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5 Ways to Shut Up Noisy Office Mates

With a constant stream of e-mails, telephone calls and office drop-bys, we already have enough distractions to deal with during the day. So noisy neighbors are more than a nuisance. They can be destructive to your own ability and those around you to get things done.

There are two types of noise pollution to consider. One is the single individual who just can't keep quiet. You know these people, probably too well. They have an opinion on everything and a captive audience, you, to share their wisdom with. Dealing with these folks is fairly straight forward. First, you can ask them in a nice way to pipe down. If that doesn't work, it's time to talk to your supervisor about the issue, and how it's hurting your ability to do work. These two measures are usually effective in muzzling the offender, or having them moved them to another locale.

The harder problem is working in an office that is generally noisy. Cube walls are low. Office doors are kept open. The atmosphere is convivial, and the culture is built around face-to-face interaction. Your only recourse is defensive: block it out.

Here are three tips culled from an HBR blog post, Noise at the Office: How to Cope, by Patrick Skerrett:

  • Put on a headset. Music, talk radio babble and stations that play ambient noise such as waves breaking can offer good background distraction to the chaos across the room. If this doesn't work, do what my wife did when she was a reporter in a cacophonous newsroom: wear the same ear muffs used by shooting range masters -- they cost anywhere from $50 to several hundred.
  • Turn on the white-noise. I have a white-noise machine for sleep, but they would be nifty in the office as well. They're a little on the loud side, so you'll want to test before buying. Place one next to your desk or at the open door to your office.
  • Keep it down. Skerrett advises that you monitor your own noise level that may be bothering others. If your office mates see you trying to be noise respectful, they may act in kind.
Who was the loudest or most annoying work mate you ever had, and how did you deal with it?

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