my boss told me to stop wearing headphones at work — but I wear them to drown out my coworker’s noise

A reader writes:

My coworker and office mate, Jane, is an older woman who enjoys listening to either audiobooks or the radio while she’s working — specifically listening to audiobooks with some questionable content (nothing overly explicit, but they have moments sometimes, along with a few instances of language) or talk radio that focuses on politics (on which she will frequently comment and I have no idea if she’s trying to initiate a conversation or just saying something out loud because she can — either seems inappropriate to me, as I think politics should not be discussed in the work place unless that’s your job).

All of this is done without headphones since, before I started, it was only ever her and one other person in the office.

Because the books and radio shows that she listens to make me uncomfortable but I did not feel comfortable trying to dictate to her what she could and could not listen to, I decided to simply listen to the things that I enjoy on earbuds. Plus, listening to my own stuff helps me concentrate. I only listen to my stuff loud enough to be able to hear it above her radio and the other noise of the office but not so loud that any other noise is drowned out, as I do know I need to be aware of things going on around me.

Up until recently, this did not seem to be a problem, apart from my having to remind Jane that I’ve got earbuds in so she needs to get my attention first rather than launching into asking me a question or telling me about something. Usually she’d acknowledge that I had them in and say what she needed to, and it’d be more or less fine even though I feel like she’d be annoyed by it on occasion.

A recent exchange seems to possibly have marked a change in attitude about my headphones, though. I had them up a bit louder than I usually do because it was noisier than usual. I heard her voice but didn’t catch what she was saying, and as she does talk to herself, I figured that if she needed to she would get my attention. She did. By standing directly next to me — pretty much touching me — which startled me into taking out my headphones, whereupon she smiled and said she was going to lunch. Great. Okay. Thanks for letting me know. Don’t touch me, please.

Now I don’t know for sure that this is what caused the next bit that I’m going to relate, but it seems like a possibility to me. Especially when coupled with Jane’s seeming inability to understand that I don’t want to always chat and that doesn’t mean that I hate her guts.

The next week, my manager comes into the office and says that she’s glad she caught me with my earbuds in, as she needs to pass on the information that I am no longer allowed to wear them. Apparently someone (she did not name names) saw me with them in and became concerned about it. She cited safety concerns about me possibly not being able to hear announcements or an alarm as the reason. When I asked if I’d simply be able to listen to my own stuff with one earbud in, she said she didn’t know. Upset and anxious about losing my ability to block out my coworker’s tastes in audio entertainment and the ability to use my music/audiobooks/podcasts to help me concentrate, I didn’t really want to argue about it right there and then. So I finished my day, went home, got online, found the employee handbook, and searched to see if this was a written rule. I found nothing.

I understand that managers often have to make rules or guidelines that are not covered in a handbook and that they have the right to. However, is there any possible way that I’ll be able to convince my manager to allow me to wear my earbuds because of the reasons I’ve outlined here?

I feel very anxious about the entire situation and don’t know what to do. The job that I hold is not customer-facing, nor does it require constant communication between me and Jane. It does require some, and I’m not saying that I don’t want to talk to her ever or only wish to talk about work-related things, but she can talk a lot and doesn’t choose the most appropriate topics for the workplace. I don’t want to be seen as trying to throw her under the bus for her choices in what she likes to listen to or like I’m trying to tell her what she can and can’t do, but I can’t see myself dealing well with not being able to tune out all the noise in our office space.

If you’re right that Jane bristles at your headphones and/or that she’s the one who complained, that’s absolutely ridiculous, considering that she is filling the air in your space with unwanted sound!

It’s not okay for someone sharing work space with another person to play anything out loud without the other person’s reasonably enthusiastic consent — audiobooks, radio, or music, and definitely 100% absolutely not political radio.

This problem started, I think, when you tried to be accommodating to Jane and, rather than ask her to use headphones to listen to her preferred stuff (which is a completely reasonable thing to request, and not something she should even need to be asked), you decided to try to block it out.

That’s not your fault — that was you being polite. But it was way more polite and yielding than you needed to be. Ideally from the start you would have just said to Jane, “I have a lot of trouble concentrating with audiobooks or talk radio on — would you mind using headphones if you want to listen to that while you work?”

It’s not too late to address it now though. You have a couple of options:

1. Talk with Jane directly and say, ““I have a lot of trouble concentrating with audiobooks or talk radio on, so I’ve been using headphones to help me concentrate. Lucinda told me she doesn’t want us using headphones anymore, so I need to ask you not to play those in our space — it really makes it difficult for me to focus on work.”

2. If you’re concerned about how Jane will react to that, a different option is to go back to your boss and explain the situation. Say, “I wanted to check back with you about our conversation about headphones last week. I’ve been using headphones because Jane listens to audiobooks and talk radio while she works, and it makes it really hard for me to focus. I listen to my own stuff to drown out those sounds. If headphones are now a no-go, I need to ask Jane to turn off the radio and the audiobooks, and I’m concerned about how that’s going to go over. Can I ask you to back me up on that if she pushes back?” You could also ask, “Alternately, if the concern is not being able to hear other things, would you be open to allowing one earbud rather than two? That way I could ask her to switch to an earbud for her things as well.”

If your boss doesn’t seem to get it, don’t be afraid to spell it out more explicitly: “I’m not committed to listening to my own things if that’s a problem, but it’s really hard to work around someone else’s audio choices, especially political talk radio. If earbuds are no longer an option, can we ask people not to play spoken word stuff in spaces where other people are trying to focus?”

It’s really ridiculous, though, that your boss appears to be fine with Jane flooding your workspace with noise, while objecting to you doing something far less obtrusive to block it out. (If indeed she realizes what Jane is doing, which she may not.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 480 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Oof. Yeah, you should not be forced to listen to Jane’s stuff if you’re not going to be allowed to have headphones.

    The petty part of me says that if your boss doubles down on the headphones and refuses to tell Jane not to listen to her things, that you should just start listening to your stuff without headphones too.

    1. No Mercy Percy*

      I second this. When all non-petty options have been exhausted, it leaves only petty ones.

      1. Ms. Taylor Sailor*

        Honestly, I don’t even consider it to be that petty at this point. It’s petty in the sense that LW clearly wants to be polite and not go down this route (and we the commentariat are conscientious enough to not want to bother other co-workers), but Jane clearly thinks it’s acceptable and the boss hasn’t stopped her, so if I were LW, I’d do it without the slightest of qualms. If it’s suddenly an issue because LW is doing it, then it’s an even bigger problem.

        1. Lance*

          If it then somehow manages to become an issue, well, it’s pretty easy to point to where that issue originated. How much that’ll do with what sounds like possibly a weak-willed boss… who knows.

        2. Save One Day at a Time*

          I agree. While it might not be plan A, and maybe it’s the petty parts of ourselves suggesting it, it’s not petty, and LW could actually do this.

        3. LMs2cents*

          It’s only petty if done in a childish, retaliatory way. But OP just needs something other than talk radio to focus on. I could tolerate music I wasn’t into, but I’d find talk radio very distracting.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That’s why the thread maker stated “If the boss doubles down and doesn’t make Jane quit listening to talk radio”, saying “exhaust all those options before moving to the petty ones.”

    2. Antilles*

      You’re not the only petty person, because that was my immediate thought too…though I’d probably go the extra mile and *intentionally* cherry-pick the stuff that is most narrowly tailored to my interests and likely to bore the average person to tears. A generic, widely enjoyable podcast like Serial or Stuff You Should Know? No, I like those, but I’ll save those for my house when my wife can enjoy them too; instead, this afternoon is going to be a three-hour podcast about “Offensive Line Evaluation” or something equally niche.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          Ooooh. I actually want to try that one now. I personally would go with “Accounting Best Practices.” It is legitimately one of my favorite podcasts, but it would make most people want to scream.

      1. Phoenix Wright*

        Just like that, the entire office was forced to listen to Godspeed You! Black Emperor at max volume every day for 8 hours straight. And it was no one’s fault but Jane and the boss’.

        1. LMs2cents*

          Bwahaha! Had to look them up. Amused to find, as expected, dreadful, atonal screeching. To each their own.

          But I would hate being subjected to constant talk radio. I wonder how long I could tolerate Godspeed You! Black Emperor as a counter maneuver.

          1. Phoenix Wright*

            To be honest, I like them but not too much. In average, I tend to enjoy half of the songs of each album, more precisely the half that are actual songs instead of just noise.

          2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

            I love Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I’m going to go listen to one of their albums now while I work! Then I will relax over lunch with an episode of Accounting Best Practices. There is an episode on franchise accounting that I’ve been saving.

            Is it a problem that the things I genuinely and deeply enjoy keep being listed as ideas for how to punish your coworkers?

    3. E*

      OP here! I did try that in a few ways. On the day that this happened I tried just playing things from my phone’s built in speaker but the combination of both made me even more… I don’t know if anxious is the right word but basically that. I’ve also been trying to use some bigger, nicer headphones that I have and just place them around my neck and turn the volume waaaaaaaaaaay up which allows me to not be bothering anyone else with the combination of noise from my stuff and hers. But depending on the noise level in the office which can vary a fair bit given that it’s not a work-at-a-computer office space (I don’t super want to go into exactly what it entails as I’m potentially more paranoid than I need to be about someone finding this but hey that’s my brain), I can’t always hear it. Not the biggest problem in all this, but it is nice to be able to listen to new audio books or whatever else without not being able to hear it all I guess?

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        Yikes, that sounds unbearable. The idea of her noise combining with the audio from your headphones/speakers gives me a headache.

        Have you tried playing music or even white noise instead of a podcast/audio book? That might help your brain ignore her radio without being quite as distracting.

          1. Janie*

            One earbud would really bug me because when I’m listening to podcasts, some of them play with the audio balance so you only hear sound from one side, or if you only listen to one, everything sounds echoy.

            1. Miss H*

              Sometimes you can change that in the settings of your computer/iPod/cellphone/whatever. I think you have to set sound to “mono” so that it sounds good with just the one side.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Your office is giving me chest spasms. I rock the bose noise canceling headphones, sometimes not even on because my coworkers either use earbuds or those foam things from some left over walkman which lets sound spill out. I do not want to hear your stuff. Hearing your stuff and my stuff, aw no. I’m sorry for your situation, but this cannot be sustainable. Just tell Jane you need your head phones and if she needs your attention, to wave in front of you or something.

        1. hayling*

          I also have Bose headphones and I think that the concern about “not being able to hear alarms” is totally baseless. They’re noise-cancelling, not noise-eliminating! I don’t really understand why some people don’t allow non-customer-facing employees to wear headphones. I put on the Calm app for white noise, plus my Bose headphones, and I get into a total flow state.

          1. KC*


            I have noise cancelling headphones and i don’t know how i’d work in my office without them. Too much noise otherwise to distract me.

            I has a short stint at a place that had the radio playing through the office speakers, but i was told not to use headphones…

            1. Iconoclast in California*

              Ugh. Not allowed to wear headphones, but subjected to someone else’s taste in music? IMO, that’s a hostile workplace.

              Come to think of it, being forced to listen to someone’s political talk radio would be the same: a hostile workplace. Telling you you can’t use earbuds but not quieting the talk radio would be a good reason to go to HR. But I would also brush up my resume in case she’s such a kiss-butt that she gets to call the shots on office noise.

              In the mean time, you might want to queue up some Metallica (Master of Puppets would seem to fit here) whenever her political talk radio comes on, and crank up the volume. Petty? Yes, but appropriate, IMO.

      3. Detective Amy Santiago*

        As someone who listens to audio books and podcasts all day, I feel your pain.

        If you wanted to get super passive aggressive, you could play some episodes of Alison’s podcast. Stuff like “Am I The Annoying Coworker?” or “My Coworker Gets Away With Everything” might help get your point across.

        1. RJ the Newbie*

          +1000 for this!

          My old office went from a no headphones to an everyone must wear headphones policy in the span of a year due to issues like this. OP, I feel your pain and I hope you don’t have to continue to listen to Jane’s stuff against your will.

        2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          You win the interwebs. Please accept this coupon for one small vanilla cone and my upvote of 9000.

        1. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

          Nightwish for the win! ;-) (Within Temptation as well, not sure it is considered Heavy Metal. More like Heavy Rock, but still)

          1. Jadelyn*

            Off topic, but I just saw WT on their Resist tour and it was AMAZING! Love them so much. I’d call WT goth metal, more or less? Idk, they’ve gotten a bit genre-bend-y in their last few albums. Originally, symphonic/goth metal for sure; they’ve gone through a more rock/metal phase with The Unforgiving, and there’s some electronic/industrial influence in Resist, so…yeah, idk.

          2. Nessun*

            Oh either one for sure!! I call both “operatic metal” when I’m trying to describe them to people…LOL Incidentally, Nightwish was amazing in concert both times I saw them – can’t imagine that in a work setting, but then, I keep my noise-cancellation headphones around just in case.

          3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            If you’re gonna really gonna declare music war, though, you gotta go heavier. Break out the Battle Beast!

            1. The Hamster's Revenge*

              I love me some Battle Beast. Noora could definitely drown out any talk radio known to man.

          4. No Mercy Percy*

            I love both WT and Nightwish! I’ve seen Nightwish twice, once with Delain and Sabaton.

          5. Althea*

            I did not expect to find a Nightwish reference on here! I’m a …. 17? … year fan. Dozen+ concerts. Sadly they’ve scheduled their 2 nearby most recent concerts for dates immediately after the birth of my 2 kids. Argh! If they do it again, I’m just going to have to show up anyway, stitches be damned.

            100% would play Nightwish in this office situation.

        1. Anonymousaurus Rex*

          I feel like wearing sunglasses might be a little odd in most workplaces? However another solution might be the aftershockz? ( They’re also bone conducting and they don’t obstruct your ear. But it’s kind of an expensive solution and might not really drown out Jane’s speakers.

          1. Sales Geek*

            Good suggestion. As to the sunglasses bit, I was in sales (pre-retirement) and no manner of dress would surprise me any more. The first time I ran into someone wearing shorts, sandels

            And neither of these are cheap but I’m allergic to workplace politics and would have gladly paid $200+ to avoid this hassle. Folks like me keep this site in business…:-)

          2. Epiphyta*

            Seconding the aftershokz *pats the case with my Trekz Air*; I found these a lot more comfortable than the Trekz Titanium, and the sound quality is noticeably better. Don’t know if the budget stretches to $150 for them (I used credit card points), but if the specific fuss is over the ears being blocked . . . .

    4. yet another library anon*

      Do iiiittttt

      Might I suggest sea shanties? Only somewhat suggestive sometimes, good and loud, often discordant (but also good work music).

      (no, but seriously, this seems like something that should be so frighteningly easy for the boss to take care of that it’s a little unsettling that she hasn’t before. My guess is it hasn’t Been A Problem before, and the funny thing is that since Jane decided to Make It A Problem, there’s a very good chance she’ll get her toys taken away too.)

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        For some reason I find the idea of someone listening to sea shanties all day at work to be delightful.

    5. Gumby*

      Another kind of petty option of last resort is to really engage with what she’s forcing you to listen to rather than politely ignoring it. Be an active listener!

      Her audiobook saying “The two men walked down the foggy London street” sounds like an excellent excuse to talk about fog, or London, or pedestrian-friendly cities, or… A character breaks out with a curse word? Channel your inner uptight moralist and go off on a diatribe against kids these days or bad language or the poor state of language arts education. Her political podcast makes an assertion? Pick out a word or phrase and go off on a tangent that is sure to be just enough off-topic to detract from what she’s listening to. (“The Supreme Court…” “That reminds me, did you hear about the judge in Texas who accidentally resigned when he said he was thinking about running for the state supreme court?”)

      Maybe she’d enjoy that, so it could backfire. But if you highlight how her listening choices are distractions, and make them distractions for her aw well, she might cut back.

      1. blaise zamboni*

        My mother does this with any media she can hear, and I can confirm that it is HIGHLY ANNOYING and makes me turn off the media 100% of the time. The more aggressive and off-topic you can be, the better. I also recommend latching onto a random word which reminds you of a song, which you can then sing, off-key, in full. Joy for all!

        Also that judge story is bananas. I don’t know how to feel about it but it’s been fascinating to observe.

        1. Rivakonneva*

          Now I have a vision of the OP belting out “Jeremiah was a bullfrog!” at the top of her lungs. :)

          Joy to the World indeed!

    6. boop the first*

      Haha omg, I worked in a kitchen where this exact suggestion played out. One side of the room played music from someone’s playlist, the other side of the room preferred a Top40 radio station. I was working in the middle, hated both music choices, and honestly couldn’t discern what was playing on either side because it was cacophony!

  2. No Mercy Percy*

    OP, I feel your pain. I have an annoying co-worker in my department who talks way louder than necessary, and knows about it but doesn’t care. She makes it very hard to focus, despite being on the opposite end of the cube farm from me. I use headphones (and loud heavy metal) to drown her out. Fortunately, I’ve never been told my headphones are an issue.

    1. Snarkastic*

      I find loud people are more distracting and irritating than anything else. When my boss is on the phone (sitting a few feet away), I’m always tempted to shush him. I put in headphones, but without turning the volume up to ear drum-bursting levels, he is the dominant force in the room. I feel you.

        1. Allura Vysoren*

          Tell me about it. My department is right next to customer service. It’s one-sided phone conversations all day long that, for some reason, can be heard clearly from ten to fifteen feet away. I have employer-provided sound-cancelling headphones that are great at blocking out background noise and almost ineffective against voices. I’d lose my mind if I couldn’t listen to podcasts loud enough to drown them out.

    2. Vax is my disaster bicon*

      Just dropping in to say that I love your username! I jumped on the Critical Role train in the last few months and am totally in love with both campaigns.

        1. Crocheted familiar*

          I love how we’re amassing an AAM Critter community. Maybe this is a possible weekend open thread topic?

          1. No Mercy Percy*

            That would be awesome! I hoped to find fellow AAM Critters when I started using this username. I’ll be cosplaying him too at Denver Pop Culture Con this summer, when the CR cast is there.

    3. AnonACanada*

      I had 3 loud speaking coworkers who worked about 5 feet from me. I couldn’t concentrate on my work without noise canceling headphones and they needed to be able to collaborate with each other constantly. My boss asked me to stop using headphones just because he thought they were unprofessional, so I asked him if it was possible to get my own office (not a possibility) or move my coworkers to the (only) conference room directly beside his office when they needed to collaborate so I could concentrate on my work. Suddenly my headphones were no problem and he was all too happy to see me using them!

  3. Stephanie*

    If it’s truly a safety concern, you could just work with one earbud in. I did this when I worked at an industrial facility. But suspicious the safety aspect is a red herring.

    1. Lance*

      Yeah, unless OP works in a place where there are some safety concerns/hazards in general to be expected… I’m really not buying that. And even if that was the case, the solution is to make it clear that they need to be able to hear such sounds, not that they can’t be wearing anything at all.

      1. Deranged Cubicle Owl*


        I mean, what if a person is half deaf? And the alarm is only a medium buzz?

        When I was in Middle school they did a fire drill while we had geography. We were all doing group-work so there was some chatter in the room. I realised there was an anoying but not very loud beeping sound comming from the hallway and told our teacher. Apparently it was the fire alarm, and it had been ringing for 15 minutes. It turned out we weren’t the only class not hearing it.
        6 months later there was a new fire-drill and then it was pretty clear when the fire-alarm went off. THAT was an alarm.

        All this to say that a headphone shouldn’t be a reason for not hearing a decent fire-alarm. If it is, then a new alarm should be implemented, because not wearing headphones is not the correct solution to this problem.

        1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

          I know someone who is hard of hearing, who was put on disciplinary probation at college for sleeping through a fire alarm in the dorm because she couldn’t hear it. She didn’t evacuate, therefore she must be punished.

          Her parents went *nuts* on the school.

          1. Southern Yankee*

            I hope the school offered her & her parents a gold plated apology and a detailed plan on how they were going to safeguard her physical safety in the event of an actual emergency!

            1. JunieB*

              I hope so as well! Something similar happened when I was in college, but in the end it was handled well; they stopped trying to discipline me for not leaving the building (I was having a seizure and couldn’t walk) and instead had a serious talk with the RA who’d forgotten to check on me.

          2. Thursday Next*

            Shouldn’t the college have had measures in place proactively? She can’t have been the only hearing-impaired person ever to attend the school!

            1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

              You’d think!

              A lot of my friends went to schools that were zero-tolerance punitive for fire drills. If you slept through it because you were a sound sleeper, or sick, or on medication, you’d get a disciplinary summons for “refusing to evacuate” or some such nonsense.

              My school was thankfully more common sense about it.

        2. Emma the Strange*

          Also, IME decent fire alarms will come with bright flashing lights that are hard to ignore, partly to make sure the deaf and hard of hearing don’t miss them.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            The strobes are an industry standard for accessible sleeping areas for just this reason.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Whoop! This sidetrack into notification appliances is music to my ears…. it’s been my industry for a long time.

      2. JustaTech*

        The fire alarm at my work (where people do have to be in rooms with loud machines sometimes) is nauseatingly loud. And that painful loudness is set by the fire department (it had to be turned up because it wasn’t loud enough in a closet). The fire alarms also all have strobe lights.

        Maybe all areas don’t have such strict requirements for fire alarms, but this seems like a really poor reason to say “no headphones”.

    2. Mouse*

      It seems like one earbud wouldn’t really help in the sense of drowning out the other noise, though. If she’s using the earbuds to block the audiobooks/radio, then one earbud will only fix half of that problem.

      1. Fiberpunk*

        I agree, but I think it’s more something the LW can focus on instead of Jane’s stuff.

      2. E*

        OP here! I was able to test the one earbud on a day that that manger wasn’t there (shhhh) and it worked OK. I was able to filter out what she was listening to so long as I had it in (perhaps the benefit of being an older sibling of a talkative younger brother?) especially if I had it in the ear that faces the direction of her radio.

        1. Anne of Green Gables*

          I’m glad that worked ok, but I feel like it’s not really addressing the problem here. Which is that Jane is able to listen to whatever she wants in the open and it means you are exposed to it.

          1. WannaAlp*

            Yeah. I think OP should definitely be going for a 50:50 balance solution as far as Jane is concerned, not simply trying to cause the smallest waves.

        2. Chinookwind*

          Have you tried a bone conduction earphone? I use one over one ear as a receptionist/admin. assistant (which means I have to concentrate on paperwork while listening for a phone to ring and I hate the radio stations they were picking up on the office radio) and it not only leaves me free to hear what is going on but also to hear what I am listening to clearly over all sorts of industrial sounds.

          Mine is wireless, so it has the added benefit of only needing one movement to pause playback and it is not noticeable to others (if you have any length of hair).

          1. E*

            It’s something I’m looking into for sure! If other options aren’t working, that’s probably what I’ll do. I do feel that I’d need to ask if they’re allowed, though. They’re not inexpensive so I don’t want to spend money only to be told off for it.

            1. Chinookwind*

              I found one on Amazon for approx. $20 Canadian. True, the voice prompts are in Chinese but its operation is pretty straightforward.

      3. Stephanie*

        It can sort of help and maybe might appease the manager. But I doubt safety is the real issue here.

    3. Kat*

      The safety issue about hearing announcements is laughable. Because EVERY single job I’ve ever worked at, alarms were annoyingly loud but no one could make out what the heck security was saying over the intercom if there was an announcement about an alarm. So you’d have a really loud alarm suddenly start, startling the life out of you, but then you’d never know if you should evacuate or if it was a drill because the announcement was unintelligible.

      I feel like the manager throwing the safety concern in is a cop out. They’re just doing a bad job as a manager by trying to mediate petty disputes that should first be handled between the employees.

      That’s not to say a manager shouldn’t get involved in these situations, but if I ever did I’d be sure to talk to both parties before I made up any new rules.

      1. MsClaw*

        No kidding. My workplace not only has an alarm that is so loud and high-pitched that your immediate impulse is to flee, there’s also the flashing lights. If you have headphones on, you might miss an announcement like ‘there’s birthday cake in the breakroom’ over the PA or something like that, but that is probably a small price to pay for not having to listen to your coworker argue with the radio.

        1. only acting normal*

          One place I worked had alarms so loud my vision went funny, like my eyes were vibrating! A real incident blocked our normal fire exit and our office fire marshal was in the corridor using arm gestures to tell us where to go because noone could hear anything.

        2. it's me*

          Exactly. This reasoning is ridiculous. God knows why a boss would prefer for you to have to listen to a coworker’s stuff rather than have your own headphones, but this is bullshit.

      2. RadManCF*

        Some use different alarms for different types of events, and are there fore less dependent on voice announcements. I have been to facilities where the voice announcements were mostly comprehensible; perhaps the best example is Xcel Energy’s Prairie Island plant. They had a very specific voice procedure, that included repeating every announcement. I spent most of my time there in the turbine hall; I could understand about 75% of the announcements made by Xcel personnel. There were some announcements made by various contractors, and they often didn’t follow the procedures, and were often less intelligible. Another good system that I’ve come across was at Otter Tail Energy’s Big Stone Plant, where the plant intercom had a channel where emergency info would be repeated, and workers could pick up the phone and listen in the event of an emergency.

    4. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      It’s a rotting pile of herring remains. In all the buildings I’ve worked in, not only are the alarms as loud AF (like we walk out with hands over ears loud) ADA requires flashing lights. So way to avoid conflict, manager. Do your job.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        There’s the option to act horrified and ask if they aren’t ADA compliant, I guess.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah, and even if they’re not loud, they’re supposed to include lights or other signals in order to accommodate those who are deaf or hard of hearing. This is a post-hoc made up excuse to justify the earbud ban.

    5. CM*

      Yeah, the safety issue is a lie. And that concerns me a little bit just because, you know, who made up this fake explanation and why? But I think it should be super easy to make the coworker turn off her stereo now. It will seem retaliatory if she’s the one who complained but… if she’s the one who complained, she kind of deserves retaliation.

    6. C Baker*

      I mean, what would they do if the OP was deaf, not hire her? (Probably, but that miiiiiight not be legal depending on what it is?)

  4. Thinmint*

    I think if Jane is made to turn off her talk radio, there is a good chance your headphone ban will be lifted. I can see you being given the headphones back to keep the peace that is allowing Jane to listen to her audiobooks/radio.

  5. Lucy Honeychurch*

    Oh boy, this is bringing up a bad memory of the Worst Person I Ever Shared an Office With. She listened to Top 40 radio fairly loudly. Now the songs didn’t bother me so much, but the commercials were SO LOUD. (Have you ever noticed how many radio commercials are basically people yelling at you?). I am an overly-accommodating person (aka, pushover) so I nicely asked her if she could turn down JUST the commercials. Well, she was a black and white thinker type of person, and could not handle this. So she said, “Lucy, do you want the radio ON or OFF?! PICK ONE!” So I said, “Well off then, thank you!” So much for trying to work with her. People are so weird.

    1. Stephanie*

      Ha, yes. The commercials are terrible.

      I had a job where we played one of those catch-all “It’s what you listen to at work!” stations. The tagline was “95.5 The Mountain! We play everything!” Which, no, no it did not play everything. It played about 12 songs during the shift I worked. I had to start wearing earbuds at my desk to block out The Mountain.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        They’re usually a good bit louder than the rest of the programme, too.

        At least that’s how it works over here.

        Killed a few of my gran’s plates due to that. My gran likes to listen to the radio as she cooks. She’s also hard of hearing. I went into the other room to fetch the plates she wanted. There was a brief gap of silence between the programme and the commercials. Then the commercials came on and startled me so badly I dropped the whole stack of plates.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I had a job where they listened to a soft rock station all day, and it had a very limited playlist also. I don’t want to hear the song “Maggie May” ever again in this life or any other.

    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      The other problem with Top 40 stations is that you hear the same ten songs over and over and over again.

    3. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I have to disagree with the idea of turning down just the commercials. When I listen to music at work, it blends into the background for me and I am not focusing on the music. I would honestly not even realize music has switched to a commercial. To think about having to turn the radio down when the commercials starts would be very distracting.

      Thankfully I don’t have this problem anymore really thanks to streaming video services. But when I was younger and had to watch broadcast (rabbit ears) TV, it always made me so mad when my parents would yell at me about having the tv on so load. The show I was watching would usually be at a reasonable volume, but then when commercials came on they would be way louder then the show. My parents would be on my case before even giving me a chance to turn the tv down.

    4. Charlotte Bartlett I guess*

      I don’t think I’ve commented in a few years at this point, but when I did it was as Lucy Honeychurch so this threw me off!
      Nice to see another RWAV fan though-

    5. Kiki*

      To be fair to your former coworker, having to actively listen for commercial breaks to adjust the volume isn’t actually a very doable solution for her and not necessarily the result of black and white thinking.

      1. Lucy Honeychurch*

        Well, I was trying to find a workable compromise that was win/win for everyone. She kept the radio on her desk. Honestly, I can’t stand Top 40 radio although I could tolerate it. I could not tolerate the screaming commercials, I’m not exaggerating when I say they gave me instant headaches and distracted me instantly. She really, really liked the songs.

        So I was trying to find a way for her to enjoy the songs and all she had to do was stick out her hand and turn down the commercials. She couldn’t handle that, so away the radio had to go. *shrugs*

    6. Cercis*

      I went on a weekend trip with some girlfriends. Some I am close with, some I barely knew. But I’m working on getting out of my comfort zone, so it seemed like a low-stakes way to do it. Okay, so I learned that I live and like a QUIET life. I don’t have music or TV blasting all the time and when I am listening to the TV or music, it is a a reasonable level, I can carry on a conversation or hear if someone calls out from another part of the house.

      One of the women apparently couldn’t live without music BLARING at all times. She actually carried the speaker around with her. And if she was sitting next to me, I couldn’t hear someone across the table from me it was so loud. So I asked her to turn it down. Not off, just down. She responded with “hey, I’ll listen to whatever you like, just pick something” and couldn’t understand that it wasn’t the content that bothered me but the actual volume. No matter how I tried to explain it. To her, it was normal to have to yell over music.

      I was miserable that whole weekend and I won’t do another one. I am a quiet loving extrovert and that’s okay.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Argh the loud commercials.

      This is why the FCC started a Loud Commercials regulation years ago in television, you can literally complain about them now to the FCC.

      1. Nanani*

        There’s similar rules in Canada, yet the LOUD COMMERCIALS are still a thing. Probably just enough of a volume gap to squeak by under the rules?

        If commercial-free streaming kills radio it will be because of this.

        1. marni*

          I read that the commercials have the same top volume as the shows, so they’re legal, but the thing is that the shows hit that volume once in a long while for a gunshot or train whistle or whatever, whereas the ads are at that top volume for THE WHOLE TIME. (Caps intentional.)

          1. Media Monkey*

            in the UK it is not legal for the ads to be louder than the programmes. but they do ram all the levels up to the top (so the effect is louder even though the actual volume isn’t). think turning the treble up to the top in your car radio.

  6. nnn*

    If, for whatever reason, you feel it wouldn’t go over well to point to the content of what Jane’s listening to (like she or your boss might bristle at the fact that you don’t want to hear her politics), you could also point to the fact that it consists of talking, without pointing to the content.

    For some people and for some kinds of work, it can be distracting to listen to words while writing other words, for example you might end up typing the words you’re hearing. This is perfectly understandable, and doesn’t give people the opportunity to push back with “Oh, you’re just biased against Politican McPoliticanface!”

    1. boo bot*

      Yes – I am someone who absolutely can’t tune out radio and TV in the background when I’m trying to work – sometimes even music is distracting (and sometimes I tune out absolutely everything, including people addressing me directly, kitchen timers going off, and the smell of burning rice. The other day the building across the street from me was literally on fire and I didn’t notice the trucks and sirens for at least an hour. Unfortunately, I can’t choose which one happens when.)

      TL;DR – if it’s anecdotal evidence you seek, here I am. I could not work with this Jane.

      1. Pipe Organ Guy*

        I’m lucky; I have an office to myself in the basement of the church. No one else’s audio choices to bug me there, no chaos from the church office upstairs. But I can’t have music on; it’s too distracting. I can only listen to music in breaks in my desk work, or when I actually need to listen to something I’m working on. I don’t listen to pop music (I just don’t connect with it), and the classical stuff I favor takes over my brain–I’m analyzing it as I’m listening. I’m mentally predicting what comes next, picking apart what composer it might be, picking apart the harmony, and so forth. But I’m so glad I don’t have to listen to someone else’s choices!

    2. TreesPlease*

      I came here to say this. I can’t even listen to music with words when I am writing or reading extensively. And with talk, it is even worse as I tend to have a default setting of eavesdropping. When I was a laboratory scientist, though, I loved always having podcasts and such on… sorry Jane is ruining it for you OP

    3. That Work from Home Life*

      Cosigning this. I really wish I could listen to my favorite podcasts while I work, but I am a writer/editor and it’s just flat out impossible for me to focus with voices and words as background noise. A couple of my colleagues listen to NPR pretty much all day* and I have no idea how they do it–they’re high performers too so I know it’s not impacting their work. I listen to lo-fi, classical, or ambient music when I need to focus.

      *We are remote, but back when we had a physical space everyone used headphones–I truly don’t understand offices where people play things out loud! It’s like not wearing headphones on public transportation: so so rude.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Same. I can’t listen to podcasts unless I’m doing something physical, like cleaning, stuffing envelopes, doing yard work, etc. I love ambient stuff — a lot of Hans Zimmer’s soundtracks are perfect for editing or writing.

    4. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      I can listen to podcasts or similar if I’m doing some editing that doesn’t require much brain power (find-and-replace or cleaning up converted documents that have a lot of garbage in them). But if I’m wordsmithing, it’s white noise or some really ambient drone-y music like Marconi Union’s “Weightless” (which I have on an 8-hour loop).

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Peruvian folk music on endless repeat got me through one dreadful five-final-papers semester at college. Unfortunately it has made me feel worried every time I’ve tried to listen to it since then.

    5. Nanani*

      Translator here, this is very much the case for me! I cannot have talking audio, whether it’s interviews, monologues, or lyrics, in either language I am currently working in. They will lock up my brain.

      Lyrics in a language I either don’t know or am not currently using is fine though.

  7. Lord Gouldian Finch*

    Definitely talk to your coworker. Alternative if she refuses – bagpipe music. If she’s allowed to play things out loud, so are you.

    1. bassclefchick*

      1812 Overture…complete with cannons. I have a whole CD of LOUD classical music. I keep threatening to play that at 5 am when I get up to get back at the inconsiderate people who crank hip hop at 11pm.

      1. Stephanie*

        Ha, blast some Mahler or something.

        I saw my local symphony play the 1812 Overture at a 4th of July thing in a park. They used actual canons. I did not realize how loud canons are–two canons overpowered an 80-person professional orchestra.

        1. Mongrel*

          Had that happen when I was an active re-enactor. Sunny evening in Cornwall in some castle grounds, blue sea and a good local beer with the BBC Philharmonic playing the 1812 and a few of the group prepping some cannons.

          They followed up with O Fortuna which just made it for me.

      2. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

        Love love love this answer! I used to go out with a guy in college who played Shostakovitch when he woke up in the morning. He wouldn’t do it until he saw that I was awake, but seriously. Shostakovitch. Hell yeah. Give her the 1812 Overture. And then maybe Bohemian Rhapsody. At top volume.

    2. I was never given a name*

      This is the piece that seems missing in the letter and the response — it sounds like OP has never actually asked her co-worker to turn off the annoying audio choices. It sounds like OP may have some anxiety going on regarding interpersonal conflict (which I can totally relate to), but the co-worker needs to take responsibility for the disruption they’re creating, and they can’t do so without being told directly that there’s a problem so they can at least have the opportunity to take steps to help out.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        It doesn’t have to be anxiety — Jane has been there longer than the LW, so it was totally reasonable for the LW to figure at the outset that she doesn’t have standing to change the office culture and that she should just do what she can to mitigate the effects on herself. Now that she’s been told not to, though, it becomes even more reasonable for her to be honest about the effects of Jane’s audiobooks on her own work in the interest of finding a workable solution for everyone.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Yes, sadly in many offices there are old gasbags who can’t be avoided and won’t be fired, usually due to seniority / knowing where the skeletons are buried. If they were there before the supervisor came in the supervisor may kind of kowtow to them to keep them happy. It takes a lot of work to get rid of one. Also, if many of them are close to retirement (but “close” can be like, ten years) the manager may calculate that they’ll leave on their own without having to go through the drama. Sometimes the only option is to avoid them as much as humanly possible without seeming to be avoiding them and stay reasonably on their good side.

      2. E*

        I am painfully aware of my conflict aversion, yeah. I also figure that if she thought it was acceptable on my FIRST DAY to play an audiobook that started with the description of a lady standing on top of a building wearing a breezy dress and *ahem* not full coverage undergarments and that then has characters comment on that then… well, she thinks it’s acceptable and didn’t even see that it could impact my opinion of her as a person. She’s been there a *long* time and more or less does as she pleases. There’s been a few times where I’ve said something to someone else about something she’s done and they reply with “Oh, well that’s Jane!”

        1. E*

          So yeah, I’ve……….. not told her that it’s distracting or inappropriate in my view. She’s been doing it forever.

        2. Chinookwind*

          That book makes the podcast I played about pyromania that slipped into more detail than I expected seem tame. Of course, a coworker walked in at the exact wrong moment and that was when I switched to one earphone going forward. (In my defense, I didn’t think “Stuff you should know” could get that descriptive)

        3. Sloan Kittering*

          I’d actually guess that wasn’t a coincidence. She did it on your first day and you didn’t say anything, so now she feels like she can do what she wants. It’s like she “claimed the territory.”

          1. Else*

            Bet you’re right. I had one who started slamming books around and bellowing like a water buffalo on my first day in our shared office for the same reason. I had to outlast her to be rid of her behavior.

        4. anonagain*

          OP, I don’t have an opinion one way or the other about whether you should try to address the content of what Jane is listening to. I do think if you are going to talk about the risque content, you must be clear about what is happening.

          I think this is too vague: “specifically listening to audiobooks with some questionable content (nothing overly explicit, but they have moments sometimes, along with a few instances of language)” as is “nothing explicit but not PG either!”

          I read that and I was thinking Jane was listening to something with a bit of drinking or kissing and maybe a gosh darn or two. I was never in a million years going to guess that the questionable content included descriptions of the view up someone’s skirt, which I would consider overly explicit for work.

          I don’t think other people are necessarily going to be able to correctly read between the lines here either. If you tell your boss you don’t enjoy Jane’s books/radio, she’s going to think you just don’t like Jane’s taste. Meanwhile, Jane is listening to explicit stories that have made you and another employee uncomfortable, which is a totally different, more urgent problem.

          That might also be part of why the political radio piece got more traction in the comments, even though all of it is terrible. Again, I don’t know if you should bring it up. I do know that you shouldn’t have to deal with that kind of thing at work and I really hope the whole situation gets resolved.

        5. Erotica reader*

          I’m the guy who sent a letter about reading erotica on breaks earlier this year, and even I’m getting thirdhand mortified by how brazen this coworker is being.

    3. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This seems like an excellent time to become a fan of the works of John Philip Sousa.

      1. boop the first*

        Oh geez… Horror movies are the only genre where my husband and I can find a compromise on what to watch, so when I say “why don’t we put on a movie we already know, so I don’t die of boredom at my desk?”, he will often pick a horror/thriller. So I’m just working with my head down, facing away from the tv, and all I hear is generic bgm, a LOT of silence, and sudden context-less screeching/yelling. I’d rather hear nothing, thanks! :P

  8. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway*

    There ought to be a law that if you have to share office space with someone or are in an open plan, you are entitled to whatever you need to drown out your neighbors as long as it does not expose them to further sound. Without headphones to block my neighbors’ noise I would be so screwed. I can hear the fire alarm and the building’s fire marshall making announcements just fine (also ya know, see the giant flashing strobes).

    1. Scarlet Magnolias*

      I find a good quality spirited recording of the H.M.S. Pinafore works well. My son on the other hand recommends Norwegian Black Metal. Trust me you don’t want to know.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        When I (a middle-aged white woman) want to respond to obnoxious generally white coworkers who try to play anything taking up too much airspace near me, my preferred go-to is reggaeton. Calle 13 and Gente de Zona are my usual choices. Franco El Gorila is good, too. Great beat, keeps me productive and they all seem to get mad at the Spanish language lyrics.

        Only drawback is I want to dance to it which is usually not a possibility at my job.

        1. PhyllisB*

          This reminds me of a cartoon I saw the other day. It was titled, “The Older Generation Strikes Back.” It showed elderly men and women walking around with huge boom boxes on their shoulders playing songs like, “Give My Regards to Broadway, Jimmy Crack Corn, and Shine on Harvest Moon.” Perfect revenge.

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            I have. CD (also on a flash drive…just in cade) of the album “Music From the Succubus Club” for whenever pop music/talk radio/etc. gets overwhelming.


            1. antigone_ks*

              I just had a violent flash of nostalgia, and now I want to listen to the Cruxhadows :-)

          1. Mongrel*

            I’m liking Leo Moracchioli (Frog Leap Studios) at the moment, one-man, metal cover band.
            My favourites include Ring of Fire, Zombie & Johnny B Goode

            That or try some of the WTF?! styles like Alestorm (Scottish pirate rock) or Babymetal (Kawaii metal)

            Yes – I like Rock & Metal but I’m sure there’s other fringe crossover stuff out there :)

            1. Tisiphone*

              I love Alestorm! I also recommend the Hu. They’re a Mongolian metal band and the vocals are throat singing.

          2. yet another library anon*

            HA! I used to play those when the neighbors were being a little too loud with their…nighttime activities

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        A friend used to get quiet time for his restaurant inventory by playing Cajun music. as he put it, “I learned it is not universally loved.”
        Banjos are also an acquired taste. And digeredoo.

      3. BookishMiss*

        Lordi is a Finnish band, but same effect. I’d also recommend Dream Evil. Used them as my morning alarm in high school.

        1. only acting normal*

          I heard some Mongolian metal the other day, was really quite compelling (although I don’t know what they were singing about).

          1. Tisiphone*

            Was it the Hu? I love that band! (And there are videos on You Tube with translation subtitles)

    2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      At one time in college I had a dorm room right by one of the stairwells; I got tired of people congregating there and yakking about stuff, so I’d put on the most unlistenable music I had and place the boombox right by my door. Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother usually chased everyone away.

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        There was a NYC band many years ago with the name The Reverb Mother*****rs…when they got radio play they were called The Reverbs.

        Just sayin’.

  9. MusicLover*

    I had almost this exact same scenario at my last office. It was completely open air, and a co-worker would often sing loudly, listen to music (often times religious in nature), or take phone calls where she would reprimand her teenage daughter. Sometimes if she left her desk for extended periods of time like she was wont to, I would go over and turn her music down on my own. Probably not the best thing to do, but I just did it to avoid confrontation and she never said anything about it.

    We were told that our CEO didn’t like us to use headphones, but I would sometimes use them while editing videos. He didn’t love it, but understood why I did it. My co-worker’s behavior went on for years without anything being said, even though everyone was annoyed by it. Eventually the CEO caught on and said no music and no personal phone calls, which I understand makes things *fair*, but for someone like me, it was really difficult to concentrate in complete silence. If we weren’t interacting with customers, what’s the issue with headphones? I don’t get it.

    1. E*

      Communication, probably. Or at least in my case (OP), potentially my coworker’s annoyance that I’m not available to chat about topics of her choosing at the drop of a hat. I still can’t know for sure if it was her (I can’t figure out who else would be that bothered!), but yeah. I do think it’s a generational thing as well- people who are my age are of the opinion that listening to music out loud without headphones is rude… but everyone having a personal, very portable music device in their pocket that they have at basically all times (a phone) is a somewhat recent thing compared to how long radio itself has been around.

      1. animaniactoo*

        It’s also possible that it was a “law of unintended consequences” thing.

        i.e. She did not specifically complain about it… rather she made a passing comment about having had to get your attention the other day and she felt awkward tapping you on the shoulder, but you hadn’t been able to hear her with your earbuds in. From there, either she says something to the effect of “I’m not sure she’d have heard a fire alarm going off!” without realizing how seriously that might be taken. Or without her saying anything additional the manager or whoever takes it from there and thinks “couldn’t hear to that level? That’s a problem” and goes off to have a talk with whoever is in charge of Safety.

        I see you’re trying to find some benefit-of-the-doubt here for Jane, so putting it out there that this could be something that did start with Jane, but isn’t anywhere near what she intended to have happen. Especially because if Jane didn’t mean for it to escalate like this, she might be an ally in your push to be able to use just the one earbud.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        It’s not a generational thing. It’s a rude, oblivious people thing: Of course you want to listen to what I’m listening to, of course you can tune it out, of course you can’t even hear it.
        I’m Gen X, for lack of a better descriptor. We grew up with Walkmans. Headphones are not rude, your coworker is.
        Just because they have fancy new names for things (today I saw ped socks are now called Liners) doesn’t meant it’s the same old stuff.
        (And thinking that someone over 40 doesn’t understand that controlling the sound in your shared space isn’t a crap thing to do, I don’t know how I feel about that. On the one hand, maybe some of us worked before there were sound cards in computers and we had radios playing low but that was all we had. Bu once they made boom boxes/clock radios small enough for the office, we threw on headphones, too. So yeah, it’s not a generational thing, really. It’s a thoughtless person thing.)

        1. Going Anon*

          I’m Gen X too and have lived through all of what Hey Karma, Over here is saying. Especially about boom boxes. God, those could be annoying. I’m wearing headphones right now as a matter of fact. It’s mostly so what I listen to doesn’t bother anyone else.

        2. One of the Sarahs*

          Yeah, the first walkman came out in 1979, and my dad who was born in the 40s had portable radios with headphone jacks way before that. Sure, they were big, but they were still portable. And I’m pretty sure some of those portable suitcase record players of the 50s came with optional headphones too.

          1. only acting normal*

            Yep. Transistors invented 1947 —> first portable transistor radio circa 1954. My grandfather had a 50s/60s one with a single earbud, and he was “Greatest Generation”.

        3. WillyNilly*

          I’m Gen X too. And while headphones are nothing new, they most certainly were considered rude in mixed company in years gone by. Its a behavior that specifically, and obviously blocks out other people. In a place where communication should flow, such as many offices, it is nothing short of rude to use headphones.
          In places where one should keep to themselves, such as public transportation, they are not rude.

          1. Else*

            I know that many people have this as a norm for offices, for sure. Playing anything distracting like e-books or talk radio is also considered rude – even playing music that is loud or of any kind of non-bland style. I think it’s far ruder because it intrudes on other people in a way that headphones do not, but then, I think it’s much worse to impose on other people than to retreat from them.

        4. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Isaac Asimov had a sidetrack in a story once… describing a fad for radios so small people would hang them around their necks as jewelry. And the resulting chaos of conflicting sounds lead to rules against music in public.
          He was spot on except for missing the idea of earbuds.

        5. Tisiphone*

          Also Gen X. I have not-so-fond memories of the daily Battle of the Boom Boxes because nobody could agree on a radio station and one guy in particular refused to take turns and compromise.

      3. RUKiddingMe*

        Be careful with generational generalizations. I’m 56 and I’ve been carrying music around in my pocket since 1974.

      4. De-Archivist*

        My boss prefers that we keep our doors open so that we’re accessible. Headphones are Not Done around here. There are two meeting spaces that stay pretty busy and loud, so it’s often really difficult for me to concentrate. I wear a Bluetooth headset in one ear and listen to non-vocal Downtempo or “Cafe” Jazz to drown out the sound. No one can even tell because it just looks like a headset. Works great.

        I do think the best thing you can do is approach your coworker to say, “Hey, I’m not allowed to wear headphones in the office anymore, but, unfortunately, I find talk radio and audiobooks to be really distracting when I’m working. Would you mind turning that off?” You can be polite but firm. That’s going to feel really difficult because it feels like it’s inconveniencing your coworker, but, really, your job is to get your work done not listen to novels all day. If you can’t, you’ve gotta fix it.

        Plus, since she’s probably the one who started it, she really only has herself to blame. So you can take comfort in the pettiness. :)

      5. Mia_Mia*

        Explain to her that the sound is unfortunately distracting you from your work, and you need to have silence in the office from now on. If that doesn’t work, then discuss it with your manager. What she listens to is not relevant, so make it about the sound itself being a distraction.

        Portable music devices have existed long before the invention of the smartphone, and people used their headphones to listen to them at work. It has nothing to do with her being older than you.

        1. Else*

          I think it is relevant – talking, especially when it’s focused on something likely to draw emotion like politics or sex, is way more distracting and likely to cross a line than music. I can see a situation where they’d just say to let it go if the boss thought it was just music versus if they understood that it was actual words.

      6. Lilly*

        I think she also feels entitled to a captive audience for her “wisdom” and has some ruffled feathers because you didn’t kneel down and kiss her ring. She sounds insufferable. Good luck!

      7. The Supreme Troll*

        Yeah, E, I get the feeling that Jane might have thrown some subtle (and maybe some not that subtle) hints about the headphones…well, because she is sensing that you are not in joyous, total agreement with her podcasts and her political leanings. Which of course would be beyond ridiculous for a grown adult to ever think this way…but I still get this vibe.

    2. Mike C.*

      The problem is that they feel entitled to your complete attention at the exact moment of their choosing.

      Making them wait a few seconds to get your headphones off is just too much for them. They start to think of momentary pauses as “an actual problem” and go from there.

      It’s just as stupid as it sounds.

    3. Anxa*

      I have a very similar situation too. I probably took too seriously the discussions here about temp workers not really having a place in changing office norms, so I’ve never asked my cubicle neighbor too turn it down.

      I wear headphones some days, which I don’t like. I wear glasses and hate the feeling of headphones over glasses, plus my iPad is very obnoxious in that the quietest setting is too loud for the “background noise” feeling I’m going for. But I cannot take her noise.

      I think the issue is more with me. I think I low-key think some of the conversations she has at work are very unprofessional. She seems to have a lot of family or personal drama (or just people in her life that do). I’ve worked there for 10 months and I couldn’t tell you what her job or role in the organization is. I know she does do some work, but no more than 2 hours a day. I have a field based job, but I do need to do some office work. On the days she’s not there I’m out the door in 30 minutes to get into the field. On days she’s there it usually takes me an hour. That extra half hour sometimes means I can fit another site visit, which can mean a 25% to 33% increase in how productive I’m being, but I’m sooo nonconfrontational.

      I’m younger and this is my first semi-professional job (I’m in my early 30s but look a little younger and have limited work experience). This coworker is also really chummy with a lot of the admin staff, and they often congregate to our area (we’re the only two cubicles in our nook of the office; I am pretty sure this is partly why she listens to music all day as until I got there it didn’t really effect people) to talk about all the ways in which there are too many restrictions there, so I don’t want to contribute to it.

      One of the genres she listens to is gospel, which really bothers me because there is a lot of “rise” in the music which makes it even more distracting for me.

  10. Tragic Sandwich*

    I’m curious how the supervisor would handle it if headphones/earbuds were a needed accommodation for a disability.

      1. LJay*

        Not if it were a legitimate safety issue causing the rule as the manager has claimed that it is. (Not that I agree with them here. But if it were like – if you’re wearing headphones you’re not going to hear a forklift backing up into you or something it could be a legitimate concern).

        And if it were a disability accommodation the employee and the workplace would have to go through an interactive process to determine an appropriate accommodation, the employee couldn’t just dictate that their accommodation was going to be wearing headphones and have that be that.

    1. JOA*

      I went through that exact process for headphones – it is definitely not a safety issue here, I work in an open office near people who talk to themselves all day, and I mentioned in my interview that I have trouble focusing through sounds around me with the easy remedy of headphones. I asked if I could do so on my first day, received an “no, we collaborate and we talk to each other all the time” without considering my request, and finally ended up getting a doctor’s note. I can still hear what’s around me and I take them off if anyone wants to talk to me or my phone rings. I can definitely hear announcements or alarms.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It would depend on if they would fight it being a “reasonable accommodation”.

      The way the ADA works isn’t simply “I need this accommodation, so I’m going to go ahead and just use my headphones, poo-poo to your rules”. It’s up to the employer, if it’s a legitimate safety concern, then that right there would be something they could use to toss out the idea.

      Throwing Jane’s radio in the ef’ing river though, that’s a reasonable accommodation, I’d say!

  11. brighidg*

    a suggestion that’s worked in my office is to ask people to only use one earbud. that way, both you and jane can listen to your programs without disrupting anyone but you can still hear if someone needs you.

    also the safety issue is bunk. if you’re playing it loud enough that you can’t hear a fire alarm the real issue is you’ve destroyed your hearing from playing your music too loud.

  12. E*

    OP here! As a small add-on to this, I did wind up with an opportunity to ask my manager again about the earbuds this week. I’m not graced with always being able to express myself perfectly in conversations (I do a lot better with writing because then I know I’m expressing myself as clearly as possible with the best possible words) so I was a little flustered but I tried to explain about my co-worker’s choices not being something I enjoy (probably should’ve used stronger language than that in retrospect) and asked again about being able to just use one earbud. I was again told that she wasn’t sure if that was allowed and the safety bit was doubled down on- even saying that it’s a building-wide policy and they can’t make exceptions for one person. That would be fair, apart from the fact that earlier in the day when I went with her to someone else’s office space to get some information from someone, she had to get his attention because he was wearing not earbuds but larger, Bluetooth headphones!

    My manager said she’d ask security about the one earbud thing, but I’m not confident that she will- not because I think she’s just trying to please my coworker (though it may be a possibility) but because I know she’s got a lot going on and is responsible for a lot of things. So my next step may be asking them myself if I get a chance. I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking that this entire situation isn’t fair though!

    1. Lucy Honeychurch*

      OP, I would not approach it as coworker listening to things you do or don’t enjoy (although that ship has sailed) but that the noise is distracting to your concentration and what you listen to is soothing (such as classical music). I find that very true for myself. I enjoy all kinds of music, but I can’t listen to say, hard rock when I work because it makes me anxious. So it’s not what I ENJOY, but it’s about what helps me focus or not focus. If you get another opportunity, I would direct the conversation that way if I were you. Good luck, it is very unfair!

      1. Quoth the Raven*

        Exactly. I love heavy metal but I’ve asked coworkers to turn it off because it was stressing me out more at a highly stressful time.

        If you go the “I don’t like” route, other than it coming across as not as important, it still leaves your coworker free to listen to something else and still distract you (so now you’re listening to, say, religious programs and not political ones).

        1. E*

          She did have it on a station that was broadcasting the Lord’s Prayer among other things for a few minutes the other day… Religion and politics just shouldn’t be in the workplace, honestly (apart from the obvious of those who have religious obligations or restrictions still being allowed those).

          1. Quoth the Raven*

            I’m of the same mind, to be honest. And I get that it can be a factor in you not wanting to listen to it (it would for me, too), but I still think it’s not the best approach to take here. The bottom line here is that you find it hard to concentrate when she’s listening to her stuff, and that would be true regardless of the nature of the content.

          2. Arts Akimbo*

            Ugh, that would make me feel discriminated against on the basis of religion. Is there HR you can talk to? Or do you think the manager would pay closer heed if you brought up the religious content?

          3. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Respectfully, neither do explicit romance novels unless your company publishes them.
            (And I love my trashy romance novels.)

        1. Clorinda*

          Practice, E. Literally, stand in front of a mirror and rehearse it.
          “I can’t concentrate when Jane plays talk radio or audiobooks, because the words distract me from my work.”
          Keep coming back to that point. You can introduce a small amount of variety.
          “When Jane plays talk radio or audiobooks, it’s distracting, and I can’t concentrate.”
          You say you have a hard time expressing yourself in spoken words and are better in writing. Write out a couple of short scripts for yourself and PRACTICE. Your complaint is entirely reasonable and you deserve to work in peace.

          1. it's me*

            Yes. The point of coming to work is to work, not to listen to radio and audiobooks in a way that means other people have to hear them.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Do you have a friend or a roommate who can rehearse it with you? You can script out your initial statement, and then workshop it with a friend to come up with several possible responses to the things you think she’s most likely to say. Having a script in the back of your mind might help with some of your anxiety in the moment of the conversation.

        3. Nana*

          In a four-girl L-shaped dorm room in Boston, with two theater majors (both rather dramatic), I turned on the radio to give myself some white sound (1960-ish). Happened to be on the station where Cardinal Cushing did the Rosary every evening, in the most droning flat tone imaginable. They quieted right down…I later learned that they thought I was paying attention to him and/or praying along while I did homework. I got an hour of quiet time every evening.

    2. braintree*

      The conversations you’ve recounted put the spotlight on you and your headphones, when the focus should really be concentrated on avoiding your colleague’s distracting content – in terms of both content & volume. Try to reframe if you can.

      1. Kat*

        This! OP since you say you struggle to express yourself clearly I think you need to follow what Braintree is suggesting and the language Alison used that you’re not married to the idea of headphones – that has simply been your solution to the problem of Jane making too much noise with the radio and her chatter along with it.

        You need to address the problem head on with Jane or your manager otherwise you risk coming across like an annoyance by repeatedly asking about headphones.

        1. BRR*

          Sort of related. I would bet Jane is a bigger pain to the manager than OP. Manager might be taking the path of least resistance.

          1. E*

            Honestly, yes that’s probably what it is. I will take the advice to focus on what my coworker is listening to rather than my wanting to listen to my own stuff for future conversations, though. That’s an excellent point!

            1. Samwise*

              Or more specifically, the fact that it’s spoken word (talk shows, audio books) which is especially distracting. And /or that it’s too loud. If it were music and played quietly, would that be less distracting? Make “too distracting and hard for me to focus on my work” your central point.

            2. Seeking Second Childhood*

              You msy want to work in the phrase “sexually explicit” because that’s a lead-in to “hostile work environment” if your manager has half a clue.

      2. Angelinha*

        Exactly. The issue here is not “can I please wear headphones?” but “can you please tell Jane to stop listening to audio without headphones?”

        1. Flash Bristow*

          Indeed! (I went looking for the “tick” sign; think this forum is rare in not having logins and scores – although that might be kind at times, I guess!)

          Definitely agree, anyhow!

      1. Dust Bunny*

        This. “She’s not sure”? What is that? She needs to know what the rule is and act accordingly.

        1. Paige*

          She’s not sure if she’s ever going to hear the end of Jane’s complaining if she allows LW to wear the headphones, which Jane pretty clearly dislikes.

    3. Snarkastic*

      OP, do you work in a nuclear power plant or a missile facility? What’s up with your manager needing to ask security if headphones are ok? Like, what? If you’re in an office building, doesn’t security consist of for-hire people not related to the company in the slightest?

      I’m annoyed on your behalf!

      1. E*

        A museum, actually! My guess is that potentially that’s where the manager got the information from and then passed it along to me. My coworker will, at least once a day, go around to chat with other people (and I did recently discover that she complains about me to others) so- if it was her- she might’ve been chatting with them and came up with a concern about me not hearing things. I don’t know for sure, but that’s a guess.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Have a clear talk with your boss about how Jane’s radio is way too loud for you to be able to concentrate. This not hearing alarms stuff is bunk.

          Then fire up your resume.

        2. Paige*

          I’m guessing Jane is seriously oversensitive and her feelings have gotten hurt.

          E doesn’t want to listen to my radio shows! E doesn’t care when I go to lunch! E doesn’t want to chat! E doesn’t like sharing an office with me!

          I’ve known this kind of person: chatty, gregarious, obliviously intrusive, but fragile AF.

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            This is my read also. Once this person dislikes you, it’s hard to get back in good graces unless you are willing to seriously suck up forever (NOT RECOMMENDED) so abandon that hope – my next question is, can Jane’s bad opinion affect your standing with senior management? It doesn’t matter if she has a little coffee klatch of like-minded spiders, but it can be an issue if she is in the ear of a senior person. In well functioning orgs, ridiculous Jane types have a bad reputation at the top because they’ve seen the past drama llama-ing that goes on; OP says that other people sitting near Jane have complained in the past, so that’s good news. Also she’s clearly got poor professional judgement, which they may notice. But in poorly run places, she may have sucked up to someone at the top who defers to her or – as I fear is the case here – spineless types at the top don’t want to deal with her and push it all back onto the juniors.

            Also just a sidenote, if you are ever promoted to supervise her, you will not be successful until she’s fired. Ask me how I know …

          2. Clorinda*

            Well, she’s right about one thing: E doesn’t like sharing an office with her. But that’s on Jane, not E.

        3. Antilles*

          A museum??? Like, I’ll admit I’m not familiar with museums, but this seems even more absurd. How often are you getting robbed that “hearing and responding security alarms” is a major concern? And frankly, given that your role sounds like back-office staff, what exactly are you expected to do even if you do hear the security alarm?
          If I had to bet, I’d lay money that he’s blaming the “security team” as a generic excuse that he hopes you’ll just accept it and walk away…without even having spoken to anybody in the security department.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            But what if the dinosaurs come to life? That seems like a legit concern if you work in a museum.

            1. Michelle*

              The snakes that hibernate in binders in the planetarium storage room and get moved to the admin offices with the binder is more of a concern. You can knock out of the dino’s leg bones and get away. The snakes will chase you.

            2. Quoth the Raven*

              I don’t know if you’ve ever been around dinosaurs that have come back to life, but let me tell you, you can hear them even with headphones on! Now, the mummies…

          2. CmdrShepard4ever*

            At a museum all employees need to be on alert in case thieves trigger an alarm and security need to call on Betty from accounting and Tim from HR to serve as back up to stop the heist. /S

          3. Media Monkey*

            does your museum use those guided tour headsets for visitors? if they are allowed why wouldn’t yours be?

        4. Michelle*

          I work in the administrative offices of a museum and almost everyone wears earbuds most of the day. If I’m working on a grant proposal, I don’t want to hear the astronomers constant commentary or endless “joke of the day” or the guy who nearly deaf and uses his speakerphone at top volume.

        5. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Museum staff in the *public* areas are probably restricted from wearing headphones…out there it seems a legitimate business need. Back office should be different .

    4. Kvothe*

      Honestly I’m a petty person and would just try to drown out Jane’s stuff with your own if that’s the way the boss is going to be…which if Jane complains about then at least the boss would need to issue a verdict that either it’s all allowed or none (which is really what you wanted in the first place)

      I am sorry I do not have more sane, constructive advice

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I don’t even know what this means and I love it. Please tell me it’s a quote from something I can read or watch!

            1. Lynn Whitehat*

              Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s a trilogy. Highly recommend. I took one of the books backpacking. A+ would carry up a mountain again.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                I have way too many friends pissed off at me because they “won’t read an unfinished series” and I neglected to tel them Kingkiller was only 2/3 done totally by accident except not really because it’s worth reading even if it never gets a proper finish.

    5. Paige*

      I don’t think you should focus at all on the ~content~ of what Jane is listening to, either to Jane or your boss. Explain that the noise of the radio is distracting, full stop. Talking about how you don’t like her particular choices is a recipe for hurt feelings.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I think it’s okay to say that political talk radio is not appropriate for the office.

        And besides that, people talking is distracting in a different way than music is.

        1. Paige*

          I think it would be fine to differentiate between music (fine) and human voices (distracting)–if music is actually fine and they can agree about what is and isn’t enjoyable music.

          But I wouldn’t go any deeper than that.

        2. Samwise*

          No, then you’re starting something about what’s appropriate and what’s not, and unless it is *seriously* inappropriate (= F-bombs, racist rants, porn, etc.) you need to stay out of that minefield. There are all sorts of ways that that can go wrong for you.

          It’s too loud, it’s spoken word, it’s distracting, it makes it hard for you to focus and get your work done. That’s it. Do not go down the path of political talk is inappropriate at work, do not do it — I *agree* with you, but stay off that path.

        3. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

          I completely agree, but if OP has to wear headphones, then Jane has to wear headphones. I think OP’s manager is a whiny, wimpy wuss and Jane is a ROYAL PAIN IN THE ASS and I hope a dinosaur eats both of them.

    6. BRR*

      Would it help you to write out what you want to say beforehand? I wouldn’t recommend reading from a sheet in a meeting but either some loose talking points as helpful reminders or just something to practice from.

      For Jane, maybe bring up that it’s spoken word that’s distracting instead of the topics. Although I can see this just leading to other problems.

      1. E*

        I think I may just do that, yeah. It’d help me remember exactly what I want to say without having to come up with the right words for it when I’m already nervous.

    7. MsClaw*

      I’m trying to say this as mildly as possible….

      You have to get more direct here. The problem is not your office mate’s tastes. The problem is that your environment is distracting loud. You use the earbuds to isolate yourself from other noise. If your manager isn’t going to allow you to do that, you need her to instead help you have a less noisy work environment.

      It might help to write out this conversation for yourself before you have it. But this needs to be as impersonal as possible. Reiterate that you looked at the safety documentation and didn’t see anything about headphones. Ask her what other solution she can offer if you can’t use headphones.

      This has become a major productivity sink for her and you. She should want to help you solve it.

      1. Psyche*

        Also, don’t think of it at dictating what your coworker can listen to. Think of it as enforcing boundaries about what YOU are willing to listen to. You don’t care about what she is listening to, you care about what you can hear.

    8. Curiouser and Curiouser*

      I think you might need to ask for something as an alternative, rather than pointing out why you were using headphones. I.e. “I use headphones because Jane’s audiobooks and podcasts make it difficult for me to concentrate in our shared space. Would it be possible to ask her to turn those off of play non-spoken word content instead?” That puts the focus on the actual issue. And, if your boss really is dealing under the assumption that you are easier to work through issues with than Jane, she may be willing to just let you have the headphones back.

    9. Kiki*

      I suffer from a similar issue as you where if I’m flustered, I often struggle to convey my point concisely. I recommend writing out in advance what you want to say with your main point first. Here, it seems like your discussion between your manager is now kind of stuck on that one earbud issue– that’s not the real problem. Reframing the issue will make sure you get to some solution for the actual problem instead of going in-depth on whether policy would allow for one earbud to be warn.

      “Hello Manager. I don’t think I was clear earlier about why I’ve been resistant to going without earbuds. I cannot focus on work while Coworker plays podcasts and music– I find them very distracting. If I can’t wear earbuds, I need some way to work without overhearing Coworker’s noise. Are there any solutions you can suggest that are within policy?”

      1. Kiki*

        And while normally I support coming to bosses with solutions rather than problems, you’ve already provided a very reasonable solution that your manager (and most likely Jane) have shot down.

      2. Samwise*

        BTW, take your written-out notes with you — just say to the manager, I’m gonna check my notes to be sure I don’t forget anything.

    10. irene adler*

      Suggestion: go ahead and ask security about the earbuds/headphones rules yourself. That way you’ll know for sure what the rules are. And then you will know if manager is on the level with this (not that you have to confront her about this).

      I have to believe manager is not being honest here. She asks you to refrain from using earbuds, cites safety as the reason, then when asked to clarify, she ‘isn’t sure’ about the rules? Sounds fishy to me.

      She’s trying to quell the complaints folks have registered about your co-worker complaining about you. They want her to stop; but manager doesn’t have the spine to confront her.

      1. Kiki*

        I also think Manager is not being 100% forthright here, but I don’t think it’s in LW’s interest to go around the manager at this point. If LW has to keep working with Jane, she’ll need to be in Manager’s good graces to offset Jane’s negative tendencies.

        1. irene adler*

          Unless there’s a rule that restricts who can communicate with security, manager never has to know.

          1. Kiki*

            But if the LW talks to security and finds out earbuds are fine, what’s the next step? If LW finds out they are fine and starts wearing them, Coworker will probably report her again and Manager will come back asking why LW didn’t abide by their last discussion. If she finds out they are fine and does nothing, that doesn’t actually solve anything, LW would just know their manager had told a white lie (which I honestly think we all know is probably the case).

            1. ChimericalOne*

              Next step would be talking to her manager again, bringing up the point that Jane’s radio is making it hard to concentrate, and adding, “I spoke with [security person X] because I was surprised & concerned to hear that this was a security issue, and I didn’t know if you’d get a chance to get me more information on that. They told me that that doesn’t apply to the back offices (or, “that one earbud would be fine”) … so, I’m not sure, but it seems like there might be some flexibility on earbuds as a solution. Alternatively, I need Jane to turn her radio much lower or not listen to talk radio during the day. If I can listen to headphones with my own stuff, I can get past that, but otherwise, I just can’t concentrate.”

          2. Kiki*

            To be clear, I don’t think LW should just resign to a life of overhearing political radio. I think it makes the most sense to go back to Manager and be more clear that the earbuds are a red herring, it’s Jane’s noise that’s the true issue.

            1. irene adler*

              This I agree with! Bring up Jane’s noise.
              Finding out about earbuds directly from the security folks would reveal the manager’s level of veracity.
              If manager is lying about earbuds being a safety issue, then there’s another issue here- a manager who won’t stand up to Jane wrt the OP. So bringing up the real issue- Jane’s noise- might not result in a resolution-other than being told ‘learn to live with it’ (although I still think it’s worth having the conversation).

          3. only acting normal*

            Restricting who can talk to security (especially to clarify a point of security) seems like a poor security policy.
            Also, where I work fire alarms specifically would be a health and safety thing, not security – but the point stands: everyone should be allowed to consult H&S or security.

            1. Kiki*

              I don’t think anyone should be restricted from talking to security, it just seems to me like doing so wouldn’t have any benefit for the LW. If LW is genuinely curious, they can ask, but in my opinion, doing so wouldn’t have any actionable outcome. I think if LW did find out earbuds were okay with security and started wearing them, Jane would just complain again and the manager would think of a new reason LW shouldn’t wear them

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        One would think that something that’s that *big* of a safety issue would be mentioned, even in passing in the employee handbook. Oh and that managers would know for certain. I mean…safety, right?

    11. JOA*

      I would encourage you to look into whether there is a medical issue here, E – this depends on disability legislation where you live, of course, and I don’t want to get into any armchair diagnoses, but equity generally trumps fairness in these cases when it’s backed up by the law and by a medical professional. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, but you do have other avenues to back you up!

    12. AKchic*

      You have been far to vague to your boss about Jane, and with all of the added updates here, I think it does warrant additional information to your boss the actual details. You say that you do better with writing, so put it all in writing. It adds the extra cushion of date stamping your complaint.

      This isn’t a “I prefer to have an earbud in” situation. This is a “Jane’s choice of listening material can be offensive and is distracting and I am choosing the path of least resistance since she already gossips and talks ish about me as it is”. And you may need to say something along those lines in order to get it to sink in. Because that is essentially what your boss and others have been doing with her. Jane is a Missing Stair. Someone needs to fix it.

      1. Lilly*

        Preach! Your wording has just the right amount of force. Lay it all out on the table. This coworker is a missing stair and the manager is a coward!

  13. Free Meerkats*

    I would go with #2 except for the “one earbud” thing. The LW is trying to block out the noise from Jane’s radio, not just wanting to listen to her own stuff and one earbud just won’t do that. For me, it would just make the whole noise thing worse.

    I only see two choices here, and LW needs to stand up for herself to get one or the other. Either Jane shuts off the noise or LW gets to use earbuds/headphones. If neither of those happens, I don’t think there’s a choice other than implementing Detective Amy Santiago’s solution, which in this case wouldn’t be petty.

  14. Paige*

    In a somewhat similar situation, I showed my boss exactly what I was listening to on my headphones when he came by: the Rain Rain white noise app. I think it helped to demonstrate just how invasive a coworker’s radio was, and how hard I was trying to find a way to focus.

  15. Dust Bunny*

    What is this “she’s not sure” bunk? Either she has an answer for you or she doesn’t, and she can’t enforce a rule that she doesn’t even know is a rule. Ask her to find out *what the rule is* on earbuds and give you a clear answer, because I strongly suspect that there is no rule about this and she’s stalling you to avoid a confrontation with your coworker.

    1. Kat*

      If headphones were truly the issue, sure. But I don’t think this is going to resolve the OP’s problem. It’s not about her headphone use, it’s about Jane making too much noise that it’s making it difficult for the OP to focus on their own work. Going any further down this road will likely frustrate the manager who will see the OP as being unreasonable which will make it that much harder for the OP to be believed if at that point they pivot to Jane making too much noise.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Yes, that’s the real problem, but the manager is basically telling her to stop based on . . . nothing. So the manager is either being a wimp or lying. LW’s manager needs to a) find out if this is a rule and either make a clear declaration or get off the OP’s back, and b) tell Jane that her audiobooks are disruptive in a shared office. But as it is, manager is doing neither and just hinting to the OP that the earbuds are maybe-possibly-not allowed.

  16. Checkert*

    This may be my social anxiety talking, but I wouldn’t even approach Jane. A person who doesn’t have the social sense to not listen to their stuff out loud in a SHARED OFFICE (not even open office) doesn’t strike me as someone who will all of a sudden have social skills to handle that conversation. I would likely go right back to the boss and stress that if I can’t wear headphones my productivity and effectiveness will suffer as Jane isn’t just listening to music, but books that demand attention.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      This is tough because what Jane probably wants is OP’s deference and attention – she wants to chat at you and have you respond when she wants to. The headphones annoy her because she’s not getting that, so she’s going to complain about it. She’s not behaving well here and I don’t think she’s going to be super reasonable since what OP wants – to be able to ignore Jane – is incompatible. Unfortunately it sounds like the manager is willing to stand with Jane, either because she likes her more / Jane is senior, or because she just doesn’t want to deal with Jane, who is probably a big PITA over things. My condolences, if it were me I’d probably start job searching if I couldn’t get my manager to demonstrate any kind of spine.

      1. E*

        Well, it’s a job doing something that I love and there’s not a lot of that in my area (either geographically or the thing that I do). I would ask if you’ve met my coworker because both you and Checkert both hit the nail on the head with the type of person she is! I’m socially anxious myself and am not big on confrontation which is what I fear it would turn into if I asked Jane to switch to something else. There was even one day that when she left for lunch, I turned down her radio (as she always leaves it on whether she’s in the office space or not) and left for lunch myself a few minutes later. When I got back, she was already there and had it up even LOUDER. There was even something else not even related to this issue that I said (a small comment on something that I didn’t even think mattered that much) and she went and “vented” to another manager. So yeah she’s not the most pleasant person.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          The difficulty is that it’s very hard to win with such people, unless you have rock-solid internal boundaries in place, and boundary-enforcing support from external authority figures. The internal part comes from not really caring how she feels about you or if she acts unpleasantly to you, so long as reasonable standards of behavior are met. Chilly but calm reinforcement is usually necessary: you are pleasant and polite but you are not going to listen to her music all day. This is really hard for people pleasers and avoidant folks to handle. The external part is the confidence that Jane not liking you / complaining about you won’t get you fired. Jane types throw their weight around and make a fuss a lot, and if there’s a good chance your boss will chuck you just to shut her up, you can’t enforce the boundary effectively. I’m concerned that it sounds like maybe both are low in this case. Maybe you can request to be moved to a different part of the office or work remotely or something …

          1. E*

            I feel reasonably confident that unless I go *way* out of (a reasonable person’s) line that I won’t be fired as the manager in question is also the person who phoned me up to offer this job (never applied- she knows my family and my abilities and thought I’d be a good fit). But based on this and a few other instances of disharmony, I don’t have the confidence that Jane’s behavior would be addressed along side mine. For instance, I made a comment that I did not think would be problematic nor did I pick up on Jane’s displeasure with it and yet she went to talk to another manager about it. When I was asked to talk with that manager about it, it was ok until the first (and senior/in charge of the other managers) walked in. Instead of addressing the fact that Jane should’ve asked me for clarification on what I said instead of going to someone else to “vent”, she said that *I* should’ve communicated more clearly. Which is fair to a point, but given that I’m fairly socially anxious and pick up on people’s feelings pretty easily and I *didn’t* notice a problem until I was made aware of it…. yeah. I think it’s, as others have said, that Jane is more loud about what displeases her. I am working on being polite yet not buddy-buddy or overly personal (as Jane seems to want to be).

            1. wittyrepartee*

              Ahem, any chance that your social anxiety is professionally diagnosed? I’m anxious and ADHD, and I’d be showing up with a doctor’s note about this.

            2. Kat*

              Jane sounds like a total pain. If having one more go at talking to your manager doesn’t work I’d consider getting an inexpensive white noise maker for your desk. Or playing something like rain fall/water fall/waves that is fairly neutral that it shouldn’t distract you or those around you, and should help drown out Jane AND her radio shows.

            3. Arts Akimbo*

              So, the fact that the senior took Jane’s side, that makes me worry this is a toxic workplace and they are already trying to gaslight you that *you* did things wrong. This is the kind of toxic programming and work environment that takes people years to recover from.

              I know you love the work, but please please please consider looking for another job.

        2. Samwise*

          OP, is it possible to find another place to sit when you have to concentrate? An empty conference room, an office you can borrow while the usual occupant is at lunch or at a meeting, that sort of thing?

          BTW, Jane is a jack-hole and you have my sympathy. You might start keeping an eye out for jobs elsewhere at the museum — internal transfer, in other words.

        3. Master Bean Counter*

          “Jane, I was using my head phones to drown out my inability to focus caused by your radio. So if I can’t have my head phones to drown out your radio, you need to turn it off. Thanks.”
          Also get it straight in your head that no matter what you do, Jane is not going to be your friend. So the best you can hope for here is a quiet and professional work space.

          Any chance you can get moved away from Jane?

  17. Knitting Cat Lady*

    I have hyperacusis. Which means that I experience sounds at a normal level as painfully loud.

    For most people this starts at 110 dB, for me it’s around 40 dB.

    Depending on my overall state I can tolerate this better or worse from day to day.

    On days, where even my quite quiet key board is WAY too painful, I work with noise cancelling head phones and white noise. On better days I wear specially moulded silicone ear plugs that filter about 13 dB without changing the sound profile. I also use that for my music activities.

    As for not being able to hear the fire alarm or building announcements?

    All the alarms I encountered, those at my current work place included, are loud enough to wake the dead. And if you’re profoundly deaf the flashing lights would get your attention.

    And the building announcements are so loud you’re able to hear them on the moon…

    My guess is that your manager is going the path of least resistance and wants to placate Jane at all costs…

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Omg, what an awful condition!

      I can *kinda* relate; I have hearing problems where I’m mostly deaf in one ear and a bit in the other, yet certain noises are overwhelming and all I can hear. People who meet with me know that crisps go in bowls – no crinkly wrappers – and if they click their biro I’ll make them swap it for a rollerball. I just can’t think until the all-invasive sound has been removed. I once had to ask my PA not to unwrap a boiled sweet in the car as it drew *all* my attention – I had to pull over.

      Sympathies – hearing sounds so painfully strongly must be not just awful to process, but very difficult to explain to others who haven’t been there.

    2. Else*

      Utmost sympathy; I have a mild form of this that is mostly focused on certain pitches, and it’s distracting and painful enough.

      I had a co-worker come scream at me once because I had headphones on and had asked him to speak more softly, though. (Politely! I asked someone else what they thought about this to be sure afterward). Some people can be really really awful when asked to moderate the amount of noise they make.

  18. boredatwork*

    My passive aggressive little heart wants you to buy the loudest white noise machine you can and just start pumping that into your shared space.

    Why are people so weird

      1. CMOT Dibbler*

        Same. One benefit of working for the Mouse right after Frozen came out is that I can completely block out Let It Go. Played on repeat. So that’s where my mind went…

        White noise is much kinder.

    1. E*

      Oh I do like that idea as it’d save me the anxiety of others judging what I choose to listen to!

      1. boredatwork*

        Exactly! I have some pretty intense conflict avoidance and I would absolutely start doing this.

  19. Lil'*

    Jane ruined it for herself by complaining about your earbuds, so it’s only fair you go back and mention to your boss that she needs to let Jane know that she can’t listen to these programs out in the open like that. It literally blows my mind that somebody would do that in the first place, but some people are really that clueless and/or entitled. It just really grinds my gears! Especially since the narrative today is always so “Millennials are entitled”, when I think most of us just want to mind our business and listen to a podcast in peace.

    1. E*

      And we realize that not everyone is going to enjoy the podcasts that we want to listen to so we find it more polite to use headphones :)

    2. Auntie Social*

      And I would go in to the meeting with a recording of Jane’s volume level and choices so boss knows WHY you can’t hear yourself think. Maybe a collection of samples.

    3. Liane*

      And point out that Jane’s talk radio and audiobooks will make it impossible for anyone to hear alarms and emergency announcements, and “we can’t let such a serious safety risk continue.”

  20. RadManCF*

    With regard to safety issues stemming from earbuds, I’ve got a few stories. Back when I was a millwright and going through the apprenticeship, my welding instructor was a piledriver. He often told a story from the construction of the Wakota Bridge on 494 in Woodbury, MN. Apparently, a worker signaled to a crane operator to boom up, which the operator did. Right into a 350 kilovolt transmission line. The crane was a new Grove rough terrain crane, that had cost about $400,000. It was completely unsalvageable; they had to torch the boom off, and push it onto the trailer with a bulldozer. Some retellings of the story had one or both of the workers responsible wearing earbuds, listening to music. This particular instructor was of the opinion that earbuds can mess with a person’s situational awareness. A coworker in a different job led me to agree. This person was a grounds keeper, and really loved to use those earmuffs with radios built in, often while operating heavy equipment. He had a number of accidents and near misses in a front end loader which various people attributed to his use of these headphones (think hitting and damaging structures and not noticing, not hearing the screams of a co-worker who was on the ground, and the like).
    I wouldn’t advocate prohibiting earbuds in all workplace settings, but in industrial settings, it does make sense. OP didn’t say what sort of facility they work in, but if their office is in an industrial plant of some kind, a prohibition on earbuds could make sense. Just because you’re in a nice clean office, doesn’t mean that you won’t be in the path of any nastiness if something goes wrong, and can let your guard down to the extent that you would in a more typical office building.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      OP posted above, it’s a museum, with minimal heavy equipment.

      But yeah, no entertainment in industrial sites! yoicks!

      1. RadManCF*

        Ah, hadn’t seen that. Except for science museums, I’d figure a museum is a pretty low-risk place.

    2. LCL*

      Did it melt the tires? I know of a few lift equipment in powerline stories. I’m aware of one incident where the equipment operator (not one of our people) claimed the proximity detector on his lift vehicle wasn’t working.

    3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Yup, and when I worked in aquatics, I had a rule that all of my down-rotation lifeguards couldn’t watch or listen to anything that prevented them from being able to hear an emergency going down on the pool deck (whistle, shouting, big splash, thumping, etc.) They were expected to have an immediate response time for any emergency.

  21. Delta Delta*

    I can’t tell from the letter (maybe I missed it) but it seems like Jane has been listening to audiobooks and talk radio for a long time. It’s entirely possible that the manager doesn’t even notice it because it’s part of what Jane does. And it’s also possible the manager may not realize this noise would actually be bothersome to someone since it’s always just sort of around.

    That said, it’s not at all unreasonable to ask Jane to turn off the talk audio. It also seems okay to offer the suggestion of non-talk sound, if it’s the kind of work where some background music/sounds would be okay. If she’s unwilling to do that, it’s also not unreasonable to ask the manager to ask Jane to turn it off because it distracts from work. If the manager is unwilling to do that, it seems reasonable to ask for a different location for your workspace so that you can be efficient and not bogged down by the distraction.

    1. E*

      Yep she has. I even spoke with another manager to try and figure out if I was just missing where this rule was written down and when I mentioned some of the, mmm… more risque (nothing explicit but not PG either!) books that she’s listened to in the past he said that he was aware that she listened to those things and it made him uncomfortable too when he was (a few years ago) in the same space as her.

      1. jonquil*

        Oh, E… I sincerely hope I am wrong about this but I suspect that the longer you work there, the more instances you will discover of your workplace having contorted itself around Jane’s unreasonable needs and wants. On the bright side you will learn a lot about how not to manage, and you will likely have many future opportunities to hone your ability to speak up for yourself clearly and effectively.

        1. Rebecca1*

          Indeed. If it’s like one of my former jobs, Jane outright gives orders to her managers and expects them to be followed. I had someone reporting to me who did that— I wasn’t a pushover, but if I had been, yikes.

      2. AKchic*

        So the manager is aware of her explicit listening content, and won’t ask her to stop. That sounds like it could be a potential claim, should you push for it.

  22. emmelemm*

    I don’t have any better advice than what’s already been offered, but I just want to say that *I’m* stressed out by your office on your behalf. I hope you can get this resolved favorably, somehow.

      1. Nona*

        After I received similar feedback (not for safety reasons, my supervisor just felt like she was interrupting me with earbuds), I switched to bone conduction earphones by Aftershokz. They are The. Best. Loud enough that I can focus and am not endlessly distracted by others’ noise because it’s too muffled, but they do allow for me to hear easily if someone is trying to talk to me and I can immediately turn around and ask them to repeat what they said. They’re actually so effective at letting me hear the conversations I want to hear that some of my coworkers are actually disappointed that they can’t assume that headphones on = private convo I don’t hear. So I would absolutely recommend them if you need to be able to hear important things without getting distracted by hearing everything.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        I’m thinking get the ones that cover your ears, but that you can hear through. Having something on your head is a good signal that you don’t want to talk, but she can’t complain anymore if you can hear alarms through them. I’d recommend not asking though, ask for forgiveness not permission. Just tell your manager, in an email, that you’ve picked up some open design headphones that should conform to safety standards. Additionally, push hard on your manager deal with Jane’s noise or assign you to another workspace. You can do it in email if you need. Squeaky wheel! Squeaky wheel!

  23. stitchinthyme*

    Wow. My workplace is mostly individual offices, with a few shared ones. No one ever listens to anything without headphones or earbuds, including people who have their own offices. It’s just general politeness. In fact, in 25+ years of working in a non-customer-facing career, I have never had a coworker who listened to anything sans headphones. It’s just Not Done.

    1. Purrsnikitty*

      This would be my paradise. My last three jobs, including current one, have *not* been paradise…

      1. stitchinthyme*

        Believe me, one of the main reasons I’m still here is my private office. I rarely if ever close the door, but it’s really nice to know that I can.

  24. LAgirl*

    This is similar to something that happened to me at work. There is a woman who talks very loudly in a very unique (almost shrieking) voice, so I would put on my headphones when she was having loud conversations over the phone or meetings with other employees. My manager said that she preferred that I didn’t wear headphones, but once I explained my reasoning, she was a lot more understanding. I’m so sorry your boss doesn’t seem to get it. Does she know that Jane is playing the radio without headphones? I wonder if she’s had trouble with her in the past.

  25. AngryAngryAlice*

    Not to sound dramatic, but I feel like the only workable solution involves flinging Jane directly into the black hole we all saw a picture of yesterday.

    Bonus: If you attach a FitBit to her to calculate her speed, mass, etc., you can justify yourself by pointing out you did it For Science(TM)! Are your employers anti-science? No? Well, then, they’ll have to agree you made the right call.

    1. Jennifer*

      But then she’ll come back younger and stronger. At least that’s what happened in Interstellar.

      1. Lynca*

        But she will remain out of the workplace because as the first survivor of a black hole she will need to be studied for the long term effects of exposure.

    2. Argh!*

      There are apps that tell you the decibels of your environment. I have “Sound Meter” and it calls 55 db “office.” If you run it for 30 seconds or more it gives you a graph that you can show the noisy person as proof they’re too loud.

    3. Megan*

      I feel like not only will this solve the OP’s original problem, and help further the cause of Science, but also could be a way to fund the space program if we can get NASA on board with building an Annoying Coworker Space-Flinger (patent pending) and rent it out to people.

      1. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

        I like this! This sounds like a James Bond ejection seat on steroids!!

  26. Newbie*

    Oh, I feel your pain, OP. you have my sincerest sympathies. I have a coworker on the other side of the cubicle wall from me – and I swear she’s in love with the sound of her own (very loud) voice. She talks incessantly, to her computer, on the phone, to the air, you name it – all at high volume. And clears her throat repeatedly. And coughs without covering her mouth.

    I resorted to noise cancelling headphones to drown her out so I could do my job. Fortunately, there was no push back from my boss, as she’s well aware of the volume from this person. There have been complaints from other departments who work in the same general area. She’s been warned, but forgets quickly. Sigh. The general rule in our office is keep the noise to yourself. Most people respect that.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes and to me, music/radio that has no work benefit, at full volume in a shared space, is twice as egregious as someone conducting their presumably work-related business with an overly loud voice (and I have been annoyed by someone’s loud conference line voice, so I sympathize with how irritating that is!).

      1. Newbie*

        If the talking noise was just work related, I like to think I’d be more understanding. In this case, so much of it is non-work related. This coworker is an over-sharer with the coworkers that sit in her area about pretty much everything – her spouse, her kids, her dogs, her car, her grandchildren, etc. And she won’t turn off the ringer on her cell phone. At this point, I’m hoping she retires early.

    2. Argh!*

      That’s a common trait of extremely extroverted people. I used to work with one and had to explain to her how distracting she was. She kind of got it, but since talking helped her work and not listening to her talk helped me work, I made a point of only telling her to hush up when I was having real trouble concentrating, and she made a point of not talking to herself when she was able to handle being quiet.

      If we start from a place of assuming the best motives, it’s easier to negotiate things like this. Assuming that she’s in love with the sound of her own voice isn’t a helpful outlook for you. Everyone wants to be free to be their authentic self at work, including self-talkers. I bet she considers you anti-social or worse!

      1. Newbie*

        “I bet she considers you anti-social or worse!”

        I’m really okay with that. The time for assuming best motives for this coworker has long passed. Management has repeatedly tried and failed to correct this employee with regards to the excessive volume. After years of sharing space with her, I’m comfortable with my somewhat negative opinion of her.

        I’m not opposed to someone being their authentic self. I just don’t think that should be at the expense of everyone else. I think she’s rude for ignoring the multiple requests from management for all of us to be mindful of one’s surroundings and that excess noise can be detrimental to the people who are trying to do their jobs.

        I respect my coworkers, in that I keep my music to myself and a use sweater or desk fan when the office temperature isn’t to my preference. I think that behavior *should* be common courtesy. Sadly, I know that is not the case.

        1. Argh!*

          Have you actually asked her personally to stop talking? If she’s been warned, she should know that it’s not allowed. She is probably doing it as a habit, not from malice. My talker responded quite well to a friendly reminder when I needed quiet. She really had no idea when she was saying her thoughts out loud.

          1. Newbie*

            Have I asked her to stop talking completely? No. Have I asked her to keep the volume down? Yes. Repeatedly. Each time she’d laugh it off with ‘Oh sorry!’ and there would be some short term improvement, but it never lasted. At some point, I got tired of asking as it felt like a waste of time. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, etc. I tried something. It didn’t work. I found an alternate solution.

            It would appear that management has has decided that they have too much other stuff going on, and that this is not the hill they’re going to die on. The occasional warning in a staff meeting is as far as they’re willing to go. The result of the inaction is that half of the department has noise cancelling headphones or ear buds. Fortunately for us, management has no objection to that, unlike the OP.

    3. Suzwhat*

      You and I must share the same coworker. Has she recently started chomping on potato chips? See my reply below.

  27. Marcy*

    OP, you are being FAR too nice.

    Since you have trouble expressing yourself in person, send your boss an email and let them know that you are unable to focus with talk radio and podcasts played out loud in the office, and that the political nature of some of these programs are making you uncomfortable and aren’t appropriate for the workplace. Tell her that at this point, it’s affecting your work. Say “I’d like to propose that we ban talk audio programs played on speaker in shared office spaces, since my original work around isn’t allowed. Is that something we can agree on?” If she says no, ask her for another solution. If your boss outright says she can’t ban talk programs in the office, ask your coworker to turn down or off the audio every day. Play your music at your desk. There is this website that plays white noise coffee shop audio for background noise. Crank it up as high as you want. Tell your coworker your boss said audio on speakers is allowed, and that you need it to drown out her talk radio. Make sure to throw in sub digs about her choice in programs in everyday conversations with her. That’s what I’D do anyway!

    Then, every time your coworker tries to pull you into conversations you don’t want to have, say “Sorry, I have to focus on this project.” “Actually, I have a deadline right now so I can’t talk. Thanks though!” “Oh, you don’t need to tell me when you’re going to lunch. Thanks!” “Would you mind not interrupting me? I’m kind of in a flow.” Make it super boring for her to talk to you and make sure she knows that not having headphones aren’t going to affect your decision to talk to her about non work items.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yes although with a manager this dense, I fear she’ll push back on OP and tell her that she needs to try to work it out with Jane herself. So OP should be prepared for that if she does go the email route.

    2. Bertha*

      I can also see the email being forwarded to Jane, or quoted to Jane. Nothing that was said in this sample comment is offensive at all, but it’s still something I wouldn’t personally feel comfortable about having in writing. (But I’m about as averse to confrontation as the OP is, so take that as you will!)

    3. Marcy*

      Lol I’m clearly not conflict adverse. If she came to me or complained to me, I’d just be like YUPP NEXT. Return awkwardness to sender.

      Op, you remind me of my friend who is all kinds of nicer/less direct/more conflict adverse than me and she’d probably just live with the situation, dying a little inside every day, until the coworker retires (I’m assuming she’s older than you). I hope you don’t go that route but I understand I can’t control other people but this situation is making me so mad on your behalf!

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah why would it be okay for Jane to go around behind OP’s back complaining, but Jane isn’t allowed to factually state some issues she’s having. There should be nothing in the email that OP would be ashamed to have come back to her.

      2. E*

        She’s……. actually past retirement age. And has been (apparently) told/reassured that she’s welcome to stay as long as she wants.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          That actually makes more sense to me – perhaps it was more common in a previous era to listen to the radio out loud, something that would seem extremely rude to modern office workers (not that this in any way excuses the behavior). Also yeah the manager probably doesn’t want to come down on a truly senior employee. I put all chips in “request to be moved because Jane is playing erotic tapes at full volume” or just start taking a laptop somewhere else during the day.

  28. PB eggs*

    I really think getting defensive about Jane needing to touch you to get your attention is what set this off. Op you had your headphones up too loud and made your co-worker feel uncomfortable when she needed to get your attention. I really don’t think there is a option for you wearing headphones in the near future because of this. This is your burden because of your own actions and you will have to wait this out without your headphones. That said you need to go to your boss and let them know about what Jane is doing was the catalyst to the need for your headphones, the volume she is listening and commenting on is at a level you can’t deal with. Explain that along with the political commentary Jane is making you uncomfortable and quite frankly driving you batty.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      I disagree – since the actual fault is with Jane, for playing her radio / audio books out loud, headphones is still an option, just modified (one ear, bone) OR Jane’s got to stop with the spoken word audio.

      1. PB eggs*

        But her boss ins’t aware of this only that op had to be touched to get her attention. It doesn’t matter what we know only what her boss is aware of in regards to something being resolved.

    2. Samwise*

      Jane did not in fact have to TOUCH her. She could have knocked on the desk. She could have stood in the OP’s line of sight. She could have waved at the OP. She could have sent the OP a text or gchat or email or called her on the phone. She could have dropped a note on OP’s desk.

      Let’s not blame the OP for Jane’s poor choices.

      1. PB eggs*

        Let’s not absolve op of any blame whatsoever because she works with someone with no office manners. Op will work with many people in her lifetime that will annoy the crap out of her, so learning how to deal with it sooner than later would be most beneficial. Jane could have done many other things but getting defensive in the office never helps anything. Pretending op will work with all wonderful co-workers who do the correct things one day isn’t helpful either.

        1. yet another library anon*

          “Jane could have done many other things but getting defensive in the office never helps anything.”

          She’s…not getting defensive?

          Sorry, some of us, especially those of us with anxiety, have really high startle reflexes. That’s not a personal failing. It’s not “getting defensive.” It’s just that we startle easily. I’ve told my office mates this when it’s come up, and since there are lots of ways to get someone’s attention, the decent folks do that.

          Seems like Jane doesn’t need absolving because she’s done her best to handle this as unobtrusively as possible. Using headphones to block out distracting noise IS “learning how to deal.”

    3. Me*

      Nah. I don’t need to know when my coworkers go to lunch. That’s normally only an issue where you’re front facing so there’s no coverage issues and this isn’t.

      Jane is however probably uncomfortable because she thinks the earbuds are directed at her – and frankly they are. That is not the OP’s burden in the least. My awful boss likes to have all phone calls on speaker so I frequently shut my door. If that makes him uncomfortable then he probably should either learn to shut his own door during calls or better yet stop using speaker phone. Same premise for the OP.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve worked around loud machinery and people wearing not just earphones, but operating heavy machinery, so they’re wearing ear muffs on top of them. And never once has it been reasonable to physically touch anyone to get their attention. Jane is still a boor and should be treated without kid gloves at this stage.

      But I do agree about giving the manager all the information about why she resorted to headphones is key. By skirting the issue and using a workaround that wasn’t officially okayed by management [just assuming you can wear earphones and doing so], that’s what caused the issue in the end.

    5. Tinker*

      This is a really weird framing.

      First of all, being strangely touched by another person and, entirely appropriately, telling them not to do this is not an action that a person needs to own up for except maybe for one of the appropriate uses of the “I’m sorry you feel that way” non-apology.

      Second, even if the foregoing was not the case, it makes no sense to consider a simple solution to the original problem and a use of a perfectly ordinary piece of office hardware arbitrarily off-limits because of someone being supposedly somehow “defensive”. “Sorry, you didn’t use the correct tone so your coffee cup is in the penalty box”? This is not the way adults work on common projects together.

      That’s a power game thing, frankly, and while it may be a thing that happens in some offices I don’t think it’s reasonable to present it either as either the fair result of OP’s actions or as the default likely result.

      1. PB eggs*

        How is it weird op got defensive when her coworker touched her because coworker could not get ops attention. Coworker got her feelings hurt and went to the boss, boss took that information and said no more headphones. So op did set the events off by being defensive, and not telling the boss the reasons why. That is the events presented there is nothing weird there, not liking what it is doesn’t change that. That is the reality of the situation. None of this is fair nor did I say it was. The boss is working with the information he has. Making it about the headphones instead of about janes loudness being a distraction and annoying put it in this direction, at this point it will not change the headphones issue. I don’t think Jane should have touched op, but Op didn’t let the boss know anything bothered her but not getting to use the headphones. The only thing odd is that Op is not letting her boss know what her issues are.

        1. Tinker*

          Okay, so our opinions seem to differ on about two points:

          First of all, you are often repeating the statement “OP got defensive” as if it is an evident fact; I’m not entirely certain what that means, and don’t see it as an evident fact in the same way that you seem to. To me, OP’s reaction seems more like being flustered as a result of being suddenly touched — perhaps with a side of irritation at being interrupted by a statement that seems

          Second, I don’t understand the logical connection between “getting defensive”, whatever that does mean, and a person no longer being in the position to make a case for the use of headphones if it would otherwise be a viable solution without the “getting defensive” behavior. As I said, I understand that such things — “power games” — happen in some office environments; I don’t think that they are universal.

          As a side note: I tend to think that “because of your own actions” has an implication of reasonably expected causation between the thing caused and the actions — if an elephant mugged me for my headphones on my commute home today, while technically this would not have happened if I had not chosen to be where the elephant was, I’d think it weird if someone characterized the event as “well, you lost the headphones because of your own actions so therefore you can’t use headphones at all anymore”.

          1. Tinker*

            Argh, I forgot to complete a sentence — that the OP might perhaps have been irritated at being interrupted by a statement that seems superfluous.

          2. PB eggs*

            I’m not sure how telling someone “don’t touch me” is not defensive. That is the entire point of saying don’t touch me is to defend yourself against someone touching you again. I would probably bet after being startled it was not said in a sweet tone or Op is a saint.

            Op is the one that looks in the wrong to the boss right now. The thing about the headphones are that it’s not solving the problem and going on about the headphones doesn’t address the issue that Jane is the reason for the headphones and the need for the volume. Continuing to ask for the headphones back lessens the issue of Jane, and looks like that is all op is concerned about. From the letter the boss doesn’t know why op needed the headphones.

            I don’t understand how you think this is a power play. The boss is using the information he has.

            1. Elspeth*

              Could not disagree more. OP wasn’t “defensive”, she was startled! And Loud CoWorker is using this as a power play!

            2. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

              But it’s not “defensive” in the inappropriate sense of the word. It’s a completely appropriate reaction under the circumstances. And, yes, OP’s headphones are completely not the issue. OP needs to say, “Boss, this is why I need to wear headphones. It is because Jane is infecting Workplace with Overly Loud Whatever and It Doesn’t Matter What It Is and I cannot concentrate. So, are you going to have a serious talk with Jane or am I going to wear headphones?

            3. Tinker*

              So… the OP is partially at fault in this situation because they were “being defensive”, which makes them implicated as part of the problem. “Being defensive” means that the OP verbally requested to not be touched, which is an act of self-defense against being touched, and is therefore “being defensive”.

              I think we have… very different worldviews.

              1. Tinker*

                Oh, and earlier you say “getting defensive in the office never helps anything”. With this updated definition of “getting defensive” as being inclusive of “making a verbal request that something not be done”, what do you consider an acceptable/helpful means of conveying interpersonal boundaries in the office environment? Because I’m really at a loss.

            4. Cara*

              I don’t know that OP actually told Jane “Don’t touch me.” I got the impression that was OP’s (internal) reaction to what happened.

              1. Grace*

                Yes! I read it the same way. OP doesn’t seem to have said anything out loud in response, she added that for our benefit.

            5. yet another library anon*

              “I’m not sure how telling someone “don’t touch me” is not defensive. That is the entire point of saying don’t touch me is to defend yourself against someone touching you again.”

              By that logic, asking or stating ANY preference is “defensive.”


            6. Vax is my disaster bicon*

              Yikes, expressing a preference not to be touched is not “getting defensive”! Certainly not in any sense that should reduce one’s credibility. There’s a difference between defensiveness and setting boundaries, and this situation is most certainly the latter.

    6. AKchic*

      There was absolutely no reason for Jane to touch OP. There was no emergency requiring it to happen. Jane made the conscious choice to willingly touch OP without permission because it was the path of least resistance and was sufficiently intrusive to get her point across that Jane wanted OP’s attention because Jane felt ignored and slighted. Jane acts like a petulant child being ignored by a sibling.

      Victim blaming OP for unwanted touching is uncool (and I have revised my comment multiple times, so as harsh as this sounds, believe me, it could have sounded much worse).

    7. Janie*

      Why do you think Jane going to lunch was so important she gets to override OP’s consent and autonomy?

  29. KR*

    Also if it’s a “safety concern” that you won’t hear alarms that tells me they don’t have the the type of emergency alarms that flash a light or have a visual signal which is a hazard to anyone in your office, employee or visitor, who may be hearing impaired or deaf (assuming no one in your office has some sort of epilepsy/health concern that would make such an alarm hazardous). But something tells me it’s not a real safety concern especially seeing you can hear people talking over the sound on your headphones and that the headphones only give you the ability to tune out the talking and/or decide to tune it out.

  30. BadWolf*

    Who else is hearing Milton mumble, “I was told I could listen to the radio at a reasonable volume” (Office Space).

    (this is a dig at Jane, not at the OP)

  31. Argh!*

    If you have speakers on your computer, play some white noise or gray noise (what I call loud white noise!) and crank it up. It may help you concentrate, and it may send your coworker the message that her noise is unacceptable (if she ignores your request to stop playing wordy stuff herself).

    I find anything with words extreeeeemely distracting while I’m trying to type out words. I often use youtube videos of ocean waves, airplane interiors, songbirds, or light jazz to drown out my tinnitus without interfering with my work.

    Good luck!

  32. Jennifer*

    So reminded of Phyliss on The Office listening to 50 Shades of Grey, lol.

    But joking aside, it’s ridiculous that she had the nerve to complain about you when she’s the one being offensive. Common sense should have told her to stop playing her stuff out loud once you started working there. I have earbuds in all day and can clearly hear alarms and announcements. If you had your volume turned up loud enough that it would drown out a fire alarm, I think you’d end up with some serious hearing loss.

    I don’t know if you can let your boss know that you normally have no trouble hearing announcements and the incident where you mistakenly assumed Jane wasn’t talking to you was a one-off. Maybe they will let you put your earbuds in again. Maybe you can avoid an ugly situation with Jane.

  33. PremiumPidgeon*

    My boss in my open plan office strictly forbids all headphone because they are “rude” and encourages everyone to play their radio, podcasts, music out loud on speakers… suffice to say you are not alone in dealing with this!

  34. BreaCheese*

    Ooof, I relate to this so hard. I have misaphonia, and it seems the default for literally all the people in my office is to take all their calls on speakerphone. The guy who sits across from me also listens to radio, video clips, and comedy routines on his phone out loud AND HE HAS EARBUDS AT WORK. He and I are also friendly, and he knows I have misaphonia, which makes it even more enraging. I don’t have any advice for you, only sympathy. I have earbuds in my ears 90% of the day at work, and if I was told I couldn’t use them, I would have to legit quit this job.

    1. Cuddles the Shark*

      Oh my gosh! Thank you for teaching me this new word! I wear earplugs in my own home because the bass sounds from my neighbor’s television send me into a literal rage. Yet whenever I have guests, they say it’s no big deal.

    2. Calpurrnia*

      Much sympathy from me on this as well.

      I have a co-worker who is a lovely, smart, fun person to talk to… but when she’s working, she whispers to herself as she reads or writes/types. Constantly. We’re analysts, so we’re constantly researching things, running reports, writing emails, reading tickets, etc.

      I wear headphones playing white noise all day in the office anyway, because ADHD, and it’s good for blocking out normal conversation enough that I can focus… but something about whispering that cuts straight through every form of white noise I’ve ever tried, so all I hear is a constant stream of “spsssspspsspsssss”. And whispering and mouth sounds are my major misophonia triggers, AAARGH.

      If that’s not bad enough, the coworker next to her snacks all day (not itself a problem, I do it too) and chews with his mouth open. He is a grown up adult with a wife and kid, and he chews like a cow. I can’t fathom it at all.

      I like both of them as people, but as people sitting within 5 feet of me making mouth noises all day, I kind of want to strangle them.

  35. Amethystmoon*

    Unless one has a job where one has to either a. frequently talk on the phone most of the day, or b. frequently talk to visitors or customers (such as at a front desk), or some similar thing, it’s outdated to ban headphones in this day and age. Most adults are reasonably able to not blare things so loudly that they couldn’t hear say, a fire alarm. It would drive me nuts to have to sit and listen to everyone’s conversations around me and hear one-sided phone calls all day while trying to focus on work.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      The people I know who are most anti-headphone are the biggest culprits for interrupting people. It annoys them that the people have plausible excuses for not responding right away :(

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Good point. But should I really have to overhear a conversation a couple of cubicles away about how some people think soup is disgusting? (One I actually overheard once, and strongly disagreed with because as someone paying off student loans, soup is one of the things I tend to cook a lot because it’s economical, but did not say anything.)

  36. Suzwhat*

    By a strange coincidence the following happened to me yesterday. My assigned desk is located next to someone who constantly talks to herself (from exclamations to mutterings) and who has recently started eating potato chips. These chips must be the crispiest things every created because I can hear her munch them from several feet away, let alone right next to her. I’ve been wearing headphones and that has helped drown her out. Our office is located next to a parking garage and they started work on the garage yesterday. I heard very loud rumblings over my headphones and stood up to look out the window to see it was construction on the garage. I made eye-contact with my problematic neighbor and she asked me “am I chewing too loud?”. I was caught totally off guard because I have never mentioned the Great Potato Chip Crunching to anyone. She said her partner complains about her potato chip chewing noise at home. I fumbled a reply of “Oh, is that what that is? I thought it was construction” and sat down.
    We move to unassigned seating tomorrow and that is the only reason I have not flung myself out of the nearest window. I never need to sit next to her again.

    1. Me*

      ahahaha! I’m sure someone science-minded can explain, but I’ve found that certain sounds don’t muffle well. They’re still audible just muted which can be even worse.

    2. EBStarr*

      I enjoy that your “I thought it was construction” could be an attempt at politeness (as in, you had no idea it was her) or a hilariously snarky reply. From the context I realize you were trying to be polite but I bet her partner has said that exact same thing as a joke.

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      Jeez, if she has actually done the work of bringing it up I don’t understand why you wouldn’t acknowledge the issue! She probably figured it out when you brought the headphones and put them on every time she started chewing anyway. It would have been an easy opportunity to say, “actually it is a little distracting” with a minimum of hurt caused!

      1. Suzwhat*

        It is because I have several times addressed the issue of her talking to herself constantly. It is not possible to overstate the frequency of her talking to herself at a very loud volume. That is “just the way she is”, so I have been counting the days to losing my assigned desk and being able to choose a seat as far away from her as possible.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        Sometimes people still get offended in this situation! Or they go around telling people that they stopped doing X “because Spencer told me to.” So you can still be cast as the villain when this happens.

    4. Newbie*

      “I thought it was construction”

      *sporfle* A perfectly acceptable snarky reply.

      I’d be finding the desk furthest away from her and laying claim to it.

  37. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    LOL, she actually said it’s a “safety” concern, what a crock of nonsense. And I’m one to be fast to point out actual safety concerns being a safety officer [blah].

    I do know people who are against headphones as an optics issue but in that case if you’re listening to a radio in a shared space, you share the decision on what to listen to. Turn on basic radio music or GTFO, Jane.

    1. TootsNYC*

      actually, I think having a radio on is exactly the same optics issue as wearing headphones.

  38. Me*

    If you cannot hear a fire alarm over headphones (which are also required to have a strobe in most places precisely for those who cannot hear) then the fire alarm is broken. Commercial alarms are designed to be impossible to ignore. It’s a red herring.

    I’m a fan of either asking Jane to cease with her stuff or if necessary ask the boss to back up that part, but I am not a fan of asking if one bud is okay. It just seems like trying to get off on a technicality. If the earbud ban was prompted by Jane being miffed, I suspect the boss will realize that earbuds are fine on her own.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah OP was hoping to ask next if they could start wearing a bone conduction earphone (in the comments). None of this searching for a technicality is approaching the actual issue of Jane’s poor behavior.

      1. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

        +1000000. And let me tell you in my office even if you were DEAF DEAF DEAF you couldn’t miss the strobe. Jane’s conduct is completely the issue. Either boss is (unbelievably, in my opinion) completely unaware of it, he is a very bad manager, or Jane has pictures of him doing something completely inappropriate with an underage human or… I don’t even want to go there.

  39. c56*

    What a stupid policy decision by your manager. If you’re not customer facing and you’re doing office work (ie not working with heavy machinery) there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to use headphones. I can’t stand workplaces where you’re not treated like an adult.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Even operating heavy machinery, you have to have noise canceling ear muffs on and a lot of operators wear headphones under them, so that’s not even an excuse!

  40. Cuddles the Shark*

    Why is it always the pro-radio workplaces that are also anti-headphone? I worked in an office where I wasn’t allowed to wear headphones (because our boss liked to yell for us whenever she liked), but my coworker played Christmas music 24/7/365. Same for a place two jobs before that where my coworker played R&B. I used to happily volunteer to scan scantrons just to get some peace.

    It blows my mind how many people don’t even pause to think “but what if my coworkers need to concentrate / don’t want to hear my music?”–and that those people are the same ones who get miffed because someone’s wearing headphones. Look at yourself; look at your choices.

    1. Argh!*

      If they believe music helps them to do their work, it probably doesn’t occur to them that others would feel it interferes. I think it’s natural to feel that we are normal and that others are like us, so unfortunately it’s up to the one who is “different” to present their point of view.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Music helps me do my work. But not the same music that helps other people do theirs. Therefore, I’m staunchly pro-headphone.

  41. Plain Jane*

    Ugh, I hate when managers do the vague “somebody complained” thing. Either it’s an issue for her that you wear headphones or it isn’t and she should own it. Now it’s harder to address the issue because the LW can’t help but wonder who complained.

  42. LCL*

    As is often the case, my take on this is a bit different from has been mentioned. I swear I don’t try to be all oppositional all the time, I just wake up this way.
    Anyway, back when dirt was new, the rule for those rare workplaces that allowed a radio, where it could be heard, was you took turns deciding which station you were going to listen to. With two workers it’s easy; one worker gets their choice before lunch, the other after, then switch the next week. Allowing workers to wear earphones or headphones, other than for hearing protection, wasn’t done anywhere I worked. Would the share the choice plan work for OP and other worker?

    1. Elspeth*

      Unfortunately, I doubt that would work, since OP states she has a hard time concentrating because of the really loud talk radio, audio books playing. Nor, I suspect, would the Loud CoWorker agree to that.

  43. That Girl From Quinn's House*

    At one of my last fitness jobs, I was given an office that was accessed via the group exercise studio. So for two to three hours every morning and evening, I had Workout Jamz! blasting and thumping enough to vibrate my desk, while the instructor called out changes. I couldn’t even leave my office without dodging kicks, steps, and punches.

    Then school let out, and during my six hour block of blissful silence, they put Dance Camp in the studio, so I got to listen to the same [wildly age-inappropriate, profanity laced] song on repeat for hours on end as the girls learned their [wildly age inappropriate, twerk-and-thrust] choreography. *shudder*

  44. Pebbles*

    I have two manager offices outside my cube. Both of them like to keep their doors open, and both of them like to put calls on speaker. What gets to be really “fun” is when they are in a conference call with clients AND each other, because then I get this echo sound since they can’t be in the same office when they are in the same call. *eyeroll* This is when I put headphones on.

    1. DataGirl*

      Some of our managers do that too. The echo of mutual speaker phones and the feedback is terrible. Even other managers have complained, but they still do it.

  45. JSPA*

    Conversation or email:

    “I understand that it would be a real safety issue if I were unable to hear warnings or alarms.

    But I’m actually quite able to hear them!

    I’ve made a practice of ignoring Jane talking back to the political talk radio she enjoys, so I don’t always respond when she tosses a remarks my way. But if there were any sort of alarm, I’d hear it very clearly.

    At times I sometimes play up how engrossed I am in my work because I really do find it distracting to engage in random bits of unrelated conversation while I’m deep in a project. I can be more direct about that, if necessary! But I don’t want to cause offense, or force Jane to turn off her books and radio, which seem to help her concentrate. How do you suggest we proceed? To be clear, I can’t work if forced to hear Jane’s audio choices and her dialogue with them, but she may be less able to work without them.”

    Follow ups:

    “No, really, I don’t mind what Jane listens to, so long as I don’t have to”

    “I would be glad to go without earbuds if Jane wants to try wearing them”

    “I am happy to work in silence, and chat on breaks”

    “I don’t know if Jane’s political remarks would bother me or not, as I intentionally don’t listen to them”

  46. DataGirl*

    I am always surprised when people talk about any audio being played out-loud in a work environment. I can see some places where it would be appropriate- like at the doctor’s office the receptionist often has a radio playing, but I just can’t imagine it being appropriate at desk jobs. I’ve always used headphones or earbuds, but just in one ear so if someone tries to get my attention or my desk phone rings I can hear it. I hope you can work it out OP, because that situation is just awful.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It’s for people with heavier phone tasks more than anything. I cannot wear headphones or I’d be pulling them off all the time. I do turn down my radio whenever someone walks into my office to chat because I want to be able to focus on what they’re saying but I’ve never ever used headphones unless I’m working in the warehouse and just picking orders.

  47. Ellen N.*

    Let me begin by saying that Jane is inconsiderate to the point of being insufferable. She shouldn’t be listening to anything without earbuds/headphones much less content that could offend others.

    However, from your letter it sounds like safety might really be the issue in your manager’s view not a red herring. I used to have an assistant who wore earbuds. She also had a hair trigger startle reaction. To get her attention I had to stand in front of her and wave my hands in front of her face. This prompted her startle reaction every time.

    I think that as Jane’s method of getting your attention upset you, she might have told your boss that if there was an emergency she didn’t have a way of getting your attention. I think your best bet would be to go back to your manager and explain how others can get your attention in a way that doesn’t upset you.

    1. TootsNYC*

      There are also mirrors you can put on your computer screen / wall / partition.

      And the idea that you might not hear an alarm? I find that not credible.

    2. Elspeth*

      Nope. Alarms at any workplace I’ve been has been way more than loud enough for people to hear, whether they are in the bathroom or wearing headphones. Even earplugs don’t drown out a fire or emergency alarms.

    3. Me*

      There’s really no safety issues involved with wearing headphones at a desk. The startle reflex in your assistant isn’t a safety issue. Not being able to get her attention is and is something to be dealt with.

      Commercial fire alarms are very loud and have very bright obnoxiousness can’t miss strobes.

    4. Janie*

      If you have a startle trigger that light (which ime is usually but not always anxiety-related) then you’d startle from someone suddenly speaking in a quiet room, too. Or even not a quiet room.

      “I think that as Jane’s method of getting your attention upset you, she might have told your boss that if there was an emergency she didn’t have a way of getting your attention.”

      If the building is burning down, are you not going to tap someone on the shoulder because they might jump?

  48. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

    Does the manager even know that Jane listens to stuff out loud? I’d be really surprised if the manager is A-OK with that but not with headphones or earbuds. I think this LW needs to follow Alison’s second suggestion – clarify to the manager that you’re listening to earbuds to drown out Jane’s noise. If the manager doesn’t know that’s going on, there’s a major piece of this puzzle she’s missing.

  49. SigneL*

    My suggestion: listen to opera. The mad scene from Lucia leaps to the mind immediately, and Wagner is always popular.

    1. Argh!*

      In a previous workplace where one yakkety yak was not as accommodating as the other one, I used songs from albino black sheep’s flash animations on the weebls site. As it’s Easter time, I recommend “Choccy” which has dancing cadbury eggs or “Badgers badgers badgers badgers SNAKE! badgers badgers” etc. It used to be possible to loop it continuously, which was very effective at driving away gossips, food nazis, and other obnoxious coworkers.

      1. only acting normal*

        I recommend Sticky sticky stick stick! by Hey Dougee. >:-)
        Or the Llama song.

  50. CAinUK*

    So to summarize from your follow-up comments OP:

    1. Jane is complaining about you–widely–in the office (to other managers, to your manager). So much so that you get dragged in for a scolding over a (deliberate) misunderstanding. So: we shouldn’t really worry about her opinion or if she gets upset, since it’s already done.

    2. Jane is subjecting you to loud, partisan, and sexually charged material.

    3. Your manager sucks and won’t manage, and seems to have lied about an earbud policy that is only enforced on you.

    Jane is an ass and your manager is imcompetent and even more conflict avoidant than you — since SHE has authority. I realize there are not jobs like this one in your area (museums are limited), but this also isn’t a long-term solution. I’d be VERY matter-of-fact and burn the bridge with Jane (it’s burnt any way) and put your manager more on the spot. Email:

    “We’ve spoken about my earbud usage. I’m happy to stop using them if we can agree radio or other noise in shared work spaces is also banned. Alternatively, if the earbud policy is gonig to be enforced for everyone (the I’ve noticed other people are being allowed to use them) and radio isn’t being banned, can we agree that audiobooks, political radio, and anythig other than ambient music not be allowed?”

    If the email is forwarded or quoted to Jane — that’s still a win. Jane sucks, and she’s going to complain anyway. The goal is to 1.) make your manager know you are NOT the path of least resistence compared to Jane, and 2.) to get Jane to cut the crap.

    Sorry – but I’ve known and worked with Janes before and appeasement doesn’t help and only makes you miserable.

    1. TootsNYC*

      your manager is imcompetent and even more conflict avoidant than you

      Your manager HAS to be aware of Jane’s noise.

    2. Oranges*

      YES! Right now your manager will go the path of least resistance. Make that path NOT the one where you’re listening to things like the lords prayer (shudder).

      Personally I would not be able to deal with that and would probably go right home so my brain could wigout in peace. Because Christianity is indeed a trigger for me and I can deal with it in the normal day to day but that? NOPE!

  51. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I had an insufferable coworker who would make pointed comments that wearing earbuds at work was “unprofessional.” I ignored her–we weren’t customer facing, and earbuds are relatively common in our field. She then stepped it up by complaining in front of our boss in an attempt to get him to ban me from using earbuds. I looked at her and told her in a frank voice that I listened to earbuds in order to concentrate because I found her radio (which she played right next to our shared office wall) distracting. She shut up about the earbuds.

    OP, my inclination is to start with Jane, even though that may be an uncomfortable conversation. But I am side-eyeing your manager for how she’s handling this situation.

  52. TootsNYC*

    I once hired a proofreader to work in my department, and she had headphones. My not-quite boss told me, “We don’t usually allow people to listen to music, you need to say something to her.” She wasn’t really my boss, but she used to supervise my position, so I felt a little pushed around, so I went to talk to this woman.

    Who told me (and showed me) that they were a type of white-noise solution.

    Honestly, I wasn’t going to say anything, because I thought I’d watch her work for the first couple of days and see how she did. Me, I sometimes listen to classical music while I’m reading and concentrating (I cannot edit and listen to anything with words, though). So I figured I’d wait until I saw what was up.

  53. Kella*

    I second everyone’s suggestions for how to handle getting Jane to stop playing her stuff in a common area.

    She is absolutely being rude and weirdly inflexible about her listening habits. I did wonder though if maybe the reason she complained was she felt like there wasn’t an easy way to get your attention. I read that she tried to talk to you but it was indistinguishable from her talking to herself so that didn’t register for you, and then she touched you, which made you uncomfortable. Perhaps she’d find something to complain about regardless, but I wonder if she’d have less of a problem with you wearing some kind of head phones if she had a clear idea of how she should get your attention: ie: get in my line of sight and wave, or get up and stand in front of my desk etc.

    That likely won’t fix everything going on here, but it could be one place where negotiation between the two of you could be possible.

    1. Elspeth*

      I really don’t think that would work. CoWorker knows the radio is loud (and inappropriate) yet she thinks the OP shouldn’t be able to block that noise so OP can concentrate on her work. CoWorker just doesn’t like that she doesn’t get to chat at OP when she wants, and I believe that that’s the whole crux of the matter.

    2. Lexi*

      I agree and I wonder if op mentioned to Jane that her audio was bothering her if she would turn it down. It doesn’t sound like op went that route. I think janes feelings got hurt with the don’t touch me and she went to her boss to see what could be done.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I thought that “don’t touch me” was just to us, letting us know she didn’t like that interaction (where Jane went through a lot to tell her something she really didn’t even need to know). I didn’t read it as she actually said that to Jane but maybe I misunderstood.

    3. Ellen N.*

      I don’t understand how Jane can be characterized as “weirdly inflexible about her listening habits”. The original poster has never discussed Jane’s listening habits with Jane much less asked Jane to modify them.

      The original poster mentions that Jane is an older woman. Back in the day when open floor plans were less popular and earbuds were way less popular it was common to listen to the radio in your office. As nobody has told Jane that her radio listening bothers them, how would she know?

    4. Jen*

      Yeah, I have a couple of coworkers who wear headphones and get really engrossed in their work. But then it’s really hard to get their attention, since they can’t hear someone calling their name at a reasonable volume. Our desks are pretty small, so in order to stand next to someone who’s working, you have to get all the way in their personal space. It actually seems less intrusive to me to stand behind them and tap them on the shoulder, but maybe that’s more of a problem with the way our desks are laid out.

  54. WillyNilly*

    I have to be honest, the prevalence of folks in this (AAM) space who think personal use ear phones are ok at work always baffles me as I consider them to be so obviously obnoxious. Headsets for calls, or earphones for webinars and training, I think is ok.
    That said, listening to anything else being broadcast, other than as provided by the employer, especially anything with words, is to me an obvious offense as well. Whether its speakerphone, or webinars, or top 40, or audiobooks, its not cool to those around you, and nor is sticking in earphones to obviously block out work related communications.
    Just go to work and do your job. Listening to extras should not be considered a given.

    1. Mellow*

      It’s called “open floor plan,” and it has made headphones and ear buds entirely necessary.

      1. Tinker*

        I work in an open office that is acoustically unfortunate and has a lot of auditory distractions and hadn’t been using my noise cancelling headphones much because the nature of my work sometimes makes it mildly inconvenient to do so. I’d also been having difficulty focusing at work to a degree that was significant and unusual even for me — then, over the holiday season, I noticed that when I was alone in the office suddenly I could get work done again.

        To me, keeping up the practice of using my headphones whenever possible is actually part of doing my job, because I’m responsible for maintaining my workspace in a way that permits productive work and that’s the best way I know of so far to do it.

        I’m guessing that a lot of what drives strongly differing opinions on this point has to do with what one has in mind as a “normal” office and “normal” work — the employer providing music (like with speakers?? just playing it in the office??? and nobody has gotten a pair of side cutters and solved the problem yet????) is a thing I’m aware of being a thing in other sorts of work environments but it’d be utterly bizarre in mine.

    2. Myrna Minkoff*

      I listen to classical music on them to help me focus and drown out loud talkers. And busy bodies who are way too concerned about whether people are “listening to extras.”

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      My job is to stare at a computer screen and review/enter data all day. I don’t need to talk to people. What is wrong with me listening to something while I work?

      1. Jimming*

        Agreed. I listen to classical music when I’m writing a lot of emails. It helps me get into a nice flow and concentrate better than silence. It’s a pretty common thing people do.

    4. dumblewald*

      How are they obnoxious if they aren’t affecting you? A lot of people find music/podcasts to be useful for getting tedious typing/writing done. (I know they aren’t appropriate for certain functions, like front-desk facing jobs.)

    5. SculleryWench*

      I am being honest when I say I truly don’t understand why they would be obnoxious. It’s definitely context-dependent, but my work involves long hours of client contact, and then exhaustive notes and follow-up phone calls to arrange services, since we are short on admin staff. My colleagues and I are in a rabbit warren of very short-walled cubicles. At any time, about a quarter of us are on the phone, sometimes having to shout (some of us have a lot of elderly clients), and a few others are having work-related conversations in the open office space.

      There is no way to focus on detail work in that environment unless you have the option of headphones, at times. We all know when it would be okay to interrupt one another. This is such a non-issue that I am startled tohear it labelled as automatically obnoxious.

      Maybe there is just a wider range of workplaces than their used to be.

    6. Kella*

      I think you’re assuming that listening to content at work is intended to be a distraction from work, or a way of coping with the fact that you don’t like your job, but for most people, that’s not how it’s used at all. Blocking out work communications is really only an issue if you a. regularly need to be interacting with the people around you and b. are unapproachable or difficult to interrupt because of your headphones.

      Plenty of people have jobs where interaction with others is not needed for hours at a time, and as many others already cited, they find external noise distracting and need a protective wall of sound to help them focus *on their work*. And even if you do need to interact occasionally, it’s very simple to set up a system where you tell someone, “Just tap on my shoulder as soon as you need me, it’s okay to interrupt,” or only keep one earbud in, so that the headphones aren’t disruptive to workflow. If it isn’t disruptive to others, enhances your concentration rather than distracts from it, and doesn’t prevent you from interacting with coworkers when needed, then what’s the problem?

  55. Mellow*

    Why is it that troublemakers get to sit static while everyone else has to spend time and energy running around to find a solution to their BS? So frustrating!

  56. Noah*

    I had a similar situation: my coworker listened to religious music through external speakers. Eventually I asked her to use headphones, which she did for a few weeks until she lost them or whatever and went back to speakers. Eventually we hired a few extra people and the office had four people with headphones and one person playing religious music.
    Then my boss decided we weren’t collaborating enough (it was mostly data entry work) and decided nobody could use headphones and we had to pick one thing to listen to, which turned out to be this persons relgious music.

  57. Flash Bristow*

    I’ve dealt with similar situations by arranging a flag system! My team mate and I had neighbouring cubicles, so to avoid him talking at me and getting no answer, I made a small card flag, which I pinned to show above our mutual cubicle divider, when I had my headphones in. Usually I’d let him know I was using them, but it was a good way for him to check, be sure he got my attention, and not feel awkward for talking into thin air. Then he could stand and wave over the divider, come into my cubicle, or email me. And I’d give him my instant attention.

    OP, could this be a reasonable solution for your workplace? Or even (depending on the geekiness of your colleague or nature of your workplace) a poundland string of lights, pinned in your cubicle but with the on/off button in theirs, to get your attention without making them move too far? It might sound a bit daft but I’ve found these things often *work*, which is the point!

  58. Jennifer*

    This is why i bought gold, fully wireless earbuds. I wear one with my blonde hair down and no one is the wiser.

    1. Me*

      Yeah, but shes been told it’s not allowed. Now something like that would be blatantly violating direction.

  59. dumblewald*

    WTF – Jane is an inconsiderate a-hole who is committing double-layer aholeness here. First, she fills the silence with her own noise, and then gets mad at you for working around *her* preferences while still trying to get your work done?? Nopenopenope.

    I have no additional advice – Alison covered it.

  60. mf*

    Allison’s advice is excellent–definitely talk to your boss again about how Jane’s radio and audiobooks are impacting your productivity.

    However, if that gets you nowhere, do you have an HR department? Most HR people would have a coronary if they heard an employee say: “My coworker is listening to religious radio and sexually explicit audiobooks out loud in our workspace. My manager won’t allow me to wear headphones to block out Jane’s entertainment. Would you be willing to have a conversation with me and my manager about how we can ensure I have a workspace where I’m not forced to listen to content that is sexual or religious in nature?”

  61. DustyJ*

    How on earth is Jane allowed to read books all day at work? Listening to an audiobook is reading – your mind is on the words, not on whatever is in front of you. Unless Jane is doing something purely mechanical, she can’t be doing a lick of work.

    1. Kella*

      That’s not the case for everyone. I used to play movies in the background of doing things because having the sound was relaxing, I wasn’t actually paying attention to the words. Lots of people can’t concentrate with words, but can concentrate with music, I can’t concentrate with music even if it has no lyrics, and some people find listening to audio books helpful for their concentration because they’re listening in a different way. Not everyone has the same functionality around concentration and sound processing.

  62. Lucy*

    In OldJob I was responsible for a boring but mid-level task each morning which typically took around an hour, in a private room. I took to using my personal MP3 player with in-earphones to play wordless classical music during that time.

    I was asked to stop, because ?people weren’t allowed to listen to music in the open-plan office ?the manager in question didn’t like headphones in the office ?can’t even remember what reason was given. I was annoyed, but complied.

    Now I work from home and listen to music pretty much constantly.

    My tip for good background music, by the way, is to listen to videogame soundtracks (Skyrim, WoW, Final Fantasy, etc). They are classical and generally wordless, or not a real modern language, and are generally ever so slightly urgent which I find motivating!

    1. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      Video game soundtracks are designed for focus. My son uses them all the time when he has to concentrate.

  63. MCMonkeyBean*

    I really hope that your boss backs you up on getting your coworker to shut down her noise. And that would be kind of a hilarious outcome if she is the one who complained about your headphones!

    This reminded me a little bit of an experience with a roommate in college. She was watching stuff without headphones, so I put my headphones in to drown her out. But I put them in kind of far and watched TV that way for like… hours. Eventually it was too painful to continue and I figured, well if she doesn’t need to wear headphones then I guess I don’t either! So I took them out. And then my roommate asked me to put them back in. I was really kind of shocked that she would ask that when she was watching stuff without them! I said no, they were hurting my ears. She left and I could hear her complaining about me to someone on the phone outside our window.

  64. Mim*

    Not much to add other than that this post is making me feel like I really did myself a disservice by not making more of a stink about having to listen to a co-worker’s to-40 radio station for years and years. She somehow got it grandfathered in, and it wasn’t a work environment where we could wear headphones. I can’t believe I put up with that B.S. for so long. Our supervisor was so conflict avoidant that I didn’t bother saying anything. But I should have. In the end it was just symptomatic of bigger entitlement issues with that co-worker, and getting her to shut off the damn radio wouldn’t have fixed the overarching problems. But it would have saved me so many dreadful earworms.

    The summer that Call Me Maybe was popular almost did me in, I swear.

  65. Meredith*

    To be fair, I do find it annoying when I have a coworker who has their headphones turned up so loud that they don’t hear me call their name. Even when I say it louder. And then I have to go to their desk. And try to flag them down to get their attention. But I do work in a fairly collaborative environment. I occasionally use earbuds, but the volume allows me to hear background noise. That said, it won’t work in this situation since Jane is being selfish and obnoxious. I would imagine both of you listening to whatever you’d like with one earbud or at a volume low enough to be able to hear other noises would be perfectly reasonable.

    1. Greta*

      sometimes people are WORKING and do not wish to be interrupted. if you don’t have a messaging platform (like slack) at work, GET IT. it’s 2019. message a person when you have a question. then they can answer when they’re done focusing on their CURRENT task. jesus.

  66. Oranges*

    Soooo… if it was Jane who made the compliant, she’s upset that you can’t magically know when she’s talking to you? The earbuds are a bit of a red herring in my opinion because if you do get rid of the ear buds this will still be an issue since she talks to herself.

    Also, why does she need to tell you she’s going to lunch? I’d be tempted to make a snarky comment at that but I wouldn’t be able to think of one off the top of my head.

  67. Greta*

    yeah, do all the stuff “the MANAGER” recommends, but get serious about finding another job. a better job. where the boss is not an overgrown baby who can’t handle employees listening to some headphones. seriously, the tool can get with the times or find someone else.

  68. Jo*

    I often wear (Caucasian) flesh toned earplugs and I don’t think they’re noticeable by others. Hearos is my brand, box of 100 pair! When really pushed in, they eliminate almost all noise. A lifesaver for sensitive people like me. But if you just insert partially, they dampen the noise while still allowing you to hear if someone’s talking to you.

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