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I have been at a job for a few months now. We are a small business. I work in a small team of 3-4 people who are all on the same level : no managers except a boss who is rarely around.

I am really annoyed by one of my coworker who is always complaining over small and trivial things about job related tasks. Sometimes, this person will drop long sighs that I find very irritating.

We have daily follow ups with the team where we keep each other apprised of our tasks and progress and ask questions. My ideas are well received by other coworkers, but resisted by this individual who is also defensive when I ask questions.

While I have good relationships with my other coworkers, with this one, I am unable to do so. I have noticed that this includes making and maintaining eye contact.

I feel I am now in a vicious circle. My colleague's annoying habits make it difficult to engage, which then makes those habits more difficult to look past.

I want to have a good working relationship with this colleague, but don't know how to break out of this cycle.

What are some strategies I can use to overcome my difficulties with communication to this one coworker?

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    The thing I wish some extroverts would realize is that you don’t have to be friends to have a good work relationship. Maybe every time you try to stare into her eyes and make chit chat it annoys her. Maybe she sighs because she can’t stand something you’re doing. Have you tried talking to her about the issue? – ColleenV Mar 2 at 18:14
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    @JoeStrazzere I would like not to, but we are working in a small closed space office and I am really empathetic, I feel the feelings of the people surrounding me. And theirs are really negative. – Fraligatorus Mar 2 at 18:14
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    @ColleenV They sigh while looking at her screen doing her job, while I am at my screen doing my job. We are not interacting and they sigh and complain about their email, their tasks, even if we are not talking at all at the moment... – Fraligatorus Mar 2 at 18:16
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    @Fraligatorus That sounds like your problem, not her problem. You should probably figure out a way to focus on your work instead of getting drawn into their problems. The ability to ignore people is a very valuable skill. If she isn’t talking to you, ignore her. You should be in control of your emotions, not letting someone else control them. – ColleenV Mar 2 at 18:21
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    @Old_Lamplighter Yeah I use them/they to avoid using her/she or his/he. But its a single colleague. – Fraligatorus Mar 2 at 18:30
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Since you get along with your other collogues, there seems to be a particular friction with this one person.

You may want to pick up "how to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie, Pay special attention to the chapter on being genuinely interested in the other person.

There are other things that may help as well.

  • Ask for help from this coworker. This is a powerful psychological tool. It at the same time makes you less threatening, and more worthy in the person's eyes.
  • Psych yourself up before talking to your coworker. Convince yourself that this is going to be a positive experience.
  • Smile. It does affect your mood, and again, will make you less threatening to your coworker, and will likely inspire a smile in response from your coworker.

All of those things will help to break the cycle you find yourself in, and instead set up a positive feedback loop. It's easy to maintain eye contact with someone you want to talk to.

I am autistic, and my natural people skills are very very poor, and I have used these tactics to improve them on the job, and they work well.

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  • Thanks! Those kind of bullet point, pointers to try really were the kind of thing I was looking for. I will try to put them in practice ASAP. I was offering my help to this individual A LOT, as a mean to remove weight from their shoulders. But they might find this like I'm trying to control them and I was mostly trying to change their behavior. By asking for help, I might appear more accessible and it then might make my colleague more comfortable. Thanks! – Fraligatorus Mar 2 at 23:01
  • @Fraligatorus Yes, asking for help works whether your coworker is hostile, or simply intimidated. If CW is hostile, asking for help gives a sense of importance and makes them think you are worth helping, which makes them like you. If CW is intimidated, you come across as less imposing, and valuing their input, and makes them like you. It is perhaps one of the strongest tools you can have. – Old_Lamplighter Mar 3 at 18:45
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How to solve having a hard time establishing eye contact with a colleague?

Your not alone. Lot's of great people aren't comfortable with direct eye contact.

The solution that worked for me, shared with me by one of my peers at the time, was to look at the spot between the eyes versus directly in the eyes. This is admittedly a subtle difference, but it worked for me.

Once that was mastered, and as additional time passed, I was able to slowly start to look people directly in the eyes when interacting with them.

YMMV -- only validated in the USA.

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    Yes... look at them without staring. // Similar to this, what I was suggested to do is look right at the nose for optimum "neutrality". (US work culture). In this theory, at-eyes assumes a level of trust that might not be there (and it could be simply due to introversion, doesn't matter why), above eyes is unmistakably aggressive, below nose (i.e. lips) is going in a different direction that can be perceived by someone sensitive to this kind of thing as very inappropriate. Also this is all very relative to culture. – Pete W Mar 2 at 18:58
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    Oh and another tactic in this department, if there is any kind of discomfort, look at some object you both have in front of you. The other person will almost always follow. Literally anything, a piece of paper, office equipment, whatever, and continue conversation. – Pete W Mar 2 at 19:07
  • It doesn’t sound like the author has trouble establishing eye contact with everyone; it seems like it’s just this one coworker. – ColleenV Mar 2 at 19:07
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    @ColleenV That may or may not be the case....I thought this was relevant so I shared it. If it helps for just one coworker, why does it matter? – Neo Mar 2 at 19:09
  • @ColleenV whether the discomfort results from a neurological issue, or embarrassment, it is a good tactic. – Old_Lamplighter Mar 2 at 20:07
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Dale Carnegie was suggested. You can actually do quite well following some of his principles.

You can't change your colleague. You can't stop the long sighs that irritate you. What you can change is the fact that they irritate you. Instead of looking at it as annoying, you tell your self hard that this is just a harmless, funny little habit that he has, and try your best to smile about him instead of frowning.

Why does this help? Because after some time, you will notice that the sighs are not annoying anymore, but make you generally smile. So it doesn't irritate you anymore. Doesn't matter about your colleague, but YOU will be happier. Carnegie's principle is "if you have to do it anyway, you might as well enjoy it". So you can change your attitude and feel better.

(You might ask: "Why should I change my attitude, he should stop these annoying sighs". The answer is: Because it would make you happier if you stopped, but you can't force him. It would also make you happier if you changed your attitude, and that's something you can do).

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  • Dale Carnegie is often ignored these days, but is EXCELLENT – Old_Lamplighter Mar 3 at 18:46

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