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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Tell Your Co-worker to Clean Up Their Gross, Messy Desk

man looking frustrated courtesy Hero Images/Getty Images

Truth time: You have enough to deal with at home with your roommate’s mess. No really, no matter how many times you ask him to please take out the garbage when it’s full, you still haven’t gotten through to him. So you don’t really have the patience to clean up after your co-worker, too.

And while you know everyone’s entitled to their own clutter on their own desks, it really doesn’t feel fair to be seated next to someone who lets dirty lunch plates pile up for days on end.

Seriously, a week might go by before she thinks to clear the area. Not only is the crusted-over oatmeal starting to look like it’s part of the bowl’s design, but the smell of old food’s starting to make you ill.

How to Put an End to This...if You Hate Confrontation

If saying something point-blank about the seemingly obvious problem makes you nervous, try hinting. The next time you finish eating at your desk, stand up with your plate and ask your co-worker if you can take anything to the kitchen since you’re going there, anyway.

At this point, you’re hoping for a sheepish expression (and fast feet) as she notices the disgusting situation you’re slyly referring to and takes control. If she doesn’t get it and instead hands off a few dishes, take them away and return saying, “It looks like there’s a glassware shortage—good thing we’re making those available again!”

How to Put an End to This...if Subtle Hints Don’t Work

If she still doesn’t get it, then you’ll have to be brave and bring out the big guns. Try this the next time her desk begins to resemble a dirty sink, “I hate to be that person, but because we work in such tight quarters, I was wondering if you’d mind not letting so many plates pile up?”

Hard for her to say no to that, right?

Learning to do your actual job is important, but so is learning how to navigate awkward workplace issues. So if you spoke up, go ahead and pat yourself on the back for managing this one like a professional.

Then let me know about any other frustrating office issues you’re dealing with on Twitter—I might just write about how to solve it!