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How do I get my loudmouth coworkers to be quiet?

Text by Franke James; fisheye figures ©istockphoto.com/Sharon Dominick

Dear Office Politics,

I work as a Graphic Designer and while I love my job, I hate my work environment.

I occupy a cubicle at the back of a large area and my problem is the people all the way on the other side of the room. They scream constantly and tend to get very personal, they are always yelling my name out and trying to involve me in conversations that have nothing to do with me. My job involves a lot of focus so I need a professional atmosphere. It’s a mother/daughter team and you hear conversations from what’s for dinner to who they don’t like. I complained once and the person told them everything that I said and it created a lot of drama and stress for me. I’m at the end of my rope so I need advice on how to handle this very delicate but frustrating situation.

Thank You


erika andersen

Dear End-of-her-rope,

I feel your pain! I was just sitting in a coffee shop today, working on my computer, and there were two people in the corner yukking it up and talking really loud. It was frustrating and hard to concentrate — and I wasn’t even at work!

So, what to do? First, let’s talk about the difference between complaints and requests.

A complaint is a negative description of someone else’s behavior, and the negative impact it has – often exaggerated for effect. (“You are so inconsiderate by leaving dirty dishes in the sink all the time .”)

A request is a neutral request to change a behavior, often including a rationale for change; that is, why you’re making the request. (“Could you please wash your dishes? It seems fair to me that we each clean up after ourselves. ”)

Complaints generally create resistance, defensiveness, ill feeling. Requests, on the other hand, often result in change – especially when they’re combined with an “offer.” (I’ll explain that in a minute.)

It sounds as though you haven’t actually requested that these folks behave differently – you’ve simply complained to a third party… which never works well. It’s usually even less effective than complaining directly to the person involved.

Here’s what I suggest.
Think about how you’d phrase a request to these folks to change their behavior – be neutral, and focus purely on describing the behavior you’d like to see. How about something like, “I’d like to ask you to talk more quietly when you’re at work. When you talk and laugh loudly, I have a hard time concentrating.” It might be a little embarrassing to say (and to hear), but it will work a heck of a lot better than complaining.

And if you combine it with an offer to do something for them, they’ll be even more likely to fulfill your request. (That’s where the “offer” part comes in.) What’s something you might be doing that’s bugging them, that you could offer to do differently? Once you think of it, here’s how the request/offer might sound: “Hi, Mom and Daughter such-and-such. I’d like to request something of you: could you talk more quietly when you’re at work? When you talk and laugh loudly, I have a hard time concentrating. Now, in return, I know that when I ______, you guys don’t like it very much. So, how about a trade – I’ll stop doing ___ if you talk more softly.”

In my experience, when you approach people in a respectful, neutral way like this, it’s unlikely to make the situation worse. In fact, I suspect it will improve. And if it does improve, remember to acknowledge and thank them for complying with your request… that will make it more likely they’ll continue to do it.

Let us know how it goes. Thanks for writing to OfficePolitics.com.


Erika Andersen, Author

Erika Andersen is the author of Growing Great Employees, newly released in paperback, which is a Kirkus Reviews recommended business book for 2007. Erika Andersen and her colleagues at Proteus International, the company she founded in 1990, offer practical approaches for individuals and organizations to clarify and move toward their hoped-for-future. Much of Erika’s recent work has focused on vision and strategy, executive coaching, and culture change. She has served as consultant and advisor to the CEOs and senior executives of corporations like MTV Networks, Molson Coors Brewing, Rainbow Media Holdings, Union Square Hospitality Group, and Comcast Corporation. Erika is an inaugural author of the Penguin Speakers Bureau, and she has been quoted in the New York Times, Industry Week, Investors’ Business daily, and Fortune.

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  1. 27 Answers to “How do I get my loudmouth coworkers to be quiet?”

  2. Ohmagod! I feel terrible saying this, but it’s good to know that someone else is feeling my pain!

    The loud mouths in my office is an executive who’s office is directly behind my desk and consistently gets on conference calls with his door open. The other two loud mouths are the office manager and the HR manager. Every day the carry on personal conversation loudly in our small office or I can hear all their conversations when they are speaking on the phone.

    I cannot say anything since I”m the lowly receptionist. They both have both complained to the HR Director that I’m not pleasant so I already know I cannot say anything. I’m used to a professional environment not a market square environment. I would love to use my ear plugs but I probably won’t hear the phone ringing.

    I just sit quietly in my corner and pray for the day to end. I try to think of my position here as temporary and do my best to study so I can get through school and relocate or change jobs entirely.

    By cee cee on Jun 24, 2008

  3. I appreciate the discussion and advice on loud mouths in the office. I am experiencing a similar issue. There is a woman in the office who is very loud. We are all in a big room divided by cubicles, and she carries on personal telephone conversations with her children, mother, and friends very loudly, often on speakerphone. The result is that her voice fills up the entire room and everyone has a hard time concentrating. In fact, most of us resort to trying to tune her out through listening to music on headphones, (unsuccessfully, I might add.)

    I would like to address the issue, but I don’t feel it is my place. I am a summer intern, and will only be here for a couple more months. And, I don’t know this woman very well (besides what I’ve learned overhearing her conversations.) The rest of the staff (including this woman) has been here for many, many years. I don’t want to “rock the boat” by saying anything, but this situation is driving me crazy!

    By The Intern on Jul 3, 2008

  4. i work with a bunch of this ‘kind’, loud, gossipy, giggling allllll day long. then 1 taps her foot rest non stop and sighs thru the day.
    obviously our cubicles are very close, there’s no where for me to move…. it’s so difficult to concentrate and to top it off… my manager is really a nice guy but completely non-confrontational.
    i spent 16 years in a structured work environment where everyone was treated the same mostly at least but i can’t concentrate here… i love the job and company but i’m dreadding coming into work each day…..
    any ideas?

    By Robyn on Mar 18, 2009

  5. Wear ear plugs. A nice easy cheap solution to your problem.

    By Gman on Apr 14, 2009

  6. I work as a software engineer near a few planners. They talk on the phone LOUDLY even though our new Cisco phones have adjustable volume controls for the conversations – so there’s no excuse anymore. I asked my line manager to speak to them – no luck. Less than a week later an email went out at another building (unfortunately not ours) asking people to try and speak more quietly because many engineers were being distracted. Regarding the earplugs – they don’t block these voices out, just muffle them a bit.
    It seems that most of these constant talkers fear writing questions down – it would be OK if the conversation was relatively short – but these are your classic “can’t let go, cant get to the point” types probably rooted in insecurity.

    By Andy on May 28, 2009

  7. i have this same problem – i feel trapped here because of the economy – but the main owner is extremely aggressive and loud – he is on speaker phone yelling at employees and clients all day long – or at me – basically everyone seems to be this way – it is extremely aggravating – depressing actually – i leave this place and i feel like i still get them out of my head – i know it’s their own insecurities that are causing them to overcompensate- but i am sick of it being at my expense – basically the only way is to find another job – but in the mean time – it’s good to know there are other people out here with the same problem! not because i want anyone else to have to deal with this – but because i don’t feel like i’m going crazy anymore!!!

    By Kris on Oct 8, 2009

  8. I am in same situation. I share an office with a lady whose desk is about 3 feet away from mine, no cubicles, open space. She is extremely loud when she talks. To my horror, she spends about 70-80 % of her work time on the phone, often chatting with family members- brother, sister-in-law, hubby, 2 daughters, mummy, pappy, + taking care of family stuff. I handle lots of paperwork and I DO need to be able to focus on what I do. Not being able to achieve this, I started wearing ear phones. Well, that didn’t work as I could not hear my supervisors calling me (I am an admin assistant for the Dept Head and his depute). I also tried to speak with my supervisor, but was politely turned down being explained that we should respect the culture of the foreign nationals (my co-worker is a foreign national, can you guess her nationality? :-). I also tried to approach twice my co-worker, once before talking with my supervisor, and once after. I extended a request, I explained how her loud talking effects my work and my health (no kidding, I get headache out of this). Well, shortly, the effect was my co-worker felt very upset and hurt, she portrayed herself as the victim, and I was the offender and a poor team player!!! How shocked I was!!!

    I came to the point that I am looking for a job. I feel that my workers rights have been abused, but honestly, I have no idea how to handle this further. Any formal complains and further interventions will only increase the tension in the office.

    Has anyone been through the same situation? How did this end for you?

    By Kapka on Sep 12, 2011

  9. i suggest an ipod. My ipod has not only saved my life, but the lives of countless chuntering, gossipy, giggly and oh-so-funny colleagues. What gets me is that I’m given attitude for wanting to concentrate on my work. I’m still shocked that the boss gazes warmly at my chattering colleagues who spend at least half their time talking sh*te. I think they focus too much on “team bonding” and not enough on actually doing work….

    By Max on Oct 7, 2011

  10. I actually do not have any advice…I’m here because Iwas on the internet searching about this “topic” for help. I feel like I’m going to lose it one day and go over and blow up at the one girl in our office who will not shut up! All day long she talks with anyone and everyone who will listen. Normally, it’s the lady who is kiddy-corner to her cubicle….it’s an open office environment but with cubicles. I am about 10 feet away from her with 2 cube walls in-between and I can hear her all day long talking very loud and laughing very loud about nonsense. She is the only one that is that loud…..so I must not be the only one who is annoyed by this. I think the problem is that no one wants to say anything about it. She can be ok to talk to….which is also another reason I think people won’t confront her…they are afraid to hurt her feelings. My supervisor is not an option….I’ve already mentioned it to her and she says she can’t hear her (a cop out). I’ve seen people that don’t work in our department walk by with disapproving looks….and we as a department just now got extra work put on us because a higher-up told my supervisor that because of all of the “talking” we obviously have time on our hands. OMG! I complain to my husband when I get home which I know I shouldn’t do because he’s sick of hearing it. I’ve tried earplugs, radio, mp3 player but it’s hard to have to constantly block someone out ALL DAY LONG! I anxiously await retirement which is 4 years away….hopefully I don’t go crazy before then (and she’s not going anywhere anytime soon she’s only 25). Boy do I look forward to the end of every day and especially the weekends! I truly emphasize with all of you who also encounter this on a daily basis.

    By ladybug on May 28, 2013

  11. i have two girls in my office , always keep laughing loudly , irritating thing is , they giggle loudly every 1-2 minutes, one bitch is local another one is foreigner, they are from different team , the way our office setup at client place is really horrible , they put 4 teams in one place, these two bitches belong to one team , their irritating giggling forced every one of us to buy earphone.

    There is one more guy in the same team , his phone is another headache , it is samsung phone , application shoulb be in sync mode, it makes terrible sound within 1-2 mins interval.

    I don’t understand why people don’t have basic manners, please pardon me for using bad words, it is out of anxiety, Actually I could have informed to HR , but I’m just hoping they realize it themselves , but it is not happening , they should see this blog.

    by the way I’m from Singapore

    By Marshal on Jul 25, 2013

  12. There is no solution. You cant change the behavior of others and they are the issue, not you. Rudeness is learned. Those of us that are most offended come from a different generation when courtesy and respect were the norm.

    By Steven on Oct 17, 2013

  13. I work with someone who is constantly talking and is very loud and distracting. She is very negative and always turing people in for things they did’nt sy or do and making up false rumors about them-She is a real liar and trouble-maker. I am an attractive woman in my 50’s. Management has’nt done enough to stop this. In fact they threatened me with a write-up for things I never did-coming from the trouble-maker. Are there further steps I can take?….

    By Nancy on Jan 4, 2014

  14. I have a similar situation. I have coworkers that try to involve me in office gossip and needless conversations. I need to concentrate on the tasks that I am doing but feel like I’m being drug in to office gossip instead of getting my work done. I have brought this to my managers attention but nothing was done about it. I need a better way of dealing with it but right now I am just avoiding the people that are loud and like to gossip.

    By Amanda Lewallen-Kenemore on Feb 19, 2014

  15. These people talk so much they don’t realise that the utterly quiet people are not unforgivable introverts but they are being so just to try to lower the overall volume of a place to an approaching acceptable level.

    And they don’t realise who uncouth it is to dominate the soundwaves of a room instead of speaking as quietly, diplomatically and efficiently as possible.

    The only possible hope is that they burn out their mouth and their internal organs and die young.

    By Paul on Mar 27, 2014

  16. It’s important to be mindful of what is going on underneath, both for you and for your ‘loud’ co workers. I have been on both sides of the coin, I know that when I’m simmering and angry about not being able to work or concentrate part of the problem is within me. We cannot control our work environments, so instead we have to take care of our selves, de stress, chat to a friend about what is worrying you, go for walks to let off steam and things like aroma therapy and music (with headphones) can be ways to calm you down and take care of yourself and your needs.
    Loud people, well we are all different, but if have become quite a loud person recently as my stress increases, I have to talk things out, “reach out” to coworkers, i gave trouble sitting still and concentrating and worry all day, so I often make jokes about our work situation, I have also been seated quite far from my work partner (who is a giggle rand encourages the jokes!) which means we can no longer turn around and quietly confide. The other office is the other extreme, it is so quiet that people are afraid to speak, it feels oppressive. There are a lot of people happy that they can concentrate, but there are also a lot of people who feel isolated and unsupported. One would hope that an office could create a happy medium, no one side should be dominating the other, we all need to learn to get along.

    By Garland on May 15, 2014

  17. The first step we took to stop coworkers from talking loud and constantly about their personal stuff was showing a harassment video to all the staff. When it continued I got management involved who directly told all the staff to stop the loud talk and personal conversations. Now that is still continuing it is considered insubordinate and according to the harassment video ‘harassment’! So now it is time to write a formal complaint. By putting into writing management has to write them up. If it continues after that it will be set up to be fired.

    By Susy on Jun 21, 2014

  18. I am an English/writing teacher. I once worked next door to a teacher who was so loud that you could actually hear her when she entered the building through a doorway down the hall. She used to be a cheerleader and she was very positive and upbeat. The kids loved her class because, yep you guessed it, they could all be AS LOUD AS THEY WANTED. : ). Meanwhile, we’re next noir trying to decipher the form and content of sonnets or quietly going through the writing process. I tried to talk to her about it by just asking her to tone it down a little, by explaining why I needed more quiet, etc. No luck. In fact, she even got a little nasty and retaliated by asking me to tone it down a little when I was showing part of an instructional CD one day. Grrr. Eventually, I approached the problem from a different angle. I told her my mom used to be the captain of her high school cheer leading squad, and that she could still be loud even at age 65. I laughed and talked about the virtues of loud people and cheerleaders. But, I added that I knew every detail of her conversations, even those she engaged in down the hall, even when I didn’t want to know, and I think she began to do a little self reflection. I vowed, to myself, to stop trying to regulate her sonic booms. She was who she was, so things stayed pretty much the same, with a little additional tension in the air. She eventually began to annoy some of the students in my room though as the year wore on. I think some of them began to see how it was affecting our studies and their concentration. I also believe some of them complained to their parents who in turn gave the administration an earful. She did tone it down a little by the end of the school year. As you might have guessed, I asked to be moved to another location away from her, way away. For me, it was a lesson in patience and tolerance. I’m not sure people like that ever “get it”.

    By Beth on Jul 12, 2014

  19. I too work with people who talk their way through their work day. They talk,huff puff, laugh and talk like they are at a football match. Because the boss is too gutless, nothing ever gets done. The latest recruit said she will be in the toilet peeing like a race horse” . Announced to the world like it was an achievement. I just said thanks for sharing that in a tone that was not amused. Sometimes just dropping a hint to someone who is close to the annoying person may get the message back to them. If not just be blunt and say “I have work to get done sorry if I don’t talk but I need to concentrate” turn around and get on with your work. If they don’t take the hint take it to the next up the chain of command and make it their problem.

    By Maryanne on Aug 24, 2014

  20. I’m dealing with this at my office. Unfortunately two of the worst offenders are supervisors. They know they’re loud, and they don’t care. They spend their days yakking at full volume….one constantly bitching about things the other laughing at whatever. It is unbelievable what they are paid for how little they actually do.

    By Christie on Oct 2, 2014

  21. Culture is about consensus, so claiming that it is “rude” for people to talk loudly is entirely subjective and flat out incorrect in a culture where such a thing is considered appropriate. If the culture encourages “market square” and you have trouble with that, the problem may be you. Don’t expect the whole world to abide by your preference, just find another place to work that matches your preference better and definitely avoid claiming any kind of superiority complex in the process. Shy quiet people strike me as unaccountable, possibly lazy, and likely deceptive. Like they’re always trying to hide something. So again, either adapt our relocated. Nuff said.

    By ry on Oct 7, 2014

  22. Steven this has nothing to do with age/generation. I’m younger than some of these loudmouths here. Some have a sense of respect, others just don’t.

    By Esther on Jan 8, 2015

  23. Loudmouths lack self awareness. Defenders like ry just don’t get it.

    By SQd on Jun 15, 2015

  24. Ya. I tried the “suggest not tell” method but the guy still won’t shut up. What do you suggest for employees that just won’t be quiet? I’ve already put the guy on corrective action for it but I can’t fire him because I need his special language skill. I bought a remote controlled shock collar from a pet store today so we’ll see. If 16 levels of stimulation plus instant +2 boost option won’t do the trick nothing will.

    By J-Man on Jun 17, 2015

  25. Um, if you’re going to a coffee shop to work, you have to expect people go there for other reasons. It’s a coffee shop, not your personal office.

    By Amy on Oct 7, 2015

  26. we are not allowed to wear headphones at work because it makes us look “unapproachable” so we are forced to listen to the loudmouth that sits in the center of the room that HR will not do anything about even though they’ve been made very well aware of how disruptive she is.
    i really like J-Man’s shock collar idea…how to get it in place without her noticing is the question!

    By trinity on Mar 28, 2016

  27. As a high school music teacher and semi-professional singer/songwriter, I am so relieved and reassured by this thread. I am so thankful that I was not alone, and I wish I had happened upon this thread when my first life-changing social-professional altercation with noisy co workers happened in 2010.
    The first school I worked at had an open plan staff room and I had to listen to the loud, extroverted clique and their cell phone ringtones almost all day. It got to the point where I wrote down every time they started chattering, every time they left a door open so it slammed, every time their cell phones went off for more than 5 seconds, and every time they laughed loudly. I saw for myself that on a daily basis, I couldn’t even get one half-hour’s worth of quiet work done. Needless to say, I (introverted in many ways) withered in their extrovert-friendly environment, and then the bullying and harassment began and continued extensively, with several of them ‘throwing words’ about how little some people who think they should run things get done, until one day I was accosted by a colleague who decided to bounce a tennis ball while I was composing music, in response to my previous frustrated retaliations the week prior, of playing more steady-state music from my laptop while someone’s cell phone kept disrupting my concentration during some test paper correction.
    It was awful. Administration did nothing. It was only when I decided to start playing the guitar in the staff room, that finally it was said by the vice principal during a staff meeting that there might be a need for a discussion on community standards of behaviour in the staff room.
    The following term, however, I was called to another school. Most of the others who felt disturbed never said anything, and that let the extrovert clique feel that it was only me who had any problem with their endless noise. So I doubt any discussion on community standards ever took place.
    At my new school, teachers have more teaching time so there’s less noise, but they’re just as extroverted and convivial on occasions I’d rather they not be– like at the end of the term during evaluation periods.
    The person signing “ry” speaks to exactly who my former co workers and some of my new ones are: “Don’t expect the whole world to abide by your preference”, they said to me. What they believe however, is that one is equal to zero, that majority is superiority, and you should move on if you are surrounded by persons who are different, or have different preferences. I call bullshit.
    The lack of respect for the INDIVIDUAL is telling in such persons who in my case proved prone to bullying and harassment. They get their strength from numbers and expect you to have none just because you are alone, and to try to beat you down to the place they think you ought to be. They got a nasty surprise when I responded with passive aggressive retaliation that inconvenienced them at least as much as they had been inconveniencing me.
    Regardless of the size of a minority it still has rights: exactly the same number and type of that of the majority.
    It is unfortunate that after all the blood shed in the name of freedom, so many people do not grasp the sacredness of individual rights and respect for the individual. Also, that people do not grasp the sacredness of work, by which we all eat the bread of life. Without first working no instrument is made, no party is organised, no bed can be slept upon. People should respect the process of work, whenever they see it happening, but most especially when they are at work. This is not mere unsubstantiated opinion to me; it is clear as the idea that people should be grateful for each day they wake up alive on planet earth. Sure, you can be otherwise, but would it really profit you more to do so? It won’t profit you, it won’t profit me, why do it?
    Anyway, I’m so grateful. I will try the advice given here, although I am a bit fearful to do so. If I feel myself ignored, I will also post the following on my desk for all to see:
    “Who do I think I am? A fellow citizen, with exactly the same number and type of rights as you, with limited time in which to achieve great things, and vast potential to unearth. I ain’t got time for unnecessary distraction. And when you think about it, you’ll realise you don’t, either. If you work best with sound, fine; but I definitely don’t. Respect that. Keep the volume down.”

    By Nzinga Sibongile Job on Aug 28, 2016

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