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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Loud Talker

Dear Sue: I work in a nice office with some very pleasant people. There is, however, one person I work with who talks so loudly that it becomes hard for me to keep my focus. My job requires a keen sense of concentration, but I am unable to concentrate when this loud talking is going on. He has been asked time and time again to keep his voice down, but he doesn’t seem to get the message. What can be done to stop him from talking so loud?

- Distracted

Sue Says: If your coworker has been asked to keep his voice down repeatedly, but does not comply, there must be a reason. He could just be a rude, insensitive man, purposely ignoring your requests, or maybe he believes he is honoring your request; he may think he keeping his voice down, yet unaware of how loud he is talking. People don’t hear themselves as others do. He may talk louder if he doesn’t hear well. Or, he may be struggling to break a habit; he’s probably talked this way his entire life.

Are you the only one bothered by his loud talking or is it a problem for others as well? If he is a nuisance to everyone, there is power in numbers; collectively decide what action to take. You’ll have to do more than nicely ask him to keep his voice down; you need to tell him how disruptive he is. If management gets involved, perhaps moving him to a room with a door to close or a further distance from others will help.

If you are the only person who is bothered by his talking, then the problem may not be about him—the problem may lie within you.

Everyone is different; while some people can tune out distractions easily, others cannot. Some people work better with background noise, and others need complete silence to concentrate. Because you are having trouble focusing on your work, and over focusing on your coworker's loud conversations, look for ways to tune him out. Try playing soft music, “white” noise, or running a fan in your office. These soothing noises will help cover other noises, and hopefully drown out his loud voice. If background noise doesn’t help, consider wearing earplugs.

Of course, you don’t have to shoulder all the responsibility or be the only one who changes, but you do need to accept some of the responsibility. Acknowledge your challenges as well; let him know you are sensitive to outside distractions. You don’t want him to feel he is being personally attacked or picked on. When you own the problem and ask for his support in helping you, he is more likely to comply.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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