coworkers can’t hear me on calls from home because it’s loud here

A reader writes:

Due to the pandemic, I’m currently working from home, with my younger brother, father, two dogs, and two cats. My father and I share the office space — one of us works on either end of the desk with a distance of maybe one meter between us.

As part of my role, I’m occasionally responsible for handling systems training for external stakeholders. These stakeholders have a complicated relationship with the business, in that they often consider themselves as volunteers, rather than contracted freelancers. The business relies on the admin work they carry out, which can sometimes be quite problematic as they can feel like we “owe” them, rather than viewing the relationship as a collaborative one.

On the latest training session, I was stopped by one of these stakeholders, who mentioned that she could hear someone talking in the background and it was quite hard to hear. I apologized, explained that I was sharing my office space with someone else due to working from home in the pandemic, and that unfortunately I wasn’t able to do anything about it. This was a light-hearted conversation, I commented that lockdown had been a struggle, we laughed, and that was that.

I continued with the training session for another 20 minutes, when another person interrupted me and quite aggressively told me that the noise in the background was making it very hard to hear. She stated this was disrespectful to her and the other attendees, and that this was unacceptable. I apologized again and reiterated that coronavirus has affected us all in different ways, and that for me personally, that meant having to share my office space with other people. She continued to complain and asked what I would suggest she do — should she leave the call and attend another session on another day, for example. I explained that if she booked onto another session where I was in charge of the training, we would very likely find ourselves in the same situation, but that ultimately the decision was up to her. She hung up without saying another word.

This was unnerving and really threw me off. I’m naturally anxious, but when faced with confrontation, I get very shaky and prone to tears. I excused myself for a minute while I tried to calm myself down and then apologized to the other attendees for the delay. However, because I had been so upset by this attendee’s rudeness, it really derailed the training session, as I’d lost track of where we had got to. I’m sure I skipped some important points through having lost my confidence, and I feel certain that I delivered a really sub-par session as a result of the confrontation.

Was there a better way to handle this? Is there any onus on my side to do anything about the noise, or is it appropriate to expect a level of understanding, given the pandemic and widely reported changes to working practices? From my side, I felt like although my office-mate was talking loudly in the background, it was unavoidable given that he also has to work and also conducts most of his work via phone/zoom. We both wear headphones to limit the background noise, but ultimately we need to share the office space and are going to end up on phone calls at the same time.

Is it worth raising a complaint about this person’s conduct, or should I just let it go?

I’m sympathetic to the interrupting attendees!

They shouldn’t be rude to you, but it’s true that if they’re investing their time in a training session, they need to be able to hear — and if they can’t, that’s a problem they should bring to your attention. And it’s reasonable to interrupt you to do it, because otherwise they’d be stuck sitting through a session that they couldn’t hear, which would waste both their time and yours.

I think you were looking at it as “well, there are reasons for why there’s noise, and we all have to be flexible right now” … but if they can’t hear, they can’t hear. They’ve got to let you know that! That doesn’t mean you are doing something wrong, necessarily, but it’s not reasonable for you or them to spend time in a session that can’t be heard.

It would be different if it were something like a few dog barks every hour or occasional but limited kid noise. That’s the kind of thing people do need to be flexible about right now, as long as it doesn’t prevent people from actually hearing. But it sounds like this was enough background noise that it was genuinely getting in the way of people being able to absorb the material … and that does need a solution.

So yes, unfortunately I do think the onus is on you to figure out what to do about the noise if it truly makes it hard for people to hear or — if that’s impossible, which it might be — to raise it with your boss as an issue that needs resolving.

One question I have is whether this has come up before. If it hasn’t, was that day was particularly loud or are you just not doing these trainings often enough for it to have been an issue before? If the times you need quiet are relatively rare, maybe there’s a way to coordinate with your dad for one of you to use a different space for an hour or two so you have less background noise.

If that’s not an option, it gets more complicated, and depends a bit on whether you’re working from home by choice or not. If you’re at home because you prefer it, the answer might be that you’ve got to go into the office on days when you do these trainings; this may just be a part of the job that doesn’t work remotely, at least not with your current set-up. But if you’re not there by choice — if your office hasn’t reopened or the plan is for your team to stay remote or being at home is a medical accommodation — then your employer has more responsibility to (a) recognize that not everyone has quiet office space in their homes and (b) help come up with a solution (which could be anything from reassigning these trainings if they’re rare to renting you space to do them from).

{ 427 comments… read them below }

  1. Bee Eye Ill*

    We have had similar experiences in my workplace and are looking at investing in Cisco brand noise cancelling headphones with microphones that isolate your own voice and block out those around you. They are made specifically for call center type situations with multiple people talking in close proximity. They aren’t cheap, though.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      This was what I came to suggest. Don’t skimp, either. You get what you pay for, and you need something high end.

      1. Bee Eye Ill*

        Most that we looked at were in the $150-300 range. Some bosses may not like that but it’s an investment.

        1. Judge Crater*

          Another alternative I use is a corded usb gaming headset. They have noise cancelling capabilities as well as cool looking lights on the Over Ear Headphones. The one I have is similar to this:

          1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

            I use similar headphones (but no cool lights). They make me look like I’m at NASA Mission Control, but they really work! Definitely worth the money and maybe your employer will pay for them.

              1. No Tribble At All*

                If you’re legit at mission control, I’d love for Alison to interview you! Or post about it on the Friday open thread!!

          2. datamuse*

            I swiped one of my spouse’s gaming headsets early in the pandemic. It makes me look like an air traffic controller but has been a lifesaver for meetings and presentations–a faculty member even asked me what kind they were because he was about to teach online for nine months and wanted good sound quality for his students.

          3. learnedthehardway*

            Yes – this!! I bought a really nice gaming headset for my kid, and it turns out it works great for video conferences. The sound is crisp and clear, the noise cancelling microphone is amazing. Personally, I have ambient hearing loss, so background noise is a big issue for me on my end (ie. with my fan running, it can be hard to hear people in my own office). The over ear headphones on the gaming headset mean none of the background noise gets through. Meanwhile, I come through clear as a bell to the other people on the call.

            Luckily, my kid plays D&D with friends in my office in the evenings, so I have access to the gaming headset during the day.

            1. Edwina*

              Can I ask you which headset you bought? I’ve been trying out different headsets for my zoom calls and still haven’t found one I really like (and I have the same difficulty with minor hearing loss).

          4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Came here to suggest this. I am in an apartment, by myself, but it has no central AC, and there were outside noises coming in (city sounds like traffic) when I had the window open, and have a fairly loud window AC unit now. People were complaining that they could not hear. I dug out a gaming headset I had and it works great.

        2. ROUS*

          My company got those for us for wfh and they’re a lifesaver. The landlord was doing a full rehab of the apartment directly above from me including power tools and the whole bit: no one could hear it at all during meetings.

        3. Case of the Mondays*

          Even if the boss won’t pay for it, it’s way cheaper than renting office space or getting a different housing arrangement. While employers should pay for work items, if the item is necessary because of your own living situation, you may end up having to pay for it but it’s worth it (at least in my opinion) to keep your job!

    2. PolarVortex*

      Was coming here to say exactly this. There are others besides Cisco but you’re right you are investing $$ into them. They do work, really well, and are a game changer.

      Depending you may also be able to find the right headset/microphone combo for gamers/streaming/etc that can work close enough to count. They’ll also be expensive too for what you’re looking for, but I find they’re much more comfortable than what you get with the call center headsets. (Those ones are fine, I just find they’re not as amazingly comfortable all day long.)

      1. Bee Eye Ill*

        I prefer the stereo “earmuff” kind that cover both ears with big comfy pads. It helps block out sound more.

        Just plain old “noise cancelling” headsets won’t cut it, though. Basically every set makes that claim. You got to invest in the really good ones designed to block outside noise.

        1. Lurker*

          I have a stereo earmuff pair and recently got a pair of Bose that are really great! I like to switch back and forth because the earmuffs make me hot (your ears are your radiators!) and the in ear ones can bug me after a while.

          1. PolarVortex*

            You’re right about the ears being radiators! I prefer big earmuffs myself but it’s a real pain in the summer when I’m out and about wearing them. (Winter it’s amazing though)

    3. HotSauce*

      Yes! My employer got these for us when we went remote and it has been an absolute savior. In the beginning everyone was just using earbuds or their computer speakers/mics & all of the background noise made it difficult to understand people, even with the vast majority on mute. Since we got these it’s been night & day.

      1. lilsheba*

        I use a really good bluetooth speaker and the mic on my video camera, works great, I can hear everyone and they hear me.

    4. Venus*

      We rarely have big meetings and have found a free solution:
      We call into the meetings with cellphones, as they are better about sound quality, and the internet doesn’t become flakey so there aren’t intermittent issues which seem to happen even in areas with otherwise good connectivity (WFH has stressed parts of systems that weren’t designed to be stressed). It can be a bit odd to be talking on a cellphone in a video meeting, and yet… it works.

      1. TooTiredToThink*

        I would also say this works pretty well too, and combining with a headset/earpods for phones would be a cheaper solution (although, if the company will pay for the headsets mentioned above – those are the best option).

    5. LC*

      Exactly this. Noise isolation is key. A lot of headphones talk about noise cancellation, which is also important, but for this type of thing, you want noise isolation.

      I have a pair of over ear Sennheiser headphones that are fantastic. They definitely cost some money, but it’d be worth asking your employer if they could cover them. (Or just buy them for yourself and revel in sound from movies actually being balanced and the dialog isn’t whipser quiet but the explosions or whatever are deafening. I basically live in these headphones now.)

      1. LC*

        To add, my husband sits about five feet from me and we often have overlapping meetings, and I live on a very noisy street. The background noise bothers me more than it bothers the people I’m on the phone with. There have been so many times where I’ll stop and apologize for the noise and get a “what noise?” response.

        1. Not a cat*

          I used Sennheiser headphones when I sang in bands (oh so long ago) they are really good.

          1. Self Employed*

            A friend of mine used to work for Sennheiser in the SF Bay Area. He bought a lot of their gear from sample sales or whatever they were.

    6. Macaroni Penguin*

      Yeah, I got a noise canceling Hyper X headphone set and mic for this type of situation. Work gave us $30 to pick out a basic headset. But I spent $130 to upgrade to cordless noise canceling one. Hopefully the OP’s work place can give the funding for equipment. Otherwise the OP might have to spring for things themselves or find a different work space.

    7. Tryinghard*

      I have a gaming USB headset ($60 paid for by me) and did a meeting in which I hosted and a firetruck went by with the sirens blaring. Nobody heard a thing. I had the option of using my laptop microphone and speakers but knew I wouldn’t be comfortable with background noise. I wish my company paid for it but I ended up buying them to make my life easier.

    8. Em*

      I can confirm that mine (which is a Plantronics model) is so good at picking out only my voice that if I accidentally leave it flipped up rather than in its usual place two inches from my mouth, people cannot hear me. I’ve apologized for a siren going past (about ten metres from my window, with the window open) and had fire alarms going off and people couldn’t hear anything except my voice. Call centre headsets are fantastic.

    9. GothicBee*

      I used cisco headsets at my last call center job where we were all in close proximity and they work really well. No one ever complained that they could hear noise in the background that I can remember, except the time the fire alarm went off while on a call.

      But also, consider the acoustics of the room you’re in. If you have a lot of hard surfaces, it’s going to amplify background noise. You can buy acoustic foam to help absorb sound, but you probably already have stuff you could add to the room even just temporarily to help cut down on echoing/noise if that’s a problem (e.g., cushioned furniture, blankets, pillows, towels, etc.). Another option: add a barrier between the two work spaces (preferably something that will help absorb noise), even just a thick blanket hung up between the two work spaces would probably help.

    10. employment lawyah*

      You beat me to it.

      This problem is 90% solvable with technology: headphones and a good headset do WONDERS for the issue.

    11. MaltedMilk*

      We use plantronics headsets where I work. The microphones don’t pick up your voice if you move it too far away from your mouth so something like that may help as it’s unlikely to pick up as much background noise. I guess there are probably a lot of headsets that could potentially make a difference in these types of situations.

    12. Idril Celebrindal*

      I splurged and got the SteelSeries Arctic 9 headset and I am sold. So comfortable, I don’t hear/am not distracted by outside noise, and it has solved all the problems I had with others hearing background noise on my end. I would highly recommend a good noise isolation headset for the OP because could definitely fix the issue and give them upgrade in the professional sound of their trainings too.

    13. pleaset cheap rolls*

      Beyond noise cancelling or isolating, it’s important to have the microphone very close to your mouth (but a little to the side, so it doesn’t get breathy). This can make a huge difference, and is one of the reasons almost any headset will be much better than the built in mic on a laptop.

      I take a different approach, using an external mic on a mic stand that is highly directional. If it can be set in a way that other noises are not in that direction, this can be a big help. Mine is a moderately expensive ($120) “podcast” mic by Rode, but there are decent similar mics as low as $35 out there, such as from Fifine. A mic stand adds to cost but is very important to get the mic in exactly the right location. Mics that clip on to your clothes might be good too.

      If you’re on calls a lot, spending money (your own or your company’s) to get the sound as good as possible is really important to the people you’re talking to. Probably more than camera/lighting.

      Here is some good info on sound for calls

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        Adding – there is also software that can be used on the speaker’s side to try to minimize noise.

        For low-level noise (like the hum of a fan) it’s very common among serious live streamers to use what’s called a noise gate and other software settings in tools like OBS (free) to help. This really works thought setup can be a little geeky.

        For louder stuff, it may be worth considering a tool such as I don’t know how well this sort of thing works but some people say it helps a lot.

        Note also there are advanced settings in Zoom and many other video/voice call services to adjust noise suppression – from none to auto to very aggressive. Might be worth looking at.

        So consider all of these, though I still feel hardware, space and location are most important.

    14. NotJane*

      I’ve found that AirPods Pro actually work great. I sometimes have to work in a noisy room and while I can’t hear myself think, my coworkers say they don’t hear the background noise at all over zoom.

      Dealing with the noise is so important. I have a little bit of trouble hearing and get incredibly upset and anxious when I can’t hear what’s being said. I always use subtitles when possible, but in work meetings it’s incredibly frustrating to the point where I’ve left webinars I was excited about over it. If I was in a situation where I had to try to listen to someone I couldn’t hear, I would probably react similarly to the person who left the call.

  2. Roscoe*

    Yes, the onus is on you to deal with this. If your job is to deliver a session, and they can’t hear the session, you aren’t doing your job. They could’ve been more polite, but the fact that you are throwing your hands up and acting like its THEIR fault somehow is a bit tone deaf I think.

    If you need to do these things at others can’t hear, maybe you shouldn’t be the ones doing theses sessions until a better solution can be found.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I think the OP was feeling that the noise wasn’t that loud and the attendees were just being fussy. But even quiet background noises can became distracting if conversations can be heard.
      If truly nothing could be done in the moment, I would have at least made a show of trying to do something about it so my customers knew I was acknowledging their feedback.

      1. PollyQ*

        Some microphones are more sensitive, too. What seemed not too loud to LW might have been coming across the line more strongly to the listeners.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          It also doesn’t even have to be that loud. My brain doesn’t like processing spoken words- if I’m talking to someone next to me and there’s someone else talking in the next room over just loudly enough that it’s apparent as language rather than background noise, my brain will simply refuse to process anything.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            That’s how it was for me in a phone call at work last week. The other guy was in a room with a bunch of other people who were also talking on their phones, and the other voices overlapped with his so that I had to concentrate super hard to separate his voice from the surrounding noise, but it all just melted together into unintelligible white noise.

          2. Aquawoman*

            +1. I have the same issue. And even in situations where I can process what’s being said, it’s hard work for my brain and therefore exhausting.

          3. generic_username*

            I have the same issue. I also can’t speak/think when I’m hearing noise like this either. So any sort of feedback will completely derail me (which is how I became the person who would always call people out by name to mute if they were unmuted)

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Same hat! I cannot speak if I’m trying to process language noise either. I can make words or I can hear words, I cannot do both.

          4. Lolo9090*

            I have the same brain issue! I have a really hard time learning audibly, which can be kind of assisted by taking vigorous notes during one-on-one calls, but it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible for me to process information during group calls where everyone doesn’t have their mic muted. If LW’s dad is typing or also talking the whole time, I’d probably have to leave the call because I’d never retain a thing.

          5. Archaeopteryx*

            Yes it’s very hard for me not to focus on words as opposed to other noises. The fast food place next to my apartment in college used to blast their music during 2am cleanup/closing (and sometimes leave it on all night! It took many, many complaints to stop this). A techno or instrumental song would come on, I would almost drift off to sleep… and then a song with words comes on and I’m awake again. Even if the techno was louder. The brain just grabs onto background noise words even if you tell it not to.

          6. Le Sigh*

            Not sure if I have quite the same issue, but I really struggle with filtering out background noise in general. If I’m on a sidewalk and there’s traffic sounds, the other person *has* to speak directly at me (like, cannot have their head turned away at all) or its like their words get absorbed into a black hole. If I were in this training, I would not have been able to hear at all, nevermind how distracting it would be.

          7. Windchime*

            Me too. It’s like trying to listen to two songs at the same time; neither of them makes sense. Some people are just better at being able to block things out, but I can’t. I have a coworker whose large dog barks constantly while she is talking and it’s like she doesn’t even hear it.

          8. MusicWithRocksIn*

            For some reason I have fantastic hearing when it comes to picking out tiny super small noises in a quiet space – I used to make my boyfriend keep his watch in the living room because the ticking made it hard for me to sleep, and I can hear when a plug or outlet is going out because there is a high pitched wine, but hearing someone talk to me while in a loud restaurant or club is totally impossible. I cannot sort out different sounds when it is loud at all.

          9. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            OMG I have the same problem. If I am in the middle of two overlapping conversations, my brain refuses to process either one as anything other than background noise.

        2. Lacey*

          Yes, also, she might have settings she can change so that it picks up less ambient noise. My husband’s microphone was set so that it picked up even a whisper in the next room, but when he figured out how to change it I could speak quietly and not be noticed.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Zoom also has a feature for this if it’s not native to your mic. I assume webex and others have similar features.

            1. Wheezy Weasel*

              Zoom enables ‘automatically adjust my mic’ by default and it’s not always perfect. When the OP isn’t talking, it may be increasing the gain to pick up backgroud noise.

        3. TooTiredToThink*

          YES! The other day I was in the opposite situation – training someone. I had to ask them to mute themselves because someone was in the next room washing dishes. Their microphone was picking it up so loudly and I could not concentrate at all at what I was trying to say. They were able to tune it out.

        4. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          Oh so true about the microphone sensitivity. I had a terrible moment when attending a class early in the pandemic, when I just snagged a recording microphone from my library’s makerspace and didn’t realize how sensitive it was until I’d hooked it up and set it on my desk right in front of me (like, 4 inches or so away from me).

          It turned out that the last patron to use it had been recording ASMR videos, and so the gain on it was turned all the way up. Classmates were hearing everything whenever I unmuted – The movement of fabric across my skin if I so much as twitched, the most minute I would make in the chair, and the actual beat of my heart were clearly audible when I went back to listen to the class recording a few days later.

          I dread what any of my classmates with mysophobia must have come to think of me during that session.

        5. Koala dreams*

          That’s an important point. Things don’t sound the same in real life and over the line. Small sounds you wouldn’t notice in person can be quite distracting, even for people with no hearing issues. I have this experience with fans and wind. I have no problem hearing when we both stand next to the fan, but listening on the phone/in a headset the words disappear. The same with hearing something outside on a windy day.

      2. Occ524*

        Yup agreed. Because of how Zoom works, this isn’t at all like being in a crowded conference room or tuning out street noise in person. However, check your zoom settings and play around with background suppression!

    2. ten four*

      I agree with a caveat: it’s OP’s employer’s job to provide headphones that will mitigate this issue (or reimburse OP for them).

      1. Roscoe*

        Sure, but OP is acting like they need to just deal because she can’t do anything. If she needs better headphones, then she needs to talk to her boss about that. But she still needs to handle this, or elevate it to someone who can.

      2. BabyElephantWalk*

        With the caveat that if the office is open and OP is choosing to work at home, OP will either need to go in or pay out of pocket for headphones.

    3. Pumpkin215*

      I completely agree. The answer can’t be “Oh well…ya know…pandemic…so…..”. I experienced the exact same thing last week, but I was on the other end. Someone on my team was training me and I couldn’t hear a GD thing because of her kids and husband. I swear she had her laptop in the middle of the playroom. Not once did she acknowledge or try to tone down the noise. I spoke up stating I couldn’t hear her so she tried to talk louder. By the time she was done, I had come choppy notes and a headache.

      This didn’t solve the problem and I missed important parts of the training. I brought it to the attention of my boss so she and I are going to set up another session where she is present and see how that goes. Either way, it was time and money wasted.

      LW, you need to find a solution to this and pull yourself together. Talk with your manager and you dad to see what options are available.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Yes, if the voices on my end of the training are melting together unintelligibly, hearing the trainer tell me, essentially, to suck it up because nothing can be done would be quite irritating. I’d want to at least hear that something was being looked into or that there was some measure of concern about the situation.

        1. Cats and Bats Rule*

          +1. I sympathize with the OP, but I’m a little hard of hearing and can have trouble hearing one person if someone else is talking. I have to admit I would probably have gotten a little shirty and hung up on the training. Why bother with the training if I can’t make out what the trainer is saying. The OP needs to talk to their manager about this!

          1. BeenThere*

            I’m hard of hearing too and I would not have been able to understand the trainer. My type of hearing loss means I don’t have the ability to filter out background noise and focus on one conversation.

            Noisy restaurants, music in the car, strong enough AC and I will not be able to have a conversation with you not matter how loudly you yell over the other sound. I just don’t have the information to process it.

      2. ChickenNBiscuits*

        Seriously….it’s been over a year. I’m tired of hearing the pandemic trotted out as an excuse ad nauseum.

        1. Yorick*

          Exactly. After a whole year, there’s definitely something that can be done to resolve this problem. Can OP do these trainings in her bedroom or another space in the house, even if she works in the shared home office the rest of the time?

        2. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

          Exactly what I was going to say. Other people have found a solution. At this point it’s just not a viable excuse anymore.

      3. EventPlannerGal*

        Yeah, agreed. Personally I find it a lot harder to distinguish between voices over a call than I do in person, so I really would have struggled with this.

        I do think there was a period when “oh, you know, pandemic” really was a pretty acceptable thing to say – we were all struggling to figure out workarounds and sometimes stuff just didn’t go right. But it’s been eighteen months (assuming that this letter was written recently) and that’s a LONG time to figure out a better plan.

        1. DyneinWalking*

          In person, you can hear the direction of where a sound comes from, and can watch someone’s lips and expression in real time while they talk.
          I’m sure both of those help immensely with focusing on one source of sound and tuning out the others. But in calls, all noises in a room will be picked up by one microphone which loses the info of direction, and there’s often a lag between video and audio meaning you can’t use the visual cues, either.

      4. Librarian of SHIELD*

        The response LW gave about this is just so entirely lacking. When that attendee asked if she should sign up for another session so she’d be able to hear and learn the things she needed to learn, LW’s response was basically “if you get me as your trainer next time, this will probably happen again,” and that’s not in any way acceptable.

        LW, I know it’s irritating for you to get repeated complaints that people can’t hear you on your calls, but the entire purpose for having the call is for people to hear you. Your response should have been “I’m so sorry that the circumstances of today’s training session made things difficult, I’ll check in with my management to see what we can figure out to make it work for future sessions.

        Are you on audio-only calls, or are these video calls? If they’re video, does the software you’re using have an auto-caption function that you can turn on? Can your workplace invest in better recording equipment for you? Can you do these sessions from a different room in your house where no one else’s talking will overlap? Can you go to your office on training days? Does your local library have private rooms you can use for a few hours when necessary? There has to be a way you can make this work for the people attending your trainings.

    4. BluntBunny*

      Yes have to agree is it possible to go to your bedroom when you have important calls or ones you are chairing or ask your father to? Don’t know if you are using teams but there is a feature that reduces background noise not seen it on zoom. Would recommend headsets for both you and your father if you aren’t already doing and mute yourself unless you are speaking.

    5. Archaeopteryx*

      Yes, they shouldn’t have been rude or escalated to hanging up so quickly, but the fact that you didn’t communicate to them any effort on your part to go somewhere else / ask your dad to move for an hour / work something else out is what provoked them. This is your problem, even if it came about for really understandable reasons, and you have to at least try to solve it. It was probably the matter-of-fact shrug response that led to confrontation.

      1. Artemesia*

        I don’t even see them as rude and hanging up is precisely what someone should do when told the service they are being provided is just fine although they can’t hear because ‘COVID’ and we all need to adjust. She should continue to struggle to listen?

          1. pleaset cheap rolls*

            Yup. Why sit around wasting time getting nothing? I’d have left the call right then too.

    6. Artemesia*

      The idea that you should be seeking to reprimand clients who cannot hear the training being delivered is jaw dropping. If training is being delivered than the person delivering it must make it intelligible to the trainees. NO EXCUSES allowed for not delivering the product — so either find another space e.g. the bedroom with a laptop? or find a tech solution but the onus is totally on the LW to solve this for the people being trained.

    7. Train the Trainers Trainer*

      LW: As a trainer of trainers, I know that I can’t be minimizing the participant’s concerns about unable to hear/unable to see/anything else that impedes their participation, and still expect them to be engaged in the session.

      You’re not on their side of the call, how would you know for sure how distracting your background noises sound to them? You’re training adults here. It’s not reasonable, and frankly it comes across as disrespectful, to tell them “just deal with it.” If they can’t hear, then they won’t want to waste their time.

      It’s really about maintaining psychological safety of your participants. If they don’t feel you’re listening to their basic request about needing to hear, and don’t see you making efforts to improve the situation, then how can they trust you won’t minimize their needs about higher stakes things?

  3. 3DogNight*

    Noise cancelling headsets are the answer here. I have one, and people can’t even hear the dog barking on my calls.

    1. TootsNYC*

      It’s not the headset; it’s the microphone.
      Maybe a lower-end microphone is enough.

      1. BeenThere*

        This. Headphones that have microphones typically have a with directional mic because people want to use them for games and calls.

    2. fiona the baby hippo*

      My boyfriend occassoinally zooms with a friend using a headset i believe designed for gaming and its wild what we can’t hear. He has two kids under 3 and they live in a pretty small apt and I have never heard a peep! His wife will sometimes come up right behind him to say hi and we cant even hear her (standing over him) until she puts the headset on.

  4. Phony Genius*

    A technical solution might be a directional microphone, which is designed to only pick up a voice that is talking directly into it.

    1. Flower necklace*

      I got an external microphone for my computer when my school went to hybrid. Most teachers didn’t bother, but I wanted to try to limit the amount of chatter/ambient noise for the virtual students. I can’t say for sure how well it worked, but there was one time when I didn’t bother (I was at home, tutoring after school) and the student said they were having trouble hearing me. I don’t really trust the laptop’s built-in microphone.

      1. Observer*

        I don’t really trust the laptop’s built-in microphone.

        That was smart. With very few exceptions, the webcam / mike on a laptop is the bare minimum. Which is find for some situations. But when you are teaching you NEED excellent quality sound without external pickup. Thanks for getting that!

    2. RadManCF*

      One-time AV tech here. Specifically what you want is a dynamic microphone. Not a condenser, electret, or ribbon mic. A dynamic mic works like a speaker in reverse, has a directional pickup pattern, and can be set so it only picks sounds from right in front of it.

  5. Liz T*

    Yeah, it’s unclear whether OP had made any attempts to mitigate this in advance by talking to their dad/whoever was making the noise. “I have a training today, can you schedule calls around that/take them elsewhere?” THAT’s the kind of adjustment people are making due to the pandemic, not somehow being better at hearing than they used to be.

    1. Littorally*


      Someone with difficulty hearing (and, OP, reminder that this may constitute disability issues such as being HoH or having an auditory processing disorder!) is not gonna magically get better at it, and OP’s response is essentially ‘suck it up and deal.’

      Look, OP, the information you’re delivering is presumably important. If they’re telling you that they’re not getting what you’re sending, that is a problem you need to be concerned with. Don’t laugh it off!

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Yeah, I probably wouldn’t have been aggressive, but I would have hung up (honestly, I would’ve taken OP at their word that it couldn’t be fixed and dipped during the first conversation). My brain simply won’t process things if two people are cross-talking, and if it can’t be helped I probably shouldn’t be wasting my time.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Same here. I wouldn’t have been aggressive, but I probably would have hung up, because there would have been no use staying on if I couldn’t process anything that was being said; that’s just a recipe for needless frustration.

          1. Kal*

            I wouldn’t have been aggressive, but if I didn’t hang up, I likely would have been mildly petty by making OP repeat everything numerous times until I could actually hear it. Though its not really petty, since if I’m there, I’m there to hear whats being said, not just waste my time. So if OP is unable to make it clear, having them repeat things until it can be understood would be my adjustment for the pandemic.

            I am curious too, though, what are these people being paid if they feel like they are volunteering their time and like the business owes them for what sounds like the vital admin work they are doing? If they’re contracted freelancers being paid for their work, why would they feel like they are owed something? I’m curious where else in this chain something is going so wrong that this is just the default state of things.

            1. JB*

              Honestly, considering OP seems to think that ‘wanting to hear the person training them’ is part of this entitled attitude these contractors supposedly have, I’m not convinced that anyone besides OP sees the situation that way. It sounds like they’re regular contractors with regular expectations of the person training them.

              1. Kal*

                Yeah, to me the problem sounds like its either an OP problem, or the company as a whole has the same rotten attitude and taught to to OP. Contractors feeling like they are owed adequate training and compensation for what even OP says is work vital to the business is just utterly normal. And the work being vital to the business is an argument for why the contractors should be adequately compensated, not an argument that they should be happy with less compensation for the sake of being “collaborative”.

                Given how frequent these training sessions are, it somewhat sounds like the company itself might be the problem, since vital admin work being farmed out to a constantly rotating set of underpaid freelancers sounds to me like a company trying to avoid paying anyone a fair wage to do the work, unless there’s some very specific reasons why this company can’t hire someone to do the work on a longer-term contract or as a full employee. Admin work isn’t normally the sort of work that you farm out to a gaggle of individual freelancers from my experience – that does sound a lot more similar to the volunteering I’ve done than anything else.

      2. Le Sigh*

        Yeah, this is the part of this letter that bugged me the most. I am forever frustrated by how often people either completely overlook hearing-related issues or are really obnoxious about it. It’s disheartening.

        I have no idea if OP has any experience with hearing difficulties, but if not, I would really encourage them to rethink their approach and realize this is very much an accessibility issue. There are a whole range of hearing-related issues that aren’t just deaf v. hearing and the OP’s approach can wind up being exclusionary.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Yeah if I were on a training session and got told “Hey Covid what can you do?” I would be a little upset too. I hope I wouldn’t be rude. But OP you were a little cavalier about addressing their issue. Asking to be able to hear the training session is not being entitled or that it is less than collaborative. In fact, not being able to hear gets in the way of collaboration. You basically said “So what you can’t hear, this is the set up, deal with it.” Not that bluntly but that was the message that came across.

      1. annakarina1*

        And I don’t know when this letter got sent in, but it’s been about a year and a half of dealing with the pandemic and people working from home. Presumably, people by now would have their own WFH setup in place, getting past the whole messy A/V kinks of people using video chat from home early last year, and it’s not a good excuse to continue to blame the pandemic situation on poor audio to people who came for professional development and have worked with the situation to fit their own jobs.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Yeah, that’s what I was thinking. If this had been sent in at the very beginning of the pandemic (up to, let’s say, May 2020) I’d be a bit more sympathetic to OP, but unless their office was VERY late in letting folks work from home this has been the new normal for a while.

        2. generic_username*

          Agreed. I’m sure either OP or her dad could have worked from another spot for that meeting. It might be less comfy to set up in your bedroom, but you can do it (and it doesn’t have to be obvious. I once literally turned a box upside down and sat on the floor with my laptop on the box to get a blank wall for a background during a meeting in my bedroom)

        3. albe*

          It sounded like an Australian, from the tone of the email. Our biggest city, Sydney has had no covid up until 8 weeks ago, so they’re only now switching to work from home and having to make that adjustment along with going into heavy lockdown.

          1. misspiggy*

            Oh! That makes so much sense. Here in the UK so many of us have picked up knowledge and ways of working with these circumstances that OP came across as inconsiderate for not having fixed the issues earlier. But of course, many people in the world haven’t had to become home broadcasting experts…

          2. Can'tThinkOfAFandomReference*

            Sydneysider here; this is actually our second big lockdown, so no, this isn’t new to anyone who’s been in the workplace more than a few months

        4. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes, if this is a regular part of your job then you really should have addressed this by now! Obviously you can’t just magically make your house bigger but if scheduling time to have the office alone for meetings or taking meetings in another room isn’t an option, then getting a headset that minimizes other sounds getting picked up has got to be at least the bare minimum. This is definitely your problem to fix, OP. Or to get your company to fix.

      2. Caliente*

        Yeah, I’m usually super polite – I swear – but if someone blows me off about an issue I ask politely about and that I’m paying for, and they basically blow me off then the absolute best thing I could do would actually be to simply hang up. Because then I’d be really pissed and become super blunt about how I feel that your service is WHACK and during your training session that wouldn’t be polite.

        1. BeenThere*

          This is exactly me. I would then probably send an email to my boss plus whoever made us do the training and diplomatically complain hard.

      3. Simply the best*

        Yes, there are some “hey covid, what can you do” excuses that I think are still valid. If they were complaining about just being able to see Dad in the background, for example. But not being able to hear is a big issue.

    3. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I’m working in a close space with another person right now as well and we duplicate our meetings in each other’s calendars so we don’t book over one another. If that can’t be avoided, one of us takes the call elsewhere (whoever needs their actual computer setup or might be leading the meeting, etc. is the person who gets to stay). I know not everyone else has an “elsewhere” to go to, but it’s helped a lot and I don’t think there’s been more than a handful of times where we were really and truly stuck.

    4. New Job So Much Better*

      That was my first thought, try to schedule different times with dad so that their calls don’t overlap.

    5. ThatGuy*

      I’d have expected the LW to do the following:

      1) Apologize and thank the complainer for bringing it to her attention.

      2) Immediately take a 5-10 minute break to try to troubleshoot the problem (move rooms, ask dad to be quiet, etc).

      3) Check in about whether the troubleshooting worked and allow people who still couldn’t hear to stop the training and postpone for another time when sound quality is better.

      Expecting people to sit through a training they can’t hear is disrespectful of their time.

      Just as an aside, some video platforms have an option for subtitles. That has really helped a client of mine who is hard of hearing. It might be an option for LW.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Yes, I would have expected some attempt at mitigation, acknowledgement of the problem, sympathy for the listeners, etc. Even if it was still hard to hear and I ended up having to leave the call anyway, it would be less frustrating to have the situation acknowledged than just brushed aside as if the listeners, rather than the set-up, are the problem.

        1. skunklet*

          yes! did they move to a bedroom? a closet? while I would not want to work daily in my bedroom, you GOTTA do what you gotta do.

          1. I'm just here for the cats*

            It sounds like there really isnt some place else for her to work. Not all closets are walk in closets that you can sit in and close the door and have quiet.

            1. Miss Muffet*

              Unless it’s a studio apartment, I’d have to think there is SOMEWHERE one of them could go for their call if they can’t just schedule around them. Dining room, living room, bedroom, anywhere so they aren’t just on top of each other. If it’s more important that she has the office space for her training, her dad should be flexible, or they’ll have to negotiate. My husband and I did this a LOT when we were sharing an office, if both of us had calls at the same time. One of us had to move – we also couldn’t hear if the other was right there – but we’d often negotiate who needed the office based on if one really needed the bigger monitors, or their meeting was longer, or they needed the privacy more because it was a sensitive conversation.

              1. Orb*

                My husband and I juggled this in a studio for the last year, he had to be on video all day so he was in the actual room and when I had to do video calls I shut myself into the bathroom. Sat on the bath mat with my laptop on a stool and the shower curtain behind me. It did not feel great, but we both needed quiet. I freelance and husband is a teacher so there is no asking for WFH budget to try to set up something more complex, we just rode it out until the lease was over and we could move into a larger place. Now I have a desk in the bedroom and husband’s is in the living room.

                Although to be super clear, if someone’s manager was demanding they sit on a bath mat in order to have a quiet background, I would not say that’s a reasonable expectation. But like, in a pinch, you might have to do some dumb stuff for the benefit of people who are getting on these calls with you.

      2. Venus*

        Subtitles don’t do well if the audio is bad. One way to know if the problem is based on the trainer or the audience is to see what the subtitles say. If they are wonky then I have independent confirmation that the trainer would need to improve.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          Additionally, a lot of automatic subtitles are, frankly, jank. They’re better than my inbuilt language processor, but not by that much!

    1. Rollerskate Kate*

      Sorry just saw you have them. I’m really surprised as I’d expect them to help more.

        1. Pants*

          Absolutely true. This is worth the money to invest in a professional-grade noise cancelling headset. One that not only cancels outside noises in your own ears, but in which the mic also cancels a large amount of outside noise. Call center headsets.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        There’s a big difference between earbuds, a small headphone and a full headset with noise-cancelling technology and a directional microphone. The first two may be fine when alone and little ambient noise, but when someone else is talking right by you, I recommend the big headset.

      1. quill*

        They also reduce feedback, because the speaker on your computer is going to echo into your computer mic.

      2. Sambal*

        Yeah, headphones won’t change anything if the mic being picked up is half a meter away from LW’s mouth. You would need headphones with a mic built in for it to be the least bit effective.

      1. smith*

        Agree – its not headphones. You can have excellent noise cancelling headphones that block you hearing other people but your microphone will pickup all kinds of noise around you.

        1. pleaset cheap rolls*

          I made a post above (which may take some time to show since it contains a link) – a very directional mic very close to your mouth can help a lot. I use a USB mic made for podcasts on a mic stand so I can position it to mainly get me and not other sounds in the room.

  6. Bertha*

    Another option, if you have a laptop, is to set up in a different room when you have to talk on calls, or try to arrange them when your father isn’t on the phone. I have a whole workspace setup, but I didn’t create it with the intention of every being on video, for example.. so there are times that I just move my laptop temporarily to somewhere that has a better background. (Of course we aren’t given any options to have other backgrounds on our web calls, which would make things a lot easier!)

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I came here to say the same thing. I’ve given and attended countless training sessions via laptop, and why not? They were literally made to be portable. I’ll set it on a box or something so I don’t look down into the camera – yikes, how many chins do I have?? – and get on with it.

    2. an infinite number of monkeys*

      This is what I’ve done. I don’t want my workspace in my bedroom day-to-day, but when I run virtual conferences I move my whole setup (laptop, angled stand, second monitor, keyboard/mouse, and headset) onto a table in there, with a cheap folding screen behind me so no one can see the bed or other bedroom furniture and the door closed to keep animals and noises out. Normally my husband and I share our home office and sometimes our calls do overlap and distract each other, so for big meetings and events one of us will usually move for the day/week.

      1. fposte*

        Right. Or bedroom, as suggested, or even kitchen or bathroom. I’ve been hearing podcasters coming from all kinds of spaces in their houses depending on what noise they’re trying to avoid.

    3. A Person*

      Those digital backgrounds that zoom etc let you use? They’re not so great if you ever move around. And they use so much bandwidth! I had a shoji screen that I repurposed to make myself a tiny “phone booth” when needed, and then whatever was behind me in that room just didn’t matter.

  7. quill*

    It’s possible that you’re going to need to move to a location (that you can get to) with better acoustics for the duration of this training. Background noise is usually amplified over microphones or internet connections.

    If you don’t need to be visible on screen, I would suggest something like a walk-in closet, especially if you can clear a blank wall to sit against. Plenty of podcasters swear by the sound-dampening qualities of all your clothing in a tight space: no echoes, not competing with your housemate’s work conversations.

    1. Cat Tree*

      I was going to suggest a clean bathroom, as long as the house has more than one. They’re often placed in the house to be as private as possible. Sit on the toilet with the lid down, and laptop on the counter, a portable desk, or lap. I live alone but I occasionally used a bathroom to get away from general neighborhood noise. It might seem gross at first, but my bathroom is the most frequently cleaned place in my house. It’s very different than a public bathroom.

      1. Nona*

        I interviewed a job candidate recently, who was very obviously calling in from his bathroom. He explained at the start that he has three pre-school aged kids at home due to Covid, and that this was the only room in the house where he’d be confident of not being interrupted. It was a complete non-issue.

        1. Caliente*

          Yes – this is an appropriate covid accommodation, not you can’t hear oh well its covid.

      2. quill*

        It’s not ideal because the bathroom is almost always hard surfaces and it echoes… but it’s better than the alternative.

        1. TootsNYC*

          hang towels on all the towel bars, and even drape some over the shower curtain rod (at the very least, pull the curtain all the way out). Make sure there are rugs on the floor. Add towels in any big bare patches of tile floor.

          It’s amazing what a difference even just hanging a light shower curtain can do in terms of reducing that noise.

      3. pleaset cheap rolls*

        A bathroom is good to avoid other people’s sound, but will probably result in a very tinny sound due to reverb echoes etc. If there’s no other option, yeah, try it. Have the shower curtain down to try to damp as much echo as possible.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      I wonder if it might help OP to take a look through the AAM archives for letters from early in the pandemic about WFH setups. A lot of people had really useful, creative suggestions that ought to be even more achievable now that it’s easier to get hold of supplies to adapt your space.

      1. TootsNYC*

        My computer has no option to do that. I checked. That option is grayed out.
        It’s a great suggestion, though–I hadn’t realized it was an option for anyone until someone at my office did it. But when I checked, I couldn’t. Maybe my laptop is too old.

        1. COBugGirl*

          Yep, older laptops don’t have the ability (or limited abilities), usually due to graphics cards. My laptop is from January 2009 (and will be pried out of my cold dead hands) and can’t do any of the fun things. But my work computer does have the option! Sometimes it’s a good thing to not have the options…lol. (I play only when on calls with my family, not while on business calls.)

  8. BlueBelle*

    Places I have conducted training to make sure it was quiet enough: Sitting on my closet floor, in my car outside the house, in my car outside a Starbucks.
    I have worked from home for 5 years, and I go wherever I can to make sure it is quiet as possible if I am the one who is unmuted and doing the teaching.

    1. MoreCappucinosPlease*

      Same. OP, if you work from a computer, it is a moveable beast. I work from a work-provided desktop, so I sympathize that it’s not fun or easy to pick it up and move, but that’s also the kind of thing you have to do when you have an important meeting that can’t be disturbed and share a small office space.

      What makes it easier: I’ve commandeered a meal cart with wheels and bungee corded my modem to it. I hooked up my keyboard, headphones, and mouse in such a way that I can quickly stack them on top and wheel the beast in one go. I only have to unplug and replug my monitor, as even my Ethernet cord wheels with me.

      Hope that helps, and sorry you had an anxiety attack in the moment. Hope you find a solution so that this becomes a non issue in future!

    2. NoLongerYoung*

      And I’ve done presentations with wi-fi issues, so standing at the dryer in the laundry room (door does shut); standing at the counter in the kitchen (there’s an extender I can plug into), and from the dining room table (mom’s place – she has slower wifi but it is QUIET – this is when they were doing construction next door/ 4 feet from my office desk).

      At this stage, I have a plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C for all critical meetings.

      I want to work from home permanently, so I strive to make it look as seamless as possible. No excuses ever given, because I do not want to be told I have to come back into the office because (complaints/issues/perception).

      1. BlueBelle*

        I once had to get my husband to lure the rooster to the other side of the house so the rooster couldn’t be heard on my early morning call to my foreign parent country executives. LOL

        1. BeenThere*

          The image of this is gold. I really would have loved to been on a meeting with the rooster escaped from the husband clutches. Might be a passive aggressive way to enforce how early the call is.

      2. CTT*

        Laundry room office high five. I did so many calls there because it was the only room that the noises from the car repair place I live across from did not penetrate.

    3. Raida*

      At my work we aren’t allowed to do any of that because we work from home on the basis that we have a dedicated, ergonomic workstation.
      Anyone working with their laptop on their lap, sitting on the couch? Nope. You’ll sit at an appropriate-height desk/table, with an appropriate-height and support chair, with a footrest if necessary, a separate keyboard and mouse and monitor(or laptop riser).

      Every person WFH signs a declaration this workstation exists and meets the basic ergo requirements of a checklist. Anyone who doesn’t is 1) lying to the business and signing their name to it 2) setting themselves up for posture-related injuries 3) absolving the business of responsibility to pay for their medical bills due to these injuries.
      To start with we all took equipment from work, and when we transitioned back into part or full time in the office it’s up the individual to pay for their home equipment because they have the choice to work at their work-provided desk.

      1. Nightengale*

        Wow I am thankful I don’t have to agree to sit in a certain way (or get mountains of disability related paperwork to convince my workplace I can’t sit in their specified way.)

        I have been doing telemedicine from my couch with my laptop on my lap for 16 months. When I see patients in person, I also keep my laptop on my lap. I keep my feet up in the office. Sometimes I sit on the floor. My wrists can’t work uphill to use a keyboard on a desk, and my hips can’t handle sitting at 90 degrees in a chair for more than an hour or so at a time.

        Different people’s ergonomics are different.

      2. Calliope*

        This is super weird and not sure why it would prohibit you from moving for the length of a training. If you were giving that training in the office you wouldn’t be sitting at your designated workspace either. You’d be in a conference room or at a lectern probably.

      3. RagingADHD*

        You are far more likely to get posture-related injuries or other health problems from sitting in the exact same position all day long, every day, without deviation, than you are from occasionally sitting on a couch or the floor for a one-off training session.

      4. uncivil servant*

        But there’s the option of working in the building, and until they give you that option or pay for space, I don’t think they can require you to have a PRIVATE ergonomic office.

        If you had remote workers prior to the pandemic, I can imagine all of that being required, including a private, quiet space to provide training.

      5. MellonBaller*

        That’s…..unenforceable. And absurd. And you believe everyone follows this to a “t”? Nah, man.

      6. Small House*

        I’d be in trouble if I worked with you, then – I have a small house with no more room for furniture, so there’d be no place for any new desk or chair. Unless I put the whole collection in the garden…

    4. pleaset cheap rolls*

      A closet with clothes in it will result in GREAT sound quality. Lighting may be an issue.

  9. Renee Remains the Same*

    If you have a laptop, perhaps it makes sense to use another space. I’m assuming you don’t share a bedroom with your father or brother and while it’s not a complete office set up, it may be worthwhile to set up on your bed or use another location (or maybe go outside if you have a small, private backyard) – you could possibly use a bathroom if the set up is close enough, no one needs to know the decorative art behind you is a shower curtain.

    If you don’t have a laptop, maybe your company could provide one temporarily. It’s worth an ask to give you peace of mind.

  10. D3*

    Boggled that you think this is their problem and not yours.
    Alison is spot on that you need to find a way to deal with this that works or you’re not doing your job.
    Do not in any way, shape or form complain to anyone about the recipients “not being understanding” here.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        I know this will sound harsh, but we’ve been in this for more than a year and it’s not acceptable to regularly have bad sound. A brief interruption from kids or a doorbell is no big deal. But consistent bad sound where the listeners can’t understand. Not acceptable.

        Up your game OP. Do everything you can to up your game.

    1. iglwif*

      My company does training on our software and I cannot IMAGINE any of my trainer colleagues reacting this way, or our boss letting it go if they did.

  11. Feta*

    I’m confused about what LW wanted them to do. Just … not say anything and sit though a training they can’t understand?

    Many people have been in the same situation throughout the pandemic and we’ve had to make it work in whatever way we can, whether that means getting a different headset, setting up a table in the bedroom to work, etc.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Right? They DO understand. We’re all struggling and having to make do.

      But LW’s note about the volunteers behaving like the organization owes THEM rubbed me the wrong way. It’s not entitled or unreasonable or selfish or wildly demanding of them to expect to be able to understand a training you’re required to take. It IS a waste of time to sit on a call that’s not intelligible. It’s not automatically rude to hang up; it’s just rude to hang up rudely. They don’t have to stay on an unintelligible call for the sake of someone’s feelings. The problem was on LW’s end; the participants couldn’t do anything at all to fix it, and LW could, even if it was just moving to another room. Why have training if the material isn’t being conveyed?

      Others have given better technical solutions, but I want to encourage LW to adjust the attitude.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        This reminds me of the recent letter where the LW preferred email and didn’t want to make a phone call to a person who couldn’t use a computer due to a concussion. OP, it’s your job as the communicator to ensure you can get your message across. Don’t blame the recipient if you have not made the effort to communicate effectively. That’s especially true when they are required to attend the training.

      2. Annony*

        I think this is what it come down to. If the training is important, then you have to make sure that the attendees can hear. If it isn’t important, don’t do it. The solution may be that someone else takes over the occasional trainings until the office is open again. It may be technological. It may be setting up the computer on your bedroom floor and doing the training with the video off. Expecting the people who need the training to just deal with it isn’t really an option.

      3. Delphine*

        I don’t think there’s any call to suggest LW needs to “adjust the attitude.” I imagine the stakeholders’ on-going behavior colors LW’s perception of this situation–that they frequently believe themselves to be owed something by LW and others, and so they make collaboration difficult. In this particular case, they’re right to want to be able to hear, and it seems like that’s why LW wrote in–to get an opinion about what was the appropriate action.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          Those things aren’t mutually exclusive, though. These people may well not have the best relationship with LW’s department … but their expectation that LW try to do a better job of making the training audible, and not just palms-up shrug all “well, what do you expect me to do?” and keep talking, is not the problem here.

          LW also needs not to conflate the testy relationship with LW’s technical difficulties. LW doesn’t have to like these people, but s/he DOES need to do a better job of finding or making a quieter space.

        2. TootsNYC*

          they frequently believe themselves to be owed something by LW and others,
          The business relies on them, and they aren’t paid, so…

      4. cubone*

        honestly, that section makes me think there’s a whole OTHER letter here from the OP re: their organization’s relationship with these contractors who think they’re volunteers. That’s weird and clearly setting up everything up to be tinged with sour grapes.

        1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

          This part confusing me as well. I would have thought that there’s a pretty clear line between volunteers (generally unpaid, unlikely to have a contract) and contracters (generally paid, and with a specifically negotiated agreement or contact).
          Either way, not being able to hear the training is an issue that definitely needs to be resolved, but I also feel like the conflicting feelings of “We’re volunteering our time and you can’t even provide intelligible training” and “These people are contracted with us so it’s their responsibility to get the tasks done regardless” are going to cause issues down the road if they are not addressed.

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I was confused about that part too–I wouldn’t think there is any confusion as to whether they are volunteers or contractors because you’re either paying them or you’re not…

    2. BRR*

      I think the LW would have wanted the person to bring it up more gently (or possibly not at all since it was already brought up). I’m kind of surprised the comments skewed towards “make it work” rather than “it’s a pandemic we all have to make due.” Which I agree with since it doesn’t sound like the LW has tried to mitigate this at all.

    3. Geek5508*

      I have hearing mild hearing loss, but it manifests itself worse in exactly this type of situation – background noise making it impossible for me to understand whomever is speaking. OP’s attitude would NOT go over well with me, nor with most people in my org

  12. Petty Editor*

    Sound baffling, thick rugs and a headset mic designed for call centers have helped me in this exact situation. The company reimbursed me – it may be worth it to bring it up with yours, too.

    1. MsMaryMary*

      White noise could help too, in addition to physical sound muffling. Is your work space carpeted? Could you curtain or partition off your desk, at least when doing calls? You can get relatively inexpensive acoustic panels on Amazon that could help muffle the background noise.

  13. ThatGirl*

    I understand that space may be tight, but two people being on calls at the same time in the same room is just not a great solution. Even with headphones that can be distracting, and honestly, it would throw me off whatever I was talking about if I could hear someone else in the room with me talking to someone else.

    If this coworking solution is going to continue, I would suggest you definitely find a new space for training calls at a minimum, especially if your dad is going to be on the phone at the same time.

    1. Allypopx*

      Seriously – I have a hard time on zoom calls if my husband is in the next room talking, let alone if he was on the other end of the table.

    2. ...*

      And if the issue is with the dogs, then I have found that giving them something to chew on really helps! I live alone, so when they hear me talk to my computer or hear strange voices, it freaks them out.

      But when they have bones, the rest of the world disappears and they sit quietly and chew.

    3. GrooveBat*

      Yeah, I kind of don’t understand…does LW have their own room in the house? Maybe they need to set up there for these training so they can close the door.

    4. Raida*

      Honestly I’d avoid any assumptions that OP has any other space to work in – do we really think that an office set up for two adults to work in side by side was the dumbest option available?

      I assume that there are no additional rooms with doors that close which OP can move into, or that they have a spare desk, or that there are quiet spaces in the house.

      I also assume that one piece of equipment replaced – the headset/microphone – addresses the specific issue by being specifically engineered to do so.

      1. Lunita*

        I wouldn’t assume they don’t have any other space. Maybe that situation is absolutely fine for most of LW’s work. I spend most of my time in my living room, which is sometimes noisy if my son and husband are there. But it doesn’t matter if I’m not on calls. If I need quiet, I move to spaces I prefer less but that are still options.

        1. Groove Bat*

          Yeah and OP says that they are delivering training occasionally, not constantly. So I would imagine they have not made it a priority to find a quiet space for this particular purpose because it’s not frequent enough.

  14. CG*

    Alison and others have already jumped in with lots of great ideas, and I want to flag one other thought: is this a training that can *only* be live and participatory? Could you record a perfectly quiet version of this training – say, in an evening when your father is done working in this office – and caption/share it with any of your attendees who had trouble catching the original training?

    1. Solitary squirrel*

      Or could you even provide an emergency transcript/written materials? For people with audio processing difficulties, that’s often preferable to a video or audio recording anyway. I realise it only works if it is not strictly necessary for them to participate/respond in real time, but so does a recording. A lot of people would thank you.

      1. DataSci*

        I don’t have any audio processing difficulties, but for a non-interactive training I would 100% of the time prefer written materials, with visuals as needed, to a recording. I can read much faster than people can talk. I can search written materials after the fact, or go back over confusing parts.

    2. Kwebbel*

      What’s more, it allows people to participate in the training even if none of the sessions fit their schedule. And if frees up the trainer’s schedule to do other things. A good solution that’s worth looking into!

      You could then run briefer, drop-in Q&A sessions for people who have specific questions or need reinforcement on a few of the taught topics.

      I think there’s also some research that suggests adults learn best in this kind of “flipped classroom” environment, where adults receive training in video or written format, and come to a workshop or seminar style environment to practice what they’ve learned. It’s probably more rewarding for trainers as well (as they’re not always repeating one presentation over and over).

    3. katertot*

      This is a great point!! Or I’ve seen a few recently where portions were pre-recorded and then they had small Q&A sections if you truly needed to have some live participation but did need some quiet portions.

    4. iglwif*

      Yes, this is what I came here to suggest as well! You can record at a time / in a place where other people temporarily aren’t. There are several services that will caption video for you at a pretty low cost, and it’s very possible LW’s employer would spring for that. It allows people who couldn’t make the original session to watch, AND it allows people who need a refresher to re-watch.

  15. boo bot*

    I am super curious what this means, both because I’m nosy and because complex dynamics can sometimes make low-stakes issues feel more fraught:

    “These stakeholders have a complicated relationship with the business, in that they often consider themselves as volunteers, rather than contracted freelancers. The business relies on the admin work they carry out, which can sometimes be quite problematic as they can feel like we ‘owe’ them, rather than viewing the relationship as a collaborative one.”

    I realize this is probably vague for the sake of anonymity, but what is their role? Are they paid? If they’re contracted freelancers, why do they feel like volunteers? Sorry if I’m making a thing out of nothing, but I don’t understand what’s happening, and it feels like if it’s in the letter it’s relevant somehow.

    1. A Poster Has No Name*

      I read that as the stakeholders are employed in other functional areas but the business LW is in needs them to do work for her business unit. So, they feel like they are “volunteering” to do work for LW’s business unit, but LW is viewing it as “we’re all paid by the same company, and our business unit pays for their time, so you’re contractors on our team for this work.”

      Or something like that, if not that exact scenario.

      1. boo bot*

        Oh, interesting – “contracted freelancers” made me assume that they’re not all working for the same company, but I guess the OP could be making analogies. I hope you’re right, thanks!

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I got the impression that the OP was sharing their bias that the stakeholders are high maintenance. Likely, that bias led to the attendee’s suggestion being interpreted as a confrontation rather than a request.
      At the same time, if the attendee had been struggling to hear and was festering through frustration, then I bet their tone didn’t help matters either.

      1. boo bot*

        Yeah, I think you’ve hit on my real question: “is there festering frustration here?” and maybe additionally, “is it warranted?”

    3. PollyQ*

      Possible they’re getting paid a minimum stipend, rather than a wage that reflects the true value of their work? It doesn’t sound like it’s a non-profit, though, so I’m not sure why people would “volunteer” or why the business wouldn’t just hire employees to do the admin work they rely upon.

    4. boo bot*

      To be a bit clearer my question is, “what does ‘stakeholder’ mean in this context?”
      My guesses so far:

      People who have invested in the business and are helping to keep it running but don’t expect a financial return for a while.
      People enrolled in some kind of job training program where the “training” is that they do the admin work necessary for the business to run.
      Freelance workers who also do admin work that goes beyond the scope of their freelance contracts.

      Again I might just be misunderstanding something, but it sounds like a situation where the workers are not wrong to feel like they’re owed something? And that kind of existing tension could explain why the woman in the training felt disrespected by the OP, and not just annoyed or inconvenienced.

      1. Marthooh*

        At the very least, they are owed the training they need to do the work this business relies on.

    5. AVP*

      Me too! And I think it does make a difference here – I’m more willing to struggle along and sort-of-grasp a training if I’m being paid but I am definitely not gonna sit there through a volunteer thing if I can get out of it.

    6. Nona*

      This stood out to me too. Between this and refusing to acknowledge the problems with their not being understanable, the OP seems to be a bit of antagonistic towards the trainees. OP – I’d encourage you to think about what’s going on there. As others have pointed out, there are obvious solutions to this problem (fancy headphones, relocate for the day) – why were you resistant to coming up with these ideas yourself?

      1. boo bot*

        Yes. This is a logistical problem, and it seems that both parties felt like it was part of a larger and more meaningful pattern, which means it’s worth taking a step back and trying to see the pattern.

    7. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yeah, the fact that the OP is asking if she should complain rather than worried that the attendees of her training sessions might complain to her boss is part of the confusion for me — whether they are employees of the same employer, paid independent contractors, or unpaid volunteers. I can’t put my finger on why, but this almost sounds like MLM speak and they are downstream “independent contractors,” she is giving them the company sales pitch, and they are supposed to drink the whole glass of flavor-aid and like it.

      1. boo bot*


        It’s reminding me of an MLM, yes! I’m not saying it is one, but you unlocked the part of my brain I couldn’t find, thank you. It’s the fuzziness around stuff like “are they paid or unpaid?” and “are they freelance contractors or volunteers?” and beyond that, the disconnect between how the company sees the “stakeholders” and how they see themselves.

        That’s not to say this is what’s going on! But if the emotional dynamics at your workplace resemble an MLM at all, it’s a good idea to reexamine some things.

    8. CeeKee*

      Yeah, that was confusing. And perhaps ultimately a red herring, because regardless of their relationship to the company, they need to be able to do the training. It’s not like, if they were W-2 staffers, it would somehow justify demanding they take a training they couldn’t hear. But as a commenter pointed out upthread, it does seem to speak to the LW’s general feeling of antagonism toward the trainees.

    9. Delphine*

      I expect they feel like this part of their job is a “favor,” and not part of their actual roles.

    10. BabyElephantWalk*

      I had more questions about this as well. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of employees or freelancers referred to as stakeholders, so I’m not quite sure how these people are interacting with the company. Add in to the fact that they consider themselves volunteers and I’m not sure I understand what’s happening.

      Either way, OP you have to do more for these people. I know we’re all doing our best, but I would expect more empathy and professionalism. You seem to be shrugging the whole thing off as not your fault – and while it’s not your fault, there is responsibility to fix the situation.

    11. Kwebbel*

      Interesting to read others’ interpretations on this one! In my head, I’d pictured the freelancers as being developers or IT Support. In my previous 2 companies, a lot of our Product and IT teams preferred to freelance rather than sign on as employees. Would be curious to know if my reading is right, as the rest of your interpretations all seem equally likely.

    12. RagingADHD*

      Whatever the paragraph is intended to mean, something is wrong with the whole setup that’s probably beyond the LWs power to fix.

      Freelancing isn’t a complicated relationship, and freelancers don’t consider themselves volunteers. Neither do coworkers from another department who are cross-training.

      I think a more accurate phrasing would probably be, “The company’s relationship to these workers is problematic.”

      People aren’t going to sit and waste their time unless they’re getting paid by the hour just to show up. If these are contractors who provide services remotely, they are going to get fed up and find other clients who give a better ROI on their time. That’s not rudeness, it’s just business.

      I get the feeling that both LW and the people they’re training are being put in an untenable position by an company that isn’t providing adequate pay or resources to accomplish the goals LW is tasked to achieve.

      “It’s the pandemic” isn’t an answer for shortsighted or exploitive business practices, and solving the sound-quality issues probably isn’t going to solve the structural problems with this business model.

    13. Ra Ra Receivables*

      Same! If they are not being paid, there is a real imperative to not waste their time.

      If you waste a paid employee’s time, at least they are still getting paid.

  16. Soup of the Day*

    I agree with the comments about upgrading your headset to one that’s call center quality (and hopefully having your employer foot the bill) if you can, but I also just want to confirm that this person was DEFINITELY being rude! I don’t blame you for being upset about being called out like that in the middle of a training, especially once you explained the situation. It’s never polite to be aggressive to someone and it was probably embarrassing to have it happen in front of other people in the training session, especially if these are people you need to maintain a working relationship with. It also sounds like there could be some sense of entitlement on their end (real or perceived) that made it feel extra demeaning.

    The fact that two different people brought up not being able to hear DOES mean you need to find a solution, but I think we all could use a little bit of grace in these pandemic times and they did not afford you any. So sorry you had to deal with that! Hopefully you and your employer can work out a solution.

    1. Colette*

      It sounds like the attendee was pretty aggressive about it – but it had already been brought up and the OP essentially laughed it off, so I could understand why her tone was more assertive about needing a solution. Attending a training session you can’t hear/understand is a big deal, especially if you’re volunteering your time, which she might have been. I don’t agree that pointing out there is a problem with a training you’re doing and asking for a solution is necessarily rude, although she may have been rude about the way she did it.

      1. Firecat*

        Yeah even in the letter OP comes across as dismissive of their concerns. But of she’d tried everything to make it quite and it was loud at some point you have to just state that’s the case.

      2. Allypopx*

        I agree. I take the LW on their word that the attendee was rude, but if OP is really sensitive to conflict it’s also possible the attendee was reacting fairly reasonably to having the issue brushed off and not resolved. That’s really frustrating from the attendee side.

      3. Littorally*

        This. I reread the OP’s account of what happened a few times, and I don’t think the attendee was really being beyond the pale rude. The OP had been alerted to a problem, had blown it off, and this person tried to impress on her that this really was a serious problem, and when the OP continued not to care, they left. That is on the forceful side of what I’d consider reasonable, but it’s still within the reasonable bounds.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Honestly it sounds like the kind of forceful I often wish I could be. I once went to what I thought was an appointment for a chiropractic exam and massage and ended up being (or maybe just starting with) an extremely long presentation on the evils of medicine. It took me over an hour to work up the nerve to leave! This person tried to adjust for 20 minutes before saying “look this is just not working” and when OP couldn’t offer any solutions they took control of their own time.

      4. Esmeralda*

        This. First time I ask trainer to help address my inability to hear due to noise on the trainers side, I’m very polite and professional. If the trainer is all, too bad so sad / what do you expect ME to do about it, I’m gonna be frosty.

        And if the trainer can’t figure out how to solve a very basic issue and doesn’t seem interested in solving it (AND seems unsympathetic), I’m out.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Hang on–the second objector had just seen the first objection basically laughed off. No attempt made to mitigate the problem. Her time was being wasted, and the person responsible showed no sign of caring, and instead talked about how hard it was on *her* to share workspace with someone else. The trainee asked what should be done, and got basically a shrug (“we would very likely find ourselves in the same situation, but that ultimately the decision was up to her”). I’d be pretty irritated, too.
      It doesn’t much matter that OP explained the situation. Trainees could not hear the discussion. I think that OP gave the impression that she did not care about the problem from their end of things. This sense of entitlement you mention–I think employees are entitled to receive the training they need. They’re entitled to have their reasonable and valid concerns taken seriously. I think ‘entitlement’ gets a bad rap, like the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

      1. onco fonco*

        Yeah. If the trainees cannot hear the training, then…the session is worthless. They will come away not knowing what they need to know. They may as well not have attended. The answer to that cannot just be ‘pandemic, what can I do?’ If that’s it, then why would anyone show up to the training, including LW? There actually needs to be a solution, whether that’s the employer buying LW a proper headset and/or LW putting a thick curtain up between her and her father and/or LW sitting on her bed for these meetings (as I have done a number of times this past year). Or I don’t know what else. But LW can’t just stop seeking a solution.

      2. GrooveBat*

        Yeah, I was troubled by the LW’s question in the letter – ” Is there any onus on my side to do anything about the noise, or is it appropriate to expect a level of understanding, given the pandemic and widely reported changes to working practices?”

        The answer is, YES, there is absolutely an onus on your side to mitigate the noise issue.

        1. Joielle*

          Same here. Especially because the question was “is there ANY onus on my side.” Not to nitpick the LW’s phrasing, but they seem to think that they might not be doing anything wrong.

          I could understand if it was more like, I’ve done x, y, and z to minimize the noise, I tried a test call while my dad was talking and my coworker said the background noise wasn’t very loud, do I have to take extreme measures to ensure zero background noise. But the way the question is framed is, do I have to do anything at all. And the answer to that is clearly yes.

          1. Yorick*

            Exactly, it seems like OP doesn’t think (or at least isn’t sure) they need to do anything to make themselves easier to hear during a training. It should be obvious that you have to make yourself be heard clearly when you’re talking at work, even if it’s tricky to figure out how.

      3. Ya Girl*

        “The trainee asked what should be done, and got basically a shrug (“we would very likely find ourselves in the same situation, but that ultimately the decision was up to her”). I’d be pretty irritated, too.”

        YES! I wonder if the trainee was wondering of the later session would be better noise-wise (for example, if the dad also had an unmissable meeting that would be over by the time the later session started) and to hear that OP saw this as standard procedure and was totally fine with it was the final straw for them.

    3. Observer*

      It also sounds like there could be some sense of entitlement on their end (real or perceived) that made it feel extra demeaning.

      There is nothing “entitles” about expecting a presenter to at least TRY to make themselves audible. That’s just the bare minimum of what you can expect of a presenter. Yes, the second person may have been rude, but the first attempt to raise the totally legitimate issue was met by a refusal to do anything about it.

      I think we all could use a little bit of grace in these pandemic times and they did not afford you any

      Actually, they DID. They brought it up POLITELY the first time. And then continued to try to hear once the OP made it clear that “Haha, well there’s nothing I’m going to try to do about this”. The one who is not extending some grace is the OP. Not only have they not thought about a solution over a year into this mess, they don’t think that they really NEED to try to find a solution. But the DO want to get the complainer in trouble. Pot, meet kettle.

      1. Allypopx*

        Agreed – they didn’t say anything for *twenty minutes* after it was brought up the first time! They tried to be graceful in a situation where they really had very little obligation to be, given that their concerns were brushed off.

      2. Soup of the Day*

        I was referring to their working relationship as a whole when I mentioned entitlement issues – if OP has had problems with these people feeling like OP’s company “owes” them in the past as mentioned, that’s going to add another layer to the situation.

        Also, the OP says that both the original person to bring up the audio and the OP laughed it off. It’s not like the OP shot down their concerns – they just said it was a “lighthearted conversation.” That’s not the same as if the OP had been dismissive or rude. There really was nothing OP could have done about the sound in the moment other than explain the situation as they did! The OP probably didn’t realize how serious the issue really was, especially if they have done this training before with no issue.

        The person who was aggressive was not the original person who complained. This was a second person who was rude from the outset. It’s never acceptable to be aggressive to someone you’re working with, even if you’re annoyed. We all get annoyed about work things and have to rein in our emotions to preserve the relationship. It’s not unreasonable to expect that the second person should remain professional.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Except the OP did shoot down their concerns by offering no solutions (“I explained that if she booked onto another session where I was in charge of the training, we would very likely find ourselves in the same situation,”). Sure, maybe they couldn’t do anything about it in the moment, but they could have said they would look into making the sound quality better so that folks having trouble that day had options for another training. Also, just because the original person to bring it up laughed it off doesn’t mean other attendees weren’t bothered by it.

          It’s never acceptable to be aggressive to someone you’re working with, even if you’re annoyed.

          It’s also never acceptable to shrug off a valid accessibility issue when you’re doing a training. We don’t know what was said by the second person – maybe they were unnecessarily aggressive – but when you’re having to bring up a problem that has already been brought up, and not given any sort of solution for, you are sometimes more heated than usual.

        2. Le Sigh*

          Well, another perspective on this? I have zero clue if the volunteer has hearing issues or not. But if they do, they might have run into more than one person who doesn’t take their requests for assistance seriously. In certain situations, I need people to speak directly at me or else I can’t hear them over background noise — I cannot tell you the number of times I have made a polite request and people have gotten visibly annoyed with me or just didn’t bother. It wears you down and sometimes you lose patience.

          Even if that wasn’t the volunteer’s issue, OP’s response would still be a bit frustrating. I get that there might not have been a lot they could do to fix the talking in that moment, but they could have offered to reschedule with the volunteer at a time when they could have the office quiet. They could have said they’re going to look into a future solution, apologize, and offer to reschedule. I’m not sure why after a year OP hasn’t figured something out, but they could have at least, in that moment, not basically said, “What can you do? Figure it out, buddy.”

          OP also mentions that they’re sensitive to conflict — so it might very well be this person was aggressive and/or rude. Or, they could have just been firm b/c this was a real issue and OP’s response communicated that they weren’t taking it seriously. And regardless of that, if you can’t hear the training and there’s nothing to be done, why stay on the line?

        3. RagingADHD*

          I don’t read it as entitlement that the freelancers feel the company owes them. I’d assume, if the whole cohort generally feels that way, that the company isn’t delivering on its promises.

          For example, there are any number of online businesses who contract out piecework and recruit contract workers with inflated estimates of what they could earn. If this training is a hoop they have to jump through before they even start to get paid, it’s not unreasonable for the contractors to feel that they are giving more than they are getting back. And if the training is so poorly set up that they can’t evem hear, they may well become suspicious of whether the whole operation is worth bothering with.

        4. Yorick*

          I don’t really see anything in the letter that the person was aggressive. They couldn’t hear, OP didn’t try to fix the issue, they asked her what they should do, and then hung up when OP said they weren’t gonna do anything to fix it. What else can you do? This person probably took time out of their busy schedule for this and it was a huge waste of time. OP was the rude one by far, imo.

        5. TootsNYC*

          but OP also says the company relies on them!
          The business relies on the admin work they carry out, which can sometimes be quite problematic as they can feel like we “owe” them, rather than viewing the relationship as a collaborative one.

          If they’re not paid, and the company relies on them, then the company absolutely owes them.
          What is it that they get out of this “collaborative” relationship?

      3. mcfizzle*

        Also, it’s been a year! I’d understand if it was March / April / May of last year, as we were all caught flat-footed and often trying to make due with what we had at that time. By this point, I’d expect that some of these issues shoulda/coulda already been addressed by LW and the employer.

    4. Jennifer Strange*

      Imagine you go to the movies and the sound is completely garbled. You see someone approach an employee about it and the employee just shrugs and says that’s just the way it is. You wait 20 minutes to see if it gets better, but it doesn’t, so you approach the employee. Again, they just shrug and say they can’t do anything about it. You ask if you should leave this showing and attend another one, and they tell you that if you book another viewing in that theatre it’s going to be the same experience. Wouldn’t you be peeved too?

      I know this isn’t a perfect example, as in this case there was no money exchanged for this training, but it’s a huge waste of time for the attendees if they can’t understand the training. I think if the OP had at least said “I apologize for the sound issues. I will figure out a solution going forward, so if you’re having trouble you can re-book into a later session where I can improve the sound quality” (and then talk through options with their boss/father about ways to mitigate the situation) that would have been showing some effort into making the training accessible for all attendees. Instead, she just kind of gave a verbal version of the shrug emoji.

    5. Meep*

      What sort of “grace” would make it acceptable to sit through a training that you can’t understand? And why is it acceptable, after more than a year of COVID, to still have a WFH setup that doesn’t work for your job function?

      And yes, they were actually, for real, entitled to hear the presentation they signed up for that’s supposed to train them for their job functions. That’s the very definition of a situation where “entitlement” is a good thing. What, they were supposed to meekly sit through an hour of incomprehensible noise, leave without the knowledge they came for, and just suck it up?

    6. EventPlannerGal*

      I will readily admit that I’m quite cranky on this topic, but on the subject of these pandemic times: it has been fifteen months. It is not March 2020 any more. Shrugging and saying oh well, this is just how it is and it’ll be the same later as well because pandemic, is not really acceptable at this point. I’m not sure how much grace I would be willing to extend to a company that hasn’t figured out how to resolve a background noise issue in 15 months.

    7. Groove Bat*

      “Grace” works both ways. After a year and a half, people are exhausted and zoomed out. Asking them to get on yet another zoom call and not making any effort to make the experience not miserable for them is hardly what I would think of as graceful.

  17. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    One thing I’m wondering: LW says they wear headphones. Are these headsets with built-in microphones or are you relying on the computer microphone? A headset made for something like a call center might help immensely if you’re not currently using one.

  18. Judge Crater*

    I use a cheap corded gaming headset, which has pretty decent noise cancelling, as well “cool” looking light-up headphones.

    Here’s one I bought a few years ago on Amazon

  19. Nora*

    Aside from the fancy headsets other people have suggested (which your company should pay for), there are other things you can do to improve the space that you are working in, sound-wise. Fill the room with soft things to absorb sound, especially on the walls and table and behind your father’s computer. You could even try hanging a curtain between the two of you.

    1. Nora*

      Just thinking some more and the key here is going to be that you need to soundproof your father’s half of the room, not just your own. It’s his sound that needs to be absorbed, not yours.

  20. Stacy Z*

    I’m sending my sympathies because it’s ridiculously hard to share WFH space. I had condo construction across the street and terrible neighbors who blasted music so everyone in our apartment building could hear. My upstairs neighbor, who I like, adopted two bulldog puppies and they are chunky boys who shake my ceiling whenever they play!

    That said, it’s important for you to make sure you can do your job well and people can hear you.
    Noise canceling headphones with mics like Airpod Pros (I’m a teacher, they helped a ton while I was remote teaching!). You really get what you pay for, so I would pay a bit more for whatever you get. If you are using Zoom, there is a way for you to adjust the settings so it suppresses background noise and picks up on your voice. Maybe ask a friend or someone you know to test this with you before your next training?

    1. Sambal*

      AirPod Pros are fantastic, but I’d be wary of using them during work calls as they’re wireless + battery dependent. It can suck if they end up dying during an important meeting or training.

      1. Delta Delta*

        I love my AirPods pros maybe more than is healthy. I make sure I’ve got the case nearby and make sure to keep an eye on the charge situation. And if I know I’m going to have a long day of calls/meetings/court hearings where I’ll need earbuds, I make sure to keep my wired earbuds nearby in case I need to take a break from the AirPods to get them to charge.

  21. Kat*

    Other folks have mentioned noise-cancelling hardware, but OP (and anyone else!) could also try Broadcast, a free software from Nvidia that helps to reduce the sounds picked up by microphones. My partner’s and my WFH setup is great individually, but our desks are ~5 feet apart. Broadcast (and gaming headsets with built-in mics) really helped cut down on what noise from my partner’s meetings my students could hear during synchronous class sessions. Link:

  22. ElizabethJane*

    I’ve had similar problems with my company and unfortunately purchasing a specific headset isn’t in the budget (not in the company budget at the moment and certainly not in my personal budget). Fortunately I’m not required to be on camera for a lot of my presentations, especially if I’m sharing a slide deck, so I’ve been known to take these calls from the bathroom to give myself a somewhat quiet room.

  23. NopityNope*

    Veteran trainer here. Although I’m fortunate not to have to share a space currently, I have been responsible for recording trainings in a not-quiet space where it was important to minimize (eliminate, if possible) background noise. So headphones with mic, as others recommended.

    But if this is pretty frequent, I would also look into building a kind of makeshift sound dampening barrier. Sound dampening panels are quite inexpensive. Just a 3’ tall panel across the table between you and your dad might help some (and might generally be helpful overall), but I’m envisioning a sort of tri-fold deal, perhaps also covered on top, that you can put between you and your dad when you’re training to create your own little training cave. (Or even permanently, if it works well!). Combined with headphones, I think that will go a long way to eliminate noise.

          1. quill*

            There was a 6 month window this year where literally everyone I listened to was “Brought to you live from MY CLOSET.”

          2. NopityNope*

            I hear you, but in my experience as a technology trainer, systems training can’t really be done effectively without the proper setup. Very often you need the level of control a physical mouse offers (as opposed to a laptop touchpad), plus one or more additional monitors to manage all of the moving parts. And if it’s a longer training (mine are sometimes up to four full days), it would be very taxing physically to scrunch into a closet, and really, really hard to do balancing a laptop on your lap.

            If this is a regular part of OP’s job, it would be worth it to ask for a small budget to introduce some soundproofing elements to the desk space.

            1. quill*

              Yeah, but that would be a situation where 1) OP would need to talk to their employer about providing the peripherals 2) it would make more sense for the other person in the space with less setup to take their calls elsewhere!

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I made one out of a shedload of corrugated cardboard I had in the garage. Husband unit’s boss did point out that my voice tends to carry…

  24. Sambal*

    A couple of recommendations here, beyond moving spaces which sounds like it may not be doable:
    1. If you haven’t already, consider investing in a proper microphone. It doesn’t need to be really expensive or anything, but it will help immensely.
    2. You can download a noise cancellation software like Krisp to help manage the sound.
    3. As some others have said, suggest that people use headphones and warn them in advance that you deal some sound challenges.

    1. Cathie from Canada*

      It may also help to be straightforward about the sound challenges in your space, so participants don’t reach a point of explosive frustration before complaining. So you could say, right off the bat, “I am working today in a shared office space, but if anyone has difficulty hearing what I am saying, please let me know right away so I can turn up the volume [or whatever] before it disrupts your training”

    2. Bilateralrope*

      What are the options for noise cancellation software ?

      I’ve been thinking that a discussion on them would be useful for a lot of people since the pandemic began. The only one I know of is RTX Voice which sounds impressive:
      The catch is that you need to have a compatible nVidia graphics card in your computer to use it. But if you do, it’s free.

      How do the others compare ?

    3. TootsNYC*

      their headphones are not going to help.
      It’s all on the OP’s sound input, not the sound output at the other end.

  25. chocolate lover*

    I don’t have anything useful to add, other than to express my sympathy to all parties. But, as much as I hate working from home, am only doing it under duress, and have some of my own noise conflicts, ultimately, the people on the other end still need to be able to hear you, especially if you’re training them.

    My husband is an audiophile, he’s familiar with a variety of microphones, headsets, speakers, etc. so I had asked his opinions on noise cancelling headsets when it came to blocking out his obnoxious bird. Once she’s ticked off and on a screaming bender, there’s nowhere in our home where you can go to escape her. Maybe it’s because she’s so shrill, vs some other animals, but he shook his head and was like, nope, won’t block her out. (I already use a regular headset with microphone that isn’t specifically noise cancelling, and people can absolutely hear the obnoxious wretch.) I can’t use some of the other locations people suggested, given that my closets/bathrooms etc are too small to physically sit in, and I don’t have a car to hide in (again, you can literally hear her in ANY ROOM of the house – and so can the next door neighbors). My library JUST reopened, so I’m hoping to find some place there I might be able to sit without completely disrupting other people and also not being completely disrupted by others (though it’s clearly no longer a shrine to silence, so maybe they won’t care.)

    All that said just to maybe give you a laugh and think at least you’re not dealing with that :) But from the advice other people are sharing, you might have better luck with the noise cancelling headphones, so it’s worth asking your employer to look into it. In addition to maybe trying to coordinate some times with your dad where you might be able to alternate use of the desk for times when it’s really critical for everyone to hear clearly.

    1. NotMyRealName*

      Cover her cage when she starts screaming and uncover it immediately when she quiets down. It may take a few times, but she will learn that screaming has negative consequences and she will do it less. Birds are smart enough to make that sort of connection quickly.

      1. Bird bird*

        YMMV, but this won’t work for a bird who is screaming because they feel isolated and lonely. birds are smart enough and emotional enough to be complex.

    2. Tiny Soprano*

      I feel you on the noisy pet situation! My cat is deaf (so has no volume control) and the song of his people sounds like I have a demonic baby loose in the house, and it is LOUD. Recorded presentations are one thing but live I have to wait out the 15 seconds of ululation, apologise for my strange animal and hope he doesn’t do it again. It’s awkward, but at least he only does it in short bursts. It must be so much harder with an angry bird!

  26. Jobhopper*

    A folding science fair board with carpet squares on it might just be a help while you try to get better headphones and a good microphone.

    1. Ama*

      I do think one of the biggest contributing factors here is that, if I’m reading the description of the desk setup correctly, dad is pointed towards OP’s computer (and thus microphone) while he’s talking — even if they are side by side, his soundwaves would still be pointed in a direction that would make him more audible. Anything OP can do to block Dad’s soundwaves or point them away from the microphone would probably help.

      1. Mental Lentil*

        Yes, perhaps instead of sitting face to face, if they could face in opposite directions at the table, like two ships passing in the night.

        Also, make sure those carpet squares are on both sides of the board.

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        It may also depend on how loud dad is. My mother uses her Teacher Voice when she’s on calls and meetings for some unfathomable reason, and pointing her a different way or putting up a sound board would only make a minor difference. If LW’s Dad is rather resonant, a gamer’s microphone or using the bedroom (or making him use his room for an hour!) might be the only solutions.

  27. LabRat*

    Both Teams and Zoom also have background noise filters you can use. I can’t speak to the quality of the Zoom filtering, since I don’t use it very often, but Teams filtering blocked out fire alarm testing when I was on a call last week!! It also covers the trains that go by directly outside our building throughout the day.

  28. Firecat*

    If you haven’t changed your settings on teams to reduce background noise do it now. It was a game changer for our team.

  29. Riley and Jonesey*

    Hi OP, Sorry this was an anxiety-provoking situation for you. You’re right, Covid has meant we all have to suck it up in many situations.
    However… As someone with hearing loss I would have been very frustrated with the situation as well. Essentially, I would have been sitting through training I couldn’t hear, therefore wasting everyone’s time. And when the complainer brought it up, they were told that there was no solution to the problem. It’s hard to live day to day with hearing difficulties and all situations can be quite stressful because you never know if you are going to be able to understand things. I’m not saying this person had this, but it could be in play. I just had a long talk with someone at my insurance company (she is working from home). They had a dog barking in another room – not a bother. The line occasionally fuzzed out – again not a bother. But if she’d had someone talking a meter away from her I would have found it impossible to continue a call.
    Is there no other room that you could give your trainings in in the house? A bedroom closet if needs be? Or kick your dad out? Or do the headphones thing that others have recommended. Or have a ‘clean’ pre-recorded training which could be done when your family are out of the house? Or a printed training?
    Hope you aren’t too jangled by this. I do think you need a concrete solution though.

  30. Schnapps*

    My employer sprung for relatively cheap $70 (CDN) Logitech headsets with a boom mic. I’ll sometimes work outside on my patio if the weather’s nice. I live out in an urban-rural area where freight trains run by (the house will literally shake when they go by). I have taken calls on the headset and it didn’t pick up the train noise. My daughter was watching TV in the bedroom while I was working once, and the headset didn’t pick up any noise, so it’s possible even with less expensive headsets.

    I just checked Amazon Canada, and the same one (the H390) are down to $25.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      I have one of those as well, and they do a great job. They are also $25 in the US.

      For folks who don’t want to buy from Amazon, they are available from B&H Photo, whom I recommend. I’ve bought several thousands of dollars of camera and video equipment from them. (You just can’t order on Saturday.)

  31. OwlQueen*

    I totally understand your reaction to confrontation, OP – I work with customers face-to-face and over the phone, and when I started I would frequently feel shaky and anxious when there were complaints. It felt very personal, I guess. Even ten years in, I still sometimes get thrown off by aggressive customers. But the key is to power through and, cliche as it is, fake it till you make it. The more practice you have dealing with people, the easier it will be to see these situations as just an interesting story for later, or maybe in this case as something to consider working on for the future. Definitely not a personal problem that anyone had with you, just a business issue you had to deal with as part of your job.

    Ultimately, whether the noise level is something you can control or not, whether you believe the person complaining is reasonable or not, just try to remember that it’s just a small moment in your day, and hopefully if you tell yourself enough times (and convincingly enough!) that it’s nothing, it will truly feel like nothing. Easier said than done, I know from experience, but with practice and confidence it really does help.

  32. Observer*

    OP, I’m really taken aback at your question.

    Someone told you that they are having a hard time hearing and your response was basically “Yup. That’s the way it is. Haha.” And NO attempt to mitigate the issue at all. Then someone tells you that they are REALLY having a hard time and you you just reiterate that “Yup, that’s just the way it is.” When they ask about a different session you make it clear that you have no intention of doing anything to improve the situation.

    Now you are asking if you have any responsibility to actually do anything to enable people to actually hear the training you (your company) is requiring them to attend?! And you actually want to COMPLAIN about it?

    If I were this person’s boss and you complained, I would be raising the roof. This is on you and your employer to deal with. That you hadn’t dealt with it till now, OK. But you’re trying to get someone in trouble because they didn’t handle your refusal to do anything about the problem well? No.

    Obviously it would be ideal if you could schedule such trainings in such a way that you could ask your father to not make these calls while you do them. But I get that you might not be able to do that.

    What you CAN do is explore better headset / mike (the really good ones are almost miraculous in how well they tamp down on background noise); a sound absorbing / dampening divider between you and your father; going in to the office or a different location to do these trainings. Until you do this, you really have no standing to complain about someone complaining that they can’t hear. Even if they are rude. Not because it’s ok for them to be rude, but because the real problem is what you are doing and you are not even trying to really fix it.

    1. Soup of the Day*

      I don’t think this is a fair characterization of what happened. It sounds like someone mentioned the noise, the OP explained the noise, and they both laughed it off. What else could the OP have done in the moment to mitigate the issue? Yell at their dad in the middle of his own work call? The response to the second person might have been a little unhelpful, but the second person was also being aggressive, so it’s not like they were trying to brainstorm a solution either. If the OP was caught off-guard by the whole thing, I don’t blame them for not being able to come up with a solution in the moment.

      The fact is, even if the person had the right to complain, they do not have the right to be “aggressive” about it. We all have annoying things happen at work and have to remain professional. If the person was SO aggressive that the OP needed to take a moment to compose themselves, that sounds serious to me! That’s not how we effectively solve problems in the workplace.

      I don’t think it’s worth raising the issue with anyone if this is a one-time behavior from this person, but if we’re taking the OP at their word about what happened, I would be looking to see if it’s a pattern.

      1. Observer*

        and they both laughed it off.

        The OP should not have laughed about it. At all.

        What else could the OP have done in the moment to mitigate the issue? Yell at their dad in the middle of his own work call?

        I don’t know for sure. But I AM positive that “yell at their dad” is not the only possible thing they could have done. Like maybe they could have ASKED their dad in he could keep the conversation a bit quieter?

        And if it turned out that there REALLY was absolutely nothing the OP could even TRY, at least they could have acknowledged that it presents a problem for the attendees instead of complaining about the problem for them – and committed to seeing if there is a way to improve things. That’s the real issue. It’s not just that they couldn’t come up with an effective solution. It’s that they did not even TRY.

        The response to the second person might have been a little unhelpful, but the second person was also being aggressive, so it’s not like they were trying to brainstorm a solution either

        That’s just not correct. The OP was not just not being helpful. The attendee actually DID ask a practical question. They asked if anything would be done to fix the problem And the OP said NO.

        I’m taking the OP at their word. And their word is that, even after they had a chance to get themselves together, they still don’t really think that there any obligation on their part to deal with the issue. That’s just not acceptable.

      2. Green tea*

        Plenty of comments have offered advice for what the OP could have done, including:
        -Ask her father to speak more quietly on his call. No yelling needed, what a weird extreme to jump to.
        -Relocate to their bedroom or another room in the house.
        -If those aren’t options, offer to reschedule the training and troubleshoot the issue in the meantime by:
        —rescheduling the call during a slot their father does not have a call
        — buying a headset designed to filter out background noise
        — changing the office setup so OP and their father are not sitting side-by-side
        — pre-recording the training during a quiet time and sending out the recorded training to participants

        Also, if the OP needed a moment to compose themselves, that may be because the second person was inappropriately aggressive or may be because the OP had a big reaction to a person expressing justified frustration.

      3. GrooveBat*

        It shouldn’t be up to the attendees to “brainstorm a solution” in the middle of the session. If there’s a situation on the LW’s side that’s making it impossible for them to hear the training, that is 100% on the LW to figure out and solve.

        It’s LW who was being unprofessional.

      4. Jennifer Strange*

        If the person was SO aggressive that the OP needed to take a moment to compose themselves, that sounds serious to me!

        Not really? The OP says they are naturally anxious and get very shaky and prone to tears when faced with confrontation. That sounds like any sort of conflict could upset them.

        That’s not how we effectively solve problems in the workplace.

        The issue is that the OP wasn’t doing anything to effectively solve this problem.

  33. Carter*

    I don’t see what being at home due to COVID has to do with it. In plenty of in-office settings in non-COVID times, there would be MORE hubbub and noise in the background causing a distraction. The goal should be to solve the problem, no matter the cause.

    1. Metadata minion*

      Generally if your job involves running trainings, your workplace will find you a quiet space to do them, even if you don’t normally have your own office. I don’t think I’ve ever been in an online training where the trainer was working in an open office or otherwise noisy environment.

  34. LlamaLawyer*

    It’s been more than 16 months since the pandemic began, and I don’t think it is an excuse for things like this anymore. People have all found a way to do their jobs. Is there a reason that you or your father cannot move to another location in your living space during this training? Must you be at the same desk? Or that he could take calls elsewhere? This seems to be a core function of your job that you are not completing. Perhaps they could have been nicer, but you blew off the first time it was raised to you so their frustration is quite understandable. It is disrespectful to waste someone’s time- and it sounds like that’s what was going on when your attendees are trying to get information, and your set up makes it impossible for them to receive that information.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Agreed. I was irritated by the letter a few weeks back with an employer that thinks we should all “have the hang of it” by now and expects full work attire and no dogs barking or cats on camera or noise of any kind in the background at all for 40 hours a week. That is totally unreasonable.

      But … here’s the middle ground. LW DOES need to try some of the available solutions we’ve employed over the past year+ to make calls quietER, instead of pouting because these entitled participants expect to be able to hear, and just palms-up-shrugging and soldiering on ineffectively.

    2. Teapot Repair Technician*

      Yes. If this letter was from April 2020, it would make sense. When many of us were still in the moment of being caught off guard and thought everything would go back to normal in a month, it was kind of OK to say, “I know this isn’t ideal but let’s just fumble through because it’s better than nothing.”

      But a year is more than enough time to arrange for an appropriate place (or mic setup) to conduct training, or transfer the duty to someone who can do it properly.

      1. TootsNYC*

        even in April 2020, I wouldn’t be happy to have someone tell me, “yeah, that’s just how it is, and even if you give me time to come up with a solution for a later training, I won’t.”

        There’s a problem–solve it. And this is not “manners”–the person can’t hear the training, and the training is the point.

      2. A*

        Exactly. And even if they are in a location were COVID outbreaks are just hitting for the first time – it’s been over a year of this topic being covered heavily in international news. Does OP never watch/read the news? Do they not have any friends or colleagues in other countries that were hit earlier? Have they literally never been on a video call with someone with a less than ideal WFH setup they could take some tips from? I just don’t see how at this point these kinds of challenges could be so surprising and with OP having no clue how to adapt.

        I sympathize with the situation, having spent the first few months of WFH during the pandemic in a shared living space – but you do what you need to do. I took calls in some weird and uncomfortable spots – in a shower stall, on the floor of a bathroom, in my car, and once out of desperation I took a call in the eaves of my friends Cape style house. Not to say those ‘solutions’ would work for OP, but I have a hard time believing there is truly no alternative work space for a presumably ~1 hour or so training. If there is no solution, they need to speak with their employer.

  35. Jaina Solo*

    I feel the letter writer’s pain–been in this situation, courtesy of open office layouts, and it’s terrible. Difficult clients usually were the ones to complain if another officemate was on a call near me. It’s definitely harder to find the space when you have multiple family units at home trying to work and live. We’ve dealt with that and at least one family member had to be consistently educated on closing their door so their calls didn’t echo throughout the house all day.

    Having said that, I agree with Allison. There’s definitely give and take here on what can be done at home and what the boss can do to accommodate too. If work is happening during specific hours, then designate a secondary quiet space where LW or dad can go to take a call. (Designate it during those hours so the brothers know to stay out if someone is in there on a call.) If dad is just taking phone calls too (not Zoom) would he be fine with doing some of those outside when the weather is nice and you’re on a needs-quiet call?

    What’s helped my family a bit is to communicate more. I’ll mention if I have important calls coming up or close the door to the room I’m working in–and I’ve told them that a closed door means “do not disturb” which has mostly worked. Obviously, you’re working with limited space so those might not be options but you can definitely try to share when you have calls that require quiet coming up and see how you and your dad can accommodate each other. Not all calls are likely to require absolute silence from the other person, so see what you can negotiate with him on some sacred, quiet time.

    Hope it gets better!

  36. HS Teacher*

    Great response, Alison. Just because there’s a reason that something is happening doesn’t mean that it’s okay that it is happening. I don’t think the attendee should’ve been rude, but I can certainly understand their frustration.

  37. AV Hobbyist*

    Depending on what your (or your employer’s) budget is — on the high end (~$10k) there are things like Studiobricks isolation booths you can install in your home as a tiny little room-within-a-room; on the low end, something like plus a very directional mic (and maybe real-time noise cancellation software — nVidia’s “RTX Voice” is a hardware-assisted example, if you have a system with a compatible graphics card on hand). With a significant latency penalty (and if a spare license can be found — these things tend to be occasionally available on deep discount, but severely not cheap at full price), one could probably also rig up a chain attaching some professional tools to whatever software you’re using (iZotope’s Dialogue Isolate plugin is magic), and if you were going to assemble (at least in part) pre-recorded training sessions rather than live ones there are other relevant post-production tools available as well (like iZotope’s de-bleed plugin to pull audio from your deskmate’s mic out of your own, but that one’s not real-time). A lot of this stuff leaves enough artifacts when it’s cranked too far up that only minor/subtle use is acceptable for professional audio work, but that’s not a problem here — nobody’s trying to listen to a training session on studio monitors unless it’s specifically pro-audio training.

    If you have a friend who does audio engineering work, they might be able to better evaluate the situation (take some actual measurements of sound levels, evaluate the space for whether there’s places sound is bouncing off walls and a little isolation might do the trick — curtains, blankets, etc can help, bring by a spare isolation shield and see if it helps at all, etc).

  38. Allypopx*

    OP, I want to be mindful that you’ve said you’re very sensitive to conflict and this is a hard comment section. I hope you’re still reading and taking everything to heart. It’s a hard situation for everyone right now.

    That said, you didn’t handle this great. I’m reminded of yesterday’s writer who asked if they had to make a phone call as an accommodation for a client even though they are phone averse. The answer was unequivocally yes, and the same goes for you, even if you’re conflict averse. It doesn’t even really matter what the quality of your training was after you were shaken up if people couldn’t hear it. When someone got frustrated with you, you still had the responsibility to try to figure out a solution beyond “this is how it is and how it will be next time”.

    You didn’t even say you would try to fix it for future trainings – that’s really bad. I don’t blame her for hanging up. I have a laundry list of anxiety disorders and I get what being put on the spot can feel like, but this is your job. You seem to have preconceived notions about the disposition of these stakeholders and very little feeling of agency over the quality of training your providing.

    Technical solutions have been offered in abundance, but please also reflect on your attitude here. You’re in what I would personally consider a hellish WFH situation and I empathize if you’re burnt out or frustrated, but this outlook is going to lead to more problems.

    1. mcfizzle*

      I appreciate your kindness – we are pretty hard on LW’s. Thanks for this reminder to soften the impact a bit.

    2. Charlief*

      I was struck by how helpless you seemed to be in this. Having that mindset you will feel pretty upset – all these things are happening to you and there’s nothing you can do! I’d like to suggest gently that this is a false perspective- not because I want you to feel guilty or bad but because it’s within your power to change them.

      The tech issues have been gone over above. But there are other things here that would concern me if I was your manager.

      Instead of blaming the participants for being rude and confrontational- I feel like by dismissing their valid issues the OP put them in a position where they had to escalate. By actually hearing them they wouldn’t have become confrontational- and yeah I would be angry too that you expect me to have training (are they paid for it?) and the trainer can’t be bothered with the most basic communication issues!

      I’m also taken aback that you had to ‘go on a break’ to deal with your feelings about it. What are the trainees supposed to do? This again feel pretty disrespectful of their time. I am sympathetic to the anxiety – I too have anxiety issues!- but it is your responsibility to learn how to deal with common things that will come up in your job. If you are presenting/ training you will have awkward people that will challenge you now and again. There is some excellent training on this for you to take- either workshop type or I found the book ‘the chimp paradox’ gave me a really good system to deal with things that were anxiety inducing but predictable.

      Don’t mean to pile on, but some of your thinking here seems off.

  39. Prefer my pets*

    I’m struggling to find sympathy for the LW. At this point everyone should be aware of gaming headsets where the mic only picks up sound from 6-10”. My set was $40 but someone I game with has a $15 set that works fine…I can’t hear a bit of the heavy metal he always has on. Sure there are higher end ones but it doesn’t sound like any attempt is being made at all in this case.

    If I was in a training where no one could hear/understand the presenter & they blew it off I’d be pissed and drop too. It simply isn’t worth my time. If it was a mandatory training I’d simply turn my speakers down & work on other things to get credit. If I can’t hear anything except background noise I’m not getting anything out of it anyway.

    1. Ginger*


      Sorry, OP. It’s been over a year, we’ve all had to find solutions that work by now.

      Take the feedback as a gift even though it was delivered unkindly.

  40. HannahS*

    I spent a decent amount of the last year seeing clinic patients virtually by balancing a laptop on a side-table jammed up against my bed, sitting on a folding chair that was jammed against the wall. It was viciously uncomfortable (I couldn’t get my knees under the table) but it was the only confidential space that I could access.

    The pandemic does indeed change things, but if a quiet space is necessary for your work, and it sounds like it is, then you and your workplace need to work together to make it happen. Maybe they can give you a better headset. Maybe there’s a bedroom with a door that closes where you or your dad can sit sometimes.

  41. different seudonym*

    I hesitate to ask, because it’s sort of personal, but is the relationship with your dad ok? From the outside, it looks like he never offered to pipe down, and you never asked. You’re writing as though his noise is unavoidable, and you’re asking trainees to accept the same. But you should be able to talk to him and ask for a small courtesy.

    1. Teapot Repair Technician*

      Even if the relationship is fine, it might complicate things that OP’s office mate is their dad.

      If I’m at work dealing with a difficult customer and my coworkers are yammering away near my desk, I can wave my hand at them to make them shut up or move (than apologize later). I’m not sure I would be comfortable doing that to a parent.

    2. Grump*

      I wondered about this myself. Like, if it were another coworker, would LW feel more comfortable negotiating the use of the space with them? Is there a power or relationship dynamic here that makes it so LW doesn’t feel they can say, “Hey, I need to give a presentation at X time, can you find somewhere else to go for a while?” Does dad not respect LW’s work because he’s still sees LW as a child and not doing anything he’d need to accommodate? I just can’t fathom being in a room with someone who insists on talking on the phone when I need to give a presentation or training. My spouse and I have worked around each other in a tight space for 18 months, sometimes taking calls outside, in the car, or rescheduling meetings to accommodate each other’s schedule. If LW and dad are going to share an office, they need to accommodate each other’s professional obligations.

  42. Jerusha*

    I’ve been using a Logitech over-the-ear gaming headset with a boom mic – I find that the closer the mic is to your mouth, the less likely it is to pick up background noises. The one I have at work is a G332, which currently lists for USD$50 at a local computer retailer. (It’s labeled and sold as a “gaming” headset, but it’s all black except for a red rim around the place where the cushion meets the body of the ear cup, so still quite professional looking.)
    [One fantastic feature it has is a built-in mute – if you swing the boom mic all the way up, it automatically mutes, so you don’t have to fumble for the mute control in the software.]

    You may need to record yourself briefly and make sure the mic placement isn’t creating problems with your plosives (sounds like “p” and “t” where there’s a puff or “pop” of air can sometimes overwhelm microphones if they’re too close to your face), although I haven’t had issues with them on this mic. If you do have plosive problems, angle the mic up or down slightly so it’s out of the direct airstream – it’ll still pick up everything else well enough, while being out of the “line of fire” (so to speak) of the plosives.

    Also, as others have said, be sure to check whatever software you’re using for noise-cancelling and background-filtering options – most of them have it, and they’re often pretty good. I can confirm the option on Zoom, Webex, and Teams, and I can’t imagine that other teleconferencing software omits the option.

  43. Littorally*

    OP, I’ve read your letter a few times over, and I think the crux of your problem is this:

    You are forgetting the objective of conducting a training.

    The point of all of you getting on this call and you talking quite a lot is for the attendees to receive the information you’re going over. Presumably, it’s information that they need to have in order to do their work correctly. This objective is not fulfilled simply by you reciting all the required words.

    Would you consider the training completed if you ran through the material without them on the line? Then why would it be successfully completed with them technically on the line but unable to hear you? The objective is not met; they have not received the information they need. In this circumstance, you are wasting both their time and yours.

    In addition, far from you complaining about their behavior, I wouldn’t be surprised if they put in complaints about yours — about having such a bad setup, and about being so blithe about it. This kind of thing might have been understandable in, say, April 2020, when we were all scrambling to figure stuff out, but by July 2021 you need to have a more professional setup in place. If you really have no other possible place in your home to conduct these trainings — no walk-in closet, no bathroom that doesn’t echo, no dividing walls you can put between yourself and the other speaker — then that’s something you should be expected to go to your boss about, just like any other working situation that you’re unable to solve on your own.

    The training was not being accomplished, and you laughed off their attempts to flag the issue to you. Then, you doubled down and essentially told the attendee to suck it up, and not only that, but that you intended to carry on exactly as you were — telling her that any training you conducted would have the exact same problems. In her situation, I would have heard that as you very clearly not giving a single solitary s**t if anyone actually received any of the information you were providing.

    When someone says ‘I can’t hear you,’ there is no level of understanding or grace that will make them able to hear you. And if what you’re saying is something they need to hear, then that is a problem that cannot and should not be waved away.

    1. mcfizzle*

      Yes! If I was an attendee of this training, I would absolutely have put in a complaint to someone somewhere on the bad sound quality as well as the presenter’s unconcerned attitude. I wouldn’t be surprised if LW’s supervisor asked for a meeting *soon* to discuss what happened and what to do from here.

  44. Tabihabibi*

    In addition to the suggestions for investments in your set-up, I recommend doing some test recordings of yourself to compare the configurations you might already have at your disposal. It helped me a ton to grit through the discomfort of listening to myself. Also, since it’s summer and you made it this far, I’d consider other interference like fans that aren’t usually on.

  45. Marion Cotesworth-Haye*

    Oh boy. I hate to pile on, OP, but I think you’ve missed the boat on this one. I’m certain it was upsetting to be aggressively interrupted and of course don’t endorse the attendee being rude, but it sounds like at that point they had been struggling to understand you for nearly 30 minutes, during which you made no effort (even if just performative like asking your dad to please lower his voice, relocating to a bedroom, etc.) to dampen the background noise or suggest alternatives that might get the attendee training they could actually hear (suggesting that even if they rescheduled, they’d likely be stuck with you and the same audio issues?!)? I’d be pretty miffed in their shoes too! Obviously, everyone needs some grace right now and perfection ain’t gonna happen, but you have to make some effort at fixing this.

    1. A. Ham*

      Just dropping in to say I love your user name. Made me chuckle as I scrolled this morning. Hope you are still enjoying your Francis Scott Key Key

  46. MAB*

    As someone with auditory processing issues, I’d say the minimization of background noise (and presumably the lack of closed captioning) is also pretty ableist. I’d consider the suggestions here + look seriously at a closed captioning option as well. Your boss should be able to help you sift through solutions.

    1. Littorally*

      +1 I’d do exactly the same, and in that attendee’s shoes I’d be escalating the problem right to my boss.

    2. KoiFeeder*

      I was under the impression that this training was phone-only, which besides being my personal hell and not particularly accessible for me, isn’t exactly a closed captioning medium.

      1. Le Sigh*

        Oh I interpreted it as a video call. If OP could do that, closed caption can help a bit.

    3. Observer*

      OP if you were actually on the phone rather than using a computer based conferencing tool, why not go out of the room? And, if you are using a computer based tool, many of them to captioning so you don’t even need a perfect or complex set up. They are not perfect, but are a game changer for situations where the audio is marginal and you rally don’t have a lot of choices, or for a situation where someone has hearing issues.

    4. 23&me*

      Love to see fellow non-neurotypicals pointing out this issue, +1 to closed captioning. That way if you have people like me who are completely unable to process-out background noise they can just mute the audio and follow along in blissful silence. Can’t speak for anyone else, but without that option you may as well be speaking to me in a foreign language if there’s music or noise in the background.

        1. Observer*

          They are actually shockingly good at this point. Like I said, not perfect but I was blown away by the samples I dealt with recently. (And I’m not talking about one or two words, but hour long training.)

          1. Littorally*

            They can be, but it depends quite a lot on the particular situation — especially how much specialized language the OP’s training course uses, as well as their region/dialect.

        2. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

          If this is regular training that is consistent enough to follow a script, would it be possible to have that transcription available for attendees to follow along with? Even if the words don’t match exactly (as mentioned, most closed captions don’t either!) it could still help a lot with getting the information across.

    5. Le Sigh*

      Yeah, I suspect OP didn’t intend to be exclusionary, but that is the end result. I mentioned this higher up, but I am forever frustrated by how often people either completely overlook hearing-related issues or are really obnoxious about it (and my challenges are minimal compared to most others). It’s disheartening when people don’t even consider it, and even more so when you try to tell people what you (or your parent) need to process information and people either don’t take it seriously or get annoyed or frustrated with you.

      I wasn’t on the call so I can’t say for sure if the attendee’s reaction was over the top or fair. But I can say with confidence that I have more than once been firm with, snapped at, or even just hung up on someone when I asked politely for something simple so I could actually hear and have been either dismissed or even had someone roll their eyes at me.

  47. BetsyS*

    I’m another person who sometimes has a huge amount of difficulty following a conversation when there are competing noises .

    In addition to all the suggestions about headsets and coordinating meeting times with your dad, are there any possibilities for finding a space with wifi which you can use to deliver these trainings? There are a lot of space options out there, some of which will cost little or no money and most of which don’t involve a lot of germ exposure:

    -coworking spaces, in major cities
    -library private study rooms or ‘community’ rooms
    -university practice rooms (incredibly well-insulated)
    -local church that has classrooms used only part-time
    -subletting a few hours from someone who rents an office but does not use it full-time
    -local restaurants with back rooms that are only used at busy hours.
    -’empty nest-er’ neighbor with an unused bedroom or basement rec room
    -local office that is only using some of their space because their folks are WFH….
    -unused massage room or unused office at the local gym

    Scout around! If you are near any sort of public college or university, they often have a lot of quiet nooks and crannies and study rooms and such. Check for seating areas near cafeterias that are only open limited hours, and lounge areas on the top floors and basements of office buildings. You may even be able to get access to empty classrooms if you find a friendly department admin. (OK I spent half my working life at a public and then a private university, and before that as a student so I have a lot of experience finding quiet places to concentrate) If you’re in a quiet place with a good headset and mike, you can speak quietly and not disturb people near you.

    Some years back I used to go work in a McD’s in a strip mall, that had two narrow floors. Nobody was EVER in the lower area in the mornings. The seats were uncomfortable, but it was super-quiet.

    1. Well...*

      Most of these options wouldn’t be available during a lockdown (still happening in the world).

  48. Anne*

    We purchased inexpensive usb-connected lavalier mics (from Amazon) for our team to mitigate this very issue! It has worked well thus far and significantly improves the “hearability” of the person wearing the mic.

  49. riverrat*

    I agree with the headphone comments made by everyone, but wanted to also suggest recording training videos (which you can do when it’s quiet in the home office–in the evenings after your Dad is done for the day or on a weekend). Microsoft has free apps for recording and editing video and audio. There are a variety of free and paid sites that will host the video and give you the ability to limit access to select people. That also gives them the option of watching the videos during a time that works best for them and the ability go back and review them at a later date if they need a refresher. All this still doesn’t preclude you from offering live training session too but it makes things more flexible for everyone involved. I recorded and posted some training sessions then held several “drop in” 15 minute open meetings where anyone could attend and ask any questions about the training. Another benefit was that everyone had exactly the same training. I didn’t have to worry about leaving out something important or getting sidetracked and not having time to get through everything.

    1. Flower necklace*

      This is a good idea. I have used screencast-o-matic to record videos for my students.

  50. CatPerson*

    “I explained that if she booked onto another session where I was in charge of the training, we would very likely find ourselves in the same situation, but that ultimately the decision was up to her. ”

    I hate to say this, but I can see why she hung up on you.

    1. JustKnope*

      Yeah that was… not great. If people regularly can’t hear you during training, that’s a performance problem, not a them problem.

    2. mcfizzle*

      I’d place a significant sum of money that some of the attendees have complained to their chain of command. I know I would’ve!!

  51. Nanani*

    Haven’t read all the comments but is it possible to create non-live training materials with captions? Then they can watch on their own time and only need to engage live, noisy chat when absolutely necessary. It could even be non-video if that makes sense for what you’re teaching.
    Preparing that might be over LWs head but you are losing attendees, so the higher ups may be quite motivated to create such materials.

  52. Sjpxo*

    Sorry if this has already been suggested by their is software I saw advertised called Krisp which cancels out background noise on online meetings. Maybe worth a try

  53. Non-Profiteer*

    Zoom (and probably other platforms) has a live auto-captioning function. It’s not perfect, but it’s fairly accurate.

    1. NopityNope*

      Teams does have a closed captioning feature that attendees can enable. It’s decent and if you’re using a good mic the background noise shouldn’t bleed through.

  54. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    What about recording sections that repeat for each training when it’s quiet and playing the video/audio for attendees that way they can hear the information clearly, and you can pause when there’s a question or need to elaborate?

  55. learnedthehardway*

    OP, I understand this was upsetting for you to deal with, but I’m going to agree with everyone else that this is an issue that is your responsibility to fix. That might mean getting your employer to fix it, by the way, but it’s up to you to raise the issue so that it CAN be dealt with. And you need to do your utmost to solve it. That might mean getting a good directional microphone or headset that blocks out background noise.

    Think of it this way – you need to accommodate people who have hearing issues. Hearing loss is a pretty common thing, and it gets more pronounced with age. If you’re presenting to people who are over 40 yrs old, odds are at least some of them have some level of hearing loss.

    Personally, I have ambient hearing loss. That means background noise (like fans, microwaves, motors, people talking, static, etc. etc.) makes it impossible for me to distinguish what someone is saying. I literally can’t hear people in social situations unless I can see their lips moving – I half lip-read.

    Your trainee might not have handled themselves very well, but understand that for them, this is really upsetting – not only was the issue not being recognized as important, but the background noise meant they couldn’t get the information they needed to do their job. That put their value to the organization in jeopardy, and that’s a very stressful thing to do to someone.

    The technology exists to correct the problem, and it’s incumbent on you (and your company) to make reasonable accommodations for people. Either moving the meeting to a quiet place or investing in a good quality headset with effective noise-cancelling technology is a reasonable expectation.

  56. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    OP, do you necessarily have to share office space with your father? Can you set up your WFH “office” in your bedroom? Virtual backgrounds are your friends here – you can appear to be anywhere you want, including in a well-furnished office or private library!

    Otherwise, yes, invest in a good set of headphones and yes, pay attention to what Alison wrote: we all know there’s a pandemic on and no, that’s not an excuse from the point of view of someone who can’t hear you for all the background noise! We’ve been working under pandemic conditions for well over a year now, and your business contacts expect you to have it figured out if you work from home.

  57. MissDisplaced*

    As the trainer, the onus is on you to be in a quiet place without background noises.
    Whether that means asking your dad to move somewhere else for an hour, or you moving somewhere else for an hour in order to give the training is foremost solution, even if that’s hard right now.

    Other than that, you can try better microphones, software, pre-recording most of the training and then having a “live” Q&A (we do that for our webinars now).
    One thing I did not see is that maybe you can divide the office you share with your dad by some type of folding room divider screen. Cost is about $80-$150 and it might help some and is also good for privacy or a background.

  58. HelenofWhat*

    I live in a one bedroom apartment with my husband who sometimes works from home (I’m remote until the office reopens). We both work in the living room. If one of us has a private or training call that doesn’t require video, that person often moves to the bedroom. And headset-microphones with background noise cancelling are great, and your job should provide them for you if you need to present from home. My husband is loud on the phone (unintentionally) and I’ve also had construction noise–both blocked out by good mics.

    You can also consider putting up a soft noise barrier between your desks, like even a blanket might help.

  59. Delphine*

    I don’t think the pile on here is going to help you, LW, and I’m sorry that the comments have gone in that direction.

    One thing I would suggest is taking a test recording while your officemate is on a call, with whatever setup you’d use for training, and then listen back to it. This will give you a good idea of what kind of noise you’re dealing with and, once you have a solution (like new headphones), it’ll help you check if the problem has been solved before your next training.

  60. Georgina Fredrika*

    “The business relies on the admin work they carry out, which can sometimes be quite problematic as they can feel like we “owe” them, rather than viewing the relationship as a collaborative one.”

    I was surprised that this was even mentioned because launching right into this issue makes it seem as if OP feels like wanting to hear a training is an entitlement issue/volunteers (that aren’t volunteers? Do you pay them, or don’t you?) getting too big for their britches.

    It’s kinda strange to worry about giving a sub-par training session if people couldn’t hear it in the first place. If TWO people spoke up about the same issue, I guarantee many more people were struggling and just felt awkward about saying anything.

    1. Littorally*

      It’s kinda strange to worry about giving a sub-par training session if people couldn’t hear it in the first place.

      Right!! If OP is concerned about the material they didn’t go over — what about the material they went over but no one could hear? What’s the difference between “OP didn’t say this” and “OP said this but no one heard it”? As far as the work getting done correctly is concerned — nada. They’re the same.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Yes, most people don’t speak up in the moment. If two people complained, it’s likely the others also had the same problems.

      If the company relies on the work of these people, it’s even more reason to make sure they can actually access the training.

  61. I'm just here for the cats*

    I know the LW said they wear headphones but I wonder if they are normal headphones or are they using a headset with an attached microphone. There are headsets that work to cancel out background noise. I had this one for work and I think it worked really well, I couldn’t hear people around me and people could hear me better.

    Otherwise is there a way to ask the other person to try and be quiet. As someone who worked at a call center, sometimes you don’t realize how loud you actually speak.

    another option might be a white noise machine, that may help drowned out some of the background noise.

  62. Everybody help solve the problem*

    I’ve developed a very low tolerance for exhausting “listening effort.” I am hard of hearing. I wear high end hearing aids. Phone background noise means I just can’t hear – especially on cell calls from bad coverage areas. I’d mention someone’s cellphone was cutting out & since they really couldn’t do anything about it, they just kept talking. I now say that I can’t hear them and to please call me back from a landline or a place with better coverage. And I hang up. I don’t act pissy – just matter of fact. Both parties HAVE to help solve the problem.

  63. DutchBlitz*

    As someone who is both anxious in conflict and has a hard time hearing when there’s any background noise, I feel for all parties here. Another solution, other than headphones, could be a portable recording booth. There’s lots of smaller options on the market now for podcasters and other WFH audio needs. They can have room for your laptop or notes inside, and they almost completely isolate all other sounds. I know Isovox is one brand, and I’m sure there are more at various price points.

  64. koivu*

    I’m baffled that the OP wrote in to ask if they should raise a complaint against the co-worker instead of asking how they could have handled the situation better.

    1. Observer*

      Well, that’s a key part of the problem. The OP is not only asking if they should complain against the trainee – they are actually asking if they even have any obligation whatsoever to deal with the problem or can they just “expect a level of understanding” that apparently includes “understanding” that training is not going to be usable.

    2. Teapot Repair Technician*

      It sounds like OP dug in their heals at the first sign of a problem when the first trainee spoke up, and further dug in their heals when the second trainee spoke up. Once you have your heals dug in it can be hard to step back and clearly evaluate the situation, even days later.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        It sounds like the OP was annoyed with her audience before the training started due to things totally unrelated to the training (maybe for reasonable reasons, maybe for unreasonable reasons), but because of that annoyance, they concluded that any complaint from this particular group must be unreasonable. So they were sort of rarin’ to assume the people on the other end were in the wrong without factoring in much about the actual situation of the moment.

        I think another way to rephrase the letter is “do I have to reasonable to people who are unreasonable to me?” And the answer is, you should be reasonable regardless of who you’re dealing with.

  65. Observer*

    OP, I want to point something out to you. You say that your organization “ relies on the admin work they carry out”. Given that reality you have an absolute obligation to both these stakeholders and YOUR ORGANIZATION to do whatever is possible to make sure that the trainings are actually usable. And if people can’t hear, they are NOT usable.

    You have no standing to balk at trying to fix the problem. And it’s just not reasonable to expect “understanding” of so called trainings that are useless because people can’t hear them properly.

    Talk to your employer about the cost of the some of the suggestions made here, or the ability to go elsewhere for these meetings.

    1. Meep*

      This. What gets me is OP wants to charge them again for something that is out of THEIR control but not out of HER control.

  66. Enginerd*

    Invest in a decent gaming headset. I use the Turtle Beach Stealth 700 Gen 2, its around $150 which ironincally comes in cheaper than most of the Jabra wireless headsets meant for Skype. It allows you to loop you own mic back to the headset and adjust the sensitivity so it doesn’t pickup background noise. Its also got the added option that I can connect via USB receiver to my workstation and bluetooth to my phone at the same time. I’ve gone through dozens of headsets for work over the years in prices ranging from 50 to 500 USD and I’ve found that the ones designed for gaming work best. Adjustable mic, background noise cancellation, automatic mic mute just by moving the boom, and a much longer wireless range.

  67. Meep*

    Both my wife and I work at home, and we have a kid and two cats. When either one of us has an important call, we instruct the kid to be quiet and retreat to a separate room to talk to the client. It’s simple common courtesy, I think. Is OP in a studio apartment with her father, brother, and pets, or is there some sort of private space where the door may be closed? A bedroom? Heck, even a bathroom? I’m hoping there’s at least a bathroom with a door that closes.

    Are the father and brother mentally disabled and unable to stop making noise, or can they be instructed to be quiet for the duration of the training? If the younger brother is mentally disabled, maybe the father could take him elsewhere for the duration of the call? How noisy are the dogs and cats? Can they be shut out of the office for the duration of the important call?

    OP seems to view it as a trainee problem rather than as a her problem, and she also seems unwilling to require her family to be quiet. Most people can be quiet for an hour.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      This also reminds me of letters here from parents* of young babies who think they will need to manage the baby and an important work situation (like a job interview) simultaneously because they assume their partner won’t be willing or able to bend their own schedule to care for the baby. The letter writer in those cases often needs to be more assertive with their partner that the letter writer’s situation is just as or more important than the partner’s, and the partner really needs to make an accommodation in order to step up.

      If today’s LW is young, s/he may not be used to letting their parents know that their work is important, or having their parents take their work seriously. This is a place where the dynamic needs to be more one of colleagues, not parent/child.

      *notably, the parent who is assuming they won’t have another pair of hands available is almost always a woman, and the parent who is resisting the change — or around whom there is an assumption that they can’t make a change — is almost always a man.

  68. Meep*

    So you made no move to fix the problem, promised to charge them again for a session that they couldn’t even hear in the first place, and think the other person is the bad guy for being upset by it? If you know your dad is going to be loud why is not moving to a different part of the house an option?

    I have done training during the pandemic and sometimes it required sitting on the floor in front of a blank wall for hours to get the job done.

  69. More dopamine, please*

    I can empathize with OP about the challenges of a dual WFH setup! OP, it sounds like you also might be uncomfortable with asking your dad to make accommodations for your work? If so, you might consider having a conversation with him and asking him to adjust his plans during the time that you have these scheduled meetings, so that he is not having to present on a call at the same time as you. You can share that this will contribute toward your professional advancement at work.

    Assuming these training sessions are scheduled in advance, you could send your dad a calendar invite for the training session, as a way to remind him that you will need quiet during those times, and to block his calendar from competing meetings.

    He may — and honestly, should — be willing to take a lunch break, take his calls from another room, or just schedule quiet work during these times.

    Of course, other suggestions to upgrade your audio situation or record the trainings in private are also great, and you might want to do all of those things.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Yes – I’m wondering, did dad overhear you apologizing to people for the background noise? Did he make any effort to lower his voice at that point?

  70. mcfizzle*

    I didn’t see this in the other comments, to LW sounds really young to me both in tone and the fact she lives with her parents. I think most of us are conflict-fearful/adverse in youth, and with age and experience start to handle it better, as well as really hearing / responding to feedback. Well, that was my experience, at least.
    Anyways, I’m hoping her “oh, huh, well, can’t really do much about it” attitude is a reflection of youth and inexperience.

  71. Not a robot*

    I feel for those who were in the training session. It would be so hard to concentrate and learn if the background noise is distracting.

    OP I get it. I have 7 people living at home, my office is a desk next to the dining room table, and I live next to an air base……but if I have an important call or training session you better believe I am taking my laptop to the quietest place possible. I have recorded training sessions in my laundry room and made calls in my garage in order to remove background noise. The responsibility falls on you, not those who are in your training class.

  72. Jane Austin's Tea Cozy*

    Seeing a lot of suggestions for headphones here, and seconding them all! But I did want to add (if it hasn’t already been mentioned) that many computers have some built-in noise filtering software. My personal computers both have Asus software that includes a noise filtering component. My work laptop has every possible meeting software under the sun, and I think all of them have SOME element of noise filtering built in. It would be worth exploring that as well. It’s probably not going to completely solve the problem but it might help until headphones arrive.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Headphones aren’t going to help if the problem is that LW’s mic is picking up background noise. He needs a quality microphone NOT headphones.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I think a bunch of people are saying “headphones” when they mean “headset”. The former is just for ears, the latter has a mic attached.

        1. Jane Austin's Tea Cozy*

          Hah, yes, you’re correct. That’s exactly what I was doing. But you’re right that headphones aren’t really going to help. The noise filtering might, but LW really needs a headset!

  73. ecnaseener*

    Alison, are you able to tell us how recently this letter was sent? Any chance it’s like, an entire year old? I’m kind of baffled at how this could’ve gone on so long with the LW not looking into any solutions, even if it only came up occasionally.

    1. Teapot Repair Technician*

      I think some people have embraced the pandemic as a universal excuse for everything, and after a year take it for granted that everyone will unquestioningly accept it

      The obvious solution isn’t even one that needs to be “looked into.” Unless LW, dad, brother and 4 animals live in a single tiny room, there surely must be somewhere LW can go to be further away from dad, perhaps with a closed door between them. Kitchen, bedroom, outside–almost anywhere would be an improvement.

      Rereading the 2nd paragraph, I get the feeling that LW doesn’t want to train these people or feels they don’t deserve it. Perhaps this explains LW’s lack of caring and lame excuse. (April Ludgate vibes.)

    2. EchoGirl*

      Someone above pointed out that there are places that didn’t have major lockdowns originally (i.e. places that managed to contain the original form without having to go that far) but are introducing them now because of the variants being harder to contain, so that is one possibility — it’s a recent letter, but from someone in a comparable situation to where US/European readers were last spring.

  74. New Mom*

    I feel bad for the OP, that sounds stressful in the moment. But I also agree with others that if people can’t hear you, you’ll have to find a solution. I think it’s possible that when you are in the actual environment it is not as noisy because you have the headphones that are blocking out the background noise and just hear the people on the call. Whereas the others hear you + the background noise.

    There have been plenty of times when I’ve been talking to a family member on my commute home and I can hear them fine but all the sound in my background makes them unable to hear me, or it’s just annoying for them.

  75. Kara*

    I’m not sure if you’re still reading OP, but I do a lot of systems training. Aside from things others have suggested (pre-records, better tech, moving room, etc) I would also urge you to rethink how you think about situations like this.

    This wasn’t ‘confrontation’ or ‘rudeness’ or someone causing you to deliver a sub-par session. This was someone telling you there were barriers to them learning, which you weren’t removing, and which you needed to remove. And the fact is you were already delivering a sub-par session because of the noise.

    So I would suggest you look into some trainings for yourself! In training and facilitation, and in conflict resolution, assertiveness and communication skills.

    When a learner says they aren’t learning, you can’t just shrug it off. This was not ok. Think about what it would take to make it possible to not shrug it off, and do that.

    1. Miru*

      I would also encourage thinking about this before going to your boss about the situation.
      If I were an attendee in the session, there is a good chance that I would reach out to your boss to let her know that I would not be able to attend future sessions without the noise issue resolved and also mention how you handled it.

      I would not be pleased if a direct report responded to the situation the way that you did. I would potentially be rethinking if they could work from home at all, or if they should be doing these sorts of trainings, and we would have a conversation about that. It isn’t just the sound issue at play here, it is everything Kara said.

      If that direct report came to me proactively and told me that they’d been thinking about how they handled the situation, then proposed a plan going forward to handle it differently, the conversation would go much better than if I heard about it from someone else. While I still might not be happy about the training needing to be repeated, I would appreciate the recognition of personal accountability. That would ease the conversation about what options are available to address the sound issues and also how to respond to feedback on calls in the future.

    2. Boof*

      Yes, this. The trainee’s time was being wasted, they asked what could be done about it, like moving sessions, OP gave a non answer “well it’s up to you but it will probably happen again”, I might well hang up too after that.

    3. Actual Vampire*

      Yes! So many commenters are focusing on the sound, but I think LW’s anxiety (I’m using that term in the non-medical sense) is the much bigger issue here. If you are delivering training to people, you need to be prepared for them to say that they can’t hear, which is a totally neutral fact that really no one should take personally. You also need to be prepared for them to say that they don’t understand the training, don’t like the training, feel that the training is useless and beside the point, etc. A good trainer who wants their trainees to succeed can look past their own emotions to determine whether the training is really effective. The fact that LW can’t even handle hearing a neutral comment about her training makes me think she’s not able to evaluate and improve the quality of her work, which is a skill she really needs to learn if she will continue in this career.

  76. Phil*

    Former sound mixer and recording engineer here. Since you sit at opposite ends of the desk any kind of barrier between you while your on your training sessions will reduce the “noise.” A piece of plywood will work fine. Glue some foam on your father’s side and it will be better.
    The scrap pile at your local lumber yard or home store will probably a piece you can use. Prop it up with some books and see if it works. I’ll bet it will help.

  77. Raida*

    It is not, sorry, acceptable for someone to tell you they can’t hear and be told “sorry I guess you just can’t here then. sucks doesn’t it. let’s carry on”
    It’s an issue. Address it. Ask the attendee to send you a concise email stating that they could not complete the training session as there is insufficient soundproofing on the trainer’s end.

    Record the training sessions, test out auto-captioning for accuracy, and have training materials for reference.
    Also your work should provide you with the equipment required to do your job – in this case that means a more specialised microphone that only picks up sound in a small area.
    That or see if they’ll pay for a partitian wall/screen/curtain you can put up during training sessions.

  78. WFH Canadian*

    Make sure you have a headset that has a noise muting mic. The best I’ve found is the LG h390. (I’ve tried 2 others and with the programs I use at work, they have a significantly worse speaker and volume levels).

    1. Caboose*

      I’m also a huge fan of Logitech headsets! I’m not even sure if the headset *does* anything to the noise, or if it’s just that the mic is directional and right by my mouth. Mine also has the ability to flip the mic up to mute it, which saves me a lot of fumbling with whatever the muting hotkey is in the meeting software du jour. (Sometimes I can meander over to click that button, but when a sneeze is coming on, I’ve got a very short amount of time to prevent everyone from having their eardrums destroyed by my nuclear-grade allergic reactions.)

  79. Skye*

    Creating this kind of situation for someone is why I have been avoiding WFH jobs. My roommate has a 3 month old baby and my current mic definitely picks up the baby’s screaming (and she screams a lot) despite being in a different room. I can’t imagine having to attend a training or meeting and dealing with that kind of background noise; I definitely sympathize with the trainees in this situation.

  80. LilyP*

    I have to say I think people are being too hard on OP here! They say these trainings are only an occasional thing, nobody else has ever complained about the noise before, and it honestly sounds like there’s political reasons that keeping these trainees happy not is a core goal of their role. I take the letter writer at their word that just stepping into another room wasn’t a viable solution in the moment, so I think it makes sense that they had to move on with the training and let the one person who couldn’t hear well enough drop out (vs what, run to the store to buy better noise cancelling headphones?) — I think the one thing they should’ve done differently was ask the person who couldn’t hear to follow up via email to arrange some sort of alternative training (then punt it to their boss on whether to handle that with new headphones or assigning this person to a different trainer’s session or providing a transcript or whatnot). But I think people are projecting their pandemic fatigue and frustration onto this situation acting like OP fell down on the job by not preemptively insisting their company buy expensive headphones in order to do any training from home.

    Now that you know it can be a problem, you can talk to your boss about how to mitigate it in the future. But I think this is a minor misstep in the grand scheme of things!

    1. Observer*

      No, that’s totally not how this went down.

      The problem here is not that there was a noise problem that the OP couldn’t figure out how to fix in the moment. What happened is this – and I’m basing my COMPLETELY on what the OP actually says:

      Someone complains about the background noise. OP apologizes, and explains that they aren’t going to do anything about it. Not even to ask the other person in the room if they can at least lower the volume.

      20 minutes later someone complains again, explicitly pointing out that they cannot hear. OP again “apologizes” and points out that they are also having “being affected” by the pandemic. That person effectively asks if the OP is going to try to fix it for next time, and the OP tells them That they are NOT going to even try to fix anything, so attendee should so whatever they want.

      Now, OP wants to get the person in trouble. They makes it clear that they do not believe that they have any obligation to try to do anything to make themselves more audible.

      In other words, people are jumping on the OP not because they couldn’t fix the issue on the spot. They are being jumped on because they did not try to fix the problem, they made it clear that they would not even try to fix the problem for future sessions, they don’t think they have any obligation to try to fix the problem, and they want to get the person who complained into trouble.

      1. D3*

        It is ABSOLUTELY the OP’s desire to “report” the people who couldn’t hear that made me speak up. Because there is nothing at all wrong with someone saying they cannot hear in a training and trying to improve the situation.
        OP just did not like being told he wasn’t doing it effectively and wants to punish the recipients of HIS bad training.
        That’s not okay, and that’s why people are responding the way they are.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Just because nobody else has ever complained about the noise is no reason to not take the complaints seriously. The OP did not try to troubleshoot any sort of solution, they just shrugged and essentially said, “Pandemic! Whatcha gonna do?”

      I think if the OP had written in and asked for advice for how to decrease the sound issue, the responses would have been a lot tamer. Instead, the OP wrote in to ask if they even had a responsibility to make these trainings accessible to all and then asked if they should complain about someone essentially pointing out an issue with the current accessibility of the training. That really shows a lack of judgement on the OP’s part.

    3. Middle School Teacher*

      I hate when someone says “no one ever complained before”. It’s not helpful here.

    4. Jelly Doughnuts*

      I feel like you are either the OP or their mom. Because are you serious, not being able to hear a training call is definitely a reason to speak up on a training call, this was not something to be followed up with after the call in an email and was certainly not something that can be in the same ballpark as “keeping trainees happy”. the OP held a planned training call with external stakeholders in a room less than a meter away on the same desk where her father was also on a call. Maybe the Op has never had complaints before because her father was not on a call during her other meetings, maybe this is the reason the company has issues with their trainees, maybe previous training calls no one was willing to speak up but had enough on this call the reasons are endless.

      The OP was wrong on every count in this:
      – Starting with terrible judgement to conduct a training call with her father on the phone in the room
      – Then not taking accountability and changing rooms or moving the call to another time, when they got the first or second complaint that people could not hear
      – Adding in that the OP blamed it on the pandemic and offered no change or retraining time
      – Then to top it off the thing that really got my attention was not all the errors in judgment and lack of accountability and professionalism it was that OP decided to turn in the people who complained that they could not hear and wanted them to be formally reprimanded.

    5. Temperance*

      No, the entire problem is the fact that OP shares an office and a desk with her loud father, who is constantly on calls and Zooms.

  81. Lunita*

    I work from home still and have had to so with a husband who also was working and a child who, although being cared for by a babysitter, was still often in the house. A few times noise was inescapable; most of the time if I need more quiet I seek out a different space, even when it meant working outside, in my kid’s empty playroom, or elsewhere.

    LW, if you can move somewhere else for these sessions I recommend doing that.

  82. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

    Lots of great suggestions for dealing with the noise, location, etc, so I won’t add on there. However, I am going to encourage you to get some support for your anxiety, OP. It sounds like the response you had really threw you for a loop, for sure — but also that you maybe struggled a bit with how to respond in the moment to the stress. Even learning some techniques such as pausing, taking a breath before responding, etc., could help you feel more control over a situation. This can then lead you to be able to pick up and carry on from where you left off. Setbacks are inevitable in life — taking them in stride is the real learning curve!

    1. Pennyworth*

      Going forward, I’d suggest the following
      Address the noise issue using the advice here. Check, double check.
      Contact all the trainees and apologize for the sound quality during the last session, and offer a repeat session with improved sound.
      Before that session think about any things that might go wrong and have a script to address them. This will help with anxiety.
      Give the training session, move on.

  83. Allie*

    I have a similar setup when working from home. I also teach mental health courses, where it’s important that my students can hear me and I them. So on days when I’m teaching, I either go into the office or I use my son’s room. I can use his desk for my laptop and monitor and shut the door so it’s quiet.

    Depending on how long your sessions are, could you set up temporarily in another room and let others in the house know to be quiet for a few hours?

  84. Sally*

    OP, I really feel for you. However, I’m in the opposite boat: I had something very similar happen (and it was very unpleasant) pre-pandemic because our office is open plan and my boss never shuts up, so he is constantly causing complaints from clients, employees and stakeholders alike because he is so loud.

    It’s been working brilliantly at home, but only because I am extremely fortunate that I have a space with a door that I can close, which I never had in the office.

    The only thing you can probably do is to ask your father if he can either take his conversation elsewhere, or be quiet. Same as I had to in the office, with varying levels of success.

  85. fhqwhgads*

    OP, you need at least one of the following:
    A unidirectional microphone. Doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy, but it does need to be unidirectional. Most of the suggested models above will do. If your company won’t spring for a $30 version…that’s a them problem.
    Something functioning like a cubicle wall between the two of you. Plywood/particleboard with carpet attached, poster board, a corkboard, cardboard with acoustic panels. Doesn’t need to entirely divide the room in half, just the desk.
    A curtain between the two of you. Nothing permanent necessary, could be on a tension rod, any kind of fabric you have, even a sheet.
    To do your damndest to try and schedule these so the two of you are not on calls at the same time.
    Find any other space where your or his work stuff can be temporarily moved to avoid overlapping calls.

    If you’ve attempted all of the above prior to the training in question and it was still too hard to hear/some of the options were physically or financially impossible (and your company refused to pay), then you’ve done everything you can do. That is, if you’ve put a baffle between the two of you AND are using a unidirectional mic AND using noise reduction software AND the noise from within the room wasn’t another call going on simultaneously AND there’s literally no where you can be in your dwelling with less noise but power+internet, then you’re right, you’re doing the best you can given the situation. If you’ve not ruled all of that out, those are your next steps before the next training.

  86. JSPA*

    These noise questions come up repeatedly. Each time, the same answers apply–the appropriate headset or microphone being at the top of the issue. It’s not louder at the house than in a call center. People are not closer together, either. Call centers make it work by using the right equipment. As a huge aspect of the issue is, “it’s no longer OK to be clueless about technology,” if Alison does not want to promote any specific brands, it seems only right to at least say, “read the comments for readers to weigh in on technological fixes, of which there are many.”

  87. LondonLady*

    I was guest presenter on a webinar during height (or depths) of lockdown here. Ended up doing it from my bedroom (not in bed but on bed!) with blurred background as it was the only room quiet from partner on phone, cats demanding food, next doors’ kids or the washing machine. It’s not always easy to find a quiet corner but if you can, it’s worth it for your listeners.

  88. Calpurrnia*

    The strangest thing about this question is really the timing. This absolutely, completely makes sense as a letter that was written something like… 15 months ago? When we were all figuring this out, fumbling with home setups, didn’t have the right equipment or access to different options, and so on. The pandemic came out of nowhere – one week we were in the office, the next we were sharing kitchen tables and couches and trying not to get in the background of simultaneous calls. But man, the world has been working from home for *an entire year and a half*. And you’ve never once had a conversation with your dad about not scheduling his meetings at the same time as your important trainings, or when it’s unavoidable, one of you stepping into another room for the duration of the call. Surely you don’t all live in one single room – you have a bedroom, or a bathroom, or a closet, or a kitchen, or a yard, or a driveway, or something!

    My husband and I live in a one-bedroom apartment with our very talkative cat. We’ve both been working from home since March 2020 (and are now permanently WFH). For the first year of the pandemic, we had both our desks (and computers – we both need beefy desktops with 3 monitors) next to one another in the living room, and would share calendars to avoid double-booking whenever possible (just citing “schedule conflicts” and suggesting alternate times whenever we could reasonably do so). When conflicts were unavoidable, unless one of us could be muted for the entire call (like listening to a training), then whoever didn’t need to screenshare would take the call (on audio only) from the bedroom with the door closed. We shut the cat in the bathroom for the duration of calls and made it work. This arrangement worked fine until he was promoted to team lead and started having a lot more meetings than he used to. Nobody ever complained, but it started getting frustrating *for us* to try to schedule around, so we decided *of our own accord* to literally rearrange all our furniture (including giving away some that was taking up space) to move my husband’s computer and desk into the bedroom so we could more easily manage simultaneous meetings without stepping on one another’s audio. That’s been at least 2-3 months now and it works great. 10 minutes before either of us has a meeting, we make a last call for coffee, corral the cat, shut the doors, etc. and get into meeting mode. That’s what professionals do!

    Basically, LW, you’ve been working from home for a year and a half and have spent a lot of time apparently not doing anything to improve the situation at all? The pandemic isn’t an excuse deserving of lots of grace and understanding anymore – it’s the “new normal” reality we’ve all been living in for a significant period. It’s probably long past time for you to start catching up and acting like a professional too. Which means figuring out what you can do to fix your setup, not just acting like you can’t possibly do better than the setup you threw together in a day last March, coasting on inertia, and blaming it on ancient news as if it’s *still* taking you by surprise today in 2021.

    TLDR: You have options! Sharing a desk with your dad isn’t the only possible thing you can do forever, just cause it’s the first thing you thought of to make it work for a little while! Adapt! You got this!

  89. David*

    I haven’t read through all therapies so this may have already been mentioned. Until you can get isolating headset Teams has an option to filter out background noise – I would imagine other software applications have something similar.

  90. Middle School Teacher*

    “Should I complain about this person’s conduct?”

    Tbh I think you will be lucky if they don’t complain about you. Aside from making excuses and saying “we all have to be flexible” what did you do to help?

    Also, I’m not sure this would be confrontational. It’s a conflict, yes, but it’s not like the person told you that your suck, you don’t know anything etc. They had a perfectly legitimate problem which they brought to your attention, and your answer was pretty much “oh well deal with it”.

    Sorry to be direct OP. But I’m with the person who hung up here.

  91. Caboose*

    Gaming headsets are 100% the way to go. I’ve accidentally set off the fire alarm in my apartment while on a social call before, and none of the other people could even HEAR it. They had no idea why I was suddenly freaking out.

  92. That One Person*

    One thing you can attempt to do is collaborate with work on equipment. Sometimes they go with cheaper items so the masses have something to work with, but for some situations (such as this) you might need something better as far as microphones or a headset goes. There are definitely ways to reduce background noise as far as some go with their included program settings – I’ve had a friend adjust their’s a time or few because of another friend in a different call in the background. Luckily this was with friends, and while we do tend to laugh about this kind of thing at the same time hearing someone in the background does cause distractions from whatever we’re doing. Sometimes though if you’re sharing a room with someone the other person is simply going to get loud so it may be good to coordinate with the other person too: ensure you’re both using moderate/normal speaking tones, watching out for getting heated/excited in a discussion, try to see if you can rearrange some of the home office space to sit further apart, and maybe test with either colleagues or friends/family to get feedback on how bad the background noise is. You guys might be overlapping more than you think since sometimes headphones can help muffle the background for you, but not necessarily those in the call. I’m not sure if people are also asking for lots of clarifications/repeats or they’re too shy to do so, but if they are then hopefully some of this can help reduce that need.

  93. CommanderBanana*

    My boss works in a shared office at home with a partner with a loud, booming voice who likes to have loud, booming conversations next to her while we’re on meetings, so about a third of our meeting time is spent telling her we can’t hear her, being unable to hear other people speaking because her audio is drowning them out, asking her to mute herself, and asking her to unmute herself.

    It’s been over a year, I do not know why she hasn’t found a better solution, it sucks, and you need to find another space to hold these training calls.

    1. somanyquestions*

      This isn’t the only room in these people’s houses. I attend court hearings, and when I do I drag my whole laptop/dock/keyboard etc into my bedroom and set up on a TV tray, because while I have my own tiny office at home it’s not as quiet as my bedroom. It’s not convenient but it is what it is.

      This comment section has made think I should just buy a better headset, though! I know my government employer won’t buy it, but that would probably be worth the money for me.

  94. Temperance*

    OP, I think this is really on you. If your home is big enough that there’s a dedicated office, maybe you should consider working in your bedroom, the dining room, the living room, or the kitchen; basically anywhere that isn’t a closed room with a loud person who is on the phone call day.

    I share our home office with my husband. Due to the nature of my job vs. his job, I move when we have conflicting meetings. I take my laptop to our bedroom or the mini desk setup I have in our living room whenever we both need to be making noise, and neither of us is really on the phone all day like that.

  95. Obam.*

    I’m hard of hearing and video meetings and trainings are already a strain. Autocaptioning is inaccurate and on Zoom, it’s behind a paywall. If I can’t hear what is going on, I just nope out of the meeting because it is inaccessible to me.

  96. TassieTiger*

    What I keep thinking about is the OP’s account of their interaction with the first person who brought up the noise. I get the feeling that OP thinks that fact that it was a humorous, light-hearted interaction made it a “success” …and she classifies that second interaction with a different person as a “failure” because it didn’t end in smiles and breeziness. But the humour in the first interaction doesn’t mean it was successful. What would have been successful would have been an interaction that acknowledged the problem of noise and moved towards a solution. In this case, keeping the mood light did not need to be prioritized over finding a solution.

    As a conflict-avoidant person myself, I needed to be reminded of this!

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