If you have ever worked in an open office or cube farm, there’s a very good chance you’ve dealt with a noisy neighbor.
“Loud and talkative coworkers can be one of the most annoying distractions on earth — and, unfortunately, they’re pretty common in today’s workplace,” says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert, leadership coach, and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job.”
Dealing with a noisy coworker can be awkward, explains Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “The Humor Advantage.” “Most people want to avoid conflict, as it’s natural to want to get along and be liked by all your colleagues and to not be seen as high maintenance or a whiner, so the tendency is to grit your teeth and put up with it.”
But Taylor says when you’re dealing with a protracted situation that affects your livelihood and productivity — for instance, when your neighbor’s voice carries into your client phone call, or distracts you from being able to compose an email — you know the line’s been crossed and you must take action. “It’s time to prepare for a diplomatic conversation and choose your words carefully,” she says.
Here’s what you can do:
Address the issue — but remain friendly.
Taylor suggests taking your colleague to lunch or finding a neutral, quiet room or office to meet in. “Regardless of the venue, first discuss common interests inside and outside of work. Be kind and friendly.”
Try something like: “Hey, I need your advice on something. I know it can be challenging working in such close quarters. Is there anything I can do to improve your work experience being that we work so close by each other? Do I tap my pen or slam my cabinet? You never know until you ask!”
“Then, await a response before bringing up the issue,” says Taylor. “And when you do, say something along the lines of: ‘I really appreciate your input; thank you. For me, it’s sometimes difficult to concentrate, as I’m a bit sensitive to noise levels around me. I was wondering if you might have any suggestions.'”
Taylor recommends that you offer a compromise, if necessary, such as morning or afternoon times being more critical for you to have more quiet time. “Remember to thank your colleague for being open to listening to you. And ultimately circle back to a positive note, such as a common project or a topic of interest,” Taylor says.
If that doesn’t work — or you’re not comfortable with having that conversation — continue reading for additional suggestions…
Bring the issue up with the entire office so that no one feels singled out.
“Posting an informal survey of the top five office pet peeves on the lunchroom bulletin board, or raising the survey results in a meeting is a safe way to gently remind everyone of some basic office etiquette,” says Kerr.
“In fact, everyone working in an open office concept should talk openly about the challenges of working in that kind of environment and agree upon some basic guidelines to ensure everyone plays nice in the sandbox.”