So What Happened with the Nose-Picker?
I advised the developer to have a private conversation with the offending team member. "Give him the benefit of the doubt," I said. "What if he's unaware he's picking his nose? It may be an automatic habit. And even if he's aware he's picking his nose, he may not be aware of how if affects you and other people on the team."
The developer agreed reluctantly, and we worked out a little script. Here's what he decided to say to his nose-picking colleague:
"Joe, this is really awkward for me. I want to tell you about something that you do that's a problem for me."
"I've noticed that during our team meetings, you pick your nose."
[Pause and wait for a response. This may be all you need to say.]
"I have some judgments about nose-picking. I was brought up that it's not appropriate. When I see you picking your nose, I feel worried about you spreading germs. My reaction is getting in the way of our working together."
[Pause and wait for a response. This may do it.]
"Would you please stop picking your nose while we're working together?"
The next week, he reported back.
"You'll never guess what happened," he said. "You were right, he wasn't even aware he was picking his nose. But it was really awkward," he continued. "He was embarrassed but he was also grateful I told him. I guess I shouldn't have waited so long."
It is hard to address interpersonal and work issues directly—even when the issues aren't as awkward as someone picking his nose. Respectful feedback can improve working relationships. And handling issues directly keeps little irritations from growing into major divisions.