You're trying to get some work done, but all you can hear is your voluminous co-worker "yalking," or yell-talking. This employee's speaker definitely goes up to 11. Or 12. Or 20. The knob must be broken too, because he or she seems unable to control his or her volume levels. No matter how many times you politely ask this co-worker to pipe down, he or she never does. No, this co-worker just keeps right on talking. Or yalking. Loudly.
You're starting to wonder if even the elephants can hear the sonorous siren song of this cacophonous co-worker. One thing is for sure, though: This real-life Loud Howard is really starting to get on your nerves.
This topic is on my mind because we've been working all summer with our children on volume control. They both have big voices that could probably be heard just fine across an empty stadium. We're trying to teach them early on that having a big voice is a big responsibility, because those "talks too much in class" teacher comments could eventually turn into distraught co-workers going online looking for helpful advice.
My spouse was blessed with a big, deep voice that he paid for dearly all through grade school. The classmates sitting around him could be chattering away, but as soon as he said something the teacher would look up and tell him to be quiet. It wasn't that he was talking more than anyone else; it was that he was the one the teacher could hear loud and clear. Do it again, and I'll move your desk to the corner of the room and you can look at the wall all day. Ah, the stone-age 1970s, when public humiliation was a staple of any teacher's arsenal.
He's since learned how to modulate the sound of his voice to fit the room he's in at any given time.
Let me say that as someone who can occasionally struggle to be heard over a casual dining restaurant's blaring sound system, I really do admire people who have a made-for-the-stage voice. It's a great trait to possess, and a powerful tool to have in one's toolbox. They'll never have to suffer someone shouting CAN YOU SPEAK UP? WE CAN'T HEAR YOU! from the back of a crowded conference room. Even when the mic goes out, the show can still go on.
Maybe this is why most business articles talk about how to speak up instead of how to quiet down. The trend toward open office environments and stacked cubicles, however, is making loud volumes a real problem in the workplace. It's getting damn near impossible to get away from co-workers with quiet voices, much less the ones with loud voices. Shh, can't you see that I'm trying to think here!?
Consider this whole post a shout out to all of our made-for-radio workplace friends. We like you, we really do, but we'd like you even more if you'd learn to pipe down a bit and have some mercy on our poor ears. Here are five tips for loud people at work:
1. Strive for greater self-awareness. Think about your volume at all times and try to modulate it to the room you're in. A library, a museum and an upscale restaurant all require a softer tone than the tarmac of an airport, a South Beach nightclub, or a rock concert.
2. Never, ever think you can whisper. Your best whisper will never truly be a whisper, so don't kid yourself that you can use your "quiet voice" to whisper to the person next to you during a presentation. You don't have a quiet voice. Know that PRETTY MUCH EVERYONE IN THE ROOM will be able to hear you even when you think you're being quiet, which brings me to Tip #3...
3. Never get too personal in public. You might want to spill about your fight with your sister, your menstrual cramps, your parking ticket and your friend's STD diagnosis, but please think twice. Is this something everyone in the back of the office needs to know, stat? A little less TMI and a little more self-editing would be appreciated.
4. Don't yell across a crowded room. YOU DON'T HAVE TO BECAUSE EVERYONE CAN HEAR YOU AT NORMAL VOLUME! Consider yourself lucky. And for God's sake, no screaming or cackling. Especially in an office.
5. Use proper phone etiquette. Imagine the person on the other end holding the phone about six inches away from his or her head as you speak, because this may be exactly what's happening. Think of the phone as a microphone that's amplifying your voice. Also be aware that the people around the person you're speaking to might be able to more than hear everything you're saying. Adjust the topic accordingly.
Can you hear us now? Good. Now be quieter.