Creative ways to block out noisy co-workers?
December 2, 2004 1:43 PM   Subscribe

I am one of those beset by egregiously noisy office mates. I have succumbed to earphones (bless that invention!!) but I am wondering if folks have any other creative suggestions for blocking out the annoying co-workers.
posted by omphale27 to Human Relations (22 answers total)
When I lived in a dorm I found that earplugs worked wonders. The kind they give you on airplanes, for example.
Or just asking them to shut up. I guess it depends how many of them there are- are you really the only one in the office who needs a quiet working environment? Maybe you can come to some sort of a civil agreement?
posted by degnarra at 1:52 PM on December 2, 2004

Why avoid the argument? Bring one of those New Orleans noise makers to work, the sort you spin by holding a rod (noise thing buzzes loudly when you twirl it) While twirling it, scream "yap! yap! yap!" in their direction, for the duration of their talking until they shut up.

They might think you're a jerk, but do this every time they speak up! Soon silence will be yours.

Sweet, sweet silence.
posted by Peter H at 2:03 PM on December 2, 2004

White noise maker.
posted by adampsyche at 2:06 PM on December 2, 2004

Ha, sorry for the sarcasm, omphale27 (though many would think it's sound advice!) I just noticed this is your one and only first question and comment.
posted by Peter H at 2:10 PM on December 2, 2004

Peter H...sarcasm is always appropriate. This is my first official post, and I would be quite sad if I didn't get some humor out of the deal.
posted by omphale27 at 2:36 PM on December 2, 2004

Whenever I can, I use earphones. Unfortunately, I work a customer service desk where I am required to greet people at a counter in front of my work station periodically. I find that if I listen to music during the times that I am 'on call' I miss when a customer enters the office - and that's not good service!

on a side note -
You would think people would stop all the chit-chat when there's a customer a few feet away (particularly since it's municipal government and the person standing there pays our wages) but I find that not everyone thinks that way. But who am I to complain? I'm here on 'company' time. *shrug*
posted by raedyn at 2:41 PM on December 2, 2004

I'm in a similar situation Omphale27. My solution: noise cancelling headphones. With these on, I can only hear the music. It's much easier to work when I can only hear what I want to hear, when I want to hear it. Now if only I could do something about the lighting...
posted by glyphlet at 2:46 PM on December 2, 2004

I do appear to be the only one that likes quiet. My other co-workers claim that they can't work in quiet, and if it weren't for the radio wars, I would still be pestered with choruses of gum-snapping.

I tend to be non-confrontational, although I have gotten some advice from others that I should just become as obnoxious as possible. Has anyone else taken up the "can't beat 'em, join' em" attack? Did it work, or did it make working even more miserable?
posted by omphale27 at 2:46 PM on December 2, 2004

raedyn...the people I work with will let the boss man wait at their desks while they are on lengthy personal phone calls. I like the idea of a civil agreement like degnarra suggested...but what does one do if people aren't exactly civil to begin with?

glyphlet...are those noise canceling headphones pricey? Can you still hear your phone ring?
posted by omphale27 at 2:51 PM on December 2, 2004

the problem with the "join' em" approach is that you're still the only one that likes it quiet. i'm in a similar situation and i've tried just turning my radio louder (i usually keep the volume at 1!), but Ms. Obnoxious (who i share a wall with) will just turn her's up louder and/or speak louder.

i also cannot use headphones as i have to answer the phone.
posted by mileena at 2:55 PM on December 2, 2004

I turned to the headphones because of the one-upmanship with radio volume. So far, I have gotten all my phone calls, but that's because I have the ringer cranked and a helpful blinking light that appears when calls come in. Mileena's Ms. Obnoxious must be related to my bunch.
posted by omphale27 at 3:07 PM on December 2, 2004

The headphones can be expensive - they start at $150 and go up, but you won't hear anything but the music you play through 'em.

The phone isn't as much an issue for me as mine has a light that flashes while it rings and it also has a caller ID on it if it's someone within the company, so it's pretty hard for me to miss a call.
posted by glyphlet at 3:08 PM on December 2, 2004

I've tried the noise-cancelling headphones, but found that they're generally best for blocking background noise (think plane/car engine noise). You can usually follow a conversation with them on. Mind you, the headphones in question are 3-4 years old, so things may have improved slightly since then.

Closed-ear headphones might serve you better in the type of environment you describe.

I was forced to resort to something similar in a previous job, when they decided to sit the sales drones in cubicles next to the engineering drones. After buying the headphones I missed out on all the sales guy's fun stories about wild weekends away at the house the original owner of sued off the guy who stole
posted by blender at 3:25 PM on December 2, 2004

As was mentioned earlier: A white noise generator. They are quite cheap, actually. Buy yourself a desk or floor fan. If it is stuffy in your office, you get the added benefit of air circulation. If it's already cool enough, just point the fan such that it does not blow on you.

They won't realize why you have the fan on; they'll just think you get warm easily.
posted by Doohickie at 3:37 PM on December 2, 2004

I've got a simliar problem at more work, though its more of a Public Addressing System problem and less of a co-worker problem. (Some memorable annoyances have been a constant updating of some International hockey game where Canada was winning, and a constant stream of people yelling into the thing trying to fix last minute problems on a Friday afternoon) I've got DJ-style closed ear headphones, but you really have to have them at a fairly high volume level, and I have to avoid music that has high fidelity, like the Orb, Classical, or GYBE -- I'm forced to listen to Alec Empire-ish stuff. Do the noise cancelling headphones really work? Do they work better than closed ear ones?
posted by sleslie at 4:04 PM on December 2, 2004

I've got a pair of the Bose Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones and I can't hear a thing outside of my head. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes not so much ;-)

They're $300, but they were a b-day gift from an ex so I'm pretty ok with the price.
posted by glyphlet at 4:19 PM on December 2, 2004

There has got to be some sort of vibrating attachment (heee!) that one can hook up to their phone so that when in the midst of blocking out the offending noise, one would be able to tell there was an incoming call.
..So this phone, it vibrates, yeah yeah yeah.
posted by oflinkey at 4:20 PM on December 2, 2004

Don't get "noise cancelling" headphones, get "isolation" headphones such as those made by Shure and Etymotic. Previous relevant AxMe threads: 1 2 3 4.

As for answering your phone, if you have:
-bluetooth cellphone
-Apple computer with built-in bluetooth or usb adapter
-Salling Clicker

You can set it so that an incoming phone call stops your music and pops up a window notifying you of the call (with Caller ID info). Works for me, but obviously this won't help everyone. I bet you could find some sort of big flashing light ringer attachment for your phone, maybe designed for people with limited hearing?
posted by rorycberger at 5:08 PM on December 2, 2004

Not sure is this is on/off topic. I also use headphones. But, I've found that I can't use CDs that I would normally want to listen to, but the only kinds that allow me to think are instrumental new-age music or vocals done in a different language. One of my favorites is something like" Bollywood's Greatest Hits"
posted by marsha56 at 5:32 PM on December 2, 2004

For people like myself that work in a cubefarm, noise cancelling headphones work just fine. I don't have people sitting or standing next to me unless they go out of their way to walk over to me to talk. At that point, I take the headphones off and we talk. So for my needs and from my perspective, noise cancelling headphones are fantastic. They might not suit everybody's needs, but they're great for me.
posted by glyphlet at 5:37 PM on December 2, 2004

If you just want your cube quieter, maybe try etymotic's musician's headphones.
posted by Evstar at 8:54 PM on December 2, 2004

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