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Sort 301: Office Diplomacy

How to ask a co-worker to take his food out of your face.

by Dear Jon
March 15, 2005

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Dear Jon,

Do you really think that Condi Rice is sending mixed signals to the rest of the world, or is it that you, like 99.9% of the world's leaders, are a man, and you just don't understand her CLEAR and INTENTIONAL purpose, which would be perfectly OBVIOUS if you weren't such a MALE CHAUVINIST OINKER and just shared your feelings once in a while!!!

Going Home to Mother
Dear Go,
Thank you very much for writing. This is the first letter that I recall in which I have been grouped together with “the world’s leaders.” Finally, the importance of what I am doing as a male advice columnist is being recognized globally!
Being on the internet as much as I am, I have begun to tell the difference between authentic females, and males who are trying to disguise themselves. Although you did not state it explicitly, you are trying to leave the impression that you, the writer of the letter, are a woman. However, there are three proofs that indicate to me that you are, in fact, an authentic woman.
1. Men who try to disguise themselves as women usually forget to mention anything about “feelings.”
2. You ended the argument by going to your Mother’s. One way to expose a man disguising himself as a woman is when (s)he tries to end the argument by declaring either, “I’m going out!” or “You can find me in the garage!”
3. You talk about the clear, intentional, obvious purpose of another woman, and then you do not disclose it. That is classic female. A man disguising himself as a woman, would have said Condi Rice’s purpose was clear and obvious, and then he would have tried to disclose it, such as: “Condi is trying to divide the strategic unity of Iran and Syria by heightening the threat rhetoric against one and the reconciliation rhetoric against the other.” Only a man disguising himself as a woman would think to disclose anything that is already obvious to every woman ever born and which, therefore, according to the secret unspoken code of female logic, men do not deserve to be told.
So thank you for writing, Ma’am. I do not get letters from many women. Please tell all your friends to write to Dear Jon, too. You and your friends can even ask Dear Jon for advice, which, I know, sounds as crazy as “MTV” actually playing “music videos.” But really, hard as it is to believe, this is an “Advice Column.”
Of course, if you or your friends wouldn’t take advice from a man even if I were the last man on Earth and the question involved the best way to move a 100 pound box up three flights of stairs, I understand. There are still lots of opportunities to get your voice heard on the Partial Observer. In fact, we have been trying to recruit more female writers since we began. Maybe you can become our Foreign Policy correspondent?


Dear Jon,

One of my coworkers has a habit of bringing food into my office to munch on while he talks to me, and I find it highly annoying. What's the best way to put an end to this without making him feel bad about it?

Peeved in Albany
Dear Peeved,
Good cover. Nobody REALLY lives in “Albany.”
I have a couple questions. Something about your letter does not ring quite true with me. A co-worker with food feels comfortable to bring his food into your and eat while talking with you?
I have some experience in the office complex. There is a remote possibility that if you work for a not-for-profit that you can be in a position of being “one of the workers” and yet have an office of your own. After two years at an NPO I was promoted into my own office, but you see, Peeved, there is something magical about a door. My boss, a “Director,” would knock first, even if the door was ajar.
I also worked for an entrepreneurial partnership. They would have called each other “partners” rather than “co-workers.” Even then, they did not just walk in on each other. And finally, in my experience in a global corporation, it takes some doing to get promoted out of the cubicle and into an office of your own. The people who have the freedom to just barge in to a manager’s with a bag of Cheetos® are typically vice-presidents. You would not be writing to me wondering how you, in middle-management, could tell a Vice-President that his personal habits are annoying.
The “co-workers” are in cubicles, which some even have to share.
So, just to get down to the bottom of this, you are not really in an office, are you? Really, your “office” is a cubicle. Am I right? It is a lot harder to dictate how people can behave in your space, when your space is wide open. However, I can suggest three strategies:
1. The healthy strategy, employed by approximately 117 well-adjusted human beings in the entire world: “Excuse me, but could you eat after we are finished with our meeting? It’s distracting me.” If he brings food again the next time, phrase it exactly the same way. By the third time, he will probably say, before he sits down, “Do you mind if I snack while we talk?” you can say, “Actually, I would prefer if you waited until afterward.”
Some neat opportunities result from the strategy. Sometimes people do not like to eat alone; the food they carry into meetings reflects an unconscious need to connect with others at a more human level. You might offer to share the lunch hour with him and eat together. Or, you might set up the meeting where you agree to order food.
If he is a twit, he might stop coming around to chat anyway, which is not such a bad outcome, either.
2. The Comedian: About one in six human beings choose to humiliate the offender of social graces with sarcasm. “What, your Mom didn’t make breakfast this morning?” “You know, when they talk about needing more chips to improve memory, they aren’t talking about Doritos®.”  “I’ll chew that idea over as soon as I can concentrate, which will be sometime after you have finished chewing your Twinkie®.”
3. The Passive-Aggressive Triangulated Strategy is used by about five billion neurotic humans. First, ask everyone else on the floor if the guy annoys them by eating during conversations. Second, as soon as you have one, possibly two, out of the fifty in your department, who agree with you that such a behavior might be irritating occasionally, go to your supervisor and be sure to Blind Carbon Copy -- (That is what “bcc” on the e-mail means; for the meaning of “carbon copy” please inquire with your local museum curator.) -- your Personnel director. Complain that this person is annoying “lots of people” who find it “really gross” that he eats his snacks during “important conferences.”
After the person has been asked by the supervisor to change his habits because people are complaining, doubtless he will come to you and say, “They want me to stop carrying food around, as if I were doing it all the time or I was the only one who ever carried a donut into another cubicle or whatever. People do that all the time. What’s the deal?  Hey, did it ever bother you that I sometimes ate in here? Because you never said anything.” Be sure you deny any involvement. “It never bothered ME.” Remember, bald-faced lies and hypocrisy are essential to the Passive-Aggressive strategy.

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