STFU, coworkers!
October 21, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

My work area is noisy; often there are several competing conversations going on at once. How do I deal? (Yes, I read the question a week ago.)

I work in a cube, in a row of cubes which faces offices, plus I'm by two printers. The noise level drive me nuts - most days I get sort of triggered by the number of different conversations (more than just the overall volume) and need to take a walk or two around the floor to chillax. Then another walk in five minutes if the conversations are still going on. I go from irritated to hands-over-ears and unable to cope pretty quickly.

What can I do to deal? Is there a name for being stressed by the number of conversations vs. the overall noise? Is there possibly some underlying health condition here? How can I convince my boss to pay for whatever noise-dampening device I get (if it's more than $50 or so)?

Stuff I've tried:
I've read this question already. I have tried earplugs and nice over-the-ear-but-not-noise-cancelling headphones, and they don't cut the noise down enough to help / it's really more about the number of auditory inputs. I tried simplynoise and find it irritating after a few minutes - I want quiet, not more noise. Listening to music helps some, but I get a headache / it hurts my ears when the volume is high enough to be helpful. Office folks are fine with me shutting doors, but that doesn't do much for the cube neighbors. There are several different departments on my row (i.e., boss couldn't help even if she wanted), and everyone else is happy with the chatty culture. Part of the issue is also tone of voice, I think - I hear a fair number of contentious discussions. Past offices I worked in have all been quiet enough this wasn't a problem.
posted by momus_window to Work & Money (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
When I go on a long flight, I wear in-ear earbuds that seal out a lot of noise and then I put over-the-ear extreme isolation headphones (the kind made for drummers) over those and listen to music quietly. It is blissfully quiet.
posted by The World Famous at 5:10 PM on October 21, 2010

I think a close re-reading of those other questions may help you; this doesn't seem especially different from them.
posted by smoke at 5:28 PM on October 21, 2010

I also get really distracted by conversations nearby. I know you said you want quiet, not more noise, but while I've also tried simplynoise and didn't like it, I am finding that Noise Machine for Mac is great. If you get sick of it after a few minutes you can change noises. Most of them are very effective and not too annoying. Plus you can choose something like "space lab" and pretend you are in a space lab.
posted by Beardman at 5:39 PM on October 21, 2010

One of the internet's great unappreciated gems is Aire Freshener, a free program (for Windows only, I assume). It plays recorded loops of many different types of background sound. You can download it from this page.

I know you say you want quiet rather than more noise, but I still think you might like Aire Freshener. In particular, I suggest that you try out the "Restaurant" sound. It's sort of a hubbub of indistinguishable conversation-type sound, and I find that it blocks out voices much more effectively than "white" hissing-type noise. This means that you don't usually have to play it very loudly.

I actually recorded some of the restaurant sound and saved it on my cellphone; I play it in a loop whenever someone is having a distracting conversation in my vicinity.
posted by washburn at 5:41 PM on October 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Is this something that is peculiar to you, ie, you are more sensitive than normal to these distractions? Or are the people being loudmouths?

Either way, you might ask for a less traffic-y work area. And you might mention to the loudmouths that their loudness is distracting. Or wear earmuffs when they start yakking.
posted by gjc at 6:16 PM on October 21, 2010

If you want quiet, a pair of these should do pretty well. A coworker wears them and swears by them. (I find them *too* isolating, but to each their own). If that's not enough, those, plus a pair of earplugs.

Personally, I just wear a pair of reasonably isolating headphones and listen to music quietly (or talk radio, or one of the above sounds; just something so that I'm not concentrating on nearby voices). I'm not in a super-loud area, but those headphones combined with soft music is enough for me.
posted by Tu13es at 7:08 PM on October 21, 2010

Have you tried those hearing protectors/earmuffs that people wear at construction sites? I had to wear them when I worked in a lab this summer, and they work really well. It dulled the very loud machinery I was around to a low murmur, and I couldn't hear anyone speaking to me. Depending on the kind you get, you can also wear regular in-ear/earbud type headphones underneath to listen to music. The music fidelity is really good this way.
posted by bluefly at 7:57 PM on October 21, 2010

follow-up - I moved down a couple cubes for an unrelated reason and the problem has subsided. I use etymotics earplugs or in-ear headphones as needed.

A coworker suggested that it may be sinus-related weirdness - I've had worse allergies this year, so that may be why it was bugging me a lot this fall but has mostly stopped now.
posted by momus_window at 4:31 PM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

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