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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

End-of-her-rope

OFFICE-POLITICS ADVISER ERIKA ANDERSEN
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.

Warmly,

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. 10 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. 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

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