How do you tell a coworker that she talks too loud?
February 16, 2007 6:45 AM   Subscribe

How do you tell a coworker that she talks too loud?

I work in IT, in fact, everyone on the floor I work on is in IT. We need to be able to concentrate. Noise makes that diificult. That being said, I have a coworker whose voice carries to the point that she can be heard anywhere on the floor, that coupled with the fact that she's always talking has made working here extremely difficult. Just asking her to quiet down hasn't worked. (She must think we are kidding her.) Her boss works in a different city, so he's no help.

Some of us have started working from home in order to keep sane, others have resorted to headphones. Some of us who work on the phone all day don't have that option.

Is there anything we can do, short of a muzzle, in order to get her to quiet down?
posted by fellion to Work & Money (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Email her boss with exactly what you say here.
posted by oh pollo! at 6:52 AM on February 16, 2007

Anonymous "No seriously, please stop talking so loudly." post-it note on her screen?
posted by slater at 6:52 AM on February 16, 2007

Dear Coworker,

I thought this AskMe thread might interest you.

Throwaway Gmail Account
posted by stovenator at 7:09 AM on February 16, 2007

Try one of these...Shhhcards.PDF
posted by bhell13 at 7:13 AM on February 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Can I codicil this question with a request for tips on getting the message across when the noisy neighbour is a far more senior academic them me who is unable to hold conversation or speak on the phone without bellowing? I think I won't be able to do this anonymously.
posted by biffa at 7:16 AM on February 16, 2007

A single email from her boss would not have too much weight, since s/he isn't there and can't monitor it.

An anonymous note would lead her to (correctly) assume that one coworker alone has a problem and is too timid to come out and say it.

One person in the office needs to confront her, clearly, directly, and gently, and get her to understand the problem. Ideally, this would be someone who is on good terms with her, and is able to do this in a way that communicates the problem clearly without it seeming like a personal attack.

This need to be followed through on. The very next time, she talks too loudly, someone needs to tell her so. If she does it again, tell her again. Get everybody involved in this, so that she sees that it is not only one person who is bothered by her loudness. Do it in a way that isn't snippy or mean. Make a bit of a joke about it if you want. But keep on her. Think of it this way: this is her 'normal' way of speaking. If no one complains about it, she can't know that what she is doing is bothering others. So she need that negative reinforcement to train her into speaking more softly. If you can, you can throw in some positive reinforcement too, in the form of thanks when she does speaks softly.

If that still doesn't work, as a last resort send a group email to the boss, signed by everyone else in the office, stating the problem and its effect on productivity. But you should warn her before taking this step.
posted by googly at 7:17 AM on February 16, 2007

What was her attitude at being asked to quiet down? Was she embarrassed and defensive or willing to work on it but just unable to?

She might, for example, be open to being IMed at the times when she's being loud as a reminder each time to help her notice when it's happening.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:28 AM on February 16, 2007

My mom is a loud talker and she constantly needs to be reminded when she gets too loud. She's well aware of it, but I think that it's hard for her to realize how loud she gets sometimes. Of course, as she is my mom, I can just say, "Mom, you're too loud," but maybe a similiar, direct-type of approach would work. Or, as googly has suggested, telling her every single time she gets too loud that she is being too loud.
posted by sutel at 7:41 AM on February 16, 2007

Hi, I'm Lucinda, and I was an employee that talked too loudly.

Someone (I still don't know who) reported it to the office manager (our firm's equivalent of HR), and I was spoken to about it. I was mortified (and annoyed, since there were other people in the office who talked loudly and probably still do, to this day) but after that I made a concerted effort to maintain low tones.
posted by Lucinda at 7:50 AM on February 16, 2007

An approach that might get to the heart of things and offend the coworker less: Perhaps it's a hearing problem, and getting screened would benefit everyone involved?
posted by gnomeloaf at 7:55 AM on February 16, 2007

You want to be sensitive about this. I am probably that worker (although not at your place of work -- I am an academic). I talk loud because I have a hearing problem, and I often think that if I can't hear myself, others can't either.

Tell her every time she gets too loud, but tell her gently.
posted by lleachie at 7:57 AM on February 16, 2007

Some people just talk a lot and loudly and are annoying. Reminding them all the time is tedious for you and probably won’t work.

Having them in the furthest cubicle away will help some, as will wearing an earplug in the ear you aren’t using for the phone.

Can you get a headset that blocks outside sound in the earpiece?

Trying to change another person is usually not worth the aggravation. Harm reduction is the approach more likely to be helpful. But sure, talk to HR.
posted by kika at 8:08 AM on February 16, 2007

I am so this person. I don't think I'm hard of hearing, I just naturally speak loudly, and get shushed when it gets bad. Which I don't take offense to, because I don't have any idea how loud I am being.

I think an anonymous email would look really chickenshit. Just like if you had a roommate, who was doing something that needed changing, it's really best if you just go up to her and say "hey, please keep it down. I know you probably don't realize it, but it's really distracting us."
posted by mckenney at 8:31 AM on February 16, 2007

Coming from someone who has been repeatedly told she is loud, I would recommend just telling the person when they are doing it (this is if the far-away boss has been notified and is not taking any action). If she doesn't take it seriously, laugh along with her, then explain that you are serious, and that she really is talking that loudly. If you're afraid of hurting her feelings... Don't. Just make sure you ask in a diplomatic and polite way. If she takes offense, explain that you aren't trying to pick on her or anything, but that it does affect your concentration.
If she takes it well, keep reminding her every time she raises those decibels, because she probably doesn't even realize when it's happening (I definitely don't most of the time, which is why I like being told).
posted by Menomena at 8:34 AM on February 16, 2007

We've discussed this before. I thought there was another similar question after this, but can't find it.
posted by paduasoy at 3:04 AM on February 17, 2007

I have a loud voice, probably because I have poor hearing that was undiagnosed for a very long time. It may be quite difficult for this person to modulate her voice. Screens, taller cube walls, plants, and rugs help control sound. HR should make sure she has a phone with adjustable volume; some people are louder when they're not hearing the conversation well. Maybe she needs a hearing aid and doesn't know it. This is very much a job for HR, and if they have 1/2 a clue, they'll be compassionate as well as effective, but don't count on it. Make sure they get you a headset with good headphones.
posted by theora55 at 10:15 AM on February 17, 2007

I am hearing-impaired, and if I were talking too loud in a work situation, I would respond best if someone took me aside privately and gently explained, in a serious tone, that my decibel level was bothering everyone else. I would appreciate being shown what a "normal" tone of voice is, by slowly increasing my volume until the person said "okay, we can hear you fine at that volume, there's no need to go any louder."

If you don't know whether she is hearing-impaired, you could relate a story about a fictional relative who spoke too loudly and was encouraged to get a hearing test, which made their life a lot easier blah blah blah.
posted by desjardins at 8:50 AM on February 18, 2007

It may also be that she lives with a hearing-impaired relative who is constantly bugging her to "speak up". So she does, and it's become a habit.

Just talk to her, respectfully and professionally.
posted by watsondog at 11:54 PM on February 18, 2007

I'm in disagreement with the rest of the board: I don't think it's your responsibility to talk to her. I think it's her direct supervisor's responsibility to talk to her.

It seems to me the last time she was told to keep her voice down she blew it off. This next time she needs to be told by a supervisor. If they have to fly in and tell her they have to fly in and tell her. The last time she's told she needs to be told in writing.

Talking too loud is not a protected 'right' of a person who's employed by someone else and works with other people.
posted by msbasque at 8:22 AM on August 4, 2007

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