5 Ways You’re Driving Your Coworkers Crazy

You already know not to chat 
on the phone at top volume or 
file your nails at your desk. 
(Right? Right?) If you truly want 
to respect your office mates, 
here’s what else to work on.

1

Shooting Down Ideas Too Soon.

paper-airplanes-trash
Photo by Ben Wiseman

One of the greatest gifts you can give colleagues when you’re brainstorming is patience. Don’t try to edit each other’s ideas before they’ve been fully expressed. Because no matter what you are creating or problem-solving, there will be a lot of good ideas and a lot of bad. You just have to open the floodgates. I’m putting together a new musical, and 
what I love about the process is that we can’t run away from the 
fact that we’ll make mistakes. For example, there was a musical number that originally included dancing sperm. That turned 
out to be one of those mistakes. It’s scary 
but also liberating. You have to allow a safe space for people to be free and unedited 
in their expressions. 
If people are afraid 
to make mistakes, 
that will inhibit everyone’s success. But if you feel safe and trust your collaborators, you can be good 
editors for each other when it counts.

—Sara Bareilles, a singer-songwriter and the writer of the music and 
lyrics for the new Broadway musical Waitress. She lives in New York City.

2

Sending Unnecessary E-mails.

You wouldn’t think, I forgot that one thing that so-and-so said during a meeting, and I could definitely look through my notes to find it, but instead I’m just going to call someone three desks over and ask. Because telephone calls have this etiquette around them. But you would e-mail. And it burdens your coworkers and hurts productivity. (So does constantly sending e-mails to 12 people saying, “Let’s make a decision.” Just make one.) Ask yourself, 
“Do I really need this question answered?” If the answer is yes, you can probably find the information yourself. If it’s no, then you aren’t pushing the task off on another person unnecessarily.

—Charles Duhigg, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the New York Times and the author of the book Smarter Better Faster. He lives in New York City.

3

Thinking Your Job Is Harder Than Everyone Else’s.

In one of my cartoons, a guy with glasses on and pens in his pocket says, “To be honest, I’m not sure accounting can be taught.” I hate it when people think their jobs are so important. If you say, “I can’t help you. You don’t understand what I’m dealing with,” you disrespect the person’s job and what he or she needs. Everyone is busy. Pay attention to what your coworkers do. It’s usually more complicated and time-consuming than you think.

—Matthew Diffee, cartoons contributor to The New Yorker since 1999 and the author of Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People. He offers free prints at mattdiffee.com. He lives in Los Angeles.



4

Being a Negative Nancy.

Most team members work in my store because they have some sense of purpose, like they’re socially or environmentally conscious. But there’s also always someone there only for a paycheck, who doesn’t have a great attitude 
or who doesn’t want 
to participate. If that 
person is a naysayer or not pulling her weight, it annoys everyone else. It’s not fair. If that’s you, maybe you need to be in a different position. That’s OK. Don’t be a prisoner 
of your job! Dig down and think, what attracted you to the job in the first place? If you can’t find any satisfaction, maybe you’re in the wrong one.

—Kerri Hunsley, a store team leader and Global All Star at Whole Foods Market, where she has worked for 14 years. She lives in Washington State.

5

Interrupting—Women, Especially.

In a study measuring collective intelligence, which is a kind of team IQ score, we found 
that when a group is mostly women, the score is above average. But it goes down when women interrupt one another. Interrupting can energize men, but it causes women to perceive conflict. It annoys them and 
ends up hurting their performance. As more and more workplaces put together teams to address different 
problems, the question comes up: How can we make those teams perform consistently? Women positively affect teamwork. But if you interrupt them, you’re dragging down the group.

—Anita Williams Woolley, associate professor of organizational behavior and theory at the Tepper School of Business 
at Carnegie Mellon University. She lives in Pittsburgh.