how to deal with a loud coworker

A reader writes:

I have been at my job for a month and a half. My coworker plays music at her desk, and I find it to be very annoying. I really wish she’d use headphones, or better yet, turn off the music, but I’m not sure how to ask her to do so.

A few weeks ago I told her that her music made me want to dance (I know, I know… passive aggressive) and she immediately turned it down (not off) because she said it meant that it was too loud. Unfortunately, even with it turned down, it was still a distraction.

She also said that people had complained about her noise level (including music?) in the past, and that I should let her know if it ever bothers me. She’s popular within our team, so I’d hate to get on her bad side. I’m starting to think I will have to suck it up and live with this since I hate confrontation.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Working at a job where the rules change constantly
  • A great candidate applied for a job, but I never saw her application
  • I interviewed with a cold
  • Handling an upcoming work trip when I’m about to resign

{ 171 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Parenthetically

      Seconded. The first letter is approximately 0% about the coworker and approximately 100% about LW not listening to the obvious cues and actual words she’s hearing.

      Reply
      1. tigerStripes

        I wonder if the LW has dealt with people before who say something like “Please let me know if I’m being too loud.” but who actually mean “Don’t mess with me, and if you complain about the noise, you will live to regret it.” It’s not always easy to tell the difference.

        Reply
        1. Parenthetically

          Oh I’m sure that’s the case. But even then, it matters that Coworker has responded positively, repeated herself on the topic, etc. There’s “just playing it safe” and then there’s “ignoring everything.”

          Reply
    2. AllTheFiles

      Yes, she had my exact response – “She is telling you to let her know if it is distracting you! Tell her!” You’re not going to get on her bad side for doing what she asks.

      Reply
      1. JessaB

        Exactly. I’m deaf and can’t hear myself talking, the first thing I do in a new job is say very clearly that if I’m being loud, tell me to pipe down. I do not have an interior volume control that works. I’d be really annoyed if I found out I was bugging a coworker, long after the fact that I made it clear to said coworker that they should TELL ME dammit.

        OP take the coworker at her word that she wants you to be comfortable with the noise level in the office and tell her. You can even add to Alison’s script, that you realise she said to tell her but you were nervous at first because some people say that and don’t really mean it, but you realised she does.

        Reply
    3. Kathleen Adams

      This is one of those questions that, or so I suspect, the answer would seem really obvious even to the OP if she looked at it at all objectively. OP, your coworker told you to tell her if you needed her to turn down her music. You have been given no reason to think she’s unreasonable in any way.

      So…all you have to do is take her up on her offer. It’s extremely unlikely that she would have made that offer in that way if she didn’t mean it.

      It’s actually very likely that the reason she’s “popular within (your) team” is that she’s a reasonable, kind and thoughtful coworker.

      Reply
      1. LizB

        It sounds like LW1 may have some past experience in a toxic work environment, or school/peer/family environment if they’re new to the workforce. In the vast majority of situations, people will not hold reasonable requests against you, and you can take them at their word if they say they want (polite) input.

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        1. Lana Kane

          I’ve worked with people who tell you things like, “Let me know if X bothers you, it’s totally fine!” and then when you do, it’s not totally fine. So I’d say this is a possibility. However, OP still should still take her at her word and let her know.

          Reply
          1. Kathleen Adams

            Of course it’s possible, but I still say it’s not very likely. If the OP has no reason to doubt her co-worker’s sincerity, she should definitely take her at her word and tell her. Nicely, of course. Alison has provided some great scripts.

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          2. Myrin

            Yeah, I’ve never worked with someone like this but I know tons of people socially who do this all the time. But there are still enough people who aren’t like that (and at least you have their former acknowledgement/offer to fall back on so they might at least feel like a jerk if they huff and puff and then you can say “You told me to tell you if X bothers you, though.”).

            Reply
          3. HR Hopeful

            I have a coworker who sits behind me in the cube farm and talks so loud you can here her from the lobby. It is so frustrating since we work in a call center and there are days I can barely here the customers. If I nicely IM her and tell her to please be quiet b/c i can’t here my customer she will be loud and say things like ‘Well I can hear them all the way over here’ and huff and puff all day about it. I don’t bother to tell her anymore since the drama isn’t worth it.

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          4. LaterKate

            People like this definitely exist. But this particular coworker has demonstrated that she is reasonable, at least in her actions thus far. She turned down her music without being directly asked, and also acknowledged that she is sometimes too loud. With a coworker who has demonstrated themself to be a reasonable person, bringing this up would be pretty low-risk.

            Reply
        2. Ted Mosby

          Deff possible, but a lot of people also just dread any form of confrontation. It seems like there have been a solid string of letters here along the lines of “my coworker is the worst! he keeps doing xyz. how can I get him to stop without directly asking him to or letting him know it’s bothering me??? I’ve told him xyz is sooo funny, makes me want to dance, and reminds me of my sister in law and he still hasn’t taken ANY of my hits and continues to xyz, even though it clearly bothers me. ”

          I cringe just reading these. Just say what you want! I’m sure there are an equal number of people out there baffled by why their officemate has gotten more and more passive aggressive when they continue to ask them to speak up if something is wrong.

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          1. Noobtastic

            “I’ve told him xyz is sooo funny, makes me want to dance, and reminds me of my sister in law and he still hasn’t taken ANY of my hits ”

            Dear Allison: My co-worker yelled at me for doing xyz, today, even though in the past, she clearly told me that she liked it! She said it was sooo funny, and made her want to dance, and reminded her of her sister in law, and everything! Others have, on occasion, mentioned xyz to me, and I am always happy to stop doing xyz around them. I even told my co-worker to tell me if my xyz ever becomes bothersome, and I would be happy to stop, but co-worker just gave me a weird smile, and went back to work. Then, today, after months of seeming happy, she just totally snapped! She called me selfish and inconsiderate, and yelled how she absolutely HATES xyz, and why didn’t I just stop it months ago, when she clearly didn’t like it?

            I’m concerned about her mental health. I’m not sure if she’s having memory lapses or a schizophrenic episode or what, because I am not a mental health professional in a position to diagnose her, but the 180 degree turnaround, coupled with a violent reaction to something she clearly loved before, has be really worried. Should I report this to HR?

            This is why I don’t like passive-aggressive behavior. Be an adult, please, and use your words. Yes, there is a risk she’ll turn out to be one of those people who says things she doesn’t mean. Like the way the OP says things she doesn’t mean. “It makes me want to dance”? Really? Most people, however, say what they mean, so if you are honest with her, odds are in your favor that she’ll be honest with you. Use tact, by all means, but don’t lie. Allison gave you a good script.

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            1. aebhel

              Yes! You can try dropping hints if you really hate confrontation, but if someone doesn’t respond to the hints, you need to tell them outright, not assume that they’re deliberately ignoring the hints (especially when they’re this obscure). Don’t get mad at people for failing to read your mind.

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            2. Sparkly Librarian

              Yes – apparently I’m just clueless and/or take people at their word, but if a coworker had said that to me, I would have taken it as a compliment to my musical taste and turned it up a little! (Given that in my office we do occasionally have dance breaks to shared music — I wouldn’t have automatically done that in an open office.)

              Reply
        3. ArtsNerd

          This could have been me at the very beginning of my career. I was raised in a “guess” culture environment (look up ‘ask’ vs ‘guess’ culture) and discouraged from ever really advocating for myself or asking for stuff as a kid, so I honestly made it well into adulthood before I understood that these things are conversation, not confrontation. Shaking off the ‘confrontation, discomfort and alarm are to be avoided at all costs’ training also took me some time, but boy did I come around on that one, too. F*ck keeping the peace if it means you can’t actually deal with stuff.

          I’m with Alison and everyone else that the LW needs to just talk to their coworker, and that this behavior is aggravating! But I also get where it might be coming from.

          Reply
    4. Papyrus

      I am guilty of over-thinking something so simple that you start making up weird scenarios where the coworker gets super offended and then everybody thinks you hate fun music, or maybe that you can construct some elaborate Rube Goldberg-esque device that will turn off her music without her knowing it was you. Hopefully seeing it from a neutral perspective the LW realizes “Oh! I can just ask her!”

      Reply
    5. LadyL

      YES. I am the oblivious blunt co-worker. Nothing infuriates me more than finding out that even though I specifically told you to be blunt with me when you need me to fix/change something, you’ve been dancing around the issue/smoldering in silent rage at me for…not reading your mind? When someone talks to me directly I try really hard to fix things. When I find out through the grapevine/their 400th hint finally hits me, it makes me want to be belligerent and unhelpful. I personally believe that about 90% of the social problems we have would clear up instantly if everyone started being more direct with each other (couched in kindness, of course).

      Reply
      1. Noobtastic

        Honesty does not have to be brutal, and tact does not require lying. I wish more people would learn this at an early age.

        Also, speaking up for what you want does not necessarily equal “confrontation,” so using “I hate confrontation” as an excuse does not hold water.

        A simple, “Excuse me, please. This bothers me. Would you mind stopping?” can really work wonders with the vast majority of people.

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        1. Parenthetically

          “Honesty does not have to be brutal, and tact does not require lying.”

          I just think people need to read that again! TRUTH.

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        2. Jane Gloriana Villanueva

          I really like the first 2 lines, and will have to keep them in mind for myself and others! As for it not being confrontation, it really depends on your life experiences. One of the tamer moments in my own life trying to address a problem head-on, the first time I tried to ask my upstairs neighbor to keep it down, he slammed the door in my face as soon as I introduced myself. I agree OP#1 is being much too vague and passive and absolutely not communicating what s/he actually wants re: the music, but after a number of experiences of people escalating things well beyond reason on the first attempt, I totally get where s/he is coming from. It’s hard to conquer!

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      2. JGray

        What is even worse than hearing things through the grape vine is when your coworker goes to your boss and makes it sound like you are picking on her for talking to her about something. I have a coworker who does this all the time and she usually cries to get sympathy from our boss. It’s annoying and because we all know that she manipulates things we all watch what we say to her. She also likes to listen in when you are having a conversation about something- she does this all the time. I’m always like don’t you have work to do- don’t worry about me just worry about yourself, please.

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        1. LadyL

          You must work with my ex-coworker! I literally brought her to tears on multiple occasions by just directly and neutrally saying things like, “I already know how to do this, so I don’t need your help, but thanks anyway” and once, no joke, because she told me she didn’t know how to make coffee and I offered to show her how, as it was part of our job. Eventually my boss cottoned on to what was going on and started ignoring her, but for a while it was absolutely horrible and I nearly stopped speaking to her entirely out of desperation.

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    6. AnonasaurusRex

      Am I the only one that doesn’t think this is necessarily a loud coworker? Listening to music and it being distracting to others is not “a loud coworker.” A loud coworker is the guy I work with that you can hear down the hall with the door closed, who never controls the volume of his voice, crunches food when he eats at his desk, and has decided it’s cool to also bring in walnuts and crack them as a snack!

      Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        I think loud is subjective. Some people need absolute silence to concentrate. Others thrive on chaos. I’m typically the latter, but every once in a while if I’m working on a specific task, I will need to minimize distractions so I can focus.

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      2. Bend & Snap

        listening to music at your desk with no ear buds is a loud coworker. it’s rude and unnecessary.

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        1. JB (not in Houston)

          I’m with you on that. I know there are work places where people wouldn’t care, but I’ve never worked in one.

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        2. Geoffrey B

          Wait, you’re saying my co-workers DON’T all share my passion for German black metal and Diamanda Galás? I just assumed everybody loves that stuff.

          Seriously though, I think “if I do X then nobody else can do X so maybe I’ll check first” should be useful guidance here.

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      3. I Just Wanna Work and Go Home

        Loud in my office is listening to the office manager berate someone in front of the staff while wielding her finger at them and then slamming their door on them. I play music low in my office to distract from the inappropriate noise.

        Reply
  1. Stranger than fiction

    Just want to add to number 3 – if you’re referring someone, there should be a way to flag that in the app process. Or even better, the Ops friend should have sent her the resume to forward on to HR or in addition to applying through HR. There’s been a way to do this everywhere I’ve worked. (And if it was noted on the app, all the more reason to worry about that HR person)

    Reply
    1. Susan

      I was thinking the same thing… also an HR oversight may not mean that it was a human error. Sometimes applications get screened out by the applicant tracking system because their comp isn’t in line with the budget for the position or the position requires 10 years of teapot design and the candidate only has 7 or maybe there were tons of candidates and this person didn’t have one of the strongest resumes or whatever… so it would have been great if the employee could have sent a note to HR giving them a heads up that this candidate would be applying. Too late now, but for next time, like you said… I’d suggest taking an extra step to make sure that my referral didn’t miss out.

      Reply
      1. Tom

        I have this problem at my job – if the system doesn’t decide someone is a good fit, I will never see their application. Doesn’t matter if they’re a referral (which makes me wonder why we encourage referrals at all). Going around their mystifying algorithm is a complicated process that makes HR mad at me every time, because for some reason they still have to do all the pre-work as though I haven’t already decided I’m going to interview this person, including manually flagging the application in the system…it’s nonsense.

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    2. Mephyle

      If candidates who would otherwise be in the running are being screened out automatically for factors that could be softened if the candidate is otherwise excellent and comes with a personal recommendation, then it’s still human error – the error of setting up the system to screen these candidates out without the possibility of an override that would let someone like OP#3’s person through the screen for consideration.

      Reply
  2. Amber Rose

    There’s confrontation, and then there’s “hey, your music is a bit on the loud side.”
    Heck, start it as a conversation. “You said sometimes people complain about your music, are headphones out of the question?”

    Reply
    1. the gold digger

      “Hi coworker. You said to tell you if your music bothered me. I have to admit, I have discovered that when you are playing it, it it hard for me to concentrate. Would you mind using headphones, please?”

      This is not difficult.

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        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          But on the flip side of that, you can’t get mad at someone for not reading your mind. I’m the type of person who prefers to have some background noise. Everyone is different and you can’t assume that people share your preferences. If you want those preferences respected, you need to speak up.

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        2. TootsNYC

          It is difficult for people–but it’s often because they have only ONE way to frame it in their own mind:
          “I’m complaining, and complaining is only done in a snotty or scolding way.”

          They don’t have these:
          “I’m requesting a favor”
          “I’m alerting someone to a problem that I know they would like to solve”
          “I’m requesting that someone change how they do things in order to solve a problem for me”

          Any of these framings (or the others that exist) would allow people to use the proper tone, etc.

          But so many people ONLY approach “complaints” as a negative. People often also only have a “parental” or “teacher” or “scoldy” approach to MANY work things.

          Reply
          1. Security SemiPro

            This!

            A colleague just went through a whole song and dance with me today to what amounts to a relatively minor adjustment in work flow. It could have been handled with a “Hey, can we X?” and instead it was a cryptic request for an urgent face to face meeting and I disrupted my whole schedule to find a time for (because if it must be face to face in the next 24 hours, OMG!).

            And really, it was “Hey, can we X?” and they were super nervous about it. Happy to help, but can we do this with email, or chat or something next time?

            Reply
          2. tigerStripes

            I think that some people grew up with either family or friends or teachers who would overreact to a simple request, to the point where asking something nicely feels scary.

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      1. Dweali

        From when I was 17 up to about 5-ish years ago (I’m 33) this would have been difficult for me and like the OP I would have viewed it as a confrontation not conversation. Difficult family life meant any small request was a THING (like asking for celery to not be put in chili) and it carried over to my work life.
        I had to chant the mantra “it’s a request not a confrontation” the first dozen or so times I would ask for things (and still had to deal with the wavery trying-not-to-cry voice).

        I still occasionally have to drum up the courage (usually it’s something extremely important to me) to request something but it’s not near as bad as it used to be.

        Reply
        1. Noobtastic

          Can we get training on this sort of thing? I mean, seriously, with all the self-improvement and professional development training that is on offer in the workplace, I would LOVE to see a “just ask them for the favor” training. In fact, I would make that part of the official on-boarding procedure, along with standard operating procedures for that area and safety drills.

          If everyone in your workplace knew that 1) it is OK to ask for favors, and 2) asking for a favor is not a confrontation or criticism, and 3) HOW to do it, and 4) This behavior is appropriate for the workplace and approved by management, I think a whole heck of a lot of workplace misery and misunderstandings would fall away.

          At my old job, we got company-wide training on how to write an email and when it was better to talk on the phone, but never once did we get any “Just ask, already” training. It’s a pity, because to my knowledge, there was not a single telepath on the payroll.

          Reply
  3. AMT

    I agree that the LW in #1 should be direct. However, on a personal level, I *really* wish it weren’t considered normal in office settings to play music. There is literally no downside to using headphones.

    Reply
    1. Dust Bunny

      There is if you have tactile issues. Or need to hear the phone.

      That said: Why can’t LW wear them, then?

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        If LW wears noise cancelling headphones, she isn’t going to hear things for her job. It would be both debilitating AND passive aggressive. (“Your music is fine.” *glares* *dons noise cancelling head phones*)

        (I can’t concentrate on words for work if there are words in the music–if I’m doing math it’s not distracting–so this would send me around the bend. Waiting at the oral surgeon they had a radio on one side and morning TV (with sound) on the other and I was thinking How do you stand this?!!)

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        1. kittymommy

          Although I don’t do this at work I’m like this everywhere else. It’s like white noise fire me. Our styles part of my brain so I can concentrate, otherwise it would be jumping all over the place.

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      2. The OG Anonsie

        Because then you’re still hearing music, which is still distracting for a lot of people.

        Unless you have expensive noise-cancelling headphones that you can use while not playing anything to dampen other sounds, but I think the first line of stuff that makes sense to do is to not have unnecessary noise going on that requires people to do that.

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      3. Melissa C.

        I’m in a similar situation with a much less cooperative coworker – she was listening to music, I asked her to please wear headphones, and thus started the 3 month long battle of the wills I am currently in.

        Sometimes I don’t mind wearing headphones, but for the same reasons people have listed in these comments sometimes I really don’t like to wear headphones.

        Playing music through speakers is, to me, a big office etiquette no-no. Unless you’re in an office where you can shut the door, headphones are a must.

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        1. DArcy

          It really depends on the office. In my office, getting to play music is one of the semi-official perks to the front desk position — to the point where the company bought fairly nice speakers for the front office computer, whereas all the other computers in the office not only don’t have speakers, they have Windows audio capability completely disabled.

          Obviously, your choice of music has to be work-friendly, and you’re required to pause it while answering the phones.

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      4. Kate

        The rule of thumb is that the “active” person is the one who needs to stop if they are doing something that is bothering people. For example, if the coworker were drumming on their desk, or talking too loudly. In other words “your right to swing your fist ends at my nose”. We would tell the person swinging their fists to stop, we wouldn’t tell the person standing still to back up.

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        1. AMT

          This needs to be emblazoned on a plaque. I think we have too many “I can’t concentrate without standing on one leg and shouting the national anthem” conversations in the comments. If you’re making a level of noise/smell/distraction that could reasonably bother people, it’s your responsibility to find ways of mitigating it.

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        2. Noobtastic

          Unfortunately, we, as a society, frequently do exactly that. Bullies blame their victims, and when their victims complain to the authorities, they are asked what they did to provoke the bullies.

          What were you wearing? Why were you there at that time of night? Did you leave your door unlocked? Do you really HAVE to dress and act like a woman? It’s only a little joke/tickle/prank/touch, so why let it bother you so much? You only reported it twelve times, not the requisite two dozen, in triplicate, with seventeen corroborating witnesses for each event. Why didn’t you just give the guy your lunch money, in the first place?

          What you said is the way it *ought* to be. Unfortunately, frequently not the way it actually is. Victim-blaming is a huge human pastime. It’s bigger than baseball.

          Reply
          1. tigerStripes

            I wonder if victim-blaming is done at least partially because the blamer wants to reassure oneself that this won’t happen to the blamer.

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      5. Noobtastic

        Or if your job involves getting up a lot, and your headphones have a cord.

        Now, cordless headphones are absolutely wonderful for someone doing a lot of filing.

        So, yeah, some people cannot wear headphones and do their job, and at the same time, are more productive if they have some music. In that case, I think it is perfectly reasonable to request some acoustical accommodation, such as higher cube walls, and even a cube ceiling and door (you know, an office!), that allows the sound to be kept within their own space, and not affect their co-workers.

        I have actually seen cube-offices. They’re rare, but golly, they are worth it.

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    2. The Supreme Troll

      Very true. Cubicles aren’t really offices, and headphones can do wonders…for the sanity of everybody!

      Reply
    3. Xarcady

      Much though I prefer people to wear headphones, the cubicles in my office are set up so that you face away from the cubicle “doorway.” Trying to get the attention of a co-worker who is wearing headphones and concentrating on their work can be difficult. You knock on the frame of the cubicle, you knock on their desk and finally you have to either touch them or bend over to wave your hand in front of their face.

      But that’s the only downside I see to headphones.

      Reply
      1. Marillenbaum

        Someone mentioned in a different thread this week that they set up a visual doorbell for their cube: it was a regular doorbell that also lit up, and she disabled the sound so that when someone pressed the doorbell, they would see a light flash.

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        1. Noobtastic

          Deaf and hard-of-hearing people use these things all the time. They should be ubiquitous. I can’t see any reason why both visual and audio options are not simply standard.

          For the same reason, I am shocked and flabbergasted whenever I buy a DVD that does not have subtitles. Even though my hearing is fine, I use the subtitles all the time, because actors mumble, I’m laughing at something and miss the next line, the sound effects are too loud, and other reasons that I might miss something that was said. I LOVE subtitles. And I would LOVE a flashing doorbell.

          Of course, at home, I have a dog, and she is hyper enough that she “flashes” long before anyone actually reaches the doorbell. But a cubicle flashing doorbell? Sounds wonderful!

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    4. LizB

      Eh, I think it really is a personal preference thing. Headphones of all types physically hurt my ears after an hour or so, so I can’t wear them for a whole workday. I solve this by just not listening to music for very long (unless I’m the only one in the office and can play it out), but I don’t think we can say with certainty that music is always okay/music is never okay/headphones are always/never okay.

      Reply
      1. tigerStripes

        Headphones have sometimes given me headaches when I wear them too long, so that would be an issue for me.

        Reply
    5. Kathleen Adams

      I don’t even listen to my own music at work, so I definitely don’t want to hear other people’s music. I sometimes like to listen to music while I write (and I do write a lot), but I only do that at home. It just doesn’t seem…professional for me to force my own musical tastes on people, even when they are in my office. I hope that doesn’t sound too judgy.

      Reply
    6. Owl

      I’m in an open office environment, and I like being able to listen in on other people’s discussions. I learn things about other projects (into which I may be pulled in the future) and clients and strategies etc etc. This is more difficult to do when I’m wearing headphones.

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    7. Detective Amy Santiago

      I have to answer the phone/talk on the phone at my job. Headphones make that rather difficult.

      Reply
    8. Bea

      I can’t wear headphones, I’m busy listening to everything around me. The door opening, phone ringing, a coworker needing to talk to me. However without background noise created with a radio, I’m not comfortable doing extensive computer work in utter silence.

      There are a lot of downsides to headphones and ear buds hurt/dont fit my ear well. I’ve tried that. I also think it’s tacky to need to remove an ear piece when the president stops by to ask me something. I’d rather him just hear my music that’s completely normal and reasonable in many offices.

      Reply
    9. seejay

      there can be a downside to using headphones: the wrong ones cause massive blistering on my ear piercings or bruising in my ear canal. It takes me months at a time and lots of $$ to find the right pair that doesn’t do either of those things (as the brands I like will change out their styles every few years and I can’t replace them when they break). I’m lucky I can use headphones, I know people who can’t at all.

      Reply
      1. Noobtastic

        I know what you mean. I used to stock up on headphones, when I found a style I really liked. I don’t need to use them, now, but if I went back to an environment where I did, once I found some good ones, I’d stock up again.

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    10. Temperance

      I listen to podcasts throughout the day. I personally hate the feeling of earbuds, to the point where I would rather sit in silence than use them. At least if I listen to my podcasts without headphones, I’m aware.

      Reply
    11. Browser

      Headphones are banned at my workplace because someone was wearing them and did not hear the fire alarm.

      I don’t know how they managed that, but they did. So no headphones for anyone because it’s now a safety issue.

      Reply
        1. Browser

          They were the only one in their area at the time. Protocol is to immediately evacuate and not spend time looking for coworkers – after all, they can hear the alarm too right?

          Reply
          1. Noobtastic

            Protocol does not accommodate deaf employees? Sounds like an ADA issue to me. They could add flashing lights. I highly recommend that you recommend those to your employers before some deaf employee sues. Or do they just never hire deaf employees? That’s a discrimination suit there. Yeah, someone needs to bring this to the attention of the powers that be at your company.

            My old job had flashing lights, as well as loud alarms, AND we had safety officers, whose responsibility was to do a floor-check and make sure everyone was evacuated from their assigned area. They were always the last ones out. And you’d better believe, they made sure people were aware, because they didn’t want to be in danger, themselves. It was strictly voluntary position, of course. And it can be extremely frustrating, because even people who are aware of alarms will sometimes stubbornly sit at their desk, and refuse to leave, even during a real emergency. Your company’s policy of “every man for himself” strikes me as being a very bad idea.

            Do they even take roll at the muster point, when everyone has left the building, so that they can alert emergency workers? Emergency workers need to know if someone is unaccounted for, stuck inside, in need of assistance, or if they can just deal with the physical emergency, secure in the knowledge that no humans are in danger.

            Reply
            1. Spellyzunkles

              I got lucky in my previous jobs. I am the very hard-of-hearing co-worker and someone always made sure I knew if the alarm was going off. Oftentimes, my manager would let me know ahead of time when a drill was going to happen so I could be aware. The strobe light is useful but unfortunately I found out the meningitis that caused my hearing loss also left me a seizure as a going away present, to piss me off 40 years later, so I have to be careful of those cursed flashing lights as they could bring on another one.

              Reply
    12. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I don’t mean to be all “sandwiches,” but there are a lot of downsides to using headphones, and many jobs/workplaces ban them :(

      Reply
      1. Ramona Flowers

        Eh, I think it’s okay and not a sandwiches violation to respond to a comment saying there are no downsides to headphones.

        I hate wearing headphones because I startle easily and I prefer to be able to hear if people are around me/behind me; because I start to feel really disconnected and spaced out if I wear them for too long; and because they stop me being able to get up and move around.

        Reply
  4. Dust Bunny

    Can *LW1* wear headphones?

    My job is often pretty tedious and listening to music (with the volume way down) makes it a lot more bearable, but I find headphones miserably uncomfortable. Yes, they’re adjustable, but even at that none of them fit my head shape, and I can’t do earbuds because I apparently have baby-sized ear canals (my doctor always comments on this as she’s getting out the kiddie otoscope cones).

    Before somebody says it: If LW needs to hear the phone, coworker probably does, too, so that concern is a wash.

    Reply
    1. Dust Bunny

      I guess my take here would be to split the difference: Coworker needs to keep the volume way down, and LW needs to get used to working with some very faint background music. I agree that it shouldn’t be loud enough to encourage dancing, but neither of them is going to get the ideal workspace here.

      Reply
      1. The OG Anonsie

        Pretty much this, assuming the music-playing coworker also has some issues with headphones.

        Reply
      2. Jaydee

        It may also be less distracting if the music is slightly louder. I find really quit music distracting because my brain is trying too hard to figure out what song it is. If the music is just loud enough for me to discern it clearly, then my brain is satisfied and I can tune it out pretty easily.

        Reply
      3. Geoffrey B

        I don’t agree that this is a reasonable compromise. The midpoint between two conflicting positions is not always the right, fair, or effective solution, and that approach to conflict resolution tends to encourage ambit claims.

        Reply
    2. SarahTheEntwife

      Most standard headphones don’t block out all that much noise. It’s certainly an option if the coworker ends up being a jerk about the music, but unless you get the fancy noise-cancelling ones headphones are a much better tool for keeping music to yourself than for keeping out other people’s music.

      Reply
    3. Late To The Party

      I tend to think listening to music in the office is like wearing perfume to the office: fine if it doesn’t bother anyone, but if it does it’s not on the person who is bothered to stuff themselves full of antihistamines or find ear buds that fit them. Courtesy, in most cases, would dictate that the person bringing the perfume or the music into the common area accepts the responsibility to accommodate.

      Reply
        1. Noobtastic

          Yeah. In some offices it would be fine to blare music and wear perfume, because it simply doesn’t bother anyone there.

          I once (for about 4 hours) worked in an office of all smokers. It was a temp job that was supposed to last a week, but I could not bear the smoke and left at lunch, called my agency, and said, “Flag that company as smokers-only, because everyone there smokes, right at their desks, and they have some sort of union rule that allows it, so be aware.” They did find a smoker to replace me, and everyone was cool about it. No one was mean or selfish or offended or anything. It simply was not a good personality/physicality fit. That happens.

          Reply
  5. CaliCali

    This is definitely one of those ask vs. guess culture things, where LW1’s coworker is saying “if you want me to turn it down, just ask” and LW1 is thinking “If you’re thinking I may need to ask, you should know your music is too loud.” But especially work-wise, it’s worth 5 seconds of discomfort, and going into that “ask” zone, despite preferences, to alleviate 8 hours/day of frustration.

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      There are people who would respond to the coworker’s offer with a sincere “You play music? Oh, yeah, that music. Umm…. no, it’s fine, I never notice it.”

      Just like some people really respond to daylight, and some people don’t register its presence or absence.

      Reply
      1. CaliCali

        Yep! I’m good at mentally blocking out noise (it’s both a blessing and a curse — music almost never bothers me, but I also sometimes don’t hear things I should!), so I probably wouldn’t even register it. Or people like the same music and aren’t bothered by the volume. Everyone reacts differently, and the coworker seems sensitive to that.

        Reply
    2. Ramona Flowers

      Yep. And as an asker I’m confused – do people really think this stuff works?

      I do not drop hints and I have limited patience for people who drop them at me.

      Reply
      1. CaliCali

        I think it can work within a much smaller, more intimate unit, like a family — and even then, with limited efficacy. It relies on mutual understanding of smaller cues, which you often don’t have at work.

        Reply
      2. LadyL

        In my experience a lot of “guess” culture people tend to feel that their view of things is the *obvious* correct way to do things, and by you flagrantly doing something different you are being deliberately aggressive and combative, so in their minds the situation is being escalated and by the time they talk to you it’s a full blown confrontation.

        I had a roommate who viewed things this way, she would be very particular about things and constantly enraged that I wasn’t. Like apparently the screen door on the sliding glass door needed to be lined up with one of the glass parts exactly (just to be clear this was winter, so it was superfluous at that point in the year). I have never in my life given any thought to doors beyond “Is it locked?” and apparently would just shove the screen far enough to the side that I could fit through, and never re-centered it. She would come through later, “fix” it, and assumed that I would get the message. I did not, and never noticed that it moved around. Because it was so blindingly obvious to her that any sane person would ensure that their screen door is aligned correctly, my repeatedly failing to do so was clearly me sending her a message right back to her. When she finally confronted me about it she refused to entertain the thought that I had no idea what she was talking about, and there was nothing I could do to appease her. I was purposely attacking her and showing a casual disregard for her by deliberately wrecking things around the house (just to be clear, she was renting from me). There was no salvaging that relationship.

        But I’m from the Midwest, where everyone smiles over simmering resentment. I think the way “guessing” works in other cultures might be a bit less intense. But generally there’s supposed to be this unspoken understanding of how things ought to be, and no one compassionate would ever disrupt that, so there’s no need to ever “ask”.

        Reply
        1. Noobtastic

          Oooooh, I hate that. You ask “What are you talking about,” only to be met with “YOU KNOW PERFECTLY WELL WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, YOU INCONSIDERATE HEATHEN!”

          Ummmmm, no. I really don’t know what you’re talking about.

          Add in an “If you don’t know, I’m certainly not going to TELL you!” argument, and you have a recipe for disaster. It’s funny on a sit-com, but hell in real life.

          Reply
  6. BRR

    #1 is very common and the person playing music is comparatively nice about it. I think the best approach is to say it’s hard to focus on your work and ask if they could use headphones (I have ADD so turning it down doesn’t help me). I’ve had a few situations where I’ve used Alison’s polite but direct technique and while some people receive it better than others they do end the noise. This includes when I asked if the person tuning a violin in our open office could find a different location to do that.

    Reply
  7. JamieS

    On #2 I’m wondering how to phrase the response if, using OP’s example, the person asking for the receipts is the same person who originally said receipts aren’t needed?

    Reply
    1. Pam

      I would say ‘I’m sorry- I thought you said receipts weren’t needed. Did I misunderstand?’ Said in a friendly, curious voice, not snippy-ish.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Thneed

        Yes, exactly.

        I have gotten *great* results in getting even very brusque government office workers to realize they were wrong about things just by being confused. One in particular, I just kept apologizing saying that I was very confused, but it sounded like they were saying xyz but surely I was wrong? After a few repetitions, the person in question actually looked and paid attention to whatever the issue was (I truly do not recall anymore) and discovered WHY I was confused (which was: they were saying wrong things) and they figured it out and everything was copacetic. And I apologized some more, and didn’t even *think* the words “Finally!” or “I won!” until I was outside the building.

        Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yup. Also the great thing about being new is that you can feign ignorance as your reason for asking for clarification (that way it’s less “are you sure you know what you’re talking about?” and more “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.).

        Reply
    2. Minnow

      I would say something along the lines of “I’m sorry – I thought from our previous conversation that receipts weren’t required. If I misunderstood, I will be sure to provide them next time”

      Reply
    3. Thinking Outside the Boss

      The OP may also want to double check the state’s travel policy.

      I’m a state employee and although we don’t need receipts for per diem or mileage for a personal car, we do need receipts for all other forms of reimbursement–hotel charges, taxi, Uber, rental cars not charged directly to the state, incidentals over $5, etc.. This could be a situation where the OP, who is new to the state agency, is misreading the travel policy or was told the wrong information by a coworker.

      In my state, I don’t know of any state or local government agency that never requires a receipt.

      Reply
      1. Partly Cloudy

        Great point.

        Also, LW, how many times has this happened? Just start keeping the receipts. It’s better to have them and not need them than vice versa.

        Reply
  8. Havarti

    “She also said that people had complained about her noise level (including music?) in the past, and that I should let her know if it ever bothers me.”

    Maybe this is where OP is getting hung up? Because this could be read as the coworker being a repeat offender (though how often is unknown). Like if people have to tell you over and over again your music is too loud, you’re either being oblivious/careless or possibly malicious/passive-aggressive. If I have to tell someone on a daily basis to turn the volume down, I have to really wonder what they’re thinking. As the source of noise, I feel like coworker should be the one policing her volume or getting some headphones. If it only comes up on occasion, then it’s not as big a deal I suppose.

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      A valid point but it depends on your work history. I’ve worked in a lot of offices where people have music on a lot and it’s not objectively a bad thing.

      Reply
    2. Mousey

      “As the source of noise, I feel like coworker should be the one policing her volume or getting some headphones.”

      Very well said!

      Reply
    3. The Supreme Troll

      I kind of agree with what Havarti is saying. I’m getting a feeling (I maybe wrong) that OP’s co-worker is either innocently clueless – or deliberately being a jerk – with the music. The co-worker should get the hint if this is being mentioned to her several times by different people.

      I get that the general advice OP is being given is correct. However, I can understand the OP’s vibe in worrying that the co-worker could react badly if she has to be constantly asked to lower the radio volume or turn the radio off. The co-worker, maybe unknowingly, isn’t showing the best manners here

      Reply
      1. tigerlily

        Just because it’s mentioned several times doesn’t mean it’s an ongoing problem. Just that it was a problem right then. Each time someone mentioned the music was too loud could have been in a “Usually I love having music on in the office, but today I’m working on something super complicated and am having trouble focusing” kind of way. To me, by deliberately telling OP to mention something if she or her music is too loud (and that question mark in OPs letter is telling me she doesn’t actually know if the music’s been a problem in the past, just that this coworker could just be a loud, exuberant person), that means she IS policing herself. She’s saying this is who I am, this is how I’m going to do my best work, but if it’s interfering with you let me know.

        Reply
        1. Noobtastic

          Yes. “Some people mentioned it before,” could mean anything from “Five people tell me every day” to “Over the past ten years, people have mentioned it five times.”

          The point is, she was willing to work with the LW on the issue, and change to help her, if only LW would ask. That is not clueless nor malicious. Circumstances change, and it sounds like that is the case, here. Her previous office-mates didn’t mind the noise, except on occasion. LW minds it all the time.

          Reply
    4. ZucchiniBikini

      “Like if people have to tell you over and over again your music is too loud, you’re either being oblivious/careless or possibly malicious/passive-aggressive.”
      Yeah, this is my thought too, although the coworker’s open invitation to ask her to turn it down does suggest more the former than the latter. Nonetheless, if you are doing something that is within your control and have been asked more than once to stop doing the thing because of its impact on others, I dunno, I feel like the onus falls back onto you to assume that it’s better not to do the thing unless you get permission in advance. So, rather than play the music and invite people to ask you to stop, reverse the onus – ask people if it’s OK with them BEFORE you play the music.

      We encountered this situation at home rather than work, with neighbours who played their death metal music with bass turned waaaaay up at super-volume all afternoon every weekday, because they liked it and assumed everyone was out at work. It was so loud it shook the windows in my house and I’m two doors down from them. Of course, it *was* a problem for the 50% of households in the street that had either sick / elderly people, babies or toddlers who needed naps, or people working at home (last one was me!)

      Every time they were approached to turn it down, they would apologise and it would immediately be turned down to inaudible. Buuuuuuut. The very next day, it’d be back up again. I really didn’t get the sense they were malicious people or out to drive about 15 different neighbours around the twist, but they had the attention span of gnats when it came to retaining information and making inferential judgements (“Yesterday this music at this level annoyed Fergus who works at home, Mavis with her two little kids, and Joyce who’s recovering from surgery. Maybe – just MAYBE – it will be equally annoying today so I shouldn’t do it!”)

      In the end, they were asked to leave their rental at the end of the lease after the landlord had fielded one too many neighbour complaints. I don’t think any of us felt great about it, but I’m not sure what else would’ve worked to actually stop the behaviour.

      Reply
  9. Callalily

    #1: I can see this turning very sour if nothing gets said. It could ultimately result in OP saying something someday to management about how the music is distracting and then coworker gets her head bitten off for being so inconsiderate. Meanwhile coworker feels thrown under the bus because no one said anything when she asked!

    If someone told me that my music made them want to dance, I’d probably think they enjoyed it or wanted it louder – not that they were passive aggressively telling me to turn it off.

    Just please say something before it escalates to you flamenco dancing on her desk (outfit and all) to try and drive the point the music is too loud!

    Reply
    1. Kathleen Adams

      “It makes me want to dance” would for me = “I love it!” I realize that probably doesn’t make sense in an office setting, but that is exactly how I’d interpret that.

      Reply
      1. LadyL

        Same! I don’t pick up on hints very well, I would honestly have interpreted that as “turn it up! love this music!”

        Reply
      2. tigerlily

        Agreed! I was very confused by how that was supposed to convey that the music was unwelcome since that’s such a positive thing. If someone said that to me about music I was playing I would probably respond with “Me too! It makes me wanna dance and is getting me pumped to design these teapots. Woo woo!”

        Reply
      3. Noobtastic

        Me, too. Especially if someone came in with a dance costume and did a number on my desk. I’d think, “WOW! They really love my music! I should play it louder and more frequently.”

        Reply
      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yeah; I would miss the hint :( I really like dancing, including awkward office dancing.

        Reply
    2. JamieS

      Agreed. If someone’s trying to tell me to turn my music down by saying it makes them want to dance they’re going to have a very long hard row to hoe in achieving their objective.

      Reply
    3. Kathleen Adams

      Yes, one person’s “passive aggression” is another person’s “enthusiastic affirmation.” :-)

      But really, in reference to music, it’s hard to consider “it makes me want to dance” to be a criticism. At least for me.

      Reply
  10. AdAgencyChick

    Curious: How would you answer Q4 if the OP were required to pay for travel and get reimbursed (rather than putting the travel on a company credit card), and was worried that they might give her trouble about reimbursing any nonrefundable expenses? I can’t think of a better answer at the moment than lying and saying my credit limit won’t allow it this month, if I were in that situation.

    Reply
  11. ancolie

    OP 1, besides the fact that Alison is 100% right and passive-aggressiveness is NOT a good approach, this:

    A few weeks ago I told her that her music made me want to dance (I know, I know… passive aggressive)

    Man, that would be THE least effective passive-aggressive comment, to me. I think a LOT of people could take it the exact opposite of what you intended and think you’re saying you love the music they’re playing, so keep it going (maybe even turn it up)!

    Reply
      1. Kathleen Adams

        Yes, that’s how I’d interpret that. “It makes me want to dance” would mean, for me, “Yaaaaay”

        Reply
  12. TootsNYC

    Re: the great candidate

    I would also suggest to Jane that next time, she send her résumé (or at the very least an email that says, “I -am- interested, and I’ve submitted my résumé via the company website”) directly to me AS WELL as to HR (or the online process).

    Seriously, Jane bears a bit of the fault here, that she didn’t capitalize on her contact with the hiring manager. So I’d make sure to encourage her to contact whoever it is (me, or some other hiring manager she knows about) directly.

    Maybe she assumed that her inquiry was enough, but it’s not.

    Now, I’d also change my response to from this: “I encouraged her to apply before a certain date if she was interested.”

    to this: “Be sure to let me know if you’ve applied, and send your résumé directly to me so it doesn’t get buried in HR’s pile.

    Reply
  13. (Mr.) Cajun2core

    OP #2: I also work for a state agency. There might be different rules for in-state vs. out-of-state travel. For example, where I work, we get a straight per-diem for in-state travel, so we don’t need receipts. For out-of-state travel, we get reimbursed for our actual cost, so we do need receipts for out-of-state travel. It might be similar in your case. It gets even more complicated for out-of-state travel, if you spend less than $45 vs. if you spend over $45 for meals.

    As a general rule, especially with state agencies, keep the receipts. You may not need them, but better to have them and not need them than the opposite!

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      And sometimes they are all just squirrels. I worked for an organization where we didn’t need receipts for dinners that cost 25$ or less which was all they would reimburse. Then someone got the idea that people were cheating and eating for less and claiming the full 25$ and started requiring receipts. Of course in cities like SF or New Orleans or NYC people were actually paying 50 or 60 or more for dinner and only claiming 25$. When they started turning in the receipts they would get these tendentious memos about the 25$ limit. We had to repeatedly say ‘dinner costs more than 25$ in New Orleans; we are only claiming part of the cost.

      Then there was my favorite hassle from finance where I had to provide an itemized receipt for my McDonald’s Meal because alcohol was not reimbursed and I had to prove that none of my 7.32$ bill had been spent on alcohol. They really do seem to assume everyone is out to skin the company or the government. A per diem no questions asked makes so much more sense.

      Reply
      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core

        LOL! Sounds very familiar to where I work. The McDonald’s receipt was over the top though.

        Reply
    2. Thinking Outside the Boss

      +1 to this comment. I posted something similar above, and I suspect the OP either misread the travel policy or was given incorrect information by a coworker. But our state’s travel policy is pretty much the same as here.

      Reply
    3. LadyL

      My experience with state work is that there are a million rules and procedures, so many that no one can keep track of them all, and no one really knows what they’re talking about. The trick is to figure out who actually matters, and then do whatever that person says. Ex. My boss told me A, the project manager said B, but the person who actually receives and processes the receipts said Z, so I just went with Z because ultimately she’s the real authority there.

      Reply
      1. an infinite number of monkeys

        State government employee here. There are a million rules and procedures, but worse yet, there are employees whose job it is to interpret those rules and procedures. Some interpret more strictly than others. Some have … an easier time understanding required explanations than others. They work in a pool in the finance department and whether your travel claim is approved on the first try depends a lot on how closely aligned your paperwork is with the personal preferences of the person who gets assigned to it.
        An attitude is an easy thing to develop. :)

        Reply
  14. M

    Sick Letter Writer- WHY OH WHY WOULD YOU SHAKE HANDS???

    Ugh, ugh, UGH. I’m not even a germaphobe – but why would you willingly spread a sickness like that. Just don’t shake hands! UGH

    Reply
    1. Noobtastic

      You don’t even have to make a big deal about it. Hold something in your hands during the greeting time, and smile warmly as you greet people, while maintaining eye contact, and pretend you don’t even see their extended hands.

      Or, admit that you have a mild cold, and don’t want to spread germs, as Allison suggested.

      Or, wave, bow, press your hands together in front of you in a “Namaste” sort of greeting, or something other than shaking hands.

      Or keep your hands clasped in front of you.

      Or massage your right hand with your left hand, and mutter something about “That guy is stronger than he looks,” and let them infer that somebody shook your hand so hard it hurts.

      Or just be up front and say, “Sorry, I can’t shake your hand, today.” No explanation required.

      But please, oh please, if you know you are even mildly ill, do not shake hands! Some of us have compromised immune systems, and even more of us live with people who have compromised immune systems.

      If you absolutely, positively MUST shake hands, then immediately whip out your Purell, and offer some to the other person. Let them think you are the germaphobe, but you’re friendly and generous about it. Or Purell your hands before the handshake. Or both!

      Reply
    2. SusanIvanova

      All I had to do when I backed off from a handshake because of a cold was say “I have a cold. Mythbusters!” and the person went instantly from offended to totally understanding. Once you’ve seen that episode you’ll never shake hands when you’re sniffly again – they showed that it gets *everywhere*.

      Reply
  15. Lucie

    #4 – Allison, myself as well as a couple different people in my industry (automotive) I know have had to pay back the 200-300 dollar cost of a flight ticket change to the company or hotel bookings etc. Is this not standard? The line I’ve always heard is that it’s because it’s unfair to book something on the company money if you’re unsure of your commitment and able to go.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      No, that’s not at all normal, at least not in most fields. More here:

      http://www.askamanager.org/2011/11/can-my-company-make-me-pay-the-costs-of-a-business-trip-if-i-resign-before-the-trip.html

      http://www.askamanager.org/2014/06/my-employer-wants-me-to-repay-business-expenses-because-im-resigning.html

      http://www.askamanager.org/2014/03/should-a-resigning-employee-have-to-reimburse-us-for-costs-of-a-future-conference-he-signed-up-for.html

      Reply
    2. European

      I don’t think it’s normal. I’ve informed myself some time ago and at my company (huge consultancy with offices all over the world), they don’t request it. I travel so often that given that I’m currently looking for a job if they wanted us to pay back in case of leaving, I couldn’t book flights/ hotels for more than 2-3 weeks.

      Reply
  16. MV

    #4 – Please don’t ever do this, it is so rude and inconsiderate to shake hands with and possible infect people. I am not a germaphobe but I do have a compromised immune system. A slight cold for you – 2-3 years are being very ill for me and the possibility that a relapse of my chronic illness would happen. As an interviewer that lack of judgement and thoughtfulness displayed would turn me off from you.

    Reply
    1. Kathleen Adams

      I have definitely said “I won’t shake hands because I’m getting over a cold, but nice to meet you!” many times myself, and I’m just as sure as I can be that nobody’s ever taken offense. Why would they?

      I don’t think I’d be nearly as turned off as MV would be if someone with a cold did shake hands – the social pressures when you’re interviewing for a job are pretty severe – but really, having a cold is a perfectly acceptable excuse to avoid shaking hands. You just have to make it clear that you know what the expectation is and that you have this really great reason not to give in to that expectation. Honestly, people will understand.

      Reply
      1. Blue

        In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve responded with a “Oh, thank you!” every time I’ve been on the other side of this. I am genuinely grateful that they were careful to minimize the germ transfer. And it’s not even that critical for me – I just hate getting colds because they make my brain so fuzzy. When you consider that it can be a serious health risk for some people, it should be a no-brainer.

        Reply
        1. tigerStripes

          Sometimes I wish we just stopped the whole hand shaking thing as a greeting and went with friendly waves instead. Since people can be contagious before they know they’re sick, no more hand shaking would probably cut down on how much colds are spread.

          Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Same. And like Blue, I thank people, because it makes a massive difference.

        I also like to offer to “air shake” and will sometimes jokingly “shake hands” with open air. People usually laugh, or say thank you and don’t expect me to do anything after mentioning I’m trying not to give them a cold.

        Reply
        1. Kathleen Adams

          I am getting over a cold right now, and later today will be interviewing someone for an opening in my department, so I’m about to do the “I won’t shake hands because I’m getting over a cold, but nice to meet you” think in about 15 minutes. I’m pretty sure the candidate will appreciate it (and he’d definitely appreciate it if he’d seen me earlier in the week when I was one sick gal).

          Reply
  17. seejay

    LW#4: Many years ago I went to a job interview with a cold (this was before I really thought through the etiquette of it, but I was also *super* desperate for a job). I mostly had congested sinuses at the time so I filled myself up with sinus meds and stuffed my pockets with tissues and went to the interview. The sinus meds worked their magic and cleared me up and I blew my nose before I went in.

    Alas, I felt my nose starting to run while I was in the middle of the interview, and I tried to be subtle about it and lightly just touched my nose to hopefully prevent it from dripping. Instead, a long line of mucus followed my hand when I pulled it away.

    Cue total embarrassment.

    Suffice to say I did not get the job.

    In short, aside from the germ part of a cold, don’t go to an interview since you might totally embarrass the hell out of yourself when your body does the random things it does when you’re sick.

    Reply
  18. WhirlwindMonk

    In #1, did anyone else raise an eyebrow at the line “I really wish she’d use headphones, or better yet, turn off the music”? Normally I’d expect those two things to be reversed: “Turn off the music, or better yet, use headphones,” since turning it off is only better for OP, while headphones is better for both of them. I’m not sure what, if anything, to read into it, but it just gave me some weird vibes.

    Reply
    1. Kathleen Adams

      I never thought of that, but yes, I see what you mean. Personally, I don’t see either of those as better than the other. In the OP’s place, all I would care about is that I not hear the music, and I really wouldn’t care how that was achieved. So it is interesting that the OP seems to favor eliminating the music rather than making it unobtrusive.

      But hey, if we were all perfect writers, there’s be no need for editors, right?

      Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      I read it as the noise potentially leaking out from headphones would be still audible, but at least far fainter for OP.

      Reply
    3. Lily Rowan

      Headphones have a downside for colleagues, though — as mentioned up-thread. They make it harder to ask a casual question, answer the phone, etc.

      Reply
  19. amy

    LW#1 is just having trouble overcoming overzealous training in not offending people.

    The key: velvet glove. I’ve had good luck shushing even horrible loud racists on trains with things like, “Excuse me. You have such a lovely clear carrying voice, but I’m afraid it’s making it hard for me to do my work/my daughter to get some rest/etc. Would you mind very much — ” and then of course they know exactly what you’re talking about and say all right, and then you say, “oh, I knew you’d be sweet about it, thank you.”

    Reply
  20. BookCocoon

    Re: #4, I would probably still go just because I get sick so often that it’s hard to catch me at a time when I don’t have some kind of cold or cough. I wouldn’t think it was a big deal if someone told me they were getting over a cold and didn’t want to shake hands. But I have had candidates who can’t stop talking about how they’re sick. Every time they have trouble coming up with an interview answer, it’s “I’m sorry, my brain is a little foggy because of this cold.” And if you ask how the day is going, the candidate doesn’t mention anything about meeting people in the company or excitement for the position, just about how tired they are because they’re sick and so they didn’t sleep well and yadda yadda. So I say, fine, you can interview if you’re feeling a little under the weather, as long as you can focus enough not to keep bringing up every 5 minutes how you’re not your usual self because you’re sick.

    Reply
    1. Ona

      Can your candidates reschedule their interviews without problems?

      I’m currently applying for jobs and when companies call to invite me for interviews they normally offer me just 1 or 2 dates, like one day in 4 weeks or one day 3 weeks later. So I always think rescheduling would be super difficult. And it normally is.

      Also I was invited to take an online test for a Big4 company several weeks ago. I was invited on a Monday and given the character of my current job, I had no opportunity to take the test till Thursday that week. On Thursday I got really sick and remained sick for several days. Then I wrote them an email asking whether I could take the test several days later, I explained I was having a really bad cold. They declined.

      Maybe your candidates have made similar experiences and that’s why they don’t try to reschedule.

      Reply
      1. BookCocoon

        I don’t think we had any candidates reschedule when I was office manager, but we’ve had them reschedule since I changed jobs and I don’t think it was that big of a deal.

        Reply
  21. Tim C.

    I have been victim of #3. This why I always apply directly to the hiring manager with a CC to HR. While a manager myself, a file of 20 – 30 applications were discovered in the desk of our previously employed HR rep. All for positions that were difficult to fill. We had never been shown a single one.

    Reply
    1. Recruit-o-rama

      The even bigger problem than your not seeing them is that they were just laying in her desk in a stack. This is not responsible or compliant record keeping at all.

      Referrals from employees should always be vetted, every time. There should be a trackable process for this within every recruiting department at every company.

      However, in the OPs case, both the letter writer and her referred contact should have communicated better. The OP should have notified HR to look for and flag the application and the candidate should have responded to the letter writers email.

      Lastly, no company should use algorithms to screen applications; it’s rife with problems.

      Reply
  22. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I am WFH this week, and boy are my coworkers LOUD. My wife likes to play background music or Netflix while working…and sing.

    For some reason, I can’t listen to music and work at the same time. I always do podcasts. Talking is so much less distracting, but music or TV is.

    And then there are the cats. I can’t tell them to turn it down! It’s MROAW MROAW MRAOW all day. Better than the office though.

    Reply
    1. Teapot Librarian

      How can you WFH when there are cats? Aren’t they on your keyboard and looking at you with sweet eyes saying “give us lovings, OC&Q, we need lovings now, don’t you love us, here let me put my butt in your face”? That’s what my cats would do, at least.

      Reply
      1. Noobtastic

        Or if you close the door, they would sit outside your office an meow mournfully?

        I’m lucky. My cat wants loving, but there is one thing I can do that doesn’t harm her in any way, but annoys the heck out of her, and she decides to leave, to show me who’s boss. And then I can do my own thing, until she has “punished” me enough and comes back. A quick cuddle and then another annoyance, and she’s gone again for a while. It works.

        Reply
      2. MT

        My cat will totally do her own thing and ignore me while I’m working from home… until the *moment* I get on a video call with my supervisor. Then suddenly kitty wants to be part of the conversation, and I cannot get her off of my shoulder for the life of me.

        I suspect she just really, really likes the sound of my supervisor’s voice.

        Reply
  23. Hoorah

    Letter 1: Alison’s unnecessarily exasperated response seems atypical of her usual kind-but-direct answers. I can completely relate to feeling timid about speaking up, particularly if the LW is from a culture that favours indirect communication over a more straight forward Western style of speech. Also, there are some office cultures where speaking up directly – even in response to an invitation to speak up – could appear rude, and create minor conflicts.

    I completely agree LW1 should speak up and Alison gave a great script. But it’s also really difficult for shy, anxious people like me to be direct, particularly in a workplace. Especially if everyone else seems to be OK with the music and you don’t want to appear as a whiner. Speaking up confidently takes a lot of practice.

    Reply
    1. Ona

      I agree. I have had people create major drama over even less important requests than switching off the music.

      And yes, I think playing any music in the office, during normal working hours, is extremely inconsiderate. Unless you work alone. Plenty of people are distracted by every music and plenty of those who aren’t will hate the music player’s selection of the music to play. It’s basically one person who wants to impose on coworkers their taste and many people suffering as a result. Given a clear alternative (headphones), playing loud music is very egoistic. Modern offices tend to be very loud places with all the open spaces, kitchens without doors, teleconferences. I can’t imagine how would anybody want to add to the problem.

      Reply
    2. Boo

      Yeah, and I think we’ve all known at least one person in the workplace to kick off over something as small. Sure they tend to be outliers, but they really put you off speaking up again.

      I’m also not down with the comments about how maybe the coworker can’t wear headphones/buds because of x y or z issue and she may be more productive with music…admittedly I’ve never worked anywhere that playing music through your speakers was acceptable, but this is an office not a bedroom or a bar and generally adults are expected to get on with their work without playing music. If music is really necessary then the onus is on them to find a way of listening to it that doesn’t interfere with the job or impact people around them.

      I feel kind of annoyed on LW1’s behalf that she’s now been put in the position of having to speak up about something which I don’t think the coworker should be doing anyway, particularly when she’s new and in that stage of wanting to be liked and fit in.

      Reply
  24. Inquisativemommy

    What a great topic I am currently dealing with this in my office, being new I came in yesterday to this loud person being confronted and it was nasty. People cussing and telling the other they should walk to the corner and walk in front of a bus.
    You have to be direct being afraid to tell someone they are too loud will just make you secretly hate being at your desk and being unproductive. IF you have my situation after asking its time to go to managers to get this issue fixed or ask your manager to move your cubicle because you are easily distracted by noise.

    Reply

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