How to Ask a Colleague to Stop Making So Much Noise

Three Methods:Talking Directly to Your ColleagueInvolving Other CoworkersAsking Your Manager for Help

If you have a noisy colleague at work, it is likely that you will feel irritable, unsettled or bothered in your daily routine as the sounds of this person cut into your thinking, phone calling and working sessions. Don't feel afraid to take action, though. It is possible to be polite and still advocate for the kind of workplace you need.

Method 1
Talking Directly to Your Colleague

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    Initiate a casual conversation with your colleague. Try to start the conversation in a positive way. You can talk about shared interests, or your life outside of work. Be friendly, and avoid seeming frustrated.[1]
    • Asking them about their life shows you’re interested in them as a person. You can say something like, “How was your weekend? Did you get to spend some time with your family?”
    • You can let them know how you’re doing. This can also be a way to introduce the idea that you’re having a hard time focusing. You can say, “I finally got some rest this weekend. I’m hoping that will help me have more energy and focus this week.”
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    Ask if they’ve had any difficulties in the workplace recently. Before you assume that they’re the one causing all the problems for you, find out how things have been for them. You may learn that they’re having a hard time focusing, or have been frustrated by something you’re doing.[2]
    • Really listen to your colleague’s answer and consider what you can do to help make their working environment better. For example, they may be making a lot of noise to block out the sound from another department. In that case, the two of you could approach that department together.
    • It’s possible they haven’t had any difficulties in the workplace. They may just not realize that their noise is disturbing.
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    Let them know you’re having trouble focusing. Avoid sounding like you’re complaining. Focus on the ways that their noise is preventing you from being productive in the workplace. Make sure they know that this isn’t just about your personal preference, it’s about your ability to do your job. [3]
    • You can say something like, “I can tell that listening to music doesn’t bother you while you’re working, but I have a hard time focusing when there’s music on. And I hear your music very loudly at my desk.”
    • Be honest without expressing judgement. For example, instead of saying, “You shouldn’t be taking loud personal calls while you’re on the clock,” you could say, “I’ve overheard a lot of the personal calls you’ve made lately. I don’t want to feel like I’m eavesdropping, but it’s actually hard for me to tune it out, because of your volume.”
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    Explain that it's not their fault. You don't want to make your coworker feel awkward or embarrassed, since you have to see them everyday. Make sure they know that it's not personal. Point out ways that external factors contribute to your difficulty with the noise.
    • You can blame the situation on your own difficulty focusing, on the office acoustics or cramped quarters, or anything else in order to avoid blaming the person or making them feel as if you think they are inconsiderate.
    • You can say something like, "I know it's not your fault. The walls here are ridiculously thin. But that ends up meaning I can hear everything you're doing in your office."
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    Agree on a signal for too much noise. A signal is a great tool for keeping the dialog around noise open. This way, you’re not telling your colleague that they must be absolutely silent at all times. Instead, you’re creating a way that they can learn to gauge when they’ve gotten too loud.[4]
    • If your work setup is such that you can see each other, you can use a hand signal, such as thumbs down, waving, or pointing to your ears.
    • If you can’t see each other, but have phones or computers handy, you can send a text or message simply saying, “volume” or “shhh.” Be sure to agree on the text of the message ahead of time, so your brief messages don’t come off as rude.
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    Thank them and end positively. This helps them know that the conversation wasn’t personal. Let them know you appreciate them helping to create a healthy and happy working environment for you. Offer to help in the future if they have any issues with the workplace themselves.[5]
    • You can say something like, “Thanks so much for being flexible. I really appreciate being able to work alongside someone as considerate as you."
    • Let them know that you can also be flexible. Say, “And of course, if there’s anything I can do to make a better workplace for you, I hope you’ll let me know.”

Method 2
Involving Other Coworkers

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    Ask another colleague for perspective. It’s easy to assume that someone else is the problem in a given situation. However, it’s possible that you might just have something personal against this particular coworker. Alternately, you may have unrealistic expectations of workplace behavior.[6]
    • Choose another coworker whom you trust. Ask them if they’ve noticed the noise or find it disturbing. If you mention the name of the noisy coworker, be sure that your friend won’t mention it to them without your permission, or that they won’t spread rumors or report it to the boss.
    • If your friend disagrees with you about the noise being a problem, you may want to consider finding your own way of dealing with it. For example, if you work in a kitchen or a garage where there’s lots of noise, you might want to wear earplugs or listen to music with headphones.
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    Create a survey about workplace pet peeves. If you don’t want to approach one other coworker for their opinion, you could take a poll of your entire workplace. Create a survey and post it somewhere prominent where everyone can see it and weigh in.[7]
    • You can make your survey an online one, if that’s appropriate to your workplace, or you can hang one in the breakroom or put it in coworkers’ mailboxes.
    • To keep things positive also allow people to remark on things they love or enjoy about the workplace.
    • A survey could say something like, "Please list two things you love about working here and two things we could do to make it better."
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    Start a discussion about the survey results. Once people have had a chance to weigh in, share the survey results with the rest of your coworkers. You can do this online or you can propose an informal meeting to discuss the results and figure out what you can all do to improve your working environment.[8]
    • It’s possible that the survey results won’t reflect your personal interests. For example, you may be the only person who takes issue with the noise, but multiple people may complain about your or someone else’s choice of perfume or air freshener. Be prepared to follow through on the discussion, even if others don’t share your concerns.
    • Even if you’re the only one who objects to the noise, it’s still a valid concern. Bring it up in the meeting, along with others’ concerns.
    • Avoid calling out specific coworkers in a meeting or other public forum. This can be embarrassing for them. Establish workplace guidelines and expectations and assume that your noisy colleague will take responsibility for themselves.
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    Work as a team to create new workplace guidelines. If you’ve decided to create a workplace discussion, you’ve likely excluded your manager or boss from the discussion. That can be good, as it gives you and your coworkers agency in addressing workplace concerns.[9]
    • In some workplaces, you might have enough autonomy to organize this without talking to your boss. If not, check in with them before taking this on.
    • Draft a list of expectations or best practices and post it somewhere prominent. Create a small committee to do this together, so that it doesn’t seem like you’re controlling the process.
    • If possible, designate some space in your workplace as “quiet space.” This can mean space where there’s no talking on cell phones, no music, or no use of machinery.
    • If your noisy colleague fails to abide by the new guidelines, you can pull them aside and remind them.

Method 3
Asking Your Manager for Help

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    Try talking to your colleague first. Never go directly to your manager without first approaching your colleague. Part of a manager’s job is certainly to manage morale and conflict, but they should never be the first line of defense.[10]
    • Be kind when approaching your colleague. Don’t begin the conversation with complaints or threats. You can say something like, “I’m not sure if you realize this, but I can hear you all the way over at my desk. Would it be possible for you to be quieter?”
    • If your colleague won’t agree to be quieter, or if they don’t follow through, talk to the manager. You may choose to let your colleague know that you’ll be doing that, but it’s not necessary. You can say something like, “I’d really like to resolve this without bringing our manager into the conversation, if possible."
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    Find a time to meet with your boss. You may want to send them an e-mail or leave them a note letting them know that you’d like to talk. Ask to schedule a short, private meeting with them. You can let them know what it’s about, but don’t mention your noisy coworker by name.[11]
    • Try to avoid naming your noisy coworker to your boss. This shows that you’re not trying to get them in trouble or personally attack them. However, if your boss asks who it is, be honest.
    • Let your boss know that you’re concerned about your own productivity, not just annoyed at your coworker. You can say something like, “I don’t usually have a difficult time focusing, but since Joe has started working in my department, I haven’t been able to concentrate because of the noise. He does a great job, it’s just hard to hear myself think.”
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    Ask for a change in location or shift. It’s possible that you may be able to move your desk or work a different shift from your noisy colleague. This may end up benefiting everyone, depending on how things work out. [12]
    • Changing shifts may be a good strategy. For example, restaurants can be noisy places to work. If your loud colleague works the dinner shift, try switching to work breakfast, when it’s quieter.
    • If your noisy colleague works in one area of the office, see if you can be transferred to another space that is known to be quieter.


  • Even if the noise is very frustrating, avoid seeming irritable or annoyed with your coworker. If you do, you’ll give off the impression that you are frustrated with them personally, rather than concerned about your own productivity.
  • Make sure you’re being as considerate of a colleague as you’d like others to be.


  • Be mindful about complaining to other colleagues or to your boss. You don’t want to put your job or your colleague’s job in jeopardy. Tread lightly and always seek a simple resolution to the conflict before things escalate.

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Categories: Interacting with Colleagues