I Hear the Sound of Fingernails Clipping

Last issue we asked Blue Avocado readers how they would react to hearing the activity of a co-worker in the next cubicle clipping his fingernails. Ack! Some readers provided
humorous ideas and others gave practical advice, perhaps because of personal
experience? Here are just a few of the letters:

Those of us who have lived in cube environments for years have found the best way is to ignore them with music and headphones. And a few of us can just turn off our hearing aids, which we need as a result of using loud music to drown out the fingernail clipping noise. -- Dave Cannard, Portland, Oregon

I actually witnessed my supervisor clip her toenails into a trash can about two feet from me. What did I do about it? A week later she applied deodorant and I quit. -- Louise

Clearly your co-worker doesn't have enough to do. Since there is rarely a shortage of work in most nonprofits, maybe you should tell him that you're happy to share items on your to-do list. -- Michelle Johnson, Davis, California

Leave an anonmymous bottle of flaming red nail polish and an emery board on "The Clipper's" desk with a note: 'Here's a little something extra to put on your freshly clipped nails." -- Alan E. Yue, Life Foundation, Honolulu

I was the person clipping! For years I thought that talking on the phone at work was the perfect time to clip my fingernails. But one day I overheard two people complaining about someone ELSE who did it. I was stunned to realize this was considered too uncool for words, and embarrassed that no one had ever told me. In retrospect, I wonder if my two co-workers staged thatA conversation for me to overhear. So remember: some of us are just ignorant or from a different culture, and we would appreciate a gentle soul clue-ing us in. -- Jan Masaoka, Blue Avocado, San Francisco

Lean over the top of the cubicle and ask: 'Would you like to be alone, this seems like an intimate moment for you? Or go to the doorway with your trash bin and at the next clip yell, 'Two points!" BUT, since my boss has been known for the same bad behavior, I'll remain anonymous! -- "Rad-Raw"

Comments (9)

  • We don't have a rulebook on these types of things, but it seems to me that our discretionary judgment has lost its way. My response would be to politely say, "Excuse me, perhaps you didn't notice that you're in a public (or in the case of the office cubicle, a shared environment) and this type of public grooming is distasteful to me and others around you to have to experience. Hopefully that will be enough to evoke a behavior change in the future.  - Lee

    Aug 13, 2008
  • Seriously: Ideally, just use this perfect moment to get up and take a break somewhere away from the area, knowing that you are keeping peace and using the moment for your own health and advantage. Or, politely ask the person not to do this at his desk as the noise is distracting your concentration. If you are nice and tactful in how you approach this, and you get less than a nice response back, go to management and lodge your complaint and let them decide what to do. One way to approach the situation nicely, is to address the behavior and not the person. A phrase such as 'When I hear the sound of the clipper, it distracts me from my work and I cannot concentrate. Is there some way we can work out and agree to where and when we will attend to our personal hygene?," might do the trick. Before having this conversation with The Clipper, you might casually inquire with other workers in the area if they are noticing the behavior and are being distracted as well. If there are others who are disturbed by this behavior, then perhaps approaching The Clipper as a "team" might also help your cause.

    Aug 13, 2008
  • If you can hear him clipping his toenails, do the following:

    1. Buy a REALLY BIG slurpee from 7-11 and slurp away.

    2. Put on headphones and blast your NPR  :) 

    Aug 13, 2008
  • I would buy a massive garden clipper and pretend to clip my nails with it
    whenever he/she begins to clip his nails in that annoying manner.

    Aug 13, 2008
  • I have never had this happen until today and I just read this yesterday. Fortunately, I have a door that I can close. Which I did. I'm not sure what I'd do if I weren't able to get away from the sound. I do think it's an uncomfortable position to be in, but I suppose that's what life is about - learning to work with each other, live with each other, and it gives us an opportunity to be open and compassionate while still being clear about our own boundaries and needs and to be able to communicate that in a way that is not aggressive, nor passive-aggressive, nor defensive. I was interested to see the comment by Jan about different cultural norms. Diversity is a critical aspect of work environments and it's interesting to see how it can impact on our ability to work together in harmony in even such small ways.

    Aug 20, 2008
  • I can't believe this has caused such a furor. Three words: Get over it.

    Sep 09, 2009
  • Anonymous

    this is hypocritical bullshit- the same people complaining about people clipping nails at their desk are the same people who brush/comb their hair at their desk. OMG WTF WILL I DO IF ONE OF YOUR DISGUSTING HAIRS GET ON ME??!!!- guess what- hair, nails, both made of keratin- and you wouldn't go all apeshit about people brushing their hair. You say shit to me about cutting nails and i'll blow the shit out of proportion, twist it into a racial issue and land both of us in HR- hope it's worth it.

    Jun 01, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Besides the annoying sound, the potential germs and the few clipping fly away and end up entangled in the carpet... it is just plain weird. For the record, brushing your hair at the desk is annoying and dirty and strange. This is an office. A business. A place where you try to act professional. A place where you are on the clock and getting paid. When you wake up in the morning and are grooming yourself... shaving, showering, brushing your teeth, flossing... try adding brushing your hair and clipping your nails. Would you shave at your desk with an electric razor? These things get done in the bathroom. It is called grooming!

    Dec 30, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Actually I don't brush my hair at work. It's unprofessional and unnecessary..you have all the time in the world to do that at home, in the car, etc. I wish you luck in your professional career because it sounds like you really need it, fool.

    Mar 19, 2015

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