I Just Work Here

Toxic co-workers and the boss double-cross

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Have a smelly co-worker? It could be just plain bad manners -- but it also might be part of a larger health problem. (Peter Beavis, Getty Images / October 21, 2011)

Here's where it gets sneaky!

Moran suggests observing the behavior of the problem person, understanding the circumstances that trigger undesired behavior and the type of response the person has to those situations. In essence, know your enemy.

The better you understand how that person behaves, the more skilled you can be at working around him or her.

"All too often we get hooked into emotional responses, and that continues to perpetuate the problem," Moran said. "You need to rise above it and think, 'What is this person doing that's tweaking me, and what are the situations where this happens?' Then you can problem-solve."

Try various approaches to dealing with the person. Make a game out of besting the toxic person with stealth.

And if that doesn't work, laser guns can't be that far off.

Q: How does one handle a situation where a female employee passes audible gas anywhere in the office, including in other colleague's offices and sometimes even during conversation, and doesn't acknowledge it in any way?

—Colleen, via email

A: Like most 40-year-old men, I have the comedic sophistication of a 12-year-old. And so it was with unparalleled excitement that I finally received a question about passing gas.

Listen, I'm not ashamed to say that I think farts — yeah, I did it, I dropped the f-word — are hilarious. They're the foundation of comedy, dating to Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales," in which a character unleashes a "fart as loud as it had been a thunderclap."

Quite frankly, Colleen, your co-worker has given you one of the all-time great office stories. I think you should let her keep doing what she does so the story can live on. Maybe start a blog about it.

On the practical side, however, you have two choices.

If someone in the office is friends with this woman, they need to take her aside and gently make her aware that her habit is being noticed. It won't be an easy conversation, but it clearly needs to happen, for her sake and the good of the office.

The second, and probably better, option is to take the issue to your boss. Managers are paid more because they occasionally have to deal with people who pass gas uncontrollably.

The boss must handle this situation carefully, as there may well be a legitimate health problem involved. It will take a delicate touch and should be approached from the standpoint of sincere concern for the employee.

In other words, no jokes.

Leave that part to me.

TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at ijustworkhere@tribune.com, like Rex on Facebook at facebook.com/rexworkshere and find more at chicagotribune.com/ijustworkhere.
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