How Do I Shut Up A Loud Co-worker?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about loud coworker:

I’m looking for advice on handling a distracting coworker. I’m a consultant, not an employee, so my complaint options seem somewhat limited. I work in Information Technology, in a high-walled cubicle environment. We cannot see our coworkers, but can hear them if the volume is loud enough. There is a really loud guy here, and he becomes louder when he gets on the phone, which is frequently. He spends 1 – 3 hours a day on the phone conducting personal business, much of which is extremely personal. He also will visit the woman in the cube behind mine daily, usually for 20 – 30 minutes, again discussing topics of an intense personal nature. I’m unwillingly informed on his every health detail, his kid’s problems with the Social Services department, sexual functionality issues, the nature and times of his fiancée’s menstrual cycle – the list is endless.

To combat this, I wear two forms of hearing protection – foam earplugs and the headphones used by jet engine mechanics – and it isn’t enough. My work requires concentration and thought, and as a consultant, I’m held to a higher standard of work and output than the employees. This guy makes it impossible to produce my best work. If he were some sort of technical guru, I might cut him some slack, but he a middle of the pack performer at best – and that is not just my opinion, but what I’ve been told by many folks here. How would you a situation like this? Leaving is not an option, as there is a contract.

Signed, Distracted

Dear Distracted:

I always believe in confronting a problem head-on, prior to going to higher levels. With that in mind, I would suggest first approaching this individual and informing him that he is disclosing a great deal of personal information about himself, his fiancée and his children, that you wouldn’t think he would want overheard. Although he very well might know this and be doing it on purpose, presented this way, it may embarrass him to some degree and he may cease the behavior. You might also enlist the aid of other co-workers who are probably as upset as you are about this situation. If this direct approach does not work, it would then be proper to go to a higher authority. I doubt if the person responsible for your contract would be satisfied knowing that your valuable input as a contractor was being significantly impacted by this behavior.

As someone who has been on both sides of your type of relationship, contractor and contractee, I know that many contracts specify that the contractor is responsible for providing a suitable work environment for the contractee to do his work. If your contract has any type of stipulation such as this, you would have just cause and even a responsibility to bring this situation to the attention of the person overseeing your contract. Good luck in resolving this distracting problem,

Kolman Rosenberg (Guest Respondent) Performance Consultant/Trainer Kolman Rosenberg & Associates Mentor, Ohio E-mail: kolmanrosenberg@comcast.net

William Gorden