The deep-rooted reason why certain work colleagues annoy you

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Anna Brech
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Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreations

Find yourself irrationally irritated by co-workers? Look to your family to understand why

With most of us spending more time with our colleagues than we do our loved ones, it’s understandable that certain habits grate.

Noisy eating is one obvious culprit when it comes to sloppy office etiquette, and so too is being late (even if - side note - it means you’re pretty incredible). 

But petty gripes aside, there are some co-workers whom we just can’t seem to get on with at all, no matter how many delicious doughnuts you throw into the mix.

And, according to Maria Baratta, a New York-based clinician, there’s a good reason for this awkward chemistry. 

Baratta says that in her 20 years working as a therapist, she’s found that people who complain of annoying colleagues are usually triggered by a similarity to their own family members. 

“It’s interesting to look at the people in your workplace and try to figure out who the characters from your family of origin might be in your coworkers,” Baratta writes in Psychology Today.

“[…] For example, the coworker who eats your lunch or constantly borrows your pen and never returns it might be reminiscent of your brother or the bossy coworker who corrects everything you say might be your mom or the grumpy manager might be your dad.”

Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreations

Do your annoying work colleagues remind you of a family member?

According to Baratta, just identifying why you’re being triggered by certain behaviour is enough to gain distance on the issue. 

For instance, if you recognise that a certain colleague’s way of overriding you in meetings is redolent of an overbearing sibling, this might explain why you react with such intensity to them.

You begin to see that the problem is partly down not just to you or them, but another outside force. And from there, you can start to gain a sense of levity and perspective.

It “sets the stage for having a more empathetic understanding of your own behavior and helps work toward tempering your reaction”, says Baratta. 

More than half of UK workers have felt lonely at work at some point in their careers, and difficult office politics is often to blame for this sense of disconnect. 

Understanding why certain colleagues push your buttons might help to bridge the gap, bringing you one step closer together (clumsy biscuit manners aside).  

Images: Getty


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.