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Dealing With a Co-worker's Disturbing Habit

Dear J.T. & Dale: My new co-worker has the most disgusting habit. He picks his nose - and he doesn't even hide it. A couple of times I've literally gagged in his presence. I don't want to touch anything he touches, and we have a lot of paperwork together. I have liquid germ killer on my desk and use it all the time, but I can't stop thinking about how gross this is. What should I do? - Abby J.T.: Thanks, I think, for asking a question we've never heard before. My initial reaction is you have to go straight to management on this one. You clearly are uncomfortable with this, and it's only going to result in you saying something your new co-worker may take the wrong way. DALE: What would be the right way? Is it possible to craft a conversation so the co-worker ends up responding, "Thank you, Abby, I am so glad you cared enough to be open and honest with me"? J.T.: That's why you go to management and hope that your boss will intervene. If not, and if things don't change, then remember that you can always leave. I know that doesn't seem fair, but you need to put yourself in an environment where you are comfortable. DALE: No, no - we can't let this get out of control. First, consider the effect of going to management. The story will live on; you will forever be remembered as the Erin Brockovich of the nose-picking scandal. J.T.: So, what's the other option? To literally and figuratively look the other way? DALE: What if you treated it as a medical issue? The air in office buildings can be extremely dry and cause nasal problems. You could get a bottle of saline nasal spray for yourself and a second one for your co-worker. Perhaps you could ease into the subject by bringing up a "Seinfeld" episode called "The Pick." Jerry's new girlfriend, a Calvin Klein model, breaks it off because she sees him picking his nose. It wasn't picking, Jerry insists, just scratching without "nostril penetration"; however, he ends up defending the practice, saying: "I guarantee you Moses was a picker. You wander through the desert for 40 years with the dry air... you telling me you're not going to have occasion to clean house a little bit?" J.T.: Perhaps talking about that program would reinforce the notion it's a habit that would cause a woman to stop dating someone. It's worth a try. If nothing else, it may help when approaching management, having made an attempt to solve the problem on your own. Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale via e-mail at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019. © 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc. Co-worker's disturbing habit image from Shutterstock