If familiarity breeds contempt, then the modern workplace is a veritable petri dish for derision. Since many of us spend most of our days in the company of co-workers, how can we resist the urge to let everything about them irritate us?
The Greek fabulist Aesop is the one who is most often credited with coining the saying "Familiarity breeds contempt." It is also the first historical evidence of an ancient office cubicle system.
Oh, I kid about the cubicle. But it is a fact that the daily, forced proximity of a bunch of people with only job roles in common can be a breeding ground for hostility and irritation. When our Programming and Development blogger Justin James polled his fellow programmers about what stresses them out the most, the prevailing choice was co-workers/management. Why?
The fact is that many of us spend more of our waking hours with our co-workers than we do with our families. Over time, the interesting quirks and behaviors of our co-workers can become insanely irritating. But what can you do? Well, it depends on the behavior.
If a co-worker is constantly fielding personal calls at the office, that behavior is unacceptable and should be changed. In other words, you are justified in your irritation. But if a co-worker happens to have an irritating laugh or is a serial sneezer, for example, then you're better off finding a way on your own of assuaging your irritation because those behaviors may not be controllable. In other words, you'll need to change your own expectations.
I found this interesting nugget on a Web site called thebecompany that talks about why people get irritated:
What does someone who is irritated go through? He or she is in a situation that does not call forth the expected outcome. There is a difference between a standard or expectation, and what really happens. So far so good. Only, this is not the end. The personality of this person wants to change this situation that so obviously does not meet his personal standards and values or ways in which he can expect pleasant or right outcomes. He wants to make such a change that the outcome then can make him feel in charge again, while his world reflects his standards and values as close as possible.
The more controlling a person is, I imagine, the more irritated he is when the actions of others don't reflect his expectations. So, when a situation arises, ask yourself first if the behavior needs to change. Be objective. Does it interrupt your work and that of others? Does the behavior impede your productivity and others in the office? Or is it merely something that reminds you of your horrid ex mother-in-law? Explore your motivations. If you're irritated for subjective reasons, take a deep breath and think of something you really like about the "offender" instead. Change your expectations — it's easier than changing other people.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.