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updated: 12/9/2012 6:30 AM

Work advice: Loud, but no longer proud

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  • Is your office full of sloppy co-workers?

      Is your office full of sloppy co-workers?
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Editor's note: Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers.

Q: I work in a terrific small "open concept" office -- meaning cubicles. The lady next to my cubicle is often so loud while laughing or talking that I just have to walk away. Others in the office have recognized it. Someone approached the office supervisor, who in turn approached the lady's supervisor, and now the lady appears to have a problem with us. She thinks someone should have come to her, not to her supervisor. I think she is being juvenile. Instead of simply agreeing that she has been too loud and apologizing and moving on, she's decided to simply ignore us! The nerve! Recently, I found her talking about us with another co-worker. Talk does not bother me; what gets me is that she is in the wrong and is handling it unprofessionally. What's your take?

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A: The lady has a problem with some co-workers, but she complains to someone else instead of taking it up directly with them? And you find this approach upsetting? Do tell.

My take is that you work in a "terrific" office full of people who deal with problems by talking to everyone but the source of those problems.

Notice I'm not getting into who's "right" or "wrong." But imagine how jarring it would be to hear from your supervisor that someone (or worse, everyone) is complaining about something you may not even have realized you were doing. Compare that to how you'd feel if a co-worker instead popped in with a good-natured, "Hey, sorry, could you keep it down a bit? These walls are thin as air."

Where you see juvenile behavior, I see an embarrassed woman casting about for friendly support and avoiding the people who complained about her. I'm not saying her response is ideal, but I don't think she needs to swap out her Saks and Ann Taylor for sackcloth and ashes, either.

If the foregoing has helped you find any compassion for your co-worker, maybe you could see a way to meet her nuclear snub with an olive branch. Save the withering judgment for the person who invented "open concept" work spaces.

Q: People in my office often leave rotting food in the fridge and spill coffee grounds without wiping them up. I think I'm the only person who has ever cleaned the microwave. Can anything be done to get people to clean up without making a chore chart?

A: I could suggest any number of solutions -- conveniently placed sponges and wipes, a monthly fridge purge, seeking inspiration at passiveaggressivenotes.com -- but the only thing that will work without making patsies out of the conscientious few is finding the budget to hire a cleaner.

• Karla L. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office.

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