The reason the most annoying person in your office has no idea they're driving you nuts.

We all have that one colleague.

Let’s call her Sarah.

You can almost feel the energy shift when Sarah enters the room. Everyone feels a little bit more tense, a bit more on edge.

Teeth are clenched, eyes are rolled, and furtive, rushed instant messages are exchanged.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what annoys you about Sarah. It could be her laugh. The way she always manages to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Sometimes it’s the way she holds herself, walking around the office with an air of confidence that’s just… mind-boggling.

You’re not the only person who can’t deal with Sarah. Everyone knows there’s a “Sarah problem”, but a “Sarah problem” isn’t really something that can be fixed.

You see, Sarah is just… objectively annoying.

She has a negative “affective presence” and her very presence just annoys people.

Sarah probably isn’t aware that she has this affect on people. Sarah has probably been annoying people her whole life. Sarah thinks the problem lies with other people, not her.

Then there’s Melissa.

Melissa lights up a room when she enters it. People want to hear what Melissa has to say. They feel better about themselves just by being around Melissa.

Like Sarah, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes people love Melissa. It’s not that she’s always bright and bubbly, she has mood swings just like everyone else.

Maybe it’s her body language, the way she listens, her incredible ability to connect with anyone she meets.

Or maybe it’s that she’s a psychopath, and is adept at manipulating people’s feelings. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

You see, Melissa has a positive “affective presence”.

The concept of “affective presence” was first described a decade ago in a study written by Noah Eisenkraft and Hillary Anger Elfenbein and published in Psychological Science.


For the study, Eisenkraft and Elfenbein placed business students into groups and made them enrol in the same classes, and do all the group projects together, for an entire semester.

They then asked the members of each group to rate how every other member made them feel in regards to eight different emotions: stressed, bored, angry, sad, calm, relaxed, happy, and enthusiastic.

They found that the students had their own “emotional signature” and that emotional signature affected the people around them.

So, someone with a positive affective presence would make people feel positive, while someone with a negative affective presence would make people feel negative. This has nothing to do with their own emotions – someone with a positive affective presence could be sad all the time, and someone with a negative affective presence could always seem upbeat.

“To use common, everyday words, some people are just annoying. It doesn’t mean they’re annoyed all the time,” Elfenbein explains in the study.

“They may be content because they’re always getting their way. Some people bring out great things in others while they’re themselves quite depressed.”

The researchers can’t definitively say whether a Melissa can become a Sarah or whether a Sarah can turn into a Melissa, but they believe it all comes down to emotional intelligence.

Some people are aware of the affect they have on the people around them, while others are blissfully unaware that they’re driving their colleagues slightly insane.

You can figure out whether you’re a Sarah or a Melissa by simply looking at how people react to you.

Do you always get accused of saying the wrong thing? Do people tend to bristle around you? You could be a Sarah. Do people generally seem happy to see you? Then, you’re probably a Melissa.

Do you know a Sarah or a Melissa? Tell us about it in a comment below. 

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