How to Cope With a Disgusting Co-Worker

When I was in my early-20s, I had a part-time job helping an event planner run his business. Although my boss paid generously and was flexible about what days I worked, his social graces left something to be desired.

To put it bluntly, the guy had some serious digestive issues. And, as far as I could tell, he didn't care whom he offended with the sounds and scents emanating from his body. There was never any "Pardon me!" or "Whoops -- sorry about that!" Just a constant stream of hearty belches (and that was just the half of it, if you know what I mean).

Had I been more brazen, I'd probably have left a box of Gas-X on his chair. Instead, I found another job as quickly as I could and got out of the line of fire.

Like me, everyone has an annoying co-worker tale to tell: the guy with the Michael Bolton ringtone whose wife calls every 15 minutes, the gal who slurps her soda like a 3-year-old drinking a milkshake for the first time, the middle manager with the hygiene problem and creepy laugh who never fails to corner you at the coffee machine.

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But silently festering about a clueless colleague or fleeing the coop altogether aren't your only options. Let's look at some successful tactics for nipping that office nuisance in the bud.

The 'It's Not You -- It's Me!' Approach

I get that some people are extremely comfortable at work. So much so that they often mistake their cubicle for their living room. Why else would anyone phone their sweetie using their sappiest Schmoopie voice or eat a bowl of chili with their bare hands right at their desk?

When it comes to asking the co-worker in question to stop behaving as though he or she were raised by a pack of wolves, the sheepish "I'm so worried I'm going to hurt your feelings" approach does wonders, said Julie Jansen, business consultant and author of "You Want Me to Work With Who? Eleven Keys to a Stress-Free, Satisfying, and Successful Work Life."

"You have to protect the person's self-esteem," Jansen said. The last thing you want to do is humiliate someone you may have to collaborate with on a professional project later.

An "It's really bothering me" or "It really distracts me" coupled with an apology or three will help soften the blow, she advised.

That's what Bonnie Russell, a legal publicist in Del Mar, Calif., did when an attorney she worked with took to clipping his fingernails during a routine staff meeting.

Although the clipping was driving her and everyone else in the conference room crazy, Russell sugar-coated her request:

"Afterward, I asked him if he wouldn't mind taking care of his toiletries before the meeting because the sound of the clippers was distracting."

Sending a Messenger (or Avatar)

If you don't want to do the deed yourself, there's always punting to HR or voicing your complaint to a friend of the offending officemate with the hope that the friend will do the dirty work for you.

But what if you can't bring yourself to have such an awkward conversation with anyone? Or what if the person with the hideous breath or hyena-like laugh is your boss?

That's when it's time to get anonymous. Sure, you can leave an etiquette book with the pertinent sections highlighted on your co-worker's chair. But buying a book costs money. And you might get caught.

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