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How to Deal With Obnoxious People at Work

Updated on September 5, 2016

Discovering Someone at Your Office is Obnoxious

When in a work situation, we want to all get along with one another. Sometimes, just as with family, there are people who rub us the wrong way.

There are several ways to learn about people in your office who are hard to get along with. Here are a few of them:

  1. Water cooler gossip
  2. Direct interactions with person
  3. Words of advice from other departments

I learned about "Jim" from a co-worker. A packet landed on my desk straight from human resources. He was being transferred by request. It was unclear as to who made the request. We did not have an opening listed. I was mystified. All I had for information was his name, skill set, transfer date and the name of who approved the transfer. I decided to call HR and see if I could get details.

The news was not good. I discovered that "Jim" had a service time in any one department of about 6-9 months. Transfer after transfer, from one area to another, and the transfers were not those that would help a career.

Finally, the time came to meet the newest member of our group. I decided if would be better if I met him in the lobby and rode up the elevator with him. Within less than two minutes, I knew what the reason for the transfer was. Jim was obnoxious. He told crude jokes to me, his new supervisor, commented on women he worked with using derogatory names and he punched men in the arm when he was introduced to them.

Addressing the Issues

Seeing someone act like this could be a sign on the first day of having a case of nervousness, but it could simply be their personality. Jim was being allowed to stay in the company for reasons that I did not know, and that were not my business, but it would not be fair for him to make others feel uncomfortable.

I decided to call him into my office and handle the issues as they happened.

We discussed what I had seen in the few minutes of knowing him, and he looked at me and laughed. I said right then and there that I was not joking and that he needed to pay attention to what I was saying since I was his supervisor.

I made it clear that I would not tolerate rude or unkind behavior. It was a choice for me, as I was a supervisor. If you are not, below you will find some tips and suggestions on how to deal with people in your workplace who are obnoxious.

Define the Problem

Sometimes, the problem with someone who is obnoxious is that they may not be aware of how they are viewed by others.

By defining the problem, you give them and, if needed, human resources something to work on.

Here are a few of the different types of obnoxious behaviors:

  1. Loud talking in person or on telephone calls. This can be disruptive to others in the office, especially if you are in a call center where calls all need to have a consistent volume. A person who is loud may not know that they are loud, or in certain cases, they may have a legitimate hearing problem.
  2. Heavy handed use of perfumes, scented colognes, hair sprays and other personal hygiene items. This can cause headaches for some, and even worse is if the user shares office space with someone that has asthma.
  3. Constant interrupting in conversations with co-workers or clients.
  4. Commandeering space for self with no regards for others' personal space or active use.
  5. Commandeering office equipment for use with no regard for use by others or protocol for use.
  6. Comments to and about others inappropriate for work.
  7. Racist, sexist flirting or comments.
  8. Insults
  9. Stealing
  10. Bullying

Address the Problem

Sometimes, people are not aware that things that do may be offensive or disruptive to people. They may never have been told that what they are doing is wrong or inappropriate.

Other times, some people have been told that there is a problem, but they have not made the efforts to correct the problem.

The first step in correcting obnoxious and bad behavior is to address it. Addressing it should be done in a professional manner. Here are some do's and don'ts.

  • Do not resort to obnoxious behavior in turn. This can lead to greater problems, especially if the person is not aware that what they are doing is wrong.
  • Do not insult the person who is causing a problem.
  • Do talk it over with human resources and let them know what is going on as well as let them determine how to handle it. An example is : "I have noticed that when we are in meetings, Jim becomes really loud to get his ideas heard by the rest of the team. It can be really disruptive and frightening if he does not get feel as though we are listening to him. What are some ideas to help with this?"
  • Do document everything about the meeting. Discuss what was talked about, his/her reaction and what is being implemented to make changes.
  • Do thank the person for listening to you and for being a valuable team member.


After you have dealt with an obnoxious person at work, there are several things that can happen, but no matter what happens, you must remember to be courteous and kind to them after you have addressed the issue. It can be embarrassing to have an issue brought up at work.

Don't do things to encourage bad behaviors, and don't spread office gossip and rumors about what happened. It is not for you to spread information of such a personal nature to others, and it could cost you your job.

When You Don't Have the Authority to Address the Problem

If you are not in a position to deal with the person yourself, or if you don't feel comfortable addressing the situation, then your approach needs to be different.

Here are some tips of what to do when you need to bring the problems of a co-worker to someone else:

  • Clearly document everything. Don't bring personal issues in that have no relevance. Below is a good example and a bad example of how to handle a memo to someone else.

Good Example:

To whom it may concern:

I sit next to Jim Doe in my cubicle. Since he has been seated next to me, it has become difficult to sometimes complete my assigned tasks. This is because of how loud Jim is. I cannot complete customer calls due to Jim and his personal volume. Clients cannot hear me, and I cannot hear them unless I place the call on speakerphone, which is a distraction to other co-workers. Thank you for addressing this issue. Sincerely, Jane Smith

Bad Example:

To whom it may concern:

Since I have been placed next to Jim Doe in my cubicle, I can't get anything done. You know that I am a mother of three and I need this job. I can't make phone calls because of how loud he is all the time. When I ask him to be quiet, he tells me to be quiet back and then starts yelling to the customer on the phone. I wish he would just shut up or sit somewhere else. He is a pest. No one likes him. He does not even care. He is a complete jerk. Please fix it or I will have to get a job somewhere else, and that is not fair. Sadly, Jane Smith.

  • Ask your supervisor for suggestions. Sometimes, a verbal interaction is quick, easy and painless. If you get no results, though, going up to the next person is not going to be as effective because you don't have it in writing that you have already tried to get the problem resolved. I always say to put problems in writing so that there is proof.
  • Don't nag and cajole your boss into getting it fixed. If your boss or supervisor says that they will get an issue resolved, then they will.

Jim's Aftermath

After the talk with Jim, there was a lot of awkward silence. He hemmed and hawed a lot in those moments, and I asked him to come into my office and have a talk with me.

I explained what his job was, what was expected of him, and what my personal office ethics were. I also explained that every single time that something happened in my office that was a personnel issue, I would address it. He nodded and I showed him to his new cubicle. I sent him off on a coffee break while we "made room for him". I explained to the two people working next to him that he was really nervous to fit it.

Jim did have a few bumps in the road, but eventually, he turned out to be one of my most productive employees and even made Employee of the Month a few times before he left the company of his own accord to work nearer to his home and family.

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