself, exert situational awareness and in some cases, confront the saboteur head on (in private is my recommendation). They’ll likely deny any overt intent and come up with excuses for their conniving behavior, but they’ll know you’re on to them and back off. Some people think that they’ll rank higher at the end of the year because their peers did poorly. Examples include subtly “calling out” a mistake in a staff meeting that anyone with a 3rd grade eduction can figure out who you’re talking about, finding an error or knowing someone’s headed in the wrong direction and just watching it happen instead of helping them out, or, partaking in #2.
- Never get your hands dirty and learn the process – Now, this isn’t necessarily a career killer, and in fact, plenty of people get ahead by actually NOT knowing what the heck is going on by just checking boxes, jumping job to job and delegating. However, if you plan on being in a role for any reasonable period of time and want to earn the respect of your peers, subordinates and managers, LEARN THE PROCESS! I don’t care if it’s construction, programming, sales, high tech, whatever – there are small nuances in the way the business runs, the way procedures are performed, common mistakes, opportunities for improvement, etc. By showing the tactical day to day employees that you’re in it with them and willing to learn the landscape, you’ll garner immediate respect and they’ll go out of their way to help you when you need them.
- Obnoxious office behavior like leaving conference calls on speaker for the whole office to hear and arguing with your wife – There’s no need for your co-workers to have to listen to some customer meeting for 2 hours straight on speaker phone because a co-worker’s too lazy to pick up the earpiece or just wear a headset. There are offices and conference room options, but please, no more meetings while we’re trying to work! This should be common sense, but evidently, it’s not.
- Be a Slacker – with an aire of entitlement about oneself, just kick the feet back and watch everyone else do the work. When the tough decisions are required, shift the tough call to someone else. When a volunteer is needed, look away and get up and go to the restroom. When a teammate needs a helping hand, find an excuse not to help. You know who I’m talking about. And if you take offense to this notion, perhaps it’s you!
So, What Are Your Annoying Office Behavior Stories? I’d Love to Hear.
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