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(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail/Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)
(Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail/Cinders McLeod/The Globe and Mail)

Nine To Five

How can I get my cubicle neighbour to shut up? Add to ...

THE QUESTION

My cubicle neighbour is driving me crazy. She never shuts up. She’s either asking me questions or spouting off about something or she’s loudly talking on the phone to clients, colleagues and friends. I’ve resorted to wearing headphones and listening to music so I can get work done but sometimes I need some peace and quiet to do my job. How can I deal with this? Shut her up? Tell my boss? Move desks? Help!

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THE FIRST ANSWER

Greg Conner

Vice-president of human resources, HP Advanced Solutions Inc.

Let’s face it – we live in a cubicle world and it’s here to stay.

Assuming telecommuting is not an option and your employer doesn’t supply the materials required to construct an office during coffee breaks, here are some steps to consider.

Talk to your co-worker. Many “talkers” don’t realize they’re causing their colleagues grief. Let her know you’re trying to concentrate and suggest she take scheduled work and personal calls somewhere more private, such as a vacant meeting room. Or, when you have a deadline to meet, seek out places where you can work quietly.

If your co-worker attempts to engage you in a conversation which you have no interest in – or time for – politely let her know you have work to complete and suggest that you get together during a break to chat.

If necessary, ask your manager to intervene. Your manager may first choose to remind all employees to keep noise level, chatter, and personal matters to a minimum, or may opt to talk to the employee directly. The relationship between you and your colleague will help determine the best approach.

If you have a good relationship, you’ll probably find her receptive to your request. If not, manager intervention may be the better route. Either way, it’s important to be honest and to do whatever is needed to get your work done. Most people will respect your honesty and be happy to accommodate.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Sheila Copps

Former deputy prime minister

Every office has one: a chatty Cathy who is oblivious to the deaf ears who don’t hang on her every word.

Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, do your homework. Your co-worker may truly have a hearing problem, which could explain the dialled-up volume of her speech.

You should quietly take your boss aside and explain that noise pollution is affecting your productivity. Your manager needs to find out just what is causing this cacophony.

You also mentioned that your cubicle buddy is asking lots of questions. Are they of a business nature? Is she new? Can you, and/or your boss, help smooth her transition in a way that will create a more calming atmosphere for everyone? Perhaps this conversation overload is prompted by the insecurity of not knowing what her own job is and how she fits into the work environment.

Your boss may want to designate a specific site for daily group discussions. A half-hour morning briefing in an adjoining workroom could set the tone for less cubicle conversation.

At the end of the day, the solution is not in your hands. It is your supervisor’s responsibility to facilitate a tranquil workspace.

But noise levels in a cubicle environment will always be challenging. Absolute silence is impossible in these circumstances. You may need to work on better personal focus, too. Training your own mind to stay on track means concentrating on the job at hand, not on your neighbour’s conversations.

If music ear buds have been already been successful in calming your workspace, you might consider sound-muffling stereo phones sans music.

When all else fails, there is a simple answer: relocation, relocation, relocation.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Confidentiality ensured. Weigh in with your view at tgam.ca/careers.

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