Loud-mouthed coworker shares TMI...
December 28, 2006 11:43 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with a loud-mouthed coworker?

So how can I deal with and/or block out a work colleague sitting on the other side of a cube who talks incessantly, making mainly personal calls for upwards of 2-3 hours per day? In her non-phone conversation she is also quite loud. I'm not in her department (thankfully...) but based on my physical position, when she's not around I hear her dept. colleagues talk about how she also gets on their nerves consistently and how they have to pick up the slack for the work she doesn't get finished due to her lolly-gagging.

Is this just a question of learning how to effectively block out the behavior of another person, or do I have the right to politely go to her supervisor, explain my position with the possibility that he/she may intervene? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If you're not in her department, and if you don't sit near her, then you probably don't have any recourse. Her co-workers need to talk to the appropriate supervisor.

However, if she is physically near you (I can't really tell from your post) and it disturbs your work, I would suggest going to your supervisor and talking about it. I wouldn't go to someone else's supervisor, you'll create a lot of hard feelings. The chain of command in my experience has always been to go to your own supervisor first.

Good luck. I once had to sit next to a lady (not in my dept.) who played music really loud and sang along with it to "practice" for karaoke, all day long, with occasional breaks to call her friends and talk about karaoke. Good times.
posted by smashingstars at 12:10 AM on December 29, 2006

Two things: an ex of mine was once a copy editor at a newspaper where one of the reporters was doing a story on kiddie porn and had your exact problem. The second: I work in an office with no cubes, two companies, flat desks, open office, and one guy who while also having voice immodulation syndrome...wait for it...is having a kid and needs to arrange the circumcision. Repeatedly, and at length.

You can be professional about unprofessional behavior. You can go to their supervisor, or your own. You can say something directly to them in as dry terms as possible (though I believe this would be frowned upon by most official management theories). You can also just be the person who says what everybody is thinking and yell "WE CAN HEAR YOU" when it crops up next. Obviously it's not just you who is noticing it, so maybe you can compromise on all of these options and say something to one of their griping coworkers like "you're right, too bad nobody will do anything about it" and see if you can't get the ball rolling on that side of the department wall.
posted by rhizome at 12:33 AM on December 29, 2006

Talk to your supervisor about it.

Or say just as loud "I'm picking up the phone now," and dial a client. Or the ski report. Same difference.
posted by Tacodog at 1:02 AM on December 29, 2006

I have the same problem in an open-plan office. I've talked to my manager - she hasn't done anything but at least this means senior managers are aware, so on the day when I finally storm out I've paved the way. I've also spoken to the loudest of the staff involved, who manages other loud staff, and asked him to talk to his own staff about noise, hoping that he'll get the message himself. I've offered to pay from my team's budget for screens - if you have a budget this can be a fairly powerful way of making it clear that this is a problem. I've sent emails to the whole floor asking everyone to be considerate about noise. I'm exploring working from meeting rooms or home when it's really busy. As a team we've started logging noise (and the subject of the conversation if it's clearly not about work). One of my own team just sighs and plugs in his headphones when it's too loud for him.

And I agree with smashingstars that it would be better to speak to your supervisor rather than hers. The only other thing I can think of is speaking to your health and safety rep in general terms about noise-reduction solutions like screens.
posted by paduasoy at 3:33 AM on December 29, 2006

Shout things into the phone like 'I'm sorry, can you repeat that, some big mouthed hag in the next cubicle is shouting her mouth off again'.
posted by biffa at 3:40 AM on December 29, 2006 [2 favorites]

I second (third?) the talk to your supervisor suggestion. It would be better if you could do this anonymously. Hell, if she gets fired and you make everyone else's job easier, you'll probably be an office hero.
posted by Effigy2000 at 3:40 AM on December 29, 2006

Get an ipod.

Seriously, that's what I do.

You can raise the issue via the supervisor chain as suggested, but if this person is constantly noisy, and its brought to their attention they may not be able to go from being ridiculously irritating to silent in one fell swoop. Worth considering what your realistic expectations of the situation are.

paduasoy - how much of your day is now lost with your noise obsession?
posted by kaydo at 4:32 AM on December 29, 2006

Couldn't you just speak to the co-worker? I've had situations like this before where it just seems to be down to awareness, and a comment such as, "Hey - could you keep it down a little while I'm on the phone" or "...while I'm concentrating on x" has always worked.

If you do that, especially in front of her colleagues, politely and with a smile on your face, it may do the trick - or at the very least give one of the co-workers courage to say something similar. Theres no opinion involved, just a metter of fact statement that you cannot hear/concentrate with current level of conversation.

I note rhizomes comment about this being frowned on - but it is just a matter of office etiquette, and won't necessarily cause any bad feelings if its handled politely.

Certainly - if it doesn't work after a few attempts - then I'd think about escalating to your own supervisor first to avoid any possible hard feelings.
posted by mattr at 5:23 AM on December 29, 2006

Get headphones like everyone else and mind your own business.
posted by dame at 6:19 AM on December 29, 2006

Consider one of those white noise generators? My company recently moved offices and the new building has a much more open floor plan, still cubes but several team cubes. They installed a white noise system throughout the building, and it takes the edge off the usual office noise.

Then again, I just have a big pair of "dont fsck with me" headphones for when I need to shut the world out. There are smaller earbuds that are form fitting and shut out most noise. And another coworker swears by his Bose sound canceling headphones.
posted by kableh at 6:52 AM on December 29, 2006

I had this same problem on a job once. I tried talking to my supervisor and nicely asking the person to keep it down - all to no avail. The only thing that worked was to get headphones. Fortunately, my job didn't require me to spend alot of time on the phone, so I could just plug in some music and try and tune out the noise.

Even though I'm not the only one who complained, nothing was done.

Ack, co-workers! Over the years, I've had to deal not only with noisy ones, but just about every other aggravating type. Smelly ones, rude ones, lazy ones, bigots, chauvinists, one with a horrible gas problem, several who spit when they talked, those I couldn't bear to have lunch in the same room with because they ate like they were raised in a barn...I could go on and on. The only one I ever saw fired (who was nastily smelly, rude, lazy) wasn't fired for being a thoroughly unpleasant person to work with, but for falsifying his time sheet, go figure. I gave up on complaining a long time ago, since it never did any good.
posted by lawhound at 8:47 AM on December 29, 2006

I got some noise cancelling headphones which worked okay but you can still hear voices.. a bit muffled.

But yeah it's better to mention it to your own supervisor and get them to move you. I don't think most managers are comfortable asking a fellow manager to shut up one of their employees, so they'd rather move you to another open space.
posted by 0217174 at 10:57 AM on December 29, 2006

I'm a supervisor; that employee is on my team. Please complain to your supervisor, explaining that the loud, personal calls this person makes is distracting you and affecting your productivity. Every single time another co-worker complains, urge them to take it to their supervisor. It's not easy to deal with a non-performing staffer who may excel at CYA, if nothing else. The supervisor may welcome documentation of the individual's problems.

The person has been, and continues to be given, every opportunity to succeed. That person doesn't engage in the behavior when I'm around; I've spoken to the employee about it; unless I make it my life's mission to catching the person screwing up, I'm gonna need some help.
posted by theora55 at 11:16 AM on December 29, 2006

I say this from experience.

You can't beat her by asking her to make less noise. She's a diva and knows she's better than you, and what she has to say is more important than your work or comfort.

You also can't confront her directly. She's been doing this her whole life and is better at it than you.

No one in the area will help. They've either learned to go along with it or suffer in silence.

Going to the office manager may get her to tone it down for a few days, but then it goes right back to where it was.

Unless you can go along and join the fun, your only solution is to find a desk out of earshot or find another job.

Sorry about that.
posted by KRS at 11:18 AM on December 29, 2006

Perhaps you could get a petition together and give it to her supervisor. She knows that she's bothering everyone, she just doesn't care. You could also just send a complaint to her supervisor, her supervisor's supervisor, etc. Someone up the line will actually care that they're paying this woman to make personal calls, and that they're paying the rest of you who are losing productivity because of it. If you fear retribution, do it anonymously. Suggest that someone make an investigation into it or something similar.

And dame, not all of us have the option to wear headphones. That would render me unable to perform my function. But even if I could, why should one person be allowed to make an entire office miserable and uncomfortable?

KRS, I managed to get the woman in my area moved out of my department and out of my general area. You just have to know who to go to. Many managers don't want to actually manage. You have to go to the piranha. All offices have at least one.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 9:24 PM on December 29, 2006

I have a novelty magnet/noisemaker labeled PANIC BUTTON (here's an image of the product). When pressed, it plays an old-fashioned AH-OOOH-GAH! klaxon several times, and little red lights flash.

I used to keep it at my desk and press it for fun whenever I or my neighboring co-workers encountered a problem or got an outrageous request of some kind.

It could be useful -- or at least satisfying -- to have such a thing in an office with loud co-workers.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:42 PM on December 29, 2006

Um, kaydo, maybe a couple of minutes every supervision (monthly) if I mention it to my manager, five minutes each for writing two emails (in a year), a ten-minute conversation with the loud person? I'd say that's worth doing for a reduction in noise - of course I'm going to sound obsessed if I'm writing directly about noise, but it's not going to be the first (or fiftieth) thing I mention if I'm just talking about my work environment in general.
posted by paduasoy at 1:35 AM on December 30, 2006

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