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Once a week we have team meetings that are scheduled during lunch which the company buys (irrelevant to me since I bring my own lunch anyway). I have no problem with the timing, but I find it insanely frustrating when people talk and eat at the same time. Obviously people try not to talk and chew, but unconsciously they do.

We're a small team and we usually have lunch together everyday. On normal days I can space out, don't really have to focus on what people are saying, or if it gets really bad I can just step out and finish lunch later. During company meetings I have no such options.

My manager knows I get irritated when people chew loudly, but I've somewhat downplayed it because I didn't want to seem rude. The meetings however are starting to get to me.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Sep 20 at 2:37
  • The erroneous copyedit restoring the adjective everyday in place of the correct every day should be reverted, but I don't see a way to revert it. See lawlessenglish.com/english-mistakes/everyday-vs-every-day for clarification on standard English usage. I don't understand why StackExchange would prefer the nonstandard version. – CynicallyNaive Sep 24 at 16:54
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Best solution: Talk to your boss

You should politely reiterate to your boss how much this bothers you. "Seeming rude" is often in our own perception.

Hey, Boss, got a second? I love that we have a weekly meeting to hear from each other, and I'm worried I'm not able to engage fully because I can't hear what people are saying when they chew and talk. Not just that, but I'm really sensitive to noise. I know we talked about this in passing, and since then I've come to realize it's really hindering me from participating. Is there anything we can do about it?

You seem to have ruled that out, though. So then, I suggest both the following--but only if done in chronological order.

Next-best ideas

  1. Even if your boss isn't receptive to your suggestions, try talking to a couple of your colleagues--probably the ones you're on best terms with--to get their assessment of the situation. If they agree with you, you have allies to change the culture of this meeting. If they don't, at least they know it bothers you. Assuming good faith, they'll still make a bit more effort not to do it when you're in the conversation.

  2. If the talking and chewing is impeding your ability to understand important information from your colleagues, you should not feel shy about asking them to repeat themselves. Don't do this to the point of being obnoxious! The tone you use to do it matters a lot. A gentle, "I'm sorry, I didn't catch that," once or twice per meeting suffices.

The second point may seem like a passive-aggressive solution. Passive-aggressiveness isn't very good as a default mode; typically it impedes important communication and leads to a guessing game. In this case you've already talked to your boss and to a couple of colleagues, so you're not using this as your Plan A. Moreover, you do have a right to ask about info germane to your job. Encouraging them to change their behavior is a nice spillover benefit, but you need to hear important info even if they never change their behavior.

Again, don't overdo this (e.g. 3 or more times in an hour meeting), or you really will become a villain.

75

While probably not what you want to hear, when one has a unique aversive objection to something that is a widespread social norm within an industry and cannot realistically be argued to be harmful, the best solution may be trying to mitigate the sensitivity, rather than to change other's behavior.

Of course what is considered a norm and what is offensive is contextual to a society. It would, for example, be quite possible to have a society where office workers did not typically use underarm deodorant, and the resulting natural odors were considered, well, natural. Someone in that context objecting to the odor of their co-workers would be counseled that the issue is with their sensitivity, not others behavior. In contrast, in most current office settings, it would be the person not wearing deodorant who would receive some behind closed doors counseling (one could then ask about the case of objection to a co-worker's use of excessive artificial scent... but that is another topic)

You are in a society (and especially in a startup, a subset of it) where eating during informal small group meetings is not in general viewed as improper. In contrast, many startups foster a type of mindset which would view this type of thing as drawing a team together.

That's not to say that all activities which draw a team together are necessarily unobjectionable - if you didn't want to go out drinking as an official company function (because of the alcohol) or playing lasertag (because of the simulated violence) or participate in a holiday party tied to a particular religion, those are kinds of situations where there's a general acknowledgement that what may be positive for some is not positive for all, and accomodation is more likely to be made - and in some cases or places, may be legally required.

Or to take a more extreme example, some teams might feel "drawn together" by the act of sharing off-color jokes. While that may be a long tradition in many industries and subsets of society, there's a growing recognition that it is improper, can be very unwelcoming and exclusionary, thus it is generally not permitted now.

But for the specific issue of talking while eating, it may be deeply objectionable to you, but you are going to have a hard time making an argument for harm, at least as the listener. Any accommodation offered is going to be purely at the discretion of others - hence varying by situation and likely to be often forgotten. If planning to continue in an industry segment where this is common, the only truly universal, lasting, and reliable solution is going to be working to overcome the aversion itself.

To be clear, "working to overcome the aversion" is not the same thing as pretending that the issue does not exist. The process of coping with averse feelings can be a complex one, and while it may be something that some can accomplish purely by exercise of will on their own, for others it may be a path best pursued with assistance. This will be different for each person.

  • 63
    TL;DR Your colleagues' eating behaviour may be subjectively disgusting, but it's your problem not theirs. You can't escape the meetings, so stop whining and learn to live with it. (I don't agree, btw; this is just my summary of the answer) – Justin Sep 17 at 16:02
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    To add to this, One could also simply...ask to manager if they could schedule meetings not at lunch and bring up a reasonable reason such as, ‘i want an actual break’ ...but if the company is buying lunch...and if this is anything like my job...when the boss buys lunch the lunch break all of a sudden doubles or triples in length...at this point well. The OP should just get used to it. – morbo Sep 17 at 16:29
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    @CynicallyNaive - your claim that this behavior is "out of line" is a misunderstanding of the situation at the asker's company. Eating during the meeting is officially encouraged behavior. When management schedules a meeting during lunch and provides food at the same it, it is the specific intention that people will eat it. Otherwise they would sequence the activities, possibly having a brief meeting before taking covers off of the catering trays or otherwise inviting employees to begin partaking of the food. – Chris Stratton Sep 17 at 19:00
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    Why do you say in the first paragraph that this is a "unique" adversion? – Peter Taylor Sep 18 at 11:20
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    @PeterTaylor probably just means "unique within the team" – Erik Sep 18 at 11:50
14

Lunch meetings work best when most people are just eating while one person (at a time) is presenting something that doesn't need 100% attention. If everyone is eating, you'd expect long periods where no one is talking.

The problem here could be that the boss is picking subjects where everyone needs to jump into the conversation, even when they have a mouthful of food. In other words, he's inadvertently set up a situation that pressurises people to be impolite.

Maybe you could request that you hold your regular update over lunch, and save the more controversial subjects until everyone has finished?

2

It sounds like you have Misophonia.

If you aren't aware already, Misophonia is a proper psychiatric condition, altough it's not widely known. Because of this, most people don't actually understand you and how you feel when you are exposed to trigger sounds.

I suffer from Misophonia, too. I know that trigger sound aren't just something mildy irritating that you can just decide to tolerate. So, you somehow have to communicate this to your boss.

I, personally, would try to explain it objectively, saying that your brain is "misconditioned" to feel extreme anger at certain trigger sounds, e.g. chewing noises. It is not something you have any control about and it is negatively impacting your mental health. Bearing with trigger noises can be extremely emotionally draining.

Apart from this, I would suggest you to look into coping mechanisms. You can look up Progressive Muscle Relaxation for example. There also are a lot of support communities online that can probably help you.

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    Did you know that the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Wikipedia article you linked says "Misophonia is not classified as an auditory or psychiatric condition"? – CodeSeeker Sep 18 at 21:18
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    I think most people in the western world (and perhaps most of the others) are irritated by chewing noises. – Peter Mortensen Sep 19 at 11:15
1

You didn't mention how your manager schedules these meetings. I have had similar issues. We rely on Outlook for scheduling. I have found for my own sanity that blocking off the time on my calendar for the lunch period, hours before work, and hours after work when I am generally not available has helped keep people from scheduling inconvenient meetings.

  • Yes, definitely. But it is sad that an online medium has this much power over, say, direct conversations between (mature) adults. – Peter Mortensen Sep 19 at 11:09
0

Just say sorry and then repeat the information you understood 100% and then wait for them to repeat the rest. Repeat until you get it all. No big discussion about why you didn't undestand it, maybe a jokingly "thanks, much easier to understand when you don't chew a pizza at the same time". If you know some funny way how you teach children not to talk with their mouth full, maybe add this from time to time. Or you can say it is important to train this now so they won't do it in a lunch meeting with a customer. Try to be, or at least appear, helpful and not a drama queen and nobody will have a problem with it and best case the situation improves over time.

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    This kind of passive aggressive behavior rarely gets anything accomplished and will most likely just make OP appear like an ass. – Demonblack Sep 18 at 11:53
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    nah, that's not passive aggressiv!! the persons who are causing the problem are informed about the problem so they can fix it. especially when you repeat the part you understood they will see how much information is lost and that they need to change something. i've heard people deal with similar problems in phone conferences and this is the least intrusive and most effective approach i've seen so far. adding some jokes from time to time makes you look less like a grumpy old person. :p – Eduardo Sep 18 at 21:03
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    @Eduardo No, they're not informed about the problem. You're lying to them about what the problem is, telling them you're having trouble hearing them when in fact you aren't. If the person decides to speak more loudly and clearly with their mouth full, such that there's no question of what they're saying, does that solve the issue? Or would you suggest that the OP lie even more elaborately? – Sneftel Sep 19 at 9:16
  • Why lying? For me it would solve the problem, as it is about understanding what the person says. Don't know if that is the OP's problem, too, but I understood it as the same? @rigs – Eduardo Sep 19 at 22:29
  • @Eduardo OP is reasonably clear about his opinions, and doesn't mention his ability to understand them at any point. I think you need to read the question again more carefully. – Reinstate Monica --Brondahl-- Sep 20 at 9:51
0

Speak to your doctor about it.

It's possible that this sensitivity to the sound of people eating is the result of a disability like misophonia or the sensory aspects of autism spectrum disorder. If you can get a written diagnosis for either condition (or some other condition that might also cause it), then you can give it to HR and ask them about getting you some reasonable accommodations as is legally required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (or the local equivalent thereof, if you're living in a different country). Hopefully, HR will be able to reach an accommodation with your boss that everyone's willing to accept, like having the free company lunches after the meetings.

  • That's a can of worms. – reinierpost Sep 19 at 8:58
  • Isn't HR only for protecting the company from the employees? Why would they help? – Peter Mortensen Sep 19 at 11:12
  • @PeterMortensen Because by violating the ADA, the boss is putting the company at risk, and there’s probably company procedures about how ADA accomodation requests are supposed to be handled that would require them to be involved. – nick012000 Sep 19 at 11:53

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