A buzzing phone and the impact on co-workers

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Pattie Hunt Sinacole discusses how to confront a noisy co-worker

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Q:  I work in an open office at a tech firm.  We have one person who is louder than the rest of us.  Most of her noise is related to her make-up, flossing, chewing gum and the like.  We have to hear about her new mascara, what type of floss she likes to use, and she is constantly snapping her gum. Her cell phone is never silenced, so we hear all of the beeps and buzzes.  She gets very defensive if anyone makes a comment about her desk area, which also is a mess.  What can I do?  I usually try to escape to another area of the building, but that doesn’t seem right.  I should be able to sit at my desk.

A:  Yikes!  This situation sounds like a challenging one.  Beeps, gum snapping and watching a co-worker apply make-up seems like a lot, particularly if you are in close proximity to your co-worker. 

Confronting a co-worker is hard.  Confronting a defensive co-worker is even harder.  The reality is, if you confront her, she will likely be offended and hurt. 

We all spend a lot of time working.  However, most employees appreciate a reasonably quiet work area.  When I have been presented with this type of question in the past, I typically suggest mentioning the concerns to the person.  You may be reluctant though, which I understand.  One way might be to use ear buds suddenly.  You can explain you are wearing ear buds because there are a lot of distractions and noises that interfere with your ability to be productive.  She may “get it,” which would be ideal.  Perhaps this hint might curtail her behaviors.  You could also ask her to silence her phone, especially if others are silencing their phones.  This is a very reasonable request.  Sometimes starting with gentle requests is easier than having a full-blown confrontational conversation.  It also may help if other co-workers make similar requests.  “Hey Jessica, not sure if you know this, but your phone beeps a lot during the work day.  Maybe you are used to that noise, but most of us silence phones.  Sometimes noises from our phones are distracting.”   

If she isn’t able to hear your feedback, you may have to pull in your manager.  Ultimately it is your manager’s responsibility to address concerns, which you have shared.  Your manager will likely have a more direct conversation.  If your manager has observed this behavior, it may be easier for your manager to give feedback.

This is one of the downsides of an open floor plan.  Many employers moved to an open floor plan to enhance collaboration.  There is some data to suggest that open floor plans have both strengths and weaknesses.  For additional information, there are many articles which have discussed the effectiveness of open floor plans. 

Read one article about open floor plans that might help you better understand the goals and the outcomes of open floor plans. https://hbr.org/2019/11/the-truth-about-open-offices

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