Dear J.T. & Dale: My new manager makes this disgusting noise where he hawks up big chunks of mucus and spits them into his trashcan! I am pretty good at tuning out noise all around me while I work, but I just can’t seem to tune this out. It makes me sick to my stomach. Everybody knows he has this nasty habit – his supervisor, his director, and the main boss – but no one will say anything to him. Please help me! It’s driving me crazy! – Julia
J.T.: As soon as I started reading your email, I could visualize the situation and hear that terrible noise. Yuck!
DALE: This is another of those situations where questions are the answer. The secret to approaching a manager almost always is to frame the issue as questions.
J.T.: Yes, since he hasn’t said anything about it, I think you could find a way to gently inquire. You could close the door for privacy and say: “As a colleague I really respect, I worry about you. I’ve noticed you’ve been congested and coughing – is everything OK?” That simple act of concern might help him realize that his habit is very noticeable. It also will send the message that his actions make him appear like he might be ill and (hopefully) get him to stop.
DALE: Brilliant. You’ve transformed criticism into concern.
J.T.: Even so, you run the risk of him reacting negatively. But at this point, do you have anything to lose? Well, maybe your job. So, I think you have to be very careful.
DALE: You might risk losing your job, but you certainly don’t risk losing a good job. Any boss who’d fire you for inquiring about his health is a boss who’d pound down your spirits and potential, and that makes him one you’d be better off replacing.
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