What should I do about my teammate “Parker” who chews gum loudly all day? It’s not that he chews his gum — but he pops it. He makes bubbles with his gum and pops them all day.
It makes a loud snapping noise, plus it’s gross to look at. I think it’s so rude for Parker to pop his gum two feet away from me all day, but he’s oblivious.
The sound of Parker’s gum-snapping is driving me crazy. Is it polite to tell him “Hey Parker, please stop snapping your gum.?”
Parker’s gum-popping habit is gross and annoying but there are lots of annoying habits that irritate people at work. I recommend that you get some headphones and use them whenever you want to block out noises around you.
You can tell Parker that it would be great if he could just chew his gum instead of snapping it, but you might be wasting your time. People develop habits that can be hard to break.
Here are ten more annoying things people do at work — often blissfully aware that they’re infuriating their teammates:
1. Chew ice loudly.
2. Heat up smelly foods in the microwave and eat them at their desks.
3. Walk around in sweaty clothes after exercising at lunchtime.
4. Talk so loudly on the phone that everyone else is distracted.
5. Ask their co-workers for money.
6. Wear strong perfume.
7. Bore their coworkers with every detail of their personal dramas.
8. Hawk their kids’ fundraising campaigns with high-pressure sales tactics.
9. Sing along (out of key) with the music playing in their headphones.
10. Leave their work area a mess and an eyesore.
What can you do about these annoying habits? People hate to be corrected, but you don’t go to work to be assaulted by sounds and odors, either.
We can all grow our muscles by speaking up when the need arises — not speaking up out of anger or indignation, but rather a feeling of goodwill and honest communication.
Here are polite ways to address each of these ten problems (plus the gum-snapping neighbor!):
1. “Anne, can I ask you a favor? I’m sensitive to noises — especially ice chewing, for some reason. Thank you so much for accommodating me. I appreciate it!”
2. “Derek, you are awesome but the smell of your fish lunch is overwhelming. If you could eat your lunch in the break room it would be great — rather than out here in the bullpen area. It’s very pungent. Thanks for understanding!”
3. “Monica, you’re so good to run at lunch! I wish I had your willpower. Would you mind changing out after a run? Thanks so much!”
4. “Martin, can you please lower the volume? You’re probably not aware you’re talking really loudly. Thanks!”
5. “I’m sorry Pat, I can’t make you a loan.”
6. “Taylor, that scent is lovely but it’s super-strong. Some people are sensitive to fragrances. They get sick if they are around the chemicals in perfume and cologne. Thanks!”
7. “I’m so sorry you are going through all that, Alex. It sounds tough. I have to finish my project now.”
8. “No fund-raising treats for me — thanks for the offer, though!”
9. “Bryce, you’re singing along with Pink Floyd again!”
10. You can’t say anything to your coworker who leaves their work area a mess. It’s not appropriate for anybody to counsel your messy coworker except for your supervisor.
11. “Parker, can I ask you a favor? You chew gum — that’s great. Can you please just chew it rather than popping it? The popping is really distracting. Thanks so much — I appreciate it a lot.”
It’s hard for people to work together. We all have our quirks. We can all get better at gently, compassionately bringing up sticky issues like smelly socks and noisy gum-snapping at work.
We can all get better at setting boundaries, and we can all get better at listening to and respecting one another.
Now is the perfect time to grow your muscles and build trust among your teammates. Work is best when it’s most human, after all!
Liz Ryan is CEO/founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap. Follow her on Twitter and read Forbes columns. Liz’s book Reinvention Roadmap is here.