Chewing Gum

Question:

I have someone in our office who smacks and pops her chewing gum. I am her supervisor and was wondering if I could tell her if she wants to chew gum it must be done quietly. Or, is this petty and I shouldn’t say anything? I work at a credit union and I don’t feel she respects me as a supervisor. Thank you.

Signed,

Distracted


Answer:

Dear Distracted:

Chewing gum loudly and popping and cracking it loudly are distracting to coworkers and to customers–it certainly is distracting to you! By all means, you should say something to the employee. But, you indicate she does not respect you in a general sense, so likely this will not be well-received by her.

Some things to avoid: Don’t try to hint or joke about it, because she won’t catch on. Don’t make it a group statement, unless others are doing the same thing. Instead, deal with it quickly, cleanly and matter-of-factly. But be definite about it.

First, is there someone over you, whose support and approval you need? Talk to that person and tell them what you intend to do and why. Don’t even suggest it might not be justified, just say that the employee’s gum habit is distracting because of the sound of smacking and popping and the appearance of vigorous gum chewing. Then, you can decide if gum chewing will be OK as long as the employee doesn’t make it obvious, or if no gum is allowed to be chewed at all while working. That is a decision that needs to be made, and preferably at a higher level than yours.

If you would feel more confident about it, ask your manager for input about it. Mention that there is a conflict between you and the employee. Perhaps the manager has some inisight into that as well.

If you have the manager’s support, intervene to stop the distracting gum chewing and do not take “no” or “I’ll try” as an answer.

Ask the employee to step into your office and say something like, “Marilyn, you probably don’t even realize you pop and crack your gum, but you do and it’s very distracting. If you chew gum, chew it quietly and where it doesn’t show to customers or when you’re in meetings or talking to the rest of us, and don’t make noise with it. OK?”

She may say she isn’t making noise, or she may say others have been doing it. Just stick with your statement. “If you didn’t realize it, that’s really a sign that you will have to work hard to stop. But, you do have to do that. You might ask Jan to let you know when you pop your gum so you can be sure to get that habit under control.”

Or, “I haven’t heard anyone else do that. I’ll keep an ear open from now on. When you stop that will certainly send a message.” You don’t need to feel awkward or embarrassed about this matter–it is a common complaint in work situations and simply needs to be stated. You also should not argue about it. Smile and just be a broken record about saying that she must stop making noise when she chews gum.

In fact, I think the best approach is a comfortable but adamant statement of facts, rather than a hesitant or nervous sounding conversation. You are the supervisor; she is the employee; you have an obligation to take care of this situation, because you are responsible for the work environment and for effective and professional customer service. Gum popping and loud chewing obviously distracts from those.

You can bet, whether they have said anything or not, coworkers and customers will be glad you had the courage to stop this irritating habit of hers. But, I urge you to have the support of someone higher if possible, just in case.

Best wishes with this challenging situation.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.