General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

Is asking for quiet asking too much? (long description) Update post 19

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Veronika Fate:
Hello everyone!  I've been lurking and reading a long time, and I want to join the community now!

This might be a long description, but the question at the end is the same as the title, and I'm not being sarcastic, just wondering if I'm being an SS.

I have a coworker (Tina) who is just so noisy.  She sits across from me in a short cubicle, we're two out of six in a group on an open floor (meaning none of us are in offices with doors, except the two most senior managers).  Tina is always making some kind of sound.  Her worst and most common are being on the phone (personal calls on the company phone) I would guess at least forty minutes out of every hour, singing and humming along to her music- which is so loud it leaks through her headphones that I can usually hear the lyrics.  When it isn't either of those, she's talking to herself, tapping her pen, stomping her feet against our shared cube wall, having conversations with her friends inside her cube or yelling over everyone else, smacking gum, sighing and moaning- most of these things are small habits I wouldn't usually mention, but I am now to illustrate the point that she is constantly doing something audible.  She even chews with her mouth open and loudly, but that's it's own blunder, I think.

To expand on the phone calls, they're not urgent and sometimes not even appropriate.  Her tone and conversations can range anywhere from a sugary-sweet baby talk voice, to calling whoever-it-is crazy and stupid repeatedly, yelling at her kids, paying her bills, planning a party, making hair appointments, and basic chatting.  She snacks frequently, so she is also usually chewing during the call as well.  I won't expand too much on the not appropriate ones, but they are of the more intimate nature. 

I'm not a total grouch, I just work best when I can hear myself think.  I understand that maybe she can work best when her mind and hands are distracted with fidgeting and talking.   I was going to post here before asking what you all would do, but I thought I knew the answer already so I tried a few things  ;D

I tried walking away when she got too distracting or her conversations got inappropriate...and spent a lot of time in the cafeteria.  When I can hear the lyrics through her headphones I ask her to turn it lower, and she does, but it doesn't take too long for it go back up.  I've asked for a new seat and why, but my boss said that first she would have a meeting with all the groups.  She did, and made a vague comment that went like this: "I'm just saying this to all the groups, to mind your noise level and everything, you know, when you have "visitors" at your desk or, even when your headphones are on just be mindful with the volume and that you're not singing along..."  Tina wasn't very happy about that, she immediately took it personally and ranted to her current "visitor" how someone was complaining, and didn't change any habits.  As for the phone calls, our senior manager has even said he doesn't mind if people need to make personal calls, he just wants us to not do it on the floor, and even mentioned a few places to go to take them.  Tina was there for that meeting but I'm guessing she doesn't like that option- as she would have to use her own cell minutes rather than the company line (a common call during bill time).  The final and most obvious option is for me to put on my own music, which I do, and I'll put it up as loud as I can before it's uncomfortable to me or leaking out (huge pet peeve)- which is pretty loud- but not only can I still hear her, then my head starts to ache from having music pumped in constantly.  (side note: I love music, I really do, and I even have a night job at a bar with live bands so I like to rest my ear drums when I can ;) )

Anyway, let me get to the point!  Based on all this, I've come to accept that she's just a talker/fidget-er/general noise maker, and I am just not.  It's a little easier when I remember she isn't singing (or whatever it is) to annoy me, and to just put on my own singers and not let it affect my productivity and put me in a bad mood- though to be honest, I still sometimes feel like reminding her that she isn't at home, where no one can stop her calls or singing.  I don't, promise!  My etiquette concern in all this, was I the one who was wrong in all this?  Was I being rude in asking to be moved away from Tina (while complaining about her), and feeling entitled to quiet when I shouldn't be?   

FWIW, I definitely would not mind occasional phone calls, visitors, singing, etc., it's the fact that there isn't a quiet moment in nine and a half hours.  And I mentioned that there are six of us in the cubicle grouping- the other four, well, if I couldn't see them, I'd never know they're there.

You're not unreasonable to not want constant noise, and you have already tried reasonable solutions: asking her to turn her music down, masking her noise with your own music, and approaching the people in charge. Her noise-making habits are obviously not considered normal, acceptable behavior by the boss or the boss wouldn't have made public announcements about avoiding this behavior. However, your coworker obviously recognizes that she's doing being disruptive and doesn't care. I hope the boss follows through and moves you soon.

I will offer a few suggestions from my own experience with noise during work (my officemates aren't nearly as bad as your coworker, but there are quite a few of us in the same room, and most of them are much chattier than I am, so there's often noise from one person or another).

1. Try white noise instead of music. I used this website, which streams "white," "pink," or "brown" noise (the colors refer to different sound frequency ranges) for free or offers downloads of 1 hour of noise on a "pay what you want" basis. I like the brown noise, which is the lowest frequency range (I find it less hissy than the white noise). I find that it masks ambient noise well at much lower volume than music, and it isn't as distracting as music can be. Occasionally I'll even open two music players on my computer so I can play the brown noise at low volume under my music, because the low-volume brown noise will help mask the talking and let me just hear my music.

2. Find some headphones/earbuds that block outside sound well. I've never tried actual noise-cancelling headphones, but there's a world of difference between different sets of earbuds that I have. The earbuds I keep at work have thin rubber earpieces that look a lot like these:

For me, they're like earplugs with optional music. They block the sound quite effectively even without anything playing through them. When I used earbuds more like these
I had to turn the sound up too much in order to block out the persistent talkers.

I agree with the above suggestions, but I also think you should go back to the boss and again request that you be moved. And if that doesn't work, ask again. And so on. There is a lot of truth to the saying "the squeaky wheel gets the grease."

Quite simply your boss is not doing anything because it is not his/her problem. it's your problem. Time to make it the bosses' problem by continuing to make your very reasonable request until it is resolved.

So Tina realized that the vaguely worded message from the boss about noise applied to her and did nothing?

Yep, go back to your boss and tell her that. That's your first step.

Then, when nothing happens because Tina doesn't seem willing to change and your boss doesn't seem willing to address the issue head-on, go back to your boss again and tell her that your productivity is suffering from the constant noise and visitors and phone calls and stomping. Please could you be moved, so that you can concentrate on your work?

Focus on how the constant noise affects your work--you get distracted and have to re-do things, you can't concentrate because of the laughing and yelling, etc.

You shouldn't have to listen to loud music just to drown her out. Tina is breaking several rules. Someone should deal with her.

I would also go back to your boss.  This time, ask him/her to come quietly to your cubicle while Tina is at her most noisy.  Let your boss hear her carryings-on, the too-personal phone calls, the stomping on your cube wall, etc.  Another option is to have one of Tina's other neighbors weigh in to your boss.

I've had to deal with these sorts numerous times in cube farms.  One time, It took the boss having her office reno'd and hearing firsthand the noise.  Another time, it took a prairie dog uprising.  Sometimes, all I had to do was ask.  You have to be politely persistent and eventually either you or Tina will be moved.


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