How to deal tactfully with noisy eaters in the office


What do I do if others are doing nothing?Credit:John Shakespeare

ANSWER:

I’ll be completely honest: my first reaction when I read your question was horror. I think I may have grunted and moaned with revulsion.

I’m ashamed to say that I wrote these words before rethinking: “I’m half-tempted to advise you to shoo your co-worker away with a stick or loud hand claps.”

Then I asked Dr Linda Dalton, a self-employed psychologist who consults to individuals and organisations, for her expert opinion on the matter. After considering her kind and considered thoughts, I repented, my attitude was presumptuousness and cold-hearted. Please ignore me and listen to Dr Dalton’s wise words:

“You have a choice,” Dr Dalton advises. “My general rule is leave people be. We are who we are. We are all different and different is good. Different brings new. New ideas, approaches, talents and knowledge. Therefore, unless this colleague is excruciatingly unbearable leave it alone. You be you.”

Of course, if you find it truly “disgusting”, as you’ve put it, you may feel that leaving him alone doesn’t solve your problem (neither does my terribly callous advice above). Here’s Dr Dalton’s suggestion for dealing with the situation tactfully.

“If you do decide to stage an intervention, I suggest the following: if someone is particularly close to the offender, they or a senior person could quietly and privately speak to the offender requesting very specific behavioural outcomes.

“Simple – like ‘Please try to eat lunch more quietly as I’ve come to notice that this is distracting to me and if I’ve noticed maybe others here have as well. Thanks a lot.’”

Dr Dalton says if it stops at that point you’ve nipped the problem in the bud at the level of unobserved “etiquette standard”. There’s a but, though.

“If the behaviour continues it may need to be escalated into a performance issue, the criterion for which would be an unsolicited formal complaint – something beyond workplace banter.”

“At this point you would ask formally, again privately, and in writing, with a witness like a human resources department representative.”

Whatever course of action you take, Dr Dalton says it’s important to stick to some fundamental principles.

“Be kind. He may not even know his behaviour has offended. Maybe his headphones are too loud.

“Above all, praise in public and reprimand in private.”

If you have a work problem – whether it relates to unpleasant sounds or unbearable conditions – send a question to Work Therapy: jonathan@theinkbureau.com.au

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