The office loud talker can infuriate and distract even the most conscientious workers. So what is the best way to deal with these walking megaphones?
Natalia Perera is well acquainted with the difficulties of working with a loud talker. The innovative director of Syneka Marketing sits directly opposite the company’s managing director who, she says, has a booming, baritone voice.
“Sometimes people I’m talking to on the phone ask what that noise in the background is,” she says.
“This office also has a bit of an echo, so it makes his voice even louder.”
Unlike many loud talkers, Perera’s boss is aware of the problem and is happy to pipe down when asked.
“It can be a bit distracting especially when I’m on deadline and it’s the last thing you need when you’re feeling under pressure,” she says.
“I just put my headphones in my ears or sometimes I let him know he needs to be quiet.”
Loud talkers are a common annoyance on public transport, flights and cinemas. But in the workplace there is no escape from their daily noise pollution.
Loud talkers share the most intimate details of their lives while taking personal calls, think out loud and enjoy broadcasting a running commentary on unfolding situations.
Loud talking may be an amusing Seinfeld-like scenario for some workers but a downright annoyance or a nightmare for others.
Investigator Jo Siggins says loud talking can be used as a weapon of harassment.
“I have seen cases where personal traits such as loud talking have been seen as aggression towards other staff, and loud talkers are sometimes viewed as the office bully,” she says.
But loud talkers can also be at the receiving end of bullying claims, Siggins says.
“I have also seen cases where the perpetrator feels picked on for this behaviour being raised,” she says. “If an employer or colleague does not handle the situation sensitively it can cause more angst than the loud talking did to begin with.”
Some loud talkers have a legitimate reason for their above-average voice volume.
Claire, who did not want her surname revealed, says she talks louder than most because of a hearing impediment.
“I’m the office loud talker because I’m partially deaf,” she says.
“I try to be conscious of it and talk softer. That can be hard when you are partially deaf because you can’t hear your own voice.
“But I do tell my colleagues at work this so they know there’s a reason for me being loud. It’s not because I’m inconsiderate.
“I also give colleagues permission to ask me to lower my voice.”
Business coach Josh Uebergang helps workers improve communication and social skills. He often deals with loud talkers – many of whom are unaware of their problem and the hassles they are causing for their co-workers, he says.
“Loud talkers are often extroverts valuing the social aspect of talking,” he says.
“When you deal with them, it can be seen as an impediment to their fun, but in an office environment even they can respect the etiquette.
“Loud talkers know they have the habit of talking loud but have little awareness of it.”
Uebergang has the following tips for workers struggling to deal with their loud colleagues:
-Don’t let the problem fester.
The worst thing you can do is nothing as it can disturb your productivity and lead to passive-aggressive behaviour. Simple, assertive one-liners such as, “I can hear you from the lunch room” and “You probably don’t want me hearing that” reflect the situation.
-Ask them to keep it down.
If you’re feeling more assertive, you can insert your request afterwards. “I can hear you from the lunch room. Can you talk quieter please?” Including the effect of their behaviour is also useful in them seeing you’re not hurting their fun. “I can hear about your weekend from my desk. I’m unable to focus and write. Can you talk quieter please?”
-If all else fails.
If the person chronically talks loudly despite your attempts to handle their volume, bring the matter to the attention of the human resources department or your team leader.