Dealing with a distractive workmate

Though we at times discuss work-related things, it was really hard to concentrate in the same space,” she confesses

Experts advise that you have a calm chat with a distractive neighbour at work about their behaviour. photo by david s. mukooza 

BY Desire Mbabaali

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One’s working environment can have a strong impact on their general output. Therefore, working in a conducive environment with supportive colleagues and neighbours helps one do their job better. But have you ever sat near that annoying person in a taxi that makes you wish you could jump out of it or next to that person at your work place who makes it so hard for you to concentrate on your job? That is how having a distractive neighbour at work feels like.
“I used to sit next to two elderly women at work that really got under my skin. Though there were a lot of distractions that came with the pair, the one thing I couldn’t stand was the unceasing banter. They were always chatting about their problems as parents and how hard it was to raise a child. They always had a conversation to do with a friend of theirs who was cheating on her husband or any random rumour they could get hold of from the corridors. I specifically didn’t have a problem with all their talking but they couldn’t keep quiet for even a moment. I actually wondered how they worked!” Joyce Namukisa, a sales person, says.

Failure to work
Like Namukisa, Hajarah Mugoya, a lawyer, has also had one of those distractive neighbours. “I didn’t really hate mine. The problem was that we were very good friends and when the two of us are together, it is almost impossible to work. We always have something to chat about. Though we at times discuss work-related things, it was really hard to concentrate in the same space,” she confesses.
To her, the wakeup call was when both their performance at work began dwindling. “Before, we used to work in different offices and could only get to talk over lunch or when we were going back home, if any of us wasn’t working late. Later, we were shifted to the same office, our desks next to each other. It became so bad that if I had a case I was working on, I had to move away from my desk or come into office very early in the morning before she came or late when she had left,” Mugoya explains.
There are different ways one can handle a distractive neighbour. For a noisy colleague, one can use headphones
“The challenge was these are old people that I respect so, I couldn’t even talk to them about how they were affecting me. They are also senior and I was just young in my profession, so I didn’t want to rub shoulders with people I knew I had a lot to learn from. So, I bought head phones and I used music to get through my days. Up to now, I have never really told them,” shares Namukisa.

Changing seats
In contrast, Mugoya was able to make her friend notice that their friendship was adversely affecting them. “I talked to my supervisor to have us separated again so that we sat in different work stations. The situation is now better,” she says.

Having a chat with your supervisor
“For me, noise distracts my concentration. I literally cannot work when there is noise. I had this colleague with whom we shared an office but he always put the volume of the television high. Even when you told him to reduce, somehow, he got a reason to increase it after a few minutes. It just became something we argued over every time until I had a chat with our immediate boss,” Nelson Kwitonda, a civil servant shares.
Their immediate boss talked to the two and they both agreed the volume be comfortable for each. “He of course stopped greeting me and talking to me for a while, but I guess he later got over it,” Kwitonda says.
Talk to the workmate
Lawrence Lwanga, a counsellor at Entebbe General Hospital, notes that sometimes the issue of distraction might be relative, from one person to another. “There are people who are simply difficult in their nature and find almost everything and everyone distractive and so will have a problem with everyone. For such a person learning to adjust to the different people at your workplace is important, so you are able to coexist with others,” he advises. To other people, it is simply a matter of talking to them about their distractive behaviour and it will be worked upon, he notes.

Calm approach
Grace Nakibuuka, a human resource manager at Perfect Prints and Signs, Nasser road says some issues among colleagues can be solved at an interpersonal level.
“The key is being open to that person. Approach the issue calmly, not as an argument so that it is not escalated. However, if the colleague isn’t complying, then you can move on to the next person in the hierarchy,” she says.
She, however, adds that as a human resource managers, they remind such a person of their expectations at work and their relationship with others.
“In a severe situation, we can resort to termination, demotion or other penalties, according to each organisation’s policies,” Nakibuuka says.

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