A reader writes:
I work in a small office of six women. My coworker whose office/desk is within earshot of mine chews gum throughout the day. I can hear the gum sloshing in her mouth and the tiny pops that she makes with it. My desk is in the reception area so I don’t have a private space nor a door to close. She is seated approximately 15 feet from me. Another coworker is about the same distance from the Popper in an office across the hall (our three desks are basically in a triangle with the Popper across from both of us non-poppers).
I am tempted to ask the Popper to please chew her gum quietly. Is this rude? Is there a better way to say it? Since I answer our main telephone and greet visitors, it is not really appropriate for me to wear headphones or earplugs. I have a radio that plays softly, but it doesn’t block the sound.
Gross. You can hearing it sloshing in her mouth? Yes, say something.
I’d say this: “I’m sure you don’t know that I can hear your gum all the way over here, but weirdly I can.” Then I would laugh because the situation was ridiculous but would still follow up with, “Could you chew it more quietly?”
(And while it all depends on personal style, I find letting yourself laugh in this kind of situation is often a good thing, since it signals that you haven’t lost perspective and that you realize that you might be being nitpicky. Speaking of which, I’m also a big fan of making requests like this all about my own weirdness and neuroses, so you can try that approach too: “I know it’s weird, but the sound of gum being chewed is like nails on a blackboard to me, especially if it pops.”)
Adjust accordingly for the tenor of your relationship with her. There are some relationships that are informal enough that it would be perfectly appropriate to just shriek out, “Your gum is disgusting! Stop it!” (Those are, of course, the best relationships.)