It seems like each season without fail all you hear about is how colds or the flu is going around. This can be a very frustrating time at the workplace because although you or a co-worker may be under the weather there’s still plenty of work to get done and due-dates to meet.

But what should you do when the dreaded cold comes upon you and you still have a full work load ahead of you to complete? I can recall taking a business trip not that long ago, when I had to take a flight to another state to attend a meeting and, during the entire flight, I had to sit next to someone who had a severe cold. Although I felt bad for the person because they seemed to be miserable – all I kept saying to myself was “I am not going to get sick, I am not going to get sick.” What is a polite way to handle someone hacking, sneezing and wheezing in your personal space? And how do you politely tell someone, “Don’t stand so close to me?” Here are a few simple tips to help navigate through the dreaded cold season so you can love thy neighbor:

Workplace/ Business Office — I must say that I have been  in a situation where my own sniffling has prompted someone to give me a tissue. Hopefully, you work in an environment where your boss says, “You sound awful, take the afternoon off.” However, if you work for yourself, you may have to tough it out as some of your commitments may not be able to be rescheduled, regardless of the number of tissue boxes you’ve already gone through that day.

Conference Call/Speaking Engagements — If you find yourself medicated with cold medicine at a big meeting, presentation or conference, just be honest. If you’re sick and can’t reschedule a speaking engagement, don’t shake hands or get too close to anyone. If someone tries to shake your hand, say, “I would love to shake your hand, but I’m getting over a cold.” People will thank you for not passing your germs along to them. And keep hand sanitizer with you.

Air Plane Travel — Just like my encounter I discussed above, instead of trying to impart the basic rule of “covering your mouth when you cough,” it’s more productive to ask the flight attendant, if at all possible, can move seats. To avoid offending your sick plane mate, you might want to say something like, “It sounds like you have a really bad cold. I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to ask to sit in another seat – I hope you feel better.”

Grocery Store/Check Out Line — If someone is hacking, coughing, sneezing while you wait in line, in this situation, simply step aside, step aside … just move away. That’s really the only thing you can do. If you advise a person to use a tissue or cover his/her mouth, you run the risk of offending him/her. In this day and age it’s like telling someone they are being rude on their cell phone. Sometimes it’s best to avoid saying anything to avoid confrontation. So allow the person to continue, but you can simply leave.

Rose Hedgemond is CEO of Avenues of Excellence and an etiquette and social protocol professional. Email her at or follow her on Facebook at Rose Hedgemond.