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How to deal with a colleague who turns everything into an emergency

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
Office yoga for relaxation or concentration concept, calm businesswoman meditating at work, peaceful mindful employee practicing exercises at workplace, focus on female hands in mudra, close up view
It can be exhausting and time-consuming to deal with the stress of a colleague who turns everything into an emergency. Photo: Getty

You’re at your desk and working your way through an ever-growing list of things to do. Not only are you trying to keep on top of your emails, you’re also getting notifications on Slack and your phone keeps pinging. And just as you find yourself making progress, you receive an “urgent” message from your colleague — punctuated with multiple exclamation marks.

You read the email and it is clear that the work they want you to help out with isn’t urgent. In fact, you know full well that your co-worker — despite being friendly and well-intentioned — has a habit of turning everything into an emergency. And it can be exhausting and time-consuming to deal with their stress, on top of your own.

So why do some people sound the alarm for every small deadline and project — and how should you deal with them?

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“There are several reasons why some colleagues always seem to turn things into a drama in terms of urgency,” says Life Coach Directory member and personal development coach Denise Bosque.

“Firstly, it could be that they are behind in their work and see this as another thing to do and therefore it is 'urgent' to them. Something to consider might be their personality type — over-conscientious, and worried about getting behind in their work.”

They may also be a “chaotic type” who lacks structure in general, not just at work. And some people simply thrive on deadlines and enjoy the drama.

“Another possibility is that they have a backlog of work and want to pass the buck because of this other job that has just come in and they feel overwhelmed,” Bosque adds.

The trouble is that they might not realise the detrimental effect their stress can have on others. Not only can the constant sense of urgency make people feel frustrated, it can also lead to unnecessary anxiety.

Firstly, it’s important to take a step back and give yourself the space to calm down. Deep breathing exercises are great for when you’re feeling stressed. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, counting up to five on the in-breath and holding your breath for a few seconds, before slowly breathing out.

Once you feel slightly calmer, you will be in a better headspace to deal with your colleague.

“I think the best thing to do is to have a quiet, pleasant word with them, along the lines of: 'I've noticed Jane, often, when there is a piece of work that comes in you seem to panic and worry and I feel you possibly stress yourself. I was wondering if there is anything we could do to help you feel a bit more relaxed, easier, or comfortable’.”

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Failing that, be honest. Let them know their behaviour causes you stress and that you are happy to help them out with something if you are able to and have the time.

If necessary, it might help to explain why a piece if work isn’t actually an emergency. The deadline may be further away, for example, or the project may not take as long as they thought. Stick to the facts about what actually needs to be done and remember that other people perceive urgency differently.

If they continue to turn everything into an emergency, it may be worth raising the issue with your manager or with the HR department. It’s important to try and be understanding, however, no matter how annoying their behaviour can be. There may be other reasons why your colleague is behaving in this way, such as stress at home, anxiety or other problems.