Ask any office worker about the hardest part of working in an office cubicle and they’ll say, “the people in the other cubes.” Good fences may make good neighbors, but all the walls in the world won’t help if your coworker in the cubicle next door won’t respect the boundaries. (And the lack of ceilings. Seriously, people who work in cubes: We can hear you over there.)
Here are a few of the most common cubicle conflicts, and ways to deal with them effectively, efficiently, and legally. You’ll be back to processing though spreadsheets in no time. Sorry about that.
1. My Cubicle Neighbor Talks All Day
This is one of the most popular complaints about the person in the cube next door. Most folks who work in cubicles complain about a chatty coworker sooner or later. Talkative colleagues come in a few different varieties. Sometimes they talk to themselves, like that person we sat next to years ago who kept a running monologue about her computer’s deficiencies. Sometimes they talk to a friend, seemingly unaware of the fact that their recap of last night’s reality TV marathon is taking place right next to your head. And sometimes, they talk to you. This is the worst scenario of all, for reasons that are probably obvious to everyone.
Solution: Headphones, headphones, headphones. If your neighbor talks to himself, you won’t know about it. If he talks to a friend, you won’t notice it. And if he talks to you, you can gesture at your headphones apologetically, shrug, and get on with your day.
2. My Cubicle Neighbor Eats Gross Food
Nothing on earth smells more disgusting than someone else’s lunch. It doesn’t matter if you love Pad Thai or hard-boiled eggs or split pea soup; as soon as someone else starts eating it when you’re not having the exact same thing for lunch yourself, it becomes the grossest, most malodorous thing in the world.
Solution: This is where you might want to consider breaking your playground pledge and ratting the other person out to a management type — discretely. Rather than name names, you might consider asking the boss to alter or make explicit rules about eating at your desk. You’re doing your neighbor a favor, anyway. How many studies have we read about how bad it is for you to eat at your desk?
3. My Cubicle Neighbor Smells Like a Sephora
Why, oh why, do people feel the need to apply smelly lotions and perfumes while sitting at their desks? It’s bad enough you have to deal with the piles of scented everything folks put on before they came into work. If you have allergies, and statistically, at this point, you probably do, you know how horrible it is to have to put up with this.
Solution: There are many mature ways to handle this. You could go to HR, or your boss, as in the case above. You could ask the person nicely to stop putting on scented cosmetics. Or you could do what a friend of ours did years ago and wait until everyone goes home and throw the lotion away. Just be aware that the last cure requires commitment: our friend who went this route stayed at work an hour later than everyone else for a whole week, just so that she could keep tossing out the offending lotion. After a while, the person with the Bath & Body Works rewards card got the hint.
4. My Cubicle Neighbor Has Terrible Taste in Music
Actually, it doesn’t matter whether their taste in music is bad or good: Sitting next to someone who plays music all day, and refuses to wear headphones, is a nightmare.
Solution: There are a couple ways this could go. You could offer to let your neighbor borrow your headphones. You could use your headphones yourself. Or you could start playing your own music, and see how they like listening to the soundtrack from “Annie” on continuous loop.
5. My Cubicle Neighbor Is Lazy
There’s nothing more frustrating than being on a deadline while someone else is goofing off. In our years of working in offices, we’ve seen: 1) a person who watched Hulu all day long in the upper right-hand corner of their monitor, 2) a coworker who knitted an entire sweater during the last frantic week before a deadline, at her desk, and 3) a colleague who sat by herself and read whole novels … during a corporate seminar.
Solution: Ignore, ignore, ignore. Speaking of knitting, as we were up above, this is a great time to mind your own knitting, or, if you prefer, keep your eyes on your own page. It’s tough to do, but you really have to concentrate on what you’re doing, not what other people are failing to do.
Of course, if you’re waiting for them to come through with part of a project right before the whole thing is due, you might have to resort to passive-aggression. In which case, can we recommend this one place that makes really stinky lunches, or this pungent hand cream?