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.