How to (politely) tell your coworker to stop chewing gum loudly

Offices are plagued with annoyingly noisy coworkers who chew gum too loudly, use their outdoor voice for indoor conversations, and keep you distracted from getting your actual work done. It’s an epidemic that strikes nearly all of us — one study found that the lack of sound privacy was the biggest frustration for employees in open cubicles.

Even though these noises drive us crazy, we may choose to suffer in silence, because we know it can be socially inappropriate to start an office war over gum chewing. But there’s another way.

Alison Green’s new Ask a Manager podcast wants you to stop suffering in silence and address these noises distractions with grace and equanimity. Here’s how you can walk the fine line between telling your coworkers off and politely asking for them to lower their voice:

Make the request light and casual

When Green role plays an employee asking her coworker to lower their voice, she keeps her voice breezy. She even adds in a laugh to make her tone slightly self-deprecating when she says, “I know this is weird. The sound of gum being chewed is like nails on a blackboard to me. Is there any chance I can ask you to try to chew it more quietly?”

Green says that the laughingly casual tone shows that you are not taking the behavior too seriously, because gum chewing does not merit a serious tone. “It signals that you haven’t lost perspective.  

For some of us, being annoyed by gum-chewing is a part of our neuroses. Medically, it’s called misophonia, a selective sound sensitivity syndrome that triggers a fight-or-flight response to certain noises. For those who have it, the sound of gum-chewing fills them with rage. Even the sound of a banana being eaten can make them see red. Unfortunately, offices are filled with triggers like this.

If you are dealing with misophonia, you can use Green’s tips to keep yourself cool in your request even as your body is telling you to act out.