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Bite Me! When Co-Workers Offer You A Bite of Their Food

You're eating lunch in the break room when a co-worker points a fork in your face and says: "This is soooo good! Would you like to try it?" Soooo, are you going to bite?

We've all been in this situation with friends, family and colleagues. They're noshing on something and suddenly offer us a taste of it from a spoon, out of a bag, or out of their hand. I've watched this scenario play out so many times in life (as recently as a few weeks ago!) and it's almost like time stands still for a few seconds as the recipient attempts to stick a fork in it.

"Uh, no thanks?" the recipient might say, tentatively. "I'm fine."

"Are you sure? It's really good, try some!" the other person implores as they stick their hand into the bag to take another handful before pointing it in the potential recipient's direction once again.

Yikes. At this point, the potential recipient might feel flustered to find their initial attempt to rebuff the offer falling as flat as a pancake. "No, thanks, really," they repeat, trying to sound kind, but firm, since they know the other person is simply trying to be kind by offering the food in the first place. (Unless they have a cold or we're on a diet and they keep offering us a handful of M&Ms, and then we have to wonder.)

Okay, I can read your mind: Why are you writing about this when the presidential election is only a month away?! Don't you have anything more important to discuss?

Well, no. This workplace blog specializes in the incredibly trivial workplace exchanges we face on a daily basis that can put us in an awkward position, and being offered food from a colleague who is in the process of eating it is definitely on this blog's menu! Besides, nobody at The New York Times or The Washington Post is chomping at the bit to take on this topic because they have better things to do, like covering the presidential election. So, in a small way, I like to think I'm chipping in a free public service for employees everywhere. (You're welcome!)

Turning Down the Co-worker Who Offers Bites of Food
At some point (if it hasn't happened to you already!) a co-worker will offer you a bite of food off their plate, and you might have a variety of reasons for not taking this co-worker up on the offer. Perhaps you have food allergies, or perhaps you're incredibly grossed out by the prospect of eating somebody else's food that's in the process of being consumed. To you, food should remain on their plate instead of on your palate. You'll get your own, thanks.

Still, you might feel a little bit guilty, like you're not turning them down in the right way. How do you get out of this moment without offending anyone? Here are five, quick tips for rebuffing a co-worker's offer of food without coming off as rude:

1. "That's very nice of you, but no thanks." The best thing you can do is simply to be kind, but firm. Smile, and say something graceful such as: "Oh, no thank you. Thanks for the offer though, that's very kind of you." If your co-worker offers a second time, stay firm and say: "No thanks, I'm fine." If they're still offering a bite (let's hope they get it by now), then you might try to change the subject by bringing up a topic they love to discuss. Did they hear what Trump said this morning? Wait until they hear this...

2. "I'll, uh, take your word for it." This phrase is a stock and trade favorite of my sarcastic friends. It gets straight to the point and relays the message that says, there's no way I'm trying it so stop asking already. You're not lying; you really will take their word for it that the food is good. Besides, they've already said as much, right? Right.

3. "I have food sensitivities." Maybe you have allergies, or maybe you don't. What you do have is a sensitivity to eating food off a co-worker's plate and/or reaching your hand into somebody else's half-eaten chip bag. You're not lying, per se...

4. "I'm full/I'm stuffed." You would try a bite off your co-worker's plate, but you're already full. Darn it. Even if you've only had two bites of your own lunch, you can always fall back on this excuse. In a way, you are full. Of dread about eating other people's food off their plate.

5. "That means more for you!"
You don't want to eat your co-worker's chips, because that means more for them! With this excuse, you're not only refusing the offer, you're being polite and thoughtful in doing so. It looks great, but you don't want to eat it all up because nobody can stop at one chip. Let's hope your co-worker doesn't say: "Oh, don't worry! I have a second, unopened bag in my desk." (If this happens, immediately fall back on Tip #1.)

Of course, you can simply say, "Ew, I don't eat other people's food!" but is it worth the bite it would take out of your relationship with this co-worker? Probably not. Always turn them down with kindness. In most cases, they were simply trying to be thoughtful by offering. They may feel guilty eating in front of you without offering a small bite of their food, so you don't need to turn around and bite their head off. Don't bite the hand that was trying to feed you.

Also, there are many people in the world who would appreciate that bite of food because they don't have enough food on a daily basis. You're one of the lucky ones who is able to turn down the food that's offered to you. Sometimes, plugging our own small annoyances into the bigger picture can help put them in proper perspective.

In sum, aiming for a mild response instead of a spicy retort will grease the wheels of workplace morale. This dilemma isn't hard to address if you're firm, but kind, about it. Please feel free to share your morsels of advice for dealing with this sticky and often awkward workplace situation. I will get the popcorn ready.


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