Q: What do you do when a colleague’s habits are distracting/terrible? I have a new colleague in our open office environment who is a terrible tea slurper, and it’s distracting all of us and driving us crazy every morning. It’s gotten to the point where I’m strategically scheduling meetings/time out of the office to avoid this morning routine.
A: tl;dr: You need to talk to you coworker. Immediately.
Using “us” and “avoid” says two things: 1) the annoying tea slurping habit is now a topic of office chatter and 2) it’s impacting your colleague’s ability to be effective. Imagine if you had some small, fixable habit others talked about or avoided – and then you realized you’d been doing it for months. It’s likely you’d wish someone had told you sooner.
So how do you approach this conversation? In a one-on-one casual setting and acknowledging it’s a little uncomfortable. “Hey, Joe? I know this may be a little uncomfortable. I can hear you drinking your tea and find it distracting. I thought you’d want to know – since I’d want to know if I was doing anything distracting, too.” And don’t bring it up again. You’ve raised this issue – what your coworker does with it is out of your hands.
This approach works if it’s something somewhat easy to fix: wearing too much perfume and taking conference calls on speaker phone are two situations that I hear of often. And then stop talking about it with others – consider it addressed.