Remotely addressing co-workers' most annoying habits

Career expert Rhymer Rigby talks pet peeves, how to deal with "credit-stealers", and more in this quick-hit podcast.
Remotely addressing co-workers' most annoying habits

For some of us, pet peeves or complaints regarding co-workers have been diminished or taken away by COVID-19 and remote work. But the new remote realm has created more ways in which others get under our skin, even from a distance. Career expert Rhymer Rigby shares more on the quibbles we have with colleagues and how to resolve them in the first of a multipart podcast conversation.

What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • Some common pet peeves about co-workers that remote work has temporarily solved.
  • Rigby’s advice for dealing with a colleague who takes credit for others’ work.
  • How a line manager should approach a direct report who circumvents the manager’s authority.
  • Why in Rigby’s mind some people “hide” from talking by phone.
  • One of Rigby’s pet peeves about phone calls, which he first mentioned during a summer conversation about work amidst the pandemic.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Neil Amato, an
FM magazine senior editor, at


Neil Amato: This is the first of multipart conversation. This episode is about pet peeves we might have regarding those we work with. Future episodes in 2021 will deal with remote-specific topics: meeting fatigue, how to remain visible to your manager, and the new career risks and opportunities for employees. Here’s the first part of the conversation with Rhymer Rigby. A return guest on the FM podcast, Rhymer Rigby. Rhymer, thank you for being here today.

Rhymer Rigby: It’s good to be back again, Neil.

Amato: Yeah, it’s good to hear your voice. Good to see you on Zoom. For the listeners, we’re recording in late 2020. We’re going to talk first on I think a topic that everyone can relate to and that is pet peeves – pet peeves about your co-workers, your managers, people you deal with. Especially in this remote world, I guess some new pet peeves have emerged. But some kind of remain the same, whether we’re in remote work or our traditional in-the-office work. How do you deal with a co-worker who presents or takes credit for your ideas?

Rigby: OK, I suppose I was thinking of pet peeves in various ways. One quite interesting thing is that remote working has removed a lot of the traditional pet peeves, such as body odour, bad breath, and all those awkward things.

But you’re right, people do still misbehave, and one of the ways is taking credit for your work. I guess one way of doing this is you want to sort of — you probably know who is stealing your work. You want to be as proactive as possible. You want to be visible and show your boss who is doing the work. I think that really helps. You want to leave document trails, you want to leave email trails, and in work Zoom meetings, you want to make sure that you are associated with the work, and it’s your idea really. Particularly if you’re sort of an introvert, this can be quite difficult, but you kind of need to do it.

I’m trying to think. What’s another way of doing it? You might say, “I’ve had this great idea. So, Bob and Lucy, what do you think? I’d love to get your input.” Then you’re sort of bringing other people into the idea that it’s your intellectual property. And if other people know that you brought it up first, it’s much harder for these magpies to sort of steal your ideas and your work. I think the other thing with people stealing or taking credit for your ideas, is you have to sort of step back a bit and be honest. Is it just that you don’t like this person? You know, are you overreacting? You need to step back a bit and say, “Am I being ridiculous about it?”

Sometimes, yes, of course, they are [taking credit]. Other times, it might be another problem, it might be you having a problem with the person. They’re not really stealing your ideas; they just bring them up occasionally. In that case, maybe you need to work on the relationship with the other person.

I think the one thing you need to probably avoid is saying to the person, “You are stealing my ideas.” You need to speak to them, but you probably want to find a way out, a resolution that will work for them as well. If you corner them, they’re likely to fight. So try to give them a way out if you can. I think that’s something that goes back, right, to The Art of War, isn’t it? You give people a sort of honourable way out, and you’re much more likely to get your way, even though it might seem a little bit less satisfying. And, you know, you’re going to have to work with this person afterwards, so if you can turn them into an ally or find a better way of getting on with them, then great. You don’t want them resenting you for the next year and a half.

Amato: What about this scenario: How do you deal with someone who goes over your head to your boss or your boss’s boss?

Rigby: That is quite difficult. If you are someone’s line manager, and they go over your head to your boss’s boss, you have to sit them down and say, “This is not appropriate.” And you probably should also speak to your boss’s boss, and say, “This is not appropriate. I want you to refer this person back to me.” You need to ask them why they’re doing it. On the good side, you have the power here. You just have to make the person stop undermining you. Because you are the boss, I think you can. If you have someone who is deliberately undermining you, you are in a position where you can read them the riot act. You say, “This stops now. I am your boss. And I do not expect you to do this.” I think you can be quite tough with them. A lot of people aren’t [tough], and that is why they do it, to see what they can get away with.

Amato: Rhymer, do you have any pet peeves that you think are worth sharing, specific to remote work or not?

Rigby: Um, I’m just trying to think, pet peeves. One actual pet peeve that I had prior to remote work is people who are not available on the phone. I actually think this is something that has become more prevalent perhaps among younger people. I don’t really know why it is. I think it’s perhaps down to the love of chat-based apps. A lot of people almost hide from phone calls. And every now and then, I’ll be like, “At some point, you need to pick up the phone and speak to me”, because what we have is better discussed rather than an endless back and forth of two dozen emails, or WhatsApp messages or Slack or whatever it is. So, yeah, one pet peeve is people who don’t speak on the phone. I think it’s kind of good for you as well. It teaches you to form relationships, and argue your point, and put things across properly. So there is one remote problem. I guess my other remote pet peeve is people who endlessly insist on Zoom calls when a phone call will do just as well.

Amato: That seems like a nice spot to stop. Be sure to tune in to the next part of the conversation when Rhymer Rigby and I get to the scenarios when video works better than phone, or vice versa. Thanks for listening to the FM magazine podcast.