Q: I've got a co-worker who eats health food. She rattles the food around in plastic containers and crunches loudly. How do I ask her to...

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Q: I’ve got a co-worker who eats health food. She rattles the food around in plastic containers and crunches loudly. How do I ask her to stop doing something so personal?

A: The most effective way of asking her to stop making so much noise is to talk about yourself and not criticize her behavior.

Often when we are annoyed at a co-worker, we think we have two choices: shut up and fume, or criticize. In reality, neither choice works.

We are usually reluctant to reveal our own eccentric reactions because it makes us feel weak. We feel more powerful and safe when we tell other people what they are doing wrong.

The big problem with trying to get people to change by criticizing them is that the person we’re addressing has zero interest in changing while being judged.

Obviously, you have a high sensitivity to noise in your immediate surroundings. You are not good or bad because of this reaction. Just as obviously, your co-worker doesn’t share your sensitivity.

You could tell your co-worker, “I applaud your commitment to health and need your help on something. I’m easily distracted by noise and many of your snack foods are loud. I need your help brainstorming solutions that would work for both of us.”

Most people are enthusiastic about helping you solve a problem if they are not identified as the problem. You could obviously offer to get ear plugs or a white noise machine and ask her what she could do to help you.

If you can keep the focus on her helping you with your problem, she doesn’t have to pick between her self-esteem and helping you.

Most of my clients tell me the hard part of this approach is they don’t like admitting they have a problem. Most of us prefer to think that if other people would just shape up, we wouldn’t have problems. We may feel that asking for help makes us needy and, boy, do we hate being needy.

We forget that most human beings are actually wired to respond to help-seeking behavior in others. We are wired to attack back when we feel attacked.

After the first few times they use this technique, most of my clients decide that feeling temporarily vulnerable is a small price to pay for getting the quiet, peace or results they want in their workplace.

The last word(s)

Q: I have a job that pays my bills. How I find a meaningful job?

A: Pay more attention to what you’re doing now, or “meaningful” future opportunities will be invisible.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., is an executive coach, trainer, therapist, speaker and author of “Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything” (Hay House, 2006). She can be reached at 1420 N.W. Gilman Blvd., No. 2845, Issaquah, WA 98027-7001; by e-mail at interpersonaledge@comcast.net; or at www.interpersonaledge.com. Sorry, no personal replies. To read other Daneen Skube columns, go to www.seattletimes.com/daneenskube