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June 15, 2017

How to Manage Annoying People

Rachel Salaman

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Ilene Marcus

Does your team get on like one big, happy family? Even if it does, there are bound to be times when there's a clash. Whether it's annoying habits or mannerisms, there are many ways that we can wind one another up at work. The question is, what can we do about it?

According to consultant and coach Ilene Marcus, we tend to respond to annoying behavior by instinct – and that's not very helpful.

"Your blood pressure raises, your temperature raises, your breathing gets quicker, your heart rate raises, and your pupils get dilated. You're already looking crazy," she says. "When you're in that mode you go into a fight-or-flight response. So you either come out swinging at this person: 'Why are you doing this? This is not what the meeting is for'." You start yelling. Or you freeze and say, 'I'm done. We're leaving. I'm packing up my toys and going home'."

In addition to fight and flight, there's another possible "F" response.

"Some people freeze," she says. "Even when they're the boss, they're not really sure how to manage someone who is annoying them. So someone is doing something that is stopping the progress of the meeting, and the boss just doesn't take control, and lets the whole meeting fall apart."

Adapt Your Own Behavior

Although these reactions are natural and understandable, they can damage the motivation and productivity of your team, with a knock-on effect on your organization as a whole. Marcus recommends that managers adapt their own behavior, rather than try to change that of their team members, in order to tackle this.

"I firmly believe that it is the manager or the leader's job to bring out the best in each worker, regardless of the circumstances," Marcus tells me in our Expert Interview podcast. "As the boss, whether I'm leading or managing tasks, it's my job to make sure that my team gets to the place they need to get, and I need to change my behavior to do that – to enable them to be able to be successful."

So don’t fixate on this team member's habit of interrupting, or that team member's tendency to repeat herself. Instead, focus on turning around the negative relationship patterns that those habits create.

Prevent Energy Suck

In her book "Managing Annoying People," Marcus presents seven proven tactics for doing that. The first is "prevent energy suck," and she illustrates this with a personal anecdote about a team member who always needs a one-on-one chat after every meeting.

For a busy manager like Marcus, this eats up precious time. But, her team member believes these interactions are necessary. She's an important and valued contributor, so there's a balance to be struck.

"I have to find a way to manage my relationship with her so I can meet her need of feeling engaged and having more time to explore the issues, but I can meet my need of not having my energy drained by these meetings," Marcus explains, adding that, "the most important thing to do in this situation is not to avoid."

Her solution is to give the team member what she wants, but with clear, stated boundaries.

"I need to say to her, 'I love meeting with you but I have a time constraint, so we have 15 minutes to have this meeting today'," Marcus says.

Sometimes, she includes other people in these post-meeting conversations, explaining, "It's much less annoying when I can spread out the work and include someone else, because then we can get some other stuff done, too. It's not just her agenda."

Limit the Annoying Team Member

This example illustrates another tactic from the book: guard your time. If you put a limit on the time you spend with the annoying team member, you minimize the annoyance, and you are more likely to spend that time productively.

Marcus's favorite tactic is, "Know busy is better, for the greater good." In this audio clip from our Expert Interview podcast, she tells the story of a team member who regularly generated unrequested sales reports to promote her own division. How did Marcus handle this "annoying superstar?"

Listen to the full Expert Interview in the Mind Tools Club ¦ Install Flash Player

How do you deal with annoying people? Join the discussion below!

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2 comments on “How to Manage Annoying People”

    1. Thanks for that feedback. There will certainly be people who we do not get along with and learning things to help us will contribute to a smoother interaction and relationship.

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