What Bugs Us At Work

by Jennifer Miller on May 6, 2011

in Workplace Issues

I heard a great review on NPR the other day of a book called Annoying: The Science of What Bugs Us. The book covers the science of why things like loud cell phone conversations and fingernails on a chalkboard are universally annoying to us.

As I listened, I realized that a big part of my daily work is helping people sort out their annoyances with each other. However, the annoyances that I help people work on aren’t nearly as easy to identify as say, eating smelly lunch food at one’s desk, because they’re based on interpersonal style. One person’s “that bugs me!” may be another person’s “What? I love it when that happens!”

To illustrate: imagine that you are interviewing the following four people as potential co-workers. When you ask them to describe themselves this is how they reply:

Person A:
“I’m a very social, high-energy person and people naturally gravitate towards me.”

Person B:
“My nickname could be Steady Eddie because I’m a very dependable person.”

Person C:
“If you want to get something done, come to me.”

Person D:
“Quality comes first. Why do something at all unless you’re going to do it right?”

Did you find yourself gravitating towards or away from any of these statements? If so, it’s because you most likely have a strong preference for interacting with people in a particular way. If you liked the statement “If you want to get something done, come to me” then you most likely would find it easy to work with that person. By the same token, if the “get it done” approach rubs you the wrong way, it’s likely that you prefer a more easy-going approach.

Just because someone has a different interpersonal approach than you doesn’t automatically mean that they’ll annoy you. However, if you find yourself being irritated by a co-worker and you can’t quite put your finger on what’s causing your annoyance, ask yourself: Is it the content (the “what”) of this person’s message that annoys me or the way he/she said it? If it’s way in which the message was delivered, then you just might have a “style difference” issue. Try to focus on the content rather than the delivery of the message.

It may still seem like fingers on a chalkboard, but maybe it won’t be quite so irritating.

Disclosure: I’ve drawn these examples from the DiSC behavioral model which is a conceptual construct based on observable behaviors, classified into four categories, called “dimensions” – Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness. My company SkillSource is an authorized independent distributor of Inscape Publishing self-development resources. DiSC® is a registered trademark of Inscape and is used with permission.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather Stubbs May 6, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Good points, Jennifer! I find that when I’m having trouble with someone’s style, it helps me to consciously make a list of aspects of that person that I do like, or that I do find it easy to be around. When I focus on the positive things, the negative things become less important, less “in my face”, and less irritating. Sometimes I have to do this exercise for sheer survival!

Jennifer V. Miller May 9, 2011 at 11:39 am


Yes, sometimes there *is* a “survival” aspect to interacting with certain co-workers. The suggestions you offer are productive, practical and best of all– focus on the positive.

Thanks for stopping by!

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