my coworker won’t stop talking

A reader writes:

Let me start with a bit of background: I work in an open office environment, which is less than desirable for a host of additional reasons, but today I am writing to you about something very specific. Three of us sit together in a “pod” comprised of three work stations. The half-walls rise only about two feet up in front of our desktops, so we would literally be staring at each other all day if it weren’t for the fact that we use multiple monitors that provide some visual blockage.

The problem I am having is that I am very distracted by one of my teammates, who talks to herself. All. The. Time. Literally every day, throughout the day. The least offensive is when she opens an email and says “uh oh” out loud. This happens multiple times a day. Or, she will be working on a project and verbalize every step: “ok, now, let’s take a look at this xyz”; “where in the hell is that document”; “now what are we supposed to do with this”; and on and on. The worst is when she curses and uses vulgar language such as shit, damn, etc., but luckily the f-bomb has been very rare. The cursing happens when she is unhappy about an assignment, or has to learn something new and it’s the fault of the software that she doesn’t know how to do it, whatever it is.

It’s almost like listening to a play-by-play of everything she is doing that day. If I ask her what she’s talking about, she’ll say something like “oh, I wasn’t talking to you” seemingly with a tone of annoyance as if I interrupted her.

This impacts my ability to get my work done. We work in IT and are developers, and sometimes we need to THINK. It’s virtually impossible to get 30 minutes without a verbalization loud enough to intrude into whatever I’m working on. Complicating matters a bit is that in addition to being a developer, I am also the project manager for all of our work. We have a manager who handles the quarterly reviews, but I am senior to her and give her project assignments and instructions and corrections pertaining to her work.

I’m not sure how to approach this, since she does not actually report to me. I don’t see this as something serious enough to escalate to our manager; I would prefer to handle it myself. I know that one of the reasons I am hesitant is that she is churlish and has a reputation as being difficult. Our own manager warned me when I started working here almost five years ago. I would describe it as her not having a filter and being willing to say things to coworkers I would never dream of saying. Basically, I don’t want to piss her off because I have to work with her every day. The nature of our work is very collaborative and we rely on each other all the time.

Can you give me some advice on what to say, that might get her to stop and think before verbalizing everything, all day, every day?

I think I get more letters about co-workers who won’t stop talking than nearly any other subject. Loud, babbling co-workers are the scourge of offices across the land.

Your coworker is somewhat more unusual in that she’s talking to herself rather than trying to have constant conversations with you, but even that isn’t as unusual as you might think.

But that’s cold comfort, of course, so let’s try to help you actually fix this.

First, as someone who shares space with this co-worker, you absolutely have standing to say something about the constant verbal commotion. I know that she’s prickly and you’re wary of inflaming her, but pissed off and quiet might be preferable to the current state of affairs. And really, when what you want to say is so eminently reasonable as “I can’t focus when you keep up a stream-of-consciousness dialogue all day long,” it’s not a great choice to roll over and take it just because you’re afraid that the other person will respond badly. You can’t let yourself be scared of saying a perfectly reasonable thing because you fear that a co-worker (a co-worker who’s junior to you, no less!) will react unprofessionally.

So I really, really urge you to speak up. You could say something like this: “Jane, I’m finding that I’m having a lot of trouble focusing on work when you talk to yourself so frequently. I don’t know if you realize how often you talk to yourself about what you’re working on, but it can be quite distracting. Can I ask you to try to be aware of it and rein it in so that I’m able to focus over here?”

If you’re cringing and thinking that you’d never in a million years say that to Jane because she’d take it badly, a different approach is to try making it about you rather than her. Sometimes reframing a tricky message as “this is just a weird thing about me” can make the message easier both to deliver and to receive, especially if the person you’re saying it to is grumpy. In this case, that could sound like this: “Jane, I’m finding that I have a really high need for quiet while I work. I know that’s not always realistic in an open office like this, but I’m having a hard time focusing when you talk to yourself about your work. Do you think you could stop doing that so that we have more quiet space for focus here?”

Also, what’s the nature of the authority that you have as project manager? Even though Jane doesn’t formally report to you, since you’re senior to her and dole out assignments and feedback, it’s very possible that you have some additional standing to address this — as well as some ability to address any excessive prickliness that might be forthcoming in her response. It’s probably worth talking to your boss and finding out if you actually have more authority here than you think you do. If so, you could be more assertive in this conversation, framing it as “Here’s what I need” rather than “Could I ask you to help me out?”

That said, whatever you say and even if she’s receptive to it, I doubt it’s going to solve the problem overnight. What she’s doing sounds almost like an unconscious tic, and it’s probably not going to be fixed with one conversation. That means that you should be prepared to need to follow up afterward too. But that could be as simple as just saying something in the moment when it’s happening, like, “Hey, I’m having trouble focusing over here. Could you keep it down?”

And because she might really have trouble controlling this, think about whether there’s anything you can do about the physical environment that might mitigate some or all of the problem. For example, is there a spot she could move to where she wouldn’t be so near other people? Is there another constant talker with whom she could sit — off in their own area together? Can you move? As the project manager for your team’s work, you might have standing to ask for, well, if not a more private space (which might be a no-go in a company that has seen fit to place you all out in the open together), possibly a different space.

And, of course, the standard advice with co-workers who make annoying sounds of any kind is to think about whether there’s something you can do to block the noise out. Headphones are the most obvious solution, if your office doesn’t frown on them. If noise-blocking headphones would make this problem go away, you should go for it. But if that’s not practical for some reason, think about whether there’s something else similar you can do to block her out, like a white-noise machine. Your nearby co-workers would probably be grateful.

Originally published at New York Magazine.

{ 333 comments… read them below }

  1. LipRingGal*

    Lol oops, you must be talking about me!

    I talk to myself in the office too & I don’t always realize I’m doing it…weird habit I guess. Nobody has complained (that I know of)..some joke about it occasionally when walking by lol. I totally understand how/why it can be distracting though..

    1. Artemesia*

      People rarely complain about things that drive them nuts; they don’t want to make waves. That doesn’t mean they aren’t dying inside or looking for a new job because of it. IMHO you just can’t make constant noise in a shared space. You really need to not inflict this on co-workers. That goes for tapping, clicking, smacking gum, singing and talking to yourself.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        When I sat down this morning the woman two desks down was snapping her fingers along to her music (I work in a setup very similar to the letter writer’s, only with four-person-a-side back-to-back rows, three and a half rows). If she hadn’t stopped after thirty seconds or so, I would have spoken up for sure.

      2. Bookworm*

        I hear you, but I think this comment goes a shade too far. We can’t shift all the responsibility onto the people absentmindedly making noise. Generally, people who do these things can be unaware of it. I’ve never worked with anyone who was totally silent while working – almost everyone has some ticks, even if they only surface occasionally.

        If someone is actually looking for a new job because their coworker absentmindedly clicks their pen and they haven’t even mentioned it, that’s on them. We can’t always expect others to be proactively attuned to our needs, particularly if we’ve never even articulated them.

        1. Dorothy Mantooth*

          My husband is a pen-clicker, but I have made it known it annoys me. He says it’s so “the pen doesn’t dry out” as it if would dry up after three seconds of inactivity. Ask me how the meeting for closing on our house was…

          1. KatD*

            …And one day, all of the clicky writing implements had disappeared from the home and were replaced by wooden pencils and pens with caps. While the Wife maintained she’d had nothing to do with the strange and unexplained Pen Cleansing of 2017, Husband suspected she knew more than she was letting on…

            1. copy run start*


              For me, caps are more fun than clicks if they have a satisfying snap. (Those Pentel RSVP vs. the basic Bics….) I notice the clicks more since they’re louder and stop myself. My biggest problem is fidgeting with something quietly then loudly dropping it out of the blue. Clearly going to have to work on it based on this letter!

        2. BRR*

          Well put. After reading this blog for years, one of my key takeaways is that you can address things directly with people.

        3. turquoisecow*

          Agreed. Also, people do make noise, and while the OP here is dealing with an extreme case, people do need to learn to be able to cope with some amount of background noise while they’re working, simply as a fact of life. Expecting everyone to be silent is a little bit extreme.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I do think it’s important to remember that loads of people will not complain about this kind of thing but can still be really bothered by it (going by my mail, it’s a REALLY common thing). That doesn’t mean that people are definitely bothered by what you’re doing, LipRingGal, but I wouldn’t assume the absence of complaints is conclusive on that front.

      4. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yes, please try to curb this. It’s distracting, and a lot of people can’t simply tune you out. I’m one of those who is hard-wired to pay attention if someone is speaking, especially in the office, because they might be speaking to ME and I have to pay attention. I worked with someone who talked to herself in an open office, it was a nightmare, and all it made me think was that she was desperate to call attention to herself and didn’t care about anyone else’s comfort, concentration, or well-being. (It was definitely the second part– she was spoken to and refused to stop.)

        1. Salamander*

          I had a situation similar to this once upon a time. I shared a quite amicable open office with several other people, and there was one guy who Would. Not. Stop. Talking. He was constantly narrating his day, talking back to e-mails, and generally disregarding everyone around him.

          Someone finally lost it and asked him if he hadn’t learned to work quietly in primary school. O_o

            1. Salamander*

              He stopped for about a week, and started back up again. The boss eventually started shushing him. He’d quit for a bit and start doing it again. It was especially annoying in that he seemed to be able to stop it if he wanted to for decent periods of time, but it just didn’t seem to matter to him to keep it down for the duration.

              He was eventually let go. I wasn’t privy to the reasons, of course, and it’s realistically unlikely that it had anything to do with that. But we sure heaved a collective sigh of relief (quietly).

        2. Alex the Alchemist*

          I agree. I have some sensory issues and one of them is with noise- basically I try to process all of the noises going on around me, especially talking, so if someone is talking or singing to themselves while working it’s especially distracting.

          1. Koko*

            I have hyper sensitivity to noises as well, although for me it’s led to a type of “tunnel vision”-like effect where although I’m hyper-attuned to anything that breaks silence or white noise, if it’s really noisy/multiple sources of noise it becomes really difficult for me to focus on any one source of the noise and I can actually work pretty happily and focus deeply on my work, but good luck getting my attention with anything short of waving your hand in front of my face or IMing me, because my brain gives up on processing sound when it’s overwhelmed.

            1. TychaBrahe*

              For me, white noise is annoying. I can tune out voices. It’s the hum of the air conditioner that drives me insane.

              Comcast recently came and upgraded my cable box. The new one whirrs. It’s annoying as hell. I’ve started wearing headphones in the living room if I’m not watching television, because it drives me nuts.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            I’m on the autism spectrum and repetitive noise like this drives me CRAZY. When I took the SAT’s, a billion years ago, somebody in the back of the room sniffed every ten seconds throughout the entire test. That person has no idea how lucky s/he to have survived.

            Fortunately, I don’t have to share a workspace, but if I did, I would definitely have to say something because, as much as I’ve tried to learn to tune out noises, there is a point at which I just cannot get over it any more.

          3. OP (my ears are tired)*

            OP here. Yes, I forgot to mention. Pod mate will wear headphones, and then sing & hum to the music! Sometimes I’m like, “you’ve got to be fu€k|n¥ kidding me”.

            1. BeckyDaTechie*

              Can you get her to chew gum? Having something in her mouth to focus on may keep her from physically speaking as much.

            2. TychaBrahe*

              Adult pacifiers need to become a thing.

              Actually I developed tardive dyskinesia from a drug I was prescribed, and although the symptoms have backed off they aren’t totally gone. I really want a pacifier so I will stop grinding my teeth.

          4. Halpful*

            I have sensory issues *and* I tend to think out loud. I have actually hurt myself by saying “ow!” :P

            My (partial) solution is to type at myself instead. I even wrote a little journal app for my phone (it was going to be a lot more than that, but I haven’t had the spoons to write code for ages, I’m lucky it still works…)

        3. JessaB*

          Sometimes it’s not “refused to stop,” it’s can’t. NB: not an attempt to diagnose the OP’s co-worker.

          I know that I have a number of stimming tics that bother people – some are verbal but a big one is a very bad case of restless leg and if I’m touching a table it can be really annoying. I have trusted people to tell me cut it out. Whenever I get a new job, I make it clear that it’s VERY okay to tell me to quit it (or stop touching the table because you’re shaking it,) because it’s not a conscious thing. And a quick “Yo, quit,” can stop me for quite some time, there will be a time that I’ll be back in a zone and not realise. And I understand that’s on me. But it’s also something that is A: not done on purpose and B: NOT something I’m aware of in the moment, and it sucks, but my friends are always willing to nudge me about it and I try really hard to be aware when I’m in public spaces or at work. And when I say awhile it’s usually an hour or two before my brain forgets to monitor my actions. I cannot afford the time and expense of the therapy to fix this because every time I have another stroke like hemiplegic migraine, I lose all my coping skills, so it starts again and after awhile it’s just brain killing to go through all that therapy again.

          I think you’ll find out whether the person cares about other people or not if you have a private conversation that goes something like “I doubt you’re aware you do this, but you do it a lot. Do you mind much if I quietly point it out to you when it’s happening so you can quit it?” And if they’re really crazily defencive and not into any kind of quiet help in the moment, well you know. A lot of people who have this get the point that we’re annoying as heck and are willing to work together, or move our desks to a less noticeable part of the room.

          The other thing you CAN do, is insist that if they do self-talk that they do NOT use inappropriate language. Presuming the bad words are not directly part of their disorder and that it IS a disorder and not just attention getting behaviour, this can be worked on. I have a friend with Tourettes, her tics are mostly body jerking, but she’s worked very hard to use appropriate language at work.

          I guess the main thing is to drill down and find out whether this is a disorder and then do an ADA thing if it is, or if it’s not and then do a “you cannot do x here,” thing.

      5. kb*

        I think the issue is that it’s largely unconscious. People will stop in the moment when called out because they’ll realize it’s happening, but often they start again later without realizing.
        It is really annoying to be the person listening to it (I had a roommate who talked to herself non-stop), but it’s important to remember its generally unintentional and a hard habit to break completely.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          Agreed. Maybe because of the larger size of my shared space, people do speak up when someone’s noise level passes a certain point, and generally the person hadn’t realized what they were doing. If you normalize speaking up it isn’t nearly as intimidating.

          1. kb*

            Yeah, if people speak up as it happens and keep it good-natured, I think that’s the best way to help the self-talker/noisemaker stop. I think when people bottle their annoyance up and burst once, the noisemakers feel like the reaction was disproportionate and get defensive or digs in deeper.

            1. Bookworm*

              This is absolutely true. We should strive for environments where people can speak up good-naturedly early on.

              It’s unfair to bottle up months worth of resentment and frustration and spring it on someone who’s unaware that they’ve been causing any trouble.

              1. MegaMoose, Esq*

                Sometimes all it takes is some eye-contact and raised eyebrows. Maybe a glance at their hand or something.

        2. Rolling through*

          well the thing is that many things we do and think are subconscious but we learn to control them. It’s called being an adult and threres nothing cute about being a nuisance and if coworkers are lightly joking about it her face I can only imagine what they say behind her back

          1. kb*

            I wasn’t saying it’s cute or that coworkers should put up with it forever, just that it should be kept in mind that it’s unintentional and generally not something that will fully disappear overnight.
            I’d also argue that being mean-spirited about someone behind their back isn’t that the adult way to handle anything in the workplace.

          2. aebhel*

            There’s nothing cute or mature about silently steaming with resentment and badmouthing someone behind their back instead of bring an issue up directly, either.

      6. AMT*

        Seconded. I have a coworker who bursts into nonsense songs several times a day and constantly complains that it’s “too quiet.” This (along with the general misery of an open office) is actually one of the reasons I’m leaving my job.

        1. Betsy*

          Ohhh my god, “why is it so quiet????” Why are people like this incapable of entertaining themselves quietly? What must it have been like being in class with them in college? That kind of commentary drives me absolutely bananas. It’s like sharing an office with a nine-year-old.

        2. JessaB*

          The answer to too quiet is headphones and music. Some people get lost in space that’s too quiet and they kind of shut down because it feels really freaky to them to be in a noiseless environment. It’s part of why solitary confinement can make people crazy. if it’s really too quiet find a way to let them have their noise without it bothering others.

      7. k*

        I wouldn’t say that this type of thing would ever make me look for a new job one it’s own. But if there were other things going on and I was on the fence, this could totally seal the deal.

        And even if I didn’t leave it might slowly drive me insane, or at least make me very much not like that person.

      8. Zoe Karvounopsina*

        I jokingly refer to one of my Colleagues as Office NEMESIS, and one of the reasons is that she constantly talks to herself. About everything she is doing. Including how hard her job is, and how overworked she is, while doing something I have asked her to do.

        1. OP (my ears are tired)*

          For me, part of the awkwardness is that I assigned the task being complained about.

          1. Betsy*

            Yikes. I think that once you addressed it (“What are you talking about, Jane?”) and she got snippy (“I wasn’t talking to you!”) that brought it straight out of “Maybe she’s doing this unconsciously” and into “she’s performing for you” territory. Add that to the fact that it’s your assignment that she’s kvetching about and you’ve got somebody who’s just super whiny and unprofessional. A frank talk about sucking it up is probably in order here.

    2. Formica Dinette*

      I agree with Artemesia. Also, there’s a possibility that the people who joke about it are hinting that it bothers them. I’m not saying that’s fair to you; I’m just saying that when people are uncomfortable with being direct, they’ll often joke instead.

        1. Rolling through*

          And probably are the tip of iceberg about gossiping behind her back. In my experience when someone slightly jokes about something to your face they say much more biting criticism behind their back

      1. Jaydee*

        Exactly! If someone jokes about it, it means they’ve noticed it enough to comment on it. Take steps to curtail it before they make it any farther down the road to full-fledged, BEC stage.

      2. Lala*

        I would take the mere fact that they’ve said something, even jokingly, as proof that it bothers people. If they’re commenting about it to you, they’re probably trying to bring it to your attention in a less confrontational way than straight up saying “for the love of all that is good, shut up”.

      3. Jessica*

        Agreed. I’d say it’s likely that they’re using humor to nicely point out how aggravating it is.

    3. Gandalf the Nude*

      I suspect I would drive my neighbors crazy if I worked in an open office. Narrating and adding sound effects to what I’m doing (doop da-doop, merrr, gneh are favorites) really help me concentrate and work through issues and errors. I’m very glad to have an office to myself.

      1. Katieinthemountains*

        This is my take on it. The coworker is a narrator. Not only is it mostly unconscious, she probably wouldn’t work as well if she weren’t constantly giving herself feedback about what she’s doing and what the next step should be. A former roommate of mine used to boss herself around in the mornings to get out the door in a timely fashion.
        But more than a few minutes of this and I would just want to scream. It is enormously distracting and irritating to some of us.

        1. Jaydee*

          I’m a narrator, as is my husband. I am absolutely astonished at how often he talks out loud to himself. It’s constant. I’ve had to learn to distinguish the slight tone difference in his voice when he is talking to me versus when he is talking to himself so I don’t interrupt his train of thought by trying to respond to him.

          Notice that I said I am a narrator too. It is absolutely my natural tendency. I make up songs about things I’m doing. I mutter to myself when no one else is around. I talk to my computer, my car, etc. I have a running commentary going on in my head (like I can hear myself in my head narrating this as I’m typing it). However, I learned as a child that people think you’re crazy if you talk to yourself, and I was already a weird, introverted, nerdy kid. So I trained myself not to talk to myself when there are others around. I’m not going to lie, it baffles me sometimes that others haven’t done the same.

          1. Koko*

            Pets are good for fostering an illusion that you’re not talking to yourself. You’re just explaining to the cat that you can’t find your glasses and are wondering where you left them.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I don’t know why or when but I developed the habit, when I’m looking for something and can’t find it and there’s a cat nearby, I look at the cat and ask “Okay, fess up – did you eat it?” And “it” can be anything from my glasses, to a piece of mail, to my keys, to another cat if I’m trying to figure out where the other cat is hiding.

          2. Nolan*

            I’m the same way, constant in-head narration going. I’ll talk to things sometimes, like if something malfunctions I’ll tell it to shape up. I talk to my car too, though that’s as much a narrator thing as it is a car person thing.

            I also taught myself to keep a lid on the internal conversations when out in the real world. The only exception is if I do something boneheaded around people I know I might audibly tell myself that I know better. My mantra is that nobody wants to hear the narrated musings of some rando (me) they were unfortunate enough to encounter in their day. But even when I’m by myself at home, my self conversations never get above a whisper, I’m really paranoid about people overhearing, even in my own home.

            I used to know a guy who also talked to himself all the time. His job wasn’t in an office setting, but a coworker of his once told me that everyone at work referred to him as “the Lastname brothers” because of it. I think they were all a little weirded out by him.

          3. Gina*

            Some people just really like to think they’re quirky. It’s as simple as that.

            I get it. If you catch a glimpse of me driving someplace there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be having a raucous conversation with myself in the car, but you definitely won’t catch me doing that at work or when there’s somebody else in the car with me. It’s just how you function. It’s how I function too. But you also decided you were tired of being seen as the goofball who talks to themself. You saw that it often unnerves or annoys people and so you stopped. Whereas others kind of relish the attention they’re getting in their periphery.

            I’m sure there are others who genuinely don’t notice, but I think that’s a lot rarer than most would like to let on.

      2. Lora*

        I tend to talk at my email and data, although my open office is noisy as ____ and nobody can hear me over the raucous din of everyone else shouting at each other, singing, having impromptu group meetings because we’ve run out of conference rooms, etc. People rarely get any work done in that space, it exists for getting software updates via your laptop dock and hanging your coat. Sometimes they have Friday evening drinks in the open office. Unless you’re actually doing something collaborative where you need other people to work on something with you in real time, like a facilitated document review (which could easily be done in a conference room if we actually had enough of those), there’s no point to an open office.

        I generally hide in the lab or a break room to get actual computer based work done. That way it’s just my laptop, the soda machine, and me. Or I plug my headphones in and work on the train, or work from home.

    4. PatPat*

      Please, for your coworkers’ sakes you should try to stop. Just because they’re not complaining that you know of doesn’t mean their ability to work isn’t impacted.

      I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to search out an empty conference room for some peace and quiet to actually work when coworkers in my cubicle office are having loud conversations, gossiping to a coworker about nothing with their arms draped over my cube, having speaker phone conversations, listening to MUSIC without earbuds, or talking to themselves about nothing. It’s really annoying.

    5. Sybil Fawlty*

      Me too! I talk to myself all the time, but fortunately I have my own business and don’t bother anyone else. I just think out loud, I don’t always realize I’m doing it.

      1. zora*

        Yup!! When I’m alone, like in my house, I talk to myself All. The. Time. Or when I’m going for a walk and having a conversation with an imaginary person…. and then walk past a tree and there is a person on the sidewalk and they see me walking along talking to myself…. ummmm, yes I am a crazy person, why do you ask???? O_O

        But I have learned how to do it silently (moving my lips but making no sound) or in my head when I am in an office with other people. It doesn’t come naturally, but I was able to make myself do it with time.

      2. Becky*

        My roommate has a habit of talking to herself, but I know whether she is talking to me or herself by which language she is speaking–she uses Spanish when talking to herself.

      3. De Minimis*

        I’m glad I”m not the only person that does this!

        I’ve worked very hard to curb this since making the transition to shared/open office environments. I think I still do it sometimes, though.

    6. Nan*

      I do it, too. I’m just a chatterer. I try to keep a lid on it at work, but I know I’m not always successful. At work, I keep a radio on low, so I can sing along in my head so I keep my trap shut.

      At home I talk to the dog (and make him talk back), I talk to the cat, the people on the TV or in the radio, I talk to myself at the store. I’m just not good with quiet.

      1. zora*

        It’s nice knowing I’m not quite as much of a weirdo as I thought I was!! Self-Talkers Unite!!

    7. Jen S. 2.0*

      Agree with others that the jokes are likely a gentle way to bring it to your attention that people notice it, even if you think it’s unobtrusive. Most people don’t want to have to say, “Dude, that’s really freaking annoying, and I wish you would cut it out.” They are hoping you’ll take the hint before having to go all the way there.

      (I have moved offices to get away from a gum-smacker. I never said anything to him. Not even, “I see you’re a gum-lover, ha ha.” It was part of my appeal for a new work space. I wore earplugs for months until a new space opened, and then I left, like with a puff of smoke behind me. (I also have dumped perfectly nice men for chewing too loud, so I REALLY hate chewing. But still.))

      1. kb*

        I agree that jokes are a really good way to bring something to someone’s attention, but I think it’s also important to follow up more seriously (but still kindly) if the habit persists. I’ve seen cases where a person hears the joke, but doesn’t realize it’s actually something coworkers want them to stop doing (potentially like LipRingGal). Then when the coworker can’t take it anymore the noisemaker is caught by surprise and feels like they’re overreacting.
        I feel you on the chewing. I have a friend who made me aware it’s possible to chew cake loudly–it’s soft! How?!?!

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          Oh, you definitely should use your words if the person doesn’t make the leap. There were extenuating circumstances around my fleeing the gum-chomper. Long story.

      2. JessaB*

        The problem with jokes or side comments is that some people do not register this communication as saying “quit it.” A heckuva lot of people do not register subtlety as meaning you don’t like what they’re doing. At some point you have to be direct to make sure that people know you mean them.

    8. Breda*

      Ahaha, I was reading this letter and went, “Oh no, it’s meeeee.” The fact is that I just often don’t realize when I’ve started to verbalize my internal monologue. I don’t do it (much) in the office, but I do it all the time at home, to the point where sometimes I do not know if I’ve actually spoken aloud before leaving the house in the morning.

      But yes, OP, you are absolutely going to have to note this more than once, because she’s not going to notice when it starts again.

    9. Koko*

      I talk to myself, but it’s pretty occasional and usually in a whispered murmur/under my breath. I have a private office so it’s not like I’d be disturbing anyone, but I guess whenever I picked up the habit I never felt like I needed to talk very loud to hear myself!

      I am most likely to talk to myself when I’m doing something very complicated and I lose track of my thoughts if I don’t say them out loud. Like comparing lots of similar numbers between two documents or verifying that some math was done correctly or proofreading a particularly complex passage. So ironically, the very same need to concentrate that makes OP hunger for silence may be what’s driving Coworker to talk to herself!

      I don’t know if it’s worth suggesting to her that maybe she doesn’t have to stop if she only lowers the volume of her voice…that of course carries the risk that she won’t lower it enough and you’ll have to talk to her again. But technically speaking, our vocal chords have the capacity to produce speech at a volume audible only to ourselves and those within 12″ of us, that with the 2′ walls and monitors and any background hum of computers, shouldn’t be audible to OP.

    10. Rolling through*

      If I was your coworker I would definitely hate you and probably refer to you as “that crazy loon who talks to them self all day” to my partner. Consider how others perceive your actions and how it impacts them. There’s nothing cute about talking to yourself. It shows a lack of awareness and ability to work (in my opinion)

      1. Dankar*

        Yeesh. People solve problems differently. I might agree lack of awareness (since I doubt people who talk out loud notice they’re doing it), but needing to verbally work through an issue does not show an inability to work.

        I mean, you could argue that not being to block out that kind of chatter also shows an inability to function under fairly standard circumstances, as far as open offices are concerned.

        1. aebhel*


          I talk to myself all the time. Fortunately, I have a private office, so no one else is bothered by it, but the fact that I process things better verbally means nothing about my ability to actually do the work. Also, what on earth happened to speaking up when something is getting on your nerves? Complaining to everybody but the person causing the problem does absolutely zilch to solve the problem.

          1. OP (my ears are tired)*

            I’m not complaining to everybody but the person causing the problem. What on earth gave you that idea? That comment really is not helpful.

      2. Jessie the First (or second)*

        But…. refusing to actually address a problem shows a “lack of awareness and ability to work” too. I mean, conflicts with coworkers are completely normal and expected. And differences in working styles and needs to completely normal and expected. As an adult, you have to learn how to address those differences – not seethe and resent and blame without ever bringing the issue up. People are not mind-readers, and *hating* someone for not magically knowing your environment needs, when you have not actually communicated those needs?

        You say to “consider how others perceive your actions” – but that is only possible if you communicate to your coworker how you perceive her actions – not everyone minds narrators, so you can’t assume she should know without being told. The ability to kindly but directly address a problem is a crucial part of being a responsible coworker.

        1. OP (my ears are tired)*

          I’m not seeing the value in the comments (this but also others) that seem to be criticizing my not addressing this with pod mate yet. I wrote to get an expert opinion. Is it that I should have thought of nicely worded phrases myself and already spoken up? Please give an OP a chance to execute on the advise given!

      3. Natalie*

        Consider how others perceive your actions and how it impacts them

        Physician, heal thyself.

      4. JessaB*

        I think that “lack of awareness” might not always be the issue. For some people it is, but for some this is not cute, this is a major issue that messes up their lives. If someone told me I had a lack of awareness and ability to work, I’d be all up in the ADA talks now, please, stage of things. I get a metric &@# tonne done in a day but my physio/psychological issues are not me being CUTE.

        And even if the habit is not from something uncontrollable, they’re now set in that habit. Habits are darned hard to change/get rid of, especially if people are calling you a loon instead of letting you know you have a strange habit, and could you like please stop.

    11. bopper*

      If someone is joking about it, that is them saying THIS IS A PROBLEM!
      Because people don’t really feel comfortable coaching their peers.

      1. Hrovitnir*

        Man, only replying to you because I’ve seen this three or more times now. I do not think this is a given. I might joke with someone because something is (a) unusual, or (b) mildly annoying, but that doesn’t mean it’s something I think crosses into “you should stop.”

        So are the joking coworkers actually saying “oh god please stop?” Possibly, but not definitely.

    12. Old Admin*

      Oh Gawd, that’s me, too.
      After having some pretty down times where I kept myself going with positive affirmations (“it’ll work”, “I can do this”, “this is interesting”, “Funny!”, “Carry on” etc.), it leaked out a bit at work.
      Fortunately, a colleague gently joked about my mumbling… so I retrained myself to be work compatible again.
      My not so internal commentary now is in the form of amused looks and other quiet stuff (large monitors block the view between us), and I permit myself only a few giggles/sighs/mumbles per day. Taking little breaks for a short walk helps, too.

  2. Amber Rose*

    You could ask her to whisper, if it’s just a matter of volume. I talk to myself a lot (less than I used to, but it’s hard) but I find that I don’t need to hear myself as much as I just need to feel like I’m talking, so I more or less just whisper to myself super quietly.

    I feel your pain though, because my neighbor in addition to laughing to himself and cursing or verbalizing everything he’s doing, he also slams his hands into his keyboard or on his desk when he’s upset. He’s got a mechanical keyboard too, which tend to be on the noisy side.

    1. SKA*

      If you do that, though, just be prepared to discover that you are someone like me… who hates the sounds of unintelligible whispers even more than typical-level sounds. (To the extent that, if given the choice, I’d take someone somewhat loudly talking about their opposing political beliefs all day over someone whispering to themselves as they read their monitor all day.)

      1. jordanjay29*

        I’m the same, but on a higher scale of volume. I’m hard of hearing, and being able to hear that someone is talking but not know what they’re saying is so excruciatingly frustrating. My brain spends so much time trying to process out the words and make sense of it, it takes precious time and energy out of other things.

        It’s like constantly listening to someone on the phone. There was a study about this, where listening to a one-sided conversation was more distracting than hearing the whole thing: This pertains pretty well to my experience trying to hear someone just out of my auditory range.

      1. Amber Rose*

        You wouldn’t hear it. I can’t even hear myself, that’s how quietly I whisper. It’s more like just moving my lips, honestly.

        1. George Willard*

          This just isn’t true, haha. I’ve worked with so many people who seems to believe this too, but it doesn’t play out the way they think. Mouths make noise.

  3. Newby*

    The easy solution is headphones or ear plugs. It isn’t fair and doesn’t solve the larger problem, but if you just want to be able to concentrate, it would avoid the drama.

    1. ArchiveGoddess*

      That’s not always possible. I have a similar problem (not talking, constently clearing his throat and or sounding like he’s sucking back snot, so gross!) and I finally got my boss to let me wear both ear buds ( I would wear only one before). It took months of complaining that this was an issue and it was really distracting.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I wondered about this. This is what I used to do when working in an open office, and it was super normal to do (i.e., people weren’t offended or didn’t think it was unprofessional). There are definitely offices where that’s not feasible/acceptable, though. I think it’s on the coworker to try to curb her constant narration, but I also think it could be helpful for OP to have some options that don’t rely on the coworker significantly changing her behavior.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It could be that once one person starts everyone has to also talk to themselves because they cannot concentrate.

  4. Jesmlet*

    I totally do this too but not that loudly and probably not as often so I can’t imagine that it actually bothers people that much. But I’m also not the type to be bothered by noises when I’m working so maybe it’s just me. It really doesn’t seem any different from someone being on a phone call or someone who types loudly. If I’m concentrating, it just fades into the background.

    1. TL -*

      I can do that when working, but I can’t do it trying to sleep. My roommate can sleep through anything (which is nice for me; I don’t have to try to be quiet) but she gets quite loud in the mornings/night without even realizing it and it gets extremely frustrating because I can’t sleep through the same level of noise she can.

    2. PatPat*

      But plenty of people ARE bothered by extraneous noises so it’s something you should really keep in mind. I can’t tune out background noises. If you’re talking, my mind has to pay attention. I wish I could zone out but I just can’t.

      1. BF50*

        The problem is that extraneous noises are not something that can really be controlled in an open office environment. Even if one person stops talking, there will be other noise, which, unfortunately, kind of puts the onus on the person who is being bothered to find solutions.

        Obviously there are exceptions when one person is being excessive, but sometimes it’s just something people have to find a way to deal with.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          The noises that are annoying tend to be different from normal background noises. For example, I can easily tune out typing, phones ringing, traffic, people speaking quietly or far away so you can’t tell what they’re saying, things like that. But then my noisy coworker starts cackling and there’s absolutely no way to tune it out.

          1. Bookworm*

            What irritates can be very personal, however. (Personally, I’d take a laughing coworker over a ringing phone any day.)

            This is why we need to advocate people politely speaking up for themselves instead of fuming in silence.

            1. Jesmlet*

              Exactly! If no one says anything, how am I supposed to know my occasional muttering under my breath is annoying?

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah, agreed on this. I’m ok with tuning out white noise (sirens, traffic, phones, typing), but I REALLY struggle to tune out voices, especially when those voices are coming from an adjacent desk. It literally takes effort for me to avoid listening to someone speak, which in turn splits my attention and makes me less productive.

            1. Jesmlet*

              I think it really depends on if you have experience working in this type of office. If people talk all day, you get accustomed to tuning out voices. I can see why it’d be annoying for people who are used to quiet and need it in order to work.

              1. Gadfly*

                And some people need noise as much as other people need silence. Both are impositions on other people, and neither is the morally superior or more adult position to take here.

          3. the gold digger*

            I have a hard time tuning out something like, “Uh oh!” or “OH NO!” (glaring at my husband whose soundtrack surrounds him like Pigpen’s cloud of dust) because to me, those phrases mean SOMETHING IS WRONG! ALERT! ALERT!

            If I say, “Uh oh!” or “OH NO!”, it means something is on fire or I am bleeding and about to pass out.

            But SOME PEOPLE – like my husband – use those phrases just as space fillers.

            1. OP (my ears are tired)*

              Hear, hear. The worst is “uh oh” and its equivalents. To date, this can mean anything from “crisis! software throwing numerous errors” to “my phone won’t play the song I want”. Please, these should not elicit the exact same response!

    3. Rolling through*

      You might think it’s no big deal but it’s probably a big deal to your coworkers. To the point that it might heavily impact how they think of you

      1. Jesmlet*

        All I have to say to that is: communication, communication, communication!

        Actually I have a bit more. As in all relationships, I’ll never know what bothers someone else until they tell me, so the burden is on them to speak up, not on me to fantasize about what personal quirks annoy people around me. If they are so annoyed with my occasional muttering that they dislike me (patently not true) then they should sack up and tell me and I’ll address it. People who gripe to themselves about others without ever speaking up are the real problem.

        As an aside, my coworkers do it too and we’re in a very open office where we’re taking phone calls all day. It would be very strange if they were annoyed by my talking softly to myself but not by the necessary speaking I do to all clients and applicants that call throughout the day.

  5. AdAgencyChick*

    Yup. Headphones. I have this problem all the time, because there’s a meeting area right behind my desk. Another team comes there and blah-blah-blahs ALL. THE. TIME. Because the area is clearly for meetings, I don’t feel like I can kick them out or tell them to shut up, so on go the headphones.

    I think you can ask your coworker to be more self-aware, but my hopes are not high for that actually working as well as headphones will.

    1. SanguineAspect*

      Headphones are my saving grace in our open work area; concentration is really important to some of the work I do, so headphones + soothing ambient music on Spotify usually saves the day.

    2. Engineer Woman*

      I was thinking the same:headphones.

      I still agree that talking to your coworker first, if you haven’t already. Let her know nicely that she talks to herself constantly and she might not even be aware but it is distracting for you.

      Then, if not enough improvement – headphones. Maybe even the noise cancelling ones, although I’m not sure how well they work in office setting (I use them on planes and it totally cuts the loud engine noise and surrounding sounds) – would you even not hear the phone ring?

  6. rubyrose*

    What does the other person in the pod think? Perhaps the two of you together should approach the problem person.

    Headphones are in order, which is entirely normal in a development environment.

    1. Emi.*

      Eesh, I think doing it together will make Jane feel ganged-up-on and more prickly. Especially since OP is senior, there’s no need (versus approaching a manager, where a group says “You may have thought this was an isolated issue but you actually have to deal with it”).

  7. TL -*

    Definitely talk to her about it! I’m a talker/hummer/singer/whistler, especially if I’m lost in thought, but I can mostly stop when I’m trying.

  8. tigerlily*

    I think Alison’s advice about headphones and ways to block it out is where it’s at. To you this may be an annoyance that’s pulling YOUR focus, but it’s smart to recognize that this very well could be how SHE focuses. I know it is for me – I’m so much better able to focus, to absorb information, and to work through problems by being verbal.

    1. C in the Hood*

      Same with me. I’m not a constant narrator, but if it gets loud around me (and I suspect with your open office, maybe this is the case?), I really have to talk myself through what I’m doing in order to concentrate.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I’m the same way. When I’m working on a particularly difficult task, I tend to talk myself through the steps. Luckily, no one else sits super close to me, so I assume that it’s not bothering anyone.

    3. AMT*

      The difference is that Jane’s method of concentrating is loud and intrusive. while the LW’s is not. There is a (very reasonable) expectation that in an open office, you’re going to monitor your noise level. Maybe Jane could mouth words without vocalizing, or use a meeting room if she feels like she has to talk through a problem, because this is totally outside normal office conventions.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Is it loud and intrusive though? If she’s using her normal speaking voice, then yes, I can see how it would be. But if she’s muttering to herself, which is what I tend to do, then I’d argue it’s really not.

        1. tigerlily*

          Even if it’s at her normal speaking voice – surely OP has to deal with this coworker and others having conversations that he’s not a part of.

          1. Natalie*

            Or long phone conversations, which in my office seem to be far louder than normal conversations for some reason. This probably contributes to how much I hate phones.

            1. MegaMoose, Esq*

              What it is with phone shouters? I am deeply glad that none of my work involved talking on the phone and cell phone conversations all happen in the hall.

            2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

              Ugh. I’m an accidental phone-shouter. I have to try really hard not to shout into the phone. I don’t know why I do this! I mean, no one on the other end is having a hard time hearing me, but it’s a bad habit I’ve formed somehow. I find that wearing a headset helps, rather than holding the phone itself, but I still have to remind myself to use my indoor voice on the phone.

        2. George Willard*

          This isn’t really how it works. I can tune out normal speech WAY more easily that I can tune out muttering, which has a disturbing cast to it, or whispering, which is overly sibilant and therefore extra distracting.

      2. Gadfly*

        People have different levels of “loud and intrusive” though. Obviously if she is yelling. But imposing total quiet on co-workers is just as intrusive and outside normal office conventions (at least the ones I’ve been in) as making some noise. And the people on the quiet side always rate things as being MUCH louder that other people think they are. Because that is where they are sensitive. Shared spaces suck because they have to be shared, and people have competing and counter needs (let me tell you about the ‘quiet’ park next to my apartment: as much as I object to people ruining it by playing music or talking loudly practically under my window, I don’t really get to do anything unless they get into screaming arguments or are using extra speakers.)

        The coworker sounds like a problem to work with for plenty of reasons, which I’m sure don’t help here as irritation feeds irritation. But a lot of the advice here seems to imply OP is entitled to quiet. But unless their company has actually set some sort of policy creating a quiet space, Jane isn’t automatically in the wrong for doing her work they way she does it. And if OP goes in to this thinking of themselves as the aggrieved party and Jane as the obvious villain, they probably won’t get much cooperation. Because Jane is just going to hear that OP is demanding that she cater to their preferences and that her needs don’t count. Far better would be going into it assuming that Jane is doing it for reasons other than annoying coworkers and try to find something that respects both sides. Think of it as accommodating conflicting medical needs. A reasonable accommodation is not going to be just get rid of one of them.

    4. Lisa from scenic Michigan*

      This is an excellent point. When I’m trying to figure out a particularly hairy problem, I often talk myself through the steps. However, I have not given thought how that could be distracting to my neighbors in the Cube Farm. I’m going to try to be a little more considerate. But there will still be some muttering. :-)

  9. animaniactoo*

    In my house, we just ask someone to use their inside-their-head voice.

    Mostly because it makes it not such a big deal and a simple “I’m being disturbed, I know you don’t mean to but it matters because we’re sharing this space” thing.

    At work… I’d probably say it the same way. “Hey, Jane? Would you mind using your inside-your-head-voice?”

    1. Anonygoose*

      That may come across as a little patronizing to someone who doesn’t have prior context… I think just saying it more directly is the way to go (e.g. “Hey, Jane? Would you mind not talking to yourself so often? It’s just a little distracting to me.”). “Inside-your-head voice” sounds like something you say to a child, like asking someone who is loud to use their “inside voice”.

      1. kb*

        I was coming to say the same thing. I totally mentally understand when coworkers do it as a holdover from parenting at home, but because I’m fairly young I do sometimes wonder if they realize I’m not a child.

      2. MommaTRex*

        I thought it was kind of funny. It would probably make me chuckle AND get the point across. Depends on the tone someone uses those, I suppose.

        1. Anonygoose*

          Yeah I think you really have to judge your audience. If you had a good relationship with the coworker, or they were a jokey-type person it’d be fine, but coming out of nowhere it might just annoy them. It might be something that could become a ‘thing’ over time but I think addressing it directly is the first way to go.

          1. BF50*

            The power and age dynamics would come into play here.

            From a boss to a subordinate, or from a 40 year old to a 20 year old… patronizing.

            I could say it to my boss, my older coworkers, or my coworkers of the same age who would all probably laugh, (and they could say it back) but that’s also driven by office culture and relationships. I probably wouldn’t say it to a younger coworker, but none of them sit near me, so who knows.

      3. animaniactoo*

        Yeah, it would probably come off fine for me because I have a well-known rep for being a wee tad sarcastic with a strong dose of sarcasm and goofballdom tossed in.

        1. MegaMoose, Esq*

          I think direct vs. sarcastic really depends on the person and circumstances. Most of the time I favor a quick and straightforward “could you turn that down/stop rocking back and forth.” Sometimes a little more joking works: the woman who sits directly to my right got a new phone recently and hasn’t figured out all the sound settings yet. It rang recently when she was out of the room – HUGE taboo – but we joked about liking her ring tone because she clearly felt bad and was trying to fix it.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Yeah, even as a cheerful or calm by dry with a hint of humor, I agree that you still have to know your audience too.

            On the other hand, I find that sometimes the grumpy people take it better when it comes with a mix of “this is serious, but I can still joke with you about”. May be worth trying.

      4. aebhel*

        Yeah, I’d probably be kind of put off by that approach. Depends on the person, I guess.

    2. Gadfly*

      Sorry, inside your head voice has been established for me as referring to all the snarky and inappropriate things one might think but really should NOT say aloud. So it just would take the problem in a new and different direction.

  10. Cynical Lackey*

    There is a 12 step program for people who won’t quit talking. It’s called On and On-Anon. :-)

  11. Jules*

    OP – Do we share the same office? Joking aside, in an open office environment, it’s typical for people needing to do heads down quiet work to plug into music. Some actually buy noise cancelling headphones. But I hope you’d be able to say something to her. She would probably be embarrassed but she probably not notice it unless someone says something. I’d catch myself doing it and dial it down. But earlier in my career someone did give me a heads up so I know that I am verbalizing way more than I should.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      If I actually had to spend more than 25% of my brain concentrating in my current set-up, I would buy noise-canceling headphones for sure. They’re unbelievable.

  12. Pup Seal*

    My sister talks to herself a lot. When it becomes too much, I just respond to something she’s saying to herself. Yea, she gets annoyed or embarrassed, but she then stops talking to herself.

    1. Maxwell Edison*

      My husband has begun talking to himself more. It’s sometimes hard to tell when he’s talking to himself because he also has a bad habit of continuing a conversation with someone even when the person has left the room. I just tune it out until he addresses me directly.

  13. Murphy*

    I’d feel awkward about this too, but I think there are polite and non-confrontational ways of asking her to lay off a bit.

      1. MrsFisher*

        And how insulting is it to be told (usually by people with private offices) the spaces are “more collaborative” when we all know it’s just cheaper.

        1. Mike C.*

          You’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head. If someone had the guts to say that, they would find their door had been removed overnight.

        2. Associate Director - Social Media*

          YES. My department went through a massive office redesign right before I started – from everyone having their own private offices to only senior employees having private offices, all for the sake of “collaboration.” We collaborate more on shared complaints than we do on work…

        3. Detective Amy Santiago*

          I had one work situation where it really was necessary for the four of us to be able to talk back and forth all day. So there are rare occasions when it really is a work necessity. We had a four square of cubicles.

          1. Lora*

            Yes but the frequency of open offices >> the frequency of jobs where constant collaboration is beneficial. And the frequency of jobs that absolutely require focus >> the frequency of open offices.

            Lemme put it this way: I drove by the Bose company headquarters yesterday. It’s grown quite a bit in the past 10 years. I doubt they are selling twice as many Wave stereos.

          2. MommaTRex*

            I’ve imagined having a cluster of offices where you could open the wall on occasion when necessary – like in elementary school classrooms.

        4. Faith*

          The funny thing is that once we moved to open office environment, we are now less likely to collaborate because we get shushed every time we congregate at someone’s desk and discuss work issues.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yeah, when I worked at an open office we had to book separate spaces for collaborative talks. Which is basically the same process we’d’ve used if we had a “closed” office. Drives me mad.

        5. Very anon indeed*

          Or, in the case of my office, was put in place because CEO didn’t think we were all actually working and his solution was to take all the walls away (not even dividers between the desks) so he could walk up behind “unproductive” staff and see what we were doing at any given time.

          And now CEO bitches because we “talk too much and aren’t getting work done.” Dude, you took a bunch of creative, outgoing people and you put them all in the same physical space with no barriers between them, and you told them it was to help them collaborate. I don’t think you have a case.

      2. Purest Green*

        I know this isn’t on point, but the idea of stuffing more employees together in an open floor to save money on building costs likens us more to factory chickens than I’m comfortable with.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Don’t give them the idea, next we’ll have sawdust on the floor to save on bath breaks….

      3. Dizzy Steinway*

        Mine is quite nice, but I do upsetting work where it would suck to be alone a lot.

        1. Natalie*

          They can be well designed – my cousin works in one with some kind of fancy noise cancelling machine that is apparently magic. But I doubt the very good open offices provide the cost savings most people are looking for.

    1. Cath in Canada*

      yup. I work in an open office with super nice, considerate people who all acknowledge that noise is a problem and try to keep it to a minimum, and guess what – it’s still a problem. Sometimes in my immediate vicinity there are two people on different teleconferences (we don’t have enough meeting rooms for them to book a private space), and two or more other work-related conversations happening simultaneously. My auditory filters and brain just sort of shut down when it gets really bad, and I have to go and sit quietly in the bathroom for a few minutes before I can come back to the office. I usually have one ear bud in and one out, to make me more approachable, but I think I’m going to have to invest in some noise cancelling headphones soon. They’re expensive though!

      1. Cath in Canada*

        Heh, literally three minutes after I wrote that comment, someone walked into our open office area selling Girl Guide Cookies and caused quite the commotion. Worth the noise this time!

      2. jordanjay29*

        Seems like the money the company is saving on your seating arrangements could be used to buy noise-cancelling headphones? Just a fantasy, though.

  14. MicroManagered*

    Just a head’s up to anyone reading at work: I would consider some of the links and ads for other articles on the NY Mag page Not Safe For Work! (I counted 3 links to articles about sex, one had a picture of an unclothed butt, etc. in the margins.)

    I know AAM doesn’t control that stuff, and it looked like the content shifts each time the page loads, so it’s not a slam on THIS site. I just wanted to throw it out there for those of us who read AAM at work! :)

    1. Kyrielle*

      Wish I’d read the comments first. I didn’t get all that, but I did get the last one, which, um, also had an interesting reference in the text.

      New note to self: NY Magazine links should apparently be avoided at work also….

  15. Mike C.*

    I think the real problem with the co-worker isn’t the constant talking, but the complete lack of color commentary and randomly inserted statistics. Perhaps the OP can slide her chair over and pitch in.

    / :)

  16. Justme*

    I am so glad that I have my own office because I’m one of those people who talk to themselves throughout the day.

  17. animaniactoo*

    Another key point: Sometimes, when people are trying not to make someone else angry, they lose sight of the fact that they – themselves – have the ability and even sometimes the right to be angry.

    It’s not what you want to do – but it’s also very valuable to recognize that and not necessarily tamp that down completely when getting pushback and receiving an angry/churlish response to a reasonable request. Actions have consequences and sometimes some of those consequences are that people are unhappy with you and not willing to pretend they’re not or try so hard not to be, and life becomes difficult *for you* instead of *for them*.

    1. Business Cat*

      + 1,000,000

      This is such a difficult thing to learn if you’re not already comfortable with it. Incredibly well said.

    2. Bookworm*

      I love this. I’m a big fan of social etiquette and feel that this is one of the more misunderstood elements. Being polite does NOT equal being a doormat. The opposite, in fact. A big part of navigating the world in a manner that’s polite and respectful to the people around us involves setting boundaries and advocating for our own needs.

      Things that are rude:
      – bottling up your resentment and annoyance until you yell or snap at your coworker
      – talking behind your coworkers back or making up names about them
      – scraping your chair against the floor (or some other annoying behavior) in an attempt at petty revenge

      Things that aren’t rude:
      – calmly asking your coworker to keep it down
      – brainstorming solutions for how you can work peacefully together

      If people wait to speak up when something bothers them, they run the risk that those frustrations are going to bottle up and affect how they interact with their coworker. As they become more brusque or start to extrapolate negative personality traits for the offending coworker (something I’ve already seen happen in this thread) it’s going to shift the dynamic of the relationship – and not in a good way. Once that happens, then really both parties are too blame. We can’t shift all the responsibility onto the offenders – we need to advocate for ourselves.

      1. Bookworm*

        All of which is to say, nothing can guarantee a copacetic response from OP’s coworker, but the sooner she speaks up, the more likely she is to get one. If she lets it stew, it will affect the relationship and be harder to be pleasant.

  18. Violetta*

    Are you me? I have a coworker across from me who talks to herself all day and the worst part is that it’s all very negative. Constant deep sighs, complaining, talking trash about people if they don’t answer her calls, complaining about the work to herself ALL DAY, or narrating whatever she’s doing. I love my job but this woman’s constant negativity is bringing me down and really taking the enjoyment out of my day. Yet I haven’t said anything, since she’s super defensive and sensitive, and also it’s all kind of muttered under her breath so I’m not sure she realizes how intrusive it is.

    1. MWKate*

      +1 the SIGHS! I have a coworker that does this. You ask a question and SIGH, it’s like they are trying to decide whether to invade Russia or something. I just need to know where you saved this document.

  19. MommaTRex*

    I’m sorry. My bad.

    Just kidding. I am lucky enough to have an office, so my coworkers just shut the door on me when it gets too bad.

  20. JKP*

    Everyone keeps suggesting noise-canceling headphones, but my experience with a few different brands was that they canceled out the continuous background noise like the HVAC fans blowing or airplane engines or car traffic, so the room sounded quiet, but that only made people’s voices sound even louder and clearer and thus more distracting.

    Is there a brand that actually cancels out the sound of someone talking?

    1. Bookworm*

      I borrow my boyfriend’s sometimes and they definitely cancel out voices…but totally unhelpfully, I can’t remember the name! I’ll try to ask him later.

    2. Purest Green*

      Bose noise cancelling headphones work for me to block voices, at least voices that aren’t right in your face, but you have to make sure they’re fitted over your ears appropriately. I would say mine block voices far more effectively than background noises, in fact.

    3. zora*

      I’ve read about the difference between noise-cancelling and noise-isolating headphones, and that the latter block voices. But I’m still trying to find recommendations for brands to try. I’ll be following for recommendations, too!

    4. Aiani*

      I’m kind of glad you asked this because I’ve been reading all the comments and thinking the same thing. I’ve tried so many different headphones and they never block out voices for me. My husband will wear a pair of headphones and I can’t get his attention unless I tap him on the shoulder. I put on the same pair of headphones and I can hear him if he speaks to me at a regular volume.

      I’ve found all of this to be true with different types of ear plugs as well.

      Apparently nature has blessed/cursed me with super human hearing.

    5. HannahS*

      I got the TaoTronics earbuds off of amazon on sale, and they do muffle voices. I use them when people are watching TV in the same room and it takes it down to blurry background noise, although I can definitely still hear that someone is talking. They do muffle in-the-room voices, too, but they seem to work a bit better on male (lower) voices over (higher) female ones.

    6. Another A*

      I have the same problem, with the added irritation of my colleagues talking louder when they see I have headphones on. The boss is the worst offender of them all. My glasses interfere with a good seal, maybe earbuds are a better solution.

    7. sarahsponda*

      I have a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones that I use at work. If I’m not listening to music and am just using the noise-cancelling feature, they don’t completely block out people’s voices — although, at least in my experience, they do make the voices sound further away. If I’m listening to music through the headphones, though, I don’t hear people’s voices at all. So if listening to music doesn’t distract you, listening to some low-key or instrumental music through some noise-cancelling headphones might be a good option.

      1. Emma*

        Instrumental music is great. When I was a student, I played instrumental music so I’d have some background noise but could still hear myself talking to myself. Can’t form a decent legal argument without talking it through out loud. ;)

        1. Kathlynn*

          I have a problem finding just instrumental music unless I use the word ambient rather then instrumental. *sigh* I love instrumental music, so I thought I’d add this in case anyone else had the same problem finding it.

          1. Emma*

            There are a couple of classical crossover bands – they play classical pieces in a modern style using (often) electric instruments – that I really like for work. Bond is on Spotify with a huge discography, and Escala are very good too.

      2. Drew*

        Music distracts me, but it distracts me less than a bunch of loud people talking in my immediate work area, so that’s my usual solution.

    8. Mephyle*

      Yes, with my Bose earbuds, someone who wants to talk to me has to either touch me or get into my vision zone. If they come up behind me and talk, I don’t hear it at all. (I work at home.) Our tv room is open to the dining room, and I can work there even if someone is watching television – I don’t hear it at all.

  21. Czhorat*

    I talk to myself. Sometimes it’s the only way I can get a decent conversation.

    I’ll narrate, I’ll speak to the emails or documents I’m reading, I’ll exclaim. It’s part of how I process. I agree that we should be mindful of our coworkers, but we also should understand and try to tolerate eachother’s quirks. That, too, is part of getting along.

    1. Kittymommy*

      Me too. I tend to speak what I’m going of course done I’d this is due to everyone coming to talk to me while I’m typing). Luckily, other than my bosses no one is around me unless they choose to be.

    2. Emma*

      I think there are also different levels of taking to yourself: I’ll talk to myself about odd minor things – “Right, what was I doing before that phone call?”, “I wonder if I can do this using x tool…” etc. which I can happily stop without having any adverse impact on my work, and I do so when appropriate. That’s just a quirky habit and not something I expect others to put up with if it bothers them.

      I also talk to myself when I’m concentrating on something complex, or thinking through a difficult problem, because that’s how I can focus and think creatively. That’s largely non-optional for me – if I’m in a situation where I can’t do that then I’m going to move, or switch to a less challenging task until I’m in a situation where I can talk to myself. In the past I’ve got up from my desk and gone outside with a cup of vending machine tea to talk to myself without disturbing anyone, and come back with a solution. So that is something where it’s fair to say that you have to accept that coworkers have different needs – though of course, one person’s need to talk can’t just override another’s need for quiet, nor vice versa.

    3. Gadget Hackwrench*

      I’m glad at least one other person on this thread mentioned that some people NEED to talk to themselves because that’s how they process information. At this point I’m pretty adept at sub-vocalizing it, but problem solving is just not a thing that’s happening without my mouth running. Lol. It’s funny because I don’t sub-vocalize when reading, which is apparently a thing that a lot of people do, but I do when I’m trying to concentrate on my work.

      On the other hand there’s also the noise police co-workers too. My job requires me to use the phone for a substantial portion of the day… everyone in this open office is doing that exact same job, and yet one guy is always shushing everyone else when they’re on the phone, because he can’t concentrate on HIS call. The other day he blew up on my neighbor for talking too loud “What the hell? Is your caller DEAF?” Well apparently she was in fact hard of hearing. Whups.

  22. MWKate*

    I have 2 coworkers that constantly talk to themselves. 1 I think does it not thinking about how it is going to impact those around him. The other…I am fairly convinced does it as an attention grab, as he will often repeat what he’s just said until he gets a reaction. e.g. “Wow that call was crazy!” If no one responds…says it again. I’ve talked to his manager and they are working on it, but it’s been a YEAR.

    To me, this is just one of the many arguments against an open office plan. For you – (and most others it seems) it’s incredibly distracting. For the people that do it, it’s either unconscious or maybe helps them focus. If everyone had a more personal, closed off workspace everyone could create an environment that worked for them.

    However – in this case, props to you if you can speak to her about it. Especially since she seems annoyed by your previous mentions of it. It’s difficult to tell someone their personal habits are disruptive.

    1. MommaTRex*

      OH! I had one of those coworkers who would blurt stuff out loudly just to get me to respond! I figured it out quick and started ignoring her which helped to curb it.

      1. MWKate*

        I do – but I sit several cubes away (he has a VERY loud voice), unfortunately some of the people closer don’t follow the ignore him rule.

      1. MommaTRex*

        Now that I’ve experienced answering constant “what-if” questions from an 8-year-old, I have more tricks up my sleeve. But that is a good one I must remember.

    2. sayevet*

      I have a few co-workers who make unsolicited comments as they walk past my open desk. I’ve started listening to music on my earbuds and pretending I can’t see/hear anyone walking past my desk, and now no one talks to me :)

  23. Business Cat*

    Where I work, the office areas are mostly-enclosed but have no doors and have an open ceiling scheme so sound travels pretty easily. I have one coworker that is two offices down from me, and likes to sing off-key to herself. She’ll put in headphones, and sing the SAME. FREAKING. SONG. on repeat for most of the day. She’s an established admin here and I don’t have the standing to say anything (nor do I want to, honestly, since I think she would definitely prickle), and have found headphones to be the most reasonable solution. My sympathies are with you, OP. Incessant singing/chitchat makes me want to snap.

    1. BethRA*

      I think there is a special cubicle in hell for people who put on headphones so you can’t hear the actual music, but singing so you have to hear THEM.

    2. BF50*

      Oh man, I had one of these. Constant off key Enya. Mostly singing the songs that were in Irish or Latin, neither of which this woman actually spoke, so just noise to the tune of Enya, but just a bit flat.

      My ears bled.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Unless she performs in musical theater or the opera, it is never ok to sing off-key to yourself on repeat (!!). That’s insane!

      1. Business Cat*

        It’s some kind of praise-and-worship song so in addition to being THE SAME SONG ON REPEAT, the words are incredibly redundant. It goes “You deserrrrrve it….you deserrrrve ittttttt” OVER AND OVER AND OVER. All I can think is that when I finally snap and find myself in the middle of the woods with a shovel I’ll look down and whisper, “You deserrrrrve it…”

        Yeah…I’m just going to keep plugging my headphones in. :D

      2. Shae*

        Honestly, to take that a step further, she could be a famous Broadway performer with perfect pitch. I still wouldn’t want to hear her singing when I’m trying to concentrate! I have auditory processing issues and it’s hard for me to understand words when I’m hearing something else. I can tune some things out, but music plays at my work all the time and whenever I’m on the phone I have to plug one ear.

    4. rubyrose*

      I worked for a while in a setup with the no doors/walls not going to the ceiling setup for the managers and the rest of us were in open space in the middle.

      What drove me crazy was that the managers would take all of their calls on speakerphone. Even if the door was closed the conversation came over the walls.

    5. Venus Supreme*

      This sounds like my worst nightmare.

      My job is very concentration-heavy (grantwriting) and I’m in love with my current office. Unfortunately we’re reorganizing into an open office plan and there’s a high chance I will be sharing close quarters with a Hummer who always hums the same three songs. And talks to herself too. And chews loudly. On a couple occasions I had to work with her and that’s when I discovered all her unique quirks…

      I put in my two cents to my boss that I’d love to have more privacy as I have misophonia and my job is focus-heavy and this girl is a walking noisebox. Fingers crossed. Luckily I have noise-cancelling headphones that serve as my Plan B.

  24. LeisureSuitLarry*

    TL;DR: Get some headphones.

    Don’t all developers talk to themselves, their code, and their computers? I’m a developer, and I work near other developers. Every single one of us talks to ourselves. And we use “vulgar” language (what constitutes vulgar is another topic entirely). We threaten our code. We argue with our code. We tell our computer that if doesn’t act right it’s going to learn how to fly very soon. We’ve even had discussions about putting rubber ducks at our workstations so that we can talk to the duck. (That’s apparently a very common way of talking your way through a problem without bothering the other devs.) I wouldn’t even try to count the number of F-bombs that have been dropped in this office; I don’t have the math to count that high. And every single one of us has a pair of headphones that we use to varying degrees. The only time I actually get bothered is when someone interrupts me by talking directly to me when I’m trying to focus.

    1. AnonAcademic*

      This explains so much! I spent the last few years of my Ph.D. sharing a shoebox sized office with a former developer who was a “think out loud” type. By the end of my dissertation, I became one too! We even made a pact that on days it got so bad we were BOTH shouting at our computers, that we’d quit early and get a drink together.

      Then I started in a lab that is open plan and had to shift strategies (turns out loudly dropping f bombs while senior faculty walk by is awkward). Now I wear headphones and play very angry profane music on the days I’m really battling with code – scratches a similar itch as cursing but NO ONE KNOWS MWA HAHAHA.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        This sounds so right! I’m not a developer, but I’m in grad school and do a lot of writing; I talk out so much of my writing, mostly because I can’t see if it sounds right–I need to hear it. When I worked in higher ed, I would read files while listening to face-melting dubstep loudly in my headphones. Once, my boss came by and startled me, and I pulled the cord out of my laptop; my choice in music became the topic of office conversation for about a week and a source of gentle ribbing until I left.

    2. MashaKasha*

      I was thinking the same thing, Have I been working in the wrong IT all my life? Every job I’ve had, EVERYBODY swears at the code. I do it on occasion and I have always had the reputation for being “that quiet one”. I’ve only seen people do it under their breath, though; not loudly. And I’m fortunate in that I’ve only worked in an open office for three months out of my entire career, and in cubicle farms the rest of the time.

      1. MashaKasha*

        PS. Nice name, LSL, that was our favorite PC game at my first job! We all took turns playing on breaks.

        1. LeisureSuitLarry*

          I’m constantly shocked when no other Larry has taken that username. Weirdly, I have never played any of the LSL games to completion (HA!). I’ve played bits and pieces, but never a whole one.

      2. Junior Dev*

        We have a joke that we can measure the severity of a bug by how many f-bombs a particularly verbose developer drops upon learning about it.

      3. Lablizard*

        Not going to lie, I have told my code to f off more than once. I think I am in a dysfunctional relationship with code most of the time

    3. BananaPants*

      Yes. I’m not a developer, I’m an engineer – but I work in what amounts to a cube farm and almost everyone I work with will talk their way through a tricky problem or issue at times. We all have headphones and can – and do – use them as desired.

      I’ve spent a week wrestling with rewriting old Matlab scripts to do something new, which led to writing two new scripts. I keep finding myself muttering about WHAT THE EFF is going wrong with my Excel import and wondering why the documentation doesn’t have a better example for a certain plotting function and talking my way through a tricky if loop and threatening the license server with defenestration. I’m not loud, but I definitely keep trying to mutter my way through problems and asking my code why it wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do – and didn’t even realize I was doing it.

      We’re in a cube farm and our days are spent with others around us on teleconferences or on phone calls, talking over cube walls with a neighbor about how to approach a problem, chatting about sports teams or politics, whatever. It’s NEVER going to be a truly quiet environment. IMO, this is sort of part of working in an open plan office or cube farm; you have to learn to deal with noise from those around you.

  25. Abby*

    Oh man, this sounds like my co-worker who talks to himself in a pretty loud voice, and has a hearty guffaw. The one saving grace is that he’s at least somewhat apologetic about it, and says “sorry” after a particularly loud outburst (though part of me wonders if he does this on purpose in hopes that someone will ask him what the fuss is about). Nowadays I just try to tune him out through headphones.

    But letters like this just highlight the problems with open office spaces, particularly for jobs that require a lot of focus.

  26. Kindling*

    I don’t mind people narrating what they’re doing too much, but people exclaiming about stuff they see on their screen is my major pet peeve. When you loudly say “oh shit” looking at your computer, I don’t know if you’re annoyed by an email, or if you’ve suddenly seen bad news about a terror attack or something. It immediately stresses me out.

      1. It's Business Time*

        LOL! I do this all the time, however I get really strange looks if someone catches me talking into my mouse trying to get the computer to do what I really need it to do

      2. Trillian*

        Me too. And I express my feelings about my own endlessly talkative neighbor by sticking out my tongue at the cube wall between us when no one can see.

    1. LeisureSuitLarry*

      My computer gets a double-barrel middle finger so much that I should just change the wallpaper to a cartoon middle finger.

  27. MommyMD*

    She treats you with annoyance and is not worried about your feelings. “Can you keep it down please? The chatter is infering with my work” said politely. Rinse and repeat.

  28. the unexpected eavesdropper*

    This situation has long passed, but I’d be interested in hearing advice or solutions for a similar one I was in a while ago. I suspect the answer here is “your coworker is a jerk” but I’d like to be equipped to handle this should it arise again.

    The acoustics of the office are such I can hear people 30-40 feet away standing in a certain spot discussing things, like they are standing behind my desk. One of our coworkers likes to grumble and complain constantly while occupying this spot. It’s about customers and management behind their back no less; think a constant stream of “Fuck this piece of shit, what a stupid job, god I can’t stand X person” sort of thing (it’s a hybrid blue/almost white collar environment). I’ve gone out and said to them, “I am not sure if you know this, but when you talk in this spot, I can hear everything you are saying really clearly” with (I thought) the expected undertone being “I can hear everything you are saying about other people”. Coworker then proceeded to tell other people in an exaggerated tone to “shhhh” and “hush we have to be quiet” within my range of hearing, but not quite definitively enough that I could go out and tell them to knock it off yet again! Should I have gone back out and confronted them, or maybe a neutral “Hey what’s going on?” I had work-assigning authority over this person, but not much else.

    1. Business Cat*

      No advice, but ooh boy that is some next-level immature behavior from your coworker.

    2. Augusta Sugarbean*

      That seems pretty clearly playground level behavior and they were trying to get a rise out of you. I think ignoring their behavior at that point was the best tactic.

      1. the unexpected eavesdropper*

        Thanks – I wasn’t sure what to do in the moment, as I know I often avoid conflict and have a hard time telling difference between when someone needs to be confronted in order to extinguish behavior, or when getting down in the mud only makes them more excited.

        For what it was worth, they eventually knocked it off, but their immature behavior surfaced in other ways, and it was revealed they were having significant problems in their home life. Which isn’t an excuse, but it explained a lot. I was just floored at being subject to a treatment that I hoped would end with graduating junior high, and wondered if I was doing something to cause it.

  29. Scott*

    Isn’t constant noise just something you have to deal with in open offices. Unless she’s abnormally loud asking someone to be quiet in an open space may make you look unreasonable or uncomfortable with the office set up

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      Oh, I think there’s a middle ground. I’ve worked in open offices with variations of the same group of 12-40 people for the last year or so, and haven’t had huge issues with being people considerate about noise, although anyone who can’t handle any extraneous noise would be SOL. Everyone more or less agrees on the following:

      Acceptable noise: work related talk, quiet social chat, noise from using a keyboard or mouse, cell phone vibrations, eating noises, throat clearing, sniffing, coughing, etc.

      Not acceptable: loud social chat, any ongoing repetitive noise (pen clicking, rocking back and forth, finger tapping, etc), leaky headphones, cell phone noise of any kind other than vibrating, computer alerts.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        That said, I did have someone complain about the sound of my typing once. That lady was mucho unpopular for a variety of reasons, but that complaint in particular made her look absurd.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          When I worked in a cube farm, there was a girl at the far end of my row who was literally the loudest typer I have ever heard in my life. Like, I cannot even replicate how loud her typing was without hurting my fingers.

          That said, I do agree with your list of acceptable vs non acceptable.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq*

            A woman in the row behind me is a weirdly loud mouse user – I think she spins the wheel to concentrate? It’s very odd, but I wouldn’t say anything about it. I think there’s kind of an unspoken agreement to let certain noises pass in exchange for fairly strict adherence to keeping other noises to a minimum.

  30. SmartyBee*

    OP: You might want to look into getting noise-canceling headphones, if headphones are okay in your office. I also work in an office building with an open floor plan (and in IT, too!), and noise-canceling headphones are a godsend. They block out pretty much all noise except my typing, and I really don’t mind hearing that.

    1. zora*

      Do you mind posting what brand/model of headphones you use?? My headphones I use to play music don’t block clear voices from those close to me, and I really need some that block more noise.

  31. Panda Bandit*

    I have a coworker who has to verbalize every. Single. Thought. My sympathies to the LW.

    1. BethRA*

      My part-time office mate (thank the FSM she only works 20 hours a week) eats at her desk. with her mouth open. And smacks her lips. And her teeth. A lot.

      And has recently taken up toneless whistling.

      I know we as a community recently came down on the side of “no kicking in the workplace” but surely these would be exceptions?

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I would not be able to work. Every time the person spoke I would have to stop to see if she was talking to me.
      I’m so sorry.

  32. tigerlily*

    I read these AAM entries like and it truly boggles my mind sometimes that these small habits are things people even pick up on. But then I realize that I think oftentimes there’s an issue with having an open air office plan AND an office culture of relative quiet. When it’s supposed to be quiet, a coworker muttering to themselves or clicking a pen or clearing their throat becomes magnified and is so much louder than it usually would be. Whereas I work in an open office in a preschool where there’s a kitchen right down the hall from me (so slamming pots, oven doors, microwave timers, etc – not to mention the smell of whatever we’re having for lunch today), my phone rings all the time, my ED sits right next to me and interrupts me all day long, not to mention the hoards of children walking by my desk to get outside to the playground all while singing Found a Peanut at the top of their lungs. If one of my office mates broke out into song at random intervals it wouldn’t even register. It’s supposed to be loud here, loud is the only way I’ve ever worked. If I had to do payroll or process donations/tuition payments or anything else I do in silence, I don’t think I’d be able to function. I would be SO paranoid about every noise I made.

    None of this is really helpful – just agreeing that an open office plan when people want quiet is not ever really going to work well.

    1. Brandy in TN*

      I wonder if a fan would help. Makes some white noise. We have white noise machines and while you do still hear your co-workers its not too bad.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I can hear my noisy neighbor through a closed door and over the combination of my fan and my white noise machine.

      2. Desdemona*

        When my coworkers’ chatter (mostly legitimate, but not necessarily directed at me) gets too distracting, headphones softly playing coffee shop noise usually helps them recede back into the background.

    2. Robbenmel*

      I just got such a clear picture of your office space, and am laughing like a loon..especially at “Found A Peanut.” That was a hit when I was 8. I guess some things don’t change.

  33. MuseumChick*

    The puckish side me wants to tell you to say “What do you need?” “Excuse me?” “What was that? I didn’t hear you.” etc every time she talks to herself.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      “I wasn’t talking to YOU.”

      “Oh. Sorry. It was loud and seemed to be directed at me.”

    2. Maxwell Edison*

      LOL. Back at ToxicJob, my cube was close to an office occupied by a person I mentally nicknamed Loud Woman. She had a BIG voice and was always yelling at people on speaker phone. Oftentimes what she was yelling about had nothing to do with work, like the time she had a shouting match with someone about Anna Nicole Smith’s baby (which was in the news at the time for reasons that escape me now). I was often tempted to yell out, “I agree!” during one of her rants and see what would happen.

    3. Loquacious*

      I worked with a woman who muttered to herself (but loudly enough that others could hear her- clearly) for five years. She seemed totally oblivious to the fact that others could hear her. I tried this tactic for several weeks after being fed up with every other attempt to get some quiet while working failed. She just gave me this entirely empty stare like *I* was the one with the problem. Mentioning the issue to managers did nothing. She is there and has over 20 years of service while many others came and went (and her muttering was a big reason why).

  34. Chatty Chickadee*

    To be fair, I have this habit as well and I had to actively train myself to stop when I realized I was driving one of my co workers crazy. I have always processed things verbally (my mom calls it my monologue), and I finally figured out it was a problem when the woman at the desk next to mine always asked what I was talking about. With a little bit of self-awareness and a whole lot of practice, things are much better. I can’t imagine she’s doing it on purpose, she likely has no idea it bothers anyone because it wouldn’t bother her if you did the same thing. I need a bit of noise to focus, others need silence, and part of being in the workplace is learning how to respect others’ boundaries. Good luck!

  35. oranges & lemons*

    It might help to directly mention the annoyance of the open-office layout, so you can cast the blame at the seating situation. Maybe something like “Jane, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but I’ve noticed you have a tendency to talk to yourself during the day. Unfortunately because our desks are so close together I’m finding it distracts me from my work.”

    1. Augusta Sugarbean*

      I like this approach. The problem isn’t Jane, the problem (and common enemy) is the awful open-plan office.

  36. Tammy*

    I tend to talk aloud when I’m concentrating on a problem. (I think this may be one of my ADHD coping skills, but I just know it works for me.) I learned to moderate the inclination when I transitioned from being a self-employed consultant to being an employee at CurrentCompany, but it was a bit of an adjustment for me. Of course, had someone said to me “you’re really distracting me, please stop” I would have become super vigilant about it. I wouldn’t have brushed it off with “something like “oh, I wasn’t talking to you” seemingly with a tone of annoyance”, because that’s just discourteous. I feel your pain, LW.

    Side note: my inner geek is amused that the image New York Magazine selected to accompany this letter seems to be of an IBM System/360 mainframe which was withdrawn from sale the year I turned four.

    1. rubyrose*

      I noticed that picture also! It was probably a System 360. What really caught my eye were those tapes, which I had to load/unload every night for about 6 months for backups. Our tape drive had problems and our IBM service rep stuffed some Kleenex in it to make it work!

      1. Tammy*

        Hey, you do what works, right? And yup…the photo Wikipedia has of the System/360 Model 50 operator’s console looks like a pretty good match to the stock photo. A bit before my time, though I did have an account on my school’s IBM 3090 mainframe when I was in college.

  37. Saucy Minx*

    How about an air horn to catch her attention when she’s making noise? Overreaction, you say? Well, it’s fun to imagine turning the tables on her, anyway.

    According to Myers/Briggs personality typing, extraverts tend to think out loud. I imagine it would be really hard to get a grip on this & moderate one’s behavior, but out of consideration of others it would be a worthy goal.

    1. TL -*

      It’s not too hard for me. I do prefer to think out loud whenever possible but moderating it hasn’t been that big of a deal – I still have unintended outbursts or tapping-type noises but at most, once or twice a day for 5-10 seconds. Annoying, but not consistently intrusive.

    2. LQ*

      It’s funny as someone who lands very heavily on the introverted side this is one tendency I have (it’s also something that comes up for developers and writers, both of which I do, neither of which are groups that are well known for extroversion). But mostly I do it at home alone to myself without others involved. I only involve others because it is rude to have a self conversation at work when others can hear.

    3. aebhel*

      Eh, I’m extremely introverted and I still process out loud a lot. I do try to moderate it if I’m sharing a work space, but it’s just how I think. Not sure extroversion has anything to do with it.

  38. Bleu*

    Good luck, OP. I just wanted to say I hear you on being wary about saying anything at all. A few years ago I actually addressed another issue with a coworker in a way very, very similar to Alison’s script for you — I thought about it a LONG time before I worked up the nerve to say something. (Her near-constant, noisy eating at her desk was beyond disruptive, I couldn’t concentrate. I mean she brought in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and a minimum of two snacks, all of them very smelly, all of it in noisy containers and/or crunchy/slurpy etc. — it honestly seemed her No. 1 job was to eat at her desk the entire day, I don’t believe she did much else. But anyway.) Once I raised the issue it basically increased the horribleness 100 percent — I was seriously considering leaving a job I love because I was so alienated at that point. It wasn’t any more just the interminable eating. It was her downright hostility. It was awful.

    1. cncx*

      i am living this right now. i am really sensitive to mouth noises and i have a coworker who eats between two and four times a day. i cannot concentrate with the sucking and slurping. the problem is, this person works long hours and i totally completely get why they eat at their desk- it is more efficient for them and if they do their job then i can do mine better so i am all for it. But i can’t leave my desk four times a day for a half hour until the feast is over. Right now i do earplugs because i am really scared of saying something. Plus i feel like it is my problem to deal with even if on the four meal days i think it is a little excessive.

  39. Noah*

    As somebody who really needs to talk to myself out loud to deal with a whole host of issue, but also prefers to work in a quiet space, I am sympathetic to both OP and her colleague (though her colleague’s rude responses seem inappropriate). Fortunately, I have an office with a door.

    1. MommaTRex*

      I’ve been known to ask a colleague if I can “speak at her” for a few minutes when I need to work something out. Sometimes, I just need to speak the problem aloud to help me understand.

      1. LQ*

        Occasionally I’ll do something like this. I will say, “I’m not expecting you to have an answer or even understand what I’m saying.” Which my coworkers are very good about. They occasionally ask helpful questions which is awesome and a bonus. Part of it is I know once I start trying to talk through a logic/development/code issue I’m going to disrupt a little so I bottle it up and then do that once I start to feel close but need that break through.

        I also do talk to my computer but I try very hard to keep to down to either inaudible over noise level or less than weekly. If someone asks if I’m talking to them and I’m not I’m too loud and readjust.

    2. littleandsmall*

      This is where I am. I am someone who (not often but on occasion) needs to talk myself through problems or read things aloud to make sure I understand. I’ve also worked at various companies with open office plans for the past five years or so I’ve been routinely bothered by others’ habits, as well.

  40. KrisLaRee*

    We have that coworker and we literally had a door installed in her area to help curb some of this issue. Unfortunately, the layout that is described in the letter doesn’t seem suited for a door. We had made it clear though that all of us could hear her. This coworker will also walk down the halls and hit her knuckles on the walls as she goes. It’s like she has to let us know she’s there. When she’s out of the office, you would think it is a completely different place. The noise level goes down so completely. I honestly, don’t know what we would have done without the door.

  41. JB*

    I had a couple of thoughts reading Alison’s response. First, I think, with someone of the co-worker’s temperament (crabby and defensive) it’s a mistake to take the approach that it’s because you’re weird or have weird work needs. I would just come out and say–diplomatically and neutrally, not angrily–this has to stop. Also, I couldn’t help thinking about the 3rd co-worker. If you adopt headphones to solve this problem that leaves the 3rd co-worker out in the cold. It seems likely that the 3rd co-worker is also being affected, and maybe even others in the space, and that the approach is to get the offending co-worker to stop, for everyone’s sake, rather than just protecting yourself from the noise, especially as you are a manager.

  42. Anonfortoday*

    While we’re on the subject, I’d like to mention whistling. It’s unbelievably annoying and if you are a whistler, please stop.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq*

      I would make an indoor/outdoor distinction here. Whistling outdoors is jaunty and charming. Whistling indoors is… not.

  43. Just_Dixie*

    I was recently taking some online work-related courses. I learn best by reading aloud so I’d just close my office door to avoid bothering anyone. My office at the time had a relight window, so my assistant could see inside my office, even with the door closed. I told her not to be alarmed if she saw/heard me in there talking to no one in particular. It’s just a quirk I have.

  44. Allison*

    OP could have easily been me, toward the end of my last job. I had a coworker next to me who would murmur to herself all. Day. Long. She was either complaining about something not working or talking herself through a process. She was new, but older, and I didn’t feel like I was in a position to say anything to her. It seemed like she needed to do this in order to get her work done.

    Although I recently had a cubicle near a man who got mad, yelled, and cussed when things weren’t going well. He may have had a completely legitimate reason to be angry, but it was terrifying and I felt like he would explode at me if I got in his way or something.

    Anyway, I’d say that if the noise level in your office is very low, you should refrain from making noise. That involves talking to yourself, whistling, tapping, humming, tsk-ing, constantly clearing your throat (if that’s avoidable), etc. If it’s a bad habit, try to cut back. If your office has a constant “hum” of noise and activity, you might be able to get away with a little noise, but still, trying to keep your contribution to the noise low is the considerate thing to do.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Oh heck no. I had a very angry and verbally abusive father. A coworker like this would leave me in tears every day. I cry (at age 30) when I hear men yelling on television. Therapy helps but that is nuts.

      1. Dana*

        Cosigned. Men yelling = instant freeze-up from me. I am quite literally petrified when men yell.

  45. Another*

    So what is the solution when the colleague who does this all day long is your boss, and every once in a while the random question or comment is actually directed at you and a response is expected, and you’ve already expressed your personal “weird” quirk for needing quiet to concentrate but the boss’s response was to blow you off and keep on doing it?

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Keep acting really flustered and ask over and over what she is asking while visibly trying to shake the confusion from your brain while she watches and waits. Is she going to fire you for having a quirk? I had a boss who liked to shout every command at me whilst snapping her fingers like hurry up hurry up. Enough times of watching me literally panic and shrivel up at her bizarre intensity made her stop.

  46. ilikeaskamanager*

    our boss is super gung ho about open office environments,except of course for himself. He says he can’t concentrate in an open office—well guess what neither can the rest of us.

    oh, yeah, and 12 of our conference rooms have 4 glass walls, except for 2, and guess what. Those two are the ones that are always booked. People don’t want to interview in a fishbowl, or hold meetings on sensitive subjects, or have people staring at them while they are trying to have a meeting. So now we are getting blinds for all the fishbowl meeting rooms. We also have to figure out how to put technology in the rooms because of course no one thought about where you hang a screen in an all glass room, and literally every meeting we have requires us to look at stuff on a big screen. All our training is online, we have video conference calls, but we have only two meeting rooms out of 12 with any technology in them–and they are also the private ones.

    The designer is really pleased with the look though.

  47. Lora*

    I feel very strongly that if a company is enamored of the open office concept, they should figure in the cost of $350 Bose noise canceling headphones for every employee who works in the space. If it’s still a good deal, call up Bose and ask if they have a bulk discount. It’s really the only way anyone will get stuff done.

    I have a few annoying colleagues who will wave, poke and shout until I respond to their definitely-not-an-emergency requests, too. It’s crazymaking.

    Honestly, I’ve very much switched to keeping “office hours” like I did in grad school: I’m in the actual office where I have a desk only for about an hour in the morning and two hours in the afternoon on certain days only when I don’t have lab work. Nobody should expect to be able to find me any way other than IM, text or email the rest of the week.

  48. Purple Jello*

    Ah, an open office. I will be going from an open office area to sharing a closed office with one other person. My job requires extensive reading for comprehension and writing summaries. I can’t tell you how many times my coworkers have remarked that they don’t know how I can do all that reading; they’d never be able to do it; so difficult to understand, etc. etc.

    Most of these same people have also (at a different time) interrupted with “a quick question” or even just a wave to catch my eye with “hello, how are you?”

    I don’t know how I do it either.

  49. Schnapps*

    I don’t mind people muttering to themselves. I am in an open office situation and I have coworker who sits at the other end of the office and she is LOUD about it. Drives me batty (and yes, she knows it)

  50. littleandsmall*

    I second all the noise cancelling headphones recommendations. My husband gifted me a pair of Bose QuietComfort 15s back in 2012 or 2013 and they still work as well as the day I got them and I’ve used them almost everyday since then. I know some people balk at the price (likely in the $250-$350 range) for a decent pair. I, too, was one of those people! But I believe they’re worth it – if my headphones went kaput/got lost/stolen tonight, I would absolutely fork over the money for a replacement pair tomorrow, they’ve become that integral to my daily life.

    If you take care of them properly (i.e. use the carrying case when they’re not in use, don’t just throw them into your bag all willy-nilly!), they will last for a long time. And I think investing a quality pair is better than spending $20-$30 on several pairs of cheap earbuds that will get lost, worn out, or accidentally washed in pockets over the next several years. I did have to replace the headband and ear cups last year due to normal wear and tear from everyday use but that was easy enough with a ~$30 kit of got off Amazon.

    1. Junior Dev*

      I have those. Have you been able to get them to fully cancel outside noise or just kind of mute it?

      1. littleandsmall*

        When they’re on but not getting any audio input, they make everything sound very far away, almost like I’m underwater. There’s a constant AC unit hum directly over my head in my office and I can’t hear it at all when I’m wearing them. If someone walks up behind me and asks me something, I can hear them but it’s very muffled. But if I’m listening to music at a reasonable volume, people have to get in my line of sight with a wave or something to get my attention because I can’t hear anything/anyone at all.

        I don’t know that they’re meant to fully “cancel” outside noise, I guess it depends on your needs and the typical volume level of your environment. For the work I do and my office environment, they work great for me!

  51. OP (my ears are tired)*

    OP here. First, a hearty thank-you to Alison for posting my question and to the AAM community for the volume & variety of responses.

    With respect to headphones, I agree that is an option. I don’t particularly enjoy them and have never really listened to music while working, even going back to college. But I’m professional and understand that, in the immortal words of Mick Jagger, you can’t always get what you want.

    A complicating factor is that our work is very collaborative by nature. For one, sometimes the comments do require a response from me, but I can’t tell based on tone or volume. Additionally, a 4th team member is in the pod next door, and headphones would prohibit him and teammate #3 from being able to talk to me easily. As an aside, it’s understood that I’m not the only one irritated by this behavior.

    I can block out the normal open-office noises, but this is someone I work closely with and the topics are our work – these aren’t things I can train myself to block out. It wouldn’t be appropriate to do so. The worst is when I am chastised for responding, as if I’m in the wrong somehow.

    I’m going to review the scripts and responses that have been offered. I think I could try some of these out, in the moment. I “lurve” the follow-ups from OPs here, so be on the lookout for one in the near future.

    1. Junior Dev*

      I get your frustration. I wear headphones because I can’t concentrate otherwise (check out noise cancelling headphones and white nois if you don’t like listening to music). But it does sometimes mean I miss out on important conversations.

    2. Betsy*

      OP, pretend that she’s saying something to you, but you didn’t catch it. Every time she starts to talk to herself, say, happily and a little loudly, “Huh?” “Sorry, what was that?” You’re jovial. You’re collaborative. You just didn’t quite hear her. And you’re completely perplexed when she explains that she wasn’t talking to you. Who was she talking to?

      Being asked to repeat/explain oneself is super annoying. Eventually it’ll have to dawn on her that there’s a recurring issue here.

    3. Wanna-Alp*

      There are other things to listen to besides music, all kinds of soundtracks. I have a nice mp3 of birds tweeting in the forest.

  52. Recruit-o-Rama*

    My son sings and hums alllllllll the time and t drives me crazy. I work from home and my office is next to his bedroom. Mostly he’s at school while I’m working, but when he’s not I’ve taken to saying “child, your voice is so lovely that I can’t focus on work. Love you!” Which he knows is my nice mom way of saying “shut the hell up!”

    Not that I recommend either phrase to the OP. :)

    I like Alison’s advice to just be direct, but make it about you and just be pleasant about it.

  53. Narise*

    There was a woman in our office that talked to herself and after a coworker asked her to stop she kept doing it but started calling attention to it. Example: “Mm I didn’t attach a file to that email. Oh sorry I didn’t mean to say that out loud.” Obviously this made it worse as she was now talking even more.
    This went on for a week and finally said coworker started repeating everything she said. Not the best way to handle it but after a week she had dialed it back and in a few weeks others commented on the change.

  54. Junior Dev*

    I’m in a very similar situation. I’m a programmer and my cube neighbor talks to himself. I also have anxiety that is aggravated by sound.

    I wear noise cancelling headphones​ most of the time. I don’t think it would be fair to ask my coworker to stop talking to himself; I figure he probably would have stopped already if he could, and rather than try to monitor him I’m just gonna do what I need to in order to concentrate. It’s not like the office would be perfectly quiet if he weren’t there anyway.

  55. Not So NewReader*

    I understand you don’t want to loop in the boss.

    But in cases like this where the person is known to have issues, take things poorly and so on, it might be wise to reconsider. Sometimes you have to have back up in place before starting. I would cue my boss in on what I was doing and why. One boss I had pointed this rule of thumb to me, it’s fine to want to do things on your own but if you have reason to believe it will go into a larger issue the boss should be looped in first.

    For one thing you might find that everyone else has been in to complain and the boss is working on some ideas.
    More than likely, though, you will just be giving a heads up because you expect flashback.

    Since you have not even open the subject yet, start on a low key. You can make stronger points later, but a soft approach keeps your options open. “Hey, you know every time you say something I think you are talking to me and I stop. I don’t want to be rude and ignore you but I cannot stop working 15 times in a half hour.” Then you could ask how do we solve this or ask her to talk softer.

    Which brings me to another point, when you go to the boss have a fair idea of the frequency of interruptions. Now if she talks non-stop for a half hour, then describe it that way. Try to use numbers to describe the extent of the problem. If others have complained to you mention that, too, but do not name the complainers.

    I have worked in very noisy places and kept my concentration to some extent. I could not do what you are doing, OP. I just would not be able to do it. The reason is because the noise is coming from just one person. OP, I have worked next to jackhammers all day long. I think I do have some ability to tolerate noise. The problem comes in when it’s a person talking, we stop and listen to someone when they speak, that is what we do.

    Random observations. One thing I have noticed is that SOME people who talk to themselves actually work slower than those who don’t. (Some people are painfully slower.) I noticed that some people around the talker tend to get angrier quicker and tend to complain more. Unfortunately, the non-stop dialog also cued me in on how well they understood their work … or not.
    Very seldom have I seen a talker cure themselves. I almost wonder if it is a symptom of exhaustion for some people and this is how they keep themselves going. Her crankiness mixed with her non-stop chatter makes me wonder if she has difficulty sleeping.

    I finally went over the edge on losing my tolerance after dealing with several family members who had to say every. single. thought out loud all day long. (You get several of these people in a room and it’s a slow death.)

    “Time to wash the dishes. I better put water in the sink. Now I need soap. Where’s the soap. Should I wash the glasses first, I reaally want to get those greasy plates done. I could do the glasses tomorrow maybe? Oh. I know. I will just wash the forks today….”

    Shoot me. Just shoot me.

    In the end, I think if she is disrupting the workplace with random chatter, that is not relevant to others then the boss should step in. The way I would present it is “With the open office plan we are supposed to be able to talk to each other. It’s assumed that if someone is speaking then people should stop and listen. What if everyone streamed all day long, then that would mean the our work area would fall apart because the open office plan cannot support an entire group of people who talk all day long about things of no relevance to anyone else.”

  56. Cassie*

    OP, I definitely sympathize with you! We have cubicles surrounded by offices but the cubicles are designed so that they are fairly open and sound travels too well in the suite. I have 1 particular coworker who talks very loud, giggles very loud, sings to herself from time to time, and makes personal phone calls without lowering her voice. I very much wish I could be a grown-up and ask her if she could lower her voice, but I am just too much of a coward. Also, I don’t want to ask her while she’s talking to someone (would be bad timing) but telling her after the moment has passed would seem petty. She’s aware she is a loud talker but she says that’s just how she is.

    I have to wear headphones from the moment I get to work in the morning until I leave. The annoyance is definitely building up in me, but I just can’t bring myself to say anything.

    For coworkers who I am more acquainted with, I will tell them to stop clicking their pens or tapping their pens. They usually do it a couple more times to annoy me but will stop. I think I’m too sensitive to noise, so I usually try to ignore it as much as I can (the headphones help) and let the other person get their clicks in, before speaking up.

  57. Desdemona*

    I wonder if it would help if the OP could ask the coworker to specifically address him when she’s not talking to herself? So there’s monologue, monologue, swearing, then, “Hey, Fergus, do you have any thoughts about …” That way the OP can learn to tune her out with the other background noise, without having to feel on alert in case it’s directed at him? Then if she does need him and doesn’t start by making sure she has his attention, he can honestly say he was concentrating on something else and didn’t realize she was talking to him, can she please repeat it.

  58. Argh!*

    I used to share work space with someone like this! It seems to be a characteristic of extroverts. It was very distracting because most of my coworkers are introverts, so when someone is speaking they’re speaking *to* someone. I kept raising my head from my work asking “What?” and she would admit she wasn’t talking to me. I did use headphones but I also said “I can’t focus when you’re talking because I want to be attentive to you, and you aren’t always talking purposefully. Please stop talking to yourself because I really want to be available to you and tuning you out completely is my other option” … or something like that. It worked but there had to be some reminding for awhile.

  59. bopper*

    I was in that exact situation…things I did were:

    1) Talk to the guy about the fact he did that
    2) Not if he said “Woah!” I would not say “What?”
    3) Mentioned it to my boss
    4) Moved my desk away from him
    5) He ended up working from home a lot

  60. CJMster*

    I recently retired from an IT job in an open workspace, and the absolutely worst experience I had in almost 28 years with the company was with a nonstop talker and giggler. Let’s call her Big Mouth (although I never called her that to her face).

    I got in trouble after I worked up my nerve and asked her politely for about the fifth time in two years to please keep it down. She wasn’t even looking at me when I asked; her back was to me in the little group of pals she was chatting with.

    She ran to her boss and complained that I was intimidating her. Her boss ran to my boss to share the tale. My boss immediately called me into his office (I sat next to his office and had just seen the other boss leaving it) and told me to never talk to Big Mouth again. I told him I was calm and polite and said simply “Would you please keep it down? It’s hard to concentrate on my work.” I also told him I’d read advice online (here!) to first try addressing a colleague directly when I had a problem. He stared at me like I had three heads and let me know that was a bad idea (what?!).

    I was completely demoralized by that experience, and my buddies at work were stunned. One of them used to bring up the story at happy hours and shake his head in disbelief that anyone would consider me intimidating.

    In short, my experience with noisy colleagues is long and frustrating, and I beg anyone who talks a lot at work, whether to others or to him- or herself, to practice consideration for others and KNOCK IT OFF.

    1. annoyed*

      This is a problem in work environment. I can’t confront my blabber mouth either, because if she reacts incorrectly, emotionally, reactively, psychotically — I will be blamed for instigating the problem even I tried to politically, professionally be proactive about addressing a problem . If I go to management (and that is the only office-sanctioned option), then a report will be taken on both parties with uncertain outcome. It’s a no-win situation.

      I actually worked with a psychotic coworker who lied about a client, creating problems. I approached him politely and respectfully requesting clarity on what was said to lead to the misunderstanding and he immediately ran to management, getting me into trouble to deflect from what he did. I was blamed for “making him have a screaming fit” by asking a question rather than his inability to control his emotions and behave respectfully and with integrity at work.

      Working with others is tricky. You need to walk carefully, wise, and pick your battles carefully.

      You almost have to use behavioral/Pavlovian psychology to deal with these people….

      Other: blah blah blah
      You: What does this have to do with work….
      Other: Nothing, but blah blah blah….
      You: I’m sorry but I need to focus on what I am doing….I can’t talk now.

      Repeat as often as necessary until other finally gets the message.

  61. Purple Jello*

    I also wanted to mention: I don’t usually talk to myself out loud, but I whistle under my breath sometimes. I don’t even realized I’m doing it, but stop whenever I notice – even in the middle of a phrase.

    If you talk out loud or anything similar such as whistling, heavy sighs, exclamations, slapping the desk, pen clicking: please try to stop even if no one else asks you to.

  62. Honeybee*

    My husband currently works in an open office space. He makes noise all. The. Time. Even at home. He just constantly has to make noise – he talks to himself, makes random video game noises, whistles, scats, sings, makes beats on his desk, etc. He’s the type of person who has to turn on the TV when he’s at home alone because he can’t stand the sound of his own silence, and who wants to fall asleep and wake up to the TV. It drives me absolutely BONKERS, but that’s besides the point.

    Anyway, one day shortly after he started his new-ish job (he’s been there about 4 months) his manager was in a 1:1 with him and ended by saying “You know, this is a minor thing but…I don’t think you realize how often you make noise.” and basically politely asked him to STOP because he was driving everyone nuts. He really wasn’t aware of how much noise he makes (despite the fact that I used to tell him ALL the time). He started monitoring himself and realized how constantly he was making random-ass noises. Thankfully he’s reduced it by a whole lot since his manager said something to him.

    So…it’s entirely possible that coworker doesn’t realize how much she talks to herself. Although the reacting with annoyance rather than mortification is an issue.

  63. Susan*

    People all process information differently. Approximately ten percent of the population processes auditorily which means they talk to themselves nonstop. As if NOT talking, means they don’t exist. It can be very frustrating dealing with someone who processes information in this manner. Many times, if one interrupts the auditory individual when they’re speaking, the auditory individual will have to go back to the beginning of what they were saying before they were interrupted.

  64. sonic*

    I worked for two years with a guy that was a … how can I call that?

    (1) A Lunatic ?
    (2) A Psychopat ?
    (3) A Schizophrenic ?
    (4) An incredible mental disturbed person?

    ps: me and my colleagues find that is all of the options above…and more…

    Yes. We worked in an IT department. We were 8 people (7 + 1 Boss). In our case it was worse because we were all 8 of us in a closed room. This was because we were the IT Operators of the entire company. This guy would simply narrates EVERYTHING! For example. Everyones was at silent and he was researching some problem with Linux. Suddendly he would say VERY OUTLOUD: AH! NOW I UNDERSTAND! This was VERY ANNOYING! Another examples. If he received an “important” e-mail from someone, he would shout “I DO NOT BELIEVE HE WROTE THAT” and would stand up and BLAM the door when exiting!?! Again… Very annoying… This along with the fact that he was a TOTAL BOOT LICKER / BROWN NOSE / ASS-KICKER made things only worse. For example… If some director entered in our room he would PURPOSELY RAISE HIS VOICE and try to speak about “something important” with someone (any linux garbage for the moment) ONLY to try to catch the directors attention! Unbelievable! Besides that… he would also BAD MOUTH EVERYONE! I mean E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E: the boss, the director he tried to catch attention, you, the others… Can you at least try to imagine the scenario? The final one was when we find out that he was BAD MOUTHING his coworkers to the directors! What a snake!!! After that we simply hated him forever….

    Because we were from IT OPERATIONS we had to take shift at lunch time. Thus guy arrived everyday very early (around 6 AM so he could have more money from extra-hours! Yes once he was punished by that but soon afterwards he started doing again to get more money… ) and started to ask about lunch at 11:30. He would say “-Who wants go to lunch with me?”. MORE THAN ONCE he went alone. Yes. Of Course! We had to listen his MOUTH the entire day! No one wanted to go to lunch with him! Also when lunching with him you could feel him a total lack of interest in your conversation. Of course he wanted to talk about HIS things. And sometimes when I was with him and the boss the conversation was about database optimization… FOR GOD SAKE! I want to have lunch in peace! Of course I would prefer to lunch ALONE than with him! Think about everyone doing some kind of strategy to avoid him at lunch! Things like going to the bathroom at 11:29 and others like going to talk with someone outside of our room just about anything and only to avoid him… Yes it was this bad… The funny was that he did not want to go alone either! Ahhh talk here about hypocrisy… The solution? He went to have lunch with the boss! Yes! The only one that had the obligation to go to lunch with him! Another disturbing fact was that he arrived very early (around 6 AM) and was alone. The first person to arrive would simply open the door and listen A VERY FAST COMPLETE NARRATIVE FROM SOMETHING without an even simply… “Good Morning! How are you?”!!! What a CRAZY THING! The result? No one arrived early because of him. When we had some problems with the system and other directors were in the room, he would NARRATE EVERYTHING! “NOW I AM GOING TO RESTART APACHE! ATTENTION!”. What if you tried to give suggestions? He would interpret that as an threat to his status in front of the other directors and absolute reply and deny your suggestion! At the end of the day he would proudly say that he was working so long hours… What a stupid….person… Also he would always try to MONOPOLIZE every conversation. Especially the ones we gave with the boss. Sometimes our boss would just give us a lecture about storage. This guy would abruptly interrupt him every minute to ask something! Just to make sure he was appearing to the boss! Of course the boss did not like it also! In the end the lecture was a total failure because of this guy non stop mouth. Also this guy was always TRYING TO RACE EVERYONE WITH EVERYTHING! I mean, for example. The boss asked the team to work TOGETHER in a new software installation. The guy would simply start without waiting for the others and in the end say proudly: I AM FNISHED! Team working environment? Yes… No…

    As you can imagine he would not delegate nothing! Yes, he was also a WORK HOARDER ( ! I forgot that! He would arrive very early and select the tasks that would bring him the most attention possible! And of course, he needed to narrate the task !!! Imagine a team without being a team at all… I remember one day that was unbelievable. Since this guy would not delegate nothing he was involved in an important task a day before his vacations. Our boss asked him to delegate and to write an e-mail to the team, explaining. This was asked in the morning. He did not do it. Ate the end of the day my boss asked about it and he said he had to leave for vacation. My boss said: NO! YOU MUST DO IT! Man… the guy became the HULK! He started SHOUTING VERY LOUD and punched the walls!?!? There was a bottle in his table and he thrown it away and it almost hit one girl! And then he BLAMMED the DOOR very strong and left! For vacations….. Was he fired? NO! After this episode he was promoted! Hahaha! Unbelievable! Believe it or not this happened in a BIG consulting company that starts with the first letter of the alphabet and has two times the third letter of the alphabet…No I do NOT recommend that you go to work for a company that approves the attitudes of a psychopath! Is funny, when I tell people this story they don’t believe it happened in a multinational company! It seems like a story from cavemen!

    Eventually everyone quit this job and he stayed…. alone…. He cannot quit because he spends a lot of money with stuff and he has to provide his family also he has a high salary. So basically he is trapped to this job (that became a hell! But this is another story… ) As you can imagine, oneday he will need someone for reference for a new job… And as you can imagine it… He will not have it… In the end I keep questioning his behavior in my mind. What does he earn with it? Sure he was efficient in a lot of ways but in the very end he will be alone forever ever….

    In the end what I learned? You can never let this kind of stuff bring you down! Do not became sad about it! You do not have to be the nice guy from the office but you have to have respect for others. Always try to have a face to face conversation. Yes it is not easy of course but it is necessary. In my case it was hopeless and since the whole place was a mess it was an easy decision: go to another place! Always keep in mind that you have to rely on someone in a near future. I still have friends that can refer me to another job. This is FARE MORE IMPORTANT than to try to beat everyone else. Like I said, this guy will be alone… Forever… The only ones that will hold up on him will be his family because they are obligated to.

    PS: yes, EVERYONE had alread talked with him about his behavior! Everyone! Boss, coleagues, me! He simply continued doing it! He was mental disturbed…

    PS2: sometimes the guy was right. Yes, even him makes it right sometimes. The problem is that we were so fed up with him that we simply did not care about him anymore! Wrong? Yes, maybe! But this is what happens when management does not do anything about it!

  65. annoyed*

    I have read through these notes and am not sure what to do — confront or go to management.

    I share an office with a social justice warrior/temp who has job hopped, moved all over the place, and dropped out of school. All she does is talk — about her second job, her favorite television shows, her weekends protesting “white privilege,” how she would confront this person or that person if they did (name offense here).

    She is an absolute pain in the @ss.

    During training (I had to train her), she would blah blah blah through everything, delaying my ability to get things done. She seemed to have a “story” or “amusing anecdote” about everything. “Oh that reminds you..and this is funny..but I knew a person…blah blah blah….”

    She gossips about everything and everyone…and is a trouble maker — and I think, sociopath….who stirs the pot but in the nicest possible way, even brags about how she is able to dominate people and get what she wants through manipulation….

    I tried to set boundaries, even getting harsh at times, telling her we need to focus on whatever, or that I can’t talk…leading to her unspoken rage, where she will go silent, making the tension in the room so thick you could cut it with a knife….and then she starts up again…

    Her random chatter is “funny” and “light hearted”… I can’t report her to management for abuse….And I have had to surrender to her chatter, just to keep the peace as she ignores boundaries and wont’ shut up– needs to know what I’m eating for lunch, what am I doing this weekend, nosey, prying, invasive, constant blather….I end up being unable to concentrate.

    She even manipulated a coworker into credit card fraud by getting him to use an unauthorized credit card to buy lunch since he forgot to bring money. She giggled as he called in frantically after getting caught using said card, saying he would wind up going to prison over what she set in motion. (Thank God he didn’t.)

    I brought said action to the attention of management but they shrugged since she was not abusing customer financial data (that we know of ) and since the fraud took place outside of work (during break.)

    I googled this topic as this inane blabber mouth awaits me at work. There is no shutting this idiot up. I am thinking about asking management to move my desk just to get away from her.

  66. GooseGripe*

    I had this happen recently to me. Both of my coworkers I shared an office with constantly work outloud and constantly are talking about hobbies and things throughout the day. I have a problem where, if someone is talking out loud, I can’t just tune them out in case they are talking to me. But after a while, I had to start putting in noise cancelling head phones. Then one of my office mates would actually physically get my attention. Then I realized they just wanted someone’s attention… constantly. I lean towards introverted, so the more people fight for my attention, the more my battery drains.

    At that point, I asked my manager if I could move offices. I did not want to cause conflict with my coworker by mentioning how much this affected my work and mood because they can be temperamental, but I tried to get the nerve up to say something for months. Long story short… my new office mate is quiet as a mouse and I get so much work done now. Talk to your manager. You don’t have to sit there and take it. If you can’t find the nerves to talk to your coworker about their lack of awareness in making their coworkers uncomfortable, then talk to you manager and explain that your environment is too distracting. You need to get your work done, too.

    1. GooseGripe*

      PS. I can still hear them constantly talking from two offices away. I have no idea how they get any work done.

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