Ask An Adult: How To Cope With Work Colleagues You Hate During Christmas Party Season
The Debrief: It's one thing when they're annoying in the office. But how are you going to cope when you're in a sad pub drinking crap wine pretending to like each other?
Illustrated by Marina Esmeraldo
In your life, there are some things that are just going to happen. You’ll get stuck in a revolving door, you’ll eat too much and feel a bit sick, you’ll occasionally watch the person you’re going out with and think, ‘WTF am I doing?’, and you’ll work with someone you can’t stand. Over Christmas, this gets way more acute, because not only are you in the office with them, you're also having to go to Christmas parties with them. And stand around drinking crap wine, pretending to laugh at their crap jokes and feeling sad because you want to be with your real friends. Then, to make it so much worse, you’re hungover the next day while they continue to be annoying, like a beacon of cringe that’s honking irritation directly into your brain.
I’d like to point out that I’ve not been in this situation and have been blessed with excellent colleagues my entire working life, I’m just speculating. Which means I’m definitely the crap colleague that everyone hates. Anyway, whether it’s their (my) overbearing laugh, continuous outer monologue, inability to complete even the simplest task or their big stupid face (look, there’s not always a mature, or indeed logical, reason behind the animosity), you’re going to get pissed off with someone in the office.
It won’t get better after party season either, and you’ll have to spend the whole of the new year wanting to stick pens in your eyes. In fact, it won’t stop until you leave, they leave or you kill them. Sometimes, though, you can’t leave. And they won’t leave. And you’re not the sort of person who can end a life without feeling really guilty.
Short of sitting them down and telling them they’re really shit (which is inadvisable), or getting drunk at the party and bitching about them loudly to another colleague within earshot so they cry and go home and hopefully hand in their resignation, it’s all about getting zen. Chartered business psychologist Beverley Stone is a firm believer in the cognitive behavioural therapy approach – that it’s all about your perception, and you can solve it by looking within your own soul. It’s a lot more logical than I just made it sound.
‘You change the situation, or you change the way you view it. You feel what you think, so it’s not the situation or the person that’s causing you to get aggravated, but the way you view them. Look at what negative self talk you’re giving them,’ she explains. ‘These thoughts aggravate you but don’t help you manage the person.’
So how do you manage the person?
Appreciate the ‘wisdom of the difference’
If the problem is that you work very differently, then treat someone you've been going out with for ages. ‘When I work with teams I call it appreciating the wisdom of the difference – you know when you first fall in love with someone and you think, ‘Oh this person is the opposite of me, we’ll make a great whole!’ Then, after 18 months, you can’t stand it? Your arguments are basically repetitions of the phrase, “Why aren‘t you more like me?” Beverley explains. ‘At work, we need to get back to realising that if I’m somebody who wants to run out the door and experiment with a new idea, the person hauling me back is good for me. We make a good team – on my own, I’ll do stupid things and on their own, they’ll never leave the planning room. Yes they’re annoying, because of the way they think, but try and see how they complement you.’
Stop focussing on the annoying bits
If it’s not a workplace issue, but a solely personality-based one (ie ‘Oh God she only says shit things and then does this silly swallowing thing that makes me want to die’), then you have to alter your perception completely. Instead of thinking about how irritating they are, think about how sad it is that they’re irritating – and why they are the way they are. Basically, pity them. ‘I get people to write down the negative self talk and put a positive self talk in its place,’ says Beverley. ‘For example – she’s doing her best. It’s not her fault that she’s annoying, so maybe I could go for lunch with her and see it as a problem to be solved, rather than thinking how much you hate her and wishing she was more like you.’ It’s true – people also have weird tics when they’re nervous, so it’s worth getting to know them and you’ll probably find that they’re not as bad as you thought. Also, Beverely reckons you’ll feel way better: ‘The person isn’t making you feel anything, and the situation isn’t, it’s the way you view the situation. In effect, you’re just aggravating yourself – if you were more mindful, it’d go over your head you’d be perfectly chilled.’
Don't deal with the symptoms, focus on the cause
Putting headphones in, moving away from them, venting to other friends, all these things will help you in the moment – but they’re not going to solve the problem to the extent that you can hang around a sad pub for four hours the week before Christmas pretending to have loads of fun. You’ll go mad. ‘Practical things you can do to alleviate the problem is just dealing with the symptoms – it’s empowering to know the source is your own thoughts, and that you can live a calm, pleasant, happy life alongside all your annoying colleagues if you learn to stay in the here and now and control negative thoughts.’
Stay in the here and now
Definitely do not talk about it, or think about it, out of work hours. If you do, then suddenly the negative emotions start encroaching on your whole day until you're living and breathing a person you can’t stand. And that’s so not healthy. ‘If you lie in bed thinking, “I can’t believe they said that to me – what’s it going to be like tomorrow morning?” then pull yourself into the here and now. There is nobody in the room at that moment aggravating you, it's you aggravating yourself,’ Beverely says. ‘I can’t emphasise how important it is to try and change things rather than dwelling on them – concentrate on your own career, the job or the work that you love doing, and on finding friends elsewhere!’
If it gets too much, go to the boss
If everyone’s being a prick to you, and you feel alone and unable to do your job properly, then go and speak to the higher powers. But don’t do it behind anyone’s back because that’s not going to work in your favour. ‘Ask the person leading it (we refer to these sorts of people as “opinion leaders”) and try and change the situation. If you can’t, then tell them you can’t work like this, and that you need to go to the boss to talk about it – but that you’re happy to go with them,’ Beverely suggests. ‘So it’s not behind their back. Explain that you’ve tried working with them, but it’s making you miserable. If they aren’t prepared to go with you, then they can’t accuse you of telling tales.’
Don't take it personally
If you hate your colleague because they’re being a bit pissy with you, then the worst thing you can do is take it to heart. ‘Don’t make assumptions and blame yourself before you check it out! Wait until an appropriate time and ask if they’re OK – they could say they’ve had an argument with their partner and it’s actually nothing to do,’ Beverely says. ‘Don’t feel frightened to put the issue on the table, because that’s the only way it will be resolved.’ Perhaps a good time to do this would be Christmas party – with a drink in hand, they’ll be more likely to chat about life stuff with you and you can figure out if their recent shittiness is to do with you, or to do with the fact that their dog died. Just an example.
Failing that, you could always get them really drunk and snog them. Then act so weirdly afterwards that they have no choice but to either change jobs, move departments, or move to Spain. Result.
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Illustrated by Marina Esmeraldo
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating