If you find yourself with some time to kill—not on company time, mind you—direct your web browser to PassiveAggressiveNotes.com. This clever site chronicles everything from faux-sweet letters from put-out co-workers to scathing letters left behind by an angry roommate. Anyone who has lived with others or worked in an office can relate. Many of the missives are unsurprisingly work-related, whether it’s an anonymous complaint about a co-worker coughing too loudly, or the endless bathroom rules that we all see posted up in the office restroom.
The site makes for a good laugh, but there’s an etiquette lesson here too. In the majority of the cases, the person who writes the letter almost always comes off poorly—they’re seen as petty and, well, passive-aggressive. Why else would the note recipient send in the note for the entire world to mock it? The note-writer may have had a legitimate complaint, but hiding behind a note isn’t the best way to handle the situation.
If you have an issue with a co-worker—say, someone has been stealing your lunch from the fridge, or their loud personal conversations are disturbing your work—first take a moment to determine whether or not the issue is really something getting worked up about. Wait a day, or talk it over with a friend to see their reaction. You may realize that you’re just having a bad day. But if the issue still lingers, confront the person directly—not through a note which can be reinterpreted a million ways, but by pulling them aside and politely addressing the situation. There’s no need to attack or accuse, but do be firm. A simple, “I’m sorry to bother you, but I’m working on something that calls for a lot of focus. Do you mind keeping it down? I would really appreciate it!” If the issue persists, you may consider going to the HR department.
Most of us have been in offices where “helpful” notices are posted everywhere you turn. “Refill the Coffee.” “Your Mother Doesn’t Work Here.” “Do Not Adjust the Thermostat.” “Please Do Not Spray Perfume in the Bathroom as People Are Allergic.” It’s too much! After a while, these signs seem to be shouting at your workers, who are adults, not children who need to be constantly reminded how to act in a place where they spend most of their week. Keep the signs to a minimum, or lump them together in the employee handbook. If people stop following the rules, you can then address the problems in a general company meeting or email.