my coworker is a disgusting gum chewer

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.)

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. Recruiter*

    No real advice, just want to say that I commiserate. I HATE the sounds of gum. Chewing, popping – ugh. So disgusting! Grownups – stop it, now! Yes, you. I know you think that you are a quiet gum chewer, but, most likely, you are not. No gum in the office!

    1. Ashley*

      Yes! Thank you! I am pretty sure I am surrounded by people who enjoy the sound of their own chewing and smacking and do it loudly on purpose. Gum chewing never really bothered me much until I started sitting close to people who chew louder than I thought it was even possible to do, and try to talk about work through their gum smacking. Ugh.

  2. Piper*

    I hate gum popping, too. Gross. Along the same lines, I have an office mate who chews tobacco at work. Keeps his nasty spit cup out and spits into it. So, so nasty. It makes me physically ill. Plus we’re a tobacco-free campus, so yeah…

    1. The IT Manager*

      OMG! A million time worse than gum chewing. (Although I have been known to chew a bit in the office after a lunch, and I have to remember not to pop. I don’t think there’s any sloshing though.)

      The military has the same problem. All the building are supposed to be tobacco free, but some people don’t seem to realize that it applies to chewing tobacco. You could try pointing that out if he’s the kind of person that follows those kind of rules.

    2. Patti*

      Ugh. At one point, half the guys in our office were chewing. And they used their empty pop bottles to spit in. Sitting all over their desks… so gross. Made me nauseous, and still does when I see it.

    3. Natalie*

      Ick. I just found out my boss occasionally dips when we bought a box of disposable cups for him and the sunflower-seed-eating co-worker. I sincerely hope this doesn’t mean he’ll be leaving spit cups around.

      1. Jamie*

        If you didn’t know about it before he’ll probably continue to be discrete.

        I will admit this is one vice I just don’t understand on any level…but then I don’t know how people can eat licorice either…so I’m pretty myopic when it comes to disgusting personal habits.

        I had a boss who did this and like you, I had no idea for months until I saw him fish a can out of his pocket when looking for his keys. Otherwise I’d never have known.

        1. EM*

          I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a regional thing. It seems fairly common here in the west. Even so, a coworker and I were horrified when a guy running a meeting took a can of Copenhagen out of his pocket and took a huge dip out of it mid-sentence. As far as we could tell, he didn’t even spit, just swallowed it. Ugh.

          Guys at my last job would chew in the office. It was so gross.

        2. Natalie*

          I’m hoping I’ll never notice, but he leaves water glasses and so forth in his office when he goes on business trips. Just hoping that doesn’t extend to spit cups.

    4. twentymilehike*

      I have an office mate who chews tobacco at work.

      This is allowed?!?! Where do you live, if you don’t mind me asking? Is it a regional thing maybe? Is the offender a smoker outside of the office? I guess I’m just grossly under-exposed to chewing tobacco. I’ve always been under the assumption it was a thing of the past, and I’ve only ever witnessed it being done outside of bars by just a few people who thought they were being trendy hipsters.

      1. Jamie*

        I’ve only known one chewer and he found smoking as disgusting as most smokers find chewing. I can’t see that being a substitute for that – if you want the nicotine there are patches for that.

        1. smoker*

          If the patch worked that well, no one would smoke or chew. It *helps* the craving, it doesn’t make it go away. Not to mention that the patch is not recommended for short-term use like just while you’re at work.

          1. Jamie*

            I know – believe me. She wondered if they were smokers outside of work, I was just making the point that there’s no relation between the two. If I can’t have a cigarette, I’m not going to look longingly at a chew can.

            And thanks for pointing that out about the patches – I know a lot of people use them in a way they aren’t intended but you’re correct.

            1. smoker*

              Ah, I get what you mean. I tried a dip once in college to see what it tasted like (gross), so if I was somewhere I couldn’t smoke I wouldn’t chew tobacco. On long flights I bring nicotine gum. I have heard of smokers doing this in dorms or military barracks, though.

            2. twentymilehike*

              I know – believe me. She wondered if they were smokers outside of work, I was just making the point that there’s no relation between the two. If I can’t have a cigarette, I’m not going to look longingly at a chew can.

              Thanks for clearing that up! I’ve smoked cigarette’s before (albeit briefly and I can’t recall if I was actually inhaling or not LOL), but never, ever think I’ve ever had any real craving for anything containing tobacco, and I’ve never tried chewing so … yeah, I’m clueless.

              Both sound like really expensive and potential gross (depending on who you ask) habits.

      2. Anonymous*

        My dad dips and always has, as long as I’ve been around, but he’s extremely discreet about it. I’ve never seen him put it in or take it out, just spitting occasionally. I don’t think he does it at work at all.

      3. class factotum*

        When I first started working after college, in Houston, a coworker chewed all during our training. I never had any idea. He was very discreet – I thought the paper cup he held contained Coke.

        I was pretty grossed out when I found out what was going on.

      4. Jay*

        I temped 2nd shift in a hospital for a few weeks and, yep, shift lead always had a wad in his mouth the entire night. I definitely thought the cup was soda the first time I saw it…so gross.

      5. Anon2*

        A couple of my coworkers used to chew at work. They were very discreet and took awhile to notice. It didn’t smell and whatever they used for a spit cup was opaque, so it never bothered me.

      6. Natalie*

        I’m a former smoker who is, and may always be, addicted to nicotine gum. Chewing tobacco has literally never appealed to me.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      Ugh! Half the guys at Exjob did this. Most of them were very discreet, but it’s still majorly gross. Also, if someone leaves that soda can / spit cup on their desk for very long, it starts to stink!

  3. Amouse*

    ha! This reminds me of a song from the musical Chicago where one woman repeatedly tells her husband to quit “chewin’ and poppin’ his gum” he doesn’t…so she shoots him in the head. And thinks that’s completely reasonable.

    Alison’s advice is great. Make it about your neuroses and keep perspective that it’s a small (yet very annoying) thing and she’ll probably be far more likely to stop chewing the gum so loudly than if you just keep this all bottled up inside and then one day burst out with “CAN YOU STOP CHEWING YOUR GUM SO LOUD?! THAT IS DISGUSTING!”

  4. Catherine*

    It’s letters like these that make me so very grateful I’m out of the cube farm and in my own office. However on my floor we have a Death Cougher you can hear from several offices away, but he doesn’t come in all the time, so it’s not worth mentioning to him.

  5. ChristineH*

    Ewww, a thousand times ewww!! I’m almost sick just reading this. Spot on advice from Alison.

  6. class factotum*

    Gum chewing, apple eating, the slapping of smelly hand lotion being applied, obnoxious ring tones, overly chipper phone greetings – omigosh just say your name and that’s it! No need to add “Thank you for calling Chocolate Teapot Company! This is Andrea! How may I help you?” They know they’re calling CTP and if they don’t, who cares? There are so many ways co-workers can be annoying as hell.

    And disappointing – I heard what I thought was the sound of M&Ms being poured into a bowl – but it was just cornflakes. That’s mean.

    1. Jamie*

      I’m with you on the annoyances, except one. Most companies I know want people to answer the phone with the name of the company in some fashion.

      If I’m calling about the delayed shipment of my chocolate tea pots I want to know immediately that I called the right company. The thank you in your example is a little much, sure, but if I called a main line hearing someone answer with only their name would be disconcerting to me.

      Personally I think it should all be “Dunder Mifflin, this is Pam.” Because that’s what goes through my head whenever I answer the phones…which is probably why they don’t like me answering the phones.

      1. Bridgette*

        Whenever I call my bank, the person answering the phone says, “Thank you for calling Chocolate Teapot Credit Union, where rates on new car loans are better than ever for qualifying members, see our websites for details or ask to speak with a loan officer! This is Pam, how may I help you?” No joke. That long. I feel bad for them.

        1. anon*

          Thats really long winded! I worked at a place in my youth as a cashier and we had to answer the phone this way:
          Good afternoon, XRetail Store, where the educated consumer is our best customer, how may I help y0u?

      2. class factotum*

        Jamie, I agree for the main line, that is appropriate. However, we don’t have direct numbers here. All calls initially go to an automated system that identifies the company. Then the caller enters the extension. So by the time the call gets to Andrea, the caller already knows this is TCTC.

        1. Jamie*

          I misunderstood. Yes, when it’s my direct dial I just answer “Hello, this is Jamie.”

          In our place reception can’t give out direct dials and I opted not to even have it on my business cards or sig tag so if you have my direct dial you’re one of a a handful of people who already know who they’re calling. Makes sense.

      3. Blinx*

        I’ve always got the line from Office Space running through my head when some people answer the phone:
        “Corporate accounts payable, Nina speaking. Just a moment…”

    2. fposte*

      Yeah, the last is a company protocol thing, not a personal habit thing. I actually care very much that people know they’ve reached us.

    3. Victoria*

      “Thank you for calling Chocolate Teapot Company! This is Andrea! How may I help you?”

      LOL that’s exactly how I’m required to answer the phone :)

  7. fposte*

    I think gum is tough, because for many of us it basically means people are trading on the tolerance-for-eating-noises all day long. It’s exacerbated by the fact that some people who can chew food with their mouth closed don’t seem to do that with gum. So be alert, please, gum-chewers–if you can’t chew it with your mouth closed, please don’t hit the Juicyfruit in the office.

    (Also, please be aware that gum flavors carry more than a strong perfume, and they’re a lot less subtle. Yes, even than those perfumes.)

    1. Jamie*

      This. I have known a couple of gum chewers (my mom and sister actually) where you have no idea they’re chewing – just wondering where the minty smell is coming from. It can be done, but for most people it’s an impossibility.

      If I can see what color your gum is when you’re chewing it – or hear it in any context – privileges should be revoked.

    2. Anon2*

      lol … I assume they carry because you’re breathing out and chewing with your mouth often open so you’re spreading the scent that way. Whereas perfume is largely passive when it disseminates.

      Here’s a secret, if your gum chewers are like me, sometimes I chew gum with my mouth open on purpose. O.O I like the sound and feel of it sometimes, so then I’m savoring it. Not like a cow chewing cud or anything, it’s not like the gum is about to drop out of my mouth and I’m not smacking my lips or anything … but, sometimes I love to hear repetitive sounds or if something just appeals to me on any given day.

      So, your coworker may do it on purpose sometimes. ;)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, but presumably if someone nicely told you that they could hear it and it was distracting, you’d make an effort not to do it so loudly.

        1. anon2*

          Oh sure…..until i forgot again becausebits a habit. I don’chew gum often but I will click pens, flip the paper edges on books I’m reading, or click magnet faasteners/snap buttons, etc. Yes, I am that person. ;) Certainly, I try to be considerate of others, but I can’t (& wouldn’t) watch every idiodsyncracy. But also, it does not bother me when someone prompts me to stop.

      2. fposte*

        No, there are definitely mint gums whose odor travels even when people chew them with their mouths closed. Fortunately, I have both an office door and rank :-).

  8. yennit*

    “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…”

    Picturing scary, maniacal laugh with eyes wide open! (I think I’m into October this year!)

  9. Joanna Reichert*

    I’m the kind of gal who loves her husband dearly, yet I still find urges to smother him with a pillow when he snore in a particular way.

    Mouth noises of any kind have always bothered me. Always. Half of the fights I got into with my mother when I was a teenager was because I was ready to pull my hair out because of a little clicking noise when she spoke.

    Gum chewing, throat clearing, how phrases simply sound coming out of someone’s mouth . . . . I could go on and on but half the time I want to plug my ears with my fingers. Damn social behavior, requiring me to be all nice and stuff. And I make a definite point to be objective about myself (as much as possible, anyways) and I’m very careful with my reactions to people, to put myself in their shoes, attend to their needs . . . I’m not a Type A person or control freak, so I just chalk up this quirk to me being me.

    But it really is quite a hardship.

      1. Amouse*

        Google search of the day: Misophonia. Question: is this actually a diagnosable condition or is it something that people can characterize themselves at like “introvert” or “extrovert”? I’m genuinely curious.

        1. Cassy*

          Misophonia: Misophonia is a form of decreased sound tolerance characterized by extreme and irrational reactions (panic, despair, rage, etc.) when exposed to sounds, and occasionally visuals, that most people ignore or experience as background, i.e. chewing noises or tapping.

          It’s technically diagnosable, but barely heard of with minimal research. Most of the time, people with this symptom get diagnosed with something else (whether properly or improperly), such as OCD or hyperacusis. The research that has been done links Misophonia with something to do with conections between the autonomic and limbic systems in the brain. It basically triggers a fight or flight response with a myriad of other symptoms that require the sufferer to develop coping mechanisms.

          The symptoms are unique enough that the majority of sufferers who cannot find someone else to accurately diagnose them can self-diagnose safely (not necessary the wisest choice for extreme cases).

          I have self-diagnosed and am 100% certain this is what I suffer from. If you are interested, this website is a great place to start: There are a lot of submitted stories and cases with links to a few small studies.

          1. Jamie*

            I am generally the first person to scoff at internet diagnosis – self or otherwise – but reading this? They can add that to my medical chart right now – diagnosis done!

            That’s one of the reasons I love this blog so much – I’m always learning something here. I had NO IDEA this had a name until the last time it came up and then I immediately send the info to my whole family.

          2. Amouse*

            Thank so much! That’s very interesting. Like Jamie I had never heard of this until today. This is without a doubt the most intelligent, civil blog I have ever read/commented on.

          3. Diane*

            Wow. I have a level 6 reaction to a particular scraping noise. Think sandpaper, rough hands rubbing together, someone rubbing a projection screen to point to an image . . . my dad says that when I was a baby, I screamed whenever I heard it. Now I cover my ears and move away quickly. At meetings when someone’s made the noise once, I’m on edge because I can’t react or escape.

            1. Andrea*

              I’ m exactly like that with balloons popping. Children’s birthday parties are torture and I usually end up in another room with my hands over my ears. And yet, there are people who pop balloons for fun.

        2. fposte*

          I think it’s something that’s describing a lot of people’s personal experiences and is being looked into scientifically; that there’s some indication, like introversion and extroversion, that there are neurological/genetic tendencies that might play a role, but that it doesn’t mean you’ve been diagnosed as Having a Syndrome or meeting ADAAA standards or anything–right now it pretty much is being considered based on the symptoms, so “misophonia” seems to be a short way to describe the symptoms rather being something that, say, a lab test can confirm. I haven’t heard if there’s thought that it’s related to the sensory hyperreaction some autistic people get from sounds, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were, given the neurological element there.

          (This is not something I have, but I find it really interesting.)

          1. Jamie*

            Sensory hyper-reaction – that is really interesting. We all also have sensory integration issues as well.

            Either that or every family thinks wool socks and tags inside collars are the work of the devil.

            I never thought of that as a tie in – outside of it being in the big basket of things about us that annoy the crap out of other people.

          2. Cassy*

            This is a great way of explaining what being given the term misophoniac means. It’s not an official recognized diagnosis as you said and there is definitely no official test. Most doctors/medical professionals would call it OCD or extreme Type A personality disorder because it fits a part of that symptom profile.

            I have often thought if there are connections between misophonia and other sensory hyperreactions. It seems like it could be very related, but there are hardly any scientific studies on misophonia alone and I don’t expect there to be much more coming quickly.

            However, I think 20/20 did a segment on this and Kelly Ripa recently spoke out about having misophonia so perhaps being more mainstream will help increase the amount of studies being done…. I hope so at least.

    1. Jamie*

      My whole family is like this with mouth sounds. If I were a behavioral researcher this is one of the first things I’d study because I’ve always been curious as to whether or not it’s nature or nurture…but we are all like this.

      Chewing, gulping, teeth smacking…even normal sounds which aren’t technically from the mouth but related to eating and drinking like fiddling with a water bottle or silverware on a plate.

      I totally understand how you feel – it’s bizarre that someone eating potato chips can cause actual feelings of rage in me. I know it’s my problem so I have my little coping mechanisms, but this is one of the things I find most bizarre about myself so I’m always fascinated when I find other people with the same issue.

      1. class factotum*

        The smacking sound the NPR announcers have. I cannot stand it. Is it FM? Is it NPR? I never hear that sound when I am listening to AM talk radio (either side) or a ball game.

          1. Amouse*

            here’s a random thought: could misophonia be a large contributing factor in some cases of chronic migraine sufferers and if so, if that root cause if diagnosed could they be helped by that diagnosis. That would be a fun study to do. If I you know, had the credentials etc.

            1. LA*

              This. I have chronic daily migraines – literally have had a migraine since April 10, 2001 – and am self-diagnosed with misophonia due to extreme fury reactions to multiple mouth noises. It actually gets much much worse when I’m going through an episode (normally, I’m at a 1-3 on a scale of 1-10 for my migraine, episodes will raise it to 5-9), to the point where I have to shut myself in a different room away from people because just hearing them swallow will literally make me want to punch them in the face (if, you know, the effort wouldn’t hurt my head more). I honestly had never thought to tie these two diagnoses (one clinical, one self) together, but woah. Light bulb moment…

      2. Bridgette*

        An intriguing thought. My sister is the only person in my family with a mouth-noises intolerance, so for her, it seems more like nature. For your family, nurture. As always, probably a combination of both?

        However my sound intolerance is electronics and lights left on. And not just the radio or TV left on and people are talking (if you’re not going to watch it, why is it on???), it’s the humming noise they make. My house is very dark and quiet, and people get afraid when they come over.

    2. lucy*

      I still fight with my mom over this clicking noise she makes with her fingernails, because she won’t stop. Nervous habit or something. When you take one fingernail and put it on the other and click it? I don’t know how to describe it because I don’t do it because it is bleeping annoying. I literally want to punch people when I hear it. Stop doing that, people.

      1. Jamie*

        I promised myself I wasn’t going to stop posting because I could +1 for every single sound you guys come up with but one last one on the subject of clicking…

        Pens. Stop it. If you do it in my office I will ask you nicely to stop. If you continue I will smile and jokingly confiscate your pen telling you you’ll get it back when you leave my office. But it’s not a joke and I do take your pen and give it back to you when you leave.

        I feel better. I’ll stop now.

        1. Andrea*

          I’m with you on the pen clicking. However, I am an incurable pen-twirler. When I’m thinking, I just twirl and twirl it like it’s a little baton or something. I seriously don’t know if I can think without it. It is silent, though, so I don’t know if it bothers other people. If I was ever asked to stop, I’m not sure I could.

  10. A Gum Popper*

    I know that I’m going to be in the minority here but…
    OP, I don’t really think there’s a tactful way to ask someone to stop popping/chewing their gum. I’m a gum popper and I suspect that sometimes you can hear it from my office. I pop because frankly I like the sound of it. Also, as an adult with braces chewing gum like that makes my teeth feel better especially after an ortho visit.

    If you were to ask me to stop popping, I’ll probably tell you straight up to your face, no. To be honest, I would probably pop louder to be spiteful.

    But you know, that’s just me *shrug*.

    It’s an office not your house so the rules of engagement are different. The same rules that you enforce in your house doesn’t always carry over into the workplace.

    You know, I really hate when people drink soda because all I can think about is all that sugar and acid on your teeth. My teeth start to hurt thinking about it and the smell of the sugary sweet stuff makes me want to gag (yes, I can smell soda in the can if I am sitting next to you).

    I won’t tell you not to drink soda and you won’t tell me not to pop my gum. Then we can live happily ever after in our work environment.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      So you don’t care if you’re disturbing people with your loud popping in a quiet office where people are trying to work? Wow. I’m glad I don’t work with you.

      1. A Gum Popper*

        Wow. I’m glad I don’t work with you.
        Yeah, it would probably be really painful for you

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Come on, if you’re saying you’d start popping it louder to be spiteful, that’s a signal that your stance here isn’t reasonable.

      Yes, we’re not in our own houses. That means you go the extra mile to be considerate, not that you give people the finger when they ask you nicely to keep some particular noise down.

    3. Amouse*

      This almost sounds like a troll. Are you really this adamant about your “fundamental right to pop gum” in an office where others are trying to get work done?

      Sincerely, it would be my nightmare to have someone with the behaviour you are describing about yourself in any position of authority over me at work. I’m restraining my overwhelming desire to attack the commenter here Alison. I better stop writing now.

    4. Zed*

      You know, I kind of have to agree (minus the spite comments) – I can’t imagine asking another adult not to chew gum.

      I hate the smell of coffee. HATE it. It makes me nauseous. But I would never dream of asking a coworker not to bring coffee into the office.

      1. Jamie*

        At least in the US, I can’t imagine a workplace that would be able to enforce such a rule without a serious drop in productivity!

        But I do know how much it sucks to be bothered by something that other people consider perfectly normal.

      2. fposte*

        Asking somebody to chew with their mouth closed isn’t the same thing as asking them never to chew at all, though. Similarly, it’d be okay to ask a cubiclemate to find a way to drink coffee that didn’t involve, say, a slurp with every sip. You’re not saying “Because of my sensitivities, this ordinary behavior is forbidden”; you’re saying “This ordinary behavior is usually performed less disruptively–please do it that way.”

      3. Amouse*

        OK but this is a person who is saying they would willfully loudly pop gum in an obvious manner not just chew it. It can be argued that chewing gum quietly is similar to bringing in coffee to the office in terms of habit. Bringing coffee into an office where one co-worker hates the smell is one thing. It’s a far different thing, in my opinion for someone who knows you hate the smell of coffee and make a point of passing by your desk every day and loudly saying “mmmm don’t you just LOVE the smell of fresh coffee???”

        One’s a habit that annoys you. The other is a clear “screw you”.

    5. fposte*

      You’d seriously blow somebody off when you found out you were bothering them? That’s pretty wrong.

    6. Ellie H.*

      Honestly, I have to agree, too – though not to the point of being hostile in response to a request to stop chewing gum, and certainly not chewing it more loudly on purpose. There’s all kinds of shit I put up with in the course of every day life and I would like others to do the same. (I am perfectly aware of several behaviors I engage in that likely irritate others, the number one being, jumping up all the time to get this or that other thing.) As Zed said, I just can’t imagine asking another adult to stop chewing gum. One person who worked in my office and, delightfully, just retired, sucked her teeth incredibly loudly. It drove literally everyone else in the office ballistic, was gross sounding, etc. But none of us would ever, ever dream of asking her not to do it.

      That said, I like fposte’s comment about “This ordinary behavior is usually performed less disruptively.” I guess my rational thoughts lie somewhere in the middle of that sentiment and my above reaction.

      1. Jamie*

        “(I am perfectly aware of several behaviors I engage in that likely irritate others, the number one being, jumping up all the time to get this or that other thing.)”

        Because of this thread just for sport I decided to make a list of stuff I do that probably annoys the heck out of at least one co-worker. Unintentional of course, and no one has ever said a word to me, just based on things I see brought up here often enough to assume there is someone in my workplace who probably wants to smack me with a stapler for being irritating.

        I’m up to eight.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m not suggesting that she ask her to stop chewing gum; I agree that’s not her place to ask. What I suggested was that she ask her to do it more quietly; plenty of people chew gum in a manner that doesn’t disturb the average person.

        1. Ellie H.*

          I definitely agree, but if someone asked me to chew my gum more quietly, I would probably read it as, “Don’t chew gum, ever, I hate any and all gum noises.” (Also, it’s the kind of behavior you probably have to devote conscious attention to in order to modulate.)

          I do think it should be possible and permissible for the LW to make this request, rationally speaking . . . my personal feelings about this just run more to the above sentiments.

    7. Ananda*

      A Gum Popper:
      You sound incredibly self-serving and self-righteous!
      Where soda on someone else’s table doesn’t invade you beyond what you yourself decide to think about, the noises you make – apparently not even unconsciously – are intrusive to other people. Your nasty noises penetrate their ears and brains. Yuck!

  11. A Gum Popper*

    I’m restraining my overwhelming desire to attack the commenter here Alison.
    Lol. That’s really cute. I don’t take anything personally so it wouldn’t matter. *shrug*

    No, I am not adamant about my ‘fundamental right to pop gum’, I just wanted to point out that what irks you in the workplace may not bother someone else. As tempting as it may be, no one should be the ‘disgusting habit police’ at work. Conversely, you might not realize that you are doing something that may irk the heck out of someone else no matter how innocuous.

    For instance, I am seriously allergic to furry pets. How would you feel if one day I said to you, “Hey, can you make sure you get all of the pet hair off your clothes before you come to work? ” Better yet, ‘Ugh, your love for [insert furry creature here] is so disgusting. They have all of that hair and they shed.” That would be horrible to say to someone just because I’m not into furry animals.

    I just assume that if I don’t get all up in arms about your furry pets then please don’t get all fired up about my gum popping because it helps me concentrate on the task at hand. Some of us need an external distraction to help us focus and think. If that’s not you then I applaud you.

    I don’t personally think that any one of us who has those annoying/disgusting habits does it intentionally to annoy our co-workers, it’s what works for us. So please stop taking it personally, it really isn’t about you.

    On this site, we always espouse ‘if-they-are-doing-their-job-and-it’s-not-impacting-you-why-do-you-care’ idea. I would argue that the gum popping is not adversely affecting LW’s work but is more annoying than anything else. She should really let it go because it might open a whole can of worms that she didn’t want opened.

    But you know, it’s just my opinion and LW should handle it however she wants too.

    1. Amouse*

      Excellent. Cause cute’s precisely what I was going for so I’m glad I accomplished that.
      I don’t have a problem with you saying you pop gum. If you work surrounded by people who don’t care that you pop gum cause maybe they pop gum themselves, then cool. But you’re saying you’d deliberately pop louder. That’s just rude. That’s where the line is. Unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from restraining your gum popping (I’d love to see that doctor’s note) then you’re being rude and disrespectful to your co-workers. I would argue that even if you couldn’t care less about annoying your co-workers having that attitude will just backfire on you and make you look bad. So if you nothing else, do it for total, blatant self-interested purposes. That should be doable right?

      1. Amouse*

        Also if it’s distracting to your co-workers and you’re clearly doing it purposefully then they have a very good case for saying it impacts their working environment. So you’re point about annoyance not being a valid reason might apply at this point with the OP but not if she were to address it with them as Alison said and they start smacking and sloshing in a louder more obvious manner.

        1. A Gum Popper*

          You’re getting caught up in managing someone’s behavior (mine) and missing my point. Yes, it sounds spiteful but are you honestly going to tell me that you’ve never ever ever done anything spiteful to anyone in your adult life?

          If you haven’t well then I want to be like you when I grow up but for now I’m just human.

          I’m not trying to have a big internet verbal war but merely point out that sometimes the things that annoy us about other people are things they can not help or are inherent in their nature. It’s not about you, it’s about them.

          I’ve already stated that chewing gum relieves the stress on my teeth because of my braces. I don’t chew with my mouth open but sometimes you can still hear my gum. I can either chew the gum and ease the pain or sit in silence all day eating pain relievers like candy to get past it. Those are my options. Seriously.

          It’s like pen clicking, I don’t get it but I’m sure for some people it helps them to get their work done. Would it bother me, maybe, but if John Smith on the other side of my cubicle needs that to get his work done on time then so be it.

          1. Amouse*

            The level of rationalization and entitlement that you seem to have about your gum popping is disturbing. That’s all I’m trying to say. I could less about managing people’s behaviour. What I do care about is people being spiteful about petty things and intentionally disrespectful over something like gum popping. The world is a mean enough place as it is. Seriously, just stop popping your gum if it bothers people. Your co-workers have to spend a ton of time with you every day, not by choice. I’m not saying there won’t be times we intentionally annoy people without meaning to, that’s one thing, but being asked politely to make an effort to stop and going irrationally in the other direction just seems like a waste of energy for you and needlessly draining for the people around you. If you need to relieve stress on your braces, can’t you pop gum on your breaks, at lunch and at home?

    2. fposte*

      “we always espouse ‘if-they-are-doing-their-job-and-it’s-not-impacting-you-why-do-you-care’ idea.”

      Actually, we don’t–or we have different definitions that you do of “impacting you personally.” While opinions aren’t always united among the commentariat on any given subject, Alison has suggested, for instance, that people eating at their desk should limit the substances they eat, that some foods are too strong-smelling to microwave in the office, and that nail-clipping isn’t an at-desk activity. And that it’s okay to politely ask people to curb their behaviors.

      What troubles me about your response is that you apparently feel that other people are bound by some contract with you that they don’t actually know they made, so it’s fair for you to punish them when they break the agreement that you decided for them. That’s pretty troubling.

    3. lucy*

      She says that she doesn’t take anything personally… except apparently being asked not to pop her gum.

  12. LA*

    Fellow misophonia sufferer here. I love AAM’s advice, but I could never get the guts to follow it. I too sit next to a gum chewer, who is also a water bottle slurper, a carrot/apple chomper and an all around noisy eater. I honestly don’t even know how she makes that much noise with her food, but you can literally hear the mastication (which is onomatopoetic in this instance) and the saliva rolling in her mouth.. It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard and I hear it for about 30 hours every week between lunches and snacks.

    There’s really no tactful way to say, “hey, can you please chew with your mouth closed?” Because that’s common decency and manners and I feel like if they haven’t learned that up to this point in their life, their coworker pointing it out won’t help them.

    1. Cassy*

      Misophoniac as well…
      I could not do that. What are you coping mechanisms for this person? I have a hard time sitting next to someone eating normally so this would make me feel about to explode into Hulk-rage.

  13. LA*

    I really don’t have a lot of coping mechanisms. If I can walk away, I definitely do – apples and carrots make me take leisurely walks to and from the bathroom. And all my friends say to wear headphones, but I can still hear the chewing. I get obnoxiously, obnoxiously pissed off about it and sometimes start to shake I’m so irritated by it, but I do a lot of grin and bearing it (unsuccessfully). I’ve actually tried to plan my eating times around hers so that I’m focusing on my own food and dealing with my own mouth sounds, but she eats snacks constantly so I’m always hearing a wrapper or the chewing.

    The only thing that has really helped is having other people recognize that it’s loud. It doesn’t really help morale in my group, but it helps my peace of mind when a coworker emails me to say “Hey, how do you stand that slurping!?” when they’re on the other side of the office and can hear it. I guess it makes me feel like it’s not all in my head and I’m not actually crazy and making it worse than it really is.

    I also don’t put up with these types of behaviors outside of work, my friends know I will yell at them if their mouth behavior annoys me and they’re very accommodating. But going from the chewing at work to a work function or something where I don’t know people well gets me to Hulk-style rages where I need to actually take a day to myself to sit in silence and only deal with my own noises.

    1. LA*

      Oops. That didn’t thread right, not sure if it was my issue or my computers, but this is a response to Cassy. (Misophoniacs unite!)

  14. Anonymous*

    This reminds me of the co-worker who asked me to never use the bathroom while she was also in the bathroom. She told me she couldn’t pee if there were other people around.

    I think this letter reminded me of that because it’s a request to stop doing something that’s generally regarded as normal and acceptable. I personally think that this falls into the category of “stuff you ought to try very hard to put up with.” I’m one of those freaks who hates, hates the smell of coffee and of alcohol – but I think it would be very out-of-bounds to ask people to stop drinking coffee or to not drink alcohol in my presence. I put up with it, and limit my exposure to it. I only bring it up to very close friends, and only if I can find a way to phrase it nicely so I am not condemning a normal behavior but asking for an allowance for a personal neurosis.

    Are there other remedies available to you? Can you work harder on tuning out the noise? Find a different noise to cover it up? Change the layout of the reception area? I don’t mean to disparage you, but if you can’t handle this kind of minor noise I think you probably aren’t suited to a receptionist job. I am not suited to the profession for a number of reasons, so I don’t say that to offend – but part of being a receptionist is working in a very open area and dealing with many minor annoyances that accompany it. You sound about as well suited to your work environment as I would be to a Starbuck’s.

    In the end it’s your neurosis, and you are the one who will have to overcome it. Gum-chewers won’t vanish just because you think they’re disgusting, just like coffee-drinkers don’t vanish just because I think the drink reeks.

    1. Jamie*

      The thing is many people are happy to extend courtesies to others – even if they don’t technically have to.

      If we shared an office I would much rather you tell me the smell of coffee bothers you, because honestly I wouldn’t mind just making sure I had mine before I got to the office. I’d much rather accommodate that, which for me, would be a minor request than have you trying to work and silently wondering when the hell I’m going to finish my coffee and go wash out my cup so you can stop thinking about it.

      And to me – I’ll be honest – if there was a public bathroom and someone made that request of me I’d be so freaking grateful that they said it so I didn’t have to.

      Bringing something to someone’s attention in a nice way is fine – and even things that aren’t out of the ordinary many people don’t mind being accommodating. As long it doesn’t descend into a nitpicky list where you’re policing someone’s every move it doesn’t hurt to ask.

      That said, the OPs example is really extreme. If you can hear gum sloshing in someone’s mouth that is 15 feet away…I don’t even know how hard you’d have to work to make gum that loud…that’s beyond what most adults would consider polite behavior so asking them to chew more quietly is fine.

    2. fposte*

      Chewing with your mouth open is not generally regarded as normal and acceptable, though. Plenty of people chew gum without doing that, which is why this isn’t a judgment on the substance, which I agree is generally regarded as normal and acceptable.

  15. Joanna Reichert*

    I just wanted to say “THANK YOU!!!” to the posters who mentioned misophonia.

    I fully admit that I tend to view supposed mental issues with a very critical eye. I generalize people claiming, “Oh, I have this and that” as attention-starved or overly self-based, a symptom of a culture that loves catchphrases and self-medicating. I realize this is not true in some cases, but it appears that people are quick to give it a name and slap a pill on it.

    BUT – I just spent the last 3 hours exploring misophonia and I could feel my eyes stretching to dinner-plate proportions as I read the list of triggers. Yes, yes, yes, very much yes. I cannot believe that other people are like this too! I always assumed that I had an issue with anger management – even though in most all other areas of my life I’m ‘normal’ – and it was just embarrassing that I was struggling with my emotions. To my family, I’m radical, unpredictable, and probably an @sshole. To strangers and friends – I’m ‘having a bad day.’

    It’s so weird, for those of you who don’t experience this. It’s like leaping into an Anger Ferrari, already cruising at 100 MPH; you go from zero to pissed off and wanting out of the situation NOW in just a nanosecond. And instead of being a useful, productive member of society and playing nicely with others, you’re constantly evaluating, thinking, struggling to deal with emotions when you have those triggers going off. It’s just so . . . . odd and discombobulating.

    A brand-new thank you, Alison, for this blog. I might very well have continued on thinking I was the weirdest, most selfish person ever.

    1. Cassy*

      Joanna: I’m so glad you’ve found an answer! You’re definitely not weird!

      THANK YOU for your description of misophonia. It’s a very good way to describe it to other people. The Anger Ferrari drives through my neighborhood very often and it’s frustrating and scary and leaves me feeling guilty about the feelings I have for my family and even my pets.

      I hope you continue to research and have luck finding coping mechanisms and things to help.

  16. Anonymous*

    For those people who are driven crazy by open-mouth chewers, I have to say something here – sometimes due to rather annoying allergies, I can NOT chew with my mouth closed. During those times I can’t breathe at ALL through my nose. I try to be discrete about it, but I really can’t help it.

    1. Jamie*

      I would strongly suggest that during times you can’t chew with your mouth closed you make sure you aren’t eating with other people.

      Aside from my own issues with this, I’ve heard co-workers without my sensitivity refuse to eat in the lunch room when certain coworkers who chewed with their mouths open were in there. It is something that others most people and it’s absolutely discussed. I’ve started new jobs and been told who to avoid in the lunchroom because of this.

      It can hurt your reputation in the office and it will absolutely hurt our chances for invitations to business lunches, etc.

  17. Monica1*

    So the gum chewing is distracting you all from…. posting on AAM? I agree with the gum chewer. I adapt my own environment to reduce external distractions. Of course I try to be considerate… but apples? Really? What else should I eat, donuts? If little nuances create such a tizzy – figure out a way to mask it and do your job.

  18. adah*

    Misophonia is not a neurosis or a psychological disorder. Although very few are researching it at this time, it appears that this may be a form of synaesthesia or somewhere on the autism spectrum. It is not an audiological disorder: it is a neurological disorder.
    Please refrain from labeling others and telling them to just deal with it: whatever the “it” happens to be.

  19. Problem Solved*

    I had a similar situation with a new employee. We were in offices (with doors and everything) across the hall from each other, yet I could hear her loud gum popping. Sometimes it sounded almost like an assault rifle.

    After a few torturous days, I finally said “Popper, I hate to bring this up. It’s silly really, but could you stop popping your gum? You probably aren’t even aware you’re doing it, but it’s been bothering me. I probably have Asperger’s or something. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings.” And viola! She wasn’t upset and pretty much stopped cold turkey.

  20. Julie*

    LW here – so last Monday I was in The Popper’s office organizing some supplies. She was chomping on her gum. I said, “you want to know something funny?” She, of course, did. I told her that I can hear her gum chewing from my desk. I failed to follow that up immediately with, “Could you please chew quietly?” Instead, my coworker told me about all the times during her life that friends have tried to get her to stop chewing her gum loudly including during childhood in a movie theater with friends. I don’t know if there’s any hope to get her to do it more politely. Now I’m bummed!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Go in there right now and say this: “You know how we were talking the other day about how I can hear your gum from my desk? I know this might sound silly, but it actually makes it hard to focus sometimes. I’ve tried to ignore it, but now that you’ve said you know it can be loud, can you keep it down?”

  21. Lisa*

    I can totally relate. I sit right next to a guy who seriously chews gum or is snacking on something all day long. It’s disgusting. I know we all have idiosyncrasies, but it’s awful. He smacks, sloshes, pops, crunches, slurps — ALL DAY LONG. My ears hurt because I have headphones in all the time but I can feel my blood boil. I don’t know how to stop it.

  22. julie*

    The LW here – just wanted to report that my message/comment about her loud chewing habits was heard loud and clear by my coworker but she makes a joke of it now. She is aware of her loud chewing/popping (I can hear her right now) and know it bothers me because she made mention the other day of needing gum so that I could hear her chewing it. She obviously doesn’t think this is a gross habit. Maybe I should take up picking my nose or some other foul habit and do it right in front of her. We have a fine relationship – even went out for a drink the other day – so I guess this is the way it’s going to be. It’s very strange to me that she doesn’t think it’s uncouth. She is the type of person who says ‘I’m sorry’ for everything even when it’s nothing to be sorry about. She has a guilty conscious and what appears to be low self-esteem so it boggles me that she doesn’t think her loud chewing is an undesirable trait.

  23. sue*

    I asked my gum chewing co worker to stop and she told me to put in ear plugs, so now i do all day long and i think its rude that i have to wear them and she is allowed to be so ignorant.

  24. Suro*

    how about having this window open-since most coworkers are keen to looking at your monitor- he/she can read this comments- so s/he can silently understand that s/he should stop:)

    1. sue*

      i like your idea but she is very rude and would not even care. she has no since of any respect for anyone.. very sad

      1. Anonymous*

        well it has gotten worse and she’s a vp for god sake, i would love to go to the president and complain but he would think its nonsense and probably think i’m the one with the problem. other co-workers feel the same as me but since they are in their offices they can’t hear it. some days i can’t wait to leave the office after listening to that constant snapping for almost 9 hours a day

  25. Ananda*

    Sue, I think the solution would be that one day she bags the gum, the other day you plug your ears. Not a one-way street.

  26. Ananda*

    I am on this page because I decided to Google this incredibly annoying issue that bugs me to death when I share the office six feet away from Smacker. How can anyone chew gum ALL DAY LONG?

  27. Ananda*

    Chewing, squishing, smacking. All. day. long.
    Some of the advice here is very good. The difficult thing is that she is the absolutely nicest, sweetest coworker you could imagine. And – she is very, very sensitive. I have a hard time imagining that she would not feel deeply hurt if I said something.
    …The irony is that on the days when someone else is using her desk, this other woman has a swallowing quirk making her sound like a frog, constantly, which is also annoying! And then there is our other office colleague, who is constantly sucking drinks from a special cup with a straw that makes some kind of slurping-gurgling noise.
    So yeah, half of the problem seems to be that I hear all these awful mouth-noises people bring. I wish I could block it all out. I will bring ear plugs, now that I think of that – but I hate ear plugs, because they hurt after a while.

  28. Sandra*

    Like Ananda, I landed on this page in search for a way to politely ask my colleague to change/stop her chewing habits. The problem is not limited to chewing gum, however, she produces equally disturbing noises when she eats lunch, or even just a yoghurt for a snack. It’s as if she was never told, as a child, that it’s not polite to eat with open mouth. And now, in the comments, I see that some smart shrinks have shifted the problem to the sufferer rather than the person who produces the revolting noises, by inventing the condition “Misophonia”? Well, in our office, I am definitely not the only one suffering from her popping, smacking and slurping, and I seriously doubt that we are all afflicted with the same mental condition. If I would invite my siblings to witness this noise-fest, they would all get the heebie-jeebies, because we were raised to behave politely at all times, and surely while eating. This woman was just not taught to behave, as she also doesn’t put her apple down during business phone calls (ever had an apple eater on the phone? Yukkk!), or when she is called in the boss’s office. I’ve enjoyed reading all the above, but sadly, have not found a solution to my problem. Not surprisingly, my relationship with this woman is not good; even without the overwhelmingly offensive noises that she produces, she is the abusive bully-type, so jokingly “nudging” her towards silent chewing is not an option.

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