MT agony uncle Jeremy Bullmore

My colleague constantly grunts and sniffs. What can I do?

Someone who sits near me is forever grunting, snorting and wheezing. It's really annoying. Should I say something?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 28 Jun 2013

Q: Someone who sits near me (who I don't work with directly) has the most annoying habits. She is forever grunting, snorting and huffing and puffing, not to mention wheezing and coughing. To cap it off, she has started picking her nose quite explicitly. I keep shooting annoyed looks at her but she has yet to pick up the hints. I'm the only one with a direct view. Should I just ask to move elsewhere on the floor?


JEREMY SAYS: It's possible, but extremely unlikely, that all this grunting, snorting and nose-picking is done knowingly and specifically with the intention of irritating you.

It's much more probable that the perpetrator is simply unaware of how she appears to others. This could be an extreme case of insensitivity or even a mildish form of autism, perhaps Asperger syndrome.

Either way, you need to accept that shooting her annoyed looks isn't going to achieve anything. She's unlikely even to register them, let alone modify her behaviour. However antisocial she may be, and however annoying you find her, this person needs understanding.

Confronting her directly, or formally complaining about her to management, would almost certainly seem to her to be persecution.

It would be a great deal better to do as you suggest and simply ask to be moved. If you're invited to give your reasons, by all means give them - but do so coolly and factually, not judgementally.

It should be as if you're just asking to be moved from a draught or a busy passageway. If her behaviour persists, which it probably will, sooner or later someone with management responsibility will need to take action.

This is exactly the sort of circumstance that managers and human resource people are paid to deal with.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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