How To Train Your Coworker

desk office workspace coworking
A coworker in the wild

In the 1990s, even the most learned behaviorist subscribed to the idea that coworkers had to be “broken” to be fully trained. We used newspapers to hit their noses and verbal reprimands. Through a revolution in the study of office behavior, we offer a few quick tips to help you correct your coworker’s bad behavior.

(1) Calming the Over-excited Greeter
Coworkers love to get in your face as soon as you arrive. It is only natural as they are social creatures and they have bonded with you. They miss you and want to let you know, but are not sophisticated enough to appropriately communicate their excitement. Instead, they express their joy by running up to you as you enter the building. They often vocalize through the only medium they have and mention something about your upcoming litigation. Coworkers, unlike humans, cannot simply ask you about your weekend because their brain patterns limit them to only talking about inane work items.

Take a deep breath and do not reprimand them. Instead, ignore them so as to not encourage their behavior. They will begin to settle down. You may need to turn your back on them. If your coworker will not settle down, then you may need to command him to “take a seat.”

(2) Stopping the Incessant Verbalization 
Some coworkers cannot help but verbalize morning, noon, and evening. It can certainly be annoying to all involved and may result in complaints from neighboring cubicles. While vocal surgery was once considered an easy fix, most experts now believe the surgery to be inhumane. Try to identify the root cause. Is your coworker standing in your office talking about his child because he is lonely, because he needs validation, or because he does not have enough work to do?

Once you identify the root cause, remove the stimulus. As you see Spot…er Spencer… approach your office, deter him by turning your back and picking up your phone.  Remember to be consistent. You will also want to keep him tired and distracted with other tasks so assign him a large scanning project. Finally, teach him when to vocalize on command. Provide him an outlet with a weekly staff meeting so he can hear himself talk or tell you about his baby’s poop. While you may not want to listen, remember that it is his natural instinct to talk about himself.

(3) Preventing Marking Behavior
Preventing marking is one of the hardest issues in the office environment, but everyone who has a coworker must do it. Whether it is your coworker walking into your office or taking credit for the appellate brief that you wrote, your coworker marks his territory to communicate his status. While some coworkers may mark because of stress or a disorder, most are doing it to claim their territory. To curb the marking instinct, you will first want to make sure that your coworker is neutered.

Next, you will need to commit to teaching him that your work and office is not to be marked. You need not mark his territory in retaliation to show you are alpha. Instead, confine him to a small space. If possible, put him in a cubicle and make sure that he cannot leave that cubicle by requiring him to wiggle his mouse every five minutes.

(4) Teaching Him on “Office Worker Time”
While humans process information in a more sophisticated manner, studies have shown that your average colleague can only pay attention for two minutes. He will be incapable of remembering his bad behavior.  Therefore, you must correct his behavior immediately. When you need to teach him a new command, break it down. Keep your expectations low as his brain is only as developed as that of a two-year-old.

(5) Praising him often
Even the best trained coworker will misbehave. New situations can cause him to  stress about his status. He may begin to feel needy if he is not getting as much attention as he used to, especially if he was used to a pack of males. Some colleagues will act out by interrupting you and telling you how smart they are, or if they are suffering an extreme breakdown, try to put you down. At the next staff meeting where your coworker talks for 20 minutes about how busy he is or starts arguing with you for the sake of arguing, stop the conversation and ask him if he would like a treat and tell him that he is a good lawyer.

If all else fails, you may wish to consult an experienced behaviorist before trying to re-home your coworker. There are resources so that you do not have to put him down.

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