When we were bright-eyed young career starters, we undoubtedly all had a certain vision of our career-self as a true professional. We’d wear snappy suits and swan out to important client meetings and say things like “tell Jack it’s imperative that I have the xyz file on my desk by 5pm”.
Moreover, we’d be the epitome of professionalism at all times. Never ever would we spend a boring afternoon scrolling through Instagram, or have one too many G&Ts at the Christmas party and snog the cute intern from Accounts.
But then reality hit. It turned out that maintaining a professional demeanor at all times was a lot harder than it seemed, particularly when faced with obnoxious clients, unappreciative managers and unbelievably annoying colleagues.
It is a guarantee that you will spend a large portion of your career dealing with people you clash with. But, regardless of how irritating they are, telling them to go do one is likely to get you into trouble.
Luckily, there are some professional ways to shut down unreasonable co-workers. So the next time you find yourself wanting to strangle your boss, take a deep breath, cool your temper, and try one of the below suggestions.
(You can still tell them to f**k off in your head. We won’t judge).
The High-Maintenance Client
Your least favorite client has sent his hourly demanding email requiring some info, stat. Being the diligent worker you are, you immediately drop everything (making an awful mess, you were drinking coffee at the time) and respond lightning-quick.
Next morning, a particularly vicious email from said client arrives, berating you for ignoring him and taking too long to do your job. He’s even taken the trouble to cc’ in your CEO, telling her how incompetent you are and how she should fire you pronto.
- DON’T SAY
“I should have realized someone of your advanced years probably has failing eyesight, which is the only excuse you can have for having not seen the email I sent you five minutes after you asked your original question.
I’ve resent the email with extra-large, bright pink text to make sure you can’t miss it. I’ve also highlighted the original time stamp so everyone here knows what an obnoxious idiot you are.”
- DO SAY
“It appears that the email I sent to you at [time] got mislaid somewhere along the way. I’ve resent it. The information contained in it should answer your queries, but do let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with.”
The Irksome Colleague
Your nearby co-worker hums. All. The Time. The toneless droning makes it impossible for you to concentrate, and it’s just generally driving you barmy.
- DON’T SAY
“Carl, that godawful noise coming out your mouth sounds like the death wail of a particularly sickly bumblebee and I can’t stand it anymore. Hum one more time, I dare you, I double-dare you, and I’m going to go full Pulp Fiction on your ass.”
- DO SAY
“Carl, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this but you hum under your breath a lot and I find it really distracting. Do you mind trying to minimize it? I’d really appreciate it.”
The Out-of-Touch Boss
A huge project you’ve been slaving over for weeks is finally nearing completion, when your boss expresses some reservations. Despite signing off on the original plan, she now feels that the work isn’t quite right. She asks you to redo the project in time for the original deadline, a feat that would require excessive overtime and the cancellation of your upcoming holiday.
- DON’T SAY
“You’re being selfish and unreasonable, and there’s no way in hell I’m redoing this project after all the work I’ve already put into it. If you don’t like that, fire me. It’s not like I need this job for anything other than paying my rent.”
- DO SAY
“I’m happy to implement those changes if that’s what you want, but because of having to do X, Y, and Z, I estimate it’s going to take at least three more weeks to complete. As I have a pre-approved holiday scheduled for [dates], realistically that means the earliest we could get this completed is [date].
I’ll also have to reschedule tasks A, B and C in order to focus on redoing this project, so I just want to double-check you’re happy for me to de-prioritize them for now. Let me know if this works and, if not, what solutions you would recommend.”
You’re casually chatting with a co-worker when he starts making discriminatory comments about another colleague’s disability/ethnicity/nationality/gender/sexuality. This turns into a full-on rant about how awful “those” people are, how he wishes “they” weren’t allowed to work here, and how his favorite politician will one day crack down on “them” and their “privileges”.
- DON’T SAY
“Shut your f**king mouth, that is so f**king inappropriate. Those sorts of views are f**cking disrespectful, not just to [colleague] but to every f**cking human being. It’s particularly f**cking inappropriate for a work setting because we’re all here to do a f**cking job, not pass judgement on each other.
Never say that sort of sh*t again. I’m calling HR on you, you f**king pr*ck.”
- DO SAY
“Please stop talking, that is completely inappropriate. Those sorts of views are disrespectful, not just to [colleague] but to every human being. It’s particularly inappropriate for a work setting because we’re all here to do a job, not pass judgement on each other.
Please never use that sort of language here again. I feel obliged to talk to HR about this because I don’t want this to be the sort of workplace where anyone is made to feel uncomfortable by discriminatory views or language.”
Beth Leslie is a career and lifestyle writer. She is also the editor of the Inspiring Interns blog, which provides graduate careers advice to young people looking to excel in the workplace.
Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency which helps career starters find everything from project management roles to marketing internships. Check out their listing for both graduate jobs London and graduate jobs Manchester.