my small open plan office is trying to enforce a semi-quiet work environment and I hate it

A reader writes:

I started a new job about a month ago. I was referred to the role by a coworker from my previous job, who began working here last year and had nothing but praise for the company. Overall I like the job — I got a small pay bump, the benefits are fantastic, my coworkers are overall super kind, and the office is just a 15-minute walk away from my flat. This is important to me because the pandemic made me realize that I can’t work from home five days a week; I need an office space to focus properly and I like being able to see and interact with my coworkers.

My new company has a very generous flex work policy; most employees are fully remote but me and another coworker come in five days a week, about four other coworkers come in at least four days a week, and a few others come in occasionally, about once or twice every other week. (This arrangement is by choice as all of us could do our jobs from home if we wanted to.) They had a lovely office before the pandemic, but once their lease was up they decided not to renew it. Instead, they got a much smaller office, which is open plan and has a hot desk system. There are two meeting rooms with glass walls and doors, so they’re not soundproof; noises get muffled but not cut off completely.

A couple of weeks ago, my deskmate Sonia sent me a message the day after she’d been in the office to ask me to keep casual chat to a minimum, as according to her they usually operate on a semi-quiet office environment. I was a bit upset by this but apologized and moved on, keeping in mind to avoid chatting too much with Sonia whenever she came to work in the office. But yesterday I had a call with another coworker, Luize, and we had a 10-minute chat about non-work stuff before we started focusing on our task, and we later got a message from our boss, Gary, asking that we limit non-work related chatter when in the office. Sonia wasn’t in the office and Gary works from home, so someone else who was in yesterday contacted him to complain about out chatter. We were both bummed, but this hit me particularly hard since this was my second complaint related to excessive personal chatter in the office.

I’m a bit of a social butterfly and I love talking to people. Luize is super nice and also loves engaging in a little bit of personal gossiping at the start of our calls; I appreciate that, as she’s fully remote and that’s essentially the only way we get to chat casually. The thought of having to constantly watch myself when I’m talking to my coworkers about non-work related things feels like a punch to the gut. Luize saw how upset I was and spoke to Gary, who was sympathetic and said he has no issues with us engaging in water cooler talk, but he suggested I keep my tone down in the future. While I am more than happy to comply, it bothers me that the person who reported my behavior didn’t just nudge me in the moment about it. Not only do our headsets not have microphone feedback, so I can’t tell exactly how loud I am while on calls, but my ADHD means that I sometimes end up speaking gradually louder the more excited I get and I can’t really tell when it happens unless someone points it out to me.

My thinking is, this is a small open plan office; you can’t expect complete silence from it, as people are social creatures. If you’re on work calls or need a bit of quiet work time, head into one of the meeting rooms for a bit, which are almost always empty. My partner is fuming about this situation, as he thinks this is a ridiculous policy, and my sister thinks the people in my office are jerks. What says you? I’ve never worked in an open office where people were actively discouraged from speaking to one another unless it was about work. This feels bonkers to me.

First, yes, it is bonkers to set up an open office plan and expect people not to hear each other talking. A certain level of background noise is part of the deal when you have an open office (although you do need people to be considerate of each other, establish shared norms around communication so people can concentrate, and use conference rooms for anything particularly distracting/lengthy).

But I’m not sure that’s what’s going on here! Gary apparently said he has “no issues” with you chatting but suggested you keep your volume down. That sounds like socializing is fine, but it just can’t be as loud as it has been.

It’s worth confirming that with Gary to make sure that’s really what he meant, but assuming it is, it’s a pretty reasonable stance, especially if you know that you don’t always realize when your voice is getting louder. It is hard to focus in a space where someone is having a very loud conversation, and while a loud work-related conversation can feel like something people just have to deal with in a shared space, a loud social conversation is more likely to be perceived as something you should keep down.

One solution — especially since you know you can have trouble moderating your volume on your own — might be to use the meeting rooms when you’re talking with a colleague more than very briefly. That might help significantly.

I know you’re bothered that the person who talked to Gary about the noise didn’t talk to you directly … but some people (a lot of people!) find those conversations awkward. Should they have asked you directly to keep it down? Yes, absolutely. But try not to feel too weird that they didn’t.

I do think it’s important to realize that you can’t rest on this part of what you wrote: “I sometimes end up speaking gradually louder the more excited I get and I can’t really tell when it happens unless someone points it out to me.” If you can’t control it, you can’t — but then you’ve got to realize it might bother other people and you can’t realistically expect them to tell you about it every time.

Now, if I’m wrong about my read of what Gary said and you actually are being told you can’t talk about anything non-work-related in the office, then I fully agree that that’s unrealistic and ridiculous. But if we’re taking Gary at his word, that’s not the request this office is making. They’re just asking you to keep it down.

Read an update to this letter.

{ 526 comments… read them below }

  1. jane's nemesis*

    Alison, LW says they work in the office 5 days a week, just wanted to flag that for this part of your answer: “presumably you can have phone calls with coworkers on your work-from-home days too and wouldn’t need to worry about your volume then, so it’s not a situation where your only opportunity to chat with coworkers is when you’re in the office.”

    I agree that LW needs to be more careful about their volume! I have misophonia, so I avoid a open-office jobs at all costs, but I would be furious if I were listening to a coworker socialize loudly on the phone for TEN MINUTES before getting down to business. (A minute or two would probably irritate my misophonia but wouldn’t enrage me.) And to be honest, I would be too angry (due to my condition) to be able to approach them in the moment.

    1. Purple Cat*

      I think context is everything. How “loud” is loud?
      For you to be FURIOUS over someone chatting for 10 minutes is absolutely a you problem and not a them problem- IF the volume is only loud enough to be heard – aka above a whisper.
      I work in an open-concept office, and you can hear everything if you try hard enough. Otherwise you master the art of not listening, and popping headphones in if you’re really being distracted.

      1. els*

        That’s sadly one of the worst parts of misophonia–that noises, especially noises you can’t control, trigger rage, and there’s just not a lot I (or jane’s nemesis) can do about it. It’s like an allergy to sound, but instead of sneezing or watery eyes it’s an emotional response– and at the moment there aren’t many treatment options. Yes, noise-cancelling headphones can help, but they don’t block all sound, especially high-frequency sounds like whistling, humming, or talking. I often wish I didn’t have to listen to music/wear heavy, hot headphones literally every moment of the day, but if I want to keep my sanity, I do. My coworkers are loud. One of them hums all day long. They take personal calls, watch videos of their grandchildren on full volume, etc., and we don’t have rules in place against it, and I cannot move my desk. So I wear the headphones.

        Because yes, it is a me-problem and not a them-problem; I acknowledge that. “Mastering the art of not-listening” is almost impossible to someone with misophonia, so yeah, listening to inane chatter for ten minutes every time someone calls or stops by a nearby desk is too much. It’s on me to contain myself and not snap at my coworkers. But man is it hard sometimes.

        1. FellowSoundSufferer*

          The rage is real!! I finally found a partial solution. There’s these ear plugs that only cancel those nuisance frequencies. So you can wear them and have a conversation, but the radio and plate scraping don’t invade as much. Perfect for when you can’t wear heavy headphones. The ones I love are called “loops” (should be the first Google result for loop ear plugs), though it’s possible that other concert type ear plugs would work.
          It’s been a total game changer for me with audio processing issues and misophonia.

          1. EmKay*

            Plus a MILLION for the Loop earplugs! I will not leave my apartment without having them on me or in my bag.

            1. Data Slicentist*

              Seconding the recommendation! I get sensory overwhelm in big box stores and malls, and the filtering loop earplugs together with sunglasses have really helped.

          2. jane's nemesis*

            Thank you, I will look into these! Maybe I need them for sitting on my couch while my husband sits on the other couch and eats chips and watches TikTok on his phone!

            1. Le Sigh*

              I had a very similar thought, lol. Useful for work, but perhaps even more useful for my marriage.

              1. lilsheba*

                If I am home and relaxing, I’m watching tiktok without headphones. I don’t feel the need.

                1. jane's nemesis*

                  But are you alone, or is someone with misophonia sitting next to you, trying to control their Misophonic Rage?

        2. hyperactive bunny*

          “It’s like an allergy to sound” – wow hello this is the perfect way to describe misophonia.

          YMMV but noise cancelling earbuds and brown noise go a looooooong way for cancelling out office chit chat and whispers. oh god, whispering is just the WORST.

        3. umami*

          Whistling drives me absolutely batty lol. It’s hard to explain to someone (i.e. husband) that I’m not plugging my ears because your whistling is awful, it’s because the pitch of a whistle literally hurts my head.

          1. Kel*

            Whistling is the WORST. I don’t have bad misophonia for anything except whistling which immediately sets me off. My poor partner will forget and idly start and she gets a glare every time, oops.

        4. Properlike*

          “Allergy to sound.” This is a brilliant way to describe it, the one I will use from now on. Thank you!

      2. jane's nemesis*

        10 minutes is a long time, but I absolutely understand that misophonia is a me-problem, not a them-problem. It’s why I work from home, not in an open-office space, but not everyone with misophonia or other neurodivergences has that privilege. “Mastering the art of not listening” is not something I can do with misophonia.

        1. RuralGirl*

          Yes, true – but everyone in this office does have that privilege. They’re choosing to go into a space where other people will be. Perhaps working from home isn’t a good fit for other reasons, but that’s not the fault of their coworkers, either.

      3. jane's nemesis*

        I never said it wasn’t a me-problem but a them-problem, but there is absolutely nothing I can do about my misophonic rage other than work from home and some self-medication. But not everyone with misophonia can avoid working in open offices like I am lucky to be able to do.

        1. Free Meerkats*

          Not to make light of your problem, but “Misophonic Rage” would be a perfect name for a found sound, atonal, punk band.

          1. EmKay*

            Oh, god. I also suffer from misophonia and imagining that band just made me cringe right out of my skin lol, good job!

          2. jane's nemesis*

            Hahahahah I love that band name so much! (Would never be able to go to their concerts though lol)

            1. Properlike*

              Me too!!!!!! The improv jazz, which I only this moment realized is because I’m stressed out not being able to predict the random, hurtful sounds sure to randomly pop up. Smooth jazz doesn’t do that.

        2. My Useless 2 Cents*

          But there are also a lot of medical conditions that can make modulating ones voice difficult to please all people. OP mentions her ADHD makes it difficult to realize she has raised her voice. There are a LOT of people that are hearing impaired. Personally I have a very hard time understanding people who speak at or near whisper. I can hear them just fine, but cannot make out individual words without multiple repeats and extreme concentration, it can be incredibly frustrating. It is not productive to into a “my medical condition trumps yours” type situation. Unfortunately in this situation it sounds like the solution is going to have to be up to Gary to figure out what is reasonable office conversation or not and right now only “quiet office” complainer is speaking up. OP needs to speak with him.

          1. darcy*

            yeah I have ADHD and it’s so so difficult for me to remember to modulate my volume if I’m in a conversation, my volume always creeps up if someone doesn’t keep prompting me to keep it down. I promise it’s not for lack of caring, I can’t do it even when there’s immediate direct consequences for not doing it!

          2. AntsOnMyTable*

            I feel like once two separate people speak with you about your non-work related conversations than there is a strong chance the onus will lie on the OP to remedy. Going into the conference room to chitchat will probably be the best bet.

      4. Hamster Manager*

        I used to work with two of the OP and when they’d chat it would get louder and Louder and LOUDER like, VERY LOUD. The relationships in that office were good enough that we could all laugh like ‘you’re doing it again, stop!’ but honestly it was so incredibly disruptive.

        OP I think you are downplaying the issue your volume is causing by making yourself a “people can’t even TALK anymore” victim in the situation. My coworkers solved it by moving to the kitchen to loud talk to each other, I like Alison’s ‘move to the conference rooms’ suggestion for you.

      5. Artemesia*

        I have had workmates and friends who normal speech is braying — I don’t have misphonia or whatever but strident loud talkers are super irritating if you are trying to concentrate. If multiple people are upset about the OP’s talking, she needs to take the volume down a couple notches for starters. One person — maybe it’s them — but multiple people makes it start to look like you. Loud people often have no idea at all that they are loud.

        1. Aster*

          This. If the boss has had to step in and ask LW to tone it down it’s no longer a them problem but LW not being in step with office norms.

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      The 10 minute personal convo jumped out at me, too. A couple minutes of pleasantries and “how was your weekend” “doing something fun soon” or whatever I’d be able to tune out. But ten minutes of a personal convo that steadily increased in volume? I’d be glaring daggers at OP (sorry OP), and I’d probably message my boss as well to alert them to what was going on.

        1. Kel*

          I get that WFH seems like the right option, but for many people it’s not. LW specifically says that going into the office is something that’s important to her.

          1. Beany*

            LW: “I need an office space to focus properly and I like being able to see and interact with my coworkers.”

            I’m concerned that a large part of what makes it important to LW is exactly what makes it so hard for the anonymous complainer. It’s important to LW *because* they want to chat.

          2. Coda*

            But WHY is it important to her? It sounds like it’s because she gets to have long, loud, personal conversations! That’s not an acceptable reason. She’s using the workplace to provide for her social needs at the expense of others who are, y’know, WORKING.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              OP is obviously very extrovert, that’s how they operate. They thrive on contact with other people, and can wither when deprived of it. They might chat for ten minutes, but then they’ll zip through their work. And if part of their job is schmoozing, they’ll achieve more with a bit of idle chit-chat first. We introverts don’t see that as work, but it absolutely helps to smooth things over. I was amazed once, watching my extrovert partner soothe an angry client, telling her that she should just take off for the weekend early, and he’d come in early on Monday to sort her problem out (literally nobody had wanted to take the call but him!).

              I think we need to take into account the nature of the work. The complainers probably have work that they need to concentrate on, like coding or translating. Whereas those in sales work best in an office where they can indulge in banter, chat about their clients, bounce ideas off each other.

              In my previous job there were four of us needing a peaceful office and the others needed to be able to chat amongst themselves. So there was a quiet office and a noisy office. It worked wonderfully. It shouldn’t be too hard to throw up a partition at OP’s office if that would help.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        I get the increase in volume being a problem, but geez, I don’t see how having a 10 minute conversation about non-work stuff should be a problem, in general. It just happens to be over the phone, and the real problem is the open floor plan that allows everyone to overhear every conversation.

        1. Lydia*

          Yeah. 10 minutes is not a big deal. They should definitely keep it quiet, but maybe chill out a little otherwise.

          1. LobsterPhone*

            The issue for me is not so much that it’s ‘only 10 mins’…it’s that it’s 10 mins every time my colleague takes a call, encounters a colleague walking into our workspace, sees someone in the distance that she has to comment on. For her, working in the office is absolutely a social time and she loves it. The rest of us who work full time (she works 2 days a week and has an otherwise extremely active personal life) don’t really appreciate being interrupted every 5 mins to chat with her about whatever happens to have caught her attention in that moment. Recently a colleague in our open plan space got up and moved because he couldn’t concentrate with her very loud chat occurring right next to him and when he spoke to her about it later her comment was that he shouldn’t work in the open space area if he can’t handle some talking. We have NO OPTION but to work in the open space. Yes, we have to expect some ambient noise but ultimately people are there to work, not socialise.

            1. Properlike*

              That’s like people who say if you don’t like people talking in a movie theater, you should stay home and watch a DVD.

          2. biobotb*

            It ended up being only 10 minutes, but it’s not like the LW’s coworkers knew that was how long it would take. From their perspective, they were stuck overhearing a loud personal conversation with no known end point–it was always the middle. Plus, 10 minutes is short if you’re enjoying yourself, but very long if you’re being annoyed/disturbed.

        2. Claire W*

          Exactly, to me, the topic should be irrelevant. If you don’t like loud talkers, it shouldn’t matter whether it’s 1 minute of personal chat and 29 mins of work chat, or 10 mins personal and 20 mins work, or whatever. If the issue is the volume, address, that, rather than complaining about the topic.

        3. biobotb*

          For some reason, sometimes hearing someone talking on the phone is more annoying than hearing two people having a conversation in person. I’m not sure if it’s that people on the phone tend to speak louder, or because you’re only hearing half of the conversation, or both or some other reason.

    3. Rain's Small Hands*

      I spent most of my career in a cube, and it was fine. I then took two jobs in quick succession that were “carousel” set ups – and I couldn’t do it. It drove me to the edge of my sanity (granted both jobs had other issues as well). Not, by any means misophonia, just I need to hear myself think and I can’t do that if noise reaches a certain level. I also have headaches that are always made worse by headphones – so headphones to solve the problem are pretty much guaranteed to solve no problem at all.

      And I have some level of tolerance for it – the first job – which was more of a heads down environment where we had some space – was OK, not great. People didn’t tend to chat and my desk was not in a traffic pattern. The second job was horrible, since everyone was talking all the time and I sat at the end of the row very close to the doors and a conference room – so I’d get all the office personal chat next to me.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I do think office set up is exacerbating the situation for OP. In my old open office, there was a kitchen/break room area for chatting with coworkers; it was common to invite them to walk with you to get coffee and chat there. It would have been eyebrow raising for someone to stand chatting loudly in the work area for ten minutes right where people are concentrating – but is there a break room in OP’s set up? For loud conference calls it was considered a kindness to take yourself to a meeting room so you didn’t disturb others – then OP could chat all she wants as the call starts up or winds down. Is that an option?

      2. jane's nemesis*

        I get headaches from headphones as well! Frustrating when that’s everyone’s solution to office noise. Noise-canceling headphones in particular also make me dizzy/nauseated.

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          Exactly. Ear buds are bad for the headache and don’t actually keep external noise out. Noise cancelling headphones are horrible and likely to send me home ill. I’m also not someone who can listen to music and work. My husband can both wear headphones and listen to music while he works – he prefers to work with music. Where if I’m trying to get the books to balance, I’m going in his office to ask him to turn off the music for a few hours because just the back beat is invasive.

        2. Bye Academia*

          I agree, noise-canceling headphones make me feel gross. I also can’t really listen to music to drown out noise, because then I’m just distracted by the music instead of the chatter.

          What I’ve found really helpful is to get comfortable over-ear headphones, not earbuds (the ones I like are Bose QuietComfort, with the noise canceling turned off) and listen to white/brown/pink/etc. noise (I personally prefer brown noise). It overpowers the chatter without making me feel sick or distracting me in another way, and the headphones are comfortable enough I can wear them for a while.

          1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

            I started using an ambient noise app with earbuds to deal with a close by co-worker who talked to herself constantly, read emails aloud and/or would let out a loud, braying laugh that would make us jump in our seats. I couldn’t listen to music while focusing on my work, but I white/brown/pink noise did the trick, along with the sound of rainfall or a bubbling creek.

            1. Properlike*

              There is also the coffitivity app which is big room chatter – no way to hear conversation. I like it a lot, but can’t wear headphones because of glasses and because they hurt the top of my head.

      3. aunttora*

        I think this is a very significant point. When we were all in cubes, sound traveled just as it does in an open environment. However, somehow, it was possible to tune out conversations from people around you in other cubes. I think there is a psychological factor at play, the cubes give the illusion of some degree of distance or privacy, so our brains do a better job of not noticing the noise. Or possibly the fact we don’t see the human body making the noise makes it easier to put it into the ‘not paying attention’ category. But when you’re sitting next to someone, no closer than they would have been if they were in the next cube, the noise is just somehow more ‘present’. Or at least, this is my experience (as a fellow misophoniac).

        1. Rain's Small Hands*

          The cubes were designed with acoustic baffling, so it did block some noise – depending on the quality of the cube and the height of the walls. The cube I spent most of my career in was actually quite quiet – despite sitting right across from the coffee machine and next to the door – I was more interrupted by coffee cooking on the burner than by my coworkers conversations.

        2. Snow Globe*

          Another possible issue is that it sounds like there are only a few people in the office at any given time. I’ve worked in a cube farm where there was a lot of people and a lot of noise, and it kind of gets to be white noise unless someone is extra loud. But in a generally quiet office, one person talking is going to be really distracting.

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        I get ear infections if I wear headphones for more than a couple hours each day. I guess my ears sweat or something.

        But this is part of why I work remotely, and have turned down hybrid jobs that put me in an open plan without even cubes to muffle the noise and distraction. (Audio distraction, visual distraction, the burden of the whole commute thing, and the risk due to Covid is why I work remote by preference.)

        I have actually taken a dB meter into an open plan office and measure the level of sound when it was “full”. It would regularly be at 65 or more dB. Not good.

        1. Sarah in Boston*

          Just curious about your not good definition as 65 dB is the level for a typical conversation. Source: I’m an acoustical engineer.

          1. AnonToday*

            Maybe “not good” as in “causes permanent hearing damage” but as in “just like trying to work with someone talking right next to me and I can’t maintain a train of thought”?

  2. Panda*

    I hate my open office and when people take any calls out in the open as it’s super distracting for me (I wear earbuds most of the time because of this).

    I would just go into a conference room if you need to take a call.

    1. Karia*

      You can’t go into a conference room if you need to screen share or video call. Additionally, phone calls are a normal and often necessary part of a working day. It’s good that your company let you use ear buds though.

      1. Liv*

        I mean… yes you can? Assuming you’re using a laptop – which I’m guessing OP is given they’re able to WFH if they want to and hotdesk. I duck into meeting rooms or quieter spots of the office all the time when I’m taking calls that I know could be distracting to others. ‘Calls’ are all done via my laptop on Teams, and I can just pick my laptop and take it with me.

        1. Karia*

          I missed that OP is hot desking; because she is in all the time, I thought she might have a static desktop.

          Asking her to reduce her volume is fine. However, my view remains unchanged that taking work related phone calls is common, normal and acceptable in most offices.

          I’m going to leave it there.

          1. Rain's Small Hands*

            It is, but more offices should be aware that the open office setup is not great if people will be on the phone a lot. I was on the phone with a call center recently working through an issue….and I couldn’t hear what the person I was talking to was saying because of the amount of noise she had in the background from her coworkers – all on the phone and trying to work through issues with other clients.

            As I’ve gotten older, my hearing has gotten worse and its more and more of a problem to pick out the parts I’m supposed to be listening to from the background noise. And if the parts I’m supposed to be listening to are in a register that isn’t great for me any more, and the other parts are in a register I still have great hearing in – guess what I hear and what I don’t.

          2. jane's nemesis*

            Work-related – yes. TEN minutes of personal talk at a loud “excited” volume – no.

            1. Lydia*

              Ten minutes isn’t a lot. Increasing volume is a problem, but the time spent chatting is not a big deal.

              1. Managing the Change*

                Ten minutes is a LONG time. A minute or two is one thing, to check in and say hi, but ten minutes is extremely excessive. I’d be having a serious conversation with any of my staff who felt it was acceptable to chat for ten minutes at the start of a work call. A conversation which would include the statement that repeated instances of this behavior would result in me firing them.

                1. Rain's Small Hands*

                  It also depends on how often it happens and under what circumstances. Ten minutes at the beginning of the work week to check in with your work friend – not excessive in my book (but keep it quiet – trust me, the entire office doesn’t want to hear about your kid’s soccer game or the guy you hooked up with over the weekend or what you binged on Netflix). A social butterfly who spends ten minutes out of every hour in non work related chat is probably a problem. And yes, if everyone is getting their work done and no one is being distracted then I’m not going to care much as a manager (except possibly wonder why I apparently have more staff employed than I need since they have a large amount of time for chat), but the reality is someone is usually annoyed by these conversations (as many letters here have shown) – sometimes its the other person in the chat wondering why Sally won’t let them work, sometimes its the person sitting nearby who would just like to double check the numbers on the TPS report and needs some quiet for that.

            2. Parakeet*

              If the issue is volume and how it triggers misophonia, why does work vs personal matter?

              (FWIW, I have both ADHD, and autism-related sensory sensitivities, so I understand where both you and the coworker are coming from in terms of natural physiological stuff)

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                I think if it’s work-related, people are more prepared to suck it up, and even might hear some important information for them: if Chatty Worker tells everyone she finished the llama grooming reports, there’s no need to touch base on how far she’s got, for example.
                If OP is telling people about the cosplay convention she was at last weekend, the tolerance level is lower because it’s not perceived as being necessary.

          3. LittleMarshmallow*

            I agree. We have about 15 people in a semi-open setting and only 3 conf rooms. We are always at some variation of people on or not on calls. Sometimes all of us are on a call, sometimes none, and sometimes it’s mixed. We typically only jump in the conference rooms if the call we are on is private in nature (think HR type things). Otherwise it’s a free-for-all and it seems to work just fine. We try to keep it down if we are having an in person talk and someone is on the phone of course, but generally there is no expectation that phone calls must be made in private. Heck sometimes we are all on the same call and we still prefer to sit at desks with headphones (that said, we do have many occasions where we prefer to meet in person – just depends on the meeting). We are pretty comfortable with each other though so no one has an issue shushing someone if they’re being too loud and didn’t realize someone was on a call. Otherwise we are a loud work area. If you need quiet you work from home or at one of the offices nearby that have quiet zones. We aren’t big enough for designated quiet areas and the nature of the work doesn’t really lend to it (we need to be able to talk to each other). It works for us. Those that don’t like it sit at other locations unless they absolutely have to be at ours for some reason. Those of us that are permanent desk holding residents of our location are all cool with loud working environment.

            Side note unrelated, 10 min doesn’t sound unreasonable to me at all. I would be concerned if every 30 min meeting was 10 min of personal chit chat, but a couple times a day doesn’t seem worth worrying about. People are humans and it is perfectly healthy to interact with trusted coworkers about non-work things a little bit. Reminds us all we aren’t robots.

      2. Malarkey01*

        I think that’s really case dependent. We’re all on laptops at my company and most do WFH now but the rule in the office is to go into the “meeting booths” (small conference rooms) for any conference or video calls. At my very large company it would be totally against the culture to take anything other than a very brief phone call from your open floor desk.

        1. Cera*

          Yet, at my very large company, spread out through the states, it’s the exact opposite. There isn’t enough conference rooms to accommodate everyone who may have a meeting at the same time. Small conference rooms are used for small in person meetings, or online meetings of a confidential nature. There is always a hum of meetings and talking occurring throughout the open floor.

          It is also expected for us to develop relationships with remote coworkers (whether working from home or just another office) so personal conversations on the phone are as expected as “water cooler” conversations in the breakroom.

        2. JustaTech*

          On my floor of my office we try to take calls in the empty offices – they have a docking station and monitors/keyboards/mice and a (sliding glass) door. But there aren’t enough for more than 3 people to be on a call at once, so sometimes people have to stay at their desks. Those are usually the people who are mostly listening to the call rather than talking, but sometimes they have to talk too.

          Was it easier when we had proper cubes with sound baffling? Absolutely, but we can’t have our cubes back so we just try our best.

          (On the floor above us they’re all on the phone all day for their jobs, so they’re really good a tuning each other out.)

      3. Esmeralda*

        I can do both of those things in our conference room. I pick up my laptop, hook it up in the conference room, and proceed. Can’t be sure this is the case elsewhere, but worth asking/checking.

      4. Conference caller*

        Why not? We do it all the time. We just bring our laptop into the conference room and conduct the call just as if we were sitting at our desk or anywhere else.

      5. starfox*

        Phone calls are normal, but TEN MINUTES of loud, non-work related chatter are not normal or necessary!

        1. Lydia*

          Y’all keep emphasizing ten minutes as if it were some ludicrous amount of time and I have to wonder what sort of dungeons you work in.

          1. (Not So) New Here*

            When I’ve worked at places that require tracking billable hours, pre-meeting social chat lasted 90 seconds, tops. At my current company, chatter is 3-5 minutes. In both those environments, 10 min would be lot, unless you hadn’t seen the person in weeks.

          2. Summer*

            Thank you Lydia! I absolutely agree. Ten minutes is such a short period of time that I truly can’t understand why so many people are getting upset over that. It’s not as if they are having two hour long personal conversations at full volume. I’ve worked on both sides of this issue. OldJob was like a library; very little chatter in the office and it was a soulless, lifeless sort of place. CurrentJob includes coworkers who can spend half a day chatting to each other about non-work related topics. While I find it excessive and I certainly don’t participate on that level, I think ten minutes is fine.

          3. amen*

            I feel like I’m losing my mind!! Everyone is very insistent about it too, as though this were a universally recognized crime against humanity and not a totally subjective and industry-dependent/office-dependent norm. Especially considering I work with customer-facing teams, where ten minutes of “personal chatter” is considered building a relationship with a client, a critical part of the job. Ten minutes of personal chat with a customer, or a partner vendor, or an investor? That’s business, baby, people renew contracts based on all kinds of emotionally-driven stuff. I completely understand the need to reduce volume on phone calls, but everyone trying to police the *content* of phone calls just sounds like a busybody.

    2. Loulou*

      But if everyone in the office regularly needs to take calls, that’s not a practical solution. If it’s an occasional thing, sure, but from what OP describes it doesn’t sound like it.

    3. Heidi*

      I have to admit I was a little put off by the OPs opinion that the people doing work should be the ones who retreat to other rooms so that she could get her socialization fix in the main office space. It seems that the person on the non-work calls should be the ones to go elsewhere.

      1. umami*

        There also are so few people in the office at any given time, it seems, that there isn’t really a background hum. You just … hear this one really loud conversation. I can see how that would be grating if it’s happening regularly. And it seem sit is happening daily because OP is one of only two people who go in EVERY DAY. So any time another co-worker comes in, even if it’s just once a week, OP is there and doesn’t want to have to regulate her speech or her volume. Also, she’s the newest team member, and it sounds like she is essentially taking over the office space by being there daily, having loud conversations, and pushing back on any feedback that she needs to adjust.

        1. Jora Malli*

          That’s what stuck out to me as well. If you’re in an office where there’s chatter and background noise, a phone conversation can sort of melt into the rest of the ambient sound. But in an office where people are just sitting quietly and there’s no other background noise happening, it’s like BEHOLD! A PHONE CALL IS HAPPENING!

    4. Purple Cat*

      Expecting people to step into a conference room every time they have to take a call is pretty unrealistic in most spaces. Our rooms are almost entirely booked with meetings. If you’re the only person on-site and you’re taking up a room for a phone call or Teams Meeting, expect daggers.

      1. biobotb*

        If she’s the only person on site, she wouldn’t need to be in the conference room, nor would anyone care where she’s taking her phone calls.

        But why would conference rooms be an inappropriate place to have a meeting or phone call? Why would reducing disruption to your colleagues be inappropriate?

  3. Baby Yoda*

    Maybe suggest your company starts using Teams? My team and I “talk” all day long by posting instant messages on this platform.

    1. LW*

      LW here! We do have a chat system in place, but my coworkers and I prefer calls if there’s a need for screen sharing, like in this instance.

      1. Lego Leia*

        I think that you need to move idle chit chat teams if it goes beyond 2 minutes.
        I am also a loud talker, and it is 100% on you to adjust that to more quite levels, or find ways to mitigate your volume issues. Are you using a heaset with a mic? Whatever you do, please do not use speakerphone. Are you in a corner desk, facing into the corner? Are you as far away from the people you think might be upset as possible? Can you talk to the boss about adjusting the layout to accomodate shelving or something to help break up the noise? Can you put a sticky note on your phone/device to remind you to lower your voice?

  4. Twill*

    This doesn’t make sense to me, given the many options your company offers in terms of WFH. If people need a totally quiet environment in which to work, an office, especially open plan, seems the least likely to offer that! I understand that for some people, working from home does not necessarily offer them a silent work situation. (I work from home and it’s just me so I can have it totally quiet if I want to). But in ‘before times’, and now, an office that has people in it is going to have talking! And I would not want to work in a place that I had to whisper in. Unless it was a library I suppose. Although my library isn’t totally silent either. This just sounds so uncomfortable – like I would have to be constantly policing myself. For doing something as normal as conversing.

    1. Observer*

      If people need a totally quiet environment in which to work, an office, especially open plan, seems the least likely to offer that!

      This is actually one of the things that’s bothering me about the OP’s letter. They complain that it’s not realistic to expect total silence in an open office, which is true. But it’s not relevant because that is NOT what they are being asked to do. And, it seems that some people do sometimes actually need to come in, so it’s just reasonable to be considerate.

      There is a very wide gulf between numerous / long *personal* chats that are also often loud – as per the OP – and “complete silence.” Acting as though people are asking for the latter when they are simply being asked to moderate the distraction they are presenting is not really a good way to approach the situation.

      1. Twill*

        Certainly if the issue is too much non-work talk, that is on the LW. Most offices I have worked in would have an issue with too much idle chit chat (old school term lol). But in her letter she says she was told by co-worker ‘they usually operate on a semi-quiet office environment’. I am not even sure what that means?! Does it mean you can talk in a normal tone but only about work? Or does it mean you can talk but only very quietly? Self -awareness is important of course. I am loud, I come from a loud family. But when I worked in an office, I knew to keep my volume on the low end and socializing to a minimum. It’s just sort of unclear to me what the expectations are in this office.

        1. LW*

          LW here! Thanks for your replies. I think the problem is that I feel like I’m being told two different things. I honestly don’t think I was talking too loudly on my call with Luize, but again, I sometimes can’t tell, so I’m sympathetic and completely agree that I need to be quieter if that’s the case, but hell, just the day before, a few coworkers were chatting across the office and one of them (the one I highly suspect was the one who complained about me) shouted from across the office to ask me something related to what they were talking about! I just am felling very lost at the moment.

          Alison’s advice to go to a meeting room for calls isn’t ideal unfortunately, as I have a second monitor at my desk that I need for these screen sharing calls, but I do go there when I need extra privacy or of I’m taking a personal call.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            Was the shouted question work related or personal? Because it does make a difference. Shouting is generally not OK in the office, but if it is a one-off on a work related topic it is very different than multiple loud personal conversations. I’m thinking work on controlling your volume (very hard, I know – I talk too quiet and struggle to talk louder) or when you need to do calls hop into one of the conference rooms. Sure, they may not be soundproof, but they are intended for the time you need to talk long/loud. It isn’t your fault the company went for a design that isn’t great.

            1. Lydia*

              I don’t think it really makes a difference. Shouting across an indoor space that isn’t a warning about impending disaster is…weird.

          2. Wisteria*

            You are only being told one thing, which is to limit noise in the office. You are observing coworkers who are not limiting their noise in the office.

            You are feeling stung that you were told that you were doing something wrong, and you are feeling resentful and possibly singled out that other people are freely engaging in the behavior you were asked not to do. These are understandable feelings.

            I think you need to work on your emotional regulation to manage these uncomfortable feelings, and I also think you need to comply with what has been asked of you twice, which is to limit your non-work related conversations and keep the volume down.

            1. Julia*

              This is spot on. LW, please listen to Wisteria. I think some hurt feelings here are making you cast this as a confusing situation where you’re not sure what to do – and the loyal feedback from your partner and friends has to be fueling that as well. But it’s actually pretty clear what you need to do: keep it down.

              1. Cmdrshpard*

                I think part of it is that the same behavior done occasionally (loud noise/talking) by one person is different than that same behavior done regularly by OP.

                So if Milton who almost never makes noise has a slightly louder conversation or yells something work related that is different than OP who regularly has loud conversations on personal topics.

                1. Koalafied*

                  Yes, this frustration makes sense to me. I also get where the coworkers are coming from.

                  Back in my 20s, in my friend group there was a guy who drank too much and would behave in ways that sometimes made people uncomfortable, and would sometimes do things that were unsafe. After a group trip where a few people had to intervene with something unsafe he was doing, we sat down with him and told him that we were not comfortable with him drinking around us any more beyond something like a single drink with a meal.

                  I know this was really difficult for him, because most of us were and continued to drink more than that, even to the point of being drunk. But the big difference was that nobody else was making anyone feel uncomfortable when they were drunk. Nobody else required someone to be keeping an eye on them and intervene if they were jeopardizing their own or anyone else’s safety. He did not seem to be able to drink without doing those things, and none of the rest of us wanted to be saddled with the burden of watching out for him when we were trying to cut loose and enjoy ourselves.

                  Sometimes it’s like that – other people might be able to do something that on the surface seems the same as what another person is being asked not to do, but it may just be that the way that person does it is disruptive in a way that it isn’t when others do it, and people may have judged that the disruptive person just isn’t capable of doing it in a non-disruptive way. In the LW’s case, perhaps boss saying “just keep your tone down” still believes she can self-regulate, but perhaps the original complainer has simply confidence that LW is capable of self-regulating, and they don’t want the burden of having to regularly point out, “Hey, your chat has been going on for 10 minutes and has gotten quite loud…again. Please remember to keep it down today, and every day going forward.”

          3. Clobberin' Time*

            LW, with love, you need to stop being defensive and treating your co-workers’ and manager’s requests as personal attacks.

          4. hbc*

            This is not a black or white issue where Person A shouted at 70.2 decibels that one time and therefore should accept a sustained 69.8 no matter what the topic. How much noise will be tolerated is extremely situation-dependent. Ten minutes of “personal gossip” at I’m-not-sure-how-loud-but-I-know-I-get loud volume is not a good combo. Calling out to a coworker in the room isn’t in the same ballpark. (In other words, if there was a math equation to determine what’s acceptable, it would involve volume, duration, and content.)

            I would suggest that you looking for a way to not have to budge on this is a part of the reason someone doesn’t want to tell you that you were too loud. Please look for ways to accommodate others here–decibel meter at your desk, taking calls with other chatty people in the conference room, and/or asking about getting a white noise machine for the office so it doesn’t go from pin-drop quiet to distractingly noisy just because one person took a phone call or had a convo on the other side of the room.

          5. anonagoose*

            LW, you mentioned you have ADHD–are you familiar with Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria? It is, in a nutshell, an extreme sensitivity to criticism and perceived rejection. It’s very common in neurodiverse people, and it may be playing a role in your reactions here. It may be a helpful lens through which to process your reactions to these incidents and through which to work on better coping skills.

            Because the thing is, you have actually gotten very clear feedback–limit your noise and non-work conversations–and fixating on the things you’re you’re talking about like the perceived unfairness of other people shouting across the office or the person complaining about you without talking to you directly doesn’t detract from the clarity of that message. Dwelling on the hurt you feel, however real and profound that hurt is, is not actually helping you process the information you’ve received and it’s really not helping you see the reality of the situation, which is that your behavior needs to change.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Seconding anonagoose here, LW. You are reminding me pretty heavily of my brother here in this moment.

            2. Observer*

              OP, I want to point something out. There is a rule on the site to not diagnose, which you may be aware of. And it may feel like @anonagoose is throwing a diagnosis at you. But it would be useful to you to understand what the rule is mean to do, and why this comment doesn’t fall afoul of that rule.

              The idea with the “no diagnosing” rule is that not only do we generally not have enough information to diagnose, it also tends to be unhelpful and not provide any actionable advice.

              This comment avoids both issues. Yes, they do mention a specific diagnosis but I don’t think they are saying that *you* actually have this diagnosis. What they are saying – and why this comment could be useful to you – is that you are exhibiting a pattern of behavior that sounds very much like that diagnosis. And therefore, using that lens to think about your reaction, and possibly even to manage your reaction could be useful to you.

              It also happens to be true that if you haven’t already done so, it might be useful to discuss this with your medical team (I hope you have a good one.)

              1. anonagoose*

                Thank you for this explanation, this is exactly what I intended for the comment to do–not to diagnose, as that would be wildly inappropriate and also just…useless, but to provide potentially helpful and relevant information that is specifically applicable to the circumstances described in the letter.

            3. Nona*

              No offence but I think that’s a pretty fucked up thing to say to someone. Trying to diagnose strangers is never okay (isn’t there a rule against it?) and to describe what the OP wrote as ‘extreme sensitivity to criticism’ is just mean and unfair.

              ‘I’ve been told not to do a thing but I’ve seen other people do the thing without issue’ is a valid reason to be confused. You might not agree with the LW’s perspective, but it’s not exactly outside the bounds of normal human responses to this sort on thing.

              1. Observer*

                The thing is that “‘I’ve been told not to do a thing but I’ve seen other people do the thing without issue’” is a valid thing to find confusing. But that’s not actually what happened, based on everything that the OP has actually said. So it’s reasonable to ask why they are responding so strongly and apparently unreasonably (because it’s not actually based in the facts being presented) to a fairly normal interaction?

                Now, none of us know whether the OP has RSD or not, and I would be very hesitant to say that they DO have it. But I do think that it’s useful for the OP to think about the possibility – and even more useful to simply use that condition as a framework for thinking about their response to the situation.

              2. Writer*

                Wait. The OP *disclosed* their ADHD, and one very common component of ADHD is RSD. This is not diagnosing, it’s pointing out a common experience of ADHDers, one that we often have to navigate as much as unintentionally loud voices and a host of other things that don’t appear to do with executive function but do. Knowing this can be helpful and dissipate some shame.
                Signed, An ADHDer

                1. Legalize Texas*

                  A third person with ADHD here agreeing. This isn’t armchair diagnosing or trying to use her diagnosis against her, it’s a very common thing that people with ADHD experience. I thought of it immediately as well because I get it for this exact thing! I also get louder when enthusiastic about the topic without being able to tell I’m doing it, and I can talk for a really long time without realizing it either.

                  As you might imagine, it is very hard for me to tell when I’m doing this differently from other people, and I have been reprimanded for it many many many times, and often in rather unkind ways. It’s a very sore spot. And I did not realize it was a sore spot for many of the years that it was, in fact, sore, because for all I could tell it was just people singling me out for no reason. This is all very familiar.

                2. Properlike*

                  Fourthed. Only when properly medicated was I able to stop perseverating over feedback because it struck deep and made me feel hyper vigilant, which exacerbated the ADHD symptoms.

              3. darcy*

                this is why I’m wary of letting people know I have ADHD – suddenly everything gets viewed through the lense of ADHD rather than me as an individual person

                1. Havinia*

                  OP can’t have it both ways, though. If they are claiming they can’t keep their volume down because of their ADHD, why is it a problem to suggest that their ADHD MIGHT also be causing other issues that are apparent in their behavior?

                  No one is diagnosing them, but people who share the ADHD diagnosis OP chose to share (by way of excusing their behavior?) are sharing their own experiences of that condition and suggesting ways the OP might be affected.

              4. Emilu*

                I think the difference between the armchair diagnosing and what others above your comment have done is that a) is essentially saying “from your post/comment/etc it sounds like you have a X because you said/did/etc” versus b) is “hey, I have/someone I know has ADHD and also has this, maybe look into it and see someone to discuss it if anything rings a bell?”

                If I’m incorrect here, please let me know, but that was my interpretation of the rule.

                1. anonagoose*

                  “B” is certainly what I intended–I don’t know LW and obviously can’t say one way or the other whether they have RSD or anything else, but I do think it’s helpful to have additional information to use as a framework for working through issues personally and professionally. It’s not meant as an attack but as support from one neurodivergent person to another.

              5. anonagoose*

                I’m not trying to diagnose anybody, though. I’m simply pointing out that LW’s behavior is out of scope with the actual issue, and that there is a common feature of neurodivergence that, regardless of whether or not they do have it, can be a useful tool to guide one’s thinking about how to respond to these sort of situations.

                I’m also just going to say that the description of RSD is not a mean one but the generally accepted one, but that doesn’t mean it’s minimizing the feelings it engenders. It’s a real problem, and it’s worth acknowledging! Personally, as a neurodivergent woman myself, having the language to explain why I react certain ways that other people may not understand is helpful, and if I can potentially give other people that tool–mind, I am not diagnosing, only offering a suggestion that might make sense and it is entirely for LW to look into themself–then of course I’m going to do so.

          6. Joielle*

            My office installed a docking station with second monitor in each of the conference rooms to solve this exact problem. Now I can just take my laptop to any conference room, plug it in, and voila, two monitors again. I work in state government so if we could get it done with budget/bureaucracy constraints, hopefully you can too.

          7. Kella*

            LW, you say that you didn’t think you were talking too loudly during your chat, and I totally know the terrible feeling when you feel like you were doing something reasonable and then get feedback that it was a problem. It’s awful! To me, it often feels like I suddenly can’t trust my own judgement and I will be stuck in an endless cycle of trying to do something the right way, not knowing if I’m doing it right, and being criticized when I get it wrong. It sucks.

            But, simplified, you got feedback that your read on “reasonable volume level” isn’t calibrated correctly and you need to explore ways to moderate and measure your volume going forward. Perhaps when you start a conversation like this, you could tell your coworker “I’m working on moderating my volume levels but sometimes I don’t notice when I’m starting to get loud. I’m going to try to monitor myself but could you wave your hand [or other gesture that’s more intuitive to you] if you notice me doing that?”

            If you get more complaints despite this work, then I’d ask for help from your boss in developing a strategy to moderate your volume levels. You can’t mind read and if your perception of a reasonable volume level and other people’s just aren’t matching up, you might need outside help to find a sustainable compromise.

            Also, when your coworker yelled, it’s entirely possible that someone else complained about *them* afterward and that they were also asked not to do that anymore. The fact that someone may have gone outside the noise level expectation is not evidence that the expectation isn’t there or that it’s different for different people. People are going to misjudge their volume and make mistakes sometimes, just as you have.

          8. Unaccountably*

            I feel like you’re thinking of this in very black and white terms. No raised voices are okay or all raised voices are okay. Someone asked a loud question one time so you don’t understand why you need to keep the volume down when you’re spending ten minutes (!) in non-work-related conversation where your volume is disturbing to other people.

            That’s not really how it works, though. One person talking loudly often is harder to ignore, and to work around, than one person talking loudly once, in the same way that it’s great to put salt on your food but not if you dump the entire shaker onto your plate. That’s not being told two different things. It’s being told that loudness has an annoyance spectrum such that occasional loudness is fine, but constant, disruptive loudness is not.

            I want to find a way for you to understand this because I had a report who had the same issues (though not with volume). He couldn’t seem to learn what is and is not an appropriate amount of chatting in the workplace – he thought either he was allowed to chat with whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted, for as long as he wanted, or he wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone at all (and neither was anyone else). His boundaries and his sense of when and how much socialization was okay at work were nonexistent, and no matter what I tried I could not get past his black-and-white thinking to explain.

          9. coffee*

            Hey, as a fellow “having a chat with a coworker does a lot to make the work day brighter” person, and a person who can get a bit loud and excitable, I feel your pain. Here’s my advice for going forward.

            1) For the “two different things/different standards”, imagine that everyone has a bucket of “being loud”. You used yours up talking on the phone. Your coworker still had some, so they were able to shout a question. The “being loud” bucket is always larger for work things.

            2) I talk faster as I talk louder, and I find it easier to notice when I’m talking more quickly, so try that for monitoring your noise levels. Try to keep a calm pace in your conversations.

            3) Find some other nice ways to add stimulation into your workday. Getting up to get a drink from the kitchen, going for a walk at lunch, listening to music at your desk, a fidget toy (something that doesn’t make noise)… I think that will make your work time nicer and mean that you aren’t as reliant on water cooler talk as an escape from a boring office environment.

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I also wonder what “usually” means – if that’s a holdover from the old office than employees need to adjust their expectations for the reality of the new space.

          I’m not minimizing the responsibility on the OP to be respectful of their office mates, BUT if this is really a frustration with the change in office that is being projected onto the OP that’s not really fair.

        3. Allston*

          So I would bet good money that a few of your coworkers have reached “B*tch eating crackers” level frustration with the chatting and noise.

          And that means even if you are now being more quiet and keeping chatting to a more reasonable length, they still have residual annoyance left over from before, and they are still hyper aware and annoyed by EVERYTHING you do. It will diminish with time, but you will need to make an effort. It also probably doesn’t help that you’re in every day. And that’s not saying you should go cloister yourself at home. But if you were working at home a day or two a week then the people who need the quiet environment probably wouldn’t be quite as annoyed. It probably feels like you showed up and took over.

          It also sounds like you really didn’t read the room/environment? Like you’ve only been here a month and are getting complaints. Are you always the one initiating chit chat? Do other people IM/email the type of questions/comments that you like to call/talk in person about? It sounds like you didn’t really observe the level of talk in the office, and just came in and assumed everyone would match your level of talk/volume vs you coming in and fitting in with the already established vibe.

          1. Unaccountably*

            I second the suggestion to work from home a couple of days a week until the BEC level goes down a little. And make those days consistent – if noise-sensitive people know that The Office Loud Person isn’t in on Mondays or Wednesdays, it might make handling the loudness on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays a little easier.

      2. Clobberin' Time*

        Yes – there’s a very defensive vibe coming off OP’s letter. When a co-worker messages her to ask her to chat less (not to be totally silent), she makes a point of snubbing that co-worker – and then complains that nobody wants to “nudge” her anymore about it! People are asking her to cut back on the chatter, not eliminate it, but she complains that she can’t be totally silent.

        1. Julia*

          To be fair, I don’t think she decided to snub Sonia. Seems like she made a mental note not to chat with her as much in order to be considerate of her, not to snub her. She seems to genuinely want to be considerate of colleagues.

          I do think there’s some deflecting of focus going on in the letter, though, as you point out. She says she was hurt when Sonia contacted her directly to complain, then says she wishes the second coworker had just contacted her directly. She says Gary has no issues with personal chat but just wants her to keep the tone down, but then says it’s unreasonable to expect “complete silence”.

          Rather than focusing on these ancillary issues, it would be better for her to let go of hurt and defensiveness and just try to make the change requested.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        What’s weird to me is the letter says this person is one of few who is in office 5 days a week. Most WFH at least some of the time. So it was odd to me to read that Sonia said they mostly keep a quiet office policy. Like, wouldn’t the person who is in every day know more about the culture of how quiet is necessary than the people who rotate? I’m not saying the people who think OP is too loud are necessarily wrong. I can’t hear it. But the whole thing has been framed oddly. Like, it seems like someone tried to couch the criticism in some sort of vague “maybe you didn’t know because you usually wfh” implication? But failed in doing so because it doesn’t apply.

        1. JustEm*

          I think part of the issue is that the OP only started the job a month ago. The office isn’t quiet anymore since she is there, but was before she started is how I read that comment…

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      To me it sounds like it is the volume and duration of the chit chat that is bothering the OP’s coworkers. Open plan will have noise, but a loud, long conversation unrelated to work is more than just background noise. By their own admission, they talk louder when excited/engaged and it sounds like they really like to talk to Luiza, so I am betting the volume went up in the 10 minutes they were chit-chatting. If the OP did quieter or shorter conversations there might not be an issue

      1. Sloanicota*

        I used to adopt a certain library hush voice all day long that we used to use in our open office – it wasn’t a whisper, which is almost worse sometimes, just a lower, quieter tone for indoor conversations that was radically different than how I usually speak. It was almost like a different language that I found myself falling into automatically! I noticed others did the same thing. As soon as we stepped out into the street – blammo, back to normal conversation. I’m not sure if ADHD prohibits that kind of thing though.

      2. Rain's Small Hands*

        And the “idle chit chat” conversations can be made less disruptive by being aware of where they are occuring. As I said above – first desk from the door next to the conference room I got exposed to a lot of them – and people being more aware that someone was working right there and that the area by the coffee machine or the spot around the corner where no one was currently sitting would have been a better spot for the “my weekend was great” conversations.

        Maybe conversations with Luiza are best had over lunch, in the lobby, in an unused meeting room, in a break room, or outside.

    3. Dona Florinda*

      But OP did mention that they are in the office five days a week, that they are a social butterfly, and that they can’t tell when they’re talking too loud. So I’m thinking maybe OP is chatting too often too loud, and doesn’t realize.

      I’m with Alison on this one: even for work calls, it’s reasonable that people try to keep their voice down, and if you have to be on the phone often, either try to take the calls in one of the conference rooms, or try to keep the calls short and at a reasonable volume.

  5. Alexander Graham Yell*

    LW, I once got a ping about how I could feel free to take calls in any of the meeting or breakout rooms if I wanted….from somebody two rooms away. With people in the room between us. I had absolutely no sense that I was being so loud, but what’s helped me (if it’s truly volume that’s the issue) is turning down the volume on my computer and also wearing my headset slightly askew on one side so that I can really hear myself.

    I still will usually take calls in a breakout room if one is available, but if somebody calls with a one-off question, that’s how I manage my volume. No complaints since!

    1. gltonwry*

      “wearing my headset slightly askew on one side so that I can really hear myself” Came here to recommend the same thing. Keeping one earpiece just behind your ear rather than on it will allow you much better volume control of your voice. If you’ve ever watched a music video of artists recording (think “Tears are Not Enough” by the Northern Lights), you’ll notice a lot of musicians do this.

      1. Been There*

        my husband games a lot with friends, and until he learned this trick, I would have to shout at him to quiet down at night. He truly didn’t realize that he was shouting, he just couldn’t hear himself talk over the feedback in his headset. He started lowering the volume and wearing the headset not totally on his one ear and it’s helped with his volume a LOT.

        1. Critical Rolls*

          Had a very similar experience. Another vote for making sure OP can hear themselves past headset/earbuds/etc.

    2. Purple Cat*

      ouch. I’m sure that stung, but it was effective.
      I think OP is conflating conversation topic with volume, when the reality is if her volume was lower, nobody would know what the topic was.

    3. Jora Malli*

      My workplace bought us all one-ear headsets for that specific purpose, and they work really well.

    4. Glitsy Gus*

      I have a voice that tends to carry and I only wear one headphone as well. It does help me mind it a lot better. Moving to conference rooms will also help a lot.

      I was also going to suggest when you pick a desk, try to choose one where you are facing the wall, rather than out to the general room. I do this as well and it helps direct the sound into the wall, where it’s absorbed at least a tiny bit, rather than sending it directly out into the rest of the room. This set up has the bonus of also limiting the distractions that come from seeing movement in my peripheral vision, which as another ADHD kid, helps me stay focused.

    5. Lexi Lynn*

      I would recommend that for a while OP stop initiating conversations (assuming they are the one reaching out which I can’t tell). If no one starts a personal conversation that will tell you about the company culture which may or may not be what you prefer.

      Also “humans are social creatures” does not mean that your coworkers are required to amuse you. I see that in a lot of the return to office conversations. A lot of people seem to be focused on what their coworkers will do for them (provide socialization).

  6. Mill Miker*

    I think this in an inevitable problem with hybrid work in an open-office setup: Hearing one side of a conversation is way more distracting than hearing both together, and that only gets worse the more people you have needing to collaborate with people not in the office.

    Trying to balance that by only allowing calls to focus 100% on work topics seems like a “worst of both worlds” approach to what’s already “worst of both worlds” situation.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        No, but the focus of the complaints has been the non-work talk. Perhaps LW isn’t as animated during work calls, or they’re easier for colleagues to tune out.

        1. BEC*

          I think you’re right. If I had a loud colleague, I would grit my teeth through their work conversations, but if they loudly chatted for 10 mins about things I didn’t see as work-related, it would be much more difficult for me to justify to myself as having to suffer through that.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            I had this colleague and 100% right. I could gut my way through listening to work calls because we were all at work. The personal talk was a whole different story. Those calls could be taken elsewhere and definitely didn’t have to last as long as they did. Not to mention I know way more about her, her family, and her dating life than I ever wanted to know.

          2. starfox*

            We have offices but I can regularly hear my super-loud coworker having a bible study over the phone. I think there’s an added factor, though, of her being lazy and me often having to take on extra work that she neglects, so I just get so angry when she has a bible study on company time….

        2. Just Another Techie*

          Or perhaps colleagues don’t feel like they have as much standing to complain about loud work calls? Whereas personal conversation is clearly fair game? I’m not saying they are _correct_ but I can easily see how people can convince themselves they would look like a nuisance if they complained about the volume of strictly-business calls.

          I’m actually in that boat — a person who sits near me in our open plan office has progressively worsening hearing loss. So I’m the six or so years we’ve sat five feet from each other, his calls have ramped up steadily in volume, to the point where now I find them catastrophically distracting to my focus and concentration. But I hesitate to complain because he doesn’t really have a choice about taking business calls at work.

          1. BubbleTea*

            If you have a reasonable relationship with them, it might be worth mentioning this to them. I have a friend who hadn’t really recognised that he needed hearing aids until I told him that he had asked me to repeat everything I’d said all day. It had been so gradual he didn’t notice.

        3. turquoisecow*

          I think people feel like they can’t complain about work calls but they can complain about personal calls or personal conversations. “Bob is being loud on his work call,” might be met with “you have to deal with it, this is important work Bob has to do even if he’s loud about it.” “Bob is being loud talking about baseball on this call,” is more likely to get a “Bob, let’s focus on work and not baseball,” even if the total baseball comments are like 30 seconds and the rest of the call is work focused.

    1. Observer*

      Except that no one seems to be suggesting that only 100% work conversations be allowed.

      1. LW*

        LW here! Gary’s exact words were for us to “limit non-work related chatter” and to “ensure it is not disturbing other people”. The main point of contention being the volume of my voice was communicated only after Luize called him on my behalf, which like I said I agree is fair.

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          Limit something is not the same as saying x is not allowed. It is exactly the opposite it means it is allowed in limited/small/certain circumstances. So even his original message was to keep personal conversations to a small amount but he did not say not to have them at all.

        2. Observer*

          Gary’s exact words were for us to “limit non-work related chatter” and to “ensure it is not disturbing other people”.

          Which is to say that both the volume and the amount of chitchat is a problem. That’s not a ban on personal conversation! In other words SOME conversation is ok, but 10 minutes worth at a time is too much. That’s not unreasonable. And it is not the same as “only 100% work related conversations are allowed.”

          You are going to do much better if you don’t exaggerate what you are being told.

        3. Ellis Bell*

          I would take this to mean that you don’t have to be super quiet every time you open your mouth, but that if it’s going to be a full discussion, it’s best that you drop the volume so people can’t follow it, and can tune it out. Essentially I think you can talk loud, or at length, but not both. I would definitely go back to your boss for clarification if you need to, but make sure you come over as eager for clearer guidelines, not to defend or argue. I definitely doubt that you’re alone here; changing to such a new set up is going to be difficult for more than one person.

  7. Now With Extra Macaroni*

    I have to openly admit and apologize that I am in a bad mood today, but this LW rubs me the wrong way (maybe I’m jealous?) You have fair compensation, great benefits, kind coworkers, and you can walk to work. But you are that bothered that people have told you about excessive chatter? You are in a shared space, please make an attempt to keep your voice down. Others may be too shy to come forward directly but are genuinely bothered.

    More constructive comment: Any chance you can IM coworkers instead? I know some of the tone gets lost in text versus talking, but it’s very common where I work. Thanks.

    1. Karia*

      You simply cannot expect quiet in an office, particularly an open plan office. It’s one of the reasons I hate them. Perhaps the people complaining should work from home?

      1. Up and Away*

        But they’re not complaining about work conversations in a normal tone of voice…they’re complaining about loud social conversations that last too long!

        1. Karia*

          Requesting volume reduction is fine. Objecting to work related phone calls is not, in my view.

          1. KRM*

            Nobody objected to the work part of the call. The direction was to keep personal chat to a minimum. So I’m guessing OP got unintentionally loud while on the “personal” part of the call, which I’m sure was distracting to those around her. And since the coworker felt weird about talking directly to OP (it happens!) they went to their boss and asked the boss to ask OP to keep it down. So they did exactly that (volume reduction) but did not object to the work call itself as being bad.

        2. Lydia*

          Ten minutes isn’t that long and I wish people would stop using that as an example of extraordinary amount of conversation. It’s weird.

          1. Forgot my name again*

            I think ten minutes really depends on a lot of factors – how long, how often. For an hour-long meeting, to spend the first 17% of the time on non-work really is quite a lot.

          2. Ellis Bell*

            Ten minutes is a short amount of time for a conversation, but it’s a long amount of time for a distraction. If the volume and topic of the one sided phone call was loud enough to distract people from their tasks, then the fact you’re waiting for ten minutes to get back on task is a significant amount of time. If you’re listening to just a momentary exchange, you can hold your task in your mind, and get back on with it. But if it’s ten minutes, you’re stuck waiting and probably have to start over again with what you’re doing again. I think the duration of ten minutes would have been a non issue if the conversation had been less audible or noticeable.

          3. Unaccountably*

            Ten minutes isn’t long when you’re talking to a friend at a coffee shop. Ten minutes of someone disrupting my workflow might be 1/3 of the only time today I have between meetings, or ten minutes that I have to stay at work finishing the work I couldn’t finish earlier so now I’ve missed my train, or work I now have to take home so I can be sure I’ll get to my child’s daycare before it closes.

            I understand from reading this page that a lot of people just do not have a whole lot of work to do at their jobs and therefore have time for multiple ten-minute conversations every work day. I don’t really think it’s a safe bet to assume that everyone in every office has that luxury.

            1. Karia*

              A very odd and uncharitable take. I have a lot of work to do, and part of that work involves fostering good relations with clients and colleagues. Asking someone how their dog and day are, is completely normal, and has gone has helped me facilitate both sales and working relationships.

          4. biobotb*

            It’s a long time if it’s distracting and loud and you don’t know when it will end.

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        You can’t expect complete quiet, but you can expect people to speak at a reasonable volume, and for a reasonable stretch of time. 10 minutes of personal chatter with a steady increase in volume would be too much for most people.

      3. Malarkey01*

        I think there’s a lot of room between quiet and disruptive (and I don’t know where LW falls on that), but I have definitely worked in offices where I expect normal background talk and office noise and then had our office Shouty coworker telling a 10 minute story about her date at volume 8 that would have been heard and not okay even if we all had private offices.

        Whether or not that’s the case here, LW has now had 2 people speak to her about it and they need to do something to improve this whether we all think it’s reasonable or not because it is causing an office problem that others in the office are not also doing.

        1. Karia*

          Sure, volume reduction is more than fine. But often a task that would be a five minute call becomes an hour’s chat if it has to be conducted over IM.

          1. Unaccountably*

            But that’s not really relevant if everyone else in the office is managing to do their jobs in 40 hours a week without disturbing their colleagues. If LW’s co-workers can do it, why can’t she?

            1. Lydia*

              Yep. If the coworkers want to focus on the volume, they should speak up (as they’ve done). If they’re upset about the content of the conversation, it doesn’t seem to directly impact them so it’s irrelevant.

            2. Karia*

              I don’t know, Unaccountable, maybe because they have different jobs? Meetings and phone calls are literally part of the job for many, many people. A dev can get through a day in silence, a marketing or sales person likely can’t. Often those people have to share an office.

              I personally think if her colleagues are that easily disturbed by a phone call they should work from home. I prefer quiet for certain tasks, and it’s what I do.

          2. biobotb*

            But no one has complained about her having a 5-minute work call, so this example is not relevant.

            1. Karia*

              No, they are complaining about completely normal pleasantries as a precursor to a work call. Maybe i’ve gotten this wrong and OP was loudly discussing an ingrown hair for ten minutes. But it seems that some people here think *any* phone calls are unacceptable in the workplace, in case it distracts others, and I don’t think that’s fair.

              1. Louise B*

                I agree. I don’t think hearing your coworkers chat is all that annoying, but annoyances are also just a part of… existence?

        2. Sloanicota*

          I think it varies widely by office culture. There are busy call centers where everybody’s on the phone all day and the level of background noise is high; there are places that try to maintain library silence and speak in whispers. It sounds like OP might be slightly misaligned with the culture of this office but hopefully can find ways to compromise.

      4. Now With Extra Macaroni*

        Quiet, no, but personally I think reasonable volumes (regardless of topic of conversation) in a shared space is a valid request. Also this LW’s office does have WFH so that helps here, but not all offices do for one reason or another.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Based on OP’s comments it doesn’t sound to me like volume was the main issue (although it no doubt contributed).

      5. anonymous73*

        A few jobs ago I had to constantly ask my manager to “keep it down” when I was on phone conferences because she would stand around and chat to my team mates at an excessive volume and I couldn’t hear what was happening in my meeting. And this was in an office of about 1000, where we were in cubes and offices. So no you can not expect silence, but you can expect your co-workers to have enough respect for those around them to keep their chatter to a reasonable volume.

        1. Striped Sandwiches*

          Maybe we need a little light above our cube to show when we’re in a meeting so people know not to be nearby chatting? Like how some car parks have a little light showing if a spot is free or occupied.

      6. Willow Pillow*

        Asking people to keep volume down (not silent, but down) is a reasonable accommodation for those of us with sensory sensitivities, and some of us would rather not work from home. Imagine saying the same about a nut allergy.

        1. Lydia*

          A nut allergy could kill someone, so while keeping it down for people with sensory sensitivities is polite and reasonable, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the same thing.

          1. Willow Pillow*

            It’s certainly not the same thing… but I’m not sure why that would invalidate the comparison.

      7. Unaccountably*

        “Not quiet” =/= “loud and disruptive.” You can have realistic expectations about the decibel level and still not want co-workers yelling about their weekend vacation plans four feet away from you. It’s both unkind and unrealistic to say that everyone who doesn’t want to listen to loud ten-minute personal conversations should work from home so that no one at the office has to lower their voice to a professional level.

      8. biobotb*

        But that doesn’t mean that people who need to/choose to talk can’t or shouldn’t take steps to minimize disruption where they can.

      1. Storm in a teacup*

        I’m a super social butterfly. I have a good job that is in an open-plan office with breakout rooms. Guess what? I also have enough self-awareness as that’s not mutually exclusive and may be what the OP needs to get. If I have meetings where I’ll be speaking a lot I’ll use a breakout room, or moderate my voice and whilst I’ll chitchat with colleagues throughout the day we don’t disrupt others

      2. Now With Extra Macaroni*

        I certainly don’t disagree. But I do think regardless of what kind of person anyone is, it’s reasonable to make an effort to use a lower volume in a shared space. Personally I don’t care what the conversation is about.

        1. LW*

          LW here! While I do sometimes get a bit louder, I was definitely not shouting. I was speaking at a normal tone of voice, which is louder than most people’s and carries in an open office plan. Also, our headsets pick up every single background noise we have in the office – when I’m on calls with clients I have to mute myself every time I’m not talking because otherwise the background noise is so loud no one else can hear the rest of the people on the call, and that’s when the office isn’t even that loud. But the norm, as I’ve seen so far, is for people to have client calls at their desks, while the meeting rooms stay empty.

          I am willing to keep an eye for the volume of my voice from now on. Believe me, I was absolutely mortified and embarrassed when I got Gary’s message. I felt awful for disrupting people in the office. But Gary’s message didn’t talk about just my voice, it also asked that we limit casual chat at the office, which is the part I took issue with and why I wrote to Alison.

          1. KRM*

            LW, I’m going to guess that, since you stated that you often become loud without realizing it, that your colleagues found the “casual chat” part of your conversation to be the loudest/most disruptive. We all get more enthusiastic about things that are more social than boring work stuff! But if your voice got much louder than intended, then you did end up disturbing them more on that part of your call, so it’s not unreasonable to be asked that. The boss may have heard “hey, LW is fine on work calls, but she often chats socially before hand and it just gets really loud and I feel awkward saying anything but it really pulls me out of my work, hearing her”, and the obvious solution is to ask to keep the verbal non work chat to a minimum. Maybe be more social on Teams messaging? Then even if you get enthusiastic about a topic volume doesn’t enter into it.

            1. Lego Leia*

              I am starting to wonder if social chit chat at the start of the call = increased volume for all of the call, even the work part. Picks up phone, talking at “acceptable” volume, gets super excited socializing, and volume increases, continues work talk at excited level.

          2. Just Another Zebra*

            LW, even if you think you weren’t shouting, the perception of your volume might be that you were. My dad is notorious for “not shouting” while actually speaking at such a decibel that yes, he was shouting. I’m glad to see in the comments that you’re open to the feedback regarding your volume.

            1. Properlike*

              Yes. I know people who have only two settings: “whisper” and “11.”

              Also: there’s loud and there’s “projecting.” If my husband’s on a work call with his headphones on, he tends to project and I will hear him through closed doors across the house. Many people unwittingly talk louder and/or project on the phone than one normal conversation.

          3. Le Sigh*

            I struggle with volume regulation as well, especially when I’m excited or animated about something, so I really feel for you here (and on several other fronts). I think it’s possible that you’re getting overly hung up on Gary’s request to limit causal chit chat. I might actually be reading this wrong myself, but it feels like you’re trying to crack the meaning behind what he said and find the exact perfect balance or right answer. And are confused because you’re not finding it. The reality is, usually these things aren’t 100% consistent — it’s about having rules or guidelines, but context and the situation matter as well (if that makes any sense).

            To me, what Gary said almost sounds like a de facto thing a boss would say as part of the conversation when asking staff to be less disruptive. It’s not like he said anything about your social convos before, right? But once he became aware that you were being loud and it was a social chat, it probably isn’t great optics for you (or him) that you’re being both loud and not focused on work. So, he’s doing what bosses do — he didn’t say not social chit chat, it just sounds like he asked you to keep it to a minimum.

          4. Observer*

            it also asked that we limit casual chat at the office, which is the part I took issue with and why I wrote to Alison.

            And that’s part of the problem here. Gary’s request is totally reasonable. Presenting it as a ban on personal conversations is not just not fair, it’s actively unhelpful to you.

            Ask your boss to provide noise cancelling headsets for everyone, not so that you can continue your conversations as before but because it’s going to make everyone’s life easier even when everyone is being mindful of their voices. And when you talk to your boss, ask that they provide headsets with some sort of feedback so you can hear yourself.

          5. Curmudgeon in California*

            In one miserable open plan I worked in, my manager would regularly blather on and on with a coworker about sportsball, at volume, while standing next to me or behind me. I lost count of the times I wanted to shout at them “Get a room, damnit!” But I couldn’t, because it was my manager. But I could not get anything much done there, between that and the marketing jerk with his speaker phone at volume and always on calls. When they canned me for not accomplishing anything I was thankful, because I felt I wasn’t able to get anything done there and the commute absolutely sucked.

            Yes, if it is work related it can still be disruptive, but non-work related stuff at a boisterous volume is doubly irritating. It’s one of the reasons I hate open plan offices.

          6. pancakes*

            Mixed messages here. You sound quite sure you weren’t being loud, but my sense from reading the letter was that you can’t always tell, and would prefer to have other people tell you: “I sometimes end up speaking gradually louder the more excited I get and I can’t really tell when it happens unless someone points it out to me.” If you can in fact tell when you’re getting louder, it seems best to try to avoid speaking louder than normal in the office, knowing that people find it distracting.

            1. Willow Pillow*

              I agree – I’ve been both the person unaware of my volume when speaking, and the person who has trouble focusing on work because of others’ speaking volumes. I know how difficult that position is when you’re asked to fix something that you don’t know how to fix (or even think should be an issue)… but in OP’s situation, I would try out the assumption that I’m always louder than I think and ask for some help being more aware of my volume in the moment.

      3. Bethany*

        Yes, but they aren’t entitled to make work their social life at the expense of their colleagues and their work.

    2. Loulou*

      Weird comment! Many of the letters we get here can be summed up as “everything about my job is great, except [issue I’m writing in about].”

      1. Now With Extra Macaroni*

        In some ways I agree, that’s why I was trying to be self-reflective. What bothers me may not bother others, and that can vary day to day. Also, and this is only my opinion, of everything that could be wrong within a workplace (see all the letters on this blog) this sounds like something that the LW may have a chance at modifying. Not how others react, by any means, that’s on them. But making an effort to speak at a lower volume could be appreciated by those who both do and don’t speak up about it.

        1. LW*

          LW here! I absolutely agree and I will be making sure I’m not speaking as loudly from now on! But Gary’s message didn’t just say “please be careful with how loud you are”, it said “please limit casual chat while at the office”, and that’s the part that didn’t sit right with me and why I wrote to Alison.

          1. Hamster Manager*

            I suspect it might be along the same lines of telling someone they need to have a more “polished appearance” when what is really meant is “your clothes are dirty and smelly, please wash them.”

            “Keep the chatter down” could very easily be a polite/non-confrontational way to prompt you to hear “you are talking a lot and loudly and it is distracting” without calling out something personal about you, in your case your loud talking.

          2. Joielle*

            Well, “limit” could refer to the duration, volume, or frequency of casual chat, or a combination of those. If you really need more detail from Gary in order to figure out how to modify your behavior, you could ask him which of those is the problem. Honestly, though, I’d probably assume that all three contribute to the problem somewhat, and try to reduce all of them.

          3. Neptune*

            I think perhaps part of the issue is that many people (certainly me, anyway) tend to be more animated during casual, gossipy conversations. “Oh no way, that’s so crazy!”, “and THEN he said…”, “she did WHAT to the goat?” vs “okay, if you click over to page 74 of the PDF…” (well, maybe not those examples specifically but you get the gist). Maybe you’re getting a bit more carried away and vocal during these casual conversations.

          4. Legalize Texas*

            I am honestly not trying to be a jerk here (for reference see my other comment about also having ADHD and having difficulty with the exact same thing) but I am slightly confused by this clarification you’ve made a couple times in the comments here. Asking people to limit the amount of non-essential noise they are making in a shared workspace is entirely reasonable, and a pretty normal expectation. I know why it would feel off, but the explanation that this “didn’t sit right” to you makes it sound like you think this is an inherently unreasonable request, especially coupled with your notes in the letter about other people telling you they thought it was a ludicrous suggestion. It’s really not.

            I completely understand why this left a bad taste in your mouth, and if I were you I would also feel embarrassed and worried. Especially the fact that someone said something to my boss before me, because like, my boss? When I’m brand new and still trying to make a good impression on him? Come on, man! But I don’t think the undesirable route by which the feedback came to you means that it’s not valid.

            Especially because you are new. You’re coming into a place that has an established practice and expectation when it comes to the volume (in both senses of the word) of personal talk in the shared space. Even if that expectation was a little overly strict, you’re not really in a position to push it, and I would really caution you against letting your friends gas you up. Not because I think it’s a crime to be voluble– I am as well, and I also honestly resent how negatively people react to that characteristic –but because I don’t want you to end up doing battle on an iffy hill while you’re brand new and still making an important initial impression on everyone there.

        2. Julia*

          I feel like there are two issues in the letter and your comment.

          1) Being asked to speak more quietly in a shared office. Totally reasonable! If someone has a hard time figuring out if they’re speaking too loudly because of headphones they should find a way to change their setup so they tell how loudly they are speaking. I really like headphones with only one earpiece because I can tell how loudly I’m talking in relation to the office.

          2) Being asked to have fewer social conversations. This is very contextual. I don’t think it’s reasonable to say everyone can only talk about work. The LW says it was a 10 minute conversation which seems like a reasonable length of time. I think the actual issue is how loudly the LW was speaking. A loud conversation about work is annoying but it’s hard to complain about someone doing their job. A loud conversation that is optional is very annoying.

          I’m a social person and I often chat with my coworkers. I have a tendency to talk more loudly when I’m excited about a topic. I’ve also worked on being aware of the volume and intensity of my excited conversations.

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            I think this is the rub. Some people think 10 minutes of catching up with a coworker you haven’t seen or heard from in a while is completely fine while others are incensed that it’s such a long period of time. And this is just going to be personal and/or situational for most everyone. Even I know that when I overhear coworkers A and B gossiping, I don’t take an issue. However, if coworker C tries to be social at all, I get all grumpy that I have to hear. It’s more of a BEC situation for me with that. *shrug*

            1. Observer*

              I don’t think that anyone should be incensed. But it is a pretty long conversation. And if everyone can hear pretty much every word of the conversation? Yeah, that’s genuinely disruptive, even for people who can deal with some background conversations going on.

          2. pancakes*

            I think there’s maybe a third issue, which is that possibly people in this workplace, possibly mostly the letter writer, seem to have big feelings about points 1 and 2. The reason I say that is that the letter says Gary’s guidance “feels like a punch to the gut,” and that “Luize saw how upset I was . . .” Being visibly upset is not necessarily conducive to asking people for “nudges” about volume. I don’t know whether this is a pattern or a one-time thing, but turning down the intensity would probably be helpful.

  8. Spicy Tuna*

    I’ve had jobs in open office plans and it’s always an issue because I SPEAK IN ALL CAPS. I can’t help it, I have a super loud voice. It’s just the way it is; I am a female with a deep and loud voice and I can’t help it. It would be like someone complaining that a co-worker is too tall.

    1. BEC*

      I’m genuinely curious about this. How can you not change the volume of your voice? I speak differently if I imagine someone’s ear up in front of my mouth, versus if I’m trying to say something to someone across the room, compared to someone across a football field. What is it like for you?

      1. kiki*

        I don’t know about Spicy Tuna’s situation specifically, but some people have voices that just carry. A former roommate of mine was like that. His normal speaking voice wasn’t necessarily loud, but it could be heard across a whole building. He would try to whisper, but that was kind of strange and more distracting in a lot of circumstances.

        1. Laney Boggs*

          yeah i have the opposite problem. I just cannot make my voice carry (unless I want to sound like I’m extremely angry). I’m sure vocal training etc could fix the problem on both ends, but there’s definitely a natural variance, I guess?

          1. My Useless 2 Cents*

            Half the time I feel like I’m shouting in meetings just to be heard (very soft voice that does NOT carry). I mentioned in a post below, I find this whole topic fascinating. It is definitely not just volume.

            1. Unaccountably*

              This is me on cell phones. If I don’t yell I have to repeat everything four times. If I do yell, well, I’m yelling. And then my throat hurts.

        2. Julia*

          Some people’s normal way of speaking is to project their voices like they’re on stage. Some people’s natural tone happens to cut through conversations. I have a coworker right now whose natural tone of voice is hard to hear. He sounds like a bass singer. I’ve also noticed people who have vocal training as performers are more likely to have a voice that carries. I don’t know if they’re unconsciously projecting their voice or not.

          It’s a big ask to have someone consciously whisper all day.

        3. umami*

          LOL that’s me, I have a voice that carries. But I am also constantly being told I have a ‘soothing voice’, so it’s not been a problem. Just the other day after conducting zoom interviews (I was the committee chair and asked all of the questions to save time), one of the committee members said I should conduct all interviews because I was so pleasant to listen to, heh. I’m told this kind of thing so often that it’s actually a running joke, even my stepdaughter said I should have a podcast just because I have such a soothing voice. I don’t even know what it is! My husband, on the other hand, has a higher pitched voice and also was a college professor for decades, so his voice really carries but sounds much more shrill when he speaks loudly, so naturally that is going to sound more annoying to some people.

        4. yala*

          Yeah, honestly, whispering is so much worse than loud voices in terms of distraction (and anxiety) for me.

        5. JustEm*

          Yes. I can talk quietly with effort, but my natural speaking voice has been described as “can pierce through walls.” It is not just volume, but something about tone/clarity.

    2. Hen in a Windstorm*

      You know, if you said “I’ve tried x, y and z and nothing worked” I would believe you. But all too often people say “this is just how I am” without finding out if that’s true. Have you made any effort to help it? I find it unlikely that you are literally unable to modulate your voice. It may feel unnatural or it may be a challenge if you’ve not done it, but it probably can be helped.

      1. justanobody*

        OP: you will need to work at keeping your voice down. It may take you a while to learn to do this. But you can do it.

        1. mreasy*

          In an open office, even quiet conversations can distract. This could help but doesn’t sound like it will totally solve things.

      2. Yorick*

        Agreed. A lot of people seem to think being loud is a personality trait, but it is absolutely something that you can control if you try, at least to some degree.

      3. CarolynM*

        It can be helped – I am living proof! I am hard of hearing – when I was a kid I had “speech” classes to help with both the way I speak and the volume I speak with. For the speech part I learned how to position my mouth to make the correct sounds, and for volume, I learned to feel how loud or quiet I am and use muscle memory to control it. If I am surprised or startled or its a spontaneous thing like a laugh … all bets are off! LOL I laugh REALLY loudly and people know better than to sneak up on me now! (And as a kid, despite never living on a farm, I used to win hog calling contests at the state fair because I am LOUD!)

        Loud IS just the way I am naturally … but it is something I can control 99.9% of the time. If people tell you that you are too loud, it might be a good idea to go for a hearing check, but if your hearing is fine, find a trusted friend or family member that can tell you when you are speaking at an appropriate volume. Put your hands on your face and throat when you are talking, feel the sensations in your throat and ears and sinuses, get a sense of what it feels like at that volume. And I usually try to shoot just below the volume I am aiming for – so much easier to get “can you speak up?” instead of “OMG – stop yelling!” LOL

      4. AvonLady Barksdale*

        Yup. I am big and loud and I learned in high school to modulate my volume. My timbre is still pretty deep (though I had to learn to fix that too because I was damaging my voice), so it’s not about sounding sweeter or more feminine or any of that bs– it’s purely about being less annoyingly loud. I have trouble gauging my own volume (my hearing is fine but I cannot gauge my own voice well) so I learned to speak more softly and figure out where the limits are.

        According to my partner, I’m still too loud on calls while we’re both WFH but I’m working on it. Because it can absolutely be worked on. Also, speaking at “all caps” all the time is probably not great for your vocal cords.

        I feel for this LW so hard but she has the power to correct this and she’s not being attacked by unreasonable people.

      5. hbc*

        Yeah, and it might be that LW and Spicy Tuna will never be quiet enough to even be in the middle of the pack. But being less loud and only annoying people half as much is worth the effort, as is accepting the responsibility of adjusting. Having a voice that will always be heard, you can draw the conclusion “I have to take personal calls outside the open office space” as easily as “Everyone has to deal with hearing my personal business or move.”

    3. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research*

      I am also a tall woman with a naturally loud voice.
      To say you just “can’t help it” and equating the two is ridiculous.
      It takes extra effort to modulate my volume, but it is absolutely do-able. And when you’re in a shared space, it’s your responsibility to do so. Come on.

    4. Tech writer by day*

      Height is an inherent characteristic; speaking is an action. Your volume can be modified. A better analogy would be man-spreading — a behavior one can and should modify, just like speaking too loudly.

      1. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research*

        Yes, or having a strong odor (smoke, perfume, or BO)

    5. KRM*

      You can learn to modulate the volume of your voice, so that’s not an apt comparison at all.

    6. Observer*

      I am a female with a deep and loud voice and I can’t help it

      I’m not going to tell you that you can moderate your voice. But that doesn’t matter, because that’s not the problem here. The problem here is that the OP is having ALOT of non-work conversation and they are getting loud because they are not paying attention to their volume. The OP makes it clear that they CAN moderate their voice, they just are not doing so.

    7. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      I’m exceptionally tall (over 6 foot) with a voice that can be heard across the office without shouting. It’s been incumbent upon me to actively tone down the projection of my voice so that people aren’t bothered by it but the person I’m speaking too can still hear it.

      Otherwise the project management team across the office sends me an email that really, they’re thrilled about how much I love (insert fandom here) but they don’t need to hear about it.

      It may be hard to moderate one’s volume and tone (I’ve had speech therapy because I was born with a severe stutter and I apply a lot of that still) but it isn’t impossible.

    8. Butters*

      Someone who is tall cannot change their height at will. Most humans can modulate their voices just fine despite not wanting to.

      1. Just so Tired*

        I work with a population of individuals who are generally easily triggered by others, including staff members who are trying to intervene with them. Once in a training on de-escalation techniques I was addressing facial expression and advising people to keep a neutral expression if at all possible to avoid triggering the individuals. A trainee basically said she had Resting B- Face and it was out of her control and the individuals would just get used to it. I asked her how long an individual would have to get used to it (and possibly struggle) and how long was that acceptable…I advised her that she likely had more control over her facial muscles than the individuals had over the behaviors we were working on them on. And we asked them all the time to essentially change their behavior…and was she willing to try. At the end of the section she came to me and said that was the first time she thought about it that way and that I was right, and she could at least try. Not saying it worked or facial expression is some kind of panacea ..but it was what came to mind as I read the above.

        1. Lego Leia*

          I kind of feel, in this situation, if you having “rest bitch face” then your neutral needs to be “slightly happy” not your actual resting face.

    9. CRly*

      Height is genetic and cannot be changed. Your speaking voice absolutely can be. You need to take some voice training lessons! Just being loud isn’t reasonable. And acting as if this an immutable fact about yourself is just foolish.

    10. Cera*

      My voice is not picked up well by microphones. In order to get my voice to come across I have to speak deeper and louder than natural for me. In person, it often comes across as my shouting into my microphone but (as attested by a boss who sat directly behind me) that comes across as normal speaking volume on the phone.

      I know I annoyed the heck out of some people when I used to work in the office. And I had personal conversations on the phone in the same manner because having personal conversations with coworkers is normal and when they aren’t in person, those conversations happen over the phone.

    11. Sad Desk Salad*

      How do you handle going to places like a place of worship, or a museum or art gallery? Do you just not speak?

      1. Middle Aged Lady*

        I have a resonant, carrying voice and when I try to lower it people can’t hear me unless I up the pitch. Otherwise the resonance reverbs in itself and it is just sound waves of vowels, apparently. This does mean there are places I just can’t talk without offending others or having them hear my business. Museums, the train, even work. I could not do personal calls there. At restaurants with any volume at all, I am the ‘too loud’ person even when not speaking loudly because of the carrying factor. So I do a lot of listening! People who know me say it’s fine to talk to me, but in a crowd I will simply stand out as the loud one even when I am not. On the good side, I am a fine singer and I have a happy social life in ‘normal’ sound spaces. I also have misophonia so I know others suffer from hearing me.

  9. High Score!*

    If you are wearing a headset that covers both ears then it could be muffling your hearing of your own voice. Thus you don’t realize how loud you’re speaking.

      1. LW*

        LW here! I may do just that. The headset I have at home has microphone feedback and that helps me IMMENSELY. I will speak to Gary on our next 1-2-1 and see if they can special order a slightly better headset for me.

        1. Observer*

          Actually, suggest it for everyone. Because these headsets also tend to have noise cancellation and that is going to help everyone who works in an open office.

        2. calonkat*

          LW, it was suggested above that simply moving one of the earpieces off your ear can allow you to hear your own volume better. That’s an immediate and free option.

  10. career coach near the sea*

    Consider downloading a sound meter app and take a reading of your calls a few times a day. 30 dB is about a whisper, 55-60 dB is typical conversation. You might notice that in a more animated discussion, your voice naturally carries above 70 or 75 and that could definitely irritate a colleague seated nearby.

    I have an adult child with a congenital hearing loss; if you find that others close to you state you talk loudly or have music/tv up too loud for their liking, a visit to an audiologist for a routine hearing exam might be helpful. Sometimes we blame symptoms for existing problems like ADHD when they are actually signs of something else!

    1. KoiFeeder*

      Honestly, even if it is just the ADHD, having the visual cue might help. I’m autistic, and my voice does its own thing without me noticing, but having a sound meter right there to say “wow! you’re being too loud!” would be pretty helpful.

      I don’t know about OP, but I’m taking your advice ASAP. Thank you!

    2. Miss Jane Marple*

      If you happen to have an Apple Watch, one of the “complications” available on it is a sound meter. 50 db ish and it’s pretty standard conversation level. 80ish and you’re a leaf blower. 90ish and you’re a Vitamix on high and ear protection should be worn. I’ve got a leaf blower coworker who is fortunately only in the office sometimes. I also have an indulgent boss and despite the fact that my job is not a work from home job, when leaf blower is in the office and I cannot take it any more, I pack up my stuff and go to the house to work on what I can work on there.

    3. ADHD Squirrel*

      A sound meter app or a physical one is a great idea! When I worked in a call center long ago one of my coworkers needed to have one because she tended to speak loudly and so her voice leaked into other callers next to her. It started blinking red if it was above a certain level.

  11. Eat My Squirrel*

    Since the office is so small, and LW has a hard time recognizing when they are getting too loud, I wonder if it would go over well for them to mention to the other people in the office something like “hey, I’m sorry if I talk too loud sometimes. It is something I’m actively working on controlling, but right now I don’t always realize when I’m doing it. If I start getting too loud and it’s bothering you, please feel free to ask me to turn the volume down. You can make a hand signal if you’re worried about interrupting. I would rather you tell me to keep my voice down than let me continue irritating you!”

    1. Observer*

      I have mixed feelings about that – yes, it’s better that the OP be open to lowering their volume when notified. But it puts a lot of work and irritation on the coworker. The OP really needs to ACTUALLY work on the problem by getting a better headset, paying attention to their volume and paying attention to how much time they spend in casual chat.

      1. Eat My Squirrel*

        Said with the assumption that LW WOULD be actively working on fixing the problem, and would be polite and grateful when called out. I don’t see how being given permission to tell someone to be quiet is more irritating than sitting there stewing about it, or going to the boss. The point was not “I’m not trying and it’s your job to tell me when I’m annoying you.” The point was “I am really trying but sometimes I mess up, you can tell me when that happens if you want to.”

    2. Just Another Techie*

      Honestly, this would only irritate me more and make me think more poorly of the asker.

  12. anonymous hippopotamus*

    I actually have been told to not chat with coworkers outright unless I’m on my lunch. It struck me as SUPER odd so I am glad to be validated.

    1. Karia*

      Yes, we had a no talking rule as well. It’s anxiety inducing and artificial feeling, and I say that as an introvert who was delighted when WFH appeared.

        1. Julia*

          It’s important to keep in mind, though, that you were not told not to have personal chats with your coworkers. You were told to “limit non-work chatter”, which is not the same thing.

          Also, as other commenters have pointed out, the issues of volume and personal chat are interrelated. People are often less bothered by high-volume calls if they’re work-related, and less bothered by personal calls if they’re low-volume.

          I don’t think it will serve you here to focus on feelings of ill-usage. It seems like you’re being treated pretty fairly, and even if you weren’t, the solution is the same.

          1. Attractive Nuisance*

            I wonder if this might be an ADHD thing? There is someone in my life who has ADHD and has frequently been told that she rambles and makes inappropriate comments. Her response always is to try to be “as silent as possible.” Multiple people have had conversations with her about how they don’t want her to be silent – speaking is an important part of her job but they need her to stay on-topic and appropriate – but she really doesn’t seem to understand the difference. I wonder if LW is having trouble understanding the difference between “you need to speak in a way that is office-appropriate” and “you need to not speak”.

            1. anonagoose*

              I don’t know that responding with silence instead of taking feedback is an ADHD thing, but Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD), essentially an extremely heightened emotional response to criticism and (perceived) rejection, often is. That might be playing a role in both LW’s response and the person in your life’s handling of the criticism they receive: the emotional reaction triggered by negative feedback in people with RSD is much, much stronger than “just being sensitive” and without tools to navigate it constructively, it can certainly manifest as pettiness or poutiness or what have you.

              1. Attractive Nuisance*

                I think RSD is more what I was getting at – not that she’s pouting at being criticized, but that she assumes any criticism of her speaking means the critic thinks she is a total failure at speaking and should never speak ever again.

              2. KoiFeeder*

                If I may ask a question, is it possible to provide negative feedback to someone and not trigger their RSD, or does the work of managing and overcoming RSD have to be entirely internal?

                1. Wisteria*

                  People who experience outsized reactions, whether due to RSD or something else, do need to learn self regulation.

                2. Alana Bloom*

                  I can’t speak for everyone, only myself, but sometimes feedback can be kindly-delivered and low-stakes and still make me feel bad! I think the onus is mostly on the person experiencing RSD to work on their reaction to negative feedback.

                3. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

                  +1 anonagoose.
                  I’ve experienced Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria both from the inside (it’s a thankfully minor/infrequent feature of how my own brain works) and secondhand/outside. Many of my family and friends, and a few acquaintances/coworkers also experience it, or show signs that look like it even if they don’t name it as such. Some of them have it much more strongly or frequently, or don’t realize it’s a thing or how it’s affecting them, and that can cause problems in relationships or careers.

                  When a person doesn’t realize RSD is a thing that happens, or that it could be happening to them, they don’t realize that feedback they experience as Extreme– an unfair or impossible demand, a crushing judgement, a cruel attack, etc. with all the physical and psych symptoms to go with– often is not (or need not be) as bad as it feels. Then they interpret the situation in accordance with the RSD-based bad feelings and all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking, and react in a way that seems completely justified to their perspective, but seems disproportionate or completely off-base to someone who is not affected.

                  With close friends and family who are aware of RSD and how it works, if we’re not both equally hit with it at the same time, we can often support each other through the flare-up, help the more-affected person to recognize what’s going on and moderate their internal and external response. Then we can revisit the triggering feedback later, when less reactive. It’s harder to do this –like any emotionally-vulnerable communication– with someone one has only a casual or professional relationship with. And it’s nearly impossible with someone who doesn’t “believe in” RSD or understand its effects.

                  Which brings me to Koi Feeder’s question. IMO, IANAE,
                  It is *possible* ish, to provide negative feedback to a person who’s subject to RSD without triggering it, but
                  (a) it’s not appropriate or helpful for anyone to take more responsibility for another independent adult’s emotional response than that person does themself, outside of a therapeutic relationship, and that’s true when RSD is involved as at any other time.
                  And (b) even if someone wanted to absolutely forestall any chance of triggering someone’s RSD., there is no method to communicate negative feedback that is guaranteed to always land just right for everyone. There are too many individual/situational factors.

                  In general though, best-practice for giving negative feedback to someone with RSD is the same as giving negative feedback/having a hard conversation with anyone. Allison writes about it often.
                  Some highlights:
                  Do it in a calm, warm, matter-of-fact manner, in private not in front of uninvolved others. Be direct, clear, brief, focus on the directly-relevant demonstrable facts, NOT character/personality judgements or armchair psychology; don’t try to soften the message by hinting or ‘talking around’ the issue, or offering justifications/excuses.
                  Consider delivering the feedback by the recipient’s preferred communication method, if you know what that is and if it’s feasible in the specific circumstances — face-to-face, phone, messaging/email, paper document.
                  If you’re asking for a change in behavior as part of the feedback, describe the demonstrable result you want, not the thing to change/stop–and make sure you’re asking for a change in *behavior* not feelings or personality. Where feasible, ask if there’s something specific you can do facilitate the result you want. If there are supportive resources/alternatives, suggest them briefly, or offer to provide info as a follow-up. If you need acknowledgement or buy-in from the feedback recipient, don’t demand it immediately; allow time for them to work through their first reaction before they respond, at least a minute pause in live communication, longer for textual. If you need a response by a particular time, specify that deadline clearly, after the minute pause.
                  End by putting the negative feedback in context, affirming the positive overall relationship remains, like “despite the number of typos in your TPS reports/ the inconsistency of your productivity, you’re a valued contributor, and I look forward to seeing what you can bring to the team when those issues are addressed” or “friend, I’m not mad at you/ I still like you, thank you for hearing me out about this.”

                4. CPegasus*

                  I don’t have ADHD but I suspect I have some amount of RSD, and I really think it has to be internal. You can be as gentle as possible and I’ll just feel bad that I made you feel that you had to be so gentle just to tell me something simple and beat myself up about that, too x_x

            2. EchoGirl*

              RSD may be part of it, but as another ADHD person who’s done this once or twice in the past, it’s not that I didn’t understand the difference between “don’t talk too much” and “don’t talk at all”, nor was it pouting/trying to make a point — it’s that I wanted to avoid doing it again but didn’t have a clear sense of how much was too much, and because of that, it felt like the only option was to overcompensate to ensure I didn’t go anywhere near the line.

              Here’s the thing: I think there’s often an unconscious assumption that people with ADHD have the same general sense of where those lines are and just have greater difficulty staying within them. In reality, however, many people with ADHD don’t necessarily perceive those things the same way (at least not intuitively/automatically) — the amount they talk may very well seem more or less normal to them, even though other people perceive it as blatantly excessive. From that angle, a statement like “you can talk, just don’t talk too much” feels like being asked to play a guessing game to try and figure out where the line is, knowing people will get upset if you cross it, so you swing to the opposite extreme because at least that’s a clear target. (Incidentally, this kind of thing is often cited as a major cause of RSD in people with ADHD — people feel like there’s a set of rules that everyone but them knows, and then everyone gets mad at them for not following them — so it all kind of interconnects.)

              For me, when I’m being given feedback of this type, what really helps me so much is when people are a little more specific (I don’t mean you have to try to lay out every possible scenario, just try to give me an indication of where the line is instead of assuming I already know where it is). I promise that I really do WANT to make the corrections you want me to make, I just don’t necessarily understand what you’re asking me to do.

              1. EchoGirl*

                I should add, I’ve never done this in a work context. The one case I can clearly remember involved family (and a family member who was particularly abrasive/unkind in the “correction”, which made me feel even more like I absolutely HAD to avoid any chance of messing up again), and I think there may have been a case or two in a school setting as well but that memory is less clear.

              2. Ellis Bell*

                This. People are talking like OP should have an inherent sense of what “limit it” means in practice, but ADHD makes it incredibly difficult to pay attention even to what the preexisting amount was! On top of limiting an unknown amount, the OP has to be hyper aware going forward so she can track and change habits to an unknown degree using only a brain that is bad at tracking and judging things. It would be easier by far to opt for social silence. As an ADHD person, I could do try to find and learn how to do the social talking “limit”, but it would take all my energy leaving very little for anything else, which is why the person who suggested a decibel monitor upthread is someone who I suspect, gets it.

            3. biobotb*

              I think the tendency to exaggerate the request and go to extremes is common when someone is alerted that something they enjoy doing may be bothering someone else, and they’re embarrassed. Maybe this tendency is stronger if someone has ADHD, but it’s still common among lots of people.

              1. Louise B*

                Yes, thank you for pointing that out. There is an awful lot of talk here about how LW is reacting badly because of her neurodivergence when to me, someone with ADHD, this seems like a pretty classic case of not knowing what the rules are when you’re in a new environment.

                LW, what might work best for you is to keep an eye on the time when you talk. I don’t think ten minutes is all that long to hear coworkers chat but unfortunately you’re in an open office plan with people who prefer a quiet environment. So the easiest thing might just be to note when you’ve chatted for two minutes and transition to work at five. If you do that enough times and people aren’t complaining, it will start to feel more natural and it will be easier to guess on the fly when you can chat a bit longer or get a bit louder.

                Also- stay warm and friendly with your coworkers! It can be easy to feel unfriendly when focusing on work stuff, but it’s likely totally fine to be warm and crack the occasional joke or mention the occasional odd thing about work stuff, and that helps scratch that social itch in an environment where people don’t do long personal chats as a rule.

        2. Wisteria*

          You don’t have a no talking rule. You were asked to *limit* chit chat, which is completely reasonable.

        3. Unaccountably*

          Except that unless there was a conversation you haven’t told us about, no one has tried to impose a no-talking rule on you or anyone else.

          Maybe you can help the rest of us understand why there’s no difference between “limiting non-work chatter” and “don’t talk at all.” Because I think most people understand that there’s a very large difference between the two, and it’s hard to figure out why you believe they’re the same thing.

  13. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

    This is why noice cancelling headphones should be standard equipment in small open offices, especially with a lot of remote colleagues. Calls and meetings happen. OP can do their best to keep their voice low, but really headphones will solve a lot of this.

  14. Just a thought*

    Would a decibel meter help? You can get one for about $20 and then you would have data about whether you were actually at a reasonable level and also a way to notice for yourself if you are increasing in volume. Objective data can be great when arguing against subjective interpretation – which is why I have a digital thermometer in my office for when I need to argue about the room temp.

  15. Bee*

    I was excited to return to the office because I was having a hard time focusing at home and needed external structure. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people like OP at my office who take their meetings at their desks and don’t control their speaking volume. There are days I have 2-3 people within 10 feet of me speaking loudly in different video calls. I’d kill for an enforced semi-quiet culture. I also have ADHD and I can’t actually get work done at the office when people are there. And noise cancelling headphones haven’t been able to handle the worst offenders, who of course have the most meetings.

    OP, I’m sympathetic, but I agree with Alison. This is probably more related to volume, which can be really disruptive to your coworkers. Try to take phone calls and personal conversations in the meeting rooms and see if that helps.

  16. Veryanon*

    In the job I had before my current job, it was a completely open office and the guy who sat on the other side of my workspace whistled or sang to himself ALL DAY LONG. I could still hear it even if I put in ear buds. It got to the point where I asked him directly to stop, several times, and it would get better for about a day and then he’d start up again. I truly think he didn’t realize he was doing it.
    Open offices are the gateway to hell.

    1. els*

      Oh, I feel you on this. The woman who sits behind me talks most of the day, and if she’s not talking, she’s humming. Tunelessly. All the time. Noise-cancelling headphones don’t block the humming (it’s too high-pitched), and asking her to stop has not helped. Oof.

      1. jane's nemesis*

        Tuneless Humming is going to be the #1 Hit for the new band, Misophonic Rage. ;)

    2. Baby Yoda*

      Even cubicles have the potential for noise problems– used to have someone across from me who sang, hummed, cursed, talked to himself and worst of all, GRUNTED all day long. Don’t miss the office at all.

    3. stampysmom*

      “Open offices are the gateway to hell.” I agree. Our company had WFH/hot-desking long before the pandemic. The people (looking at you Sales Guys) who took meetings on speakerphone in the low walled cubicle farm made me want to rip the phone from them and chuck it at the wall.

    4. desk platypus*

      In my open office, I once had a coworker who when building maintenance was around doing some loud tasks, as is usual with maintenance, would slam on her headphones and that should have been that. Plus, it usually only lasted 15 min max. But she said they didn’t cancel out noise enough so she would start belting out whatever she was listening to at a wild volume. (Usually choir music/hymns which added a whole other level to this.) It took several talks from management to get her to stop.

      1. Veryanon*

        Hotdesking makes sense for people who are only in the office on occasion. Not for people who are there regularly every day/week.

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      This. Between the visual distraction of people moving around you, the often disruptive and loud conversations going on around you, and the unnerving feeling of having people constantly walking behind you it is a sucktastic environment for anyone with ADHD or a sensory processing disorder. Add in commuting and covid, and I just nope out of that.

  17. Meep*

    Not saying this is OP’s case, but does anyone have friends or family members whose “speaking volume” is shouting by default? I have cousins like that because their mom is just naturally loud and it is always an adjustment.

    1. BEC*

      Yep, and it drove me nuts until I started backing away until the volume felt right. There is one person I have to interact with who refuses to speak at a non-shouty volume, so I find myself on the other side of the room from her when she’s talking. I explained to her what I was doing and why, not trying to be passive aggressive, just feels like she’s shouting in my farce.

      It’s weird but it works – keeps me from losing my shit and she seems to actually appreciate it.

    2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

      My husband, but only when he’s on the phone. Thankfully, due to his antisocial nature, it’s only a few times a year.

    3. Dark Macadamia*

      Yes lol this is a running joke with one side of my extended family. In group photos there are always MULTIPLE people with their mouths open because they won’t even stop to smile for a second!

    4. Attractive Nuisance*

      Yes. My boss. When she’s on a Zoom she shouts like the person she’s talking to is standing on the other end of a football field and there’s a helicopter landing between them.

      1. Meep*

        OK I had to do this with my former manager. She is a P.O.S. and only ever condescendingly told me that she couldn’t hear me, despite being able to hear everyone else just fine. So I would shout at her like she was 137 and lost her hearing aids. lol.

        Her problem was mostly she doesn’t know how to change the volume on her own computer. She is 59 so really no excuse.

    5. Richard Hershberger*

      My twelve-year old, who is on the spectrum, is this way whenever she gets excited. It doesn’t kick in for casual “what’s for dinner?” type of conversation, but anything she is passionate about and she has a very hard time keepin her volume under control.

    6. EventPlannerGal*

      I have a coworker with the opposite issue – his default speaking voice is essentially a whisper and he rarely gets through a conversation without being asked to repeat himself or speak up. I think it’s so interesting how some people have such different defaults – I wonder if it’s a learnt thing or if it comes naturally. (Probably some combo, I imagine!)

      1. Cmdrshpard*

        I kinda how the worst of both worlds. In normal everyday speaking I tend to be a quite talker and often have to repeat myself. But for something especially if it is something I am passionate/excited about I can get louder without ever realizing it. To me I am not shouting just talking normally, but others my volume is up higher.

    7. Yoyoyo*

      Yes, my brother. He has learned to modulate it somewhat because he doesn’t want to scare my kid, but I do have to remind him sometimes to lower the volume! I don’t know if it’s that he’s just naturally loud, or if he has hearing loss, but he refuses to get his hearing checked so I guess we’ll never know.

    8. Bunny Girl*

      Yes. I had a close friend who just naturally had a very loud speaking voice. It took a while for me to get used to it, especially because I’m pretty soft spoken. She would get really offended when people told her she was loud. She always said she couldn’t help it but I wasn’t sure. She was a lovely person but just lacked a lot of self awareness overall so maybe that contributed to it?

      To me this issue could be a combination of several things. Maybe the LW is a loud talker. Maybe there are unreasonable expectations of quiet in the office. Maybe it’s a little bit of both. I would suggest taking personal calls/chats into a different room if you could. Whether it’s unreasonable or not, that’s the expectation that’s been put forth in your office. I think that’s not really possible in an open plan office but that’s what the powers that be have proclaimed your office to be like. Chat programs might be very helpful if you want to be social.

    9. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Husband, when he’s on the phone or some sort of voice chat, but only after midnight. :P Before, he’s at a fine volume most of the time. Once midnight hits the gremlins take over and he loses all volume control.

  18. my heart is a fish*

    Speaking as another person with ADHD: the volume issue is yours to manage, not your coworkers’ to passively accept. Neurodivergence can make it a lot harder, it’s true, but “everyone has to put up with your volume” isn’t a particularly reasonable accommodation.

    Something I’ve observed working in a lot of phone-based offices is that there are some people who speak on the phone as though they’re talking to someone sitting across a table from them, and there are people who speak on the phone as though they’re talking to someone on the other side of the building. It isn’t only a matter of volume, but also projection and enunciation. Something I did early in my career to manage that tendency in myself was to put up a picture of a person (didn’t matter who) on the edge of my desk and essentially talk to the picture; this caused me to project less and made me a more pleasant neighbor for others.

    1. Screen Porch Office*

      This. You need to learn to keep your voice down. That’s a “you” problem, not a “them” problem. I’m also echoing those who said to get a single-eared headset or wear the headset so that only one of your ears is covered, so you can hear yourself, which might help to modulate your level.

      Lastly, 10 minutes of personal talk before you get to the business at hand is about 7 minutes too much. Don’t you have work to do? If all of your phone calls start with 10 minutes of idle chit-chat, you’re not getting anything done. This may sound harsh, but you’re not being paid to socialize. 3 minutes of pleasantries, and if there’s a super interesting topic to discuss then agree to continue the discussion over lunch or after work.

      1. Unaccountably*

        It sounds harsh until you’re supervising someone who isn’t getting their work done but somehow does have time to have 10-minute non-work conversations with everyone they talk to in a day. I never thought “You’re not getting paid to socialize” would come out of my mouth, but it did. It was like I’d turned into my mother.

  19. Suzy*

    Maybe something like this on your desk to keep your volume in check?

    1. Loud Talker*

      THIS, you can also download apps on your phone!! I have used it as reminder sometimes when I was in a call center as I could never tell how loud I was with the head set on. Really helped me control my volume at first, then I learned to recognize my volume without it eventually.

  20. Observer*

    Two comments for the OP.

    1. Ask your boss for a better head set. Buy one yourself, if you need to. I know that you should not HAVE to, which is why I’m suggesting that you ask for one first. But if your boss really won’t do that, then get one yourself so that you have the feedback you need.

    2. The problem is not just your volume. *10 minutes* is actually a fairly long chat. Pay attention to the fact that Sonia didn’t ask you just to lower the volume, but to cut down on the *amount* of “casual chat”.

    While it’s not reasonable to “expect complete silence”, that is NOT what you are being asked for! You are being asked to moderate your volume – which you admit can get loud and to *reduce* – not eliminate – your chatting. Is that great? No. But it’s not all that unreasonable whether you are in an open office, a shared office or just “regular offices with thin walls. People understand that you have to have conversations. But long conversations that don’t have any real work purpose are a bit of an imposition on others and something you should try to minimize. Both by reducing volume as you can, and duration.

      1. My Useless 2 Cents*

        I’m surprised how many people think 10 minutes is an excessively long chat. That’s fairly standard around my office (no WFH here) and has been for the last 20 years. A ten minute conversation about the funny things our dogs did last night or conversation about a television show we both watch or something that was on the news before asking about Project X is fairly standard. Granted this is a 1-2 time occurrence throughout the day, not hourly, as that would make a difference. And this is overall a quiet office (cubies, not totally open) of 15-20 people.

      2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

        Yeah, the amount of non-work chat considered acceptable is way, way more varied by office culture, team, and position than people think.

        The key element here is whether the LW’s manager thinks LW was engaging in too much chatter. It sounds like LW got a mixed message on that, but also that Luiza, a longer-serving employee, saw that and asked the manager to clarify with LW. Which he did.

        And it could even be that LW’s manager/ team has looser expectations on chat than the team of the person who complained (if they’re different)! It can be hard to recognize those undercurrents when you’re new.

      3. Unaccountably*

        It’s not long if you do it once in a while, or if you’re catching up with someone you haven’t seen in a while. Ten minutes of chatting on every call, with people you just talked to a day or two before? Not so much.

        Again, context is important.

      4. YetAnotherAnalyst*

        It’s going to be very office-dependent, but for my office that’s the equivalent of most of our “standup” meetings (15 minutes), or about a third of a typical half-hour meeting. So ten minutes of small talk before you got to the actual meeting would be A Lot.

      5. amen*

        It depends so completely on the type of meeting and the context and the industry and the workplace. I mean, it sounds like in OP’s specific workplace that’s a lot so it’s fine to talk about reeling it in. But it’s very weird to see comments that are shocked, shocked! that people would be chatting socially. 10 minutes of personal chat in a standing weekly 1:1 is not weird at all, that’s how coworkers form bonds with colleagues and managers, ESPECIALLY if you’re in a hybrid or WFH setup. 10 minutes of personal chat with a client or customer or vendor every once in awhile is good business. I’m not saying everyone has to do it, or that it’s appropriate for every role and every office, but stop acting as though there are universal standards for personal talk at work!

  21. Chelsea*

    OP seems like a nice person, very social, very popular. Nothing wrong with that! But the reality is that myself, and a lot of other people, don’t actually want to socialize a lot while working. Having someone make loud personal conversations three feet away from you while you’re trying to work is super distracting and is a big part of the reason that I work from home. It seems like Sonia is like that but also wants to work from the office sometimes.

    The situation might resolve itself by Sonia starting to work from home more often, but in the meantime, OP should watch her volume because it seems like she’s probably a lot louder than she thinks she is. Just my two cents!

    1. Chelsea*

      Also to add to this, big Bose headphones hurt my ears and, even though they are effective at noise cancellation, are not a long-term solution over the workday.

    2. Karia*

      Asking her to moderate her volume is more than acceptable. However – and maybe I’m biased because I work with clients – polite chit chat for 5-10 minutes is often expected. I had to ‘learn’ to do it, because I realised that a lot of people find it rude if you don’t.

      1. Loulou*

        Agreed. A loud conversation on any topic is a problem. 10 minutes of small talk at a reasonable volume is not! It’s truly very very normal to talk for 10 minutes with a coworker about something other than work.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          I totally agree, 10 minutes of chitchat is totally fine.

          It’s impossible for us to know how loud the LW actually is/was. Maybe it’s over the top and they need to contain it. But open offices do make this an impossible situation — even a normal voice volume takes up a lot of space when the office is quiet. I used to work in a cube farm where you couldn’t pick up the phone and say anything at any volume without half the room being aware of it. Anything that pierces the silence can be highly irritating to others. And while they have to tolerate the work parts of the call, they might be easily irritated by every inessential minute and interpret as louder than it is.

      2. biobotb*

        But if it were expected in this office, then Gary wouldn’t be asking the LW to limit it, so that’s whether it’s expected elsewhere is not relevant.

  22. Rainbow*

    I agree, if they want silence they should go to a meeting room – I often do this. Also, it might be nice for you to take your calls in a meeting room too :)

    I’m autistic and get occasional sound sensitivity/hard time concentrating with noise, but also am extroverted and like chatting, so I get it both ways. And meeting rooms are brilliant.

  23. Jen*

    It’s interesting to me that the LW says that they need an office environment to focus, but they’re getting defensive about their own behavior that, frankly, is going to be a huge distraction for others in said office environment. I have ADHD as well and if someone was talking in a loud/excited volume for 10 minutes it would totally take me out of my work.

    I suspect that OP isn’t talking in what would be considered a normal office tone at all, and the suggestion that other people accommodate their leisure conversation by moving somewhere quiet to work (rather than the other way around) is frankly looking at the issue totally backward.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      This seems pretty common, among the people who want to work in the office, because they need the social aspect. This is all very well and good, but an active impediment for the people who are trying to concentrate. The logical solution is to let people choose whether to work in the office or at home, but this presumes that the conditions are such as to allow this. I also suspect that an office full of socialites would be bedlam, but perhaps I am too pessimistic.

        1. Bethany*

          And some simply can’t work at home – maybe they have a young child, or live with an extended family, or don’t have a private space, or have construction going on next door.

  24. WhatNoiseAnnoysAnOyster*

    The problem with open plan offices is that it forces people with different needs and preferences to try and work in the same room. My organisation moved to an open plan office arrangement and my work became literally impossible because of the noise (and visual) distractions of people interacting with each other. I have ADHD and part of that (for me) is sensitivity to sound and visual information. I told my boss I couldn’t concentrate at all (after trying ear plugs and noise cancelling headphones) and he tried to instigate a quieter environment but he didn’t reinforce it or remember it and it didn’t stick. Perhaps the OP’s management is aware that some folks need a quieter environment and is trying to facilitate them being able to work. I would have really appreciated that at my workplace :) For the record I am very social and love people getting to catch up and interact, but I just can’t work when this is happening. The situation actually became quite excluding for me – I went to great lengths to try and find any space where I could concentrate. Several times a day I would move my laptop and notebook, etc, into a meeting room to try and concentrate in there but then I’d be booted out for a scheduled meeting after an hour or so. Once I even sat in a box cupboard for an afternoon – just to get some bloody work done! I asked my boss if they would consider making the cupboard into a separate office little for me, but they weren’t able to. Eventually…I had a quit the job. This is all a long way of saying that I’m sorry the OP can’t use the office in the way that feels best for her (I really am) but an open plan office can be a huge difficulty for some folk because of noise.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      At a previous job, my department moved into an open office plan. Since I was one of the senior people, in theory I got nearly first pick on which workspace would be mine. I purposely selected one that was visible, but away from the main hallway and stairway door so I wouldn’t be distracted by people passing by all day. I managed a team, but also did a lot of analysis, problem solving as part of my job AND I’m an introvert so being greeted by every person passing by our department or even just being subjected to the motion of people passing by my desk frequently would, I expected, negatively impact my ability to do my job.

      Boss, for whatever reason, overrode my choice of workspace, plunked me in one of the workspaces next to the corridor. Oh, and bonus, I was one of a handful of women in the department … my new workspace was right next to our department admin’s desk. Guess who got interrupted multiple times a day by people wondering how to use the office equipment, find a staple remover, wondering if they could get time on Boss’s calendar? My male peers in their non-corridor facing cubes NEVER got asked that stuff.

      I took to booking one of the nearby conference rooms to work out of. Told my team to feel free to pop in anytime … I wasn’t avoiding them, I was just finding a workspace I could actually function and work in.

      Signed: Team Open Office Plans are Awful

      1. WhatNoiseAnnoysAnOyster*

        That is awful and yes, open plan offices are awful :)

        Thank goodness you had the option of that conference room! Beats my cupboard, ha! But still not cool that you had to do that.

  25. Smitty*

    Something that Allison didn’t mention that struck me was the fact that OP mentioned “personal gossiping” for 10 minutes. To me, it seems likely that your coworkers are displeased with the volume based on the feedback you’ve received, but it could also be related to what you are talking about. Even if you aren’t gossiping about people at work, loud negativity could be an additional factor in what is upsetting your deskmates and what’s driving them to complain to you and your boss.

    1. LawBee*

      I read that as just chatting about family, etc., not necessarily negativity. But it’s worth considering, for sure.

      1. Smitty*

        Agreed. I assume that’s what OP meant, but I figured I’d throw this possibility out there.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Whether it’s negative or not, a conversation that could accurately be called “gossip” is usually more distracting to overhear than your typical “did you have a nice weekend”-type small talk. I can tune out small talk, it’s hard to tune out someone sharing ~*~interesting news~*~

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I’ve worked in shared spaces before and I am a lot more inclined to be tolerant of a louder voice if it’s necessary for the client to hear over the phone (although I’d want to ask management if we can look into a better phone system)( than if it’s extraneous personal talk. Competing loud voices at work are grating enough but it’s different if they’re unavoidable than if you’re talking for fun. Go to lunch together and talk there.

      1. my heart is a fish*

        Yup. When I hear someone sitting near me bellow “I’m sorry, Mr. Client, can you hear me better like this?’ I just sigh and brace myself, because speaking so that a HOH client can hear overrides my personal preferences for noise. Them’s the breaks! But when it’s not necessary for the job and you’re sharing your thoughts with the entire office, that’s something that can and should change.

  26. Purple Cat*

    It’s going to be awkward, but LW needs to reach out to Gary for more clarification on who/what the complaint *exactly* was. LW acknowledges she might not be able to judge her own volume, in which case she really might be a nuisance. If she frames it to Gary that “she acknowledges there’s an issue, but needs help identifying when it’s happening, so she can fix it”. That might help. I would be hesitant to go up to a coworker who was being loud. But I sit outside a conference room and absolutely, on several occasions, have gotten up to close the door when people are extending their beginning of meeting chit-chat and haven’t closed the door.
    Otherwise, we laugh at the person who glares at us if we’re chitchatting and laughing when they walk by. You’re allowed to chat and be social in an open-office environment.

    In short, LW needs help to determine if this was a:
    – volume issue – acceptable to be annoyed by
    – too much personal chitchat – IMO, NOT acceptable to be annoyed by

    1. BEC*

      I suspect it has to do with the combination of loud personal chit chat. I can suffer through a loud work convo because, well, work. Suffering through a loud personal convo? Much more irritating and not necessary.

      I suspect if OP was not loud, no one would comment on the amount of chit chat.

      1. Dust Bunny*


        Sometimes there are no alternatives and we all have to be louder to get stuff done, but please don’t compound it with loud personal talk, too.

        I had a college floormate who had THE LOUDEST VOICE AND LAUGH and would have long conversations with friends late at night in the hall phone (because her roommate kicked her out of the room. Because she was too loud). She did not believe that she was really that loud but, hoo boy, she was.

        I get it. I can get wound up sometimes and lose track of my volume, but I really need to manage that in a shared work environment. Also, it’s work time, not social time–it’s cool to be friendly with your coworkers but when you can’t get away from each other it’s just more polite to trim back the extra chatting.

    2. kittycontractor*

      Yeah, I think this is where I fall as well. And I’d be curious as to what “tone” meant. Seems like a weird word choice here.

    3. Attractive Nuisance*

      I don’t really think LW has the standing to say what is and isn’t acceptable for her coworkers to be annoyed by in an open-plan office. Two or three people – including her boss – have said she’s too loud and disruptive and spends too much time on personal chit-chat. She can’t come back at them with some platonic idea of how people should be allowed to behave in a hypothetical open-plan office. Her behavior is out of bounds at this particular office, so her options are either to quiet down or to find a new job with different standards of appropriate office behavior.

      1. Allston*

        And she’s also only been there a month! It really sounds like she came in and didn’t read the room at all. Just assumed it would be as social/loud as she felt like being.

        1. Purple Cat*

          I totally glossed over that point in the letter. Only one month in and TWO complaints. Yikes.

    4. GooberPea*

      I agree with Purple Cat that the OP needs to get more information from her boss about what the problem – and the policy – actually is. This phrase in the letter struck me:
      “ as according to her they usually operate on a semi-quiet office environment.”
      Coworker Sonia seems to be telling the OP that there is an office quasi-policy of a semi-quiet environment. Yet OP does not seem to be aware of said policy, and she’s in the office every day, unlike Sonia. And boss Gary didn’t mention said policy when consulted.
      Granted, it may be that the company, in moving to a smaller space, has asked people to try to keep the volume down – that would be an understandable response, but perhaps not realistic or the best way to deal with the issue. If that’s the case, why wasn’t OP informed?
      All this makes me say, “Hmmm…”
      Or it may be that

  27. Elizabeth*

    When we started having occasional days back in the office, I asked our department leadership to talk about the differences among outside voice, home voice and office voice. We had individuals who had trouble remembering to use their office voice and were using their outside voice. It makes it very difficult for others to hear and concentrate.

    If you are gradually moving from office voice to home voice and on to outside voice, you really need to pull back and examine why. Excitement is great, but over the top enthusiasm that has you squeeing or nearly yelling (in comparison to those around you) isn’t.

    1. Agent Diane*

      I can here to say something around this. The first day I worked in an open plan office with eight other people, after 2+ years of working at home due to the pandemic, the noise volume freaked me out. I’m having to retrain myself so when I’m in the office I can both tune out colleagues and modulate my volume. I’ve reached the point where I can go into a large open plan office with dozens of people and tune them out again. But I’m hugely conscious that it’s not just my cat hearing me on calls any more.

      OP: your colleagues who are for fewer days a week may well find the level of chatter they had before overwhelmingly loud now, after years of quiet home working. As the new person who is always in, you’re a lightning rod for those feelings. There is work for them to do adjusting back to background noise.

      However, there is also work everyone needs to do about being respectful of colleagues working nearby by modulating volume. Including you. The respect goes every way. You need to read some of the suggestions in the comments and find what works for you.

      You can turn this around. You’re in every day. You can model what respectful calls are like. Whether that’s keeping social chats to five mins at most, or saying you’ll call someone back once you’re relocated to a meeting room, or standing up and walking to a colleague to ask a question rather than shouting*. You’ve an opportunity to help set a consistent atmosphere every day.

      *I know this is what someone else did, not something you did. But that doesn’t mean you can’t model the less disruptive behaviour as part of showing your colleagues you respect their need for quiet, focussed working.

  28. Nora*

    This is so frustrating! I hate working from home because I live alone and it’s too quiet but other people might hate working from home because there are lots of people at home and it’s loud? There’s no winning.

    1. HufferWare*

      This is my feeling and in OPs case, being in the office is optional. Why don’t the people who want silence work from home?

      1. Observer*

        Most of them do. But the reality is that people are not asking for “complete silence”, and the fact that the OP is framing it that way is part of the problem.

        Sonia, for instance, doesn’t come in most of the time, but sometimes it’s useful to her. It’s totally not reasonable for the OP to expect to use the office space in a way that makes it close to impossible for others to use it. If the issue were someone’s misophonia making even a normal conversation a problem, that would be one thing. But what the OP describes is really, really not that.

        1. my heart is a fish*


          Treating it as though people are getting upset at anything other than library-like silence is taking the concern in bad faith and is going to reflect badly on the OP.

        2. Willow Pillow*

          There’s also an assumption that a silent workspace exists. I have sensitive hearing and I would say it’s quiet in my office right now, but I can hear the HVAC, the printer idling, two low-volume conversations at opposite ends of the office, and a truck driving by a dozen floors down outside. At home it would be fridge, furnace, pets, traffic, laptop fan.

      2. mlem*

        Maybe home isn’t silent, and they hoped an office would have a work-suitable noise level?

        I’m lucky enough to have a very quiet WFH environment most of the time — and frankly, the weeks-long utility construction is preferable to me to the people-noise of our open-plan offices. Plenty of people aren’t as lucky.

        And that’s setting aside people who need to go into the office for some reason (reception, physical plant, hands-on IT work, needing to work with a special kind of label printer, etc). Sometimes people need to work from the office, and it’s fair for them to want reasonable limits on non-work chatter.

      3. Marion Cotesworth-Haye*

        There are all sorts of reasons the quiet-preferring coworkers might want to work from the office. (1) Maybe their home environment isn’t all that quiet either. (2) Maybe they don’t have the same office amenities at home (printer, fax, strong internet connection, multiple monitors, etc.). (3) Maybe they prefer a split in their work/office habitats. (4) Maybe at home they get distracted by other chores they should try to “squeeze into” the workday, etc. Literally on and on. OP’s preference for loud chit-chat doesn’t trump (multiple) coworkers’ desire for quiet just because remote work is an option — we’ve all got to co-exist here.

        1. London Calling*

          Reasonable and measured responses like this deserve a like button. It’s entirely reasonable to turn it around and say if the OP wants loud chit chat, then why doesn’t the OP work from home?

      4. Julia*

        Wanting silence and wanting it to be quiet aren’t the same.

        There are plenty of reasons WFH wouldn’t be ideal. For myself it would include living with someone who is WFH and regularly has meetings. I have to be in my bedroom with the door shut to not hear the meetings. There is also barely enough physical space for one person to WFH.

        Other issues that plague friends are having multiple roommates, noisy window a/c units, upstairs neighbors and shared wireless being slow. Also not having multiple monitors and non ergonomic work spaces.

        I am a social person and I was just having a casual conversation with a coworker about not work things. I sit next to a coworker who is very reserved and I make sure to limit conversations with him that aren’t work related.

      5. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        Personally, I focus better when there are other people around me also quietly working rather than when I’m by myself. In college, I would go to the library or the computer lab a lot, and sought out study groups of the “quietly working on the problem set, discussing a problem if we get stuck on it” variety since that was much better for my focus than working in my dorm room by myself.

        A reasonably quiet office is a pretty good environment for me focus-wise. An office with a bunch of background chatter is total hell as I cannot tune it out and will get sucked into conversations I shouldn’t even be in. (I am perfectly capable of not butting in to personal conversations I haven’t been invited to, even though I can’t tune them out and am going to hear them in detail, but work-related things where I might know a piece of information they don’t but I haven’t actually been invited into the conversation are THE WORST because I have a hard time judging when I should and shouldn’t pipe up about Thing I Know.)

        To make it more complicated, I am pretty social and would actually prefer to be having long, rambling, probably loud conversations with people. I just can’t focus on work when other people are doing that, so I need an office where the norm is that those sorts of things are in a location like a break room (for personal) or a conference room (for work) so I can participate in them as appropriate and avoid them as appropriate. I feel like 30 years ago pre-open-office this wouldn’t have been hard, but I could be wrong.

      6. Unaccountably*

        There could be a dozen reasons. Why doesn’t the OP work from home so she doesn’t disturb other people?

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I hate working from home because there are people around if I work there in addition to living there it means I literally never get any peace or headspace. But the people who live there need to make a certain amount of noise and talk in the process of daily life; my coworkers don’t need to come to work to socialize.

      1. Nora*

        Your coworkers also need to make a certain amount of noise and talk in the process of daily life. Some people work better when they can also be social.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “my coworkers don’t need to come to work to socialize.”

        But OP is specifically saying that they do need that time and connection with their colleagues, and a lot of people need that. That’s part of why remote work has felt isolating for so many people. There’s a limit on what’s appropriate but all business all the time isn’t a realistic expectation.

    3. HannahS*

      Well, different people live in different environments. I’m not sure how that results in anyone winning or losing.

    4. The Original K.*

      I love WFH *because* I live alone and it’s quiet. My employer is a semi-open office and the few times I’ve had to go in, I’ve hated it and gotten less done. It really does vary.

  29. soontoberetired*

    Open floor plans always are noisy, large office or small. which is why I love wfm. I worked with some people who were really loud all the time and they never thought they were no matter who told them they were!

    but go into an office and close the door if you are taking a phone call. It’s a good thing to do even if you aren’t extra loud because open floor plans means no matter what someone can hear you.

    1. BubbleTea*

      What does the m stand for in wfm? I know it means working from home but I’ve seen it a lot and never known why it’s an m not an h.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I suspect that it’s just a typo–the m and h keys are kinda close on the keyboard.

  30. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OP, I would suggest making coffee dates with some co-workers to get that social need taken care of. If the objection is to non-work chatter, you can ask Luize to go with you for a coffee every once in a while, or a walk if the weather is nice. Added bonus of getting you away from your desk occasionally.

    1. anti social socialite*

      Seconding the walks! I miss my office friend for that very reason. When we both had downtime, we’d take a stroll around the parking lot and chat which got me up and about and filled up my social meter without being a distraction to others.

  31. LawBee*

    Seconding/thirding/whatevering the suggestion for a decibel reader. I wish my coworker who shares my wall would get one – she has a loud speaking voice to begin with, and then talks louder and faster as her conversations go on, and it can be super distracting. Even with both our office doors closed!

    I have also been told by friends that I’m loud, so perhaps I need to get one also.

  32. Essentially Cheesey*

    Maybe everyone needs to adjust accordingly. LW could actively work on adjusting talking volume and maybe coworkers could utilize earbuds or noise-cancelling headphones?

    Open office space is probably a difficult adjustment for everyone so maybe we all would need to give each some leeway while adjusting to a new work environment.

    1. le teacher*

      This is my fav comment so far. I am a HS teacher so not a traditional office set up, but my classroom is in use during my planning periods and there isn’t really a quiet place to go on campus. Even the library has some general quiet chatting. You can imagine a high school gets noisy! So my solution during my planning periods is to use headphones with a white noise loop. Other colleagues also work to keep noise low and not linger too long chit-chatting in shared spaces. My white noise via headphones works like a charm.

    2. Santiago*

      I’ve been looking for an answer that acknowledged this. Ultimately, everyone has different preferences regarding socialization and noise.

  33. Up and Away*

    OP, I think you’re taking this kind of hard for what they’re asking. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who are requesting you keep your voice down. For two different people, on two different occasions to bring this up to the boss says there’s an issue here that you need to address. You’re not at a friend’s house, you’re at work. To consider this a “punch in the gut,” or to have your SO “fuming,” or your sister to think they’re “jerks” is way over the top, IMO. If this had happened to me, I’d do my best going forward to keep my voice down instead of looking at it as a personal slight. People are there to work, not listen to you loudly socializing.

    1. St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research*

      Yes there is such a vast gulf between “hey please keep the volume down” and “we expect you to work in complete silence,” and the fact that the OP dramatically jumps to the second instead of just accepting the first says a lot.

  34. Stevesie*

    As a fellow loud talker, I’ve found single ear headsets to be a godsend for phone calls. When both of my ears are covered I can’t hear if I’m speaking loudly, but a single ear helps quite a bit. I’d also avoid anything listed as “noise cancelling” as it has the same problem. It’s not optimal for listening to music or anything, so I usually have some separate headphones for that if needed.

  35. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    This bothers me so much. All the reasons people want to go back into offices are related to impromptu conversations and building relationships. And OP is chatting for 10 minutes about non work related things and told not to. :Eye Roll Emoji:
    Sorry OP. It might be that you get a little loud when you’re chatting but that’s on your employer for how they designed the space.

    1. Jen*

      Two different people on two different occasions said something to OP, and they mentioned themselves that they’re not the best regulator of their voice. I think it’s worth considering if OP is way out of bounds of what would be considered normal workplace conversation. Open office spaces are designed with the idea that people are going to follow the unspoken social contract and adhere to workplace norms, they’re not intended to be a free-for-all.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Open office spaces are designed to save money for people whose budgets cover having offices built out. Anything management says about “increasing collaboration” or whatever else is just marketing. (It might be marketing that mgmt believes, but it’s still marketing.)

        1. Jen*

          I’m not reference the purpose of open office spaces, I’m talking about the fact that they wouldn’t exist if the company didn’t have expectations about how they’d be used. Specifically, the company expects you to be both productive yourself and non-disruptive to your office mates so that they can be productive.

    2. Essess*

      A lot of people are also going back in order to avoid all the home disruptions like spouses and children and tv noise and other things that break concentration. They go back to the office expecting others to be there to have better focus on work instead of all the other outside life interruptions. It’s just basic professional courtesy in an open office to keep non-work conversations low and to a minimum because everyone else around you is trying to concentrate on tasks. I worked in open office areas for almost 10 years. If you wanted to have social conversations with others in the office, you walked way to an area of the office that was away from people working or went into conference rooms. If you took a personal call on your cellphone, you got up and took it in an outside hall just to be courteous to the people sitting around you.

      If you had to take a long/loud work call, you tried to keep your voice lower but everyone around understood the necessity of working with business-related call noise since that was part of the job duties.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Well, no–it’s also on OP for being loud. You’re not entitled to your favorite volume of voice in a shared space.

      Also, there is a point at which bonding with coworkers goes beyond that and into extraneous personal talk. My coworkers and I do have fun off-the-cuff conversations but it’s not a regular or an extended thing–it’s a few extra sentences a day or a very occasional funny story in a group. If the OP is doing this regularly, yeah, it’s probably time to reel it in. If she’s there because she doesn’t like being alone at home, she needs to socialize somewhere else.

    4. Unaccountably*

      OP has gotten two complaints in a month. Unless everyone else is constantly getting complaints about their noise levels too, it’s clear that OP is doing something that is outside the norm for this office. Even at companies where the party line is that you can’t collaborate or build relationships without being in the same physical space, people are still expected to behave professionally and not be disruptive. It is possible to have impromptu conversations and build relationships without annoying your co-workers to the point that they complain about it to your boss – the vast majority of people manage it all the time.

  36. Prefer my pets*

    Sorry, OP, but I think this is a “you” problem, not a “them” problem.

    The office culture you joined is to keep volume down and be generally quiet. In a small office this makes a lot of sense…frankly it is much, much harder to tune out one or two loud conversations which are understandable than it is to tune out 20 of them where they all blur together into a single (loud) white noise. You’ve got to figure out a way to keep your volume low or you need to start working from home if you don’t want to alienate every person who shares an office with you. Yes, they have the option of working from home if you’re too annoying, but why should the established employees have to give up their office days if they like them because a new employee is trying to change the culture and office norms?

    Get a decibel meter you keep in front of you, work half days at home & schedule all your calls for those times, work with a voice coach…whatever it takes but please, for the sake of the other dozen people previously happy in the great company and all your future coworkers, fix this.

  37. Clobberin’ Time*

    I would expect a “social butterfly” to be socially adept enough to figure out that if you are using work time to gossip on the phone for ten minutes at a go, setting aside your volume, the people around you (and your manager) are going to draw some conclusions about your work ethic and your judgment.

    1. bamcheeks*

      In a lot of workplaces, building personal relationships and establishing rapport by talking about non-work stuff is recognised as a valuable and important part of work. :-)

      1. Clobberin’ Time*

        “Gossiping on the phone with your friend for ten minutes at a stretch and repeatedly disturbing your co-workers” is probably not a great way to build personal relationships or establish rapport with them. :-)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          But it is a way to establish rapport with the coworker you’re on a call with. Different people connect in different ways, the issue is competing needs here.

          1. Clobberin' Time*

            Presumably LW is able to built rapport and personal relationships with her work friend with shorter, quieter phone calls, or with other conversations, like in a break room or at lunch? Nobody forbade LW from having personal calls or ordered her to remain silent.

        2. bamcheeks*

          Sure, and maybe LW needs to get better at moderating their tone or going to a different space to work! But if you hear ten minutes of non-work conversation and “draw conclusions about [someone’s] work ethic and judgment”— maybe get a broader worldview?

          1. Clobberin' Time*

            “Luize is super nice and also loves engaging in a little bit of personal gossiping at the start of our calls” :)

            This doesn’t make her a bad person

  38. Not So Super-visor*

    This always seems to happen in open-office environments and one of the reasons that they’re the worst. I literally had a direct report, to my utter embarrassment, stand up and loudly shush (complete with exaggerated hand gestures) a VP who had stopped by desk to ask a few questions about a project. The VP was a naturally loud, gregarious guy, and he was utterly taken aback at an entry-level employee shushing him. When I addressed the issue with the employee privately after the fact, she reported it to HR as I was creating a hostile work environment and retaliating against her (that’s not what either of those things mean).

    1. Alice*

      TBH I really dislike it when people with their own offices and in the case of a VP perhaps even their own conference room leave their spaces to be loud and gregarious in shared workspaces.

    2. Purple Cat*

      Meh, context is everything, but I might be on Team Direct Report here. Why should a VP get to be loud and blustery and disrupt everybody JUST because he’s a VP? He probably has an office too (Although my company does not) where he can be as loud as he wants.

      1. Not So Super-visor*

        I guess that context is everything, but I feel it’s insanely rude to verbally shush anyone unless you’re a primary school teacher dealing with some rowdy elementary kids. As for the VP at my desk, just about everyone has to pass by my desk on their way to the stairs. Its not unusual for all sorts of people to stop by on their way out to ask a question especially given the nature of my job.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Yeah it’s pretty rude for anybody to do this to anybody, even if it were a social conversation they were shushing. Additionally, the fact that it was work conversation, and that a VP would probably only be involved with something quite important makes it even more wince inducing that she was interrupting that work just because she was personally annoyed. The fact that she doesn’t know the meanings of work terms just adds to the overall impression of cluelessness. I’m sure this would have gone down a lot differently if she’d approached you politely about loud VP having an unintended impact on her work, and genuinely asking what should she do?

      2. Santiago*

        If context is everything then we have none of it, because it is Not So Suñer-Visor’s personal experience… and not ours.

  39. Andrea*

    I wonder if it’s annoying Sasha because she simply has more work/responsibilities. When I see my employees chatting for a long period of time (pre pandemic there were 3 employees who would chat for probably an hour out of the day) I’d always think- if you have this much time to socialize I can definitely give you more work to do!

    1. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      This is such a mood though. I don’t love hearing my coworkers’ personal convos or having them myself anyway, but it’s especially annoying when I’m swamped with work that’s threatening to encroach on my personal time and folk are trying to waste my work time on their personal lives. And it’s a fun reminder like… why am I breaking my back to get this stuff done but y’all have time for all of this?

    2. Valancy Snaith*

      If you are their manager, you have the power to change this other than just being annoyed.

  40. fine tipped pen afficionado*

    My housemate is not normally a loud talker, but when she is on calls (always with one earbud in and one earbud out) she damn near shouts. It’s so loud I can still hear her if I turn a podcast up to max volume on my noise cancelling headphones and she is on the other side of our very spacious open plan living area.

    It’s frustrating for both parties but it’s equally as unreasonable for you to expect them to notify you every time you’re talking too loudly as it is for them to expect total silence. No one wants to be a nag and if you’ve ever spent any time around kids you know it’s annoying as hell to have to tell someone the same thing over and over again. I also have ADHD and it’s our responsibility to manage that, not everyone else’s.

    Another thing to consider: a lot of people with ADHD are extra sensitive to rejection and you may want to ask yourself if that’s playing a part in this. To be clear, I’m not saying it definitely is, just that it’s a a question you should explore with all the knowledge you have about yourself and your situation.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      My mother does this. She used to do it late at night in the room across the hall from my siblings’ and mine, and then she’d get so mad when we asked her to keep it down so we could sleep. She swore she wasn’t that loud (she definitely is).

    2. nobadcats*

      Yeah, I am freaking loud when I talk on the phone. I was out on the back deck talking with my Dad, and my roomie had to come out and say, “You and your dad are SO LOUD, everyone in the neighborhood can hear you!” I DO have Professional Smooth Talk Voice from years of being a receptionist and a crisis intervention counselor on a suicide hotline. But unless I really pay attention, I tend to yelly.

      MY misphonia is people who scrape their teeth on metal utensils. You can’t wear headphones or earplugs in a business lunch. Teeth on metal makes me want to crawl entirely out of my skin. Go ahead, scrape your fingernails down a chalkboard, chat at max volume with a co-irker*, or chew your food like a wildebeest, but for god’s sack*, just no with the teeth on metal.

      *before you say anything, neither of these are typos

  41. ILoveLlamas*

    I feel for you. I just got back from a week of remote WFH and was so happy to be back in the office. On a team call, I was energetic and laughing on the call. I sit outside my Grandboss’ office. He came out after the call and politely but firmly told me to tone down the volume of my laughter. He acknowledged that it was great I was obviously happy to be back, but to lower my volume. I was a bit embarrassed (I am a senior manager), but realized he was right. He hears all my calls. I hear most of his. I just need to realize it and keep my voice modulated. I think all your boss is asking is to be aware of your neighbors.

  42. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I sit behind a 5 foot wall from a VERY LOUD TALKER and we often are both attempting to conduct phone interviews at the same time. I have to ask her periodically to modulate. We’ve agreed I can send a Teams message if the volume is too much, but I find that sort of awkward as I’m trying to do my own conversation.

    What I really want is a laser light I can shine onto her wall so she knows to shut it down without engaging verbals.

    I don’t think I can get away with it though.

  43. animaniactoo*

    but my ADHD means that I sometimes end up speaking gradually louder the more excited I get and I can’t really tell when it happens unless someone points it out to me

    LW, I’m going to say something that may sound mean, but is really not intended to be. This is a symptom that you’re aware of. You understand now that it’s clearly a problem for other people – and the onus is on you to figure out how to manage it. Because it’s your issue that you are having that creates an impact on them.

    Primarily, I think you might work to be conscious and every 3 or 4 minutes and do a reset on your volume – even if you have to set yourself a timer or something while you get into that habit. You won’t be perfect about it. But you can probably get better than where you are right now and it’s important to put in that effort as part of showing that you understand the impact and are working to control rather than dismissing it as a symptom that you can’t help.

    I don’t know what other strategies there might be for working to keep that in check, but I urge you to look into them and see what is possible.

  44. Murphy*

    YMMV but my spouse’s speaking volume is significantly louder when he’s on a headset versus when he’s not, so it really could just be a volume thing!

    1. kiki*

      Yes! I’m err on the side of quiet-talking normally but headsets really mess with my voice modulation and I get really loud if I’m not being really intentional about my volume.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, I think this is true for a lot of people. I think they forget that even though they can’t hear ambient noise as well because of the headset, bystanders can hear them just fine.

  45. Jana*

    I agree that loud conversations in a small, open-plan office can be disruptive and should be avoided. However, I’m kind of unclear as to what OP is being asked to do: 1) avoid non-work related conversations, 2) avoid loud conversations, or 3) avoid loud, non-work related conversations? It seems like there’s mixed messaging as to whether the OP is being told they’re too loud or if they’re being told they’re spending too much time having non-work related discussions (or both).

    Also, it is odd that OP is being told indirectly rather than the person being affected saying something in the moment. I realize that not everyone is comfortable addressing an issue when it’s happening, but that would likely help clarify what the concern might be.

    1. Observer*

      Well, actually at least one person DID approach her directly. So, it’s quite possible that someone then spoke to Gary because the OP basically blew them off. The OP says that they apologized and the made sure “avoid chatting too much with Sonia whenever she came to work in the office.”

      In other words, the OP did nothing to reduce the overall problem – remember Sonia told the OP the the office *in general* tends to operate in a semi-quiet mode, and acted as though SONIA was the problem. They didn’t reduce their chatting in general even when Sonia was around, just reduced chatting with her despite the fact that it is pretty clear from what Sonia said that it’s the overall chat that’s the problem, not just conversations with her. So, whether it was Sonia or someone else, it’s quite possible that the person who spoke to Gary would decide that instead of having another useless conversation with the OP, they would talk to the Boss, who has the authority to make it stick.

      1. Jana*

        I meant directly in the moment, not after the fact or indirectly. It seems that no one has approached OP directly. OP writes: “Sonia sent me a message the day after she’d been in the office to ask me to keep casual chat to a minimum.” And the other person affected contacted Gary, who messaged OP.

        That said, I’m not suggesting that OP isn’t responsible for keeping noise down in a shared space.

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, I’m also wondering about that and I was surprised to see Alison favouring the “too loud” interpretation when the “no non-work conversations” has actually been brought up more often and more directly:

      – Sonia asked “to keep casual chat to a minimum”
      – Sonia explained an unspoken office rule: “a semi-quiet office environment”
      – Gary asked to “limit non-work related chatter when in the office”

      The angle of “volume” only entered the situation when Gary – upon one of his employees directly referring to the conversation where he asked OP to limit non-work related chatter – claimed he “has no issues with us engaging in water cooler talk, but he suggested I keep my tone down in the future”. To me, that honestly sounds like he was just backpedalling and wanted to mollify the OP because he felt bad for her, but the next time someone complains to him about casual chatter, he’ll once again be on OP’s case.

      I could be totally wrong about that and unfairly accusing Gary of being a weather vane, of course, but the fact that the two complaints OP has gotten both explicitly related to non-work chatter makes me suspect that the volume, despite being something that is actually true, is a red herring in this case.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It could be. My interpretation is that the non-work stuff would be fine if it were quieter, and once Luize followed up with him about it, he realized that was the issue.

        Sonia saying “to keep casual chat to a minimum” and referencing “a semi-quiet office environment” sounds like stuff someone would say when someone is being too loud, but doesn’t necessarily mean “you can’t have non-work talk.” It means “the way you’re doing non-work talk right now is not working for this office (because it’s loud).”

        1. Myrin*

          That’s a fair point. (Although I strongly feel that “casual chat” in this context really did put the emphasis on the “casual” part meaning “non-work” but again, I could be wrong.)

          I think another piece that sways me in the other direction is that OP herself seems to think that the “no non-work talk!” part is the more pertinent demand compared to her volume. I feel like as the person who’s actually in the situation and knows the people involved, she’s probably automatically getting a certain kind of feeling regarding what this is really about – and it could be both things combined! – and it reads to me like she reckons that volume is secondary.

          1. Wisteria*

            It reads to me like LW is embarrassed and hurt about being called out and is looking for validation that Gary and the entire office are in the wrong.

            1. biobotb*

              Yeah, it seems like they’re exaggerating what’s being asked of them to reassure themselves that everyone else is wrong and they’re still right. Which a lot of people do when they feel called out and embarrassed, but it’s not helping them address the problem.

    1. Nandor's 37th wife*

      Only if LW sharpens pencils constantly and listens to talk radio at their desk as well

  46. bee*

    This seems counterintuitive but I wonder if a couple of strategically placed white noise machines/fans/air purifiers would help here? In a large open plan office, other peoples’ conversations kind of smooth out into a general hum in the background, but in a smaller one when it gets quiet Any Little Noise (pen clicking, toe tapping) seems like an incredible intrusion, and it probably would feel like one person having a semi-loud phone conversation was screaming and dominating the entire office. If you can add the background noise back in, it usually makes mid-volume conversations feel way less disruptive, in my experience.

  47. kiki*

    I had a coworker who kind of reminded me of you, LW. She was incredibly gregarious and great at her job, but had a voice that carried and liked to chat quite a bit. I think the issue was really the combo. If she were just chatty, that would have been fine. If she just had a loud voice, that would have been fine too. She ended up using the conferences rooms a lot to dampen the sound for everyone else and took to socializing with coworkers on coffee runs, so she’d be out of the office for most of her non-work-related chatter.

    I do feel for you, LW. I think trying to quiet, open work spaces is kind of a fool’s errand. Part of the point of having folks in the office is for in-person collaboration and socialization which is at odds with keeping things quiet.

  48. WillowSunstar*

    When I was a too ok 10 years ago, they didn’t want us talking because apparently it meant we weren’t working. Our whole team got chastised for it. Heaven forbid anyone had a work-related question.

  49. Helen B*

    Back when we were all in the office, I had one co-worker who would have long calls arranging her kids’ activities. We have cubicles, but she has a standing desk and is tall, so her voice had a pretty direct line to my ears even from 3 cubicles away. And, yes, long personal calls were more annoying to hear than long work calls. My solution was to bring in sound cancelling headphones.

    I never expected even a semi-quiet environment when in cube-land.

  50. KP*

    Ah man, I really feel for the letter writer.

    I, too, am a Chatty Cathy. I work in an open plan office. I have ADHD (late diagnosis) and I have a tendency to get excited and loud. And I hated working from home too. Hated. It. It’s funny because I often wear noise-canceling head phones when I’m in the office and I can’t stand too much chatter….but there simply isn’t enough at home to keep me focused on task. Perfect quiet = cannot focus

    I also understand the frustration. Sometimes I feel like I spend all my time accommodating other people’s needs and squishing myself down small into a box I don’t fit into. Sometimes, it would be really nice if people saw me, the whole of me, and could adapt accordingly. There’s nothing wrong with you, by the way. Am I right that that’s partly why you feel so upset? You got caught in another trap – you found something that makes you happy/productive and “normal” people are telling you that you’ve unwittingly broken an unspoken rule that everyone just * knows *.

    I’ll say it again. There’s nothing wrong with you. Well, there might be. ;) But being friendly and social isn’t a bad thing. You don’t have to be ashamed about who you are or how your brain processes information.

    Anyway, I’m telling you all of this background because I’m hopeful we’re similar enough that what worked for me, may be helpful for you.

    1) If you simply need voices/conversation, but not necessarily interaction, podcasts have been extremely helpful to me. Get some headphones and find someone whose voice you like. They’re really great for when you’re analyzing data or doing something repetitive.

    2) Are there any coffee shops or lunch places near by? I’ve found if I schedule something with coworkers, I’m less likely to need the impromptu chats. If your coworkers aren’t onsite, maybe grab one of the meeting rooms and take the call there. You can call it a 1 on 1 on your calendar, but it can be a social call :)

    3) Keep a notepad next to you. When you think of something you want to tell to a coworker, write it down. It’ll get the thought of your head, so you don’t have to say it immediately. You’ll have an entire list of things to say if you use advice #2

    4) If you can tell the conversation is turning to the personal chat territory, move the conversation to the meeting room.

    5) Do you think your manager would invest in noise-cancelling head phones? You’re in an open plan office. There is going to be noise. For people who are sensitive to disruptions and conversations, those might help keep the peace.

    Good luck. <3

    1. Observer*

      Do you think your manager would invest in noise-cancelling head phones? You’re in an open plan office. There is going to be noise. For people who are sensitive to disruptions and conversations, those might help keep the peace.

      This should be standard in every open office.

    2. Moira Rose's Closet*

      Absolutely perfect advice, top to bottom. I could have written this myself, but not quite so eloquently. Fellow late-diagnosed ADHDer here, and what I was picking up on in LW’s letter is the frustration of feeling like she can’t be herself, or that *herself* is wrong in some way. I get it, LW. I wish you all the best!

    3. HufferWare*

      These are great tips and feel you hit the nail on the head in terms of the emotional impact of these types of scenarios. It can be especially frustrating when you’re hired in part because of your outgoing personality. I hope OP either finds another job where they feel more comfortable or can find some equilibrium in the current one.

    4. amen*

      You said everything I was trying to say, but offered terrific advice to boot. A wide variety of skillsets are needed to make businesses function, including – yes – soft skills. Outgoing personalities make sales, secure investors, and knit teams together, among other things. They make the office a more bearable place to be 40 hours a week. I think that OP is in an office (and, ugh, an office layout) that isn’t right for her, and while I think your advice is spot-on and will help her ride things out while being respectful to her office culture and her coworkers’ preferences, I think OP should look for another job if she can.

    5. Santiago*

      This is the most practical, and kindest, advice on here. Bravo for responding to the problem!

  51. River*

    I quit an internship because it was in an open office environment. Everyone hears your conversations and most likely any other sounds you make. I never felt like I got privacy when I was there. Always assume everyone can hear all the sounds you make, from chatter, to bodily sounds, to eating, to music from your headphones, etc etc.
    I am wondering if Gary is just passing a message to keep non-work chat to a minimum because it’s his job to do so. I am wondering if Gary really has any problem with non-work chat or if it’s a complaint/request from someone else. In either case, I think the fact that you’re working in a smaller space makes conversations easier to hear and this amplified when it sounds like this might not have been an issue in the past. Maybe with time, this will all smooth over. It just might be part of this transition to a new smaller open office environment. I get where you’re coming from though. Who doesn’t like to have chats about topics that are not work related?

  52. Em*

    I used to work in an open plan office (which I honestly think was absurd given that the majority of us did was very independent and required a lot of focus). But since even speaking in a normal voice was disruptive in that environment, people just went to the kitchen or a meeting room when they needed to talk for more than a couple minutes. And we spoke in quiet voices if we needed to be near a workstation. We also used meeting rooms for video calls. So no, it’s not crazy for an office to have a culture of keeping things quiet in the work areas as much as possible.

  53. My Useless 2 Cents*

    I would definitely talk with Gary, especially if you don’t realize when your volume is increasing and would not take offense but modify your behavior when it is pointed out. If Gary is aware that you are not doing it on purpose he may be able to help smooth things over with the complainer and let them know that they need to take action in the moment.

    Personally, I would also try and direct the conversation to point out that a “quiet” open office is an oxymoron and that expecting people to be 100% work, 100% of the time, is unrealistic and damaging to office morale. Even if everyone only spoke about work matters, conversations can still be distracting so if sound is really that bad of a problem, other solutions needs to be introduced to help mitigate sound travel. (Soft materials, plants, room dividers, baffles on the ceiling, etc.)

  54. My Useless 2 Cents*

    I am hyper aware of this issue because I have the opposite “problem”, an extremely soft voice that doesn’t travel, so find the topic fascinating but, some peoples voices just travel more than others and it doesn’t always have to do with volume. Which to me makes a “semi-quiet” open office even more ridiculous when people are complaining about normal coworker interactions like you described.

    I used to work with a gal who you could always find in a crowded room. Her voice wouldn’t be raised, she wouldn’t be yelling or shouting in any way, there was just something to her voice that just pierced thru the din of other voices. Another guy in the office, who admittedly did tend to speak loudly but not abnormally so, could be heard across the room in the mostly open office plan. He was one of the few who actually had an office and I could often hear his conversations even with the door closed. Neither of these coworkers were trying to be disruptive, they were just working.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Different voices definitely do carry differently! Though it sounds like OP may have a legitimate volume difference and not just a big voice, which is common with ADHD

  55. Nick*

    If LW spends 10 minutes just having personal conversations every time they pick up the phone then they are not being very productive. That could add up to quite a bit of time throughout the day. The social butterflies I managed never really seemed to understand just how much time they wasted throughout the day socializing, or really even cared how distracting it was to their co-workers. They would get almost irrationally angry at being placed on PIP over it, and really acted as if there need to socialize was something the organization should accommodate. Sounds like LW doesn’t care either and thinks it is reasonable to get an hour or two of pay for just hanging out and shooting the breeze. Seems rather selfish to me.
    When we began work from home during the pandemic productivity skyrocketed, I am talking 200-300% for the folks that would chat throughout the day. I never hired people to just do x number of tasks per day, I hired them to get as much work done as possible in a day. Several people were very surprised when I would point out their new found productivity. Spending an hour or two just chatting throughout the day is not ok. I know LW did not say she was spending that much time doing that, but based on my experience I find it is more likely than not that they are spending way more time chatting, and by extension annoying their coworkers, than they realize.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      It’s very employer/job dependent.

      Small talk is fine in my office – it’s relationship building. Some chat more, some less. People know when to buckle down and focus on a task.

    2. NancyDrew*

      Spoken like someone who’s never had to talk to a client a day in their life. LOL. 10 minutes for a 60-minute call is not a lot, and that level of socialization is *absolutely* normal (nay, required) for certain roles.

      1. Unaccountably*

        I talk to clients all the time. The number of times I have spent ten minutes on non-work-related chats with them is zero. They like me anyway.

      2. Consulting Vic*

        Nah, this is just what Chatty Cathys tell themselves to justify to themselves their desire to spend half their time gossiping! Anyone who “needs” to spend ten minutes on gossip to communicate effectively with a client is bad at their job.

        When you find yourself using this line to make yourself feel OK about something, you’re the problem.

    3. Lacey*

      Totally depends on the office.

      At one office I was seen as unfriendly until I started spending an hour or so a day chatting with coworkers. I got positive feedback about it from my managers! I pointed out that I wasn’t getting anything done and they said that was fine.

      At another office, we’d often spend entire afternoons at social events as a department. No work was happening. Not networking. We just chatted and had lunch or drinks.

      At my current office, it’s not at all unusual for people to spend large amounts of time chatting. But we do have huge lulls in work, so there is an expectation that you’ll chill during the lull and then work your butt off during the inevitable mad rush after.

    4. HufferWare*

      You don’t know that. Many, many people bristle at being in the office precisely because they don’t have a full day’s worth of work to do but must be “on the clock” for 8 hours. Most office admin jobs I had were like this, forced to be in an office 40 hours a week with only 18 hours of work to do.

    5. sheesh*

      Every single thing you said is role and company dependent, and a lot of the stuff you’re trying to pass off as universal Rules of Work are just your personal preferences, no more or less valid than those of the social butterflies you apparently despise.

    6. Observer*

      You do realize that what you are describing is very, very situational? If you look at my comments, you’ll see that I’ve agreed that in the OP’s context, 10 minutes is almost certainly too much. But I’m still going to say that you’re response here is way over the top. For one thing, there really is not much to say that the OP is doing this multiple times a day, nor that they are not being appropriately productive for their role.

      Not every role is a lot of heads down work that needs next to no relationship with other people, as the roles you describe seem to be. So, for a lot of people, some amount of chit-chat actually *increases* their productivity, because it greases the relationships that make the work happen. Not that everyone becomes best buddies, just PEOPLE we work with rather than the computer at the next desk.

    7. Kel*

      “I never hired people to just do x number of tasks per day, I hired them to get as much work done as possible in a day.”

      Oh no.

    8. bamcheeks*

      You seriously put MULTIPLE PEOPLE on PIPs for too much socialising?! I can see that happening once or twice, but if it happened often enough to be a pattern something was wrong with your hiring, your expectations or everything you did up to the PIP.

      1. Moira Rose's Closet*

        Yeah, at that level, it sounds like a manager problem, not an employee problem.

    9. Anony Moose*

      I’m not sure our work styles would match. More power to you, but it feels a bit much.

  56. A Pound of Obscure*

    Listening to one side of a ten-minute phone conversation is bad enough at work, but when it’s not even work-related? I’m with Sonia. I think this LW sounds a little bit immature if their expectation is that chit-chatting is just something everyone else in a small, open office needs to put up with because they personally are a “social butterfly.” Please understand many of us are not social butterflies and we are there to work, after all.

  57. MicroManagered*

    OP the read I get from your letter is that you’re actually being pretty loud and the people attempting to address that with you are doing you a disservice by trying to soften the message.

    I think Sonia is telling you “we operate in a semi-quiet office environment” when she means she would like you to quiet down. Someone also addressed the issue with Gary, who should have just told you to quiet down, instead of it going through Luize the way it did.

    Since you acknowledge that sometimes your volume gradually increases as you get excited about a topic, you’ll need to figure out how to regulate that. Your coworkers are not responsible for pointing it out to you every time, but they ARE pointing it out to you now.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Out of fairness it doesn’t really sound like Gary went around OP – he messaged them both and Luize was the one who went back to him.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Yes, I stated that poorly. Gary said “minimize non-work chatter” to both of them, then delivered the real message which was “LW needs to quiet down” to Luize.

        The issue isn’t that this office has a bizarre silence policy — it’s that LW is being too loud in her conversations in the office, a fact she acknowledges and believes to be a symptom of her ADHD, and needs to quiet down.

  58. anonymous73*

    It’s not feasible to be silent in an open office space, but if only a handful of you are in the office at once, your voice will carry more volume when you’re speaking and you need to be aware of that. When you work in a larger office, there will be a consistent hum of background noise and individual voices may not be as noticeable. Plus if you’ve been working from home for a long period of time, you can generally be as loud as you want and may not realize how loud you are in the office. Personally if I need to concentrate, I pop on some headphones and play music to avoid outside distractions. But that doesn’t work for everyone. I think you need to stop thinking of this as a personal attack, and just make yourself more aware of your volume. Use the conference rooms if you can to cut down on some of the noise.

  59. Fluffy Fish*

    I don’t have an open office, but I was recently moved into an office that is
    1 -next to the lunch room
    2 – next to the exit to the main hall (bathrooms, elevator, lockers)
    3- across from a conference room

    I can hear my colleagues in the next offices down as well.

    The personal conversations, phone calls, chit chat are much much more disruptive and there’s nothing I can do about it. The personal phone calls are the absolute worst.

    The work talk is background noise and it inherently tends to occur at a lower more sedate volume.

    It’s not personal OP its just how it is.

    1. anti social socialite*

      Could you ask your boss for a white noise machine?

      I work in an office/warehouse hybrid situation and they recently moved my department down to the warehouse floor & we share a wall with the break room, so it is NOISY.

      My manager convinced the company to install a professional white noise machine (who knew that was a thing???) and it really helps.

      Even if that sort of set up isn’t an option, a small white noise machine might help you?

  60. Ben*

    I think that your colleagues and boss are beating around the bush for fear of leveling a personal criticism against you, but they’re making things worse by being ambiguous and confusing. I believe they are not trying to convey an office policy, but rather to politely explain that you, specifically, are being disruptive. It’s not fair, but IMO you need to take this seriously and do what you can to be quieter, because this kind of petty b.s. can derail people’s reputations in the workplace.

    1. Ben*

      Oh! And let’s be clear whose fault this really is. It’s the employer’s fault for providing a space that is not actually suited to the workplace. There’s this idea that it’s an employer’s prerogative to design their offices how they want and employees should just adapt. But putting people in open plan offices when they need to be on the phone and videoconferences all day is like giving your accountant a physical ledger instead of Excel. It technically works, but it’s inefficient, it’s pennywise and pound foolish, and it pisses people off. So eyes on the real culprits here.

  61. Moose*

    I feel for you LW because you’re being pushed away from work relationship building! There’s a culture in the workspace that you might have to adapt to- maybe if you’re able to wfh for an afternoon and make calls then, that might help.

    At my last open office job, they stuck a salesperson in the middle of the analysts. The analysts revolted because the salesperson was on the phone all day! Eventually the sales folks were moved to a different wing of the office where their voices would not carry as much.

    Seems like you need to rearrange to fit in both the chats and accommodating your in-office colleagues who object. I hear you when you say the conference rooms are not a good option, so i hope there’s a way to get creative!

  62. North Wind*

    Slightly different but – At my first office job (decades ago now), I wouldn’t say I was a social butterfly, but I was interested in people and getting to know them; I was overly friendly (especially when I moved from the Midwest to the Northeast). I was shut down and shut out by several people who wanted none of it, and it felt awful. But it was on me to grow up and realize what felt nice to me didn’t feel nice to other people, and I needed to adjust myself to respect others’ boundaries and preferences.

    OP said: “My thinking is, this is a small open plan office; you can’t expect complete silence from it, as people are social creatures.”

    It doesn’t sound like anyone has asked for complete silence, they’ve asked that OP monitor and adjust the volume of their voice – which is their responsibility to figure out how to do. It’s not fair to put it on the co-workers to do that.

    While people are broadly social creatures, there will be a lot of different personality types in an office. It’s unlikely everyone has the same need for interaction/feedback/chit chat that OP has. In fact some will find it very draining and distracting. Neither personality type or need is wrong, but it’s not going to work to draw broad principles for office etiquette on just a social butterfly personality type.

    1. Unaccountably*

      “But it was on me to grow up and realize what felt nice to me didn’t feel nice to other people, and I needed to adjust myself to respect others’ boundaries and preferences.”

      I made a comment above about one of my previous reports, and this was so much an issue for him. To him, chatting with people was polite; he thought he was being nice by doing it. To his overloaded colleagues, his ten- or 20-minute visits to their cubicles to talk about nothing was disrespectful of their time and workload, like he thought they didn’t have anything better to do than listen to him monologue.

      Whether you’re a talker or a non-talker, it’s on all of us to read the room and adjust our behavior accordingly. That’s not being inauthentic or having to put yourself in a box or whatever, it’s the price we all pay for living in groups with other people who are not just like us. Everyone has to do it. OP’s not the first or the last to not be able to behave however they please in an office full of people who already have a different workplace culture.

  63. CanRelate*

    This is probably going to be buried in the comments, but there are so many tech solutions to get around not having a second monitor in the conference room! One, request to have a spare monitor in the conference room (especially if you are in the kind of office that has one in the closet somewhere). You can get a small, light monitor for relatively cheap these days, so this might not be a tall order.

    If you have a MacBook, you can use an iPad as a monitor with sidecar. This is super portable and wont add too much weight to a set up if you’ll have to break down your desk daily. This also is a great option if the conference room is too small for a monitor to be hanging around.

    There are PC portable monitors, but while they aren’t as expensive as an iPad, they dont have any other functionality, making them less utilitarian overall. I imagine there is some sort of vehicle for presenting in the conference room, and you can likely hook into it.

    To be honest, open offices only work if there are ample break off spaces. Personally, I found that this sort of thing is also often unfairly heaped on the wrong people. We had several loud sales guys at our old company who would talk at length with clients about personal matters, but its sales and they’re men so it counts as working! Bonding with a coworker shouldn’t be undervalued if ten minutes of BSing with a client is precious relationship building, but that’s how it was often treated in my old office.

    Even so, everyone eventually got annoyed enough with sales that they were put on their own floor, and then in a new space regulated to their own corner, and the office got a couple of those expensive, claustrophobic pods for calls.

    I guess what I’m saying is its a little bit everyone’s responsibility to make an office work, especially a poorly planned open one, and I understand the OPs frustration of feeling singled out. Work on modulating your voice, but also ask/look for solutions wherever they can be found.

  64. DrMrsC*

    I work in an office where there are 16 staff desks in about a 22×22 room. One of our former staffers felt that there was no need to modulate between “inside” and “outside” voices. She was always on outside mode purposefully to dominate the room (add that she was vulgar and angry most of the time and that is a whole other story.) Our prime offender would have had to have been spoken two multiple times an HOUR, all day, every day – and she was retaliatory to boot. We were actually looking into an office sound meter like some hospital units use to make the sound reduction efforts less personal. Fortunately she left before we got that far. If OP acknowledges not having a good sense of their own volume though, a desk model decibel meter might help her be more personally accountable rather than putting the burden on everyone else to point it out.

  65. JSPA*

    OP, understood that you can’t work from home 5 days a week. But can you shuffle your work so that once a week, you have a few hours of engrossing work (that you can concentrate on from home) plus a couple of hours of “touching base and feeling connected” calls? That’ll get you your “chat fix” and your “concentration zone” needs met.

    And if the answer is no, because your SO works from home, and finds your conversations distracting… that’s a super useful data point. (Someone talking in sober cadences and inflections about numbers just isn’t as distracting as someone talking in highly inflected and enthusiastic tones about life stuff.)

    Alternatively, ask for headphones with feedback (e.g. a volume light) or find an app to do same.

  66. Lacey*

    I’ve worked in open plan offices for most of my career. They are, in fact, the pit of hell.
    Some of my coworkers played loud music without headphones, some carried on loud, 3 hour personal conversations, a few whistled, some of them just hummed tunelessly unless they were speaking.

    And what was I going to do? Point out to the hummer EVERY time she started humming? Tell the loud talkers that the entire office doesn’t need to know how they feel about skinny jeans?

    No. I seethed silently.

    Except for the loud radio player. That I brought to my boss, requesting he enforce headphones.
    Which he refused to do. Later that same coworker walked around the office playing a guitar.

    The LW doesn’t sound as bad as my former office-mates, but I do sympathize with her coworkers, who don’t want to have a conversation every time she forgets to use her indoor voice.

    1. KoiFeeder*

      He wandered around playing a guitar. A guitar.

      That man needed more work. Or broken fingers.

  67. Office Walls Needed*

    This sounds like an organizational problem being pinned on an employee. If the company is not going to invest in offices or noise-cancelling equipment for employees, then there will be noise. I used to work in the middle of a different department all in cubes and there was frequent chatter both work-related and non-work related. Isn’t socialization part of the “office culture” everyone keeps selling? I invested in my own noise cancelling headphones and scheduled my meetings, including remote ones, in the conference rooms when able.
    I agree one should be aware of their personal volume however. I’m generally quiet but get loud when I’m excited and more comfortable with the people around me.

    1. Unaccountably*

      OP has been at her workplace for a month and has gotten multiple points of feedback that she’s disturbing other people. Open floorplans are such a horrible idea that they make cubicles look good, but apparently an entire office full of people got along fine before OP got there without complaining to managers about anyone who made a noise during the day. Is that just… not possible? Doesn’t it seem at all likely that in fact there’s a noise level appropriate for that office, the people who were there before the OP managed to exist comfortably within it, and the “organizational problem” did not exist before the OP got there and would go away again if she left?

  68. ok*

    If you’re planning on shooting the breeze with your coworkers, could you possibly move the conversation to the break room or some other common area that isn’t so disruptive?

    10 minutes is a long time to be chatting at work.

  69. Annie*

    I worked in an open office hellscape. Everyone had their own (tiny) desk, but there was absolutely no privacy and it was a disaster from top to bottom. The floors were concrete and footsteps sounded like gunshots. You had to tiptoe around. We were not allowed to take phone calls from our desks, and the few tiny and not-sound-proofed phone booths were always occupied by people having meetings, spilling over from our always-occupied tiny, inadequate meeting rooms. So you had to take phone calls from your car. Many, many days, the entire executive team would be sitting in the parking lot in their cars working all day. Occasionally the one department that wasn’t criminally overworked would get hyped up and start laughing and joking, and then the emails would start. Oh, the emails. I literally sought out a workplace for my next job that had lots of rooms and was like a maze, and I’m pretty sure I asked in the interview if I was allowed to take calls at my desk. Their answer – Well, duh, there’s a phone at your desk.

  70. Buu*

    I think part of the issue here is LW has a disability that means it’s hard to self regulate volume. That’s not being a jerk!

    My suggestion here is if it’s not too distracting, find a way to get an audio visualiser ( like an audio technician would use) on screen so you can see when your volume is going up. You might be able to use the one in windows settings used to configure audio or there may be something more robust you could ask the company to install. If you ask this as a disability accommodation, they might help?

  71. it's okay to make friends at work*

    LW, to be honest if I were you I would just look for another job. I’m a social creature, and if I worked in the office you’re describing I would be miserable. That isn’t me saying that this office is *wrong* – there’s no value judgment here. It just may not be the right fit for you. Despite what some of the commenters here may think, there is NOTHING that says an office has to be quiet – it just so happens that *your* office does need to be quiet. And I don’t think this is necessarily a small thing – it’s bothering you enough to write into an advice column about it. If you’re going to spend all of your time frustrated and lonely, that’s a big deal!

    This is the result of the open office plan, the bane of modern work culture, which makes it impossible to distinguish psychically and spatially between socializing spaces and heads-down spaces, and pits people who prefer quiet and people who prefer conversation against one another when a few goddamn doors would make everyone happier.

    1. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      Absolutely. Different people have different needs and different offices have different cultures. Neither is inherently superior or inferior just… different. And unfortunately most office spaces are not now and never really have been designed with the flexibility to meet all kinds of different needs. Even if the building itself has separated clumps of closed door offices and cube farms, those are typically issued by seniority and not work style or work needs. It’s all very frustrating.

    2. anti social socialite*

      I hate to say it but unless the cubes are spread apart or everyone has their own private office, I still see the LW struggling with volume control.

      Of course I could be way off base.

  72. NeedRain47*

    The OP says “head into the meeting rooms if you’re on work calls” as an instruction to others, but unless I’m misreading, appears not to have taken their own advice. This would be a good place to start. If you’re going to be on the phone for more than five minutes total, don’t make everyone else listen.

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      I also think the advice for OP to proactively move to the meeting rooms herself is a good call. Esp for the chit chat. It might be harder for other employees to pick up their work and move to the meeting room every time OP gets too loud, but she can probably get away with a lot more chit chat easily if she strategically retreats to a meeting room.

      It always feels kind of weird to me when loud people put the onus on quiet people to adjust the environment by putting on head phones or vacating the room entirely.

  73. BL73*

    LW, don’t take it personally. Everyone is in the office to work. Some people don’t have quiet WFH environments and in those cases, I do feel their needs come first in the office versus your need to socialize or talk loudly. You’ve gotten lots of good suggestions here. The important thing is to take them to heart and make the changes asked of you. Unless…you end up like an old coworker of mine who had been given very similar feedback years ago when we were all forced to be in an office. She was a loud talker. Sometimes on personal calls, sometimes work related. She was asked time and again to regulate and wouldn’t or couldn’t. The complaints got so bad that they moved her to an empty section of the office, a barren cube farm. For a social person like her, it was Dante’s 9th circle.

  74. cmcinnyc*

    My company went to open-plan and it’s tough. What felt like normal chatting/volume in our old cubicle farm + offices feels like too much now. The cubes had high walls, in an awful sort of felted greige, but they baffled a lot of sound. Coming back from lockdown, I could hear entire phone conversations a literal half a city block away. I know these people were speaking in normal tones, but yeah: every word. (At that time we were being asked not to use the conference rooms unless necessary because they were being cleaned after every use. Overkill but that’s where we were.) With more people back, there’s more ambient sound altogether, so I’m less acutely aware of every word spoken, but this is the crap result of this layout. We’ve been cajoled back to “collaborate” but there’s no way to have a conversation that isn’t audible to half the floor.

  75. umami*

    Oh boy, this would be my husband, bless his heart. He truly does not realize just how loudly he starts talking the longer a conversation goes. If I’m around him I can easily signal him to lower his voice, but the OP can’t really expect her colleagues to monitor her volume for her or move into a quieter space because one worker isn’t thoughtful about their volume. Likely the non-work chatter is being flagged because that makes the loud tone particularly bothersome, and people have a higher tolerance for loud speech if it’s at least work-related.

  76. Lizzo*

    I’m going to state what may be an unpopular opinion here, which is that I think 10 minutes of social chit chat is just fine (caveat: (1) you’re talking about fairly neutral, *non-gossipy* topics that won’t make others within earshot uncomfortable, and (2) you’re regulating your volume so that you are not disruptive).

    I am part of a small, fully remote company, and our meetings frequently start or end with personal chit chat so that we can connect and build relationships with each other despite never being in the same physical location. The success of our work does depend on those interpersonal relationships being strong, which includes respect, empathy, and trust.

    And yes, it is possible to chat about personal things while also maintaining boundaries and avoiding the “faaaaaaamily” vibe.

    OP: you may want to get a read on whether the issue with the personal chit-chat is a company-wide culture thing, or if it’s just the one or two people who happen to be in the office with you who take issue with it.

    1. Buu*

      I agree it’s fine and in fact it’s helpful to build rapport when working remotely. I’m quite introverted but usually chat while everyone is rolling in or adjusting settings.

  77. nozenfordaddy*

    So, TL;DR version – I’m loud. More detailed version – I have some hearing loss so I often have difficulty recognizing when my volume has crept up – particularly when I’m wearing a dual headset and both ears are muffled. I requested a single ear headset, its easier for me to modulate my volume when only one ear is covered, and I started paying attention to how my speaking voice felt at different volumes so I was more aware when my tone crept up. I also reached out to those who sat near me and basically said: hey I have a hard time modulating my volume on conference calls, if I’m getting loud please say something, IM me, whatever so I know to drop my volume. Got me through until such time as I was promoted into a real office with a door.

  78. Usernames required*

    Are you using a headset for your calls? If so you may be louder than you think. I didn’t realize how loud I get using headphones because I can’t hear myself so I wasn’t regulating my volume.

  79. umami*

    There also are so few people in the office at any given time, it seems, that there isn’t really a background hum. You just … hear this one really loud conversation. I can see how that would be grating if it’s happening regularly. And it seem sit is happening daily because OP is one of only two people who go in EVERY DAY. So any time another co-worker comes in, even if it’s just once a week, OP is there and doesn’t want to have to regulate her speech or her volume. Also, she’s the newest team member, and it sounds like she is essentially taking over the office space by being there daily, having loud conversations, and pushing back on any feedback that she needs to adjust.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Wow I think some of this is very harsh to the OP and I’m not sure where you are getting some of it from. You say that she is taking over the office” but the office is open each day and she and one other person come in daily. That’s not taking over the office. It is up to each employee if they want to come in to the office or not. If there was a problem with that then there would have been information given to her about what days she needs to come in and when she works from home.

      I do agree that if there are fewer people in the office then there isn’t a background hum. I wonder if the OP could talk to the boss about possibly getting white noise machines that they put throughout the office. We had our white noise piped into our building at my old call center job. and one day it broke and the entire floor sounded so loud! But we were all talking at our normal tones, but there just wasn’t any buffer.

      1. umami*

        I don’t mean to sound harsh toward the OP, but I do feel like she is taking over the space because she a) goes into the office every single day, b) has loud, idle chit-chat on the phone as a matter of course, and c) thinks others should move into conference spaces if her loud chatter is bothering them. She is there 100% of the time, so there is no opportunity for other employees to get office time without her disruptive presence (and two complaints from two different people in such a short time is certainly indicating disruption). It’s a little unfair to other employees who would like to work in a semi-quiet environment at the office to have to accommodate OP’s desire to be there every day and deal with her excessive and loud chatter. A good compromise was mentioned above, that OP might consider working from home on a particular day a week so that anyone who does find her presence to be disruptive can at least have one day in the office where she isn’t there, and she also has one day where she can be as loud as she wants.

  80. RB*

    “One solution — especially since you know you can have trouble moderating your volume on your own — might be to use the meeting rooms when you’re talking with a colleague more than very briefly.”

    I didn’t really get this part of the answer. So if she gets a call from Luize, who is presumably in another part of the building, the LW is supposed to say, let me go find a conference room and call you back so we can talk more freely? That probably wouldn’t work unless she uses a laptop and takes it with her because at some point the conversation would switch to work topics and she may need to access files on her computer for the discussion. What if there isn’t an available room nearby, or if all the open rooms are reservation-only?

    I would really like to know how these situations are supposed to play out because our office is switching to the same type of setup (open format + hotdesking).

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      So the LW says that the conference rooms are usually empty.
      They are hot desking and working from home. I assume that means everyone has their own laptop so she could bring the computer with her to the conference room.
      If the OP and the other person are in the office at the same time then yes they can go to a conference room or if the rooms are both full then maybe there is a place further away from others?

  81. I'm just here for the cats!*

    OP I had problems with my vocie being louder in certain situations when I worked in a call center. something that helped me was a headset that only covered 1 ear. that helped me tell if I was speaking too loud.

  82. Shmeezus*

    I worked in an open office plan at my last job and the program director (aka head of the entire office) would sometimes come over and shush people when he decided they were being too “loud”. Usually this was when more than one person laughed. He was a pretty humorless robotic human and pretty out of touch with his employees. All this to say, OP your office culture seems very strange and incompatible with an open office plan, but you’re not alone in this situation. Try not to take the feedback too personally, it says more about them than you!

  83. anti social socialite*

    LW, I think you should take a step back and observe the office culture. Some offices are friendlier than others.

    Understand that “limit” the chit chat doesn’t mean eliminate it entirely, just reduce it. Ultimately you are at work, ostensibly working, not for social hour. At the end of the day, many people find loud off topic conversation distracting. The onus is on you. If your manager is a good one, you should be able to approach them for help if you are truly struggling on lowering your volume.

    None of this is a dig at you. I just think based on your letter & your comments you need to recalibrate your approach based on the company culture.

  84. Summer Day*

    I’m feeling sympathetic to your co- workers! It sounds like you are outside of their office norms. In my work place a 10 minute non work related chat in a shared space would not be ok. Your workmates have reached out to you directly and indirectly. You said in your letter you don’t realise when you’re talking loudly unless you are told. Consider this them telling you it’s an issue!!

    My husband has a loud carrying voice and during work from home he drove us all bats. He didn’t believe how much we could hear (from a different room) until one dinner we gave him a run down on his entire day including (I suspect) some relatively confidential stuff. After that he experimented with his voice and it definitely got better! He himself doesn’t really notice the difference but we sure do.

    In a similar nature we once employed a junior who was heavy footed. In another workplace it wouldn’t have mattered but this was a wooden floor on an upper story and a job that involved lots of walking. It was an awkward conversation but we bought her some soft soled foam shoes and over time she learn’t to walk more quietly.

    I think it’s worth remembering that this was (hopefully) a happy functioning group of people before you came. Each group has unwritten rules of behaviour (I work in a shared office so I get it) and while it sounds like you bring a fun social aspect to work maybe channel that into going out for lunch together or arranging after work drinks.

  85. Raida*

    If it’s specifically a volume thing, I’d get a sensor and test out what level it gets to when I hit ‘a bit too loud’.
    And go off that – partially because it’s nice and tidy, and partially because I’m a total bastard who’d rather be able to say “I am speaking within the parameters tested and approved by my manager Gary. If there’s still an issue after implementing this setup *on my own dime* then we’ll need to set aside time to re-test the decibels that have been defined.”

    also – audio barriers are WONDERFUL in open offices. tall fake plants, lattice screens, white noise machines, audio panelling, soft furnishings can all result in a space that doesn’t spread noise around so easily.

  86. Lynn Marie*

    Seems odd the op wants the quiet people to go into the meeting rooms “if they need to concentrate” but it doesn’t occur to her to take her loud phone call into the meetings rooms.

  87. Cleveralias*

    Ooh, I worked in a coworking /hotdesking space with a pretty loud/chatty colleague who didn’t have a lot of situational awareness about when the volume/length of their conversations were dominating a room. For what it’s worth, their job was to build and direct community interactions, so the role was a highly social one where enthusiasm and excitement was an entirely appropriate energy to bring to work, but not always an easy fit for a coworking space where multiple organizations were sharing table space (we got fairly regular complaints from folks working nearby and occasional talking-to’s from the management of the space about this).

    I tend to need a pretty quiet space in order to focus and ended up leaving that job because of a bunch of incompatibilities with the overall culture of the org (pretty much all of the issues that small nonprofits tend to suffer from were in play, with a bit of truly toxic management mixed in), but to be honest the uneven (and frankly, unfair) way that workspace was allotted was a big part of my leaving for greener pastures.

    The person I worked with? I would NEVER consider working with them again (they were not a great colleague in a lot of ways), but we’re actually good friends in real life and I appreciate that energy when I’m not trying to get my own work done (though it took a few years for me to really want to see them socially again).

  88. Pam Poovey*

    Someone yammering on about non-work stuff in an open space is SUCH a distraction, omg.

  89. Emilu*

    I’m sympathetic to both OP and her coworkers here. I had a couple of “oh no, am I really that loud?” moments today at work — one being a coworker saying hi and “oh, you are here!” from the other end of our long, open-plan (and set up for COVID; everybody’s desks face inward which means that nobody can really see anybody else because of furniture) office because they heard me laughing, and another being me laughing (again!) on a phone call with a client before realising that my colleague’s normal-volume conversation was carrying somewhat through the interview room walls, so what was my laugh doing to her? Erk — and it can be super awkward.

    OP: I admit that it could be kind of uncomfortable asking this of your colleagues, but would you be comfortable telling your in-office colleagues “I have a medical condition that means that I can’t always tell when I’m being loud to the point of disturbing you. Could you please let me know if I am?” Whilst it puts things back on your colleagues (and this obviously comes with its own set of caveats and issues), I know that if somebody told me ahead of time that this was an issue for them and to come to them if it was bothering me, I’d give them a lot more slack than if it appeared that they were just being loud for the sake of it. At my workplace, several people have done this for other reasons and people seem to happily abide especially when they know a little more of the reason behind it.

    But yes… please don’t expect people to relocate for quiet time if you’re the one being loud. That isn’t exactly fair to your coworkers.

    Other people have suggested single-ear headphones, which IMO are a godsend (usually; my second example of being loud myself I was wearing one… whoops). If for whatever reason your work isn’t willing to accommodate purchasing a different headset (and I’m not sure about the US rules in relation to disability, but if you frame it as accommodating for a disability would they not need to get you one?), you might be able to get away with wearing a two-ear headset so it’s only covering the one ear. I’ve done this at work several times because I personally prefer having only one ear covered, and from my experience it works fine for conversational audio.

    Full disclosure, however — my workplace also has people regularly socially chatting for 15 minutes plus at a time, as long as they’re getting their work done at the end of the day. So your mileage may absolutely vary depending on your office culture.

  90. Dawn*

    Meaning no offense to you, LW, working with you would drive me insane.

    One of the reasons I function very well from home is because I don’t deal well with even an average level of noise; if I had to deal with someone every day I went into the office who, by their own admission, cannot control the volume of their own conversations, I’d have to lock up the letter opener before I started contemplating something unfortunate. (That’s hyperbole, people, to be clear.)

    That’s not necessarily your fault or something you should take blame/feel guilty for but if you’re going to spend all of your time in the office you must be considerate of others! Including, but not limited to, others with the same ADHD you have who suffer a sensitivity to loud noises as a result.

  91. Hiding from My Boss*

    Boy do I wish I worked in your semi-quiet office. One faction of my coworkers (think sales types) Love. To. Talk. Loudly. A lot. And not just about work. Too bad if you need to focus or talk on the phone with clients. It’s like trying to work in a middle-school cafeteria. The talkers think our open floor plan is Great! Makes collaboration easier, makes a better atmosphere. Great for them because they socialise so much. I finally brought it up to my boss now that we’re looking at going back to the office (boss is one of the talkers) and Boss said they’d be more mindful now and work on keeping a more professional atmosphere. I hope it comes to pass.

  92. Busy Teacher*

    If it is ok for you to add such a thing to your office computer, I would recommend adding a noise meter to your home screen. They use the computer’s microphone to read the noise in the environment. Generally they are marketed to teachers for use in their classrooms, but one may be helpful for you in this situation as well. If you get louder without realizing, a noise meter can be a visual reminder to help you keep it in check.

  93. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP my ToxicBoss1 had a foghorn voice and was responsible for sales, so he was often on the phone. Once he had an argument with a client, during which the client told him to stop shouting, and eventually hung up on him (they wanted a discount and TB1 didn’t want to give it despite the time-sensitive work being handed in late).
    Later, the client’s boss called back, and I answered the phone. She happened to be a former colleague of mine at a previous company that went bust so we chatted for a bit, then she asked to speak to TB1. He was already on the phone, but given how important the client was, I thought it might be worth seeing whether I could interrupt TB1’s conversation. I put the client on hold and listened to see who he was talking to (even with the door closed we could hear every word).
    He was talking to the company who had supplied our phones, telling them that his obviously didn’t work properly because everyone kept accusing him of shouting down the phone, and nobody ever said the same of his employees (we were all female and introverted, and polite).
    I couldn’t help but laugh, and was laughing so hard I couldn’t keep it out of my voice when I took back the call with our client. Since I knew her well, I just told her exactly what was going on and said I’d tell TB1 to call her back asap.
    None of us got very much work done that afternoon given all the fuss and bother. Not that I cared since I was paid the same however much work I got done, and I typically was twice as productive as everyone else.
    They got their discount btw.

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