Gum Chewing Irritations

Question:

A co-worker’s desk is just outside my office and this person constantly smacks and pops her chewing gum. She even smacks and pops her chewing gum when people are at her desk or she’s on the phone.

I started closing my door because of the distraction, but I worry that my other co-workers think I am being stand-offish. I have on two occasions mentioned to her about the gum popping, the first time she said she wasn’t popping her gum, the second time I mentioned it in front of two other co-workers and she said that she was popping her wrist.

I was wondering if I should say something to her again or mention it to her supervisor. The only problem is that this is a very small office and I know she will know I said something.

Signed,

Irritated


Answer:

DearĀ Irritated:

Problems with gum chewing, gum popping and gum cracking are ones that we hear about often. I have a friend who says all chewing gum should come with a warning that say, “This product will make you look bovine and will make you unpopular with everyone around you.” He may be correct! In this case, you have talked to the employee already, so talking to her again isn’t going to do any good. If she was you or me just one hint would have been enough to stop her. The truth is, she doesn’t care that you are being bothered. If she cared, she wouldn’t do it.

Go to your supervisor or write to him or her and be definite about requiring a solution.

You might want to write or say this: “Karen has a habit that is distracting to me, keeps me from being able to concentrate, and sounds terrible when she is dealing with clients or other people over the phone or in person. She pops, cracks and chomps gum at least half of the time she is at work. (State an accurate time frame, to show that you are not just complaining about one time now and then.)

I have asked her to stop on two occasions. The first time she denied she was doing it, the second time she said she was popping her wrist! She has continued to do it, even though now she knows it bothers and distracts me.

I am asking you to please do some checking on your own to see if you notice the distracting noises she makes, and ask her to stop.

That way I will not feel I am standing alone in asking that she stop it. I worry that if she thinks I am the only one who has complained, it will create very negative feelings in the office.

Could you please help me with this matter so that I can concentrate on work and do not have to listen to the noise of gum popping and cracking while I’m trying to work? *********** A letter or conversation like that shows your supervisor that you are not just irritated–you want action. Hopefully your supervisor is strong enough to respond and take action.

If other employees have complained, list their names and ask the supervisor to contact them.

I know you worry that she will be upset at you. But, keep in mind that she has it within her power to be a good co-worker and she has chosen to be inconsiderate. Thus, she probably was not going to be a close friend anyway.

This is a tough situation, but if she really does make enough noise that you can hear her, she needs to be stopped. If she chews gum while talking to people on the phone, she also needs to be stopped. There is no one who would say, “Gee, I never heard of someone being complained about for cracking their gum.” EVERYONE knows how irritating that is!

Best wishes as you take on this problem. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

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.