Your Office Coach: My work neighbor is too loud to bear

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Marie G. McIntyre

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014 12:00 am | Updated: 3:21 pm, Wed May 21, 2014.

Q: My cubicle is right beside the office of a high-level manager who is constantly making some kind of noise. “Jackie” is a loud, gregarious woman who spends most of her day on the phone or chatting with colleagues. Sometimes she even talks to herself. She frequently hums along with the radio, which is always on.

Working around Jackie is like trying to sleep with a mosquito buzzing. After a year of this, I politely asked if she could at least tone down the humming. She got upset and yelled at me, which brought me to tears. Jackie later apologized profusely, but I refused to accept her apology. I have complained to her boss, but that didn’t help. What should I do now?

A: For starters, you should pay less attention to the noise and more attention to the politics. So far, you have insulted a high-level manager, rejected her apology and complained to management about her personal habits. This is hardly the best way to handle someone in a power position.

You must also understand that Jackie is not doing anything wrong. In fact, your own sensitivity to sound is also contributing to this little drama. Some people are not bothered by background noise, because they possess an innate ability to screen out sound. Others, like yourself, are acutely aware of every noise in the room.

Had you been more politically astute, you would have recognized Jackie’s apology as the perfect opening for a calm, friendly discussion of this issue. Guilty feelings about her inappropriate outburst would have made her more receptive to your concerns. Unfortunately, your sulky response negated that advantage, and the ill-advised complaint to her boss only made things worse.

If you approach Jackie again, start by offering your own request for forgiveness. For example: “Jackie, I’m really sorry for rudely rejecting your apology. I often have trouble concentrating here because I’m extremely sensitive to background noise. Since you have a very interactive job, I know this will never be a quiet spot. Do you think management might consider relocating my cubicle?”

If you can shift the dialogue from personal criticism to a plea for assistance, Jackie might agree to help you find a reasonable solution to this problem.

Q: After being laid off from a middle management position, I took a job with an independent grocery chain just to make ends meet. I was shocked to learn that this company does not offer annual pay increases based on merit or tenure. As a manager, I was always encouraged to promote staff retention, but companies apparently no longer care about keeping employees. I find this extremely disheartening. What’s your opinion?

A: I hope you eventually find a more generous employer, but in the meantime, try not to overreact. The compensation practices of this particular business do not reflect a national trend. And even though your company has no regular increase schedule, raises undoubtedly do occur. For clarification on when and how, just ask your human resources manager.

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