So a co-worker’s habits gross you out. Here’s what to consider before confronting her

Question:

My co-worker and I both head to the Alaska Club after work. Since both of us use the elliptical and stair climber and like to work out in the Woman’s Club, I often wind up getting on equipment she uses first.

We’re supposed to wipe down the equipment after we use it. She never does, and thus if the machine she leaves is the only one available when I want to use it, I have to wipe it down before I get on. Last week when she and I were getting off side-by-side machines at the same time, I handed her the sanitized towel I’d just used to wipe off my machine. She said, “Don’t need it yet, I’ll be back in a minute.” She clearly didn’t mean this, as she packed up her water bottle, towel and magazine and went to the weight area, without returning to the stair machine.

I’ve tried not to let this bother me but it does for two reasons. First, she lied to my face. Second, we work in a small office and are supposed to wash our dishes. Yesterday, I picked up a coffee cup from the “clean” dishes left in the drainer and saw part of a tea bag still in the bottom of it. She’s the only one who drinks tea, had just left for the evening and I suspect only “pretends” to wash out her cups, not worrying that the rest of us get her germs.

I’m totally grossed out.

Answer:

It’s close to impossible to get those who don’t have consideration for the person who comes after them onto gym equipment to clean up after themselves. As you’ve discovered, you can’t shame someone into compliance.

The cup situation presents a health problem to you and others at work. How you handle this depends on your relationship with your co-worker and your and her conflict resolution skills. Start by remembering you have suspicions, not proof, and that few individuals change behavior when confronted in a judgmental manner. While it’s generally best to talk first with the individual with whom you have a problem, since this issue crosses over into office health and you’re personally riled, you might want to ask your manager or human resources officer for guidance.

If you decide to confront your co-worker directly, pick an effective conversation starter, such as, “Can we talk about what happened at the gym last week?” Your co-worker, who has either forgotten the incident or won’t want to acknowledge it, may respond, “Huh?” This gives you the opportunity to say, “I handed you a towel to wipe down the StairMaster and you said you’d ‘be right back.'”

If your co-worker says, “I don’t get your point,” you might be able to broach the subject of wanting to make sure gym equipment gets wiped down and add that you’d found a tea label in a cup yesterday. If, as you suspect, your co-worker only fast-rinses her cups, she may start to wash them. Or, if you’ve made an unfair leap from her gym to her office behavior, she may feel accused by you and you’ll have created a problem.

Alternatively, your co-worker may ask, “What are you, the gym police?” at which point you can respond, “So, you felt I was being snarky.” If you only get a look in response to this, you’ll need to let the conversation go. Your co-worker doesn’t want to talk with you about this, and you won’t be able to get into the cups situation on your own. Also, while you felt your co-worker lied to you, she probably feels justified in saying whatever comes into her mind when someone tries to “police” her.

If you don’t want this drama, ask your manager or HR person to handle the situation by outlining dish washing expectations at the next staff meeting and by adding that problems have surfaced that she’ll individually address.

Finally, treat this situation as an intersection. We know that some individuals speed up when they see a yellow light, so we accelerate slowly and cautiously when a stoplight first turns green because even though red-light runners are wrong, we realize they have lower standards and we act to protect ourselves.

©Dr. Lynne Curry is author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” and “Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at http://www.bullywhisperer.com.

One Comment on “So a co-worker’s habits gross you out. Here’s what to consider before confronting her

  1. Can you report her to the staff at the Alaska Club? That’s a simple, no-hands way to manage that one. Let them know discretely that she never wipes down the machines and they can remind her or not (I have no idea if this is kosher or even reasonable in a gym or not).
    For the kitchen, just leave the messy cup in the sink for all to see, especially if it has a tea bag in it. She’ll either get the drift, or she’ll start cleaning better. And you might be assuming – did you possibly have a client come in who used a teabag and the person in charge of cleaning up after their client didn’t do a good job.
    Confrontation of these kinds of folks is almost never productive because there’s always a “reason” they didn’t clean up after themselves.

    Like

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