How to Deal with Gross Coworkers

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

I work at a low-walled cubicle about four feet away from the office of a co-worker, whom I’ll call Mr. Mucus.  Mr. Mucus’ office has a door, which he does not close.  Mr. Mucus also spends most of the day (perhaps every 2-5 minutes) audibly hocking loogies and coughing to clear his throat.  It is beyond disgusting.

I usually put on headphones and turn up the volume, but this makes it difficult to concentrate.  How would you handle this situation without coming across as . . . snotty?  (Pun definitely intended.)

Best regards,

Grossed Out

Official Etiquette

In a similar situation, Ask A Manager has suggested trying to move away from the gross coworker. The Emily Post Institute suggests using humor if it seems appropriate.

Our Take

Jaya: I mean, when I had a full time job at a place with cubicles, people had some grossss habits but I was too much of a wimp to do anything but silently seethe.

Victoria: Yeah, me too. I mean, ultimately there isn’t that much you can do.

Jaya: Depending on office culture, you could ask him to at least close his door.

Victoria: Ooh yes, that is good.

Jaya: Or speak to HR and hope that they have a gentle way of handling this.

Victoria: Yeah. Although, a lot of times, you should try to deal with a conflict between yourself and another coworker before going to HR. So if you really want to ACT, you need to say, Joe, I’m sorry but when you spit like that, its very noisy and makes it difficult for me to concentrate. Could you please do it in the bathroom or close your door?

Jaya: That makes sense. Yeah, I think aside from headphones or asking to move desks, trying to confront him politely would be your best bet at putting an end to it.

Victoria: Yeah, depending on your HR they might tell you to just work it out yourself anyway. Since its not actually their role to mediate petty conflicts.

Jaya: Right. And that sounds like a nice way to put things, though there’s always the risk that he’ll be all sensitive about it.

Victoria: Yeah. So you have to decide how much it bothers you and if it’s worth it. And like, to an extent, how you relate on the hierarchy. If you are a lowly assistant and he’s the big boss, there is not much you can do.

Jaya: Do you think it’d be a good idea to talk to other coworkers to see if they find it annoying as well? And then have the person with the best relationship to him/higher up in the hierarchy talk about it?

Victoria: Oooh, yes, that’s a good idea. At least if you feel like you can trust them. You don’t want to get accused of gossiping and “trying to get someone” (idk, some offices are crazy).


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