It probably seems like you're on some comedy TV show. Without warning, your coworker the next cubicle over lets one rip -- a nice, juicy burp. Again. You're appalled at the rudeness. Didn't this person's parents ever teach basic manners? Maybe it's reached the point at which you're so distracted and frustrated that you can't be productive on the job. The best thing you can do to stop the rudeness is to have a polite chat with the offender. It will undoubtedly be awkward, but it's the most professional course of action.
Deal with your own frustration before addressing the situation. Your distaste for the behavior may be making it feel like a bigger deal than it really is and you could end up regretting speaking out of anger or in a judgmental tone. Before you talk to the gassy offender, make sure you're in a calm state of mind. Choose a time when you're more likely to be in a good mood -- like after lunch or after some morning exercise. If necessary, take some deep breaths, stretch and relax.
Be considerate of any potential health problems that could be causing your coworker to belch uncontrollably. Gastroesophageal reflux disease is an uncomfortable problem as it is -- you won't help if you're being insensitive. And if your coworker is expecting, just remember that no one has gas quite like a pregnant woman.
Invite your coworker into a private space to discuss the problem. It's an embarrassing enough conversation by itself -- doing it in front of 20 people will probably make the burper feel mortified.
Lead the conversation with sensitive questions. For example, you could say, "Are you feeling okay? I've noticed you've been belching quite a bit lately and I'm wondering if you might be a little sick." You could add, "Did you know that I can hear it in my cubicle?"
Indicate gently, very gently, why it's a problem. Usually, your best bet is to start your sentences with "I" or keep the focus on yourself -- it's less accusatory. As an example, you could say, "I'm very sensitive to odors and I lose my focus at work whenever I smell a burp." Or you could say, "I'm on the phone a lot, and the extra noise can be distracting while I'm talking to clients."
Offer practical solutions. First, suggest that your coworker go to a doctor if it seems to be a serious medical condition. Maybe he can cover his mouth or step into another room if he feels an uncontrollable urge to belch. If he tends to eat a lot of food that causes heartburn or gas, he could change what he's bringing for lunch.
Thank your coworker for listening, regardless of how he initially reacts. Try to put yourself in his shoes -- you probably wouldn't want to be on the other end of that conversation.
Talk to a manager or to your human resources department if the conversation doesn't help or if tension worsens. Chances are, you're not the only one dealing with your coworker's unprofessional behavior and it should be addressed.
Gina Poirier has a professional background in nonprofit administration and management, primarily with youth development organizations. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international studies from the University of Washington and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Alaska Anchorage.