The Best Way to Handle the Office Meddler
March 26, 2018

The Best Way to Handle the Office Meddler

by Brian de Haaff

“If it were me…” This is the motto of the office meddler. You know who I am talking about. It is that co-worker who thinks they always know what is best. So they take it upon themselves to dig into your work — offering plenty of unsolicited advice. Good intentions, maybe. Big annoyance and big problems, definitely.

See, the meddler likes to get involved in a lot. But the meddler does little of the actual work.

Every office seems to have someone like this — the person who needs to be involved no matter what. I am sure it starts off with the best intentions. This person is passionate about the work and team, so they want to play an active role. But at some point, it becomes overbearing. And deeply frustrating.

Do you know someone like this? Looking over shoulders. Staring at laptops. Nosing into everyone else’s work. Unsolicited advice without really understanding the problem. Wanting the details on everything — especially the meetings and conversations they were not invited into.

Yes, the constant intrusions and misdirection can be frustrating. But the problem is actually more nuanced than that.

The meddler is so focused on everyone else’s work that they have lost sight of their own. And it is nearly impossible to do meaningful work when you are drawn into drama with a co-worker whose thoughts are elsewhere. Now no one is getting anything meaningful done.

So, what to do if you work with a meddler? Here is the best way to deal:

Refer to the plan The meddler has a lot of opinions, but you do not need to waste your time with rebuttals. Save your breath and show them the goals and a plan — maybe a roadmap that reiterates your strategy as well as upcoming work. With a plan to share, you can reframe the conversation around the company’s goals and planned efforts to get there. If the meddler carries on, ask, “How does this help us reach our goals?”

Set clear boundaries This does not mean ignoring the meddler. On the contrary. The key is to gather information in a way that is most helpful. Let them know the appropriate channels for sharing ideas and feedback, whether it is commenting on a shared doc or documenting it in an email. Maybe you are not even the appropriate person to receive the information — let them know. Simply say something like, “You should share that with XXX who is leading that project.”

Shift the focus Sometimes the meddler just needs a push in the right direction. Play your part on the team by asking specific, thoughtful questions about their work. Not just a general, “How is it going?” — but a more probing question like, “How are you approaching the issue you had with customer XYZ last week?” This can serve as a subtle reminder that they should be focusing on their own work rather than digging into everyone else’s.

Reject the drama The meddler loves a juicy piece of gossip. Even better — spreading that gossip around. This is not good for anyone on the team. It creates chaos, team fractions, and lots of unfocus. Your best response is to not respond at all. Avoid the meddler’s tales of workplace woes and all the drama it brings on. If you do not, you may become infected by the meddling disease.

We all want to work with passionate people. But everyone loses when keen interest becomes unwanted meddling.

Ultimately, I think that most meddlers want the same things as anyone — to do meaningful work and be recognized for it. So instead of reacting with frustration the next time that co-worker starts drumming up drama and nosing around, try a clear-headed approach.

You can go back to the plan, set boundaries, refocus the conversation, reject the drama, and above all, react with kindness.

How do you deal with meddlesome co-workers?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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