Boisterous Behavior: When a near-by colleague gets too loud

by epi on November 1, 2012

Q: Is there an easy way to tell a co-worker that she’s simply too loud?  In our cubicle environment, most employees know enough to tone down the noise.  But one person doesn’t know (or care?) enough.  We’re subjected to every detail of every business call, every argument with her husband, and so on.  She also has the habit of punctuating conversation with noises that sound as if she’s in the throes of passion.  What was at first amusing has become a major daily disruption.  A few of us have tried to give her a hint by rushing over and asking with alarm, “Are you OK?”  But this indirect approach doesn’t seem to get through.  Even worse, she’s about to be named our supervisor.  What can we do?

A: Hints don’t work; you’ve learned that.  Here’s why: You think you’re being incredibly obvious, but the person has no idea what you’re talking about so the behavior doesn’t change.  The only way to improve the situation is to talk to her directly.  This is best done by a co-worker who’s also a close friend to her.  The conversation should be held privately, at a time other than when the actual transgression is occurring: “Joan, I asked to talk to you because there’s something going on that’s causing a problem.  If the tables were reversed, I hope you’d be willing to speak to me.  What I want to talk to you about is your telephone voice and how it’s affecting the people around you…”  Now the cat is out of the bag, and the conversation can continue.  In your case, if your colleague is given a separate office as a supervisor, then the issue may resolve itself.  But if she’s still going to be working alongside you, I recommend having the above conversation before she gets promoted.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Vanna Keiler November 1, 2012 at 2:35 pm

I would say at this point, you can do nothing and probably should do nothing if you want to prevent career suicide. The annoying co-worker will soon be your boss. Anyone who approaches her at this point and annoys her or hurts her feelings as a result will be henceforward on her radar in the future and most probably will not be looked upon favorably (it’s human nature, folks).

It’s a shame this issue was not dealt with sooner, before the promotion was in the horizon. At that point, a small group of coworkers could have approached her supervisor and simply voiced that the level of noise she was bringing to her cubicle was distracting, and hopefully she would have been advised to tone it down.

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Jerry November 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm

Career suicide is a bit harsh. There are other places to work. You’re right, though, that confronting the annoying co-worker could lead to retaliation. But nothing prevents anyone from approaching Chatty Cathy’s boss now.

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