I am a special snowflake and I need eveyone to be quiet
November 29, 2007 10:50 AM   Subscribe

I have to share an office with a "percussionist." He drums on his desk, taps his foot, etc. It drives me crazy, and I feel like my head is about to explode. Is it rude for me to ask him to stop? If so, what else can I do?

To be honest, I almost didn't post. I've been thinking about this for so long, it's hard for me to believe that anyone here can offer something better than, "you're screwed, dude." But maybe the hive mind will surprise me.

Here are the specifics: I'm SUPER-sensitive to noise. I have Aspergers, so that's probably the reason. But whatever the reason, it's true. I'm also a computer programmer, and I work on an extremely complex application. Basically, my job is like doing mind-bending Calculus problems all day, and they require 100% of my concentration. Every time I lose focus, it takes me a really long time to find my way back into the problem. Sometimes, when the guy drums, I wind up going over the same line of code 40 times.

Data points:

-- my boss is FUNDAMENTALLY opposed to people working at home. I've tried to get him to let me do that. He won't. The end. I could get another job, I guess, but in all other ways, I love this job. And besides, I'd probably have to deal with this issue in other jobs. (I didn't have to deal with it in the past, because I was a teacher, not a developer. But I don't want to teach any more.)

-- there is no space I can go in my office to get away from the noise.

-- there are four other people in the office, and none of them are even slightly bothered by the drumming. It's the sort of noise that doesn't bother "normal" people. He's not hammering on the desk, just lightly tapping it. But I'm the sort of guy who can't concentrate on a movie if people in the theatre are whispering really quietly. I realize that it's a communal space and that we all have to compromise. It's his office, too.

-- even if he agreed to stop, I'm not sure he could. It looks like he does this unconsciously.

-- I've tried earphones, but I can't listen to music (even instrumental only) and work at the same time. Same noise issue. I've tried ambient noise. It's either too distracting or not-loud-enough to mask the percussion. (I can feel the percussion as-well-as hear it.)

-- I've tried earplugs. I even bought these industrial ones, used by people in factories. They were really expensive. They didn't help. They muffled the noise, but I could still hear it. For me (as crazy as this sounds) muffled noise is as-bad-as loud noise.

Okay, I understand that this is largely MY problem. But what can I do? Should I resign myself to being a person who should never work around other people (at least not on complex stuff that requires lots of extended concentration)? Should I get on some sort of meds? This is too petty a problem to take up as much of my energy as it does.
posted by grumblebee to Work & Money (54 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I bet your co-workers find it annoying as well, as would I. My brother does that and it drives me insane.

You might discuss it with your boss, who might then have a gentle conversation with the drumming guy.

Good luck.
posted by Camofrog at 10:56 AM on November 29, 2007

At LEAST ask him to stop politely first. Why do so many people think it's rude to politely ask someone to stop doing something that annoys them? That should be the go-to move, and if that doesn't work, THEN talk to the boss, find alternate arrangements, etc. It's not rude to ask nicely.
posted by agregoli at 10:58 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: that would annoy me, too. and you could ask him to stop, but he probably has no idea he's doing it, so he can't really stop- he'll unconsciously start doing it anyway. and it will probably quickly turn into a sore point once you've expressly asked him to stop (i would get annoyed faster if i thought "he KNOWS how much i hate it and he's still doing it!")

how about listening to smooth white noise on noise-cancelling headphones?

in my chatty office, i wear foam marshmallow cylinders (i find that the cylinders are much better than the cones). over those, i wear construction-site giant earphones. personally, i only wear the big dumb earphones to advertise that i'm working, so people are less likely to interrupt me in my gregarious, open-concept office, but they do add a layer of sound protection. in my situation, we're quirky, so the aesthetic is no big deal- maybe getting all-black ones would be better in your office, so they look like stereo headphones?

to be really thorough about it, how about a three-layer plan of attack?
dense foam marshmallows stuffed way in to your ear canals,
earbuds playing smooth white noise outside of those,
foam construction dealies outside of those.

it's a bit much, i guess, but whatever works, right?
posted by twistofrhyme at 11:03 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm almost ashamed to speak up here, but I'm one of the drumming types. I almost never even notice when I'm doing it, but when the guy down the hall spoked up - nay, screamed - that I was driving him nuts with it, I was able to start toning it down. I don't think I do it much anymore.

or maybe I just don't notice it.

In any case, there are apparently some folks who apparently have to be...kinetic or they can't work either. So I'm with agregoli on this one.
posted by jquinby at 11:03 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You're right, agegoli. My problem is that I've been asking people to be quiet for a year. Somebody gets into a conversation, I ask them to please keep it down. I go back and forth between doing it and not doing it. But there have been times when I've asked for quiet 40 times in one day.

After a while, I become That Crazy Guy. And if I'm the only one (in a communal space) that's bothered by the noise (which objectively I know is not all that bad, according to most people's standards), I don't know how far to push.

There's also the issue that I'm in my 40s -- with, in certain ways, the personality of a guy in his 50s or 60s -- whereas the other people here are mostly in their 20s.

I'm also the only person doing the sort of development I'm doing. There are plenty of other programmers here, but they're mostly working on small apps. I'm working on this complex beast that's 30,000 lines of code, most of which I wrote myself. And no one here really understand what I do or why I need to concentrate so hard. (Or why I'm such a bad multi-tasker.)
posted by grumblebee at 11:03 AM on November 29, 2007

Tell him you have Aspergers, if he doesn't already know. A lot of people don't know about it and doesn't know how it makes people think or react differently. If he knew that it was this much of a problem, he might do his darndest to let his anxiety out in other ways. If he's agreeable, you may also want to come up with a "code word" to remind to stop if he unconsciously starts.

He might also want to try crossing his legs and shaking his foot rather than tapping. Same repetitive motion but oh-so-silent.
posted by odi.et.amo at 11:05 AM on November 29, 2007

I hear your pain... one of the problems with being a developer , especially one doing really complicated stuff, is that other people don't understand the need for total concentration, or why we just can't pick up where we left off. People where I work are just starting to realize that if they just leave me alone, i can get 5 times as much stuff done than if they pester me every 20 minutes.

That being said - you need to work with your boss to find a solution. If working at home isn't an option - what else is? If you're only 1 of 4 in the office, i'm guessing he really doesn't want to replace you either. Getting someone new up to speed is a very daunting task, and involves a lot of lost production. You need to make him aware of the benefits to him of having you working to your full potential. Why is he opposed to you working from home? Is it the lack of communication? Promise to give him daily emailed and phone updates, and to be available via IM or phone all day. What about working part time from home, say 2 or 3 days a week? What about coming in for a couple of hours in the morning, getting all your communication done, then going home to work? Work on a compromise, instead of an all-or-nothing scenario.

Also, have you tried listening to some sort of a white-noise recording through a pair of really good, noise-cancelling headphones? It might take a while to get used to, but because it's a constant, consistent noise, as opposed to the variety of instrumental music or the drumming going on, it might make things more tolerable.
posted by cgg at 11:06 AM on November 29, 2007

My husband is a chronic drummer. Sometimes I can block it out, but I get headaches frequently and then he might as well be drumming on my head. You're right, it's largely subsconscious. He didn't even realize he did it until I pointed it out. He's made a conscious effort to stop, but sometimes he slips and I have to give him a sidelong glance. So your first step should be to talk to him, he probably doesn't know he's doing it.

The thing that you're going to have to realize is that as much as it's your quirk that sound bothers you, the drumming is his quirk. Once my husband stopped drumming, he moved onto pen twirling, coin jingling, flipping around his wedding ring like Two-Face from the Batman series, and leg bouncing. So despite asking him to stop the drumming, you're probably going to have another issue to deal with.
posted by librarianamy at 11:06 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm almost ashamed to speak up here

Don't be. You're not bad or wrong. Neither is my co-worker. We're just in an unnatural situation. We don't work together on projects. We're only forced to share a room because real estate is expensive.
posted by grumblebee at 11:06 AM on November 29, 2007

I have Aspergers, so that's probably the reason.

Maybe he has ADD and he can't help it either. This is a problem for your office manager. He/She should be able to find a space that works for the both of you.

There's a limit to how much people can control their unconscious behavors. Speak to someone who can move you to a different spot. Ah, the joys of the 'open plan.'
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:07 AM on November 29, 2007

Maybe when you mention it to the drummer don't frame it so much as "you drumming drives me crazy" as "its hard for me to concentrate on my work when there is a lot of noise." Its not a huge difference, but framing it as an issue you are having vs. something he is doing wrong can help if its someone who tends to get defensive. Also, if you are working on something as important as your task sounds your boss should surely understand if you present it to him as something that impedes your ability to be productive. I can't imagine any boss who is told something that is easily avoidable is causing me to be less productive which is causing you to earn potentially less would ignore it.

I also agree with people's comments to ask him before you escalate. That can help avoid potential bitterness also.
posted by zennoshinjou at 11:10 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the ideas. Just my situation is clear, there's no possibility of me moving to another spot, unless the whole company moves.

Our whole company works out of two rooms. (We're a small startup.) There IS no other space. The room I'm in is actually the "quiet" room. The other room is for the sales people, and they're screamingly load (phone conversations, etc.)

Even the drummer couldn't work in that room.

And working at home/out-of-the-office is NOT an option. It's really not. I've been fighting that battle for a year. I've lost it.

I'm going to try the earplugs + headphones + white noise thing. I've tried each of those things separately, but never all together. That won't stop the vibrations I can feel, but maybe it will help.
posted by grumblebee at 11:14 AM on November 29, 2007

Some young people are driven fucking mad by this type of noise too.

I can't really work with music (only really selective shit, which then gets into my head and becomes distracting again) but good noise cancelling headphones appears normal, and does something to keep the level around you down. You know, with no music playing.
posted by shownomercy at 11:15 AM on November 29, 2007

Can you get moved to a different room in the building, all by yourself? If the work you're doing is so complex, they should want you to have complete concentration. Even if you can get him to stop drumming, there will always be people talking and other distractions.
posted by Koko at 11:16 AM on November 29, 2007

damn dirty ape: Maybe he has ADD and he can't help it either.

Yeah, that might be, but there's a real baseline to hone to as far as office behavior is concerned. I have ADD, for example, and it causes me to do similiary things, but that's not an excuse; it's still true that people in a work environment have a right to expect me not to bother them over and over again.

People who work together sometimes have to work this stuff out. Ask nicely. If he's a nice guy, he'll oblige; it's not a weird or insulting request, and if you make sure he knows that, then, if he's willing to be rational about it, he's likely to make an effort to be less distracting.

However, I've had similar experiences, and sometimes people can't control it. Sometimes it just keeps happening, and if it does, a discreet discussion with the office manager or whomever can get you moved is in order. There's no reason not to be polite, but you shouldn't sacrifice your work for it.
posted by koeselitz at 11:17 AM on November 29, 2007

On preview: so that makes it all the more reasonable to approach him about it. I don't think it would be impolite at all to mention it: "whoa, the desk is shaking here. Could you cool off with the percussion? Sorry, I don't want to seem like a jerk, but I'm trying to think here."
posted by koeselitz at 11:20 AM on November 29, 2007

If you have a diagnosed medical condition, isn't there some kind of federal law that can force your company to give you an accommodation?

I am neither a lawyer nor a holder of any particular diagnosis, but it seems like I hear about such things all the time.
posted by mccxxiii at 11:22 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just a thought about technique if you use earplugs etc. I find that if I wait to use sound deadening devices until noise is a problem for me, the device tends not to work so well. If I preemptively put in the earplugs before there is any problem at all, I find that I tend to tune out subsequent noises much more easily. When I already know the noise is bothering me, it finds a way to insinuate itself though the shielding.
posted by otolith at 11:29 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't have a diagnosed medical condition. I guess there's a chance I don't have Aspergers, since I've never had a diagnosis. But I fit the profile to a T. Whenever there's one of those surveys and if you score 7-10, you probably have Aspergers, I always score a 10.
posted by grumblebee at 11:31 AM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: Drumming drives me somewhat batty too. Whistling requires me to suppress rage. The freight elevator, unfortunately situated near my desk, gives off a headache-inducing high-pitched whine when someone is holding it on another floor -- a sound that most people don't even notice. I feel your pain.

That said, I'm going to take a completely different tack and suggest that you try to desensitize yourself to the noise by exposing yourself to tapping noises intentionally. Kind of like the therapy used to get people through intense phobias. The drumming will still probably distract you, but at least perhaps you can lessen the accompanying frustration that undoubtedly adds to the mental derail.

I don't know if this will make sense to you, but my mental process goes a little like this: Do you ever find that if you wake up to music, you realize that you've been swishing the sound around in your head for a bit before you actually come to the moment of "Oh, I'm awake!"? I aim to do something a bit similar with these everyday noises...weave them into the rhythm of my mental chatter so that I can at least keep the thoughts staggering in a somewhat forward direction.
posted by desuetude at 11:36 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That said, I'm going to take a completely different tack and suggest that you try to desensitize yourself to the noise by exposing yourself to tapping noises intentionally.

I like that idea.

But has it actually worked for you? I mean, I AM exposed to it.
posted by grumblebee at 11:38 AM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: I have noticed the same effect as otolith; if I wait to put in the earplugs, my brain seems to unconsciously search for the annoying noise until it can find it again.

Also, if you get soundblocking headphones, get the hideously giant ones intended for use by industrial workers. This is for several reasons: they can be exceedingly quiet, they're designed for all-day wear, and they're exceedingly noticeable (so people know you are serious about quiet).

...but the "designed for all-day wear" part is especially important, IMHO.
posted by aramaic at 11:38 AM on November 29, 2007

Best answer: I'm sure you can work out a compromise. You said you can both hear and feel the tapping -- well, how about getting him something he can drum on that doesn't produce much noise or vibrations? Bring up his drumming, then immediately offer up a suggestion of drumming on a padded surface. You could probably convince your boss to buy these things, since they'd be cheap (you just need something to absorb the impact -- foam from a craft store ought to do it).

You've both got fundamentally different working and thinking styles/quirks -- you clearly already recognize that. The key seems to be a compromise such that he can continue to do what he does naturally without causing a distraction. Couple the padded surface/foam with some noise-canceling headphones, and you should have a decent solution.
posted by spiderskull at 11:39 AM on November 29, 2007

They muffled the noise, but I could still hear it. For me (as crazy as this sounds) muffled noise is as-bad-as loud noise.

I don't have your level of sensitivity, but I find muffled noises more irritating than distinct noises. They're often more difficult to tune out for me.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 11:40 AM on November 29, 2007

This may not work for you, but try switching the type of music that you listen to. When I was in high school and had many hours of homework, I found that I could listen to music with words only if I was doing math related work. When doing language based work (any type of reading or writing) I could only listen to classical. Because I had siblings of different ages, and a limited space to work, the music was the only way I could down out the noise. I understand your problem - I remember "drummers" is school, who when told to stop by the teacher did the leg movement thing, which resulted in the whole room vibrating! I am not sure which was worse!

wife of 445supermag
posted by 445supermag at 11:44 AM on November 29, 2007

Is there music you can listen to which won't bother you? There's a few CDs in my collection I read to and block out the other noise.

-- even if he agreed to stop, I'm not sure he could. It looks like he does this unconsciously.
I agree. I'm that guy and have been booted from lectures for incessantly clicking my pen without realizing it. Let him know and try to work with him on it. If he's a decent guy, he won't take offense and probably doesn't even realize it's an issue.
posted by jmd82 at 11:46 AM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: I find muffled noises more irritating than distinct noises.

Actually, I think that's true for me, too. My brain strains to listen, even if I don't want to listen. I drive my wife crazy by continually adjusting the volume on the TV -- when she's watching a show and I'm not paying attention to it.

I find myself turning it up as often as turning it down. There's is sweet spot where it's not too loud to hurt but not too mumbly to make me strain to hear it.

I also find that when I'm listening to my iPod, I have a PHYSICAL reaction if the sound is too loud or too quiet. My whole body tenses up and I feel anxious and shakey, as if I've had too much caffeine.
posted by grumblebee at 11:47 AM on November 29, 2007

wife of 445supermag has a good point. At work, if I listen to music I can't concentrate, however, if I listen to a podcast with a bunch of talking (say NPR shows), I can concentrate for a long period of time.
posted by drezdn at 11:50 AM on November 29, 2007

Hello. My username is steveminutillo and I'm a drummer.

I would find it completely reasonable, especially at work, for somebody to ask me to cut it out. I would even not mind being reminded repeatedly until I actually stop.

Of course I'm a perfect person and your mileage with actual cow orkers may vary.
posted by steveminutillo at 11:51 AM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: Oh man, I'm happy for you, but I could NEVER listen to a podcast and code at the same time. I'm amazed that anyone can do that. I can understand instrumental music, though even that tends to be a problem for me.

I guess this shouldn't be a surprise, given the way I process info, but I don't really get the concept of background music. I love music, but when I listen to it, I LISTEN to it. I think my brain just refuses to multitask.
posted by grumblebee at 11:52 AM on November 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help, folks. I won't respond to anything else posted here for a while, because, coincidentally, I have to go have a mole removed from my ear. Maybe I'll ask the doctor to go ahead and just cut my ears off. I don't need ears to do my job.

I'm a bit freaked out about this minor operation, because I'm a wimp about pain (yet another way I'm annoyingly sensitive). I've thought about asking the drummer to come with me. If he drums while the doc is removing the mole, maybe I'll be so distracted that I won't notice the pain; or I'll be in so much pain, I won't notice the drumming. Either way, I win!
posted by grumblebee at 11:58 AM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Thinking out loud - are you in a cubicle? If not, maybe you should be. I know most people hate them with a passion, but I started out in an open office, and since I have much the same quirk that you have (constant human-ish noises drive me up the wall, especially repetitive ones), I got the owner to buy me some nice walls, and now I'm in my own little padded cell, inside the big office. I absolutely love it. A co-worker here eats pretty much all day, and eating triggers something in her sinuses which causes her to sniff for about 15 minutes afterwards. So the whole day I listened to her rustle about in her chip and pretzel bags, and then listened to her crunching on her food, and then listened to her sniff. Just about the time she was done sniffing, she would start rustling around in the bags again. So now that I have the walls, I usually can't hear her at all, and if I can, low-playing instrumental music cancels her out entirely. To address your desire to LISTEN to the music - train yourself not to pay attention to it by playing the exact same music all the time. Just pick a cd of instrumental only music, and listen to it until you have no interest in focusing in on it any more. It really works. I exhibit many signs of AS too, can you tell? I have lots of coping techniques. Also, could you move your desk to another area?

If your desk shakes or your pens are rattling around because of the drumming, he should know about it. If you can actually feel the vibrations, he must either be sitting practically in your lap, or he's drumming really hard, or your office needs more fabrics and soft furnishing (carpeting, drapes etc) in it to help absorb sound and vibrations that are bouncing around on all those hard surfaces.

Good luck with the mole removal.
posted by iconomy at 12:00 PM on November 29, 2007

Without even reading the rest of the question I knew I had to respond to this since I am pretty much the person you are complaining about. (see my username?) It is pretty much sub-conscious for me - I tap on the keyboard while I read papers, for example - so until people have brought it up I was really not aware I was doing it. There have been two confrontations in the past.

1. I was a co-op student who shared an office wtih several other students. I drummed on my desk a lot. It bothered another girl a lot. She started complaining about it to other people and making jokes about it behind my back, and silently building up anger until one day she blew up at me. I was flabbergasted (since I had no idea I was annoying her) and in fact a little irritated that she hadn't just told me I was bothering her; I certainly would have tried to stop.

2. Ongoing. I'm a grad student now and have a cubicle in a big room with other students. Most of us have headphones on while we work, but the clack of fingers tapping on a keyboard is so loud that my neighbor says he can hear it even through his music and it was bothering him. A couple of times he asked me to tone it down a bit (by throwing pens at me to get my attention - fortunately he had a sense of humor, unlike the last girl), at which point I immediately tried to stop... but inevitably I would start back up again sooner or later.

Finally this came to a head where he said it was really too much, and either I would have to try harder to stop, or one of us would have to move. I know he would have volunteered to move but I was not about to let my own behavior drive someone from their desk.

I of course felt really bad and thought for a while about what I could do. I came up with the idea of instituting a "tap jar", like a swear jar, where every time I catch myself tapping I throw in a dollar, and use the money to buy goodies for the lab. I thought it was a great idea, but much to my dismay my neighbor said he didn't want me to go to such extremes. Personally I would like to modify my behavior so I don't annoy others without realizing it. We settled on me doing my best and him throwing pens when necessary. Gradually the number of incidents went down. The more reminders I get, the longer the time goes between incidents. Now it's quite rare (but still happens) and I think we're relatively comfortable.

It's quiet understandable to be irritated by tapping. It's like a dripping faucet. It sort of bores into your brain. If your co-worker is a decent guy he should be willing to modify his behavior so he is not disturbing you. Send him an e-mail. Be polite, but make it clear that his behavior is bothering you, you have tried your best to work around it but can't, and if he could somehow stop it would make you much happier and much more productive. Good luck.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:01 PM on November 29, 2007

But has it actually worked for you? I mean, I AM exposed to it.

But you're exposed to it with no control over the situation whatsoever and the compounding factor of grrr! need to work now!! To answer your question, yes, this little amateur-CBT technique is helping me.

Another related example: my co-worker unconsciously drums his fingers along the top of the table or file cabinet in a particular patter every time he passes by. Bumb-buhbuh-bump. I decided to start doing it too. I still notice when he does it, but now the sound is "naturalized" to me and less intrusive.
posted by desuetude at 12:07 PM on November 29, 2007

Since you're at wits end, if you're creative, you can probably figure out a way to use negative punishment. There are so many factors that only you know about in your office, so my suggestions of how to implement it might be way off, but if none of this other stuff works, you can give that a try.

For example, and just to get the concept across, as soon as he starts drumming, interrupt his drumming with something unpleasant - knock a jar of pens off the floor in his direction. Step on his computer cords accidentally (unplugging them). Bring up some subject or event you know he can't stand. Startle him with a loud clap and say "yes!", then tell him you just figured something out. Taptaptapta-"Dude! I heard this awful story on the news last night..." Taptaptaptapt-BAM as you accidentally bump into his desk on the way to get coffee. Taptapta-Click go the lights as you head out of the room. "Oops! Sorry about that- habit!"

It might take a few days, but worth a shot if nothing else here works. You do run the risk of him developing another nervous habit, but I've seen this stuff work more than once. Hell, it's been used on me before. Suddenly he'll stop doing it at work and wonder why he doesn't like to do it anymore.

(someone here with a psych degree could probably tell you how to make it work perfectly)
posted by cashman at 12:07 PM on November 29, 2007

What about trying to dampen the vibrations with a thick rubber pad under your desk?

(I'm also super sensitive to noises. They test the fire alarms weekly, and if I'm caught in the stairwell at the time, I cringe and cover my ears, and feel as if someone has been beating me inside my skull.)
posted by happyturtle at 12:13 PM on November 29, 2007

Can you shift your work hours somewhat -- come in earlier or later? That way you might have at least an hour or two each day when the drummer is not around.

Not a complete solution, but it could help to some degree
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:15 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Present this to your boss in terms of what the company is losing. It sounds like what you do is very very important to your small company. Can they rent you a private office in the same building?

Let's say two hours a day is lost because of this issue. That stop s your job from being done by 25%, assuming an 8 hour day. That costs the company X, while renting a private office costs Y.

In return for this, you will commit to doing Z, which is something you haven't done in the past.
posted by Pants! at 12:15 PM on November 29, 2007

Seconding iconomy: listen to the same music over and over until your brain doesn't need to pay attention to it.

I used to work in a cube farm with about 12 noisy neighbors and I had 2 CDs that would effectively drown out the noise (anything else, I actually listened to). But it took a while before my brain was able to tune out the music (Bach's Brandenburg Concertos, FWIW). Perhaps the rather mathematical, predictable quality of Baroque music helped?
posted by Quietgal at 12:21 PM on November 29, 2007

If you haven't tried shooting earmuffs yet, those are what you want.

A lot of earplugs are designed so that you CAN still hear things, like, for example, music. Shooting earmuffs should make it near impossible to hear anything. If you can still hear him drumming through shooting earmuffs, then he's obviously drumming too loud.

You can pick up a set for as low as $20 on amazon. They aren't going to be comfortable to wear, but, hey, you know, everything comes with a trade off.
posted by fishfucker at 12:48 PM on November 29, 2007

Could you listen to a click track with headphones while you work? It would drown out the drummer, but perhaps be boring and repetitive enough that you could still concentrate. (Or it could drive you nuts. Whoops.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:27 PM on November 29, 2007

Hi, (cow-orker's name here), could we chat for just a sec?

I've got this issue with the way you are a percussionist all day. I know that this is completely MY issue, and not yours. Really, I'm not joking. My problem, not yours. Totally.

My hope is that you and I can figure out a way that you can help me a little? I'm not asking you to stop forever, (and again, this is MY problem, and I totally get that) but maybe certain times of the day you could really try not to do it?

And if you do it anyway during those times, then I'll just deal. Because it's MY problem. Really. No, really. But if you're really feeling nice, and you'd like to refrain during those times, I'd BE SO APPRECIATIVE. Because you'd totally be helping me out.

And I'm not asking for all day. Maybe just an hour or two right in the middle of the day when I tend to be working really hard.

And if the answer is no, then there are no hard feelings, because you don't have to help me with this. It's really my problem.

And if the answer is yes, you'll try, then I'll be thrilled, and also understanding when you accidentally do it anyway. I won't even say anything, because God knows you're not obligated to fix my problems for me.

So is there something we can work out here? Thanks a bunch.

(It's hard to overstate my satisfaction. I'm being so sincere right now.)
posted by SlyBevel at 2:00 PM on November 29, 2007

If you can't beat him, join him. Become a better drummer...with real drumsticks. Use his head and shoulders as cymbals occasionally when finishing drum rolls.
posted by greenmagnet at 2:20 PM on November 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm sure people already said this, but noise-cancelling headphones? That stuff drives me crazy, too.
posted by fructose at 3:30 PM on November 29, 2007

Tapping like that would probably drive me nuts (things like microwave ovens, exhaust fans and running water also annoy me) - yet I'm a knee shaker/foot tapper. Bad enough the whole desk shakes at times.

As a programmer, who gets frustrated about broken concentration I would be fully open to someone complaining about my shaking.

As a testosterone fueled jerk - I would probably get angry, vindictive or passive-aggressive about being constantly reminded - sorry :-(

I'd really like to know what the heck is up your boss's butt about working from home - even part-time. A good computer programmer requires intense concentration - if they cannot give you that in your facility. And it's a startup for crying out loud - someone who should be flexible. Heck - it would save them money.

Why? I've worked from home now for nearly 2 years - it is the most productive time I've had in 17 years of employment. I work for the borg - my entire team of 30-40 people work either from home or a customer site - I'm pretty sure someone at the company has figured out this is beneficial to the bottom line.
posted by jkaczor at 3:48 PM on November 29, 2007

> For me (as crazy as this sounds) muffled noise is as-bad-as loud noise.

I feel your pain. I'm exactly like you about little or persistent sounds and have had many issues like that.

If the white noise doesn't work, create some little noise of your own the cover the tapping. Could be your favourite very familiar music in a headset, or even an imagined sound, preferably a soothing or cathartic one.

Definitely ask the guy, more than once. He may need reminders. Show him an example of the calculus-like thing you have to concentrate on.

Also, I found working to improve my concentration skills was helpful. Meditation was one way. The best was a kind of damn-you attitude saying I refuse to pay attention to that, and I'm going to pay attention to my thing. Kind of like a video game where you can't be distracted by intermittent element. Kind of a 5-year old mentality of "I'm not going to listen." Whatever it takes to triumph. However, just exposing myself to it, as someone suggested, did not work. Don't need more distractions. Need the skill of concentration. Forget our label of Aspie and try to copy those people who have brilliant unwavering concentration. I'm good at copying what I can imagine; maybe you will be too.
posted by Listener at 4:38 PM on November 29, 2007

My boss is a kinetic guy, and he drums and taps his feet during our half hour meeting every morning. I can't exactly wear noise-cancelling headphones to the meeting, and asking him to stop would invite hostility. The only thing that keeps me sane is reproducing his rhythm (quietly) myself. It sounds like you're in a tough situation. Here's hoping some of the other great suggestions here work for you.
posted by notashroom at 4:39 PM on November 29, 2007

Two different jobs, two different nail-clippers. *Every* dang day, all ten of them, I swear! How can people need to clip their nails that often - too much gelatin in the diet? A drummer would've been a blessing. I kept waiting for the clippings to soar over the cubicle wall and land in my tea. Ick, ick, ick. I took for going for short walks around the premises when this happened. It took me away from the aggravation, gave me a chance to think about what I needed to do next workwise, and saved my poor grinding molars. I also found very loud music (as others have said) in my headphones allowed me to focus more on my work, as *my* choice of distraction is easier to filter out. Calming Maté tea worked, too, I think. Good luck.
posted by fish tick at 7:06 PM on November 29, 2007

What's wrong with just sticking your head into his cubicle/workspace and saying (very loudy): Stop frikkin' drumming! I'm trying to work here! Gah!
posted by Anisoptera at 7:24 PM on November 29, 2007

As everyone has said, he probably doesn't even realize what he's doing. I tap my foot incessantly and 9 out of 10 times I don't realize what I'm doing.

People politely me ask to stop all the time. I do my best curb it when asked, but, like I said, I usually don't realize I'm doing it - especially if I'm engrossed in whatever it is I'm doing.

Long story short, ask him to stop nicely.
posted by ASM at 8:54 PM on November 29, 2007

Bose QuietComfort Headphones

Pricey but astonishingly good.
posted by DrtyBlvd at 5:48 AM on November 30, 2007

Grublebee: You should at least ask. I mean, I'm sure that guy doesn't want to annoy his co-workers to the point that they'd rather work from home (even though most people would probably prefer to do that generally)
posted by delmoi at 7:21 AM on November 30, 2007

I am a (clinically diagnosed) AS person. Open plan offices do Not Work for me. The visual distraction of people moving around, the aural distraction of conversations and people tapping and, oh God, the sound of people eating/drinking ... it drives me totally bonkers. I can't work in that environment at all.

I have a limited list of classical/techno music I listen to, with very good in-ear headphones. I've trained myself over the last couple of years to associate those patterns of sound with flow-state-concentration - used while driving/coding/focussing.

My husband is a foot-tapper and jiggler. We have wooden floors in the office (which I work out of). "Honey, you're making the room bounce again" is not an uncommon remark. And hey, we both understand that vibrations annoy the living daylights out of me, and that it's unconcious on his part, and we get along.

I code for a living. Currently, I work for a startup, and the deal is I work 2-3 days a week where I please, and 2-3 days a week in the office (which I share with one other person). This gives me sufficient facetime with my superior, and it gives me sufficient alone time to actually get work done.
posted by ysabet at 3:48 PM on November 30, 2007

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