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Gum Smacking

Posted by Peter Post  May 12, 2011 07:00 AM

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Help. I work in a large open office where there is no privacy. A close worker/neighbor snaps and crackles her gum all day. What is the best way to handle this in order to get it to stop, and without being labeled a troublemaker?

J. B., Chicago, IL

A. Personally, I love to chew gum. But I do it when I’m alone. Frankly, the noise of the smacking and crackling and popping of bubbles is bad enough, but watching a person chew gum is like watching a cow chew its cud—yuck!

Perspective is the real issue here. How others see you certainly matters, but in your private life you get to choose your friends and the people you want to associate with. So, if you do something that they don’t cotton to, you choose whether you will continue to do it and, in the process, continue to annoy them. But in your business life, it’s different. The perspective of the other person really does matter. Now or in the future that person may be in the position of deciding if you get a job or a promotion, or win a contract, or earn a spot on a team.

You already understand this is an issue because you are worried about being labeled a troublemaker, but, at the same time, you want to curtail the annoying gum chewing. First, decide if this is an issue you really want to make something of or if it is a petty annoyance you can live with. You work eight hours a day, five days a week, fifty weeks a year with people sitting next to you who may do things you really don’t like. Before you talk to your neighbor, consider the situation from her point of view. She probably isn’t doing the chewing to annoy you, so jumping on her for being an annoying person won’t help. You have just so much “relationship capital” you can expend before you’re labeled a complainer. Consider carefully: What do you want for an outcome and what can you say to achieve that end? If you decide to talk with, not confront, Ms. Gum Chewer, talk to her at a time and in a place where others can’t overhear the conversation. Say: “Jan, I wanted to talk to you and I hope if our roles were reversed that you would be willing to talk to me. I hope we can figure out a solution that works for both of us. It’s about gum chewing…” At the end of the conversation, be sure to thank her for listening and helping to figure out a workable solution. Good luck.

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