Q&A With Jane: My coworker eats with mouth open. I’m going to lose my mind!

It could be unbearably disturbing when a coworker eats with mouth open. And it’s easier to deal with a loud chewer when you know them quite well. What if you don’t? Here’s what to do if your coworker chews loudly.

Hello Jane,

My coworker eats with mouth open and that makes a loud smacking sound, which I find uneasy to contain. Ordinarily, I feel like isolating myself in a soundproof cave each time I hear people eating, let alone when I need to concentrate at work - it's more like a personal hell. Sounds like gnawing on a sandwich and crunching chips make me want to scream.

Before now, my office layout had supported cubicles but a new management introduced a more open layout to promote intermingling and to create additional space for more hires into my department. The coworker smacks her food at her desk, which is adjacent to mine and I honestly cannot deal with a loud chewer for any reason. I and some unknown number of persons suffer from misophonia - a condition in which specific sounds trigger negative thoughts, emotions, and physical reactions.

Please, how am I supposed to deal with a loud chewer at work? My parents understand this condition and allow me to eat alone in my room.


It is particularly irritating when a coworker eats with mouth open. But as for the extra distress you are going through when your coworker smacks her food, I can only fail to imagine that considering your health clause. However, how you deal with a loud chewer is determined by your level of relationship with the loud eating coworker and as well as how other of your colleagues perceive the condition: if it’s equally disturbing them or not.

Your first approach when a coworker eats with mouth open is to confront her politely. NB: if it’s an issue she can easily fix, then the effort is worthwhile, otherwise it would be rude to confront her. While confronting her, consider presenting yourself at fault for not being able to deal with a loud chewer. You have already spelled the health condition making that impossible; maintaining it will give you an edge. Don’t imply that she is to be blamed. Listen to her response and thank her for being receptive.

If the loud eating coworker seems offended or implies that she can’t do anything to help you focus better at work, be sure to apologize and withdraw your request.

If the challenge persists, you can respond each time the coworker eats with mouth open to distract you by putting on a quality noise-canceling headphone, though this can only be an option if your office permits headsets.

With the first two options not viable, it’s time to privately inform your office HR or management that a coworker eats with mouth open to distract you from work. Don’t hesitate to disclose how others feel when the coworker chews loudly. Your leaders would have to look into how the coworker smacks her food to disturb others. It should lead to a new eating culture that will promote general productivity.

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