I have shared an office with my boss for almost a year now. Since day one I have noticed that she clears her throat…a lot. It’s not just your typical little clearing, it’s much more than that and can last for up to an hour at a time. I have lasted a year with this, but it is starting to become unbearable. Even with headphones on I can still hear it. There isn’t another space for me to move to. Can you please give me some advice on how I should approach this?
A. B., Winchester, MA
Shared offices, cubical environments and open office are obvious ways for a business to save on costs. That sharing of space comes at a cost as well: People’s annoying, disturbing and sometimes even offensive actions can affect productivity and therefore profits. In your situation simple fixes like earphones or moving to another space either didn’t work or aren’t possible, and doing nothing is intolerable. Unless you’re willing to quit, it’s time to talk to your boss.
The key is not “if” you’re going to do it, but “how.” Before approaching your boss, consider carefully what you want from the outcome—your job and less coughing. Plan your conversation by focusing on the behavior without embarrassing her. That means a quiet talk in private that focuses on solutions. “Jane I’d like to talk to you as someone I share an office with, not as my boss. I hope that if the roles were reversed that you would do the same with me. I’m worried about something that I can’t help but notice: it’s your coughing and clearing of your throat. It must be difficult for you, and it’s very distracting for me. Sometimes it can go on for as much as an hour. Were you aware of it?” By asking her the question you direct the conversation to the specific issue. Now you can try to explore solutions with her. If you discover there truly are no viable options, then you’ll have to decide if you are staying or not. Good luck.