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The deal breaker

Posted by Peter Post  January 21, 2010 07:00 AM

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Q. I have a friend whom I work with and eat lunch with everyday, but unfortunately she is a loud eater. I'm not just talking about crunching chips or slurping soup but a mouth open, tongue on the roof of her mouth, wet smack with each jaw movement. She will even complete entire sentences with a cheek or mouth full of half chewed food. I am almost embarrassed for her. It has gotten to the point where it is all I hear at lunch and start to feel myself gag. She is a wonderful person who is a college graduate in her mid-20s but apparently never learned how to properly chew her food. How do I politely address this with her?


A. Unquestionably, one of the worst table manners faux pas is to chew with your mouth open. It's disgusting. I once asked a group of women: On a first date, if a man chewed with his mouth open, would he get a second date? Unanimously and quite vociferously, they responded, "No way!" It's a "deal breaker." There are lots of mistakes you can make at a dinner table and people will shrug them off such as using the wrong fork. But chew with your mouth open and people won't want to eat with you again, they may choose not to go on another date, and they may decide not to select you for that important client-facing job or to work with you. Many people aren't even aware that they're doing it. One way to see yourself as others see you is to eat a meal in front of a mirror.

Address the issue with your friend with the goal of helping her to be more successful. Approach her privately and with the utmost sincerity. "Jessica, there's something I'm going to talk to you about, and, believe me, it's not an easy subject. If the tables were turned, I hope you would clue me in. I'm concerned because you're a bright, talented person, but this habit will negatively affect your success in business. Are you aware that you chew your food with your mouth open?"
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