just because no one’s complaining doesn’t mean your behavior is okay

“It can’t be that bad to show up in casual clothes to a job interview because I’ve done it and not been dinged for it.”

“I play on my phone during meetings sometimes and I’ve never heard complaints about it.”

“People seem okay with me always starting meetings late.”

I hear these sorts of statements a lot when we’re talking here about How To Be (or How Not to Be) at work.

But there’s a flaw in that thinking: People don’t always tell you when they’re annoyed by one of your habits, or when action X did indeed get held against you in a hiring process. You can’t assume that the absence of people saying “your behavior is problematic” means that people don’t mind your loud gum-chewing, or your habit of taking calls on speaker phone, or your showing up to interviews in a stained shirt.

In fact, if writing this blog has taught me anything, it’s that most people won’t speak up when they’re bothered by someone else’s behavior, even in situations where they really, really should. We’ve had letter after letter from people saying “It’s driving me crazy that my coworker is engaging in Inconsiderate Behavior X, but I don’t want to say anything.”

That doesn’t mean that you should start neurotically analyzing all of your behavior to try to figure out the ways in which you might be inadvertently pissing off all your coworkers … but it does mean that when you hear people say “It’s really frustrating when people do X,” you shouldn’t write it off just because you’ve never heard direct complaints. It’s worth considering that people are indeed frustrated/turned off/annoyed when you do X but just haven’t said anything to you about it.

{ 473 comments… read them below }

  1. Turanga Leela*

    Oh man. A young woman I worked with used to chew on her hair at work. As in, we would be having a meeting, and I would be explaining something to her, and she would be chewing. on. her. hair. This happened frequently. I never said anything about it, because I had to give her substantive feedback on her work, and this seemed minor in comparison—but it was incredibly unprofessional and weirdly distracting. I used to look away from her during our conversations.

    I can just see her thinking that it must not have been an issue because nobody ever complained about it.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Ha! I did that as a kid, and my parents told me if they saw me chewing my hair again, they were going to have it all cut off.

      My dad came to pick me up from school in 1st grade and I was just going to town with it in both sides of my mouth, and he drove me straight to Supercuts. And that, boys and girls, is how I ended up with the Bowl Cut From Hell.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule*

        I had a typical mid-80s female version of a mullet and my mother made me get a perm for my brother’s first wedding. My hair will NEVER EVER be long enough to get permed again. Ever.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Lol. I was digging through a box of really old crap last night, and my 10-year old was looking at my yearbook pictures. He was not a fan of my 8th grade perm or my 4th grade femmullet. I had to show him that all the girls had big spiral-permed hair.

        2. Ruffingit*

          I was looking through some old photos last night and thought about the lovely trend of sky high bangs. It looked like they were held up by an invisible ladder. I’m glad now that my hair was/is too fine to hold such a style even with all the Aqua Net in production.

      2. CoffeeBeanCounter*

        When I was a kid I chewed on my hair too!! My mom was so grossed out by it. I also ended up with a very, very short hair cut from hell that made it impossible to chew on – definitely broke my bad habit. And I’ve had long hair ever since.

          1. Anon This Time*

            Sometimes the only way to break a bad habit is to make it impossible. My partner beat a nail-chewing habit by getting acrylics for a year. After a year she got rid of the acrylics and doesn’t chew on her nails at all.

            1. WriterLady*

              SO late to the party, but I did this. (The hair-chewing and the nail-chewing. I chew.) The very unflattering bob sorted the hair chewing, but I tried the acrylics for a year, had success for two, then started a new job and reverted to nail biting because stress.

              And, now, can’t stop. Also can’t afford acrylics.

      1. Jamie*

        Me too – it’s a sign of brilliance. :)

        I did have to train myself to keep my hands out of my hair in front of other people because I know how it comes off…but if I couldn’t do it in my own office I’d never get anything done as it helps me think.

        1. GOG11*

          I really wish I could train myself to keep my hands out of my hair because it gets my hair all oily. Luckily I end up typing a lot at work, and I don’t do it too much in front of others when my hands aren’t occupied anymore. I’ve done since I was really, really little.

    2. lowercase holly*

      i crack my knuckles all the time without thinking about it. i’ve probably done this in professional situations :(

      1. Anony tony*

        oh gosh, I pop my back and neck too. I hope they don’t notice. I feel so small right now. lol

      2. Jamie*

        I love that sound. Makes me so happy when people mention things that don’t bother me. Makes me feel easy going!

        1. Kelly O*

          It feels good too. I try not doing it in front of people, because for whatever reason my cracking makes a super-loud noise sometimes.

          But gosh it feels good.

      3. ReanaZ*

        I’ve had one person FREAK OUT at me when I popped my thumb during a meeting. This did not make me less likely to do it, though. It’s painful to need to pop a joint and not be able to.

        1. Shortie*

          Agreed. I have a lot of bone and joint issues and will often be in severe and debilitating pain until I pop something (usually my neck, which is unfortunate as that seems to induce the most freakouts in others).

          1. ReanaZ*

            Ha, that’s about the only part of me that doesn’t pop, and it definitely makes me cringe when other people do it. But I can hardly hold it against anyone.

            1. _ism_*

              Whereas my neck is about the only joint that I can pop. Occasionally one of my hips will pop but I can’t do that on command. Nobody’s ever said anything! But now I’m self conscious about it. I carry so much tension in my neck and shoulders, rolling my neck and popping those joints is about the only relief I am allowed to have at work. (After work is another story)

          2. AnonAnalyst*

            I have this issue too, although mine is mostly in one of my shoulders and in my knees. Sometimes I have to pop my shoulder to feel like I can move my arm normally, but more often I’ll just be reaching for something or crouching down to pick up something from a low shelf/the floor and there will be a huge loud cracking noise across my silent office. The worst is when I shift posture or reach for something during a meeting and the shoulder goes…

            I would love to not do this, but in a lot of cases I really have no control over it :(

          3. Partly Cloudy*

            I was once going over something with an external auditor who I’d never met before, and all of a sudden he cracked his neck multiple times in both directions – without using his hands, at that. I must have looked super startled because he apologized and seemed a little embarrassed. He must’ve just done it out of habit without thinking about the setting. Anyway, I wasn’t grossed out or offended, just surprised and a little impressed. Other people I know who crack their necks have to use their hands to push on their heads to get those results.

            I crack my left thumb regularly, and I accidentally did it during a silent moment in an interview for the job I have now. So I guess it went over okay.

            1. Shazbot*

              I do that neck-crack frequently. It’s gotten so frequent, and I’ve found it to be so off-putting to others, that I now make a habit of going to the restroom before meetings specifically so I can crack every joint that needs to be cracked *before* I have to face people.

        2. Noelle*

          Agreed, I was in a car accident a few years ago (not very serious, no lasting injuries) and ever since then I have to pop my neck a couple times a day. It is SO loud, but if I don’t do it my neck will ache for days.

          1. Ezri*

            I broke my collar bone twice as a kid, and that shoulder joint is super-poppy now. Sometimes when I cross my arms there’s an audible pop that really alarms people if the room is quiet. :)

        1. simonthegrey*

          My MIL has a story about how my husband used to pop his knuckles as a kid. Well, she was at a meeting one time, and the young man seated next to her popped his knuckles. Without thinking she rapped his hand and told him to stop just as if he was her son. Luckily she was fairly high-ranking and the young man thought it was funny. She’s still mortified by it.

  2. illini02*

    This is one of those things that is really hard to judge. On here I’ve learned that some people get really annoyed by eating chips at your desk. Well, while I would never intentionally annoy someone, if you don’t speak up, I’m not just going to assume it doesn’t bother you since I’d say it bothers maybe 20% of people. Its much better to just speak up. Not saying you will always get the result you want, but at least people can be aware and try to reduce the behavior

    1. Jamie*

      Guarantee you eating chips bothers way more than 20% of the people.

      It bothers me more than most, but it’s a rare person that wants to hear other people crunching on anything while they are trying to work.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Also, context matters. I worked in one really small office where everyone wore headphones during the day. I had no problem eating chips or carrot sticks there, because I knew it couldn’t bother anyone. I worked in another office where no one wore headphones, ever, and it was always dead silent. One Lays would have echoed like a gunshot.

        1. winter*

          Depends. I was wearing headphones *because* my colleague was driving me crazy with her crunchy food. I could still hear her, and it still stressed me out. It was just more quiet.

          And headphones are standard in my office.

      2. illini02*

        I really think it depends on the person. In my office snack cabinet, they we have Costco boxes of individual chip bags. Many people eat them at their desks. Its not an issue here. Now again, I’m not saying it doesn’t happen for some people, but at my next job, I’m not just going to assume I can never eat a bag of chips at my desk. That just seems so petty of a thing to get annoyed by.

      3. Florida*

        It also depends on how often you do it. I think this is true of most annoying behaviors. If you do annoying behavior once in a while because you are in a bind (maybe you don’t have time to take a lunch break), I can tolerate it. But when it’s everyday, then it’s annoying.

        Certain behaviors (like clipping your toenails in public) are annoying even if it’s only once.

        1. Ezri*

          Oh, this. It doesn’t bug me to hear eating noises around lunch time, because it usually doesn’t last long. But before we rearranged seating I sat near a guy who brought coleslaw and vegetables to work and spent ALL DAY eating them. Slurping, crunching, metal spoon clanging on glass bowl. All day. That bugged me a lot more than the ten minutes another neighbor spent eating her sandwich each day.

      4. Kyrielle*

        We eat lunch and snacks at our desk all the time. I’ve never really registered the noise, my only problem is when someone is having food that smells so much better than what I’ll be having. Heh.

    2. Azalea*

      Just don’t do like my boss does and loudly suck each individual chip into your mouth while making a loud “humph” noise. It makes me want to snatch them away and roll over the bag with my chair.

        1. GOG11*

          How does one slurp pretzels? They’re not liquid…now I’m imagining someone lining up pretzels on their desk and obnoxiously hoovering their face over them. Like the vacuum.

      1. Abby*

        I’m actually pretty okay with crunchy foods, but what I can’t stand are people who smack their lips while eating because 1) it means they’re chewing with their mouth open and 2) sometimes you can smell what’s in their mouths.

        1. Lena*

          The convention in my office is to eat lunch at your desk, and I used to sit opposite somebody who ALWAYS chewed with his mouth open. It got so bad that at one point I did ask him to stop, and he did – for the next two mouthfuls.

          I was so glad when he left the company!

        2. Ezri*

          I sit across from someone who smacks his lips when eating OR drinking. Not once, but several times over a couple of minutes. It’s incredibly loud, too, and he does it in meetings when sitting right next to people. I have no idea how he thinks it’s acceptable, but no one ever says anything. Maybe I’m the weird one. >_<

      2. Violet Rose*

        Ewwwwww, that would drive me nuts! My boss(‘s boss) did once tease someone else for “noisily” eating crisps/chips in our open-plan office. I found that bit rich, coming from the guy who is constantly rapping his knuckles on things, sighing loudly, and bellowing into the phone at his desk.

    3. GMA*

      I agree on the 20% number being too low. It bothers a lot of people, especially when people assume they aren’t being watched and eat them like they haven’t eaten in 2 days. I can hear that you’ve shoved 4 chips in your mouth and are slowly chomping your way through them until they all finally make it in to your mouth; 6 chomps later. It makes my skin crawl, so if you must eat them, be a polite chip eater. Put a chip in your mouth. Close your mouth. Chew. It is much less invasive that way.

    4. BeenThere*

      This is where having an actual lunchroom would be handy, I bring my lunch and I live in Texas so the chances of me heading outdoors for lunch are slim to none. We have no lunchroom, the kitchen on my floor has no running water (temporary office) so we are all forced to eat at our desk….. I really like my chips too.

    5. LBK*

      I didn’t even know that eating chips was a thing that annoyed people…and over 20%!? I’ve apparently pissed off a lot of people!

    6. Morgan*

      But if it bothers 20% of people, then if your office has more than half a dozen people in it, chances are you’re annoying at least one of them.

  3. Katie the Fed*

    YES to everything!

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard here or elsewhere: “well, nobody’s ever said anything to me about it so obviously they don’t mind.”

    If you’re being inconsiderate, someone minds.

    You also hear this a lot in etiquette discussions. “Nobody ever complained about not getting a thank-you card for the wedding gift they sent, so obviously it wasn’t an issue.” No. They’re just silently judging you and swearing off ever getting you anything again. Ask me how I know!

    1. Turanga Leela*

      I’ve heard this so often about weddings! “I had a cash bar/potluck reception/extremely finicky dress code, and everyone loved it!” Or maybe they just love you, so they put up with it for your sake.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yeah it’s very often etiquette-related, because good manners on MY side means not saying anything to you about your terrible, gauche decisions. Bless your heart, dear. :)

        1. Prismatic Professional*

          Are you from the South? Bless your heart is a fantastic expression in these types of situations…

          1. Jazzy Red*

            I need to remember the “bless your heart” remark. I’m going to facilitate a bible study group at my church, and one of the women who signed up is the kind of person who remarks on every comment everyone makes, and turns the conversation to herself, and will just.keep.talking. Aaarrrgggg! I think I’ll try something like this: “Bless your heart, Ms. Blowhard, now let’s have other people talk”.

      2. Jake*

        A cash bar is a problem? I never knew. I strongly considered one for our reception before going open bar.

        I thought that was more of a nice to have than a rude not to have.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          I spent enough time on wedding boards last year so my understanding is there are regional norms so that one is a gray area. Not sending thank-yous, however, is universally terrible.

            1. KarenT*

              I think it just depends on the crowd. On my mother’s side, everyone would be horrified by a cash bar. On my father’s side, it’s completely the norm.

          1. Kelly*

            Cash bars depend a lot on your region and probably more importantly, the families of the bride and groom. I’m pretty sure that if I ever get married that if I don’t have an open bar or make an arrangement to provide some alcohol with the venue, that slight will provide gossip fodder for my dad’s family for a while. I’m in Wisconsin, so I don’t think providing some kegs or bottles is an option due to liquor distribution and serving laws. My dad’s family views providing Spotted Cow or Miller Light as an essential part of any family gathering along with ingredients for Old Fashioneds. I don’t think that I or my parents could afford to pay for all their drinking, so it will probably be a cash bar. If my mother had her way, it would be a dry wedding because of her being a teetotaler and to spite her in-laws.

            I have to agree on the thank you notes. Send them out within a decent interval. When one cousin got married, she and her husband didn’t send thank you notes out until Christmas, 9 months after the wedding. I think word got back to her parents that several busybody female relations were gossiping about her failure to send them out.

            1. ExceptionToTheRule*

              Part of my family consumes beer like water. Typically at weddings on that side, the cheap beer (3 or 4 kegs) is free, but if you’re fancy enough to want mixed drinks or wine, you’ll pay for that yourself.

              1. Lindsay J*

                This is how my friends who were on tighter budgets have done it. Beer and (inexpensive) wine is free. Mixed drinks etc are on a for pay basis.

                My cousin’s wedding had free beer and wine, and two “specialty cocktails”, one chosen by the bride and one by the groom. I’m thinking that this wasn’t a cost issue (because they went all-out on the venue and food), but because there are several people on his side of the family (including his sisters and mother) that have a bit of a problem limiting their alcohol consumption, and so they figured that having a couple nice cocktails available would keep people happy while also limiting the problem of overindulgence.

            2. David*

              Also in Wisconsin. I’ve heard people grumble about there being a cash bar, but usually only because they didn’t bring cash. In this state, all that really matters is that there’s a bar. A very well stocked bar. A very, very, very well stocked bar. I cannot possibly stress that enough.

              1. Jackie*

                All I ask is to let me know… We basically never have cash. I’m happy to pay for some drinks (please not bar prices…) but if I don’t know, then I won’t have cash.

              1. Suz*

                I love Spotted Cow. I’m so bummed we can’t get it here in MN. Need to take a road trip to Hudson. lol

            3. Graciosa*

              Part of the thinking is that the hosts provide hospitality at the level that they can afford rather than inviting someone and asking the guest to pay.

              This would mean not having a bar at all rather than asking guests to pay for drinks, although a morning wedding might be a practical way to ensure the guests aren’t expecting alcohol.

            4. FJ*

              + 1 Spotted Cow being a requirement! I’m sad I don’t live in the Midwest anymore wherei can drive to Wisconsin to get Spotted Cow. PS, there is a lot of Spotted Cow love here – that is awesome.

        2. Turanga Leela*

          I certainly know people who have done it, and as Katie the Fed says, it seems like the appropriateness of a cash bar (or a potluck reception, actually) depends a lot on your local culture and your guests. But in a lot of places, the norm is that when you invite people to a party, you should provide what you can afford, even if that means a very limited bar, rather than asking people to pay for their own drinks.

          1. StarHopper*

            Yes. We had an extremely limited budget, so we ended up going with an early afternoon wedding, followed by a reception with hors d’oeurves, beer, & wine. I’ve never been to a wedding with a cash bar, but I have been to plenty that come short of a complete open-bar. I hate paying restaurant prices for drinks when I could get the same thing way cheaper at home, and I would be seriously irritated if I got gussied up, bought a gift, arranged for babysitting and/or traveled for a wedding and then had to shell out for a glass of wine!

            1. Althea*

              I once drove a full day each way to attend a wedding that was dry, and they ran out of food.

              My now-married friend is a good person, but it was hard not to be mad about that.

              1. Elysian*

                Uuuughhh. At least at my brother’s dry wedding (which we also drove a whole day for) there was enough food. But no dance-able music. And they never sent a Thank you card for our gift. Which we had to buy through one of those MLM people because that was how they registered (so a friend of theirs made profit off the wedding gift I bought them). Also their invitation arrived at my house AFTER the RSVP date and it did not get lost in the mail, they just sent it late and then still expected people to RSVP on time. BUT — I will never say a word to them because I’m polite or whatever… blech… but man did that whole thing rub me the wrong way.

                1. ThursdaysGeek*

                  You are allowed to speak to their mothers, however, because they should have instilled the good manners, so it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the mother when they are going to get their thank yous out. In fact, I think that is what Miss Manners suggests.

                2. Kelly O*

                  I’ve had two “dry” weddings because they were in churches where alcohol was not allowed. Well, the first time I was well in my Southern Baptist teetotaler phase of life and never considered dancing, much less alcohol.

                  Second wedding was small, we used the church’s fellowship hall, and had mainly kids. We did have some music, but it was just some Sinatra in the background. No dancing. So I guess I don’t judge that as harshly as other things.

                  But thank-you notes are a must, and for more than just weddings. It’s nice to see someone happy because they got a little note thanking them, especially when they’re not expecting it.

                3. Elysian*

                  Kelly O – I think it was a combination of a lot of things that all together shouted bad form. I could deal with a dry wedding if there was a reason for it (theirs was just saving money); I could deal with no dancing, except there was nothing else to do. There was a dance floor set up, they just only played country love songs, and no one could dance to those, so we all just sat there staring at each other. There were also a bunch of other things that just shouted “we don’t care about our guests!!” For instance, they took a ton of photos between the ceremony and the reception, but there was nothing for the guests to do during what is traditionally “cocktail hour” – no cocktails, no food, no music. There was just a lot of standing around staring at each other in silence at this wedding. I can forgive a lot of little things, but when you put it all together these people were just really inconsiderate of their guests and that felt pretty crummy since I drove a full day each way to be there, bought them a gift, and dealt with my brother’s rude new in-laws for a prolonged amount of time.

                4. Emilia Bedelia*

                  ThursdaysGeek- No no, you don’t ask the mother when the thank you notes are coming out…. you very politely ask whether your gift was received and did they like it, because you hadn’t heard anything and you just want to make sure that it was received and that the post office didn’t lose it or anything. This is the real Miss Manners tactic.

              2. the gold digger*

                A friend got married in Texas when I was in college. It was the first wedding I had ever attended that wasn’t for a relative. My formative wedding years were spent at huge Catholic family weddings in small towns, with open bars, supper, dancing, and then a midnight buffet.

                I had to drive all day for the friend’s wedding. There was no booze (I didn’t care about that because I don’t really drink), and just cake. No dancing. I was dumbfounded. I had no idea that anyone would ever have a wedding that didn’t have any – you know – fun.

                1. Jamie*

                  I’ve been to weddings without fun, but none without booze. Or food.

                  I like the rule that if people are travelling for your event and/or your event is taking up a normal meal time you feed them. It doesn’t have to be fancy but it needs to be…there.

                  But to the important item…how was the cake? Good cake can make up for a multitude of sins.

                2. ThursdaysGeek*

                  @Jamie – my sister-in-law made the cake for the daughter’s wedding last fall. After taking one bite of the German chocolate cake, a friend said that it was the best thing she had ever tasted in her life, and she could never eat German chocolate again, because nothing else would ever be that good.

              3. BeenThere*

                Do we have the same friend? We weren’t told there wouldn’t be much food so we didn’t go get lunch at the break between the ceremony and reception. Add the zero alcohol and I was the hangriest I’d ever been. Then the super rich chocolate wedding cake comes out, at which point I had zero appetite and all I wanted to do was gtfo and buy some burgers… all they had to say on the invite was light snacks will be served at the reception but you won’t get any because the grossly overweight uncle will stalk the few trays that come out.

              4. BAS*

                I (along with my sibling and parents) went to a family wedding halfway across the country that turned out to be a dry wedding and the only drinks provided were lemonade (the kind made from powder) and water. The food was somehow even worse and uniformly beige other than the veg tray which my sister, my two vegetarian cousins, and I promptly demolished (it was…not very big). The highlight of the wedding was going to Whole Foods after the reception and getting the carte blanche from my parents to get whatever I wanted.

          2. Amtelope*

            Yeah, around here the polite thing to do if you can’t afford an open bar is to go with just wine and beer, just a champagne toast, or no alcohol. Cash bars are considered tacky (you’re not supposed to make your invited guests pay for anything.) Then again, I come from an area where a lot of people have dry weddings anyway because they’re holding the reception in a church (and guests sneak out to drink in the parking lot).

            1. RVA Cat*

              Yeah that’s what I did (see below). Hard liquor was also more trouble than it was worth. The previous weekend, our venue hosted what were apparently the nuptials of Lucy Lush and Bobby Boozehound. Even after being mopped 3 times (!) parts of the dance floor were still sticky… *sigh*

          3. LOLwut*

            At our wedding, it was open bar for beer and wine, cash for liquor. Went over fine, was cheaper than the alternative, and everyone got plenty drunk.

            1. Amanda*

              That’s been the setup at most weddings I’ve attended. I think that system is fine – the couple is providing proper refreshment but if someone really wants a rum and coke, they have the option to buy it.

            2. Journalist Wife*

              Yes, I live in the Midwest and this is pretty frequent at wedding venues — they display upfront at the bar what is “on the house” for guests, but leave all the rest of the hard liquor bottles out so you can buy what you want if you don’t want beer or the selected wine. I see no problem with this, and I’ve seen far too many couples start their new lives together paying off huge reception debt when it didn’t occur to them they could’ve had “limited bar/cash extras” as an option.

            3. LBK*

              Yeah, I like this setup. I’ve also been to a few that had free wine and beer plus one free “signature cocktail” that was a designated mixed drink with liquor that you didn’t have to pay for. Any custom ordered cocktails were cash.

          4. QAT Contractor*

            One wedding I had been to had a few kegs of beer (cheep light stuff) and a smattering of wine that didn’t last long. There were quite a few people that snuck in outside liquor or beer and left the bottles on the tables, or under them. As it turned out, the bride and groom got charged extra, after the fact, because of the outside booze.

            I don’t know if others were told not to bring anything or whatever, but having cheep alcohol (that ranout within 1.5 hours) was probably not the best choice as opposed to a dry wedding and partying later, in my opinion. It was still a fun wedding though.

          5. Lindrine*

            My hubby and I had our wedding in the afternoon, mainly because it was more affordable and we were paying for it ourselves. We had a very nice cake, several bottles of champagne, non-alcoholic beverage for the kids and strawberries. It was a very tiny wedding of about 25 people. That was what we could afford.

            1. LOLwut*

              Best wedding I’ve ever been to had nothing but tubs of Bud and PBR and some bottles of Beringer. And it was in a log cabin overlooking one of the Finger Lakes. You don’t need 50 kinds of liquor to have a good time.

          6. anne*

            Because I was on a budget for my wedding, we had an afternoon reception at a historic venue, with little sandwiches, hors d’ouevres, finger pastries, wedding cake, and champagne. Piano player, no dj, no dancing. Cash bars are the norm in my area, but I didn’t want people to have to pay for drinks at my wedding. It was lovely.

          7. Rita*

            I don’t regret our cash bar for a second. We provided wine at the tables for our guests, but looking back I would have liked to have done beer and wine for at least the cocktail hour. However, both my father and father-in-law were very, very against an open bar in any capacity. Not because of costs, because they didn’t want to pay for people to get drunk.

            I understand their point. I feel like every open bar wedding I’ve been to or heard of involved some people getting absolutely plastered, and not in a good way. Couples arguing, people fighting, etc. Let me tell you, I didn’t NOT enjoy spending the last hour of a friend’s wedding in the bathroom taking care of another friend who drank way, way, way too much at the open bar.

        3. Mpls*

          People will also find something to complain about at every wedding. Any bride/groom can find two people with opposite opinions (both insisting they are right) on almost every decision she/he wants to make.

          1. Emmy Rae*

            Seriously! We said “no need to bring a gift – can’t wait to celebrate with you!”. People are mad that we have no registry.

            1. FD*

              I don’t care if others do, but I find the idea of registering…skeevy. Most of the people I’m inviting have less stable careers than I do, so I don’t want them to feel they have to buy stuff they can’t afford.

              1. Jamie*

                I love when people register and I’ve never known anyone who was mad when people didn’t use it, or expect to get everything on it – it’s just a huge favor to the person buying a gift.

                And most registries have a wide price range – so you can get sets of china or put together and adorable gift basket with lower priced kitchen stuff. It just keeps people from getting 19 toasters. Or me wandering around wondering what the hell they could use/would like.

                I get why people don’t like them – but I love things that are super useful if you use them, but you’re free to ignore if you don’t.

              2. Turanga Leela*

                I’m seconding Jamie on the registry. I pick something in my price range, I know it’s something the bride and groom want, and I’m done. It’s particularly nice if I’m not close to the people getting married and have no idea what their taste is like—family friends, distant cousins, people I haven’t seen since high school, etc.

                Also, if people don’t register, I always get them the same thing. It’s a fruit bowl. I’ve given the same fruit bowl to at least two or three couples.

                1. Jade*

                  Don’t they get mad when you keep taking the bowl back?

                  Plus, the fruit must be getting pretty ripe by now……

              3. LBK*

                Registries don’t have to be super expensive. I went to a few weddings where the registry had a lot of inexpensive kitchen utensils or other items in the $5-10 range, so I just bought a few of those for a little combo gift that was maybe $30 max.

          2. Chris*

            Exactly! At this point I basically think that the bride/groom should do whatever they want. There will always be unhappy guests. If they have a hosted bar, someone will judge them for wasting money.

            1. Ezri*

              Oye, that’s the truth. There’s some universal rule in weddings where no matter what decision you make, someone in your family is angry about it. That’s why I canceled mine and eloped (which I also got an earful about!!).

        4. Oryx*

          While, yes, there are local customs or cultures that could change it, the general rule is that your guests shouldn’t have to open their wallets at the reception.

        5. RVA Cat*

          At mine, we compromised by having an open bar but only serving beer and wine. (It also made it easier re: state & local liquor laws.) Some of this was for cost, some of it was because we knew what happens when certain dear friends and relatives started hitting the tequila….

        6. Anony-moose*

          I don’t think it’s rude, necessarily, but it is a damper. When I go to a wedding, even if it’s in town, I always end up spending a chunk of change. Mani/pedi, cab to the reception, cab home, etc. We might stay at a hotel and grab brunch the next day, etc. Obviously this isn’t the problem of the couple getting married, but it’s nice to keep in mind that guests can incur expenses too, and adding to them may put some people out.

          Some dear friends had a cash bar at the wedding and I was on a pretty shoestring budget at the time. I ended up only having one or two drinks and felt like I couldn’t really enjoy myself because I was worried about justifying a $10 beer from the upscale bar.

        1. The IT Manager*

          I did not know a sit down dinner was done at wedding receptions until after college. I attended a lot of family weddings as a kid, and it was all buffet. I tried to leave that wedding reception an hour or two in and the bride told that I couldn’t leave before dinner. Did not see that coming.

          1. fposte*

            I hope you at least had hors d’oeuvres or something–two hours is a long time to be at a reception with no food.

            1. Collarbone High*

              Most disastrous wedding I ever attended: Wedding party did pictures for two hours between ceremony and reception. They provided unlimited beer and wine for the guests during those two hours but would not allow the caterer to serve any food until they arrived. You can probably guess what happened next.

          2. Turanga Leela*

            Wait, the bride told you you couldn’t leave? I’m trying to picture that conversation.

        2. sunny-dee*

          Ew, so gauche! My brother’s fiance is having a potluck reception, and it kind of rankles. Mainly because they’re down to begging people from the church for your Famous Food Product, and it’s getting awkward.

        3. MaryMary*

          It totally depends on the families involved and the type of wedding. If your wedding reception is in the church basement or someone’s backyard, I don’t think it gauche. I’m pretty sure my parents’ reception was potluck. It was definitely held in her maid of honor’s (my godmother’s) backyard. At least one of my godmother’s sons also had a potluck recpetion in her yard. And it’s not even a big backyard!

          If someone can spring for a reception hall, limo, DJ, professional photographer, etc, and the wedding is potluck, that’s kinda rude.

          1. FD*

            Yeah, I get that, definitely. I’ve seen it done with really small, close family weddings which were almost more like a big family get-together. A lot of people enjoyed it then because almost everyone knew each other already, and it was a chance to show off their skills.

            But most of the people I know who’ve done it are from big families that all love to cook too.

          2. Jazzy Red*

            When I first moved to the South, I was invited to a young coworker’s wedding. It was a smallish wedding, outdoors, with the families providing home cooked food. It was one the nicest weddings I’ve ever been to, and the food was fabulous. Those country/farm/church women really knew how to cook!

      3. Allison*

        Potluck reception? Oh dear . . . please tell me no one does this.

        I mean, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on your wedding or the reception, fine. If you want to have a barefoot BBQ after a backyard wedding, fine. If you want to request that people give cash rather than home goods, go for it. I generally don’t judge people for having laid-back, inexpensive, non-traditional weddings. But a potluck reception is where I draw the line, that’s tacky.

        1. Oryx*

          Eh, requesting/asking for cash is pretty tacky. Just don’t register, people will get the hint and write a check.

          1. Noelle*

            My cousin put this on his wedding invitation – “No gifts unless they are green and can fit in my pocket.” My dad gave him a green HotWheels car.

        2. the gold digger*

          Nah, wouldn’t bother me if it were friends who were truly financial responsible in the rest of their lives. If it was people who spend crazy all the time and wanted a potluck now, no. But friends who are still in grad school or wanting to buy a house? I would do it in a second.

          1. Jamie*

            I agree – how I’d see a pot luck would totally depend on the circumstances, but I’ve never known anyone to do it.

            So much of this stuff is so cultural and not even a broad culture which would make it easier, but to the family level. The hardest thing about being newly married is finding out all the things the person you love does which are just not done in your family.

            I remember a wedding back in my childhood, distant family member and the bride’s family insisted on a dry wedding. I was a kid but old enough to notice my family having a difficult time conceiving of such a thing and wondering what it meant. Everyone imagine the look you’d get on your face right now if a unicorn casually strolled past your office door and atop this unicorn was a kitten eating a cupcake. That was the look on the adults in my family trying to process the unheard of – a wedding without booze.

            In my world cash bars were not done (although beer/wine only was fine if money was an issue) but none available? It’s like they weren’t sure if it was going to be legal.

            And no I don’t come from a raging band of alcoholics – it’s just the how it’s done thing. (Marriage didn’t last – I think it was bad luck to have so many people from our side sober for the reception.)

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              I think I’ve seen this discussion before, but almost every wedding I’ve been to has been dry, and it was the normal thing. Only in recent years have any weddings I’ve attended had anything alcoholic. As a child, most wedding receptions I attended just had cake plus those pastel minty things and the pastel covered almonds, and punch made with ginger ale or 7-up, perhaps with sherbet in it to make it festive.

              1. Shortie*

                Yes, me too. I have been to a lot of weddings and only a few of them have had alcohol. One had a cash bar because the bride’s family was anti-drinking and not willing to pay to support other people’s “habits”. Many people in my area are against drinking publicly, but do plenty of it at home, so, as another poster said… a lot of dry receptions and a lot of wet after-parties. And the invitation lists often vary a great deal from the receptions to the after-parties.

              2. Mallory Janis Ian*

                Me, too, exactly the same: the cake, the punch, the pastel mints, and the Jordan almonds, and that’s a wedding. The only weddings I’ve been to that were not in that mode were for my husband’s side of the family or non-related friends. I was well into adulthood before I realized that there even were other kinds of weddings at which mints, nuts, and almonds didn’t feature.

            2. HRWitch*

              I come from a hard-drinking German family. One of my male cousins married into a non-drinking Italian family. At the reception, the groom’s family were in the bar, specially opened just for them, while the bride’s family sat around the tables enjoying the pasta and bread. Not sure it’s related, but the marriage didn’t last…

        3. ReanaZ*

          I grew up a blue-collar Midwestern Methodist. My people are potluck people. There are plenty of lovely, low-key, perfectly fine times to have a potluck reception. I don’t see any problem with this, and if someone was too snobby to come to mine or a friend’s potluck’s wedding, well, I hope they’d at least have the grace to RSVP no.

          1. SevenSixOne*

            I’m not t00 hoity-toity to attend a potluck reception, and I’ll happily bring something if I’m local.

            I’m not bringing something homemade if I’m coming from out of town, though. You might get a party tray from the supermarket or a case of beer or something from me, but there’s no way I’m traveling with a dish or scrambling to prepare something in my hotel room. If most of your guests are traveling more than an hour or two to get to your wedding, a potluck reception is probably a bad idea.

        4. Dan*


          I hate cooking, so if someone threw a potluck reception, I would wish them well, supply a nice gift, craft a polite excuse, and bow out. No thanks.

    2. Colette*

      Definitely! At the job I just left, one of the people who sat near me would listen to talk radio/movies/whatever with the volume on. It didn’t affect my ability to work most of the time (and when it did I asked her to turn it down) but it did affect my view of her professionalism.

      1. jmkenrick*

        That’s another one. There are things that don’t really bother me, and I’m not going to speak up about them, but if I notice them, I’ll sort of wonder about it.

      1. Anon1234*

        I sent a gifts for two weddings that I was invited to, but couldn`t attend because of conflicts and still haven`t received thank you`s or acknowledgements (aside from them cashing the cheques). One was last May and the other in September.

        1. smiley*

          I don’t know if I should say this, but it annoys me when people use the accent sign as an apostrophe… :<)

          1. Jazzy Red*

            smiley, at least she knows where to place them. As far as I’m concerned, she could use “~” as long as it’s in the proper position.

      2. Cimorene*

        Yeah but isn’t the rule that as long as you get the thank you cards out within a year of the wedding, it still counts as polite? One of my close friends got married last year, and I got a thank you note from her on her one-year anniversary. I found this hilarious, and definitely considered it within the timeframe of politeness.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Normally within 1-3 months, depending on the size of the invite list! A year…I would think they’d forgotten me completely.

        2. Oryx*

          You can send GIFTS up to a year after the wedding and it’s okay, but I don’t know if that rule extends to the thank you notes.

          1. Saucy Minx*

            According to Miss Manners, gifts can be sent up to a year after the wedding, & thank-you notes must be written within five minutes of receiving the gift.

            This saves the bride & groom having to write huge numbers of thank-you notes all in one or two sittings.

              1. Nerdling*

                I think her general point is that you should do the thank you cards when you receive the gifts, and she just used somewhat exaggerated language. ;)

        3. Anon1234*

          I have really only heard that from couples who haven`t done it and insist they have more time…

        4. QAT Contractor*

          I was always told that as long as they are out within a year it’s fine. Certain people you might want to make sure to get done sooner, but that requires knowing your guests and who talks to each other the most. If the groom’s side never really interacts with the bride’s side, but the bride’s side has a few who expect thank you notes within days, then you kind of end up having to do all of that side right away and can maybe be a little more lax on the groom’s side.

          But that’s just what I’ve observed.

        5. Elsajeni*

          It’s not a traditional etiquette rule — it’s the gifts that you have up to a year to send, and thank-you notes are supposed to be written immediately — but it’s such a widely-believed etiquette myth that I think it’s basically on its way to becoming an accepted rule.

        6. Artemesia*

          the rule on notes is ‘immediately’ — if they arrive before the wedding, before the wedding — if they come to the wedding then immediately after the honeymoon. In no case should they arrive more than 3 mos after the wedding.

        7. Artemesia*

          the rule on notes is ‘immediately’ — if they arrive before the wedding, before the wedding — if they come to the wedding then immediately after the honeymoon. In no case should they arrive more than 3 mos after the wedding.

      3. Worst Bride Ever*

        I never finished my thank-you cards from my wedding almost two years ago, and it eats at me. We got busy working multiple jobs and for a while were literally too poor to afford postage stamps and we’ve moved three times since, and… ugh, it’s too late now.

        1. cv*

          Just do it! There are a couple of people that I never got thank yous from where the gifts were mailed, and in one case an electronic gift certificate, and I wonder to this day whether they never got it and think I didn’t get them a wedding gift. But it’s been years so I feel super awkward asking about it at this point.

          1. Chinook*

            “and I wonder to this day whether they never got it and think I didn’t get them a wedding gift. But it’s been years so I feel super awkward asking about it at this point.”

            Say something. My grandmother mentioned that I never sent my cousin a thank you card. I said I never received a gift from her. Turned out that the unsigned gift card that came in the mail was from her but I only found out because someone had the guts to mention the lack of thank you card.

        2. Emmy Rae*

          Could you include it in your Christmas cards (if you send them) or similar? “Also, we feel terrible that we never sent a thank you card for X! We were delighted to celebrate our wedding with you and still use X for Y. Should have said it a long time ago – thank you!”

        3. AndersonDarling*

          Someone recently asked Miss Manners about “forgotten” thank yous and she said to send something now. I’d add that you should do it only if you still remember who gave which gift.

        4. Juli G.*

          I sent my baby shower thank yous 2 and a half years late and it made me feel so much better!

          And people sort of chuckled about it but they were pleased that is followed through.

        5. Graciosa*

          Well, no, it really isn’t too late – it just requires some careful drafting.

          Write a letter. An actual letter (on an actual piece of paper if you can now afford the postage, or email if you can’t). Include other news and just drop something in to qualify as thanks written in a way to leave open the possibility that perhaps you already sent a thank you note, but were so moved by the gift that you had to express your gratitude twice.

          “Earnest and I were thinking of you the other day while sitting at the table by the light of the beautiful candelabrum you sent for our wedding – I can’t tell you how much pleasure your thoughtful gift has given us – and I wanted to tell you again how much we appreciate your kindness. Every time we see it, we think of you, and have been hoping we’ll see you again in person soon.”

          If it’s both warm enough and casual enough, the recipient may wonder if your original thank you note was lost in the mail, but won’t wonder if you received or appreciated the gift.

          If someone is crass enough to press you on whether you forgot to send a previous note, your response is “Did I? I can’t imagine how that happened! I’m so sorry you didn’t receive a note right away! Especially when Maybelle and I were so thrilled to receive that lovely copper-plated frog-leg holder you were kind enough to select for us – ”

          But you can only pull this off successfully if you know you did at least clear your conscience by sending a note later. You really should, or you will be ducking red-faced behind potted plants to avoid your dearest family and friends for the rest of your life because you know you Never Sent a Thank You Note.

        6. Lady Bug*

          I would never notice, or care, if I didn’t get a thank you card. Hopefully some of your guests feel the same.

          1. Dan*


            It’s nice if I get a thank you card. But if I don’t, it doesn’t bother me.

            A cash bar, on the other hand, gets >:-[

        7. Rita*

          I recently found about 15 thank you notes I could have sworn I sent out after my wedding… which was a little over 2 years ago. Written, addressed, stamped and everything. I think I might include those in another thank you note with an apology.

        8. manybellsdown*

          I am not terribly fussed myself about not getting thank-you notes, but there was one occasion where my daughter decorated *three hundred* cupcakes as a favor to her uncle and his bride, and never got a thank-you. That kind of rankled.

      4. Alma*

        Grrrrrrr….. I got a thank you note from the bride this week. It said something to the effect of “these seven months have just flown by!” AND she had crossed out “seven” and written in “eleven.” That is tacky.

        1. Cordelia Naismith*

          LOL! Yeah, at that point, just rewrite the card. No need to advertise you let the card sit around for four months before you got around to mailing it.

      5. cuppa*

        I’m still waiting on a thank-you from a wedding where the groom has since divorced and re-married. Not holding my breath anymore.

      6. Sara*

        We’re still waiting on one from a wedding we attended in May 2013. (They will probably not be getting anymore milestone-life-event gifts from us…)

        1. Jamie*

          I tried to do that both times – both times I was thwarted because husband’s 1 and 2 didn’t want to upset their families.

          If someone could figure out how to throw a wedding that would make everyone happy they’d be an overnight best selling millionaire.

    3. arjay*

      The wedding in question was 15 years ago. I bought a gift off the registry and had it delivered to the bride’s home before the wedding day. I got a photocopied thank you letter a year later about their honeymoon travels with a write-in line where they wrote what my gift was – Thank you so much for the chocolate teapot.

      And here I am telling strangers on the internet that story still today.

      1. Anony-moose*

        Wow…. just wow.

        That’s like when I volunteered with an organization that wanted to do that for thank you letters/tax receipts. Um, guys, you know the purpose of a thank you is to make people feel APPRECIATED, right?

      2. Azalea*

        I once got a pre-printed postcard that had a generic thank you message on there, along with a brief, handwritten, “Thank you for your thoughtful gift!” No acknowledgement of what the gift was. Boyfriend at the time didn’t understand why I said it was tacky.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          My dad and I got a printed generic card like that from my nephew and his wife. There was absolutely NO personal message written on it, just her signature. It made my dad feel terrible, which made me madder than hell. He was the only grandparent at the wedding, and I thought how nice it would have been for one of them to write “we were so happy that you were at our wedding”, and what a difference it would have made to Dad.

          Please, people, write a few nice words on the notes, especially for older relatives.

      3. GOG11*

        I used to work in a copy center and one couple had us print generic cards that said that you for the gift you gave (basically). It didn’t even have a line to write what it was. Pretty sure the “signature” of the two was just their names typed at the end.

      4. BananaPants*

        My mother was invited to a second baby shower for a friend’s daughter-in-law where the guests were asked to address envelopes for their own thank you notes. Several weeks later the thank you cards arrived pre-printed with a generic, “Thank you for the thoughtful gift” message. It was then that mom decided her friend’s son and his wife were never getting another gift.

        The whole thing was an etiquette nightmare – a total gift grab. Around here a full-blown second shower is just not done. The shower was for their second baby, of the same sex as the first, born less than 2 years later. They registered for all high-end baby gear (again) and were openly displeased with gifts that were clothes or from a store other than where they’d registered.

        1. Rita*

          Agreed on the second shower. My cousin just had her second boy, and her first is 2. Her aunts had a “sprinker” instead, and all the guests were encouraged to bring diapers and wipes as gifts because that’s all she needed.

    4. Lizzy May*

      My cousin got married almost two years ago. A couple of weeks before the wedding he called my mom and asked her to be their wedding photographer. They decided last minute that they wanted pictures after all. So my mom says yes even though she’s just an amateur and asks me to help her. We go to the wedding, take a couple hundred pictures each between the ceremony, posed photos and reception and then edit the photos and give them to my cousin on a flash drive. We also both gave nice gifts. Never got a thank you, not a card not even a call saying they liked the pictures. He’s my cousin so I’ll never complain to him but I’ll never do him another favour either.

      1. Stone Satellite*

        Gah! My cousin did the same thing to my dad! My parents are still not over it, and it was more than a year ago.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I feel kind of bad! I was thinking mostly about thank-yous but clearly there are strong feelings about a lot of issues on weddings!

        Sorry, Alison!

  4. AMG*

    And this is exactly one of the main reasons I am such an avid reader. What am I doing at my job that is earning me silent judgment, or giving my competition for the next promotion a subtle advantage? I want to find it all!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If you make a list of what everyone says, you will find yourself unable to move about. I think the best thing to do is watch what you do repeatedly. If you are late once, probably not a big deal everyone has a bad morning once in a while, apologize and move on. If you are late again, this might start to be a big deal fast.
      And watch how others handle things, try to do as most of others are doing. If everyone is working quietly, then it’s probably a good idea to copy that.

    2. Sunshine*

      This. Just because I’m not saying something to you about your annoying behavior, it doesn’t mean I’m not silently making judgments about your professionalism. You can take yourself out of the running for new opportunities, promotions, etc., and never really know why.

  5. Jake*

    I’ll buy that.

    I’ll also buy that behavioral norms vary so widely by industry that there are almost no hard and fast rules.

    1. Chocolate lover*

      And vary from office to office within the same industry or even the same organization sometimes!

    2. AnotherFed*

      Some things are pretty universal, though. Jeans and meeting start times can be culture dependent, but I really hope the duck club and the toenail trimming are not OK in any office culture.

      1. Chocolate lover*

        OMG hahahha. I shared that duck club story with half my office! We were all horrified.

        1. Oryx*

          I have a feeling the duck club is one of those posts that is going to go down in history on AAM. People will be referencing it three years from now.

          1. AnotherFed*

            Definitely. Even if it’s fake, it’s just too WTF to forget. And on a Wednesday – there’s no shaking the WTF Wednesday now!

            1. bearing*

              Didn’y you get the memo? The proposal to refer to it as WTD Wednesday was put on the table, seconded, thirded, and fourthed in the duck thread

              I lost my copy of Robert’s Rules but I am pretty sure the vote must be forthcoming.

                1. Chinook*

                  Nope, I believe that this is the type of motion that doesn’t need a vote (like accepting an agenda). *checks her copy of Robertson Rules* yup – works for me.

      2. Busy*

        As I’m reading this, a high ranking VP in my company is clipping his fingernails at his desk across from me. No. Joke.

        1. ScottySmalls*

          I’ve had a friend and a boss cut their fingernails in front of me. I can’t understand it. But obviously selling fingernail cutters on keychains makes people think it’s ok to do in public.

          1. Dynamic Beige*

            Er… I put one on my keychain after I saw it on someone else’s. I only use it when I’ve broken a nail — I swear! And I try to do it without anyone else in eye shot/discreetly.

            1. SevenSixOne*

              I think discreetly clipping one broken nail once in a while as needed is no big deal, it’s when someone snips all ten nails and/or clips frequently and regularly right out in the open that’s a problem.

    3. Lizabeth*

      There also has to be a certain level of “self awareness” in people that really seems to be missing at times.

      1. Skish*

        If you’re self-aware enough to wonder whether something might be bothering anyone, it probably isn’t. Nearly every time someone’s called me out on irritating behavior, it’s been something I didn’t even realize I was doing.

    4. Allison*

      I still think that, for most people working in most industries, there should be a sort of default code of conduct (and default dress code) that people should adhere to unless they know how their current workplace differs.

  6. Joey*

    probably the other thing I bet you’ve learned from this blog is that many people are bothered or feel slighted by things that are ridiculous. Not having total silence at work and benign personal ticks of co-workers come to mind.

    I think many many people feel like everyone else needs to adjust when the default should be adjusting to the environment.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I think it should be more along the lines of compromise. Dismissing people’s feelings as ridiculous isn’t helpful. Some people have unreasonable expectations but there is almost always some mitigating action that helps them adjust and also reduces the source of the problem.

      1. Joey*

        Its much easier and polite to adjust your own behavior than to tell someone to adjust theirs.

        1. Amber Rose*

          No, what’s easier is to admit to someone you’re frustrated by something they do and ask if they can help you out at all.

          “Suck it up” or politeness to the extent of not speaking up for yourself is an attitude that contributes to toxic work environments and workers with poor psychological health.

          1. Joey*

            It’s not being polite or sucking it up. That insinuates that you’re bottling it up. What I’m talking about is letting it go to the point that it won’t bother you. For example pen clicking is a common annoyance. Isn’t it just easier to not let it bother you than to ask every pen clicker you ever run into to stop?

            1. Jazzy Red*

              I was a pen clicker! After getting a few of “those looks” from people, I made a determined effort to stop doing it.

          2. nona*

            It also enables whatever bad behavior you’re not saying anything about – which, when you think about it, isn’t a polite thing to do!

          3. fposte*

            Interestingly, there’s some research suggesting that keeping your anger in and, as Joey says, letting it go is actually better for you than venting.

            1. Jamie*

              I agree with that. At least for me if I don’t talk about it I tend to forget it pretty quickly – if it’s out there I dwell more.

            2. LBK*

              100% agreed, I hate venting and I always feel worse afterwards when I succumb to my urge to do it.

            3. winter*

              Eh, “venting” is talking to a third party about it. What Amber Rose suggested is called “being direct and polite”. Which is much better than bottling it up. (Yeah, no, not every can just “let go” everything)

    2. SevenSixOne*

      YES. If something is wildly inappropriate or poses a genuine hazard, by all means speak up… but dealing with other people’s noises, smells, behaviors, etc is just part of co-existing with other people. Sometimes you just have to let minor aggravations go.

      1. AnotherFed*

        Minor aggravations, yes. But chances are, if you are avoiding Steve because he smells like a goat, everyone else is trying to avoid him, too, and that means Steve probably can’t do his job, so someone needs to tell him.

        1. Chocolate lover*

          And it’s not always easy to define minor. Example, excessive perfume is “minor” to some people, but it can make me queasy to the point of being physically ill, and causes another coworker migraines. Both of which are harder to “adjust” than asking someone to ease up on the scent.

          1. illini02*

            That is a physical thing, which I get. But just the fact that someone finds something annoying and distracting? Those are some of the ridiculous things that I think we are referring to.

          2. Helka*


            There’s a gentleman in another department who constantly carries this overwhelming stench of stale cigarette smoke and B.O. I find it nauseating to be within half the cafeteria’s distance of him. It’s not mildly inconvenient, it means I’m eating lunch at my desk so I don’t puke.

          3. davey1983*

            This. I am one of those individuals that if you are wearing (even just a little bit) of perfume or cologne I develop headaches and start sneezing. If you are wearing a lot, I have uncontrollable sneezing fits and can’t function due to the headache.

            However, what really irks me is the people that think that it is someone all in my head and that I could stop the headaches and sneezing by just accepting that fact.

    3. Kelly L.*

      I remember the thread where total silence came up. I seem to remember it differently than you do. I had thought most of the responses said that no, they don’t want or need total silence, it was that a particular noise was distracting and potentially rude (whispering all day long).

  7. azvlr*

    Precisely because its so difficult to say something to someone when they are being inconsiderate, it’s really important to take what they say to heart. Many people avoid confrontation, so when it gets to the point of them saying something, it’s probably bothered them A LOT.

    1. Leah*

      I never thought of that, but it’s a good point. What sounds like a casual, “Hey, could you stop doing XYZ?” is really a “For the love of God, how have you not realized how annoying that is? Stop it before I go nuts!!”

      1. Manders*

        This, exactly! I also think that some minor frustrations can get magnified by the fact that you’re stuck with someone for hours at a time and taking a break from their presence isn’t always an option. Sometimes the person who shares your office/attends meetings with you/eats in the same place as you has an eccentricity that would be no big deal in small doses but gets more annoying when you have to spend most of your day putting up with it.

    2. Mints*

      This is important! People tend to be non confrontational so any “Hey would you mind…” is usually super important

    3. A Minion*

      Yes, this is true. My husband is a coffee slurper. At his old job, he was having his coffee one morning, as usual, and his coworker suddenly threw her work down on her desk, turned around and screamed at him, “Will you PLEASE stop slurping your coffee like that!!!” He came home and told me that story with this pitiful, wounded expression on his face. He had no idea he was annoying the crud out of her with his slurping and it just came out of nowhere for him. It was great!!! LOL He didn’t find it nearly as funny as I did.

  8. wesgerrr*

    A million times yes! I have been that super annoying person. I like to think that this blog has helped me act more mature (even when my vendors or customers or brokers are acting like cranky 3 year olds!)

  9. Amber Rose*

    More often they just think it’s too minor to bring up, while they quietly seethe. One of our inside sales guys CANNOT sit still and spends entire meetings rapidly clicking his pen and rustling paper. So. Awful. I overlook it because we work so closely together and it’s just not worth a reputation as a whiner.

    Besides, the more people see me as a cool chick, the more they will listen when it matters. Pick your battles. But some self awareness is also super important.

    1. Ihmmy*

      I also have issues sitting still for long periods of time, but that’s moreso pain from sitting in one position. So I adjust a few times throughout a meeting – I’m not going to put myself through physical pain because it may bother someone.

      1. OhNo*

        There’s a world of difference between quietly shifting yourself around and noisily (and distractingly) clicking a pen or rustling papers throughout a whole meeting. Even if you are being very noisy about something you can’t help, like the need to move around during a meeting, the attitude you have while you do it makes a big difference.

        Are you apologetic for disturbing people, and do you have a good reason for doing it? Or are you just doing it because it’s easier (but not really necessary) for you personally, and screw everybody else? Just the difference between those two attitudes can be the difference between someone finding your behavior annoying and finding it infuriating.

        1. Meg Murry*

          I am a fidgiter with ADD and I have a bad habit of pen-clicking when I’m bored, or thinking. I know it isn’t the greatest habit in the world, but I never realized how annoying it was until I just sat through a meeting with 3 other co-workers who all were absent mindedly (and loudly) clicking pens when it wasn’t their turn to talk.

          I am working on curtailing the clicking habit now, but I still occasionally do it at my own desk (in my own private office), especially when reading. I’m trying to make myself grab silent things like stress balls instead, but so far its not an ingrained habit.

          And one of my co-workers is walking past my office pen-clicking right now … I sure hope we don’t ever hire anyone who can’t deal with that, because they might go insane.

          1. Helka*

            I’ve found fidget toys or fidget jewelry can be a great blessing for things like that — says a fellow ADD sufferer. Some of the jewelry can actually be pretty attractive, and a more or less silent spinner ring is a lot less irritating than pen clicks for fellow meeting-goers.

            1. Alter_ego*

              I have a tub of something called thinking putty at my desk. It’s essentially fancy silly putty, but it’s a totally silent way to occupy my hands when I’m thinking hard about something. I can just squish it around and roll it into balls and flatten them and try to make a perfect cube with it. It really helps and doesn’t annoy anyone (I really really hope)

              1. Jamie*

                Just cross posted the same thing – THIS. Best promotional swag I’ve ever gotten. companies need to forget out pens or keyc hains with their logos – give out smart putty. Lasts forever and people will love you.

            2. manybellsdown*

              This is what we’ve done for my daughter in class. She carries silly putty and some of those little metal puzzles where you try to get the ring off or whatever. Does wonders for her attentiveness.

          2. Jamie*

            Have to throw in a plug for smartputty for my AD(H)D people out there. Silent and since you can mess with it more than just clicking a pen it’s easier to focus.

            I am not a pen clicker but I know and really like a lot of pen clickers – the key is humor. “One more click and I’m going to confiscate that and you’ll get it back after the meeting” or grin and hand them a silly novelty pen – I have one with a bird and feathers on top because it doesn’t click.

            Obviously this has everything to do with relationships – I’d never do it to anyone who wouldn’t be just as willing to jokingly threaten to break my foot if I didn’t stop kicking the conference room table.

            Other people silently seething and getting the meeting over as quickly as possible works, too. Weird how for things other than food/mouth noises bother me so much more if I don’t know or don’t like the person. If I like you a lot your pen clicking is annoying. If I don’t like you it’s like I can feel it clicking right into my head.

            1. cuppa*

              I had to get away from clicky-pens to stop my pen clicking. I didn’t even realize I was doing it half the time.

              1. BeenThere*

                I”m a pen twirler Maybe I should get some putty because occasionally I slip and the pen goes flying.

                1. Jazzy Red*

                  You might drop the putty, but at least it will bounce better. And it would be amusing to watch people try to catch it.

        2. Collarbone High*

          This last paragraph is a really good point. I spent years working with a compulsive whistler — whatever song popped into his head, he would whistle (and often get the tune slightly wrong, which was even more annoying). But what took him from “irksome” to “loathed” was that he did not care if he disturbed anyone else. When you’re editing a complex story with multiple timelines and details to keep straight, that could get your paper sued if you don’t catch a mistake, having someone abruptly break into an off-key song that your brain seizes on isn’t just a nuisance, it’s a genuine, concentration-breaking problem. And whenever people would try to explain this, and ask him to stop, he’d shrug and say “That’s how I am! I like noise!”

          That sense of entitlement — that his desire to make noise trumped everyone else’s desire to do their jobs well — made him a lot of enemies.

      2. Amber Rose*

        OK, but in what way does not clicking a pen cause someone physical pain? Clicking a pen works approximately zero muscles affected by sitting.

        Movement is one thing. It’s the constant noise generation I find annoying and disrespectful.

        1. tesyaa*

          Someone with Tourette’s and other neurological disorders may feel pain when they’re unable to tic/stim. There’s definitely an element of accommodation for some disabilities that might involve tolerating pen clicking.

              1. Amber Rose*

                An offshoot of oil and gas.

                Due to the finicky nature of our equipment, tics could cause someone to injure themselves or others. Even admin personnel such as myself have to tread carefully.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Fine. They can move quietly. ADHD, far as I know, doesn’t force you to make noise constantly.

      2. Jamie*

        Interesting fact – they used to toss the H in there if people were classically hyperactive: running, jumping out of seats, lot of chaotic noise. So as a result statistically a lot of girls/women were diagnosed with ADD because they thought the H was absent.

        Doctor explained that it can manifest differently and the fact that I hadn’t stopped jiggling my foot/leg and flipping my phone over and over in my hand for the last 10 minutes meant the H wasn’t missing…just quiet.

        So they changed the diagnosis’ from ADD or ADHD to ADHD- PI (primarily inattentive), ADHD-PH (primarily hyperactive) and ADHD-C (combined).

        Silent fidgety things are loved by all types.

        1. Helka*

          Yep! I tend to still use ADD in casual conversation because I think it gets the message across better, but there’s not the divide people used to think was there!

        2. LBK*

          I am a leg jiggler and I never knew that was related to my ADHD! Now when people tell me it’s annoying I can tell them it’s medical. Excellent.

  10. Rat Racer*

    I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying that my behavior is bothering people. Which is doubly crazy because I work from home, so even if I am doing something completely obnoxious, there’s no one around to be bothered. I obsess over whether my tone is too casual, whether my tone came across as too didactic in an e-mail, whether I sound like a child on my voicemail…. I could go on. And on and on.

    Part of the problem is that when all of your interaction is by phone and email you can’t read anyone’s body language. Another part of the problem is that I previously worked at an organization that scrutinized everyone’s behavior to a fault (“Rat, we find you lacking in executive presence” or “Rat, for future meetings, please do not put your hair in a pony tail, it’s inappropriate” or “Rat, people are complaining that your body language is condescending…”) It made me completely paranoid.

    I wish there was a way to get objective feedback from people who care about helping us become better at our jobs, rather than those who like to nit-pick to make others feel small.

    But such is life – right? We all go through never knowing exactly what others think of us, but we have to do our best, follow our moral compasses and for heaven’s sake never adjust a pony tail in a meeting with the C-suite executives…

    1. kozinskey*

      That place sounds awful and way outside the norm. I hope you’ve moved on to a more positive environment.

    2. Dasha*

      Wow, sounds like you are suffering from past traumas!! Don’t worry, I’m the same way but about a different issue (boss that used to scream at me and was a bully). I’m still dumbfounded when new boss is nice (is he really??? When will they yelling begin?!) to me. I’m working on letting it go. Just realize that you were at a crazy place and that isn’t the norm and plus it sounds like you a pretty self-aware person :)

    3. Not So NewReader*

      You needed to gain an executive presence yet your body language was condescending??? Wow. How do you do that??? These people had way too much time on their hands. I am glad you are out of there. Be kind to you. Don’t let the echos of these idiots replay in your head. They are not worth the brain space.

      1. fposte*

        I’ve been shifting around in my chair to see if I can hit a position that says “condescending.” The closest I’ve gotten is “badly positioned underwear.”

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          I am sitting here trying to picture what condescending body language looks like. I couldn’t come up with anything, but you’ve given me a place to start!

  11. Wee*

    I recently changed one of my habits because of a comment I read here from one of the IT people who said they really don’t want you to chat with them when they are working on your computer. I always felt awkward not talking to them; in fact it felt rude to me. But then I thought of it from their perspective and realized how irritating it could be to have someone chat while you’re trying to work. So I’m kicking the habit. I slipped a bit this week because they ended up moving my computer twice this week (not my fault) and that was a lot of contact. But I’m getting better.

    1. Sospeso*

      Ooh, that’s a thing? I have also made small talk with IT people while they work on my computer… mostly because it feels rude not to. But the explanation makes perfect sense.

      1. Emmy Rae*

        I just walk away and do something else if possible. Preferably nearby, but not over their shoulder. Not sure if that’s what I’m supposed to do, but if feels less weird.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          That’s what I do, too. I wander off far enough to be out of the way and so they don’t feel like I’m hovering, but I stay near enough by that they can call me back if they need me to enter my password or something.

    2. Dasha*

      Ohhh I could see that but what if they are waiting for an install or something of that nature? Then would it be rude not to make small talk? :-/

      1. Jamie*

        Yeah – for me this depends. If I’m troubleshooting a WTF and I need to concentrate I’ll tell someone I’ll need X amount of time and will let them know when I’m done. It’s a nice way of saying I need them to go away.

        If I’m just installing something, adding a monitor, swapping out a cable…whatever…I can chat.

        It might be harder with less expressive people, but I’m pretty easy to read. If I’m sitting forward, eyebrows knitted together, or just clearly engrossed it’s pretty obvious. Especially because any response to chat will be a delayed “what?” because i really wasn’t paying attention. On rare occasion when someone wouldn’t take a hint I’d tell them to take 2 giant steps back or find something to do. If you’re watching me type and I can feel your breath moving my hair you’re too damn close. :)

    3. Anonymous Educator*

      I work in IT, and I definitely prefer people to not talk to me when I’m fixing their computers. That said, I don’t really find it that annoying when people do. Your mileage may vary, depending on your tech gal or tech guy.

      I think your best rule of thumb is to take your cues from the tech person. If she starts being all chatty with you while she changes out your hard drive, then chat on back. If she is silent and intently focusing her eyes on what she’s working on, leave her alone. You can even volunteer a “Do you want me to leave that with you? I have _____ to do right around the corner.” And she can respond with “No, I’ll be done in 30 seconds” or “Sounds good. This will probably be fixed by the time you get back.”

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Ha! I was helping a person this week. He had hurried in to my work place and I knew he wanted to hurry out. I had several things I needed to do for him and each task had steps 1 through 20. (This is going to be a bit.) The guy talked loudly, fast and non-stop, but just chatty stuff. Finally, I stopped what I was doing and said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I think you want to get out of here. The more you talk, the longer this is going to take me.” He stopped talking. My boss was right there. She later said to me, “If you didn’t say anything then I would have.” (love my boss)

      Just because a person appears to be moving right along with a task they are doing does not necessarily mean they are not concentrating on that task. Sometimes it’s because of intense concentration that a person is able to move through something quickly.

  12. Ann O'Nemity*

    “Just because no one complains about your dirty dishes in the shared kitchen sink, it doesn’t mean it’s okay. It only means we don’t know it’s you.”

    “Continually rescheduling meetings at the last minute isn’t okay. Even if your time really is more important than ours, at some point you just look disorganized and rude.”

    “Your gross smells are not okay. It’s just too awkward for us to mention it to your face.”

    1. Dan*

      That meeting thing drives me bonkers. Do these people realize that they are costing an entire team productivity by canceling meetings? If I’ve got meetings staggered throughout the day, I’m not doing anything productive with a 30 minute gap between meetings. Since I’ve blocked out time for *your* hour long meeting, you could have cost me an hour and a half of useful stuff to get done. (I do a lot of software development… I need “large” blocks of time to work in, like 2-hours-ish.)

      1. BeenThere*

        This is my huge problem, no matter how many times I explained it to my boss he didn’t seem to get it. Then, as I’ve mentioned in a previous thread, I created a spreadsheet to track all interruptions. An interruption was anything that wasn’t me working on the current development priority. In the spreadsheet I added 30 minutes to the time each interruption took to account for the task switching time required to get back into the code. If there was less than 30 minutes between interruptions then I used that as the measure of switching. Then I continued to give it to my manager and his boss. There were weeks where I was over 70% interruptions, which at that point leaves no large blocks of time to program.

        I’m happy to report that I no longer get dragged into last minute tasks and the latest fantasy side project my manager dreams up. The last week is the first week I have had where I was able to focus on the work I was hired to do 11 months ago. I’m still tracking everything, including the time waiting for a meeting to start and when it gets moved after the start time.

        Note: current science does put the cost of task switching at 15-30 minutes. It’s 30 minutes if you are pulled away from a task you like and want to be doing and are good at.

      2. Kelly O*

        Happened just this morning. Originally the meeting was 1:00, but because someone is traveling in Europe and the meeting planner didn’t realize it, the meeting had to get bumped up to 10:00.

        Which is exactly when two or three of our executives were walking in the door. Good times.

  13. A Nonnus Mousus*

    Interestingly enough, this came up today. I have a super awesome intern that I oversee, but he has a bad habit of very loudly chewing his nails at multiple points during the day. Finally had to mention something because it has become so very distracting (even with my earbuds in, I could still hear it). It had never occurred to him that this was in any way loud, distracting, or (dare I say) gross and it is to his immense credit that he is trying very hard not to do it anymore.

    Making me seriously re-evaluate my bad habits and whether or not I may be sticking my head in the sand. Please, someone correct me if I’m being annoying!

  14. Dana*

    This one is pretty universal that people don’t complain.* In my boyfriend’s business (in food service) he says that for every one complaint he gets, you have to figure at least 10 people had the same problem and didn’t complain. Especially in industries like that, the person can just quietly take their business elsewhere and you’d pretty much have no idea you lost them as a customer.

    *There are DEFINITE exceptions.

    1. StarHopper*

      Oh, yeah. If I have a bad restaurant experience, I don’t say anything. I just never return.

    2. Anon for this one*

      Anonymous for this one because my colleague will know it’s me and I don’t want to give away my regular username.

      Totally agree with Dana. I had the oddest experience recently at a bar. Stopped in after work for a drink or two. The bartender had a huge attitude problem that clearly pre-dated my entry, and the drink had a bug in it. I’m not a germophobe and, hey, we accidentally eat bugs all the time, right? So I removed it and kept on drinking. Never said a word.

      Second drink was not what I ordered. It was DISGUSTING. I have literally never sent anything back in my life, but it was so bad that I whipped up my courage to kindly request a replacement. The replacement drink was great but had ANOTHER bug in it. I removed it and finished the drink. Never said a word. Won’t go back.

      1. Mints*

        Seriously? Two bugs and you didn’t say anything? Holy crap you’re so much more forgiving than me

        And in general I’ll say something if I want a specific fix (gift card, correct order) but not if things in general aren’t good (rude waiters or long waits)

  15. some1*

    I think this idea carries over from school. To a much greater degree in high school and college (or however far you went in your education), you WILL be told if you are breaking a rule, bothering someone, or doing something that doesn’t make you look great.

    I have soooo many examples of behavior Alison is referring to where my coworkers in question weren’t called out, but after that, the coworker became “That Guy”

    -bringing leftovers from a company-paid meal home without asking
    -bringing a significant other or child to an employee-only event without asking
    -lounging in office common areas
    -taking the newspaper/magazine meant for everyone into the bathroom
    -having friends and family visit a non-public office on the regular
    -having disruptive personal calls

    1. Joey*

      Really?? Let those things go. are they really important enough to retain in your brain? And are they really so bad that he deserves to be ostracized? Let it go

      1. Chocolate lover*

        Some of those things, including regular visitors to a non public office and “disruptive” personal calls can have quite an impact on other people in the office. We’ve seen cases on this blog, including recently, where similar situations have been extremely disruptive to other people, from extremely loud or ongoing personal phone calls in shared offices that interfere with people being able to do their own work, to having a spouse removed from the property by police. Multiple times.

      2. Jaune Desprez*

        Seriously? If all of the things some1 describes were done by the same person, he would be an incredibly annoying coworker and completely deserving of That Guy status. I would absolutely avoid him whenever possible.

          1. some1*

            Really? If it didn’t annoy you, why would you pay attention? I feel like you are being deliberately combative.

            1. Joey*

              Just pointing out that a really simple solution to annoying behaviors is to ignore them. Look down thread at aunt agatha’ s comment and picture how many people get annoyed by “smelly foods” in the office

          2. Ellie H.*

            As Marcus Aurelius said, if you are bothered by something external, the problem isn’t the thing itself, but how you feel about it, and how you feel about it is within your power to change.

            1. Jaune Desprez*

              Mmm, I’ll see your Marcus Aurelius and raise you Dorothy Sayers: Some consideration for others is necessary in community life.

          3. Karowen*

            How do you suggest some1 not pay attention to a random kid running around? How do you suggest I ignore the guy who pokes me and interrupts my work to get my attention to tell me a story I find grotesque? It’s not as simple as “not paying attention” sometimes.

            1. Kelly L.*

              This. If we could all just make things stop bothering us by force of will, there would be no workplace issues and no advice columns.

            2. Joey*

              As I said the default should be to avoid letting things bother you. If the annoyance is so disruptive that that’s not reasonable then and only then do you try to change the other person’s behavior .

    2. Karowen*

      I get frustrated by most of those things, but am I missing something regarding the leftovers? If I order a normally portioned meal and don’t finish it, am I not allowed to bring it home? That seems silly to me. And if someone asked me if they were allowed to bring home their own food that they had eaten part (or even none!) of, I’d probably look at them like they have three heads.

      Now, if someone makes the company pay extra to get the supersized portion and then doesn’t finish it, I’d probably frown on that. And I always follow the rule of getting something inexpensive and, if possible, cheaper than what the host is getting. No ordering extras (appetizers, desserts, fancy drinks) unless explicitly told do.

      1. Jaune Desprez*

        I suspect some1 is talking about the coworker who doesn’t only take home their own leftovers, but also things like all the leftover cake or chips, which fellow employees might have otherwise enjoyed finishing the next day.

        1. some1*

          This exactly. At two separate workplaces the company paid to have lunch delivered for the entire department. The leftovers (enough for a several people +) were boxed up in the fridge to be put out the next day and a coworker at both places took all those leftovers home for himself, without asking anyone.

        2. LD*

          Yes, and like the coworker who took all the treats that were given at the holidays because everyone hadn’t finished them as soon as they were opened. Or cake or pizza that wasn’t finished in 10 minutes! You’d get a message, there’s cake/pizza in the conference room, and if you didn’t run, he’d have gone and packed it up and taken it to his car to take home! And he had to be told more than once that those treats were for everyone and needed to be available to the office until they were all consumed by people in the office…not taken to anyone’s home! He doesn’t work here anymore.

        3. RO*

          My old office ordered food almost everyday. Since no was really going to eat old food and and I like a clean office, I would ask people to take it home or offer it to housekeeping before I left. If I left early and no one cleaned it out, that is the first thing I would do.

          1. some1*

            It’s one thing to take food home that’s been offered., or even food that’s still sitting out hours later, implying that it’s going to get tossed at COB. It’s a completely different scenario to go into the fridge and take out leftovers that have been packed up with the intention of being saved for the next day.

        4. Noelle*

          Yeah, I had a coworker like that who would barely wait until things were “leftovers.” If someone brought in bagels, he’d give people maybe 20 minutes to get one, and then take the rest. I also had a coworker who I went to lunch with once, we ordered a pizza, didn’t finish it, and he boxed up all of the leftovers for himself (while still making me pay for half). Not sure if it makes a difference, but both those coworkers would always also comment that they did this “because I have kids.”

      2. Jamie*

        This is totally fine – it’s when people grab all the communal stuff that annoys people. Kelly O had a hilarious story about the cake lady from one of her past lives.

        I did know someone who would order double portions when the company was paying and then gloat about how he had his dinner, too, now. He was not a low paid person and this was noticed and not appreciated.

      3. Beezus*

        Yup, it’s about the communal food. Taking extra home when some people haven’t even had a chance to get what they might nibble on at their desks is rude.

        We had a food troll a couple of years ago, who would prowl other departments for communal food. He would get in line ahead of people actually in those departments and take *extra* portions of highly prized goodies, so he could bring them home and share with his family. If I look forward to the homemade candy Pam makes for Christmas every year, and I don’t get any because I’m in a meeting for an hour and Dwight came over from Accounting, was first in line and took 5x what everyone else took, you betcha I am going to be annoyed. (I am less polite than some people, and probably would actually say something in that extreme example, though.)

      1. Jamie*

        Yep – worked with a guy who took the receptionist’s Cosmo into the men’s room on a regular basis. When he wasn’t taking it into the ladies room because “it’s cleaner in there.”

        It’s noticed – although I can say it didn’t go unmentioned. Every woman in the office told him to knock it off at some point.

        1. Anon for this one*

          Oh, wow, I used to work with a man who used the women’s restroom all the time! He also said he used it because it was cleaner, and then he would walk out laughing and joking about how badly he stank it up. :-/ We (women) told him to knock it off repeatedly, but he never did.

  16. Clever Name*

    This. As someone who sometimes has trouble reading nonverbal signals, I’ve had to be careful with this. “But my coworker must be fine with my chatting with them- they’ve never told me to stop” Live and learn.

  17. Lisa*

    What is so gosh-darn inconvenient about *bringing it up when you have a problem?* I’ve had to bring up very personal, possibly embarrassing things to people often (from mentioning body odor to an employee to volunteering in a role where I had to ask very intimate questions of recent survivors of sexual assault) and I find that almost everyone appreciates, either immediately or later on, having the awkward conversation right away rather than finding out about something much later that they needed to know, but nobody was comfortable bringing up to them.

    Another thing I’ve noticed is that, at least in the region where I live, not saying something about a pet peeve is a white people thing. When I’m in spaces where the majority are people of color, someone will always say “Knock that shit off” to the person annoyingly playing on their phone in the meeting or “Listen, I need you to start being on time” to the person who is always showing up tardy. In white-majority spaces, instead of confronting the offender, people just lose respect for her and maybe complain to her boss.

    I would love to someday work in an environment where it’s a social norm to actually talk openly about social norms, pet peeves, annoying habits, etc., like you would have to do with a new roommate when moving in together. When you get a new deskmate in an open office environment, it’s kind of wacky to me that it’s NOT ordinary and expected to start that relationship with “Hey, I’m new, is there anything I should know about working with the other people in this pod? Likes and dislikes? Are we headphones people or do we play music for the group? Do we tend to snack at our desks or in the cafeteria?”

    The best roommate situation I ever had included a regularly scheduled airing of grievances where we all sat together once a month and had an agreement that we could bring up anything in the shared house that had annoyed us.

    1. OhNo*

      It’s interesting that you mention the difference between white-dominant spaces and minority-dominant spaces, because that’s something that I’ve noticed recently as well. I definitely know which approach I prefer!

    2. Accountant*

      I think it’s also regional. I live in Tennessee and a guy from New Jersey started working at our office last year. It was very eye-opening to me to see the difference in communication styles. For instance, he felt comfortable telling people they were wrong, whereas other managers who are from the area would say “I don’t think this is right”, which is southern for “this is wrong”. But we just don’t use as direct language as northerners do, in general. And I could see how easy it would be for someone who isn’t from here to not understand what “I don’t think this is right” means.

      1. nona*

        That’s true! It’s been interesting to see in coworkers who have moved here. Especially from, say, NYC.

        I’m southern and I, uh, don’t speak southern. The subtle or indirect speech that I see as rude is polite to most people around me; the bluntness that I prefer is rude as hell to them. I’m trying to learn, though!

      2. Angela*

        I ran into this when I moved from a northern state to Tennessee. It’s a whole other world down there. It didn’t take long at all to find out that “bless their heart” translates to “what an idiot.” And no one ever just seems to say what they mean. It’s always coated in syrupy sweetness. I’m blunt. Even for other people from up here, I’m blunt. I did not fit in down there at all. It was a never ending cycle of offending someone, usually my boss, no matter how diplomatic I tried to be. Thank goodness I work for a New Yorker now! She’s good with blunt/abrubt.

      3. Lindsay J*

        Yeah, I moved from NJ to Texas and had a hard time fitting in at first because what was normal for up in NJ came off as abrasive down here.

    3. OriginalEmma*

      White people in the U.S.? I wonder if it’s a throwback to predominantly colonial English roots – stiff upper lip, don’t complain, and all that.

      Another commenter brought up, ages ago, the difference between people who ask for something and those that don’t (IIRC – some folks would think nothing of asking for X; others would be horrified to be so blatant an would simply hope that they were offered X). I wonder if there’s a similar sociological/psychological explanation for those that complain about problems vs. those that don’t?

        1. Kelly L.*

          And WASPs held all the power for so long, it’s unsurprising that these norms would be really ingrained in corporate culture.

      1. The RO-Cat*

        “Ask” culture vs. “Guess” culture. It was hildi, if I remember correctly, who explained that concept.

    4. Emmy Rae*

      Seriously! I hated starting at my job and learning all the weird norms by accident. It’s now my role to welcome new people so I try to share with them some of “how we do things”. No one did that for me and it sucked.

      Also, the roommate thing. I had a house with that same rule, except that no one ever did anything about the grievances: “Please stop leaving my wooden spoons crusted with food in the sink, I use those daily. Maybe the person who makes pasta sauce regularly could provide a second pair?” Next day, my wooden spoons are covered in spaghetti sauce again. I had to start hiding my food and utensils. Everyone in that house was white btw.

    5. Oui*

      It’s totally a white people thing. I actually find the person who decides to hold something in to be the rude one. I mean, you never know if someone will accommodate you unless you ask and now you’re going to hold grudges? I just don’t understand it and personally, I always ALWAYS speak up.

    6. Jill 2*

      Interesting. I’m a minority, but have an immigrant perspective, and we just Don’t Talk About Things ever. I find the American attitude of directness and bluntness extremely off-putting. But, it’s championed by most working folks and people on this blog, and I get it. I’ve tried to modify my language and behavior as much as I can so I can succeed in this word, but at the end of the day, I come from a culture that doesn’t work that way, and I’m not going to overhaul that completely.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Aww, I am disappointed. I thought it was a young people thing. Personally, I like the candor, say it, deal with it, and move on. I noticed working with teens and early twenty somethings they just say whatever they need to say rather than carrying it around for weeks/months.

      What I like about it is- you trust me enough to handle it, you say it to clear it up because you want things to go smoothly for us annnd I don’t have to worry about you stewing for days or weeks. I absolutely hate walking on eggs and trying to guess what is wrong now. Life is too short and most issues are small potatoes, in that most things that come up CAN be resolved. Put it out there, reach a compromise or a solution and get back to life.

      1. Jamie*

        I really think it depends on the person. For me, honestly, I’m so easily annoyed by so many things that I know it’s my problem the vast majority of the time. So I find ways to deal with stuff myself, because the world shouldn’t have to tip toe around all of my weirdnesses. And if I told people every time they annoyed me it would take up a lot of my time. And at some point people would cut my brake lines to make me stop.

        I think a lot of people don’t want to say something for fear it’s not a valid issue for most people and no one wants to be a prima donna. But consensus that a behavior is often if not universally annoying by many it’s a nice reality check and you can address it.

        1. nicole*

          I can relate to this because I’m easily annoyed too. Right now I’m struggling at work with a cube mate who clears his throat frequently all day long. I’m the only one who can hear it, and I think it’s medical, so what can I do? I’m not able to wear headphones and playing music through my speakers doesn’t drown it out. I’m cursing my keen sense of hearing right about now!

    8. Fuzzy*

      The roommate thing only works when you have roommates who don’t take the greivences personally.

      Me: “Would you mind clearing your stuff off of our very tiny table so I have somewhere to eat in the morning?”
      Her: “Is it that hard for you to shift it out of the way?”
      Me: “I don’t want to have to shift it. It’s your stuff.”
      Her: “I just don’t understand why you hat me so much.”

      and on and on and on

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Her: “I just don’t understand why you hate me so much.”

        You: “Because you won’t move your shit off the table!”

        I wouldn’t really say that (unless I could pull off a joking tone), but it would be tempting.

  18. BethRA*


    And the corollary: “just because no one’s complained about your direct report’s bad behavior doesn’t mean it’s ok.”

  19. Fran*

    Gah! This reminds me of parents who were called in to school to discuss their child’s racist statements to a Chinese student. The parents said, “But we say just that to our Chinese neighbor all the time and she never says anything.”

    Often people are too polite to say anything, even when they are deeply offended.

    But imagine what they think of you…

    1. KT*

      Ugh, my dad is guilty of this. For years he referred to his Asian employees as “Orientals” and when my mom and I repeatedly told him that was rude, he said “I asked them at work if they minded, and they said it was fine!”

      *head desk*

      What else would they say to their boss?

      1. De Minimis*

        My supervisor does this too….

        A couple of us gently called her on it, but she just doesn’t get it. [neither does my mother, btw, who is the same age group.]

        There aren’t any Asian people working here at the moment, but that still doesn’t make it okay.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        When I heard people referring to them as “Asian” instead of “Oriental”, I started doing that too, to be politically correct, but I never did find out why “Oriental” is considered rude. When I was young, people sometimes referred to Asians by the “c” word, or the “g” word, which was low class and rude, and “Oriental” was the preferred word at that time.

  20. YandO*

    I had a co-worker ho would type at half her typing speed in order to avoid making loud key-board noises in a busy open-floor plan office.

    I thought she was being completely ridiculous, but after she brought it up to me, I could not stop thinking about it and had to force myself not to put extra effort into typing quietly.

    1. Mpls*

      Some keyboards are quieter/louder than others. Might be worth it to see if a quieter options works for her/you.

    2. tesyaa*

      It annoyed my daughter than I didn’t mute the clicks when typing on my iPhone. I guess it might annoy coworkers too.

      1. Millenial Banker*

        Yes. Please, everyone, turn off the clicks on your iPhone or put the dang thing on silent.

        1. Jamie*

          I love those clicks – they are very ASMRy. Also love the sound of people typing on certain keyboards.

          1. smiley*

            I turned them off and I can live without them, but I don’t use autocorrect or autofill and hearing the clicks helps me type better. I can go either way though; I’m pretty flexible about changing my habits.

          2. LBK*

            I swear I’m not stalking you in this thread, we just seem to be the same person…you can pry my iPhone clicks from my cold, dead, probably-still-texting hands. They’re so soothing.

    3. MaryMary*

      I know I’m a loud typer and I do warn cubemates and office neighbors about it. I type quietly if I’m thinking about it, but if I’m annoyed or upset I really beat the crap out of my keyboard. Several former cubemates have used it to guage my mood. “Everything okay over there?”

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        My coworker can type over 90wpm, and she hits the keys hard, like Elton John playing the piano. It doesn’t bother me; I just wish I’d ever been able to consistently exceed 45wpm. I cheated during the speed drills in typing class, though, by becoming interested in *reading* the material, when we were supposed to only type the letters without paying attention to the story. Ha — as if I’ve ever not paid attention to a story!

        1. Lena*

          I was taught to type on a manual typewriter. It took a couple of years to train myself out of really walloping the keys.

  21. eee*

    The best way to get the “assume if no one’s complaining, no one’s annoyed” issue is just to ask! There are lots of behaviors that people might feel weird about asking you to stop (ex. I actually HATE it when people are whispering near me, as opposed to talking at a normal volume), but if you ask “hey, is this bothering you? It’s no problem to stop if it’s annoying” is often enough for someone to speak up if they are bothered, and for you feel good if they aren’t. And also, that opens the door for someone speaking up later if it’s not a problem then, but it is later.

    1. Allison*

      I do this too, with my hand lotions. I love scented hand creams, but I often ask my coworkers if the smell is too strong, and I assure people it would be no trouble to switch to something with a weaker scent – or no scent – if it’s an issue.

    2. Fuzzy*

      Unless you end up with someone like a friend of mine who asks that about every. damn. thing. And then she apologizes with annoying us with her asking if it’s annoying us.

    3. Squirrel!*

      That sort of behavior requires a self-awareness that most people lack (i.e. how many people will actually ask if clicking their pen all the time annoys someone else if they don’t notice it themselves?).

    4. Clever Name*

      Just be careful that not everyone will be honest with you, even if you ask if something is bothering them.

    5. Stone Satellite*

      I actually felt proud of myself recently for directly asking someone if a behavior bothered them, the first time I did it. I am quite passive so normally what happens is I do something, no one complains, I wonder to myself if they are bothered, but by then I’ve been doing it so long it seems weird to ask about it. =(

  22. illini02*

    I think even this post illustrates the bigger issue here. Some people find some fairly normal behaviors rude, distracting, whatever. Typing too fast? Chewing hair (gross, but why do I care)? I mean at what point to we have to try to please everyone else because they are bothered by little things? Again, I’m not going to deliberately try to annoy someone, but if some fairly harmless behavior (eating crackers for example) is bothering people, is that really my problem or they they just need to suck it up? Where is the line between one person being rude or inconsiderate, and the other person being overly sensitive?

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Or perhaps they don’t need to suck it up, but they do need to speak up. Because if I’m doing what I think is a fairly normal thing, how do I know it’s annoying you?

      There was discussion above about wet vs dry wedding receptions. My experience (almost always dry) doesn’t seem to be the norm, at least in this group, and if I’m your wedding coordinator, I won’t even think about alcohol unless you speak up and say you want it.

      It’s the same with many behaviors. You think something is universally known to be unprofessional behavior, but perhaps that boss, when he was young, had a boss who clipped her nails at work, and has seen it in other jobs over the years. Maybe there is a subculture where that is common at a job, and this is the first time your new co-worker is out of that subculture.

      We learn from each other — don’t make your annoying co-worker read your mind. Be nice about it, but speak up.

    2. Observer*

      I think there are two issues here – things that bother people and things that turn people off.

      Take, for instance hair chewing. It would not BOTHER me, but I’m sure I would see the person doing that as rather immature, and I’d probably be a bit grossed out. And for those things, even people who are perfectly fine with speaking up probably won’t say anything. After all, what are you going to say “You should stop chewing your hair because it makes you look like a baby?” “Stop chomping on that gum like that because it makes you look like a cow?” Instead, I’ll just go on with life, not really bothered. And if I need someone who has some maturity for a project, hair puller will not be top of the list. If I need someone with tact and finesse, gum chewer won’t be on the top of my list. Not deliberately, but because I’ve just formed certain impressions of them.

      1. Stone Satellite*

        Top of my grossed-out-but-won’t-say-anything list:
        1) Wear a shirt that covers your belly in all of your normal sitting and standing positions. Just because you don’t see anything standing in front of the mirror in the morning doesn’t mean I don’t see a crescent moon of flesh when you lean back in your chair while facing me.
        2) Pluck the garden of hair growing out of your ears, especially when there’s no other hair on your head or face.

    3. Jillociraptor*

      I’m curious: do you think there actually is a line there that we could draw? What would you think about when you consider making those decisions? For example, if you were a manager and an employee came to you for advice on how to deal with another employee’s irritating behavior (that was facially neutral like the examples you described), what kinds of things would you ask or consider to decide how to advise them?

      1. Sara*

        I’d take into consideration how much time in a typical day the employee is subject to the annoying-but-non-harmful behavior. For example, I type very fast (and sometimes noisily, depending on what workstation I’m using [nice, new keyboard vs old clunker]). Perhaps this annoys the woman I share a workspace with. However, my job involves very little computer use – no more than 30 minutes per day when we’re both in the shared area. If I was clacking away all day, I could see her making a valid complaint about it. But I’m not, and we both do enough work in other parts of the building that it would be very reasonable for her to rearrange her tasks to be away from our shared space while I’m computing and to come in to do tasks that require more concentration when I’m out of the room.

        1. Jillociraptor*

          That makes sense. Seems like a good rule of thumb is “if one of you easily resolve the issue with minimal interruption to your life, it’s probably not worth complaining about.”

      2. illini02*

        Honestly, for most of the things I described, I’d probably say just suck it up. I think if a majority of reasonable people aren’t bothered by something, I’d let it go. I’m not going to make someone whose job it is to type or input data work slower because someone else is annoyed by it. That is just going to decrease productivity. Even if my 20% number regarding the chips was low, I”m going to guess its not over 50%. Because of that, I’m not going to ban people eating chips at their desk in the office. Because again, if you need a snack at 2pm to fight your mid day blues, its better for productivity. Maybe I’m lucky that I don’t have many pet peeves, but reading this blog shows me someone is annoyed by everything. Jill sniffs too much (even though its allergy season). This person shuffles at their desk too much. Just let things go sometimes.

        If I had someone like this, who was bothered by everything, maybe I’d just buy them a desk zen garden.

        1. Jillociraptor*

          I get that. I was interested in your answer because my default reaction is the opposite: if I ask you to stop eating chips at your desk, that’s such an easy request to comply with that you should just do it. I worked in a preschool for awhile and the single thing I said more than anything else was “worry about yourself,” because boy can 4 year olds work themselves into a tizzy over the weirdest stuff, but I think that balancing act between achieving your own personal comfort and letting other people live their lives never really goes away. It’s just part of living in the world.

  23. Allison*

    This wouldn’t be an issue if:

    – people would actually speak up when there was an issue


    – people would act like mature adults when someone asked them to please stop doing something.

    That second bit is important, and less talked about. It would be great if Jane could tell Sally the smell of her lotion was too strong and was making her sick, but for that to happen, Sally needs to be the kind of person who’d say “ahh, sorry about that! should I try to find something that smells less strongly, or would you prefer I find something without any perfumes at all?” Realistically, Sally might actually say “what do you mean?? I barely smell it at all! Suck it up, you don’t get to boss me around, you’re not my mom!!”

    Way, WAY too many people get defensive and pissy when people even gently ask them not to do something, and often assert their right to do whatever they want, and that the person asking them to stop doing the thing is overreacting, making a mountain out of a molehill, or being selfish or high maintenance. It’s because of these people that most other people decide to say nothing, and decide it’s better to avoid the potential conflict.

    1. Allison*

      Followup thought: if someone’s rude, inconsiderate behavior is allowed to continue long enough, it’ll be harder for someone to put a stop to it. If someone does something for a long time, and no one complains, they’ll assume it’s fine, and then when someone finally does speak up, they’ll figure there’s something wrong with that person because they seem to be the only one who’s ever had a problem with it, when really they’re just the first to say something. So if someone’s doing something wrong, it’s better to speak up early and nit it in the bud.

      1. Jaune Desprez*

        Followup followup thought: if you wait to say something until you positively can’t stand it any longer, you can end up expressing yourself too forcefully.

        I once worked with a Sally who started using a floral-scented lotion that could knock a rhino over from twenty paces. Her officemate told her perfectly politely that she thought it was too strong for office wear, and the newly-pregnant woman down the hall begged Sally to wash it off because it was making her ill. Sally marched into my tiny, unventilated office and complained about how unfair it was of them to gang up on her until, choking on the stench, I finally snapped, “For God’s sake, you smell like a corpse in a funeral parlor!” It wasn’t a shining moment of professionalism on my part, but at least she got rid of the lotion.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I love this.
          Right, not a shining moment. Yep, it went on too long. But I do like how you backed-up what others were saying and ended the “debate” for once and for all.

    2. Roly Poly Little Bat Faced Girl*

      It’s a Free Country! You can’t take away their First Amendment rights! (to..umm..scented lotion; it’s right there in the Bill of Rights.)
      But agreed on both your points.

    3. Jennifer*

      I’ll put up with anything rather than directly confront someone about being annoying. ANYTHING. Why? Because it only escalates the drama, plus it’s not like I have the authority to enforce anything. And given how many complaints I’ve gotten about how awful I am here (honestly, I wish people *would* be shy about nitpicking every single exact word I used to tell someone I wasn’t ready to wait on them yet because the computer crashed), I’m not going to inflict that upon anyone else.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      “Sally, you are correct that I am not your mother. Part of holding down a job is responding to people who ask you to do things. At some point you will need to ask others to do things. Just as you want your requests to be respected, you must also respect other people’s requests. It’s part of holding down a job.”

    5. Nerdling*

      Or they’ll curb their behavior for a short time, then start back up again, hoping you’ve forgotten. Or they’ll just ignore you. I had a coworker who would take calls from his wife on his work phone every day in the cube next to me. At top volume. With added baby talk for their baby, to whom he had to speak every day during that time frame. (And it’s not like he wasn’t seeing them every day when he went home or something.) I finally couldn’t take it anymore and told him that he might not have noticed it, but his volume increased exponentially when he was on the phone with her. His response? He knew he got louder. He HAD TO because her phone sucked. Sorry, but it was necessary.

    6. So Very Anonymous*

      I work in a library (university). It is the loudest library I have ever been in, and students complain about the loudness. Librarians are simultaneously encouraged (by some administrators) to shush AND discouraged from shushing (supposed to tell people to move to the “quiet” floor, which is hard to keep quiet) so that people doing group work etc. aren’t discouraged from using the library. Because the library staff are so inconsistent about this, we have patrons who feel entitled to yell or otherwise be really unpleasant to the librarians when they’re shushed; we also have patrons who get angry when the building isn’t quiet. I think the hope is that the patrons will shush each other, but that seems unfair to me.

    7. Dynamic Beige*

      These are very good points… until that person is someone who outranks you. It’s all well and good to tell your coworker that their lotion is making them smell like a corpse in a funeral home (seriously, that’s a great phrase!) but it’s another to have to ask your boss to stop wearing so much perfume or taking personal calls on her speaker phone or cracking her knuckles or clicking her pen. In some offices, a gentle hint might be accepted in the spirit it’s meant, but in others… that might be problematic.

  24. VictoriaHR*

    As an openly autistic employee, thankfully my boss knows to just tell me if I need to change a behavior. I try to be extremely open to feedback because of it, so that people feel comfortable approaching me.

  25. AMD*

    My husband is a college professor and we often do activities with a campus organization including board games or having a group over for dinner, and several of the young men in this organization will pick their nose with their thumbnail and then put whatever they gouge out into their mouths.

    I have started asking people to stop it, on the grounds that I am an adult and this may be important social etiquette that nobody else will tell them about. Also I just cannot sit at a table and play board games with pieces/cards in common while the guy next to me is *picking his nose and eating it.* I never knew that this was a common enough habit that I would run into multiple people who do it!

    1. april ludgate*

      That’s so gross! I feel like that’s a behavior that daycare teachers should have to correct, not college professors!

    2. RiffRaff*

      YES. We had a guy come into our lobby recently, sit right under one of the fairly obvious security cameras, dig in his nose and eat what he pulled out for 20 minutes. We’re all in a separate area monitoring the cameras, and we were all dry-heaving. Why do people think this is ok? AMD, did the students act surprised when you asked them to stop, or sheepish?

      1. AMD*

        One said he was just getting over a cold, one was mildly indignant – publically asking them after privately asking, “Please stop picking your nose” was not enough to stop them from doing it. It seemed like just an ingrained, unconscious, constant thing.

        1. RiffRaff*

          p.s. It blows my mind that he would think “just getting over a cold” – is an excuse for anything but leaving the table and discreetly blowing one’s nose or going to the bathroom for a more thorough cleaning. And kudos to you for being bluntly honest with them!

    3. the gold digger*

      I actually gasped out loud when I read this. Do you mind telling me what your husband teaches? Is this specific to the major? I can’t even imagine someone in college thinking this was OK.

      1. AMD*

        He teaches comp sci, but these have been an engineer (otherwise a little socially awkward,) a philosophy and a poli sci major.

    4. Jazzy Red*

      I knew a woman who made a fortune teaching Etiquette For Business People. Seriously, she had to teach them things like the above mentioned nose picking, foreign words like “please” and “thank you”, how to sit on a chair on their butts, not their lower spines, etc. Manners Camp, one of her programs, lasted for three or four days and the culminating event was a formal dinner, with all the bone china, silverware and glasses, as well as real linen tablecloths and napkins. Their executives were invited to the dinner and were able to see which of their employees would embarrass them and which ones would not.

      She also knew that American women are not supposed to curtsey to the Queen of England, so the next time you’re invited to Court, just nod your head when you’re greeted by Her Majesty.

  26. Ed*

    A common example I see of people keeping their mouths shut in regards to bad behavior is dealing with aggressive co-workers. I could see how a borderline bully could go years without getting any feedback on their behavior. The only ones who can step in are their superiors but they probably don’t act that way when interacting with their boss. I think bosses often overlook this behavior because bullies tend to “get things done”.

    I recently worked with a guy who was very aggressive to the point of almost abusive. I had a couple of run-ins with him where I had to refuse to do work that went against my department’s policies and I honestly thought the guy was gonna hit me. I thought maybe it was just me being sensitive or maybe he only acted that way towards me but the stories started pouring out after he resigned. It turns out we all had the same opinion of this guy but never discussed it with each other because he was a director.

  27. Bend & Snap*

    I think part of the problem is that people are just oblivious. I don’t think it’s usually that people think they’re getting away with something, but more that they don’t realize it bothers others.

    Now I’m wondering what habits I have that make people see red. I really have no idea what they might be.

    1. Chris*

      Right. We all have such individual things that annoy us. I, for one, do not care where people clip there finger nails, but I recognize that it bothers other people. If I hadn’t read that somewhere, I would never know people found it so vile.

  28. maggiethecat*

    Timely post! My due date is this Sunday and I need every day (as an hourly administrative employee) up until then in the office to save my PTO for my unpaid maternity leave. My cubicle neighbor (manager level/ salaried/ laptop owner & able to WFH) has been contagiously ill and coming into work for a few hours a day- coughing every 3 seconds. I have been lysol-ing *everything* trying not to get sick but today I feel feverish and have a sore throat. I am so nervous now that I will be sick (with something that lasts for *weeks* apparently given how he’s carrying on) and endanger my baby. I wish we had a VP or HR dept that had said something to him, I certainly didn’t feel like I could.

    1. Dasha*

      Wow, that’s awful. There’s no one you can talk to? There’s no where you can move to in the office to be away from his germs? :-\

  29. AuntAgatha*

    The other day someone in the comments on this website said something about how obviously inconsiderate it was when people heat up Indian food in the office microwave and how it should be obvious to everyone that that would disturb other people. Well, I’m Indian-American and that’s what I eat, and I don’t feel like my entire culture’s cuisine should be off-limits just because some people object to the smell of food with spices in it (or whatever their objection is).

    I don’t know what I’d do if a coworker told me that the smell of my daal offended them, but I don’t think it’s on me to just avoid eating my own food.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Ugh, I think that’s pretty uncool. It’s one thing to ban certain specific foods (fish), and another to ban nationalities of food, and the latter could get racist very quickly, if it’s not racist already.

      /steals some of your daal because daal is awesome

      1. shirley*

        You’d think fish would be an obvious one, but no. My coworker just heated up cioppino in the microwave. I nearly throttled her.

    2. Jill 2*

      I’m Indian too, and feel your pain! I always feel bad about heating up my food (whatever it may be — Indian, Thai, and Mexican are staple foods I make) because of how up in arms people get about stuff like this. But I don’t eat meat, and yet I have to sit there when people heat up their food with meat in it (which is offensive to MY nose). It would be ridiculous for me to limit people who heat up food with meat in it, yet why is the burden on me?

    3. Bend & Snap*

      Wow, that’s crazy. Banning a food item–fish, popcorn–is really different than banning all the food in an ethnic category.

      1. Joey*

        Not a lot of people like the smell of curry or cumin or other really fragrant spices though found in a lot of ethnic dishes

        1. Kelly L.*

          That doesn’t make that rule right. It’s not like standard ‘Murican spices, whatever those are, are objectively “better”–we’re just more used to them.

          1. Joey*

            Oh Im not arguing that I’m just saying many people don’t realize banning smelly foods frequently means banning many ethnic foods.

        2. Cat*

          “Not a lot”? That’s not my experience – at this point, the people who can’t tolerate spices that much of the world uses in cooking are pretty rare.

    4. cuppa*

      I struggle with this one, honestly. I totally appreciate your point of view, but the smell of curry powder makes me physically ill (I don’t know what it is; my best guess is fenugreek? I’m not sure). I would have to leave the room. I’m fortunate now where I am that it doesn’t happen very often, and I can just leave the room, but if someone brought in something every day? I wouldn’t be able to use the lunchroom (or I would have to rearrange my schedule to eat at a different time; perhaps that is the best solution).
      I agree that my issues that aren’t life threatening shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying your food, but it is a serious limitation for me.

      1. AuntAgatha*

        The thing is, “curry powder” is associated with Western interpretations/modifications of Indian food. I don’t use anything called curry powder when I cook and I don’t know any Indians who do. In any case, Indian food as a category is extremely broad and even the British-Indian or Western-Indian dishes that might use curry powder are only a tiny fraction of the universe of Indian food.

        In any case, I understand some people having specific quirks that make them react badly to certain smells, but there’s a big difference between someone like you who recognizes that they have a particularly strong reaction to a specific smell, and someone like the other commenter who thinks it’s obvious that no one normal would tolerate the smell of “Indian food” writ large. Hopefully if you and I worked in the same office we’d be able to have a rational conversation about it without your implying that there’s something gross about my culture! Like Jill 2 above, I’m vegetarian and the smell of meat sickens me, but I don’t expect anyone else to modify their ordinary food habits on my account.

        1. cuppa*

          Fascinating! I knew Thai curry didn’t bother me, and obviously Indian food has many regions and facets, but I didn’t realize that curry powder was so not prevalent in India. We would probably be just fine then.
          But even if not, I’m happy to hear that we would be able to work out a system. :)

          1. Kelly L.*

            From what I understand, it’s more like curry isn’t one specific spice; it means something more like a mix of spices, but it’s not always the ones we’re envisioning or that get called “curry” in a restaurant or on the spice shelf at the grocery store.

            1. Kelly L.*

              And AuntAgatha, I apologize if I came off as rude to you–I can’t words today, and I was more trying to build on your point and not argue with it. :)

            2. cuppa*

              Right! that’s why I was trying to say “curry powder” — although I am thinking of the American version of that because that is what bothers me and what I tend to be exposed to. :)

              1. Kelly L.*

                Yeah, like I have a little container on my kitchen shelf that says “curry spices” or something like that, and it has turmeric and cardamom and ginger and all kinds of other stuff in it, and I bought it because I like it. But it’s not the sum total of what can be “curry.” It actually smells and tastes more to me like the curry used in Chinese food than anything I’ve tasted in Indian food.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          Yes! Any “curry” flavored baffles me because it’s a mix of spices.

          I had an Indian roommate in grad school – her “starter kit” of spices took up half the kitchen. Ahh I miss those days.

    5. Dasha*

      I used to work with two Indian men and they brought in homemade lunches almost every day and it hardly ever smelled that strong (if ever?) but then again, I once had an Indian neighbor and I could smell the curry from outside their apartment. I think it all just depends on the dish. That would be like banning all American food from being microwaved because the whole office smelled like barbeque once and now you can’t reheat up your chicken noodle soup…

      1. Traveler*

        Not Indian food, because I love Indian food. But I’ve had other neighbors who constantly cooked really foul smelling food. I would never complain because honestly, it’s their house, and their culture. I definitely got excited when moving time came though, and I’m more careful about culturally specific things I cook or reheat at work for the same reason.

        And yes, there are lot of American foods I can’t stand the smell of. I like the smell of popcorn at movie theater, not in my office, please and thank you.

        1. Jamie*

          I’m with you on popcorn, hate the smell…and it brings up another point that it’s not just the smell but how long it lingers.

          Some food odors linger for hours. Popcorn is one of them. It’s one thing to deal with an unpleasant smell during lunch I suppose, but if you’re still going to be able to tell what someone had for lunch an hour or two later because it’s hanging there than that’s rude.

        2. tesyaa*

          I really really really really hate the smell of cooked mushrooms. And I’m not really bothered by most other food smells. Does anyone else have the mushroom thing?

    6. Chris*

      Really? I’m not Indian, but when I smell Indian dishes being warmed I am mildly jealous of their delicious meal and end up going out to an Indian restaurant for dinner. Not “obviously inconsiderate” to me at all.

    7. Jamie*

      It’s not that it’s Indian food per se, it’s any food with particularly strong odors.

      Some food smells are actually nauseating to other people and it’s common courtesy to take that into consideration when eating/heating in the workplace where others can’t just get up and leave. If no one is bothered then people can do what they like but mild smells trump pungent just like quiet trumps loud – if there are differences the most unobtrusive choice should win unless there is a clearly accepted culture practice to the contrary. (i.e. insisting on quiet if you work on the floor of the BOT, etc.)

      I happen to love the smell of garlic – if someone were to heat up some seriously garlicy Italian food my only complaint would be that I would be jealous…but I totally get how people who hate that smell shouldn’t have to deal with it at work.

      1. Jennifer*

        This kind of thing is why I think the real ban should be on reheating food at work. It’s a public space and food makes smells if it’s hot, and then anyone can and will have issues about it.

        1. Ellie H.*

          But it doesn’t bother everyone. I’m not bothered by food smells, even fish, and I can’t be the sole person. It’s true that for every one person who says something, 10 people were likely bothered by the same thing, but it’s also true that you don’t get a lot of people speaking up to volunteer the information that they are explicitly not bothered by something. You are typically are only ever going to hear from people with complaints.

          1. Oh Anon*

            I’m with you Ellie. I can’t recall ever being irritated or put off by what a co-worker was eating/reheating/cooking.

        2. Jamie*

          Not all foods have the same reach, either. My office is pretty far from the kitchen – maybe 300 feet (I suck at estimating) and 99% of the time I have no idea if anyone is eating or when. But there have been instances where a particular dish will be so strong I’ll have a reaction in my office and hours later people will still walk into the kitchen and make comments about the smell.

          It’s overkill to ban people from heating everything because a small percentage of dishes which are the problem. Imposing one’s lunch odors on others where it’s excessive is no different than the people who take super loud conference calls all day long, or wear a cologne so strong it’s visible. When people share a common space it’s just polite to not be more intrusive than necessary.

        3. Cat*

          No, 99% of people can tolerate, what, 95% of heated food orders? That is not reason to ban people from reheating leftovers for lunch.

          Now, making a point of having a well-ventilated lunchroom that is separate from the working area I can get behind.

          1. Amanda*

            I’d hate that. Cold Sandwiches and salads bore me. I could manage with yogurt, fruit, sliced raw veggies, etc but it wouldn’t be real fun.

      2. E*

        There’s also the opposite effect when someone heats up a delicious smelling food. But who would ban bacon?

    8. Helen of What*

      Pshh, the only reason I’d complain is because you’d make me hungry. :P I have Indian neighbors and it makes me happy to smell their food when I come home. Thing is, they’re not the only ones whose food smells strongly! I have white neighbors whose food smells waft into the hall as well, and recently some coworkers were eating burgers that were very strongly scented.

      I HATE the smell of buffalo sauce, but I wouldn’t get upset if someone ate it near me outside of my home. Given, I would say that spicy/strong food should be eaten in the kitchen whenever possible.

    9. Katie the Fed*

      Smelling Indian food makes me hungry for Indian food.

      You all are welcome to come work with me as long as you bring enough to share and leave off the cilantro, mmmkay?

    10. Student*

      Oh man, the last time one of my co-workers ate curry at his desk, my mouth was watering the whole time. It’s the only time I’ve ever actively wanted to steal my co-worker’s lunch.

    11. matcha123*

      I had Japanese curry for the first time in university and “real” Indian curry for the first time in Japan. I’ve never understood why people have an issue with the smell or curry or fish. I definitely didn’t grow up eating curry and I lurve the smell of it.

      If there’s one smell I hate, it’s boiled broccoli and other vegetables. When people just stick veggies in some Tupperware and heat it up I want to barf.

  30. april ludgate*

    I love this post. I’m always so paranoid about doing annoying things because I know how often I get annoyed by small stuff without saying anything. I’m not going to tell you that you chew too loudly, but I’ll definitely be more conscious of how loudly I’m chewing around other people. The coworker I share an office with now has told me it wouldn’t bother her if I didn’t wear headphones for my music, but since my concentrating music is fall out boy, played very loudly, I politely declined her offer.

  31. Mockingjay*

    We have three people in our office who douse themselves in perfumes and colognes. You can actually smell their trails – where they walked – throughout the building.

    One is the boss, the other two are his “chosen ones,” so we can’t say anything.

    1. Traveler*

      Do we work at the same place? The smell lingers for a good twenty minutes after they leave too. I am pretty sure they bathe in it or that it comes in some sort of concentrated form you really should be watering down because it’s nuts how strong it is.

      Sometimes I wish the people who are not smell sensitive could have the experience for one day. I think it would change their attitude at least enough to tone it down.

        1. nicole*

          Exactly! I’ve always felt that you should only smell perfume or cologne on someone if you’re very close to them; intimately close. Not walk into the elevator and think “I know who was just in here” which happened at a former place of employment.

      1. nona*

        If you bring it up with someone, if you think they’re receptive, could you let them know how intense their perfume or cologne is? They might just be obnoxious, but they also might not realize what they’re doing.

        I don’t smell much. Bright side: I don’t smell gross things, I don’t spend money on perfume, and I’ll clean anything. Anything! Other side: I don’t smell gross things when the gross thing is me. If you tell someone like me about a bad smell, you’re doing them a favor and they’ll fix it ASAP.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      People don’t seem to realize that you can follow the scent down hallways and know where they have been and where they are going.
      I don’t know what the name of the perfume is but as mentioned above here, yep, it smells like a dead body. And people load the stuff on, omg. It’s almost as bad a skunk spray. I’d love to find out what it is just to see the marketing campaign. What kind of marketing campaign could get people to buy this stuff?

      1. KAZ2Y5*

        I would say “Axe” but hopefully that is still mainly the favorite of junior high boys!

    3. Katie the Fed*

      This one is a really easy one to handle. “Josephine, your perfume is really strong and giving me a headache – do you think you could use a bit of a lighter touch?”

  32. Anonymous Educator*

    Don’t forget there’s a power dynamic to consider, too.

    If you do something that could potentially annoy your boss, your boss is more likely to say something about it to you than if you do something that annoys your direct report.

    I used to work at a place where one of the senior managers clipped his nails during meetings. Everyone at the meetings was underneath him in the org chart, and so no one said anything—just had horrified looks on their faces.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      I had a boss who liked the smell of burned popcorn, so of course, he deliberately left his popcorn in the microwave until practically turned black. The office reeked of the stuff, some of us got headaches and/or upset stomachs, but no one could say anything because he was the boss.

      He was good in almost all other ways.

  33. Anonnynonny*

    I work in a very relaxed environment and there have actually been times when my coworkers play softball in the hallways. (My Boss likes to work on his pitch) Sometimes it’s fun but a lot of the time it’s very loud and distracting and even though no one ever says anything you can tell a lot of people get annoyed with it.

  34. Colorado*

    As usual, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from this post. As a higher-up, obsessive compulsive nail biter, hair twirler, eyebrow puller, pen doodler, knuckle crackler, self talker, I am quite mortified right now and this 20+ years worth of extremely annoying habits in the workplace. Good gawd girl, time for a change!!

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I think you’re safe on the doodling, if that helps :)

      We ALL have annoying habits, don’t worry!

  35. anon for reasons*

    So, if someone were, say, raised by wolves and really wasn’t sure whether she was doing things that other people silently found annoying, is there a good way to ask a trusted person or two for feedback? How would you phrase that?

    1. Jamie*

      When someone makes a comment about someone else doing something annoying, and they will, just lightly mention that if you’re ever doing something that is annoying people to tell you – keep it casual. Because between people with good rapport this kind of stuff is no big deal. I never notice that I’m jiggling my foot – even though I know it’s a thing I do I don’t notice it while it’s happening so when I’m shaking the conference table if someone taps my leg I appreciate the heads up.

      One of by best work buddies knows by my pleading eyebrows that she needs to stop cracking her gum immediately or I’ll jump out a window. When you’re friendly enough to know it’s not about the person being annoying it’s the thing they are doing – huge difference.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Exactly this. Treat it like you would treat spinach in their teeth – the same tone and level of seriousness and/or humor.

        “Oh, your nail cracking is really distracting!”
        “Damn girl, did you bathe in that perfume?”
        “Dude! Close your mouth – I don’t want to see your food!”

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      “So, I need to ask for some social feedback. When I sniff butts and chase sheep, is that…..awkward for you?”


      In all seriousness, I’d just phrase it. “So, this is an awkward question, but I want you to be honest. I need some social feedback. Do I have any unconscious mannerisms or behaviors that people could find grating? I’m worried that I’m annoying people, but they’re not telling me what it is.”

  36. nicolefromqueens*

    One day: “I used to have sex all the time with a coworker in the copy room while we were on break. Nobody ever said anything until one day we were fired! I can’t believe it!”

    1. Helka*

      I’m not sure whether I’m really hoping for that (because it would be epic) or really dreading it (because I will get nothing productive done all day, I’ll just sit on AAM with my finger slammed to F5)

  37. sporkage*

    I was hoping this post would be about me. But it isn’t. I don’t disrespect people’s time, or eat food at meetings, or take loud phone calls.

    I recently got fired from a job. I worked there 2 years, I was promoted twice, and I was told on a consistent basis that my work was top notch and helped the business improve greatly (it’s a startup still developing). I am perfectly willing to admit that I am a difficult employee because I am bluntly honest. For the first several months though, I kept my opinions to myself. When I was asked, I offered my honest opinions, and therefore I was asked to contribute more and more, leading up to my first promotion.

    My boss told me over and over that he “loved that you didn’t give a s***” and that “I know you’ll be straight with me and I need that.” Specifically outlining a professional relationship quite opposite of a yes-man. After a dynamic shift in the roles the partners played, it became necessary for my boss to step out of his role and give the responsibilities to me. I built a new team, I developed the team’s strengths and configured a workflow that ensured the work laid on my employees, but the responsibility still laid on my shoulders. That was my second promotion.

    I was about 3 months into my new Director role when my boss began undermining me. He never spoke to me about circumventing me (essentially doing my job for me), and when I would confront him about it, he would claim he was just saving time when he knew I was busy. When I had issues with his Sales team, he would become flustered and annoyed, despite the Sales team’s disciplinary issues not being within my area or authority. Typically my problems with clients were always his, not other salespeople’s, and when I would ask for more clarification and communication, he would take projects back and do them himself. All of this was obviously very tense and negative to be around, despite no one above me having anything bad to say when I asked what more I could be doing to help. I was clearly doing or saying something that my boss did not like, but I could not get him to tell me what it was.

    When my boss started making inappropriate jokes about another female employee (in front of her once, and second time after she had left work), I immediately confronted him, asking him to stop. He claimed that it was funny to make fun of her and her uncomfortableness. We got into an argument about appropriate behavior at which point he stopped responding. I left his office, finished my work, and went home. I came back the next day and was setting up an action plan for my team to do internal marketing for the company. I used my notes from the meeting the day before, wrote a few emails, and followed up with other departments for information I still needed. Immediately I was bombarded from emails from my boss and another partner, micro-managing every detail, with me responding asking about the previous plan and how to best proceed, until finally my boss claimed that he shouldn’t have to tell me how to do my job. I took several minutes to process what all was being said and not really sure why the emails had turned so hostile against me. I texted my boss asking for a meeting ASAP. He asked why and I said that I think we need to formally talk about appropriate behavior at work and clear the air about our issues. He never responded.

    When I went to lunch, my boss came back to the office and changed all the locks and refused to return my calls or emails.

    I had a lunch meeting the following day with the female employee whom I tried to protect. I told her everything that was said outside of her presence, so that she could be fully informed. She then told me that our boss had a completely different story, and said that I had walked out.

    During our meeting I asked her what she thought, what was something I could have done differently. Her only complaint was that I had been more negative than she would have liked. That is certainly something I can fix now that I know that it bothers people.

    However, how do you deal with people who change their mind about you? About face? My boss loved that I was bold and honest and asked lots of questions; but apparently when that laser-sight was focused on him, he couldn’t stand being held responsible, despite it being my job description. I can deal with people telling me they don’t like something about me, but how do I make better choices in the future when they’re uncomfortable telling me? Basically, how do I raise my awareness that I’m doing something wrong?

    To be honest, I still have no idea why I was fired (or why I quit, according to what my boss told unemployment). I really feel like I was just set up so that my boss could save money; especially after the bizarre blowup about not making crude comments/jokes about someone who specifically asked them not to.

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