Are your co-workers’ loud speaking voices, smelly lunches, mindless habits (knuckle cracking, fingernail chomping, gum snapping, finger tapping, pen clicking, off-tune humming and/or frequent sighing) or heavy scents driving you crazy?

Well, you can try to get them to change. Some tips:

First, you should do so only if the offending behavior is having a substantial negative effect on your work.

Second, be as diplomatic as possible. Make your request in person and with a smile. Don’t leave an anonymous note. If possible, approach them at a time when the thing that drives you crazy has been especially egregious and/or frequent.

Your colleagues are most likely unaware of how audible their chip-crunching or coffee-slurping is, so try not to embarrass them or make them feel they are bad people. You could even take on some of the blame yourself by explaining, for example, how you have a particularly acute sense of hearing or smell.

Your tone will depend on how well you know this person. If the two of you are buddies, feel free to make some quip like, “Hey, could you please not chow down on kettle chips at our mutual desk? The sound is driving me insane.”


If you don’t know the colleague in question very well, wait until you’re sure the annoying habit is really a habit. A single afternoon of breathing the fumes from someone’s pungent lunch is probably not going to kill you. A series of personal phone calls in response to a family emergency is something we can all understand. But if lunch is always a tuna fish sandwich with peanut butter, or if personal calls go on all day every day, accompanied by incessant cellphone pinging and dinging, then you need to kindly explain how distracting these things can be.

Finally, and this is important, think about whether the annoying activity is one that can be changed. If it’s something the co-worker has no control over, asking him or her to stop could be rude or even unkind. The constant sniffling that drives you crazy might be caused by allergies, for example. The heavy breathing might be asthma. The root of your cubicle mate’s booming phone voice is perhaps a hearing issue.

In other words, try to be tolerant. Who knows, you may have a few irritating habits of your own.