Q.I work in an open environment in which several desks are grouped into “pods’’ defined by fabric-lined dividers. People have conversations, talk on the phone, and go about their business generally without a problem - it just adds up to a sort of productive hum. One co-worker, however, frequently makes it difficult to concentrate. His job requires him to spend a lot of time on the phone, and he’s blessed with a rich, resonant voice that carries like few others I’ve ever heard. He makes no effort to modulate his volume. He also holds loud conversations with colleagues in other pods and even plays his phone messages over speakerphone. He seems good at what he does, but he’s making it hard for me to be good at what I do. Any suggestions?
A. We know through studies and our polls at the Emily Post Institute that the number one complaint about office colleagues is loud telephone voices. Your colleague takes it a step further by being loud in person as well.
I’ve come to realize that most rudeness isn’t intentional and the person being rude is often not aware of it. The alternative, that the rudeness is intentional, doesn’t make much sense. People simply don’t get up in the morning planning to be rude.
Nowhere do you mention that anyone has ever brought the issue to Loud Man’s attention. The benevolent place to start is to assume that Loud Man is loud without knowing it. Since you don’t know him personally you may not be the right person to talk to him. Identify someone who is Loud Man’s friend, and try to enlist him to talk to him privately.
It shouldn’t be accusatory, but rather a “bringing to your attention’’ conversation. “John, I wanted to talk to you about something that I hope as a friend you would bring up with me if the situation was reversed. It’s about how loud your voice is in the office. Were you aware you talk loudly?’’
It’s important to ask that question to direct Loud Man to focus on his volume and then get his buy-in to lower it.
Another avenue would be to enlist your boss to initiate discussions in staff meetings about how distractions in the office affect productivity. She should be specific, and include voice level on the list of distractions. Afterward, the next time he is loud, someone can suggest, “John, this is what Ms. Jones was talking about. Could you lower the volume? Thanks.’’E-mail questions about business etiquette to firstname.lastname@example.org.