Office Coach: Don't start a cold war over a sneeze

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Q I share an office with "Megan," who always says "bless you" when I sneeze. I think this is a silly habit, so when she sneezes, I say nothing. Recently, Megan scolded me for being rude when I failed to bless one of her sneezes. What's the best way to handle this?

Answer: Blessing sneezes is like saying "excuse me" when you bump into someone. Despite having no basis in logic, it has become an expected social custom. So the real question is not whether these blessings have a valid purpose, but whether the relationship with your office-mate matters to you.

Megan obviously believes that blessing a sneeze signifies caring and respect, so her feelings are slightly hurt every time you fail to do so. Currently, the two of you are playing a ridiculous game in which Megan sneezes, then quietly waits to see if you will respond. Meanwhile, you sit in stony silence just to make your point. Does this not seem rather juvenile?

So here's your choice. If the relationship is important, then saying "bless you" is simply a minor courtesy which will cost you nothing. On the other hand, if you choose to stand your ground, at least help Megan understand your motivation.

For example: "Megan, even though I know it seems rude to you, I have always felt that saying 'bless you' after a sneeze is a meaningless gesture. For that reason, I never say it to anyone, so I want you to know that I am not being disrespectful. It's just something that I don't do."

If this explanation seems a bit awkward and contrived, perhaps it's because staunchly refusing to bless a sneeze is actually just as silly as doing so.

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Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Send in questions and get free coaching tips at http://www.yourofficecoach.com


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