Office Coach: Playing politics could smooth ruffled feathers

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Question: My cubicle is right beside the office of a high-level manager who is constantly making some kind of noise. "Jackie" is a loud, gregarious woman who spends most of her day on the phone or chatting with colleagues. She frequently hums along with the radio, which is always on.

After a year of this, I politely asked if she could at least tone down the humming. She got upset and yelled at me, which brought me to tears. Jackie later apologized profusely, but I refused to accept her apology. I have complained to her boss, but that didn't help. What should I do now?

Answer: For starters, you should pay less attention to the noise and more attention to the politics. So far, you have insulted a high-level manager, rejected her apology and complained to management about her personal habits. This is hardly the best way to handle someone in a power position.

You must also understand that Jackie is not doing anything wrong. In fact, your own sensitivity to sound is also contributing to this little drama. Some people are not bothered by background noise, because they possess an innate ability to screen out sound. Others, like yourself, are acutely aware of every noise in the room.

Had you been more politically astute, you would have recognized Jackie's apology as the perfect opening for a calm, friendly discussion of this issue. Guilty feelings about her inappropriate outburst would have made her more receptive to your concerns. Unfortunately, your sulky response negated that advantage and the ill-advised complaint to her boss only made things worse.

If you approach Jackie again, start by offering your own request for forgiveness.

If you can shift the dialogue from personal criticism to a plea for assistance, Jackie might agree to help you find a reasonable solution to this problem.


Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach. Visit www.yourofficecoach.com.

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