Back at Work After the Pandemic: How to Handle Annoying Office Colleagues

“After two years of working from home during the pandemic, and plenty of false starts, employees are officially heading back to work…The gossip, the loud talker and the nosy colleague are all manageable with the right mind-set.”J. Dunn, The New York Times, April 24, 2022

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

image The New York Times

 

Excerpt: Your Office Is More Annoying Than You Remembered. Here’s How to Handle It.  By Jancee Dunn, The New York Times, April 24, 2022

“Roughly 60 percent of U.S. workers who could work from home were still signing in remotely as of January, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center, as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus set back [return to office] R.T.O. plans.

But now companies like Google are insisting that their workers return to the office on hybrid work schedules.

For many workers, the commuter train has already left the station. And after controlling our own environment at home, returning to work means we’ll be faced with annoying behaviors among our colleagues again: loud talkers, nosy cubicle mates, the olfactory emanations of the shared microwave.

Image: The New York Times

How do we confront these people — and how do we check our emotions, which may be in overdrive after working in relative isolation, to keep ourselves from snapping?

Consider this a fresh start for everybody, said Darian Lewis, who, with his wife, Monica, founded the Monica Lewis School of Etiquette in Houston. ‘You know all those things you wanted to change in your workplace prior to the pandemic, but you just couldn’t figure out how to do it?’ he said. “Well, seize the opportunity right now.’

Here’s how to deal quickly and effectively with some of the most irritating workplace habits.

The Loud Talker If your attention is consistently being pulled away by a colleague’s loud chatter, Mr. Lewis said, take a deep breath and approach the person, using what he calls the ‘S.E.C.’rule: smile, maintain eye contact and remain calm… The Gossip ‘Gossip is what we would call ‘harmful speech,’ said Mr. Miglioli, the Buddhist priest… The Nosy Cubicle Mate When your overly inquisitive co-worker begins to dig, ‘find a mantra, and then be a broken record,’ suggested Ms. Pollak, the workplace expert…One of the takeaways of the pandemic is that communities survive better than individuals.

Image- The New York Times

As we all return to the workplace, Mr. Miglioli said, we have two choices. ‘One way is to disconnect as soon as possible with all that has happened and get back to your life’…“The other is to embrace the pandemic as a great teacher.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 60 minutes.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and improving oral skills. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

 Predictions: Analyzing headings and photos

Directions: Examine the titles of the post and of the actual article.  Examine any photos, then create a list of  words and  ideas  that you  and your group members think might be related to this article. 

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Try to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. You use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. Workers return to the loud talkers, nosy cubicle mates and the olfactory emanations of the shared microwave.
  2. How do we confront these annoying people?
  3. More importantly, how do we check our emotions, which may be in overdrive after working in isolation?
  4. The article teaches you how to handle unpleasant situations at work.
  5. The gossip, the loud talker and the nosy colleague are all manageable.
  6. There are three things to keep in mind when you’re getting back in the groove.
  7. There’s actually a big difference between responding and reaction.
  8. That pause will give you a chance to choose your battles.
  9. Try to exercise tolerance.
  10. One of the takeaways of the pandemic is that communities survive better than individuals.

Grammar Focus: Word -Recognition

Directions: Students choose the correct word to complete the sentences taken from the article. They are to choose from the options presented.

For many worker/workers, the commuter train/trainshas/have already leave/left the station. And after controlling our own/owner environment in/at home, returning too/to work means/meanwe’ll/well be faced with annoy/annoying behaviors among our colleague/colleagues again: loud talkers, nosy cubicle mates, the olfactory emanations of/off the shared microwave.

 

Reading Comprehension

Reading Comprehension: Identify The  Speakers

Directions: Read the following quotes from the speakers in the article. Then identify the speakers.

  1. “You know all those things you wanted to change in your workplace prior to the pandemic, but you just couldn’t figure out how to do it? Well, seize the opportunity right now.”
  2. “There are three things to keep in mind when you’re getting back in the groove. Acknowledge that we are out of shape dealing with other people. Lower your expectations and assume that you’re going to have some annoyances. And really give thought to the new habits that you want to create from Day 1, and be deliberate about making changes now.”
  3. “There’s actually a big difference between responding and reaction. What I do is pause, breathe and connect with the present moment.”

 

Discussion Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Have  students discuss the following questions/statements. Afterwards,  students share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. Have you been back to work since the pandemic ended?
  2. Describe your reactions on the first day in the office.
  3. If you don’t work in an office, how did you feel on your first day back at school?
  4. What advice does author Lindsey Pollack offer for those going back to work?
  5. What are some of the characteristics listed as being annoying? Give a brief description of each.
  6. How does Mr. Lewis advise handling a person who talks loudly?
  7. What is an important lesson concerning communities  that we’ve learned from the pandemic?
  8. List three new ideas  that you’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things that you did not understand in the reading, and one thing you  would like to know that the article did not mention.  Share your responses with your class.

ANSWER KEY