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I have to sit beside my loud-chewing boss at lunch. How do I get him to stop? Add to ...

The question

In my office, I sit less than a metre from my boss, and there’s no partition between us. It is common practice to eat at our desks, and he does every day, at varying times. The problem is the way he eats: mouth open, sloshes his food around, takes calls while eating and chews loudly. I can actually see the morsels of food in his mouth. Using earplugs or wearing headphones is out of the question as it’s not encouraged in our workplace. I can’t take my lunch when he takes his, because he eats at different times every day. If I broached the subject, no matter how diplomatically, he would take offence, and since he is my boss I fear this will negatively affect my position in the company. I can’t leave an anonymous note: Since I’m the only one who sees (and hears) him eating, he’d know it was me. Please help!

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The answer

Sigh. Yet another sign of the decline of civility and good manners in 21st century life.

Me, I think meals should be consumed around a table, accompanied by a stimulating discussion and, ideally, washed down with the finest wines available.

But now, in the name of “multitasking” (the appearance of busy-ness being the modern equivalent of actual productivity), people are noshing everywhere: in classrooms, on public transit, in meetings.

Popping open their clam shells, tucking into curries, sliding 12-inch subs out of bags … Not always dining with such delicacy, either. Isn’t “chew with your mouth closed” supposed to be one of the first things you learn in life?

My other big pet peeve: when someone “multitasks” by eating lunch, or bag of chips, or apple – or, worst: pork rinds – while talking on the phone to you.

Mmm … pork rinds. Excuse me one moment. (Columnist hops on motorcycle to nearby Mexican specialty store, returns with giant bag of pork rinds.) Where was I? (Munch, scrunch.) Oh, yeah, your boss’s disgusting manners. Here’s an idea (scrunch, munch): Tell him you have misophonia.

Misophoniacs are prompted to irrational rage or fear when they hear certain sounds: typing, gum chewing, footfalls, humming, even dogs licking their paws or the sound of a consonant, like the letter “P.”

You could adopt a pity-me look and tell your boss about your terrible affliction. Explain the disease, how it’s been difficult living with misophonia, it’s not just you who suffers, it’s the people around you, etc.

I know it’d take stones, and Juilliard-level acting chops, to keep a straight face. But I like the it’s-not-you-it’s-me quality of going this route. You get your message across without implying he’s being offensive.

If you can pull it off. A big “if,” I know. I understand if you’re reluctant. Otherwise, I’d say you have four options:

Endure/ignore. I don’t know about your boss, but most people finish lunch within a 10-15-minute time frame, which isn’t really a huge chunk of your day. So while your boss is eating his lunch, silently align your chakras, focus your qi, and say to yourself: “This too shall pass.”

Avoid. You say you can’t take your lunch break at the same time he does – but surely you can hit the washroom, go for a walk, or otherwise take a little “me time,” as soon as you see him whip out his brown bag or return from wherever with his steaming Styrofoam clam shell.

Crack wise. Just keep dropping “jokes” – e.g. “Would you like a hat and mitt with the way you’re ‘scarfing’ your lunch?” (I don’t know, maybe a little obscure: That’s just a placeholder, make up your own joke). He should get the hint, eventually.

Gently broach. There’s probably a delicate way to bring up his lunch habits without causing offence. My wife is the master of this: She will say or imply terrible, blunt truths (“Dave, you’re fat”) somehow without causing offence. She often frames it in terms of a person’s health (“Dave, I want you to live a long, healthy life, therefore please go to the gym more,”).

You could try that. All conversational: “I read recently it’s better for digestion to chew carefully and slowly.” Whatever you choose to say, you’re doing him a favour. If his lunch-consumption habits are causing you to throw up in your mouth a little, you’re probably not the only one.

You’ll not only help him improve his business and personal relations but also nudge him closer to being a member of what used to be called “polite society.” Let that thought give you the courage to open your mouth and say something when he leaves his open eating lunch.

What am I supposed to do now?

Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com. Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

 

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