Crunching Calamity: Dealing with a loud co-worker

by epi on March 5, 2013

Q: As our company expands, two of my team members and I have been moved from our individual cubicles to one room. We are soon to have a fourth team member added. I will be the first to admit that I am extremely sensitive to hearing other people’s chewing. It is probably my biggest pet peeve, after gum cracking/bubble blowing. One of my teammates eat some sort of crunchy cereal almost all day long. I made a joke about it once and he switched to bread for that day. Needless to say, the crunching started back up the next day. Even with my headphones on, listening to calls, I can hear it. Our other teammate once asked him what he was eating and, after he asked, did confirm that she could hear him chewing. Is there a way to tactfully say something? Is it even appropriate to consider saying something?

A: It is a delicate situation. You might consider speaking to him privately and say something along the lines of “John, I realize I’m extremely sensitive to sounds and I know it’s difficult to eat crunchy foods quietly. Nonetheless, I can still hear your chewing with my headphones on and when listening to calls, and, to be honest, it is distracting. I hope you understand.” However, this is only a suggestion and may not work. You may have no choice but to simply block out the sound as best you can.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Binne March 5, 2013 at 9:53 am

There are a lot of us who are extremely sensitive to noises that are considered, by most people, to be inoffensive. We suffer from a condition called ‘misophonia,’ or ‘selective sound sensitivity syndrome (4S)’ and it seems to be a sensory processing disorder that typically manifests first in the early teenage years.

Other people’s chewing is only the first on a long and growing list of noises that drive me nuts. It’s a real problem: I’ve lived for many years in one of the noisiest places on Earth, New York City. The only solution I’ve been able to come up with is earplugs, which I recommend very strongly. There are many different kinds to choose from, and it may take some experimentation to find a product that blocks out the offending sounds but allows you to hear what you need to hear.

The condition is not well known, but it’s as real as peanut allergies, fibromyalgia, heart attacks, and flat feet. There are resources on the web where you can find help, advice, and commiseration. Please believe me when I tell you that this is not a small thing, and that you are not alone!


Vanna Keiler March 5, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Does the company have a policy about eating at one’s desk? If so, maybe it’s time to mention that to the colleague. This may help curb the noisy eating, which is a distraction from the work environment. If not, how about asking if the chewer not eat all his or her meals at his desk, as it is distracting? Regardless of ear sensitivity, crunchy cereal does tend to be louder than eating any other food, and it is an understandable work distraction if done ALL DAY LONG.

We all have to get along with one another in the work environment, and this includes respecting noise levels, each other’s work space and help each other create an area where maximum performance can be achieved. Ongoing distractions will not help anyone who goes to work, to work.


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