Giving feedback on personal habits without causing harm

Dear Joan:

I need to ask someone this before I lose my mind.


How does one work with someone who is just plain annoying? I know this may sound petty or harsh, but here it is. I work directly with a woman in my department (who sits across from me) who has annoying habits, which just plain bother me. It may be a personality clash—I don’t know.


She ALWAYS makes sounds when she eats, like “mmmmm mmmmm” and says “My, this is sooo good!” She is thin and always is eating, so I can’t really avoid this problem. And she is constantly sighing, and when she does, she makes a sound when she does it (this is very hard to explain). Honestly, she must do this 50 times during the day. She is also always “laughing, happy and chippy.” Sure, we all want to be positive, upbeat people and I am quite a positive person myself overall, but life isn’t ALWAYS happy and chippy. Some things in life aren’t so happy. It almost seems phoney.


I’ve given this some thought, and I am trying to be rational about it. I truly wish I didn’t sit near her, but I don’t have any choice in this matter. We are a small firm, and there is nowhere else to place me. To be perfectly honest, she just came back from a leave of absence and it was better without her around. I do feel awful about saying these things because I am a Christian, but I don’t know what to do. And thinking rationally, I don’t think this is a reason enough to leave the firm.


If you could give me something to ponder, I would be most appreciative. 



The easy answer is to say, “I’ve seen a lot worse. For heaven’s sake, just suck it up.”


But the reality is, most of us have shared the experience of being forced to endure someone’s annoying habits. Because you have no where to run and nowhere to hide, your patience is growing thin and her habits are probably magnified.


While the content of what she says is not offensive, the repetition is. Here are some ideas.


Talk to your boss and explain that your neighbor is pleasant and means well but there are personal habits that are repeated continuously throughout the day and you would like to take steps to minimize them.


If it wouldn’t restrict your ability to do your job (or offend others), perhaps you could bring in a radio, that would play softly (but loud enough to mask her comments and sighs). A better idea might be to bring a radio with earphones, so you don’t disturb

others. You could listen to your favorite tunes, while eliminating her habits altogether. If you are working on a project that requires concentration, or you’ve reached an irritation point, perhaps you could work in a conference room or the break room, until you regain your patience.


Better yet, why not talk to her directly. For instance, “Jackie, I hope this doesn’t sound petty but sometimes you talk to yourself and make noises that are distracting.” Then tell her what she does and says. Don’t make a big deal out of it or over-exaggerate her behavior. Then say, “Since we’re such close neighbors, I’m sure I do things that get on your nerves.” If she says you’re just fine, say, “Well, I’m sure there will come a time when I do, so please let me know, okay?”


Giving her permission to give you feedback may make your request sound more mutual and will give her permission to ask you to stop tapping your pencil or clicking your jaw. You may even want to find some humor in the situation by referring to your situation as an “old married couple,” who has lived together too long. If she is able to take the same “laughing, happy, chippy,” approach to your feedback, you may be able to coexist after all.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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