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).

How To Act If You’re In A Bollywood Movie

I’ve been watching a lot of Bollywood recently, which I highly suggest you do. It is an art form that fully appreciates the magic of the moving image. We have this incredible technology, so why waste it on making quiet, dark little art film? Make it three hours of dancing and 5 different plots! Anyway, should you find yourself in the middle of a ridiculous Bollywood romp, you’d do well to remember these etiquette tips.

  • Do your best to be a beautiful, young widow.
  • Only kiss if you are married or, if you’re a bit more modern, if you are soon to be married. If you need to flirt, do so by dancing around trees.
  • You can be as feisty of a woman as you want, as long as you know how to cook halwa.
  • If someone is chasing you through the narrow streets of a small village, be sure to knock over as many fruit stands as possible.
  • Always weave through traffic on your motor scooter.
  • Chai smoothes over every social interaction.
  • If you’re not sure who the shrill, judgmental Auntie in your social circle is, it’s you.
  • Men need not wear shirts if they are wearing leather jackets.
  • Keep checking on the identities of those around you, because in all likelihood somebody is lying about who they are.
  • Respect your elders.

What Is a Stirrup Cup?

It sounds like…a cup shaped like a stirrup?

Actually, it is a time for drinks before a hunt (like the fancy kind on horses with top hats), when everyone’s feet are already in their stirrups, hence the name! The traditional thing to drink was port or sherry. Remember how I wrote about how Scarlet is basically an etiquette manual? She goes to a hunt and participates in the stirrup cup in the book.

Apparently, even further back, anyone setting off on a journey on horseback would get a drink before departing.

It is also the name for the type of cup used for the event, often shaped like a fox or other animals. Commonly, the cup would end in a point because it was for drinking, not setting down! And servants would carry the cups around in a special tray with holes in it to pass them out to the guests.

You Catch More Flies With Honey Than With Vinegar

Often, when interacting with other people in a situation where you feel wronged, it is easy to get upset and start shouting or otherwise behaving rudely. Of course, it can be frustrating to have a store employee enforce a policy that was never in effect before, or maybe they usually do a specific thing for you and this time they won’t. Shouting and getting angry is absolutely not going to improve the situation. The ONLY way to possibly turn it in your favor is to be very calm and polite (and often, be willing to accept that you aren’t going to get what you want.)

For example, did you know that, according to the agreements they sign with credit card companies, stores are not allowed to require you to show your ID when using a credit card? They can ask, but you can refuse and they still have to accept it. However, many of the employees of these stores are not aware of this. They have just been told that customers have to show ID as per store policy. So if you REALLY care about not showing your ID, you need to calmly explain why you don’t have to show your ID rather than jumping right into yelling and name calling. Heck, print out something from the internet that explains it to give to the cashier and carry it in your bag to hand out. Or do better and write a letter to management asking them to educate their employees.

Have you ever yelled at a retail store employee? Do you feel bad about it? Did you witness it and still cringe? Tell me in the comments.

Some Thoughts On Talking About People

It’s a pretty known thing that gossip is rude, but that doesn’t really matter, because we all do it. It’s rude but often it’s catharsis, and even if you love the person you’re talking about, sometimes you need a safe space to ask why are they like that? or omg I’ve noticed that too. But when does discussing the particularities of our friends and colleagues turn into something hurtful?

There’s that explicit rule of if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. As you’ve probably learned, that doesn’t really work IRL. There’s also more of an unspoken rule that if you wouldn’t say something to the person in question’s face, don’t say it behind their back. That’s certainly a better rule to follow, but still tricky, since maybe you don’t think that you’re saying will cause hurt feelings, but to the other person it does.

I find that I’m very attracted to gossip. Perhaps it’s the journalist in me. I’m curious about everyone’s business because I just want to know what’s going on in the world (and maybe I suffer from FOMO). I’ve been trying to stick to that latter rule by not just saying things that’d I’d only say to someone’s face, but also assessing why I would or wouldn’t say something to their face.

I’ve also been wrestling with what to do when people around me are gossiping or trash talking and I don’t want to participate. To be fair, there’s a bit of a spectrum, with “neutrally discussing someone” on one end and full on trash talking on the other, but what to do when I find myself in a situation when people are saying mean things about someone. Firstly, I try to see if the things they’re saying are true, because it’s rude to stand by while lies spread. If they are true, I see if the tone is actually mean, or if I’m just a sensitive baby who doesn’t like anyone using anything but the most loving tone toward my friends/acquaintances/someone I heard a nice thing about once.

I’d like to say that if someone’s being needlessly mean, I stand up to them, but usually I don’t. I get nervous and quiet and try to change the subject. This is not really advice. But my journey into gossip has left me with one tip: be aware of who is around you. People may have different relationships to the person you’re talking about. People may not know if what you’re saying comes from a place of love and understanding. Create context for your criticisms so they don’t seem like needless bashing, and accept that even if you have negative thoughts about someone, someone else may have a lovely relationship with them.

Or just hide and a cave and don’t talk about anyone, whatever.