Loud Laughing

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about loud coworkers:

I have a coworker who behaves almost like he has a personality disorder. This person needs to go to charm school. This is a very nice, dedicated hard working young man, but he is unaware of his irritating habits of screwing up his face when he is talking, always, into ugly grimaces and he is unaware of how much, how loud and how often he laughs at any little thing. I have never come across anything like this.

Then there are a few ladies who get together at least 2-3 times a day in the office down the hall, and one lady is kind of like the first co-worker with constantly loud laughter. Everyone cannot help but hear her. Now I love to laugh as much as the next person, but I don’t find EVERYTHING just hilarious. I feel like I am in a zoo and confined to the hyena cages. Is there any way to bring their attention to this unattractive behaviour without hurting their feelings, maybe in some accidental way?

Signed, Work in a Zoo

Dear Work in a Zoo:

Habits are difficult to change, even one’s own. Changing coworkers’ probably will prove impossible; however, it is worth a try. Apparently the loud talk and laughter with grimaces is not a work problem; rather it is annoying to you and possibly some others. Therefore approaching this is more a matter of decorum than of productivity. The closest it might be to affecting productivity is that it distracts for hearing and is so irritating that you and others might avoid the loud ones.

Don’t you have a supervisor whose job it is to both make things run smoothly and maintain good order? Loud talk and frequent laughing at everything, it seems to me as an outsider, would convey an appearance of goofing off rather than attending to the tasks at hand. What would upper managers think should they walk through and encounter zoo-like hyena laughing? Scientific American, about two years ago reported “field researchers have noticed that groups of hyenas tend to giggle around a kill, while they’re waiting for their hunk of meat.

Now a study in the journal BMC Ecology [See http://bit.ly/cGTzkn] says the chuckles may communicate things like age, identity and social status. Which is important stuff for figuring out who gets the tastiest cut of zebra.” http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode.cfm?id=hyena-laughter-is-serious-business-10-04-01

You have some options, but few of them can come off as though they were accidental.Approach the individuals and kindly but firmly tell them how they sound to you. Obviously, you don’t want to hurt their feelings, but by remaining silent you allow them to annoy you and to convey ill manners that could adversely affect their job and social relationships. If you were as annoying to coworkers as the ones you describe are to you, would you want them to come to you first or to by-pass you and complain to the supervisor? By-pass them. Candidly share with your supervisor how irritated you are, in a similar way you have described your zoo to Ask the Workplace Doctors. This should be persuasive if you point up how distracting it is and unbecoming of a work group that is committed to doing high quality work. Also it should be persuasive if you mention that such behavior would be viewed unfavorably by upper management.Propose to your supervisor and coworkers that you set aside a staff meeting or two to address questions pertaining to communication. By that, I mean, engage all in the work area in hammering out what kinds of communication foster high quality performance and what distracts. I call this approach spelling out do and don’t rules about talk and other forms of communications that distract, such as loud talk, radios, machines, etc. Talk about talk, especially talk about talk by coworkers, can build ownership in effective ways to enhance performance. Approach the Human Resources/training department and request their ideas on how to cope with such ill-mannered coworkers.

These options are short of video recording your coworkers or playing for them hyenas’ laughing. Possibly these options will spark a more creative way to deal with it or prompt you to get earplugs. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Saving face is important to those who have loud habits, and I sense that you understand that whatever option you choose that is of primary importance. I welcome an update on what you elect to do and how it works or fails.

William Gorden