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

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

Remember the letter-writer whose small open plan office was trying to enforce a semi-quiet work environment? Here’s the update.

Thank you so much for posting my letter back in July. I ended up replying to some of the commenters who gave their two cents to me that day and I appreciate everyone who had something to say, good or bad.

Firstly, I got myself a new pair of headphones with sidetone (the right term for when you can hear your own voice when you speak into the mic!) and I’ve been making sure to use our meeting rooms for scheduled calls with clients. I still stay at my desk for short ad-hoc calls with coworkers, but I’m much more mindful of the volume of my voice and I occasionally take one of the ears off my headset as well. I also took care to engage Sonia in casual chat only when I knew she was free to talk and she’s been very receptive to it! She’s really nice and we’ve had great conversations when we’re both together in the office.

I had a one-to-one call with my boss, Gary, a couple of weeks after I wrote to you, where he again reiterated that he has no issues with me having casual chats in the office whatsoever and the indirect call-out was truly just because I’m louder than most people and any sort of chatter can be heard super clearly through our headsets when people are on calls. He reminded me that I’m a valued member of the team and that this is 100% a non-issue for him. I reassured him I’d be more mindful going forward and we moved on.

However, things recently took an interesting turn. A few weeks after all this happened, Brian, a coworker who is often in the office and sits just two desks away from me, approached me in the kitchen and kindly asked me to go into a meeting room for calls since I have such a loud voice, and I agreed, apologizing if I ever caused him any issues.

Fast forward to about two months later; it’s a Friday, there’s about 10 people in the office, including Brian, plus two coworkers whose desks are directly behind me and right in front of Brian’s. Brian took an hour-long call with a client at his desk then got up to stretch his legs and grab some water. About 15 minutes later I was busy doing some online training and at one point turned around to tell the coworkers sitting behind me something relevant to the training I was doing, and Brian shushed us from his desk! We hadn’t noticed that he’d joined another call so we switched to whispering, cut our conversation short, and went back to work, but I couldn’t help but notice that both our meeting rooms were empty.

On my next one-on-one with Gary I pointed out that it was quite rude and disrespectful of Brian to shush us like we’re children and that I didn’t appreciate having to whisper to talk to coworkers while I’m in the office because he apparently doesn’t think that the same rules apply to him when it comes to taking calls at our desks versus in a meeting room. I also would’ve had no problems limiting conversation with the coworkers behind me had he approached the three of us to give us a heads up that he’d be joining yet another call from his desk for x, y and z reasons, but he didn’t; he just expected us to, I don’t know, not talk to each other for another hour?! I suggested we send out a general comms to the office, asking people to please make sure they’re taking client calls from meeting rooms if they’re at the office, without singling anyone out. Gary took in my feedback and said he’d speak to the relevant people about this, but I haven’t heard anything else since.

Overall I think the biggest issue right now is I’m burnt out. Burnt out with this industry, with the sort of work I’m doing, and just work norms in general (why hasn’t everyone adopted a 4 days work week yet!!!). Not only was this role not much of a pay bump from my last one, I’ve also been doing essentially the very same thing I was doing at my last job, which wasn’t the impression I was given during my interview – I was led to believe this sort of task would be a very minor part of this new role when in fact it’s at least a third of all my daily tasks, sometimes more. There’s been other issues besides this, but I think my burnout is warping my view of things and it’s making every small grievance and issue that I have feel just so much worse than they actually are.

Interestingly though, I have an interview on Monday! I was helping a friend look for a better job in my area and, just for the heck of it, decided to casually check and see if there were any local jobs that caught my eye – and wouldn’t you know, there was! And it’s in an industry I’m passionate about, doing work that I love doing, for quite a decent pay! I adjusted my resume, wrote a killer cover letter, and heard back from them 12 hours later! We’ll see; I have a great feeling about this interview but I’m also not about to run away from my current job for the first shiny new alternative that comes around. I’ll definitely write to you again to tell you how things went.

Thank you again, Alison and AAM readers! I hope everyone has a lovely holiday season with your loved ones; here’s to a much better 2023 to come!

{ 158 comments… read them below }

    1. Lulu*

      That’s definitely possible. Women are more likely to be seen as socializing too much, even if it’s work related. I once had a customer tell me that I shouldn’t sound like I’m enjoying the conversation I’m having because I don’t seem serious enough for work. (It was a work conversation. We’d just come back from a conference and were talking about the sessions we found relevant.)
      It’s also possible this is just one of those things where people tend to have a double standard. It’s reasonable to take a call at your desk, and it’s reasonable to talk to coworkers about work at your desk. But an open plan office makes both of those things annoying to the person doing the other thing, so self-awareness goes out the window and we all get annoyed at each other.

      1. Flowers*

        I once had a customer tell me that I shouldn’t sound like I’m enjoying the conversation I’m having because I don’t seem serious enough for work.

        EW WHAT THE HELL!!!!!
        please tell me what happened next? did boss know?

        1. Lulu*

          Boss was the one I was talking to! Nothing like old men coming up to women in their thirties and assuming we weren’t professionals each with multiple graduate degrees talking about an academic conference because we enjoyed the content and the work! Hard eye roll from both of us

      2. April*

        Back in The Day when I was a cashier, I was once just having a really great day and enjoying my job–and I had an older male customer insist I was “too cheerful,” that I was clearly on drugs(!), and asked for my worker ID number. Which we didn’t really have? He ended up copying down the number on the back of my time card, which wouldn’t do him any good, but…he insisted??

        Nothing ever came of it, obviously; but it was just SO BIZARRE.

          1. MM*

            You must smile to conform to aesthetic preferences while also putting across the subtle certainty that you are doing it under duress. It is known.

  1. JB*

    Am I reading this correctly? The OP is being asked to have less casual chat and they are comparing this to Brian’s work related calls?

    1. HufferWare*

      OP was told that all client calls should take place in meeting rooms, which OP has been doing. However, her coworker Brian is not taking client calls in a meeting room, he is taking them at his desk and then complaining about the noise of people around him. The issue is that the rules are not being applied to Brian like they are to everyone else.

      1. umami*

        Not exactly. Brian asked her to do so because she can be loud, and she agreed. She asked boss to make a rule for everyone to do so, but boss did not. Brian doesn’t seem to be disruptive when he is on calls; he had an hourlong conversation with a client that didn’t seem to bother anyone. OP is aware she has an issue with volume but also doesn’t want to be asked to quiet down while someone else is on the phone.

        1. Erie*

          Yeah, this is my take. Brian doesn’t need to practice what he preaches if *he’s* not bothering anyone. If he is bothering someone, that’s the issue to address.

          OP would be better served by talking this out with Brian. Running to Gary – and then not even asking Gary to speak to Brian directly but asking him to make a general announcement! – is too conflict avoidant and unlikely to get her the result she wants. Just ask “hey, sorry about earlier. Would it be possible to take calls in the conference room if you’re going to need absolute quiet? We often chat about work in the open space and it’s hard to keep the volume down.”

          1. Yorick*

            But if he’s shushing people having work-related conversations, then he is bothering people. Just in a different way.

            1. Frank Doyle*

              But if people are having conversations that are too loud because they don’t realize you’re on the phone, isn’t the easiest/quickest thing to do is to say “shush” right quick? What else was he supposed to do, in the moment? I’m with umami and Erie. It seems like the OP is just set at a higher volume than most people (which is fine! Some people just are!) and they need to be aware of that.

              1. Zorak*

                Yes, I would say that a shush is not necessarily disrespectful, just efficient. Of course, it depends on how you deliver it.

                1. Phryne*

                  Delivery matters A LOT. A co-workers manner of shushing once led to me and another co-worker permanently moving workspaces.
                  (She was having a phone conversation with the phone so loud we could hear the other side of the convo word for word. We tried to tell her to turn it down, which we had had to do way too many times before. Because we could hear the convo we knew who she was talking to and that it was just another co-worker and not a very important subject. But this was a person she thought had the sun shine out… well you get the picture. So instead of turning down the volume, or telling this person to hold a minute to see what we wanted, she shushed us with a wave and a sound that would be suitable for a toddler but not in a professional setting and turned her back to us. Did not go down well. We refused to share the room with her after that incident and relocated.)

                2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

                  “Excuse me, I’m on a call here” would be fine and provided the tone is respectful, there’d be no room to find offence.

              2. umami*

                Yes! I have a loud voice, so I totally get that. I wouldn’t mind if someone on the phone stopped to ask me to be quiet while they’re on the call, because it’s totally reasonable to do so. The person on the phone at that moment isn’t causing a problem just because they are reacting to the situation and trying to resolve it quickly. Loud people know they’re loud. OP knows she’s loud. It makes no sense to get offended when being reminded of it on occasion so she can be respectful of others in the office.

              3. Velociraptor Attack*

                It might be the easiest and quickest thing to do for Brian but if one of my coworkers shushed me when I was talking to another coworker about work, I’d be pretty unhappy about it.

              4. Aitch Arr*

                The easiest/most polite thing to do is to excuse yourself from the call for a moment, mute the line, and then ask your co-workers to keep things down.

              5. Michelle Smith*

                Nope, the easiest thing to do is know that OP might talking at a volume he doesn’t like and to be proactive about it by going into a meeting room to take his calls. I am EXTREMELY sensitive to noise and my open plan office drives me flipping bonkers. If I know I’m going to have a scheduled call, I do it from a conference room. Not because anyone around me cares one bit about MY voice volume but because I need the quiet space in order to hear the call. I also use noise cancelling headphones so that the noise outside the conference room door doesn’t affect me. This is the advice I’d give Brian to do if I were his manager. I can’t manage OP’s volume or determine whether it is subjectively reasonable to a potentially overly sensitive employee, but I can encourage him to mitigate the impact it’s having on him by giving him a very obvious constructive suggestion to remove himself from the noise.

                1. Orora*

                  It’s both. If you’re taking a call and people are loud around you, ask them to keep it down. Next time, take the call in a conference room so both of you can do what you need to.

                  Don’t “shhh” at me like I’m an unruly child. Let’s treat each other with respect. It takes about 3 seconds to do.

              6. sundae funday*

                I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the “shush” in the moment.

                That being said, he should use the meeting rooms next time rather than expect complete silence for an hour when his colleagues are talking about work stuff.

              7. Julia*

                There are lots of efficient ways to convey information that are also rude. In the work place we often do things that are not super efficient because we are trying to be polite and respectful to our coworkers. Saying “quiet please” is two words.

                I’m a librarian which is a profession people associate with shushing. We don’t actually do that. I walk up to people and ask them to be quiet. I make eye contact and move my hand lower to indicate less volume. In the office I will make eye contact and point to my headset or phone handset.

                Training calls are something where you need it to be quiet for a long period of time. If there are meeting rooms available I would take one instead of trying to do it at my desk. This is especially true if I had asked someone else to do it. Ideally Brian should be trying to model the behavior he wants other people to do.

              8. Julia*

                The quickest shushes are “please be quiet,” pointing to your headset/handset, and a lowering hand gesture to say less volume. Source is being a public librarian. I don’t shush children, teens or adults.

              9. biobotb*

                It also seems like it’s routine in these jobs to take work calls/meetings at one’s desk, in which case it seems like it would be best practice to check that one’s coworkers aren’t on calls before speaking to others at normal volume.

    2. Roland*

      No, you are not reading this correctly. Brian was on a work call and OP was talking to coworkers about work. If someone wants perfect quiet on a call then they should go to a meeting room. Especially when his calls last an hour and more.

    3. CR*

      my read: Brian asks OP to go into the conference room for calls; Brian does not go into the conference room for his calls. If he was he practicing what he preached, he would not hear OP’s casual conversation.

      1. JB*

        Originally OPs boss asked OP to go into a meeting room as part of a solution to accommodate their loud voice. OP is asking Brian to also do this so his work calls are not interrupted by their loud voice. I am Team Brian. It seems OP isn’t capable of using their inside voice I don’t understand why everyone has to move around rather than OP just being more considerate.

        1. Fiddlesticks*

          Thank you. How can a person be incapable of lowering their voice? No one is saying whisper, just use your inside voice. If OP can’t “remember” to do this, there is a bigger problem than just her volume.

          1. anon when talking about ADHD*

            OP specifically said this is an ADHD symptom for her, and it’s super common. Literally she cannot perceive her own volume and remember to be quieter, it’s absolutely a thing that happens. (And it can go along with audio processing difficulties leading to the horrible circle of “ADHD person gets a little louder due to being excited/engaged in the topic, other person in the conversation who can perceive volume gets quieter, ADHD person starts having trouble hearing the other person who is quieter and speaks LOUDER in order to make their words more audible, all of this being subconscious/reflexive to both people so neither of them can consciously recognize they’re giving each other conflicting signals.)

            I say this from personal experience. I cannot tell how loud I’m talking AT ALL. The only thing I could do in OPs shoes is to WFH, which I could do.

          2. HoHumDrum*

            I mean, some people are just naturally louder than others and their “inside voice” just isn’t as quiet as would be ideal. Sometimes this is because of hearing or auditory processing issues, sometimes it a quality of their voice that makes it sound louder, sometimes it’s a neurodivergent thing, etc etc. No need to assume some kind of malice on the LW’s end, for some people being “quiet” really isn’t simple or easy.

          3. Ace in the Hole*

            It is a bigger problem than just volume, which OP states in the initial letter. It’s a symptom of her ADHD. This is a very common symptom. Given that she’s likely been shamed, hushed, or chided about it her whole life but still struggles with keeping her volume down, it’s pretty insensitive to say “just use your inside voice.” If it were that simple she’d already have fixed it.

            For what it’s worth, I have the flip side of this. I have sensory issues that mean many people’s ordinary volume is literally painful to me. Even people who know me well and genuinely want to speak softly for me need constant reminders to lower their voice because their volume will unconsciously creep back up to whatever “normal” is for them in that situation.

        2. Artemesia*

          I have a couple of former colleagues who had braying piercing voices; being around them was much different than the chit chat and phone conversation of others in the group. The fact that the OP has been repeatedly singled out suggests to me that she has one of these loud piercing voices.

          The doinks who decided ‘open plan’ offices were just a great idea have much to atone for.

          1. WillowSunstar*

            Agree, I have extreme dislike for open office plans. The company I work for went to one long before COVID times, so you do get used to them. But tolerating something because one has to does not mean one enjoys it.

        3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          OP is being considerate by taking her calls in the conference room. It’s basically impossible for someone to speak in a quiet voice all day if that is not their natural voice; it’s not a matter of being considerate. She was doing a work-related task when Brian, unknown to her, started a client call. She can’t do her entire job from the conference room just in case Brian wants to get on the phone.

          1. Yorick*

            This exactly. Sure, OP should work on speaking at a lower volume at all times. But she shouldn’t have to whisper all day just in case Brian (possibly the only complainer, with the info we have) needs silence at some point.

            1. DCompliance*

              This. OP does have to be respectful that she is in an open office, but Brian has to learn to work in an open environment without 100% all the time.

            2. Zorak*

              Sometimes when someone has difficulty modulating the volume of their voice, it’s because they think the two options are just ‘whispering’ or ‘normal volume’ (and their version of normal volume is closer to other people’s outdoor volume).

              But when you whisper your vocal cords aren’t vibrating, basically, like you’re not putting any vocalization behind what you’re saying, just the rush of air and lip movements. That’s different than the option of still vocalizing what you’re saying, just reducing the amount of air you put behind it. Which is what people are meeting when they say to lower OP’s voice/ use indoor voice, not actually asking her to whisper all day.

              That said, my friends who have more nasal and less chest-driven voices do carry easily even when they are trying to be quiet, which is great talking to them at crowded parties, but not so great in the movie theater. So it might be more of a case of trying to change the register to dial down the amount of nasal, which can help create an indoor voice.

              This all probably sounds a bit unhinged and overly technical lol. But it’s all to say that there’s a lot at play when someone can’t seem to lower their voice and doesn’t know why, and they do have options other than just literally whispering.

          2. to varying degrees*

            Yeah at some point everyone is going to have to find a way to meet in the middle and be okay with it. LW needed to (and it sounds like is doing so) lower their volume, Brian needs to realize that in an open office floor plan not everyone is going to speak as softly/quietly as he wants.

          3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            They could give either her or Brian their own office and all problems would be sorted. Oh, except whoever is left in the open space will be jealous of course. pfff!

        4. GrooveBat*

          I have to agree. All of the complaints seem to boil down to OP’s volume.

          As someone who tends to also speak loudly (I do quite a bit of presenting and training), I constantly have to check myself to ensure I’m not annoying people around me and I don’t always modulate my volume the way I should.

        5. sundae funday*

          But Brian can take his calls in the meeting rooms rather than demanding complete silence from his colleagues. That’s unreasonable.

          1. Allonge*

            But from his perspective everything is fine until OP starts talking. Why does he have to basicaly move in to the meeting room to be able to hear what is said on his calls?

            1. Seacalliope*

              Because OP is allowed to talk and do her own work. The only thing Brian has the right to proactively manage is his own work. He has no right to presume others will silence themselves immediately upon his calls commencing — especially when he takes no action to alert people before they occur!

              1. Allonge*

                I think you are making the same mistake as OP: that total silence or anything-goes loudness are the only two choices.

                Everyone else is in the same open office space, once in a while presumably talking, and yet OP does not report that Brian or anyone else is asking all of them to stop talking. Basic logic says that OP is doing something others don’t: being too loud for this space. This is not malicious and yet can be distracting.

                It’s not her fault that an open office combined with no volume control sucks! I am not saying she is a bad person. But it’s probably a good idea to look for another place to work, as this one seems incompatible with OP.

                1. Snell*

                  I definitely don’t think this comes to the level of “things won’t change; find another job.” Volume level in an open office, well, you expect there to be work sounds. If more segregation is needed, they have meeting rooms to take calls, which LW has been using.

                  It’s just weird of Brian to ask LW to use the meeting room for calls, but not use them himself when a closed, empty room is readily available. He asked LW to take calls in the meeting room; LW does so, and the interaction is mutually considerate. Later, LW is discussing training with another coworker, and Brian shushes them. But LW and the other worker were discussing work. Should they have gone into the meeting room to talk about the training? From the way LW tells it, it wasn’t a discussion or anything, just “[telling] the coworkers sitting behind me something relevant to the training.”

                  I’m kind of landing on “open-plan workspaces suck, and are particularly unsuited to Brian.” It kind of feels like he’d work better if he worked in one of the meeting rooms all the time. Obviously absurd as a practical solution, though.

                  Anyway LW is indeed looking for another job. It seems like this is another situation where the LW was drowning, but wrote in about a comparatively minor irritant because the larger situation was so overwhelming.

        6. torn*

          I’m also Team Brian because I think the LW and also the commentariat are making way too much of a momentary “shush” noise that he made off the cuff and in frustration.

          1. Claire*

            I’m kind of on Team Nobody. Occam’s Razor suggests that LW was, again, not keeping her voice down as far as she thought she was, because he could clearly hear her over the audio of his own conference. However, if he’s just really at the BEC stage and can’t focus with her talking, he should probably consider at least part of that to be a him problem and just take his conference calls in an office.

            I’d have just muted and said “Hey, I can hear you over my conference call, please keep it down for the next 23 minutes,” but I don’t think I’d have been wildly offended by someone making a shush noise at me.

  2. NewYOrker*

    I do not even understand, what is the point of returning to the office if they do not want you talking to each other.

    1. HufferWare*

      This, and also the constant yammering about “productivity” while simultaneously shoving everyone into an open plan space to be cheap. It’s so crazy how poorly the vast majority of businesses are run and how little the give to their workers and can’t understand why “no one wants to work” and why there are massive strike waves happening all over the world.

    2. a clockwork lemon*

      OP’s original letter said that they work from the office by choice, and do not want to be full-time WFH. The ongoing issue is that OP is a loud person working in an open offfice and has been asked by multiple people to keep their voice down.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Which I’m sure is true, but it’s also annoying if folks are supposed to take long calls in other rooms. Both sides have a point.

      2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Sounds like OP has taken real steps to be less loud, including having calls in a separate space whenever possible.

        1. a clockwork lemon*

          Sure, and it sounds like Brian was kind of a dick this one time! It all just seems like kind of a nothingburger, both the initial rudeness and OP’s reaction.

      3. umami*

        Right – that was my take as well. OP doesn’t actually have to go in, and when she does, she gets complaints about her loudness or is asked to keep it down when someone is actively on a call. Those are completely reasonable requests. I can see in the moment being upset at being ‘shushed’, but on reflection, I would admit that I was being loud and Brian needed to say something in the moment because he was trying to conduct business. OP is focusing on the content of the speech rather than the volume, when the volume is the actual problem. I’m not sure what kind of solution it is to ask everyone to adjust their work habits when the problem is isolated to one person.

        1. JB*

          Agreed. This entire post is basically OP wanting to socially chat while other people are working without fear of being shushed.

          1. Totally Minnie*

            But when the issue with Brian happened, OP and her coworker were having a work conversation. Sometimes you need to say words out loud to your coworkers as part of the process of completing tasks. OP happens to have a voice that carries, and that’s not ideal for an open office, but that doesn’t mean she should have to have every conversation in another room. Maybe it means Brian gives a general “I’m going to be on a call for the next hour or so” so the people around him know to keep their voices low.

            1. a clockwork lemon*

              It’s safe to assume in any working environment that at any given moment, any of your colleagues could be on a call with a client. It comes off as weird and out of touch that OP flagged another coworker as “rude” for asking them to lower their volume after OP had already been spoken to multiple times by their boss for being too loud and I think OP is probably right that this job isn’t a great long-term fit for them.

              I am a very loud person (I literally have wacky headphones with a hole in the middle of them because I can’t properly gauge my own volume even with sidetone) so I am immensely sympathetic to OP having issues with volume control. The solution to this is using the office IM function, and stepping out of the primary common workspace for social chit-chat.

              1. Bit o' Brit*

                It’s also safe to assume that at any given moment a coworker may need to ask a colleague a work-related question. If client calls require silence they should be taken somewhere silent, not in the middle of multiple people’s workspace.

                1. GrooveBat*

                  The way I read it, though, Brian wasn’t requesting “silence.” He was asking a colleague who has already acknowledged she has a tendency to speak too loudly to speak more quietly.

    3. Claire*

      I have all sorts of feelings about the real reason that companies want workers back in their offices, but in this case LW never indicates that noise was an ongoing issue before she got there. I think she’s right and this environment just isn’t a good fit for her. Sometimes that happens and it’s no one’s fault.

  3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    Open plan offices need to die. They’ve been proven time and again to be terrible in so many ways, and honestly, how expensive is it really to spring for some studs and drywall?

    1. Roland*

      It’s really not the cost of walls, it’s the cost of space. The amount of space in my last in-person job was fine when open but would be terrifyingly claustrophobic if it was enclosed.

      1. JB*

        Thick glass wall are amazing workaround, placed every other row or around departments. Still allows in light, but keeps out noise. Of course there is a cost for this, so it really depends on how open minded a company is to invest in their employees.

    2. Totally Minnie*

      I agree, it’s the open office that’s the problem. If there were more walled off areas or even padded cubicle walls to absorb some sound, this would be less of a problem for everyone.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Fabric/padded cubicle walls. Man, people don’t always like they way they look, but they sure do help to absorb sound so it’s not bouncing off of every hard surface. Carpet helps, too!

    3. turquoisecow*

      Yeah, it sounds like this department has a bunch of people who need to make calls to clients as well as collaborate with each other. It’s hard to do both without someone disrupting someone else. If everyone is going into meeting rooms for calls or impromptu meetings then why don’t they just have offices?

    4. MigraineMonth*

      I worked at an open office that had no HVAC or other white noise, so every squeaky chair could be heard across the department. Everyone just didn’t talk. You would IM the person sitting next to you if you had a question. My desk-mate actually asked me once (in the breakroom, so as not to disturb anyone) if her breathing was too loud and disruptive.

      So yeah, tons of collaboration happening there.

      1. JB*

        My favorite open office hell was a place that had no break room. People were told to take lunch at their desks. We worked with clients across the country so we all had different lunch hours. It was like working in a cafeteria. The most common question my clients asked me was “what” because they couldn’t hear me. The bosses had offices of course and kept their doors closed most of the time because it was too loud otherwise.

  4. scurvycapn*

    Man, if Brian had shushed me like that, I’d have probably responded with, “Oh, so you’re the office snitch!”

    1. SpaceySteph*

      Damn thread error! this was in response to the “why go to in-person work if you can’t have casual chat” comment above

      1. umami*

        The only problem is, OP is loud whether it’s casual chatter or work talk. She really is just not very self-aware, even though she is trying. Which is good! But her follow-up is focusing on everyone else changing their work habits or trying to get the boss to implement rules when only she is generating complaints. I would suggest just take the slight criticism in the moment with grace and understand that Brian is just trying to do his work when he’s asking her to keep it down.

        1. Loulou*

          She’s not very self-aware?? You realize that what we’re reading is OP’s account, right? Like whatever we know about the situation…it’s because OP told us. This comment reads like you believe you have an unmediated view into the office!

  5. Ground Control*

    This was my takeaway! I’m sympathetic to the LW because I’m often accidentally too loud, but there’s so much going on here in an office that no one (i.e., Brian or the LW) actually needs to be working in!

  6. GoLightly*

    Agh, sympathy OP. I was also loudly shushed in my open office this week while talking to a coworker about a work issue. In our case though, none of us can take calls from a meeting room because we do everything through Teams, so I can’t blame my shushing coworker for being frustrated. It’s just a crappy setup.

  7. umami*

    I believe OP was only asked to take client calls in meeting rooms because of her voice volume, and she agreed to do so. She suggested to the boss to make it a rule, but he did not see a need to, so there doesn’t seem to be any such rule in place. The common denominator here is OP – she just seems to have a loud voice and needs to be reminded when others are trying to do their tasks to check herself on occasion. It’s reasonable to mention to someone they are being loud and isn’t something that should be taken so personally. There shouldn’t have to be a rule when only one person is exhibiting the problematic behavior.

    1. JB*

      Yes I see OP as the problem as well. Basically they are expecting people to move from their desks so the OPs loud voice doesn’t disturb them. Why can’t OP move to a room every time they talk? I suppose they will say because it’s inconvenient, but they have no issue making it inconvenient for others just so they can “casual chat”.

      1. Low talker*

        I agree it’s an OP issue, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect OP to send a silent message to coworkers, conveying “Meet me in the conference room so I can speak two sentences to you out loud.” There needs to be some rational understanding of the difference between OP taking a loud client call or talking briefly to a coworker. And OP needs to be reminded to use a quieter tone.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I think “take client meetings in the conference room” is a good practice for an open office plan anyway, if there are enough conference rooms for the need. Background noise is a thing in these layouts.

          OP probably is the worst volume offender but you have to be realistic about expectations in the space.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            This is my biggest pet peeve in my office – most of us take client calls in separate meeting rooms (we even have one-person rooms just for this!). If you’re going to be on a call where you can’t be muted most of the time, take the room. It’s easier for everybody, especially if multiple people in one area have to have work conversations – or are on calls. But don’t get irritated when people are having actual work conversations while you’re trying to talk because you’re the one not making use of the actual dedicated quiet spaces.

            That said, there are times when it’s not possible (a surprise client call that turns into a deep discussion where you don’t have time to move, all the rooms are already busy, the call is 2 hours and you don’t think you’ll need to talk and want to be at your desk to continue working, etc.) and that’s when we all have to understand that the fastest way of getting people’s attention to tell them to be quiet is the best way and not to take it personally. (We usually do a frantic arm wave and point to our headset, or mute ourselves quickly to say, “GUYS. Client call!” But there are lots of possibilities here haha.)

        2. umami*

          I imagine Brian wouldn’t know if the conversation was going to be brief or not, he just was disrupted by OP while he was on the phone and immediately asked her to tone it down. Unfortunately, OP has established a pattern of regularly chit-chatting and being overly loud, so anyone being disrupted can also expect it to continue unless checked quickly. I really do feel for OP because she doesn’t intend to be disruptive, but this has been brought up to her several times and she really is the only one who can fix the situation or just not be upset at people asking her to quiet down.

          1. Beany*

            Semi-serious suggestion: could OP’s boss — or better still OP herself — install a volume monitor on her desk? Apparently there are “sound meter” apps for iOS and Android, but I don’t know how effective they are.

            1. umami*

              Good point – I want to say I remember someone suggesting this a while back for another OP, and they had good results?

              1. Koifeeder*

                It also had good results with me during an apartment dispute about the volume of my washer, though that’s not a work thing.

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        That’s literally not what OP said, so this comment is in extremely bad faith. Brian asked OP to take calls from a meeting room, which she now does. However, Brian isn’t taking calls from a meeting room AND is getting upset when OP is have quick work-related chats with coworkers. There have been studies that hearing a one-side phone call is much more distracting than a conversation because your brain wants to fill in the other side that you can’t hear.

        1. JB*

          It is actually OPs boss who first suggested that OP take calls into a meeting room due to various complaints from others about their social chat and loud voice. So when their loud voice interrupts Brian, instead of OP just taking more quietly they think Brian should just move. Why can’t OP just be more considerate?

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            Because, if the space is available, I think all calls should happen from separate meeting rooms. I think it’s highly inconsiderate of Brian to take lengthy calls from his desk when there are other options available.

            (Signed, someone who works in a completely open office with numerous meeting and phone rooms available and where the culture is to use them for any call or lengthy meeting but where it is common for coworkers to have quick, casual chats now and then in the open.)

            1. Aitch Arr*

              I agree with Happy Meal.

              In fact, at my current employer (5.5 years) and my most recent former employer (8 years), spaces were built out to purposefully include huddle rooms/phone ‘booths’ so employees could take calls away from the open plan cubes.

        2. umami*

          I don’t see where Brian was upset. All OP says is she said something loudly to a coworker and he turned around and asked her to be quiet.

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            Where did OP say that she said something loudly? Just because she switched to whispering doesn’t mean that she was initially loud.

            1. umami*

              It’s a pattern of behavior, and the fact that Brian heard her over his phone call would suggest she said it loud enough for him to pause from his conversation to address it. But true, she did not say that she was loud on that occasion.

              1. Yorick*

                With the information we have, we don’t know if OP is being too loud or if Brian has unreasonable expectations about quiet. What we do know is that Brian’s needs would be better met if he took client calls in a conference room. It’s just not ok to expect OP or anyone else to not say any words in the office ever.

                Another thing to consider here is that OP used to do maybe too much loud non-work related conversation. Now she’s working on that and improving, but Brian may still jump to conclusions when he hears OP talk.

                1. umami*

                  That’s the hardest thing when you establish a pattern of behavior – people will automatically assume you are at fault if someone complains about something you have been known to do. If Brian were writing in, suggesting that he take calls in the meeting room is the obvious solution. But OP is the one asking for input, so I have kept the focus on what would help her, which is to not take it so personally and also be more self-aware in the office.

  8. Lifeandlimb*

    No matter who you think is in the right here, can we all agree that open plan offices kind of set up a lose-lose situation.

    Can we at least go back to something resembling cubicles?

  9. Aaron Read*

    Can anyone, including the OP if they’re reading this, recommend a specific make & model of headphones/headset/earbuds that actually provide real time sidetone? I’ve been looking for them and they’re like unicorns. Worse is that lots of makers SAY they have sidetone but they’re blatantly lying.

  10. umami*

    Just by way of reminder, OP said in the first post: ‘it bothers me that the person who reported my behavior didn’t just nudge me in the moment about it’. I feel like that is what Brian did, but that also seems to have bothered OP.

    1. GoLightly*

      I think what bothered OP is the double standard Brian seems to be enforcing, not the fact that he asked her to be quiet. He could easily take his calls from a meeting room as OP was asked to do, but instead he expects the rest of the room to be silent while he’s on a call. OP was willing to take her calls from a meeting room so as not to disturb others, but it’s not realistic to expect her not to talk to her coworkers at all throughout the day.

      1. Fiddlesticks*

        I don’t think there’s a double standard. OP is loud, Brian is not. OP is disturbing others and keeping them from being able to do their work, Brian is not. Why punish Brian (and everyone else) for OP’s inconsiderate behavior?

        1. GoLightly*

          It’s not inconsiderate to naturally have a louder voice than others. OP can’t help it. She’s doing what she can to modify her behavior. I think that anyone taking calls just has to accept that their coworkers need to talk sometimes and if that’s a problem, the person taking the call can be the one to move.

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            As someone who is soft-spoken and quiet (so I’ve been told), I’m fully on OP’s side. When I speak, my voice sounds like it’s at a fine/typical volume, and it would honestly be impossible for me to regularly speak loud enough so I’m no longer considered quiet but not loud enough to not be yelling.

            1. WillowSunstar*

              I’m naturally quiet but have learned through Toastmasters how to project. However, when I do that, it feels like yelling. So I only really project when giving presentations in front of a group.

          2. umami*

            I definitely agree that she can’t seem to help it. What she can do is manage her feelings when someone tells her she is being loud. It’s disingenuous to say you want to be told about the problem in the moment rather than someone going to the boss, but then you get upset when someone does exactly that and look for ways they were in the wrong instead.

            1. GoLightly*

              Again, I don’t think that’s why OP was upset. My read is that OP was upset because when she has to take on a call, she has been told to go to a meeting room so as no to disturb others. However, here is Brian, disturbing others by shushing their work conversations when he has to take a call. That is the double standard.

              1. umami*

                OP was asked nicely by Brian if she would do that, and she agreed. What OP reports here is that Brian took a call, and apparently was quiet enough that she didn’t even realize it, and she said something that caused him to interrupt his call to ask her to be quiet while he was on the call. Their behavior is different, so there really isn’t a double standard. I really think the issue is she is over-sensitive to being told she is being loud, rather than just saying ‘oops, sorry!’ I’m not sure in the long run that it’s very helpful to the OP to give weight to her suggestion that everyone take all their calls in meeting rooms ; it isn’t likely to even be possible logistically for 10 or so people to use only 2 rooms to conduct their business throughout the day when literally only one person so far has exhibited the problematic behavior. I get that OP is upset at being shushed, I really do! But what else should someone do in the moment if their phone call with a client is being disrupted?

              2. Yorick*

                Thank you. I also commented that shushing coworkers when they’re having a work-related conversation is a form of disturbing/disrupting people.

                1. umami*

                  True – we don’t really know that Brian had any idea what the conversation was about, just that he was on the phone and paused to ask her/them to be quieter. I’ve had that happen in my workplace – we often get visitors and there can be lively conversations going on out of the blue while I’m on a call. Fortunately, I have an office door I can close so that I can block out the noise. But if I didn’t, I would definitely step out and ask them to quiet down because I’m on a call, whether the conversation is work-related or not isn’t really at issue. I would be surprised to learn someone found that offensive, but YMMV.

                2. biobotb*

                  But it doesn’t sound like he prevented them from speaking, just that he wanted them to speak more quietly.

                3. Snell*

                  @biobotb We don’t know whether he wanted them to speak more quietly or not at all, because he didn’t use words, he shushed. In any case, it’s not reasonable to expect a communal work area to only consider the needs of one employee, which is where people are taking issue with Brian’s behavior.

          3. JB*

            I think anyone over the age of 4 needs to learn how to have an inside voice. It’s possible to talk softer if someone cares enough to put effort into doing so.

            1. Zorak*

              Yes, saying that someone can’t help but have a loud voice may be true in the sense that they don’t currently have the skills to get quieter, but not true in the sense that they never could if they worked on it. It does sound like OP is working on it and that’s great, it’s just still a work in progress.

              But “loud voice” isn’t some immutable category of voice, it’s just someone’s baseline habit.

              1. JB*

                I don’t think they are working on it though. When someone complains about their volume, they run to the boss and request that the people they are disrupting just leave the vicinity. And I’m top of having a loud voice they also like to social chat. Omg.

                1. Snell*

                  LW is working on it. See: LW and Brian’s initial interaction, where Brian asked LW to use a separate room for calls, and LW obliged, and apologized for any past inconvenience. Brian asked LW to leave the vicinity to be less disruptive, but LW can’t expect the same from Brian? That’s not it.

                  And you’re hung up on the possible social talk LW may or may not be engaging in. When Brian shushed LW, LW had been talking about work. If you only expect LW to talk socially, it doesn’t matter if LW actually improves or not, since you’ve written them off as “they like to social chat” and nothing more.

            2. Mustard*

              This comment strikes me as very unkind and, as others have pointed out, it is simply not always easy for people yo alter their natural voice tone. My voice is soft – it takes active and concerted effort for me to change that.

              More to the point – people going to a quiet space when they have scheduled calls with clients seems like a win for everyone.

        2. Yorick*

          Going to a conference room is not a punishment. It’s really the only reasonable way for Brian to solve this problem.

          1. GrooveBat*

            It doesn’t seem like Brian has the problem here, though. It’s not like he is regularly shushing other people or has a problem with his co-workers in general; it’s just that OP was being too loud (a problem she has already acknowledged).

            1. BluntBunny*

              Shushing is not something adults should be doing to other adults it’s patronising and rude. He should have moved to the meeting rooms, if they were full just take of headphones and just say you are in a call for the next hour and could they be a take their conversation somewhere else. If there is a small break out area OP could go have a coffee with her coworker.

      2. umami*

        I definitely agree that having calls be taken in meeting rooms is reasonable, but OP isn’t saying that Brian being loud or disruptive. She only noted that the meeting rooms were empty and he could have used one, but there is no rule around that and she has been told on multiple occasions that she is being too loud for others. I wouldn’t make an office rule when only one person is at issue; to me, that is poor leadership.

        1. Yorick*

          Brian is disruptive, though – he shushed them when they were having work-related conversation. This undoubtedly disrupted the conversation and will make OP feel less comfortable having reasonable conversations with coworkers in the future. It’s really important to consider that we don’t have enough info to say that OP was being too loud.

          1. umami*

            We have a past history of complaints and her own acknowledgement that she is often speaking loudly. I guess I am not seeing the disruption in being asked to quiet down when someone is on the phone. She was still able to have her conversation in a quieter voice, and that was the end of it. I’m not sure why she is still upset about it when she knows she can be loud and might need to be reminded on occasion.

  11. Devin Singer*

    It’s just not always possible for people’s voices not to carry. It may be partly a volume thing (and it is entirely possible that a little bit of hearing loss is making it hard for the OP to judge how loud she’s being,) it may be that her voice is just the right pitch to resonate in the space and she’d have to speak at an unnatural level for it not to cut right through people’s heads. (This is much more often true of women’s voices, for physics reasons as much as social ones.) I’m more inclined to give the benefit of the doubt to the OP – she knows it’s a problem, she’s trying to manage it, but she can’t seem to have normal work conversations without complaints, which suggests that the expectations aren’t meetable. It sounds to me like the office setup doesn’t allow for a pretty normal range of human voices, which is a problem with the setup, not the OP.

  12. Jocasta Nu*

    It’s possible you’re not actually louder but that your voice carries better than most. I struggle with the same, and after a lifetime of being shushed even when speaking softly, have learned to pitch my voice differently and soften my diaphragm in many indoor situations. That same ability makes me gold when speaking to our older, harder of hearing clients, though. I’m clearly not shouting yet they can hear me, which they appreciate. I’m also the goto crowd attention getter and speaker when the mic fails person.

    1. umami*

      I also have a voice that carries, and I present a lot so it’s hard to remember to tone it down. So even if I am having meetings in my office that are not confidential, I close the door so I don’t disrupt others. It’s really just some self-awareness and taking simple steps to try to avoid bothering others, which is what I recommend for the OP rather than getting upset whenever the issue comes up.

      1. Vintage+Lydia*

        She does not have the option to just close the door when she wants to have a work conversation with her deskmates.

  13. Hudson*

    I don’t have any advice because I’m also incredibly loud without meaning to be. Lots of my coworkers take meetings at their desks and the sound genuinely doesn’t bother me, but I’ll take meetings in other rooms and people have reported they can hear me through the walls. I hope by being sunny and cheerful in other ways it makes up for being louder than anyone else in the office.

  14. tone deaf tone police*

    Just popping in to SHUSH!! all the OP haters. Sounds like Brian has a case of BEC in addition to being a jerk.

    1. Casper Lives*

      Brian doesn’t sound like a jerk to me. We can agree some comments are too harsh toward LW without saying Brian is a jerk!

      Both LW and Brian seem like normal, non jerks who have a normal work conflict that arises when many people are shoved in an open office space. We know LW is trying because we have her POV. LW and Brian don’t appear to communicate directly, based on LW’s reports of them going to their manager. I don’t recall anything about them having a conversation about the issue.

      Brian probably doesn’t know LW has ADHD. From his POV, she’s interrupting work calls by being loud and chooses not to stop it. From LW’s POV, she’s being targeted for her natural volume. Everyone else can talk without disrupting others. She can’t but is working on that and has smartly moved to conference rooms for client calls.

  15. Tiger Snake*

    Years ago I had a particularly unique job, which meant a part of my duties was to be a public servant who was leading forums with industry leaders and other members of the public.
    These were not wholly positive forums – it was also where guidance on new government requirements an legislation would be presented (not the same, but think like when the GDPR was released). New legislation meant businesses had to spent money to comply, which they felt very strongly about arguing about. Some strongly, in fact, that if they failed to convince me that I was somehow wrong and they were right – they were already worked up enough to hurl many insults and abuse my way.

    Honestly, I didn’t mind the insults, which weren’t as common as I make it sound. The stress was because I was dealing with people who were very financially motivated to try and convince me that I was stupid and they were very smart and therefore knew better than me – the mental taxation was in the arguments and trying to untwist their logic to re-inforce the actual requirements was the hard part. It was a very mentally demanding position, and I was the only one who had these responsibilities in the office.

    The problem: my desk was in the same bay to the most extroverted person in the office. This meant that, even when the discussion was about work, their voice carried and everyone else would come to get involved. Their chats got very, very loud.

    Loud enough that I had people on the phone complaining. Since this was all in the IT field, I couldn’t go to a meeting room; we were using screen sharing long before covid, and had not been given a work laptop. I had no alternative to move to.

    I tried – oh how I tried – to get people’s attention and make them be quiet. They wouldn’t notice my handwaves. They spoke loudly enough that if I put myself on mute to ask them to quiet down, they couldn’t hear me over how loud they were, that’s how big a problem this was. Since I was presenting I couldn’t waste time to repeat it indefinately; any time I wasn’t speaking, I was being argued with and needed to listen.
    Email reminders ahead of time, texts and paper messages at the time all went unread and forgotten.
    Moving desks for either of us was not an option, for other reasosn that boil down to physical accomodations.
    My manager was useless.

    What I had to resort to was throwing a stuffed animal onto the ground, and then pointing furiously at the break room in the shocked silence of ‘did she really just do that’.

    It was not professional. It probably felt demeaning to them. But it worked, and nothing else ever had.

    So while I understand the OP feels slighted, singled out and demeaned – I have a great deal of sympathy for Brian.

    1. JB*

      I too am Team Brian. I once worked in a place that was so social, people were shushing ME while on work calls. The frustration was real.

      1. ButtonUp*

        Yes it’s exceedingly clear you’re on team Brian! I think both their perspectives are sympathetic but at this is point I wish you would leave her alone already! Sometimes letter writers read the comments. It’s not necessary to be say the same critical stuff over and over and over.

  16. Koifeeder*

    I get that OP is not having a proportionate emotional reaction to this situation (hey, OP, did you ever look into RSD as was brought up in the thread?), some of y’all need to cool it with acting like OP is some sort of malicious, lazy, loudness generator that doesn’t care enough to behave better than a toddler (no, no one’s said that exact sentence, but some of y’all are millimeters away from it). It’s not constructive in dealing with the OP’s situation, it’s not going to make people want to write in if the commentariat is going to treat them like this, and it’s a really messed up way to treat an OP who was very clear that they have ADHD.

      1. Mustard*

        You have made many, many negative comments directed towards OP and you seem unwilling to consider any other points of view.

        OP is clearly making an effort – when she was aware Brian was on a call, she clearly did her best to ensure she did not interrupt or disrupt him. However, I think that it is not a fair expectation for OP to be walking on eggshells at all times and Brian taking his calls in the meeting room seems like a very simple, mutually beneficial solution to this.

        You also have no idea of the relative loudness of her voice or whether Brian is looking for an unreasonable degree of quiet.

  17. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    We have an open plan office, and there are safety reasons for that (not as relevant post-Covid b/c we’re not bringing the public to our desks yet).

    We struggle with volume a LOT. I’m now in the market for some soft items to use as sound baffles — I think there’s going to be a quilt on my wall and some plants on the shelf between me and the loudest one in the room. The biggest challenge will be to find bulky enough plants that I won’t kill immediately.

  18. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

    You can’t do Teams calls from a conf room? Is it because y’all are using desktop machines? (I’m so used to workplaces where the standard is laptops, at least partly just because they’re smaller.)

  19. Kella*

    I’m surprised by some of the commenters here saying that “shushing” isn’t inherently bad. In my mind, when you make the “shhhhh” noise at someone, there is an implication that a. that person has done something wrong and b. they should’ve known not to be so loud at that time. There are many ways to communicate “Can you please keep it down” without shushing someone.

    To me, the crux of the problem OP faced with Brian is not that a double standard is occurring with regards to the meeting room, but that OP would be happy to consciously work to reduce her volume in the moment *if she knows that a video call is happening right next to her*. We don’t know whether the volume she was speaking at when Brian shushed her was a normal volume but too loud to be next to a video call, or if it was a louder-than-average volume. But either way, it seems her upset stems from the fact that Brian acted frustrated about OP being too loud for his video call, without ever communicating to OP that a video call was happening. OP had to whisper to be quiet enough for Brian’s needs, and OP objected to the idea that she needed to be whispering with her coworkers at all times.

    If Brian wants to take his video calls in a very quiet environment without communicating to the people around him to be especially quiet during that time, then him using the meeting room is the logical answer. Otherwise, Brian could just let the people nearby know he’s starting a call and ask for extra volume moderation during that time.

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