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Going Viral: When Colleagues Suddenly Tell You They're Contagious

You're meeting with a fellow professional when they tell you they have the stomach flu. Oops, it's too late now. You've been exposed!

This topic is on my mind this week as everyone in the greater Washington DC area tries to duck and weave around a highly-contagious stomach flu that's making the rounds in a big way.

But what happens when we don't know a colleague has a raging head cold until we're being exposed front and center to it in a one-on-one meeting? Who hasn't been invited to a friend's house to hear them say: "Hi! How are you? We're almost over a stomach bug, we've all taken a turn being sick this week. Would you like a cup of coffee?"

Almost? Oh, no.

I've noticed a more casual parenting approach to common cold and flu viruses over the last few years where tots with deep, croupy coughs are running loose on the playground, but it's even more complicated when it happens between professionals on the job.

A long time ago, I worked in outside sales and would make occasional house calls to clients with home-based businesses. One day, I showed up for a scheduled appointment with a long-time client. We were having a nice chat when she suddenly said that her child was home sick with the chicken pox. Um, say what?

Not long after, I started to feel ill. My back wouldn't stop itching. I looked in the mirror to see a half-dozen red dots staring right back at me. Chicken pox. Thankfully it was a very mild case. I told my manager and worked from home for many days until I was no longer contagious. Looking back, I simply wish that the client would have told me her situation beforehand so we could have arranged a phone call instead. Take it away, Adam Sandler!

So what can you do this winter when a colleague (or client) suddenly says, "All my kids had pink eye last week, and now I have it" as you finish rubbing your eye? Yikes. Well, you can (1) try to wrap up the interaction as soon as possible; (2) apply copious amounts of hand sanitizer upon leaving; (3) say, "I wish you would have told me beforehand" "I hope you feel better soon"; and (4) hope for the best. That's really all you can do.

If the cold or flu is working its way through our household, then we can let our friends and colleagues know in advance. You know, before we meet them or invite them over. This way, they can decide whether or not they want to reschedule for another time that's more "convenient." Is this too much to ask? I don't think so. Plus, with so much technology at our fingertips most conversations can happen online with ease, and with far more efficiency.

So let's be kind by offering a head's up as soon as we're going down for the count this winter. It's just the polite thing to do. Cough.


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