Dear Captain Awkward,
This is a weird problem, but in my workplace, there’s an office phone that’s shared by everyone–though usually it comes down to me and one other coworker who spend the most time in this area. She’s started leaving these obscenely thick, full-facial-imprint layers of makeup on the phone. I don’t wear makeup, and I don’t appreciate getting it all over my sleeves or my face if I absentmindedly reach over to answer the phone–plus, you usually can’t see the layer of makeup until you’ve picked up the receiver and it’s too late. The backside of the phone looks fine–it’s the part that’s actually in contact with your face that’s a disaster zone. I’ve been just wiping the phone off every so often, but it’s only gotten worse, and frankly, I’m tired of cleaning up after her facial mess. It’s just gross.
I tried to be tactful and casually ask if she’d spilled something on the phone, but I’m pretty sure she had no idea what I was talking about and may have come to the conclusion that someone had gotten Cheeto dust on the receiver. At that point, I had to bail out of the conversation because I was having trouble keeping a straight face. I’ve talked to other coworkers, but no one seems to know how to deal with her. She’s got a history of overreacting to the smallest things, and we’re trying to do this without upsetting her. Help!
Hinting doesn’t work. Talking to other coworkers doesn’t work. But this is solvable!
Here’s your plan:
Buy a container of wet wipes of some ilk – something that won’t reek or make you break out in hives if it touches something that’s going to touch your face – and put it by the phone.
Start wiping the phone off before and after you use it. Ask your coworker to do the same. Wiping down shared office equipment is a good, normal practice that can (hopefully) help the office cold or Norovirus from spreading and everyone should do it more frequently than most of us do.
“Hey Coworker, I keep finding makeup or some other residue on the shared phone, can you make sure to wipe it off after you use it and I’ll do the same?”
If she gets upset at a pretty reasonable request like that, let her get upset. Treat her like you expect that she’ll be cool about it and stop walking on eggshells and talking to everyone but her. Don’t talk about it with other coworkers until you’ve talked to her directly and given her a visible tool to use to fix the problem.
If she overreacts, denies there is a problem, or refuses to wipe it off after she uses it, use one of the wipes and show her the gunk. You can leave the door open to plausible deniability – “I don’t know who’s leaving the stuff behind, but I definitely don’t want it on my face and you probably don’t want it on yours, can we help each other out here, thanks!?!” – or you can pull that door shut by taking it to a supervisor. You’re not causing the problem by asking for this.