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FORTUNE Small Business:

How to confront a distracting coworker

An office worker checks in with FSB on workplace etiquette.

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(FORTUNE Small Business) -- Dear FSB: I work in a small office and my co-worker eats sunflower seeds all day and it's distracting. I've talked to the office manager, who hates confrontation, but she is reluctant to do anything. What should I do?

- Sydney, Aurora, Colo.

Dear Sydney: Dealing with a co-worker's annoying habit can be uncomfortable. Whether you decide to confront her directly or seek guidance from a higher-up, don't ignore the situation - especially if it's affecting your job performance.

If possible, confront your co-worker directly, but in private, says Colleen A. Rickenbacher, president of Colleen Rickenbacher, Inc. and author of Be on Your Best Business Behavior. This is a matter for the co-worker to handle, not human resources, she says.

Can I fire an unpopular worker?


"She's eating sunflower seeds and not stealing office equipment or embezzling funds," says Rickenbacher. "Those are situations human resources handles."

If you're uncomfortable approaching her and the office manager has refused, you will need to approach a higher-up because resolving this conflict is the office manager's job, says Rickenbacher.

Ideally, if a manager is conflict adverse, he should go to human resources and ask how to handle the employee, says Paul Gibson, the Vice President of Human Resources at Mattamy Homes.

If you decide to initiate a conversation remember that you don't want to offend your co-worker, but want to resolve the problem. Rickenbacher suggests beginning the conversation with a positive comment; such as, "I like sunflower seeds also" and then explain that when she eats the seeds at her desk all day it's a distraction. End the conversation by offering a suggestion that will resolve the situation such as that she use the office kitchen or the conference room to enjoy her snack. It's important that the conversation ends on a positive note to avoid further or later conflict between yourself and your co-worker.

Hartman suggests that when initiating conversation that you avoid telling your co-worker what to do. Don't tell her to stop eating the sunflower seeds at her desk, he says. Instead, let her know how the constant eating and noise is making you feel. Starting the conversation with a story about how you didn't realize one of your own bad office habits was creating problems may make it easier for your co-worker to relate to you instead of feeling attacked.  To top of page

Have you ever confronted an employee about an annoying habit? How did you handle it?

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