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20-40-60 Etiquette---Blown away?

by Helen Ford Wallace Published: September 17, 2012


By Callie Gordon, Lillie-Beth Brinkman, Helen Ford Wallace

QUESTION: I have a colleague — my boss, actually — who frequently practices bad hygiene. Instead of politely blowing his nose, he actually snorts very loudly. This is a habit of his that occurs multiple times a day, and it affects everyone in his vicinity, because we can all hear it. The sound is revolting to everyone, but we do not know how to confront this. Any suggestions?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: That is tough. Ask him if he is getting sick and offer him some medicine or tissue.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: I don’t know a good way to tell someone they have bad hygiene habits, especially your boss.

There are all kinds of tips in the etiquette world for how you should properly blow your nose — be quiet if possible, don’t do it at the table, do it in private, wash your hands after you handle the tissue, etc. Also, online there are all kinds of people TYPING IN ALL CAPS (the Internet equivalent of shouting) about people who involve the whole office in their nose-honking because they are so loud. But there isn’t as much about how to confront someone nicely about a problem.

Maybe you could drop a hint by asking your boss if he’s sick, telling him out of concern that his sneezing was so loud that everyone was worried that he might be. The other option is to tell him directly, but privately, away from office ears, even though that isn’t easy. It is not OK to spread cold and flu germs around the office, but there might be an underlying health issue involved that he can’t control.

HELEN’S ANSWER: Yuk! Consideration for others is key to getting along in the work environment, so even with that in mind, I still don’t think that I could confront the man. If there are higher-up supervisors, talk with them about the problem. Otherwise — definitely a cop-out — politely leave this column on his desk.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Christina Nihira, local community volunteer and newspaper writer: Telling someone that they have a poor personal habit presents a difficult workplace situation. It is obviously becomes more complicated given that the person involved is your supervisor. Yet, that should not deter you from being informative and assertive.

Ask to speak to the boss and meet in a spot that provides privacy. Be direct, empathic and most importantly, relaxed. You need to deliver the message that you feel concerned that this issue is having an impact on his ability to interact with co-workers. The offensive behavior may not resolve immediately, but if the person really cares about the department’s cohesiveness and productivity, he will take strides to improve the work environment.

To ask an etiquette question, email 

by Helen Ford Wallace
Society Editor
Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for...
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