How to Deal With a Coworker Who Drives You Nuts

Last Updated Nov 2, 2010 3:00 PM EDT

Almost all of us work with someone who drives us absolutely crazy -- one person who consistently frustrates us or makes us feel guilty or angry. Dwelling on how much we hate these coworkers is never a great idea. If you believe, as I do, that it's our own behavior that holds us back from achieving as much as we can, then one of the larger impediments to our progress is the time and energy we waste being upset with someone else -- especially someone we can't change.

Not sure what your behavior has to do with someone else's craziness? An old Buddhist parable may help illuminate the issue. A young farmer was paddling his boat up the river to deliver his produce to the village. He was in a hurry. It was a hot day and the farmer, covered with sweat, wanted to make his delivery and get home before dark. Looking ahead, he spied another vessel moving rapidly downstream toward his boat. The vessel seemed to be trying desperately to hit him.

"Change direction, you idiot!" he yelled at the other boat. "You're going to hit me!" But his cries were to no avail. Although the farmer rowed furiously to get out of the way, the other boat hit him with a sudden thud. Enraged, he stood up and shouted, "You moron! How could you manage to hit my boat in the middle of this wide river? What's wrong with you?"

As he strained to see the pilot of the other vessel, he was surprised to realize that it was empty. He was screaming at an empty boat that had broken free of its moorings and was just floating downstream with the current.

The next time you get angry and get ready to blow up because of someone else, just remember: there is never anyone in the other boat. When we are screaming, we are always screaming at an empty vessel.

Getting angry with other people for being who they are makes about as much sense as getting upset with your chair for being a chair. Your chair cannot help being a chair; that's what it is. If you had that other person's history, genes, family, and life, you would be that other person -- and do exactly whatever it is they're doing that you can't stand. You don't have to agree with, like or even respect the other person; just don't let him make you crazy. After all, he probably isn't losing sleep over you. You're the one being punished -- and you're also the person who's doing the punishing.

The next time a coworker starts making you crazy, try redirecting your energy to change yourself. The only boat that you can ever control is your own.
  • Kelly and

    Kelly Goldsmith is a recent Ph.D. graduate from the Yale School of Management and a member of the faculty at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management. Her specialty is research in consumer decision making.
    Marshall Goldsmith is an executive educator, coach and author. His books include What Got You Here Won't Get You There and Mojo. His specialty is helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior.

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