It’s National Slap Your Annoying Coworker Day! Who knew there was such a glorious day?!? How many of us have fantasized about doing just that right when they’re at their most annoying? Then everyone in the office applauds, hoists you onto their shoulders, and parade you around the office in celebration. Huzzah! Unfortunately, when you read the fine print it turns out you can’t actually go around slapping people. Sigh. Why even have this day?!?
The good news is there’s a better and more productive solution. Most likely, the irritating thing you hate about your coworker – unless it’s something like mouth breathing or clipping their toe nails in their cubicle – is really just a difference in your strengths. What people don’t realize is that our talents color the way we see the world and impacts almost all of our behavior. What does this mean? It means that if we were all dropped onto a deserted island and had to decide the first five things we should to do to survive, we wouldn’t all have the same list. Oh sure, some things would be the same or similar. If we compared lists there would be some people we had a lot in common with and other people who we disagreed with completely. That’s why in every movie or tv show where this happens there’s always some big fight over what to do and who should be the leader – aka who has the “right” list.
In more practical terms, think about the last time you worked on a project with a group of people at school, at work, or at an organization. When you found out about the project, what did YOU think would be the best way to tackle it? When you started working with everyone, is that what happened? Probably not…at least not completely. It probably depended on whether you were in charge of part or all of the project, how well you communicated with your team, and how vocal other people were. How many ideas made you cringe? How many made you rethink your initial ideas? Did the people you like have better ideas than those people who usually do things “the wrong way?” Do the people you like usually see things the same way you do? Was there an annoying guy who always asks too many questions when you’re just trying to get everything done ASAP? What? Reverse that…the annoying person is the one trying to rush through everything even though there might be issues? What about the annoying woman who is always worried about how everyone will feel about what you’re doing when you’re trying to find the most strategic way to get everything done? Oops. Reverse that again. The annoying person is the one who is discounting how everyone will react to things when everyone knows that people aren’t always rational? Hmm.
In my last on campus job, I worked with a great team. We consistently developed fantastic services, campaigns, and programs to support students. I loved everyone on the team, but when we had a new project there was one person on the team who was SUPER annoying. A few of us would be in the middle of brainstorming and this person would always interrupt us to ask, “So who is doing what and when? What are the action items? What’s the time table.” Ugh, we HATED this and we KNEW she was going to do it EVERY DAMN TIME. As it turned out, she was equally annoyed at us every time for wasting so much time coming up with more ideas when we already had one. It wasn’t until we took the CliftonStrengths talent assessment that we started to understand the problem. My #1 is Ideation. I love coming up with creative ways to achieve goals and solve problems and that takes time. The first idea is just a jumping off point. My process needed time to develop the BEST idea. Her #1 was Achiever. She wanted to get things done. There’s so much on everyone’s plate, we needed to get working ASAP. She didn’t necessarily worry about having the best idea, she just wanted to make sure we could get it done. As annoying as we both found each other during those moments, we finally understood that together those made us stronger. I could come up with ideas all day long, but if we couldn’t get them done it didn’t matter. She could check things off her list all day long, but if ultimately those things didn’t deliver because they weren’t completely thought out it wouldn’t matter. Our irritating differences made us a stronger team.
What was most interesting is once we figured this out, we didn’t find each other as annoying anymore. Instead it opened the floor to have constructive conversations about meeting both of our needs. When she would press for the to do list, I could say I appreciated that we definitely needed to do that but we needed 10 more minutes to finish fleshing out the idea then she could take over. Likewise, when my brainstorming got out of control, she felt comfortable calling me out and refocusing the group so we made sure we got our great ideas done. Of course, we were sometimes annoyed with one another – there’s always that natural instinct to default to our way of thinking being the “right” way – but we had a productive way to resolve those differences and work together. We saw the benefit of both of our approaches and leaned on each other when we felt we were too focused on our own way of thinking.
The next time your coworker annoys you, stop and think how maybe they’re just as irritated at you because you just have a different way of thinking about the issue. Learn what your talents are and start to think about how they are connected to your decisions and behaviors. Then think about how those things might look to other people if they don’t think the same way you do. If you can learn your coworkers’ talents, even better. Using CliftonStrengths with your team can be a powerful tool to help you better communicate and be more productive.
So instead of slapping your annoying coworker, give them a hug and let them know you appreciate how their view point makes your work and your team better. Too far? Okay, hold the hug, but when you find yourself annoyed by someone else, remember it’s not personal. It’s just how they see the world because of the talents they have and those talents bring value even if it's not immediately obvious to you.