In the office to your right, a colleague is spraying air freshener to cover up the smell of her third fish sandwich this week. In the office on your left, a co-worker is telling his joke about the frog that entered a bar -- again. Meanwhile, the office receptionist is chatting up the mail carrier, while phones ring incessantly. Such an environment is challenging to work in, yet is often the norm. Fortunately, there are ways you can curb your annoyance and become more tolerant of co-workers.
Examine your own behavior. Chances are, you may have a few quirks that your colleagues have difficulty tolerating. Imagine you are on a television show lampooning your office. Consider what role you would play. Think of the behaviors would your colleagues would laughingly -- or angrily -- refer to when it comes to your character. Such an exercise can help you to accept your co-workers' foibles as you do your own.
Talk to your co-workers about truly problematic behavior. For example, if you aren't receiving important calls because the receptionist is always distracted by conversations, let her know the facts, such as you've missed three calls that day. Then let her know the consequences, such as a client choosing another company with which to do business. Let her clearly know your expectations. Involve your supervisor if such problems persist.
Consider that your colleagues might have issues outside of work that affect their behavior. Someone who is dealing with a divorce, an assault, poor health or severe financial problems might have difficulty behaving in a purely professional manner. Faced with the revelation of your colleague's personal difficulty, you don't want to say, "If I had only known." It's safe to assume that your co-workers deal with their fair share of difficulties and tragedy.
Think about which behaviors bother you the most and try to identify the reason. For example, a person whose laugh grates on your nerves may remind you of your annoying alcoholic uncle, while another person may speak in a tone of voice you interpret as condescending. When you figure out why a co-worker is difficult to be around, you can often learn to better tolerate him.
Set personal and professional boundaries. It's okay to tell a chatty colleague that you're unavailable to talk at the moment because you're in the middle of a project. Workers often find it difficult to assert their needs for uninterrupted time, but this is a valuable skill to learn. It's also fine to turn down lunch with a co-worker whose constant self-aggrandizement gets on your nerves. It's easier to tolerate people when they are not permitted to monopolize your time and resources.
- Intolerance of people due to race, color, religion, sex or national origin is never acceptable in the workplace. This sort of intolerance is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.