is my laugh too loud for the office?

A reader writes:

I think (know) I have a loud laugh. How can I tell if I need to dial it back, and how do you freaking do that?

I’m a generally loud person; it’s a trait probably every single one of my friends would mention about me if asked to describe me. However, I have managed in my work life to learn how to modulate my voice and am usually successful at having conversations in a cubicle appropriate volume.

I also, perhaps predictably, have a loud laugh. Again, usually I can manage a snort/giggle at a pretty appropriate volume, but I’m a jovial person and somewhat frequently (a few times a week, not several times a day) let out a belly laugh that can be heard across the room. Again, my work friends say nice things about my laugh, for example I had a partner at my last company tell me she was going to miss hearing my laugh, but I wonder if not everyone finds it so charming.

1) How do I figure out if people find my loud laugh annoying? Should I just assume that they do? Should I care?
2) If I should care, how do I fix it?

Yeah, I’d assume some people find it jarring. Think of it like any other sudden loud noise when you’re in the midst of focusing on something — for a lot of people, that type of thing will jerk them out of whatever they’re concentrating on. And it can be especially annoying when you’re hard at work, and you hear what sounds like a jarringly loud indicator that someone else … isn’t.

Plus, if it can be heard across the room, it can be heard through the phone, and your coworkers are probably sometimes on calls where a sudden loud laugh in the background might not be appropriate — especially if they’re delivering tough news or having an otherwise serious conversation.

So I do think you should care and try to rein it in, both out of courtesy to your coworkers and also to help maintain a professional environment.

As for how … well, I might be entirely wrong about this, and feel free to tell me if so, but I tend to think that we can all control this sort of thing when we want to — you presumably would be able to keep your laugh down in a quiet library or somewhere else where a loud laugh would be inappropriate, right? So whatever the restraint is that you exercise in those situations, that’s the restraint you want to call upon at work.

Now, I know that some people will say that this is nonsense, that the sounds of joy should never be stifled, so I want to make it clear: The joy is good. It’s just about recognizing professional norms and the needs of coworkers to focus, especially in an open office plan or one with cubicles.

And as one of those people who finds sudden loud nosies (even if they’re jovial) to be jarring when I’m concentrating, thanks for caring about it.

{ 62 comments… read them below }

  1. Ryan

    Agreed

    I enjoy hearing someone laugh and I can tune pretty much anything out at work but when I’m on the phone with a customer and I’m having a serious conversation…

    Let’s just say it undermines the seriousness of the situation to have someone yucking it up in the background and when it happens if I could pull a lever and drop you through a trap door to shut you up I would.

  2. jesicka309

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a big, loud laugh… when no one is trying to work/on the phone. I sit next to a girl who snorts and laughs loudly all day. I presume she’s getting hilarious work related emails all day, as the only alternative is that she’s on Youtube/lolcats, and it drives me up the wall.
    There’s always those times of day where I wouldn’t worry about your laugh (eg. the first half hour of work where everyone is arriving and having a chat, lunchtimes, meetings, when people are actually having face-to-face conversations with you and they know what you’re laughing about). Having big belly laughs to your computer screen is a bit weird though.

  3. Sandrine

    My boyfriend has a loud laugh. I can’t be too close to him if something really funny (to him) happens, because it’s really, REAAAAAAAAAAALLLY loud.

    The good part is that he usually chuckles/giggles beforehand, so I know the warning signs and depending on the situation he can control it reasonably well… if you have similar warning signs, maybe you can use that as a starting point ?

  4. Dani

    “…but I tend to think that we can all control this sort of thing when we want to”

    Oh yes, yes, yes, yes! This applies to loud yawning as well. It really grinds my gears when people yawn loudly, (and in my opinion) rudely. There’s a faculty member I work with who does this all the time in meetings. The dean never says anything, but just gives him a look.

    I’m pretty sure most people can laugh and yawn without all the dramatics.

    1. A Bug!

      Or sneeze! Some people involve their voice in their sneezes. They’ve done it so long it’s become such a habit that they think they can’t help it, so they don’t bother to try.

      (I know that some people do just naturally have a powerful sneeze, and I imagine that those can’t really be helped, but that’s different from using your voice while you sneeze.)

      1. Anonymous

        OMG! One of my aunts SCREAMS when she sneezes. I hate it so much. She always needs to put on a show…even when sneezing I suppose. She got into a minor car accident once from sneezing the way she does. It’s evil, but I thought “Good, Maybe she will STFU” but no even near death hasn’t stopped her.

      2. Kathryn T.

        I have stentorious, diva-like, elephantine sneezes. I also sing with a symphony orchestra, and I have learned how to invert them and make them nearly noiseless, after an allergy attack I suffered while I was onstage at a performance of Satie’s “Gymnopedies.” I call it a tantric sneeze. Even for those with powerful sneezes? It can still be controlled.

    2. jmkenrick

      Actually, as a loud yawner…I disagree. If I’m yawning, it’s likely because I’m exhausted, and it’s definitely something I do without thinking. Who plans to yawn?

      1. Dani

        Hmmm…I know when I feel a yawn coming on. I don’t mean so much the yawn itself, but the “voice” sound that comes with it. I know I’m not describing it well, but there’s sort of a “hum” of “huff” sound that comes out when you yawn. I think you can definitely silence that if you try. And one SHOULD try in a staff meeting, as in my example. To loudly yawn while someone is speaking is just rude.

        Try to yawn silently just once. I bet almost everyone can do it.

        1. Jamie

          I’m a silent yawner, but I’m a highly susceptible yawner.

          I’ve yawned 9x just reading these posts and typing this. If I’m around someone yawning, forget it, I will immediately start. A meeting with your co-worker and me would be a nightmare.

          We’d need to bring mats and pillows – like for nap time in kindergarten.

        2. jmkenrick

          Yeah – I’m not trying to argue that you can’t avoid a yawn, and obviously any kind of bodily function noise should be avoided if you’re in a staff meeting, but you mention rudeness and avoiding dramatics in your original comment, which suggests to me that you feel like people are making noise as they yawn to make a point.

          I’m disagreeing with that – I don’t think people make noise while yawning as an attempt to indicate anything (maybe sometimes, but that has to be the exception, not the rule). Probably they just forgot that the noise sounds different to other people than it does to them.

          This seems like a case of Hanlon’s razor to me.

      2. fposte

        I don’t think she was saying that you can control yawning or not, but that you can control if you make a loud noise during it. I would agree–in general, the sounds we make when sneezing, yawning, laughing, etc., may not be consciously deliberate, but they can be reshaped into a different habit. Most of the time there’s no particular need to bother, aside from the amusement of developing a different laugh when you’re an adolescent and want to sound cooler, but if you find out that your screaming family sneeze doesn’t wear so well in cubicle land, you’re not actually stuck with it.

        1. jmkenrick

          Yeah, I think I maybe misread her intent. I thought Dani was trying to suggest that people who yawn loudly are attempting to attract some sort of attention, or make a point…I think the word “dramatics” threw me.

  5. EJ

    It sounds like the OP is already on the right track by modulating their voice in the office. Kudos for that – self-awareness is the hardest step!

    It’s possible that your laugh isn’t as bad as you think it is – if you have a good relationship in the office, you could ask your coworkers if your laugh is disruptive. Otherwise, AAM is right, just dial it down to be safe.

  6. Tiff

    Not that we should all be laughing all day, but I find it slightly ridiculous that we are now regulating how we laugh. We are not robots, and we’re not in a group choir that needs blended tones for harmony. So you’re Loud Laugh Guy/Gal. You’re in good company, because I’m sure somewhere in the office are the rest of the gang:

    -Mr. Bad Breath
    -Ms. Too Strong Perfume
    -The Man Who Had Baja Fresh for Lunch
    -The Woman Who is Constantly Dieting and Her Stomach Sounds Like Kilamanjaro Erupting
    -The Knuckle Cracker
    -The Gum Popper
    -The Intern Who Can’t Stop Saying “Like”
    -That Man That Happiness Forgot
    -Mrs. I Don’t Wash My Hands
    -Mr. Personal Business at High Volume
    – The Tuneless Hummer

    …and the list goes on and on. I got that list just looking around my division. We’re all annoying in our own way, and we all have a quirk of some kind. And we’re all pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. Someone will find it amusing. Someone will find it annoying. But a good belly laugh is one of the best sounds ever. If someone has a problem with it they’ll say something. Otherwise, what is the point of attempting to change yourself based on the possibility that it might annoy someone?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      No one is arguing that she’s not awesome. In fact, she probably is, since her letter shows that she’s a considerate person. But the point is that in an office where people are trying to work, it makes sense to try not to do things that will annoy / jar / distract other people. That’s reasonable.

      Someone else might say that a beautiful singing voice is “one of the best sounds ever.” That doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to sing loudly in an office where others are trying to work either, and you don’t need to wait to be told that before reining it in.

      1. Tiff

        I don’t think that we disagree on being considerate, but we have different opinions on how much consideration is needed. There are certain environments that are hushed by nature, like a library or spa. But if the work itself doesn’t require an especially quiet atmosphere I don’t see a need to not enjoy a good laugh every once in a while.

        Like you said, she is considerate enough to not laugh loudly several times a day or laugh for long periods of time. That should be enough.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Depends on the office. I’ve worked in plenty that are pretty hushed (and prefer to work in those, in fact), where a sudden loud noise that can be heard across the room would, in fact, be jarring because people are focusing on writing/editing/data analysis/whatever. If it’s a loud environment, then one more sound may not make a difference.

          1. Quiet office person

            Yes, our office is often dead quiet – but not in an oppressive way – and a phone call/food noises/laughing etc can be overheard easily from the other end. So the person who is in the office irregularly and starts singing Christmas songs in August makes the rest of us want to scream. Yes, I work with a real person who does this. Unfortunately.

    2. Anonymous

      Wha….?

      If I can’t focus on my work or I’m on the phone with a client trying to explain a mistake, you’re going to tell me that a good belly laugh is one of the best sounds ever? There’s a time and a place for most things. I happen to think the sound of my toddler’s voice is one of the best sounds ever but I assure you my colleagues don’t want to hear it while they work.

      This person wants to be considerate of her coworkers. Why would you encourage her to not care?

      1. Tiff

        Because I believe that adult bodies produce sounds, and that healthy adults find ways to adapt to things that naturally occur. Unless you work with children, the sounds of toddlers voices shouldn’t be a regular part of your day. In my opinion she sounds like a nice person who is trying so hard to be considerate of others that she is worrying for nothing.

        Are we that sensitive now that a good laugh (or cough, or sneeze) is enough to prevent us from focusing? I don’t think so. If that were the case no one would get anything done unless we were sitting in perfectly climate controlled, silent spaces all by ourselves.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          But under that theory, she shouldn’t try to modulate her voice either. Aka’s comment below gets at this well — it’s about being aware when you’re being louder than others and trying to co-exist in a shared space in a considerate manner.

          1. Tiff

            Eh – I don’t really disagree with you, just on the method and how far we as adults should go to make a productive work environment. Could just be work culture and personal fit. My organization tends to attract people who like to laugh – we deal with so many ridiculous things that a good sense of humor is a requirement. There would be no need to question the volume of one’s laughter in my office.

            1. Ryan

              And that’s all great – but if you’re on the phone with a customer discussing a serious issue loud laughter can be detrimental. At best it seems a little unprofessional to hear someone laughing in the background at worst the customer might think you’re gesticulating to your coworkers regarding the very phone call you’re on and making fun of them. It happens.

              1. Jamie

                I agree. You wouldn’t jump up on a co-worker’s desk and invade their space…so we should try to be considerate of not taking up more than our share of the aural space as well.

                It’s just a matter of courtesy that goes along with sharing a space. I’m not saying we should strive to be church-mice, but if your your footprint (sounds, odor, whathaveyou) is noticeably bigger than your co-workers you should try to be more modulated.

                1. Amouse

                  ha! There’s an assistant director at my work who sits on everyone’s desk to talk to them. It drives my co-worker’s batty! I think it’s weird and intrusive but it doesn’t bother me that much.

              2. Tiff

                Ive been there (on the phone having a serious convo when someone starts laughing loudly). I just gave them the classic stink eye/lowered hand convo. Amazingly enough, I was able to continue the conversation with no ill effects to the upset customer. Aren’t matters like this in such gray territory that it really does depend on who is hearing the laugh? I know there are things about my co-workers that I find close to intolerable, but I deal with ME, not them.

                On a side note….I’ve never attracted this many replies to any of my comments. I didn’t know I was taking a “controversial” stance on the issue. Color me oddly flattered and self-conscious.

                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I think what’s happening here is that you’re presenting your experiences/office/preferences as absolutes, when — while they work well for you and your office — there’s wide variation out there about works for different people and in different offices. In lots of offices, this WOULD be inappropriate. (And lots of people find loud noises jarring, whether others don’t.)

        2. fposte

          The fact that we need to modulate our bodies’ effect on others is one of the basic lessons of civilization.

    3. Aka

      In the age of open plan offices, any loud noises are not particularly co-worker friendly, be it a loud burst of laughter or what have you. It’s not about “don’t laugh at work”; it’s about “how do people co-exist in a shared space?”. The OP says she’s loud and she tries to cognizant of that when speaking and wonders if she should also be aware of it when laughing and the answer is “yes”.

      I hate open plan offices because I am someone who needs often needs things relatively quiet to do my best work. I worked at one office that had no cubicles, just corrals of open desk shelf space that housed 6-8 people each. Made it very difficult to concentrate. Everyone is different; others might love that kind of environment. I’m very fortunate now to have an office with a door that closes, it makes a world of difference.

    4. moss

      I am none of those things. I am quiet and don’t smell and get my job done. Sorry, but other people can be quiet and non-smelly workers too.

    5. Osirisis

      @Tiff-Its just about being more considerate to your fellow workers that is all. I also work with someone whose laughs can be heard throughout the office and let me tell you, after a few years of hearing my coworker I have reached the breaking point where I am ready to crack. Hearing her laugh is like nails on a chalkboard and a strong indicator that she is doing absolutely nothing while the rest of us are busting our asses and trying to make it through the day. “A good belly laugh is one of the best sounds ever”–NOT really, remember you are in an office environment not a comedy club. There is a certain type of decorum expected and most people work in cubicles and do not have the luxury of an office where they can just shut the door or even wear earplugs or headphones.

      1. ARS

        I think the point is, if you’re already being considerate, why are we saying “I’m sorry, it’s just not enough”? Tiff makes an excellent point. There’s considerate, and there’s give me a freakin’ break and realize we do work will all sorts of people and that’s part of BEING. To quote Berke Breathed, “OH MY GOSH, the world is offensive!” And in this case, not even that offensive.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Well, because the OP specifically asked if this is something she should modulate. It’s not someone going to her and telling her she’s not being considerate enough — she came here to ask about it. Which I think everyone agrees is actually very considerate.

    6. Ellie H.

      I can see both sides of it. I agree with Tiff that there are a lot of behaviors that are simply part of the human condition that you can’t get away from, and you will drive yourself crazy trying to avoid or suppress the behavior-exhibiters. And, in general, we should try to minimize behaviors we suspect will be irritating to others. Also in general, we should tolerate behaviors that are irritating to us when they’re not egregious or intended maliciously. Due to the nature of human civilization and employment, we are often compelled to interact with other people whose manner of getting around in the world may or may not complement ours. (I say this as a confirmed control freak who attempts to micro-manage all possible features of my environment.) If this works out, everyone both tries to minimize and tries to ignore and we all meet one another halfway.

  7. Your Boss

    Oh boy. I agree so much. We had a person in the office with a very loud laugh that was annoying crap out of everybody. I had to address this with her and guess what. She still laughs, we just don’t hear it that much. She understood. Sometimes you do have to adjust. There is nothing wrong with it.

  8. Bridgette

    As a practical measure, maybe you could cover your mouth when you feel a big laugh coming on, or just get in the habit of it. That could muffle the laugh somewhat in case a loud one slips out.

  9. Amouse

    I agree with Alison. A laugh is something impulsive so it might take time to learn to take it down a notch, however the fact that you have the self-awareness to realize it’s loud puts you a hundred steps ahead of the game. I’d say you be the judge of when it’s appropriate to dial it back (probably when people are quietly working) vs. when it’s OK such as when everyone in your office is laughing about something.

    Having a positive person in the office is a buoyant force so don’t extinguish that. I know what it’s like to work in a pin-drop quiet office and I actually have trouble not stepping too loudly etc. because I just tend not to be ballet dainty. But it can be worked on and the fact that you wrote a letter asking for advice shows you care so I’m sure you’re a considerate co-worker overall.

    Often we see the letters of those disrupted by a loud laugh and a co-worker who refuses to dial it back so it’s refreshing to read the opposite :-)

  10. Ivy

    I have the ability to completely tune out when I’m working on something. Nothing bothers me in deep thought because I just genuinely don’t hear it. I feel like I should treasure this skill more. OP, personally I wouldn’t care about your loud laugh, and would probably enjoy it (that kind of thing reminds me that “hey, it’s ok to have fun at work and we’re not all a bunch of drones). BUT as others have demonstrated here, some might find your loud laugh annoying, and if you feel self conscious about it, then do your best to dial it down. More for your own piece of mind than anything else..

  11. OP

    Hi all!

    Thanks for responding Alison (and commenters). I’ll try to rein in my… boisterous laugh a little more.

    For a bit of background: I’m a senior auditor for a big public accounting firm. I am hardly ever in the office (although I am for the next two weeks) and am generally working in teams of 2-5 at the client site. Usually in a conference room that is too small for the number of people spending 10 hours a day in it.

    So, I definitely understand the need to be respectful of shared space. At the same time my coworkers are actually a pretty funny bunch, it helps to cut the tension when it’s March and you’ve been looking at each other for 11 hours a day for 2 months and no one is going home before 10:00. So I definitely want to find the balance of not annoying my coworkers (and the client) and bringing a bit of levity to what can be a really stressful work environment.

    For those worried that I’m goofing off while my coworkers are hard at work, I assure you I have a superb utilization rate :)

    I like the cover my mouth suggestion a lot. If anyone else has similar concrete advice for lowering my volume, or if anyone has struggled with a similar personal habit that can rub people the wrong way, I would really love to hear how you dealt with it.

      1. Ryan

        OH god yes…especially if you’re an auditor. If you’re not a government auditor the customer is paying you to be there and laughter is going to sound to them like you’re not doing the job you were paid to do because you’re having too much fun goofing off. In addition to the fact that you don’t want to be distracting their employees.

    1. Emily

      I’m deaf in one ear, so in certain environments, especially if I’ve had a cold and my ears are congested, the volume of my voice can get away from me and I just don’t realize it. I’ve never been a loud person, but when I was 10-12 and not as aware, it was noticeable enough that I was referred to a speech therapist. He taught me to add a non-vocal gesture to my speech/laugh, a) to serve as a reminder to myself to gauge my volume and b) to “funnel” some of the “energy” from my voice. Not sure about the “energy funnelling,” but this was really effective in the classroom—raising my hand naturally became a non-verbal cue to just be aware of my voice. But in social settings, I became the awkward 6th grader who slapped her thigh like a your grandpa every time she laughed! I got teased about that and wound up feeling self-conscious about my voice, my laugh, speaking in general. I wish the therapist had suggested covering my mouth instead! I think conscious breathing—like deliberately pausing to take a breath as you laugh or speak—would be similarly effective.

      But ultimately, the principle holds true—get into the habit of using that physical gesture like a piece of string tied around your finger to remind yourself to be aware of your surroundings and your volume. It’s not about stifling your joy or censoring yourself or becoming a mute robot; it’s just about awareness (and you’re obviously not oblivious at this point). Eventually the habit of the gesture trains a habit of awareness.

      1. Jamie

        I had a different issue as a child, but a similar solution worked for me.

        I didn’t make eye contact when speaking to someone – I’d kind of look up. Not at the ceiling, I could see them, but enough that it was an issue my parents wanted to correct.

        A little cue of touching my thumb to my ring finger when speaking to someone would trigger me to remember to look them in the eye. It was years before it became second nature, but I still find myself doing the finger thing.

        Not noticeable at all and made all the difference in the world. It’s funny how those things work.

        1. Rana

          That’s how I remember right and left, actually. I do a little shrug on the side I’m trying to label; it’s something I picked up in dance class, when we had to remember which way to turn.

          It’s surprising how well those cue-reminders work!

      2. Wow

        Thanks Emily (and Jamie & Rana below) I’ll start trying to implement some small physical gesture before I laugh to get conscious of it. I like the finger tap idea :)

  12. Anonymous

    There’s at least some possibility that you have hearing loss.

    I’m a loud person too. I grew up in a family of loud people. My hearing was damaged when I was young, and I can’t tell if I’m being louder than “normal.” I didn’t understand why everyone called me loud until I was in my mid-20s and a kindhearted boyfriend demonstrated my hearing problem to me by showing me the volume that he considered reasonable on a TV compared to what I considered normal.

    Before you dismiss this as nonsense – at least consider it as a possibility. It’s a very common condition. It’s extremely hard to self-diagnose or notice on your own. It’s something a doctor can check you for easily. If you catch it early, you can slow the damage – if you ignore it, it escalates. Consider at least getting screened for hearing problems.

  13. Not So NewReader

    OP, you can also gauge yourself against the group you are working with. What are they doing? Do you think you might be louder than them? Are you laughing louder/longer/sooner than the rest? Do you laugh loudly when the majority of the coworkers are merely smiling?
    I think having a slightly higher awareness of what the majority is doing will help you, too.

  14. Kathleen

    If you make a noise that distracts others in the workplace it is unprofessional. Why would a loud laugh or a loud yawn be any different from a loud fart?

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