Office Coach: Control reaction to noisy co-worker

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Question: I share an office with a woman who makes all kinds of irritating noises. She is constantly coughing, burping and clearing her throat. I have mentioned this problem in a nice way, but she continues to do it. Our supervisor has not been helpful at all.

I know I should not let this get to me, but these sounds are so disruptive that I can't concentrate on my work. After listening to her for eight hours, I go home stressed and angry every day. I am about to lose my mind. What can I do?

Answer: While these ongoing physical rumblings could certainly be annoying, I'm afraid the real issue is your overreaction to them. If you are allowing this rather minor issue to make you "stressed and angry every day," then you are really blowing it out of proportion.

You may not realize that one contributing factor in this situation is your own sensitivity to sound. Physiologically, people vary quite a bit in their ability to screen out background noise. Some can easily ignore it, while others, such as yourself, are acutely aware of every sound in the room.

If your office mate was playing a radio or using a speakerphone, you could reasonably ask her to reduce the volume, but these bodily responses are largely beyond her control. The key to serenity, therefore, is learning to manage your own emotional reactions, because right now you are primed to be angry at the first hint of a cough.

To distract yourself, try using headphones or playing a radio at low volume. When you hear noises emanating from the other side of the room, just shift your attention to the music. If you keep this up, it will eventually become a habit and you will be able to go home in a calmer state of mind.

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Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of "Secrets to Winning at Office Politics." Get free coaching tips at www.yourofficecoach.com.


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