Me + loud typing = disaster
June 13, 2012 6:48 PM   Subscribe

The sound of my coworker typing is driving me crazy. I'm not permitted to wear headphones. How can I deal with the noise?

I work in a cubicle, and my neighbor in the next cube is a loud typer. She types for 30 or 40 minutes at a stretch, at what sounds like 80 words per minute, for most of the day. Due to the configuration of our cubes, her keyboard is less than two feet from my head (albeit on the other side of a cube wall), and there's no way to rearrange either of our seating areas.

I have already been explicitly told that headphones are not permitted (my boss thinks they're unprofessional). Lately I've been wearing earplugs, but those don't cover the sound, and it's a fair bet my boss will reject those too once she sees me wearing them. I'm allowed to play music at my desk, but since I can't play it loud enough to completely mask the sound of the loud typing, the additional noise only makes the situation worse.

I suspect I have something like misophonia, as I've had an extreme aversion to typing noises (sometimes even my own!) in the past. But lately the sound makes me so tense that I am literally in physical pain at the end of the day, and my productivity is terrible because I'm so distracted by the noise.


1. What can I do NOW to mask or mitigate the noise?

2. Is misophonia a real diagnosis? When I see a doctor for my depression and--you guessed it!--anxiety, should I address this? Would wearing headphones be a possible ADA accommodation for depression and/or anxiety?

3. What is the best way to address this with my boss and perhaps request to wear headphones even though they're forbidden? I've only been at this job a couple of months, so I'm wary of rocking the boat too much.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you're allowed to play music, would, you be allowed to use a white-noise generator? That may or may not be enough to cover the noise, but I figured I'd throw it out there.
posted by divisjm at 6:52 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

If your boss is doing her job correctly, she wants you to be productive. If they hired you, and possibly spent some time training you, they've invested in you as an employee. That said, I'd offer the following suggestions:

1. Can you switch cubes? Maybe see if your boss is willing to move you to a somewhat quieter location.

2. Ask your boss for suggestions. The whole idea of management is to create an environment suited for the highest production of whatever it is you do. That includes coming up with solutions to keep the cube folks happy and working.

3. Get that doctor's note, because it's worth a shot. As "unprofessional" as headphones might look to your boss, you not getting your work done looks far, far worse, especially if she's the one who hired you.

I have plenty of co-workers who can't work without headphones - they need the isolation and the background noise to be productive. Personally, I wear gigantic bright orange ones with no music playing through them so people won't bug me with inane questions all day. My boss loves them - and loves that my production is double what it needs to be with 100% accuracy.
posted by the artless dodger at 6:58 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some keyboards are "clickier" than others... maybe you can request that the office get her a keyboard with softer key noises.
posted by gatorae at 7:00 PM on June 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

Not sure if misophonia is a real diagnosis or not, but I totally empathize because I would be the easiest diagnosis ever. I shared an office with a gum chewer/popper who drove me absolutely insane even with headphones. Typing drives me crazy too after awhile. I basically hyper-focus on the noise which makes me wonder if meds for ADHD would have helped's just speculation though. I would seek alternate solutions first.

If I hadn't been allowed to wear headphones I think I would have gone to the doctor first and figured out some way to approach the boss with medical backing - otherwise a lot of people just shrug off this type of thing and figure you're just neurotic.

Could you get your boss to move you to a different area of the office? I would research possible moving solutions to present to your boss.

Unfortunately from what I've been reading recently it seems like a breakthrough that misophonia is even recognized by people as a thing...I don't think there are any real straightforward treatments yet.
posted by fromageball at 7:05 PM on June 13, 2012

I have a godawful fucking nightmare of an upstairs neighbor and I've had some luck with the kind of squashy fat silicone earplugs that you mash over the entire surface of your outer ear such that your entire canal is blocked off airtight. You will still be able to hear things very close to your head, but they're fairly good at keeping out high levels of background noise.

I think they're called Mack's Pillow Soft something or others? It takes a bit of practice to get it right and not give yourself a headache or vertigo from the pressure changes, though. (or that might just be me and my stupid horrible ears)
posted by elizardbits at 7:08 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you tried playing music while wearing earplugs? One or the other may not be doing the trick, but both together might be enough?
posted by platinum at 7:08 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A small fan might work as a white noise generator; but I think that you should try to find a way for your coworker to use a different, less click-y, keyboard. If everyone in the office uses the same keyboard, you might have to get it yourself.

Is the clicking coming from the keyboard or from fingernails on the keyboard?
posted by sciencegeek at 7:12 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would suggest finding a quiet - and nice, high quality - keyboard, then telling your coworker that you'd like to buy it for her if she's ok with using it (have pictures, or the actual keyboard if you can return it for refund if she disagrees), and explain that the reason is because your head is only 2 feet away and you're struggling a bit with the noise being distracting.

Buying it yourself (and it being a nice keyboard) demonstrates that you're genuine about this - you're not making shit up, making a fuss, making complaints, getting HR or others involved, just a very discreet low-key request and offer to upgrade her keyboard to something that is nicer to her as well as to you.

If her nails rather than the keys are the problem... maybe there are keyboards with gorgeous silicone keytops? (No, not the "dead-flesh" speccy keyboards :)

posted by -harlequin- at 7:20 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

The BBC had a really interesting segment recently on alleviating tinnitus based on research published in The Lancet that uses cognitive behavioral therapy. It seems to me that a similar approach might work with this unavoidable noise as well. More from the same researcher. I know it's a bit cliched to suggest therapy, but a therapist might be able to point to some techniques that help you become comfortable with the sound.
posted by idb at 7:23 PM on June 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Yeah, there are very nice non-clicky keyboards. I think you should politely offer to buy your co-worker a high-quality, non-clicky keyboard. It's a pretty small one-time investment. I've also seen silicone keyboard covers that protect the keyboard from crumbs and stuff (I guess), but with the added benefit that they minimize the nails-on-keys noise.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:44 PM on June 13, 2012

Better/different earplugs might help. While I normally swear by Etymotic ER20 ear plugs, they are designed to still allow you to hear things, just at quieter level. I have recently been trying EarPro Sonic Defenders Max EP5 and they seem to do a better job blocking noise, but they also skew the sound much more than the Etymotic's.

The best thing I have used to reduce noise in workplaces isEtymotic headphones with the flanged earpieces and piano music playing. Unfortunately getting them seated in the ear is a little difficult and they can't be removed quickly if you are frequently disturbed at your desk. I use AKG k 271 MK II closed back headphones now. They are almost as effective as the Etymotic headphones and much easier to take on and off (plus they have an awesome little switch that mutes the audio when you take them off your head). The idea that earplugs are acceptable, but headphones are not is kinda ridiculous.

Snarl Furillo, can you recommend some nice non-clicky keyboards? All the keyboards I have used that could be describe as very nice make some noise. Many are not loud clicky, but none have been what I would describe as quiet (where quiet is a typical laptop keyboard).
posted by fief at 8:20 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

My ASD oldest son is very sensitive to noise. The right vitamins or minerals help some people with this. Magnesium supplements seem to be the most commonly helpful supplement for this specific issue.
posted by Michele in California at 9:34 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you have an android/iOS/Mac device*? I am so deeply in love with Sleepy Time, which for $1.99 gives me 40+ white noise-ish sounds I can mix together for a sort of ultimate white noise Transformer. I turn on a 2-hour mix of campfire, beach, and wind on my Kindle for going to sleep, and occasionally use it at work when I need something to cut the silence + annoying noise problems inherent in an office.

*A quick google suggests it may or may not be available in the App Store. If not, my previous go-to was a 1-hour pink noise sound file that I paid $1 for on Amazon and played on my laptop. The upside is that unless it is turned way up, it just sounds like laptop fan noise, but does a great job of helping mitigate nearby sounds when you're sitting near the speakers.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:46 PM on June 13, 2012

So sorry to hear you're having this problem, dealing with noise you have no control over is the worst. A good friend of mine used to work next to a lady with inch-long fingernails that would CLACK CLACK CLACK across the keyboard all day long; the thing that worked best for my friend, since no attempt at tuning the noise out was successful, was to make it into a running joke with me and some of her other friends. She'd include funny little comments about the situation in her emails to us, speculating wildly on the things this lady must have been writing about to be typing with such gusto, and so on. Reframing it as a source of amusement and entertaining stories for her friends rather than an uncontrollable drain on her focus and stamina seemed to help my friend immensely, and even now, many years later, The Clacker is a 'character' I remember fondly.

Obviously you'd need the right type of approach to make it sound funny rather than constantly complain-y with your friends, and obviously it's best to keep the joking away from The Clacker herself (and not outright cruel either way), but if all attempts at blocking the noise fail, maybe looking at it as an opportunity for funny stories could at least give you a sense of some control over the situation?
posted by DingoMutt at 10:11 PM on June 13, 2012

Elizardbits is talking about Mack's Pillow Soft Silicone Earplugs.

And she's right about the vertigo. I used them for a couple weeks and apparently, with some water that happened to be trapped in my ear, acquired some serious vertigo to the point where it took me 20 minutes to put on my boots, and was hugging every light post and tree on the way to medical (they gave me pills to take for 2 weeks, but it comes and goes still). The point being, they'll block out sound decently well but be careful in how you use them. And do NOT push them inside of your ear - they're meant to create an outer seal and can otherwise be trapped in your ear canal if you push them in too far.
posted by DisreputableDog at 10:24 PM on June 13, 2012

This really sounds like an HR problem, since it affects your ability to do your work. Maybe they can move you to a different cube.
posted by rhizome at 11:42 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

lately the sound makes me so tense that I am literally in physical pain at the end of the day, and my productivity is terrible because I'm so distracted by the noise

Your employer is legally obliged to provide you with a workplace that is free from foreseeable hazards (including psychological hazards) that may cause you injury. You're already being injured by this completely avoidable (using music via noise cancelling earphones, or cubicle reassignment, or keyboard replacement) hazard. So this is now an OH&S issue. Look up your organization's procedures for handling those, and follow them.
posted by flabdablet at 3:57 AM on June 14, 2012

Also, if you can play music in your cube, try playing very percussive music, like Japanese Taiko drumming, or African drum music. Most commercial music today is pretty flat and evened out when it comes to dynamics, so the clicking noise will cut right through it. If you listen to something that is also percussive, that may better mask the clicking noise.
posted by markblasco at 7:53 AM on June 14, 2012

Yes, ask for some keyboard options; they vary. Also see if you can find a mat for under her keyboard. Some anti-static mats are thin and kind of rubbery, and something like that would help reduce noise.
posted by theora55 at 11:37 AM on June 14, 2012

I think others' suggestions wrt HR & OSHA should be explored, definitely. But I also want to share an anecdote which is that when I was a freshman in college, my roommate could not STAND my typing. Luckily, she mentioned it to me and I realized I was just typing really loud, like angry typing, and I didn't even know I was doing it. Once she brought the issue to my attention, I immediately started checking myself to ensure I wasn't doing that. This really helped!! Soooo depending on your relationship with this colleague, I think you could consider having a nice, respectful conversation about this issue and see if she can check herself before she wrecks your concentration. If you can try the white noise, etc., you could say "... and here are the things I am going to try: white noise machine, etc." when you're asking her to tone down the hard typing.

Again, this depends completely on whether you two can talk like that without it getting awkward/angering/whatever.
posted by pupstocks at 5:56 PM on June 15, 2012

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