Deal with it yourself, enlist your boss or go to Human Resources? Local workplace expert Fran Sepler suggests these approaches to annoying-workmate problems:


Talking too loud: "Whenever you are going to provide feedback, it's always best to rehearse it, to see how it sounds to hear what you're saying. Rather than saying, 'When you talk, everyone can hear it,' you want to give them some grace. So you say, 'I am sure you have no idea how sounds travel here, but I want to respect your privacy and I want you to be able to protect your privacy.'"

Loud or annoying ring tones, especially from unattended phones: "That one you really need to come to with a simple statement, that 'When your cell rings, I have trouble concentrating. I'm wondering if you couldn't put it on vibrate when you walk away.'"


Office fridge: "There has to be some collective responsibility for someone to take a leadership role to organize a cleaning day where everything is tossed. ... An adjunct is people with ethnic food that people find disagreeable, so employees chip in and buy airtight containers and suggest that everyone use it."

Stinky cooked food: "In those cases you need to be assertive and again practice the message in your own head. Say, 'This creates a really strong odor that makes me feel not well, and I wonder if we can reach an agreement.' If it's a hugely objectionable scent and creating a medical issue, it might have to be solved at a higher level. But there also needs to be some degree of tolerance, that some unfamiliar odors may not be unpleasant, just unfamiliar."


Ear buds that bleed out: "It's like the cellphone where I might use a humorous approach. If you recognize the song, you say, 'I love the Grateful Dead as much as anyone, but I'm sure you had no idea that it's so loud.' Or you could tap the person on the shoulder and say, 'I appreciate your desire to listen to music, but it's so loud it's keeping me from being able to concentrate."

People who sing along to their music: "Again, this is where empathy plays a role and you say, 'Do you have any idea people can hear it? I know I wouldn't want everybody pretending it wasn't happening if I was doing that.'"

Clipping nails: "I have seen intervention by HR, but anyone can just say, 'We all have ways of taking care of personal hygiene, but that sound makes me upset. I wonder if you couldn't go to the restroom and do that.'"


Oversharing of personal information: "If you're a supervisor, you shouldn't be doing it, period. You just don't say, 'I had a really hot date' or 'I'm worried I'm putting on weight.' But if it's peer to peer, you can say, 'I really respect you, but I'd like to keep work work and keep the personal stuff personal.' It can get uncomfortable. In an extreme situation you can say, 'I'm not trained to discuss this so maybe you should talk to someone who is.'"

"Friend" requests from co-workers you barely know: "I would say, 'Thank you for the friend request. I'm trying to keep it to my closest friends.' The worst thing to do is to ignore it because then they think 'Do they hate me?' or 'Did I offend them?'"


Showing up at work sick: "That's a tough one, and you can run into potential claims if it's handled wrong. If somebody's sneezing and coughing, I hand the person some hand sanitizer and say, 'I really hope you're using this because I really don't want to catch that.' That's about as far as I would go. ... I think that's something where HR is going to handle that with some delicacy."