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The question

I have a loud gum smacker next to my cubicle who chews daily and it's revolting! (This doesn't apply to me, but I understand there is a real condition called misophonia that makes some noises unbearable for people). Another guy used to eat bananas in the most slurpy sounding way and it would drive me nuts. My solution is to put on headphones because I don't want to say anything and make them uncomfortable, but … should I say something?

The answer

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Over the years, I have received quite a few questions about loud chewers in the workplace.

We're all in such close proximity to one another at work these days, with open-concept offices and so forth, we have to be extra mindful of one another's personal space.

I mostly work from home, but last time I was in an office – well, let me back up a bit and set it up.

Though of Scandinavian descent, I, David Eddie, do not enjoy the bland and boring fare of my people.

There is one particularly horrifying dish my ancestors invented called "lutefisk": fish soaked in lye until it becomes the proper consistency, a curious combination of brick-like and gelatinous. It can only be eaten after being salted so the fishy juices are released – ah, I can`t even talk about it. Honestly, this item makes a better doorstop than foodstuff.

My people were great explorers, hardy seafaring folk and so on. But culinarily, I look to the East: I like curry! I was surprised in my last office job when one of my co-workers said: "Dave, the smell of your food is actually killing me."

It quickly became clear that by "me," she meant "all of us," as in: "We've all been talking about you and your ultra-aromatic lunches and we've agreed we find it quite distracting to our jobs."

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I was so mortified I wanted to tie a giant ball of lutefisk to my leg and jump into the nearest body of water.

My point (and I do have one): If someone can freely make a crack about how my food smells, I think you are within your rights to remove your headphones and say something about your co-worker's loud chewing.

Just bear in mind it might be a bit embarrassing/mortifying for that person to hear, and that person might not have a clue he/she is bothering anyone.

So tact and discretion are, as always, required. But you can be blunt, too. Something like: "Begging your pardon, and I don't mean to be rude, but when you chew your gum it's a bit loud and kind of distracts me from my work."

Obviously, that could lead to a "moment." But I do feel you're within your rights to enjoy your workspace without the encroachment of noise.

Noise is a tricky problem. But the longer I live, the more I think it's a right not to have to deal with the noises of others.

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It's not a question of "misophonia," which some have dubbed "sound rage." Which, by the way, is not officially recognized in the medical community. But it's interesting: what limited studies there have been suggest the majority of sounds that drive people crazy have to do with the mouth: chewing, slurping and so on.

I live next to a park. When people engage in drum circles, or play (almost always bad) amplified music, more and more I have the same thought: "What gives you the right?"

Chewing is obviously a bit different, because, as I said, the person in question probably has no clue.

But take into account that in a roundabout sense you're doing the person a favour. It was a little tough for me to hear my lunch smells were bothering my co-workers, but, all in all, I would rather know. Maybe I was zinged in the moment, but, ultimately, I thank them.

Which is another way of saying I'd rather hear these things to my face than behind my back. In general, I'd rather know the noises or smells I emit are bothering people around me than not know. And your co-worker might feel the same way.

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