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Commentary > Everyday Money
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Cubicle hell
Do the grating habits of co-workers drive you mad? Pet peeves from the pod, and how to handle them.
August 20, 2004: 2:13 PM EDT
By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN/Money senior writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) Here's a question you never want to hear at the office: "Anyone seen my toenail clippers?"

If you're like a lot of employees, you work in tight quarters with colleagues in cubicles, pods or workstations.

Now you knew you'd have to make some concessions for that all-important paycheck. Like work.

But you didn't bargain for prolonged and unrelenting exposure to the weird, annoying or hair-raising quirks of a few co-workers whose personal habits can drive even the most easygoing person to distraction.

Here's a very partial list of some of the quirks I've collected from my own experience and those of others. Of course, we all have habits that probably bother someone. But let us hope they're not quite this irritating.

You mean the office is not my personal boudoir? Work time, grooming time, what's the difference? That seems to be the attitude of those who clip their toenails at the desk, brush their teeth at the water cooler or catch a little beauty rest whenever they get the chance.

Then there are those who confuse their desks with bedrooms, by displaying what one might consider personal items. Example: horny goat weed, a male enhancement product.

Germs anyone? Some people, it seems, never learned to cover their mouths when coughing, sneezing or yawning. Tissues in their world are like truffles delicacies to be indulged in rarely.

IT'S NOT THE HEAT, IT'S THE HUMIDITY
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Ever worked with someone whose habits made you blanch? Please write to: everydaymoney@cnnmoney.com.

Food tastes better with oxygen. Some people also missed those moments of youth when parents everywhere taught offspring to close their mouths while chewing.

They also didn't get the hint that if it's not cute when kids do it, it's really not cute when adults do it.

Phones are meant for fighting. There's nothing more refreshing than hearing a co-worker yell at a client, parent or spouse, preferably using language that would make Howard Stern blush.

Add bonus points when mortifying personal details are thrown around like confetti.

Welcome to my personal call-center. Some people consider work an interruption in their day.

No sooner do they arrive than they are on the horn planning weekends, weddings, or trips; or resolving crushingly dull personal issues with friends and family.

Try getting their attention for say, work, and they'll either give you a blank smile, implying falsely that they'll be right with you, or they'll simply shoo you away as if you're interrupting their attempts to negotiate world peace.

What?! I can't hear you I'm talking so loudly. There's so much to say at work and so many decibels at which to say it. Some coworkers regularly opt for the ear-splitting ones.

If you weren't hearing-impaired before you met them, you're on your way.

So, what can you do about it?

If you want to change a sticky (or smelly or just plain aggravating) situation, your best bet is to address it privately and at a mutually convenient time with the coworker, said Lou Kennedy, author of "Essential Business Etiquette," and Giovinella Gonthier, author of "Rude Awakenings: Overcoming the Civility Crisis in the Workplace."

Rather than attack, figure out a polite and gracious way to present the problem, Kennedy and Gonthier said. (I confess, I have sometimes done the opposite when it comes to hyper-noisy colleagues, usually out of frustration. While it wasn't ineffective, I certainly could have been nicer.)

Say you sit next to someone who wages family feuds by phone. Kennedy suggests saying something like, "It's a little delicate for me to bring this up, but I don't know if you're aware that I can hear some of your phone conversations and it can make me a little uncomfortable."

You could take a lighter approach, too. Say you work with Typhoid Mary or Michael. You might say, "Ooh, sounds like you have a really bad cold or allergy. Here's a Kleenex on me," Kennedy said.

Or: "My immune system is a little low, so I'm trying to steer clear of airborne germs." (Okay, so it's not funny and your immune system may be great. But if it keeps someone from sneezing all over you ...)

In any case, you may be happily surprised. Often, Gonthier said, when coworkers are addressed respectfully about a habit, "they'll apologize and say they didn't realize it was bothering anyone."

(For more office etiquette advice, check out AskCarmenCourtesy.com.)

Silver lining?

And sometimes annoying co-workers can have their upside.

One woman I know of had a colleague who talked so loudly it would break her concentration. One day, it got to be too much, so she went over to work at an empty desk near a friend in another department.

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Personal finance
Jeanne Sahadi

A colleague of that friend, who'd always found the woman attractive but hadn't had the nerve to ask her out, got to talking about baseball with her.

Long story short: They agreed to go to a game their first date and now they're married with kids.

May we all be so lucky.

Jeanne Sahadi writes about personal finance for CNN/Money. She also appears regularly on CNNfn's "Your Money," which airs weeknights at 5 p.m. ET. You can e-mail her at everydaymoney@cnnmoney.com.  Top of page




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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.