How to Avoid THAT Coworker

We’ve all been through situations at work where we all want to get rid of THAT coworker, but feel like it’s impossible. You’re not the one doing the hiring, so as much as you’d like to get rid of "that" co-worker, like it or not he or she is here to stay. Whether that person is annoying, negative, back-stabbing, or eats so loud you can’t concentrate, they’re going to be around, day after day, until you finally give up the fight and quit. But since job-hopping is not ideal, and finding a new job can be a daunting task, you’re going to have to find ways to avoid that person.

From simple tricks to making big changes, these tips could help you preserve your sanity.

1. Don't Engage

If you’re looking to stay away from that horrible co-worker, then you have to start by choosing not to engage with them when you don’t have to. That doesn’t mean you should be rude or avoid saying hello when that other person says it, but you can cut them off, so to speak. If you give that gossipy co-worker an "in" to start on one of her diatribes, you may not emerge for hours. So instead of letting her suck you in, say hello and then say something like "I’ve got a lot of work to do, excuse me." The same goes for that negative co-worker who wants to pick apart everything you do. Just don’t let him start. Give off the vibe that you’re really busy, and hopefully that person will get the message.

2. Don't Gossip With Others

There’s another facet to disengagement: disengaging from all of the drama surrounding that person. If you’re trying to avoid that co-worker and you’re successful in not talking to her, you’ll still be hooked in by that person if you choose to talk badly of her with other co-workers. What’s worse, the gossip could get back to the bad co-worker and spark a serious discussion or some other kind of confrontation. It’s going to be impossible to make that horrible co-worker a non-person (meaning you can’t ignore him or her during work-related tasks) but you can make them a non-issue when it comes to social situations.

3. Alter Your Workspace

If you do have a workspace that puts you in close quarters with that annoying co-worker, another tactic is to alter the space slightly to make it less convivial. Use "redecorating" as an excuse to make some changes to your cubicle, including putting plants in strategic locations or adding art that blocks your view of that co-worker. If you’re able to move furniture, move your desk to a position facing a window, with the excuse that you need to stay in touch with nature while you work, or that your doctor told you that you need more sunlight during the day.

And speaking of that, an excuse such as that, could be the perfect reason to ask your boss to let you move your desk somewhere else. You don’t need to share your true reason for the request; just find another valid, perhaps medical, reason that you need to move. Perhaps you need to be closer to the restroom, or you need to move away from the air conditioning unit. When you ask your boss, let her know that the current (made-up) situation is affecting your productivity, and chances are you’ll get moved quickly.

4. Use Headphones

They’re the savior of introverts everywhere: the headphones you can pop on to tune out the rest of the world. This can be an especially-helpful tactic for when that beastly co-worker has a desk close to yours. Even when your working setup puts you in direct eye contact with that co-worker, your headphones will transport you into another world in which you’re not required to respond to his every statement. If you’re distracted by listening to music or podcasts while you work, you don’t even have to put any music on. A pair of noise-canceling headphones can serve as a physical barrier, even without anything coming out of them.

5. Find Your Own Social Scene

It’s bad enough that you have to deal with that co-worker when you’re on the job, but when that person hangs out with the same people after work too, it can be especially difficult to deal with. But guess what, dear worker? There’s a whole world beyond the sphere of your workplace -- and it may be high time that you found someone else to go to happy hour with after the work day is done. If that co-worker’s behavior or personality is so offensive to you that you can hardly stand to be at work with that person, then the last thing you need to do is to make yourself miserable after work as well. So go join a softball team, add your name to the next networking event list, or call up your old friends you used to hang out with before you started working that job, and do something after work besides hanging with your work people. Sure, the culture at some workplaces is such that people have a hard time succeeding if they’re not entrenched in the social aspects -- but in that case, choose your activities carefully. Check the guest list on formal events and avoid going when "that" co-worker is going to be there, and in the meantime, get a life of your own.

6. Employ Mindfulness Techniques

When you’re simply not able to avoid the co-worker all together, you may have to retreat inside yourself to keep yourself from causing a scene. That’s where mindfulness techniques such as meditation can really help out. It can be as simple as counting to ten inside your head, thereby willing yourself to avoid saying anything snarky before you’ve counted up or down to a certain number. It might take counting to 1,000 to get there, but it will keep your mind occupied while that co-worker does his annoying thing. More developed meditation techniques can also help you move outside of yourself and put things in perspective. Imagine yourself on a warm beach instead of in the office, or try to visualize a world in which you aren’t bothered by the actions of others. Repeating a mantra can also help. The mantra can be anything you want, but something like "there’s life outside the office" could be the ticket.

7. Remember They're Human

Last but not least, try to think of that person as a vulnerable, fallible human, just like everyone else. When you’re really having a hard time dealing with them, try to imagine that person as a child -- which could help to soften up your view of all their grating faults. Look for the positive in that person, and recognize that he or she may be dealing with something that’s caused them to act out or lack social skills. In other words, try to have some sympathy, all while you take these other steps to avoid the person as much as you can.

See AlsoHow to Deal with a Sarcastic Co-Worker

If you’re working in an environment where there’s two or more employees, chances are you’re going to run into a problem or two with getting along. It’s just the nature of human interaction. Still, by taking the high road and avoiding the risk of blowing up, you and your entire workforce will all be better off. 

Do you have any other tips to avoid annoying coworkers? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Forbes: How to Deal with Annoying Coworkers