The Loudmouth of an Open‑Plan Office
PROBLEM: I work in an open-plan office and there is a woman who takes long and very loud phone calls without removing to a meeting room. It’s distracting and unpleasant, but I don’t know her very well and so don’t know how to address it.
KB: Dear Timid, have you tried the bitchy stare-down already? I have spent a lifetime perfecting my technique, and it’s quite effective if delivered convincingly.
If you’re not yet sure of your ability to deliver withering stares, you can try the passive aggressive approach: give her a taste of her own medicine, not-so-subtly. The next time you have an important call, go stand right next to her desk, or pace up and down just behind her chair; talk loudly and gesticulate wildly. If she gives you the death-stare, you can innocently ask, “Oh, does it bother you when people take phone calls just behind your ears while you’re trying to work? Silly me, I didn’t think you’d mind.”
If those tactics fail, you could just be an adult about it and say, “Excuse me, but it’s a little disruptive when you take calls right here; would you mind stepping into a conference room?” (While this technique is likely to be the most effective, it’s certainly the least fun.)
LG: I think we need more information. Are these personal or work calls? If they are personal, I don’t know why you’re complaining. That must enliven the mid-afternoon drag. Or, at the very least, it’s fodder for gossiping with your coworkers about her (you know you do).
If they are work calls, insider information is even better. Use it to get ahead.
If you can’t tell which, start a betting pool with your colleagues as to the identity of the name she uses most. My money is on an arms smuggler who uses corporate jargon as code. (‘Leverage’ = grenades. You’ll see.) But if she really is his paid assassin… watch out.
SH: Come on, cut the woman some slack. Maybe she’s a technology dinosaur who can either remember how to make calls or be courteous. Why don’t you forward her the meeting-room schedule with a sweet flowchart on how to book a slot?
If she doesn’t get the hint, use her limited technical expertise to advantage. Tell her pacing up and down the office disrupts network reception, and that she should sit down, while gently opening the conference room door for her.
MM: Well, considering you didn’t find a way to address this immediately, I’m assuming that you either don’t work on very tight deadlines, or you aren’t as distracted as you are annoyed. Good for you!
I say fight fire with fire. Her calls distract you? Distract her right back. Keep a slice of cake/ stick of gum / any other shareable treat at your desk to offer when she’s on her next phone call. When she passes your desk, simply turn around with a smile on your face and a plate in your hands and offer your snack: “Cake?” You shouldn’t have to do it more than once.
If you want to turn it up a notch, throw it an extra spicy snack mix one day. Even if it isn’t consumed, the strong aroma will have the desired effect. She might think you’re strange but she’ll definitely stay away from your desk area.
First World Problems is a funny advice column wherein The Swaddle Team weighs in on their own and others’ ‘problems.’ Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @The_Swaddle with a #FWP hashtag if you’ve broken a nail, felt a little blue, yellow or green lately, or had a strange encounter of the any-numbered kind. We’ll help you sort it out.