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Smart Advice – August 21, 2009

Corner Office Curmudgeon

“A crusty, irascible, cantankerous old person full of stubborn ideas”

Life at work is never easy. We are often confronted with situations we don’t know how to handle. Each month, this retired senior Honolulu executive offers his take on how to handle the challenges and foibles of office life.

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I hope you can help with my lunchroom situation.  We are a small office and everyone usually eats together around the break room table. We have fun and make small talk, but one of my coworkers’ eating habits are making me want to go out for lunch every day instead.  She talks, often telling entire stories, with her mouth wide open. This is so disgusting to me that I have to look away and it’s taken all my might this past year not to say something, but I can’t figure out how to say it tactfully.  Once I did make a point to say “I’m sorry, you just took a bite … I can wait for your answer,” which she ignored and continued talking, full mouth gaping open.  I’m confused because this person is a lovely, mannerly person in all other areas. But I find myself trying to eat lunch before or after her so I don’t have to endure the show. Please help!

On the one hand, you are to be commended for putting up with this for a year, but on the other, one must ask why on earth you did.  You did figure out how to say it tactfully to no avail.  I suppose you can tell her privately that she’s a lovely person except for one little habit, and if that doesn’t work, throw tact to the wind: Next time she does it, ask sweetly, “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk with your mouth full?”  That would probably assure that you’d not have to watch her talk ever again.

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I recently had a death in the family. I appreciate the concern and sympathy from my co-workers, but it sometimes gets overwhelming. Would it be proper to send out an office wide e-mail thanking people for their concern and just be done with it?

In a word, no. It’s possible that some of your co-workers might not know and then they’d feel bad for not having said anything and you’d get even more attention.  It’s sometimes painful to respond personally to kindness, but it’s part of the social contract.  Of course, if someone is tacky enough to send an e-mail sympathy message, you could be forgiven for responding the same way.

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We’re downsizing. Every day it seems another person in our company is let go. What’s the proper way to handle this? I’m afraid if I talk to them or console them, it will seem as if I am gloating because I still have my job. What’s the word? Schadenfreud?

It’s schadenfreude, but we won’t be picky.  And if you’re truly sympathetic and consoling, you won’t be mistaken for Snively Whiplash or Marie Antoinette.  Down deep you may be saying to yourself, “There, but for the grace of God….” But try to pull it off – you don’t want to be seen as cold and uncaring.

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Some of the people in my office seem to go out of their way to dress provocatively, and I don’t mean just the women. We are a professional business, not a show business agency. Is there a limit to short skirts, unbuttoned shirts and gold chains, heavy cologne and the like? I’m not the big boss, but I am supposed to set the tone for the office. What to do?

Depends on whose shirts are unbuttoned and whose skirts are short.  If the boss is among them, there’s not a whole lot to be done.  If not, talk to the big boss about a dress code.  Many businesses, even now that we seem to have perpetual “Aloha Friday,” do expect employees to dress tastefully and lay off the overwhelming scents.  If the boss isn’t concerned, stuff cotton up your nose and avert
your eyes.

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Have a question for the Curmudgeon? E-mail curmudgeon@hawaiibusiness.com or mail it to Curmudgeon, c/o Hawaii Business, 1000 Bishop St., Suite 405, Honolulu, HI 96813. Don’t be shy, he’s heard and seen it all. Your anonymity will be protected.

Enjoy Music While You Munch

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