update: my coworker plays Christian rock all day

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who shared an office with someone who played extremely religious Christian rock all day long? Here’s the update.

So, I actually chickened out of talking to her about it for awhile after receiving that advice – sometimes I’m fine with confrontation, but other times I’m a total wuss, and this was one of the latter.  In fact, getting your email asking about an update was what nudged me into finally speaking up, so that I’d actually have an update to give – thank you for that!  I’m happy to report that Operation This Is An Office, Not A Church was a complete success.

This morning Lily had a particularly gospel-y playlist running, and it was early enough in the day that only she and I were around, so I realized I wasn’t going to get a better opening than this – with the behavior in question actively occurring at the time, and semi-privacy for a conversation if we needed one.  I was nervous, so I literally had the post on AAM open on my computer and used pretty much the exact phrasing you suggested (I didn’t quite read it off the screen at her, but almost).  Lily seemed a little surprised, but not as defensive as I’d worried about.  She actually proposed to switch to headphones instead – which I’m even happier about, to be honest – though she doesn’t have them in her purse today, so for now we’ve switched to a different playlist.  So I got pretty much the best possible outcome: not only am I free from the religious music that was putting my shoulders up around my ears, I get to reclaim the peace and quiet I was used to when I had my own office! 

Thank you so much, both to you and to the commenters who offered their advice as well – it was so helpful even just to hear external confirmation that I wasn’t being unreasonable about this, and then the script you provided gave me the confidence to speak up without getting awkward or letting my irritation show. 

{ 67 comments… read them below }

  1. Mystery Bookworm

    I’m so glad this worked out!

    I think it’s important to remember that there can be a little awkwardness when we have this talks (as you noted with her surprise) but that’s not a sign of failure; a little awkwardness is inevitable whenever people come together and negotiate a shared space.

    Definitely worth it for a good relationship in the longer term! So glad to hear you were able to speak up.

    1. SansaStark

      Alison has really helped me realize that my goal to have a desired change sometimes is incompatible with my goal that that it won’t be awkward or whatever. And that’s ok. It’s really helped me re-frame my thinking when I need to bring up something that might make someone a little annoyed or be a little awkward.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        This is a valuable life lesson. I learned it a few years ago regarding other life things outside of work. It’s one of those things where your mental scales have to be tipped just right to really leap over the conflicting desires.

      2. Marie

        It may help to remember that the other person feels awkward too. In your office mate’s shoes, I would feel bad that so long had past with me bothering you.

        1. Traffic_Spiral

          Yeah. Most people actually don’t want to be jerks and would rather you told them about what’s bothering you – especially if it’s easily changed. Something like headphones or music selection is pretty easy to change, so there’s no reason not to mention it.

  2. Just Employed Here

    I’m actually hoping for the next update on this one: The one where Lily follows through tomorrow (and the day after that) and remembers both the earbuds and the conversation. Maybe I’m just jaded, but people can be so stuck in their habits…

    Operation This Is An Office, Not A Church is a fantastic title, by the way!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Since it was her idea. I have more faith in Lily following through.

      Once you bring them, you toss them in your drawer for the future.

      If she does forget, it’s a great time if year to pull a “ooooh and here are some earbuds in your favorite color…” move.

      1. Antilles

        I was thinking the same thing – even if she does try to pull the “forgetting” move, just buy some super cheap earbuds (according to Google, there are pairs for like $3!) and give them as a Christmas gift…her gift is free earbuds, your gift is peace and quiet.

      2. That girl from Quinn's house

        Dollar Tree sells a wide array of earbuds for $1, for anyone willing to invest $1 in conflict-resolution tactics.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          Yes! You can get them for next to nothing. I have pairs all over. Car. Desk. Nightstand. Kitchen. And goodness knows where else.

          Even at a high priced grocery store it’s less than $10. I know…I rarely pack them and just buy them on the fly. They’re like chapsticks to me at this point.

        2. Blue

          I once encountered a woman who carried spare, cheap earbuds around with her. I watched her take a pair out on a crowded bus and silently hand them to a college-aged guy who was treating us all to his (very loud) music. She just gave him a stern grandmotherly look and he sheepishly thanked her, plugged them in, and used them for the duration of the bus ride. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on public transportation.

          1. Jadelyn / OP

            Genius. I should do this – there are very few things that annoy the shit out of me as much as folks in public spaces (stores, transit, etc) watching videos or playing games with their sound on max so we all have to listen to it. I’m a bit young to accompany it with a grandmotherly look, but stern I could probably do. Or maybe just pointedly bitchy.

            (why is it I can confront strangers, but making a fairly mild request of a coworker and officemate gets me all conflict-averse???)

            1. Jasnah

              Because you never have to encounter a stranger again. With a coworker or someone close to you, you have to live with the fallout.

          2. londonedit

            I keep thinking about doing this! When did it apparently become acceptable for people to play music and films on their phones without using headphones?? Seems like every time I’m on a train these days, there will be someone watching or listening to something on their phone without even a moment’s consideration for whether anyone else around them wants to hear it.

          3. Marion Ravenwood

            I have joked that when I am in charge everyone who boards any form of public transport will be issued with earbuds as a matter of course. Kudos to that woman for actually having the nerve to do it though!

      3. tink

        Yep, I have a pair in my desk because our computers don’t have speakers… so when we’re doing required training we have to have some sort of headphones since most of the videos they make us sit through have either no or awful closed captioning. (Think “captions are literally on a different subject than the video itself” levels of bad.)

    2. Jadelyn / OP

      She did fine the next day – she started it up, but then immediately remembered, dug out her earbuds, and was rockin out with them all day.

      But, we’ll have to see how it goes when I get back – literally like 2 days after this conversation I left for a 2-week stint in our headquarters office on the east coast, and I’m still here. So she’s had the office to herself for a week and a half now, and I’m wondering if I’ll need to remind her when I get back on Monday.

      1. Sn

        You could always compromise. One Christian rock tune followed by one bagpipe tune. Silence will be the preferred alternative 99.9% of the time.

        1. Bulbasaur

          Or: earbuds stay in, but she is allowed two air guitar solos and one shout of “JESUS ROCKS!” per day. (The latter not to be deployed during conference calls).

  3. It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's SuperAnon

    Reasonable coworkers who respond well to requests are the stuff of dreams :) I’m glad this worked out OP!

    1. No Mas Pantalones

      Amen. My next-door-office-neighbour blasts xmas music nonstop. (Often singing along, very poorly.) She knows I abhor xmas music (too many retail xmases). She thinks it’s funny. I’m going to put cat crap in her file drawers one day.

      1. Pipe Organ Guy

        You have my sincere condolences on that. I can hear, down the office hallway, the choir director giving voice lessons, but that just sort of reminds me of being in music school, where on one floor faculty had their studios, and in the basement were the practice rooms. Occasionally I will hear rehearsals going on upstairs in the church itself; I know that when I practice there, sounds will drift through the floor downstairs. But a next-office neighbor doing music badly is a whole different sort of hell.

      2. Jadelyn / OP

        Thinking it’s funny to do something you know people around you hate is a whole other level of bad-neighbor behavior in an office! I’m happy to raid my cat’s litterbox to help you send a message to that coworker if you like.

        1. No Mas Pantalones

          She also uses a room spray now and again that she knows makes me sick. Like, I’ve told her it gives me migraines and has made me vomit on more than one occasion. Again, thinks it’s funny. I get in earlier than she does, so those sprays often go “missing.” OH! And she’s the resident Typhoid Mary. She comes to work sick, infects everyone, and then goes out on long leaves because she doesn’t take care of herself until she’s at Emergency Room state. Yeah, she’s a real peach.

          And thanks for the litterbox offer. I have 5 of my own, so I’m pretty good for a varied supply of drawer presents. :-)

      3. Natalie

        That’s so crummy!

        I love Christmas songs and listen to them all year round…with my headphones, because I know they annoy most other people, especially in June! Your next-door-office-neighbor is a jerk.

    1. Recovering Journalist...

      …and another win for finding out that neither religious nor non-religious people are monsters. Both types of people can be reasonable, respectful, and courteous.

      1. Temperance

        I mean, I might argue that playing Christian and gospel music out loud in a secular workplace per se makes someone a monster, but at least she stopped. For now!

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          Real story:
          The mechanic I’m fond of is that kind of religious. My mom is rarely one to take notice and asked me “how do you know they are??”

          “Well the JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON” decor every year gave them away right out of the gate. And last time I was there (summer), the receptionist was listening to gospel music. I could hear her singing along from the waiting room…”

          I’m amused by that kind of thing only because it’s so out of the norm in this day and age. It’s a “awwww…you’re new aren’t you?” moment to me. Whereas I get why others are angry about it and would say something.

          1. Temperance

            My eye doctor is the same way. I sick it up because he owns the business and he’s great. If he worked in a Target or something, I would complain.

        2. Jadelyn / OP

          I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes them a monster right out of the gate – if they’re able to understand, “oops, my religious preferences (and musical ones) aren’t universal, I need to moderate that in this shared space” then they’re not a monster, just oblivious and a touch self-centered.

          Now, if they are doing it *at* people, that’s a whole other question, and I’m quite happy to throw the “monster” label at that kind of behavior.

          1. PhyllisB

            Amen to doing it *at* people. My son-in-law used to work in the kitchen at restaurant and two of the workers were constantly playing Black Christian music. He politely asked if they could vary the playlist a bit and he got back “BOY!! What’s wrong with you? Don’t you love Jesus?” Not only did they not let him vary the playlist, they would play one or two songs on repeat all day long. The manager would not intervene. Now those of you who have read my posts know I am a staunch Christian, but this would drive me around the bend.

            1. TardyTardis

              He should have sung along to the songs on infinite repeat. Badly. Eventually they might get the hint.

        3. Belle8bete

          Playing religious music in a secular setting doesn’t make you a monster! It might mean you don’t consider other people’s experience, but if that makes someone a monster then the whole world is just one big monster filled junk show.

          1. Lissa

            LOL exactly what I was thinking. Though now I keep picturing like, a cute Sesame Street monster or something and it’s giving me the giggles.

  4. KimberlyR

    Thats awesome! I would’ve chickened out as well so don’t beat yourself up over that, OP. But I’m glad you saw your chance and took it, and that she was receptive and courteous. That is a great trait when you share an office with someone.

  5. Pipe Organ Guy

    I’m grateful that I have an office space all to myself, except for a brief time one day each week when a volunteer is working on another computer in here. No one else has to deal with my taste in music (all kinds of symphonic and operatic music on Youtube or the local classical station), I don’t have to deal with the zoo that is the main office, and no one has to listen to me enter hymn tunes or other music into notation software, note by note. (We tweak hymn texts to better fit the rector’s theology.) I think if I did have to share the space, I would bring in noise-canceling headphones.

    1. Sechs Katzen

      I love hearing from another organist and church musician! That hobby is a whole different level of weird for most co-workers! I have been known to learn my music for the next Sunday while on a break.

  6. HBucket

    Proof that just using our words often (not always) produces the best outcomes. Glad this worked out for you. I like it quiet when I work too.

  7. mark132

    Excellent update. Really the options she took was the only acceptable one. In any cube farm, playing music on speakers all day is unacceptable. (Even if it’s music I love.)

  8. Vicky Austin

    I’m a Christian.
    I like rock music.
    But for some reason, I’ve never been able to get into Christian rock music.

    1. CoveredInBees

      My guess is that the emphasis is on the Christian aspects with the rock aspect being very secondary.

      1. Crooked Bird

        The standards also get lowered b/c it’s so niche. There’s a certain percentage of its listeners who will *only* listen to rock music if it’s Christian, so Christian bands are only competing against other Christian bands for that audience. And that’s a much smaller pool.
        (I’m also a Christian who doesn’t particularly like Christian rock, except a few specific artists, but my tastes are pretty random anyway…)

      2. else

        Yeah, most of it’s terrible musically. But – very old mountain songs or child ballads or gospel or country are often religious, and they are usually great (at least, the survivors are). I think it’s because the really talented musicians mostly fled from writing religious music long ago.

        1. Vicky Austin

          I do like liturgical music, that is, music that was written to be sung at church during Mass. But there’s something about the whole CCM industry that feels so fake- like they’re trying to make Christianity and the Gospels more appealing to youth by disguising it as rock or pop music.
          I’m cool with U2, Daughtry, Creed and the like singing about their faith, but to me that’s different because they’re singing songs they wrote about something that’s important to them, and they don’t market it exclusively to Christians. It just seems more authentic to me. (However, I did once hear a U2 song on the Christian music station my friend listens to.)

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego

            This is why I never liked it. Recently I’ve heard a few things that were more complex but back when I first encountered CCM the lyrics were all so vapid and simplistic, and the music so obviously contrived to mimic other popular music, that it had no appeal whatsoever.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      I’m Christian and I haven’t been able to stomach religious “rock” since I was in my early teens. I have a few bands in my collection who have a few songs that mention it and you know they’re of the Christian faith but they’re not like the “Christian Rock” genre folks.

      1. Vicky Austin

        Right, like U2. They are Christians who are rock musicians, but they aren’t Christian rock musicians. They mention their faith in some of their songs, but aren’t too preachy about it.

    3. hermit crab

      Ha – I am neither Christian nor a big fan of rock music. However, in college I was a double major in geology and religious studies, and lots of people made a groan-worthy Christian rock puns in my general direction :)

    4. sunshyne84

      And gospel rap, please no. Although I do remember our music teacher in elementary school playing DC Talk.

    5. Skillet

      How much have you tried? There’s a lot in the genre that leaves a lot to be desired, but there are an awful lot of great artists:
      Skillet
      Fireflight
      Flyleaf
      The Letter Black
      Anberlin

      Just stay away from the last decade of Relient K. Yuck.

  9. Mrs. Fenris

    That’s a great update! I was afraid she was doing it on purpose as an evangelistic thing, so I’m glad to hear this.

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