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Solving a sensitive issue

Posted by Peter Post  May 14, 2009 07:00 AM

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Q. What would be the best way to solve this issue: a colleague in the cubicle next to mine passes gas all the time?C. P., San Ramón, CA

A.
You have two choices: live with it or talk to him. Which is best is really up to you. Unfortunately, approaching co-workers about personal issues is difficult, even for a friend. If you aren’t a friend who has his trust and respect, it will be difficult to have a successful conversation, so you may have to talk with someone who is that friend or your manager about how to proceed. If you are that friend, it’s very important not to display an accusatory attitude that implies he’s doing this intentionally to annoy you. Instead, if you talk to him, base your conversation on your concern for him as a person and his success as a colleague. Do it with the goal of improving the situation and, hopefully, building rather than hurting your relationship with him.

In addition, it’s important to recognize that there may be a physiological/medical reason for his flatulence. Obviously, this conversation should take place in a private place and everything discussed should remain completely confidential. “Tom, I’ve got to ask you about something that really is difficult for me to bring up. But I know it’s something that may affect your chances for success. Is everything all right with you because I can’t help but notice how often you pass gas?” Once you’ve broached the subject and asked the question, you can discuss options with him to remedy the situation, whatever the cause.

Q. When at a business event serving a meal, usually on circular tables, and your back is to the podium, is it appropriate to completely turn your chair around to face the speaker or should you only partially turn the chair and strain your neck?T. R., San Diego, CA

A. If the talk is going to be more than a few opening or closing remarks it’s reasonable to turn your chair around. In fact, as a courtesy to the speaker, it’s the appropriate thing to do.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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25 comments so far...
  1. The answer given here is about the gas passer is really poorly thought through and second rate. If there is a problem and whether or not the offender is a friend or not there is a much more effective approach to handling any issue like this one and it's simple. The offender is approached and told that colleagues and/or a co-worker has commented on the problem. As a favor to you, and, "I know this is sensitive" the source of the fragrance seems to be emanating from your area. "I thought I should give you a 'heads up." Problem addressed, no falsehoods and message delivered.

    Posted by D. Moore May 17, 09 11:23 PM
  1. The most common reasons for passing excessive amounts of gas are gluten intolerance and/or food sensitivities (tomatoes, dairy, nuts, and so on). It might help to bring this up.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D, physician, author.

    Posted by Alexa Fleckenstein M.D. May 18, 09 10:55 AM
  1. Seriously? Get real. There is absolutely NO way in reality to address the gas-passer personally without embarrasing both of you and irreparably straining your professional/personal relationship. Just leave an anonymous note, like "Your gas problem does not go unnoticed. Please seek help." He'll get the message and you'll both be spared serious embarrassment or worse.

    Posted by Slash May 18, 09 04:21 PM
  1. to CP in San Ramone- We had gassy neighbor problem in a small office. It's an awkward situation. No one wants to have the conversation, so instead, we mocked up a can of Lysol up with a fictitous FBG name on a label (acronym for 'fart be gone') and each time the odor wafted, someone said out loud "geesh what is that smell, I'm going to room spray". At first, the gassor, would say things such as 'what smell' (we'd be like hmphf can you believe it) and eventually, after using FBG each time, and there were many, the issue went away. I kid you not. I think the message got accross. PS. Feel free to use our label!

    Posted by Lexy May 19, 09 09:22 AM
  1. in a business environment, I have question as to addressing a woman besides using their name. For men simple "yes sir, sir, etc... what is best to use verbally for a woman, Maam seems wrong/old, Miss ( questionable, has that become like Master for boys??) and Ms. just doesn't ring correct yes, ms, ms can you... etc

    Posted by struggling on calls May 19, 09 10:53 AM
  1. I had a coworker who not only had a gas issue but I could use the stains on his shirt as a calendar. Big coffee stain on the left pocket means its Tuesday. He also had problems with personal space and inappropriate comments.

    I sat him down in a conference room one day and was brutally direct with him without being cruel or condescending. I literally told him that he shouldn’t pass gas in front others or during meetings and that he should buy at least 5 pairs of pants/shirts and wash them after each use.

    He was very angry about the gas comment but I stuck to the facts and in the end he thanked me for the help.

    Posted by MT May 19, 09 11:13 AM
  1. Just leave a package of Gas-X on their desk before they come into work. That might do the trick.

    Posted by exvermonter May 19, 09 11:52 AM
  1. The age-old wisdom tells us that:
    "whomever hath smelt it, hath dealt it."
    This adage presents a problem for you, in that by speaking of the gas that you are smelling, you risk being unjustly seen by others as the source of the malodorous emanations. Then again, silence in the face of obviously-fouled winds exposes you to similar suspicions that you may be the stinker, and not the stinkee. You have no good options here as any way you play it you risk either bad odors, bad vibes, or a conviction in the court of public opinion at work as either a pain in the butt, or a stink from same. I wish you courage, C.P., courage and potpourri.

    Posted by AndrewSpagnoli May 19, 09 12:20 PM
  1. I guess I'm the lucky one. I enjoy passing gas but they don't stink.

    Posted by DannoB May 19, 09 12:29 PM
  1. Toot! Oops, excuse me.

    Posted by DavidDavidDavid May 19, 09 02:12 PM
  1. I had a problem with someone who never used deodorant and it was so bad that I was gagging by the end of the day. One day I put a bottle of very good deodorant on his desk with this note, "I notice that your deodorant seems to have failed. Why don't you try this, my sons love it." He never responded but there was no smell after that.

    Posted by Audrey Coulter May 19, 09 02:40 PM
  1. Why is it the coworker's responsibility to address this? Seems like this is really more an HR issue. The company is responsible to maintain a work environment that is safe and not hostile. I would think that wafting stink from a specific cubicle to those within scent proximity would be considered a hostile work environment if this is an ongoing issue. I would think that HR would be better equiped to address this and maintain the anonymity of those being offended. Why should the coworkers have to be involved in what could become a conflict on a personal level? The alternative is to anonymously leave a bottle of Beano or GasX and Room Freshenor spray on the offender's desk.

    Posted by No More Stinky Stink May 19, 09 05:38 PM
  1. To C.P: I do it on purpose just 'cause I hate you because you're a management suckup. I actually do special exercises every day so I can push them out efficiently like a machine gun. And I just had three bean burritos for lunch, so see ya back at the office.

    Posted by partednerdhair May 19, 09 09:33 PM
  1. "Is everything all right with you because I can’t help but notice how often you pass gas?”
    Yeah, that will work. How about, "You're stinking up the office so badly, we're going to have to call a Hazmat Team, and then lay you off, you inconsiderate loser."

    Posted by wbhickok May 20, 09 09:42 AM
  1. I was thinking it might be preferable to refer the problem to human resources and ask them to handle it -- wouldn't that work?

    Lexy, I'm glad it worked for you, but I find the approach you mention very passive aggressive, BTW. I know it's a delicate situation, but I would be very annoyed as a colleague if people in my office dealt with communication this way.

    Posted by susan May 20, 09 10:40 AM
  1. how do know it's a man who is passing the gas? the writer never stated the gender. not all men are serial farters.

    Posted by D to the B May 20, 09 02:52 PM
  1. To the gassy person, let it and smell the fruits of his/her labors...
    come on get some glade!

    Posted by 2x4 May 20, 09 03:29 PM
  1. Why the immediate assumption that the colleague passing gas all the time in the adjacent cubicle is a "him" and not a "her"?

    Posted by paved art May 20, 09 06:18 PM
  1. New suggestion - print out this article and leave it on his/her desk.

    Posted by Mike M May 21, 09 09:13 AM
  1. I would be extremely careful if I were you, in bringing up the gas issue. Especially if it is an individual of color or one from a diverse country. I had a friend who attempted to address an issue of very bad body odor at the office and ended up being written up for ethnically insensitive conduct.

    Posted by Henry May 21, 09 09:16 AM
  1. Get some Beano (works for me) and leave it on his desk.

    Posted by sparky May 21, 09 09:36 AM
  1. Of course, you could always retaliate.

    Posted by DrK May 21, 09 10:39 AM
  1. Eat lots of pinto beans and Pepsi and blast him right back. a hose from your sphincter directly over the cubicle wall will certainly deliver a message and keep your own cubicle smelling decent. Oust spray always helps to keep on hand. Avoid with all cost anything described as Orange creme aroma. Orange is nice. Orange creme poop smell is vomitous. Heck are you telling me that at home you don't occasionally let one fly?

    Posted by Kurt Cybulski May 21, 09 12:58 PM
  1. In regards to the flatulence problem, may I suggest getting a sign made that says "No Farting Zone" and place that in a high traffic/highly visible area to let others know that this is indeed a no farting zone. That would probably be the least abrasive and most mature way to handle this situation.

    Posted by Pluto Nash May 21, 09 02:13 PM
  1. GET ON THE INTERCOM LOUD SPEAKER AND ANNOUNCE "YOUR SON RIP IS ON LINE TOOT"!

    NO, for real, I would be honest and...where it's frankly funny don't hide that! Laugh about it and be real! If you try to mask (no pun intended) an emotion it backfires (oops, no pun intended, again). Be real, be honest, and COMMUNICATE! The world needs more of that!

    Posted by Jodie May 22, 09 07:37 AM
 

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