With space at a premium, more and more companies are using an open landscape for their offices. No walls, no doors and, sometimes, no desks provides more that just savings. It can create a certain synergy in a workforce with opportunities for staff to observe, learn and collaborate with one another, but it’s not without its problems. When you’re in close proximity to a colleague, there’s bound to be some noise, and if your office mate is naturally loud, it can become distracting.
Tune It Out
Not that you should put up with constant chatter, especially when it’s a distraction from your work, but the mind is a wondrous thing. If you enjoy what you do, you can get into a rhythm at work where the background noise becomes almost white noise, and you no longer hear it. Give yourself some time to get used to a noisy colleague before broaching the topic. Listening to some quiet music can also be helpful.
Use Subtle Cues
Subtle cues can sometimes work for quieting a noisy coworker. Instead of coming right out and telling her to keep her voice down, make a joke about the situation. Saying something like, “I’m not sure you wanted to share that,” could be enough for your colleague to turn the volume down. Better yet, approach the situation with concern, telling her “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but I can hear every word you’re saying.” However, there’s a fine line between being subtle and passive-aggressive, so avoid being snide or sarcastic with your remarks.
Be Diplomatically Direct
Going the direct route and simply stating your case can nip the problem in the bud, often right away. But don’t bring up the topic on the work floor. Ask your colleague to lunch or coffee, and then tell him that the noise is distracting and that you were wondering if he could keep it down. During the conversation, stay calm, courteous and diplomatic, but be prepared for the noisy coworker to bring up things you do that annoy him. If this happens, don’t be defensive. Just agree to work on it as well.
Find a Quiet Place
On those occasions when concentration is key, move your work to a conference room where you can spread out and focus. If the noise is a constant disruption, you might need to switch desks. When approaching your boss with this request, avoid pointing fingers — at first. Just tell her that you’re finding it a little hard to concentrate and were wondering if you could move to a quieter location. If your boss presses the issue, come clean and tell her that your office mate is noisy.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Dana Severson has been writing marketing materials for small-to-mid-sized businesses since 2005. Prior to this, Severson worked as a manager of business development for a marketing company, developing targeted marketing campaigns for Big G, Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, among others.