At the moment I am working with one other person in an office. I have no complaints about him, but he eats continually and quite loudly.

The problem is he mostly eats bags of snacks and nibbles so it seems to has to eat them continually in order for it to be enough food (rather than just eating a sandwich and being done with it).

He also does this loudly so he is just permanently chewing and crunching and rustling packets of knick-knacks and smacking his lips, it's slightly distracting.

Most of the time I wear headphones but don't want to wear them all day: what would be the least awkward way to raise this and ask them to maybe try and make less noise?

  • 2
    Hi Tom! How have you considered asking this (and why would that be too awkward)? Is wearing headphones and avoiding saying anything about this at all, all you've done? Have you've given off any non-verbal signs (sighs, looks?) already? Right now you're basically asking us to brainstorm your solution for you, could you instead make it clearer which parts of this you're struggling with that make this awkward? That way answers can avoid suggesting things you've already discarded as an option or already tried, and focus on interpersonal skills instead of e.g. phrasing.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Nov 16, 2020 at 6:55
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    Hi, Tom. What is the specific problem for you? Is it the noise - so if he were tapping his pencil and playing with his keys it would be the same? Is it the smell of the food? Is it something about eating that bothers you? For noise there are numerous questions on The Workplace including workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/4206/…
    – Damila
    Nov 19, 2020 at 4:52

2 Answers 2


I have been on the other side of the story. I sometimes used to eat a snack at my desk (not constantly the whole day though). I didn't realize it was annoying.

Personally, I would prefer that you approach me about it calmly without making it a big deal or embarrassing me. You can ask him to eat quietly using a slack message (while he is eating) or while randomly chit-chatting in the cafeteria. Just make sure no one else sees it.

For me, I started eating very quietly after that. But apparently, it was not good enough. I got other such messages. After that, I just stopped eating at my desk completely. No hard feelings for anyone though.


To me there is many different plausible scenarios, that person may or may not be aware of the caused disturbance, that person may or may not agree to compromise and to make life easier for you. Finally, you may or may not be on the right side of management policies, that can lean on your side or your colleague side based on what's acceptable behavior on the workplace.

This is a lot of ifs that aren't covered by your question, so I'll answer generically but with the known limitation it may not cover your exact situation very well.

When a non-critical conflict happens in the workplace, and without knowing how cooperative my peer will be I tend to favor having a face to face meeting with that person before trying to escalate the matter. In several instances, I was taught escalating problems is fine when things are out of hand but if you happen to escalate too much problems or problems you could solve yourself you could also gain a mistrusting image toward your peers, by showing you prefer to "snitch" to the management than address the conflict yourself.

So, without knowing what is the exact policy of your workplace, I'll suppose you are asking for a favor here, and that your colleague has all latitude to ignore your requests.

When practicing NVC we are taught that one of the essential key for the other person to empathically connect with us, one of the key component in obtaining a favor, is that person understands our needs. So I would start right there, before even asking anything:

I need to concentrate

Then, without making any judgement, try to assess how the situation make you unsatisfied.

but when I don't wear headphones, noises from snacks disturb me.

You end up with making a positive action request. Usually, following the principle of persuasion (extracted from Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence), it's better to start by requesting something small.

Could you explain me why you eat snacks so often?

The script can be tweaked somewhat but the key philosophy of NVC is that both interlocutors exchange needs and connect empathically: so now you've explained your need, you invite them to share theirs.

Hopefully, you can then proceed to work out together a solution. It could be no-eat hours, changing type of food, putting the snacks in a bowl first and whatnot, it somewhat depends of what kind of things are relevant to that person and how defensive they behave.

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