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Burp, Slurp! Seven Tips For Dealing with Noisemakers At Work

We're trying to concentrate in our 1'x 2' patch of workplace real estate, but the only thing on our minds is our co-worker's constant thumb drumming. Let's all chew loudly on ice while we hammer out a solution to our co-worker's non-verbal noise!

We've all suffered in close quarters alongside the physically-loud co-worker. This co-worker isn't a yapper; she's a pencil tapper!

Or an unrepentant pen clicker. Or a chronic nail clipper. Or a squeaky chair rocker. Or a frequent farter. Or a disgruntled grunter. Or an angst-ridden exhaler. Or a desk-bound soup slurper. Or a stentorian spit swisher. Or a boisterous knee bouncer. Or a fragrant flip-flop footer. Or a soda-imbibing burper.

Or a baroque nose blower. Or a clamorous keyboard user. Or a jingly-jangly jewelry wearer. Or a deafening drawer slammer. Or a brazen bubble gum smacker. Or a never-ending knuckle cracker. Or a potato chip snacker. Or a post-chip finger licker.

Ew. Whatever the noise, it rises above the din of the office den to leave us slightly knackered by the end of the work day. Could you please stop doing that and just be quiet?!

What starts out as a innocuous habit in a new co-worker can quickly morph into a squeaking, thwacking daily productivity problem. We try not to let this co-worker's non-verbal noise get to us, but over time it becomes highly grating and nearly impossible to ignore.

It's the little things that get to us, particularly in today's cavernous open office environment, where the walls that once separated us from our co-worker's constant body rock have mostly come down in the name of sleek, modern office design. Let me hear your body talk, indeed.

Before we continue, it's important to note that some non-verbal noises may be indicative of a health condition. Perhaps our co-worker has a nasal issue, a digestive issue, restless leg syndrome, or another condition that makes them a bit more noisy than the rest. If so, then please tread lightly with care, compassion and caution because our co-worker may already be highly aware of his or her non-verbal noise level. Be kind and considerate.

How should we handle the physically-loud work colleague of the constant drawer-slamming, gum-smacking, knuckle-cracking variety, however? In other words, noise that the employee should, we assume, be able to control?

The path of least resistance is to suggest that we "simply ignore it and pretend it's not there." Well, we've tried that and it doesn't work! Here are seven tips for addressing a co-worker's constant taps, slurps and burps:

1. Set up a makeshift partition. Too bad walls are going the way of the dodo, because they can do wonders for blocking out noise at work. We'll have to find a makeshift solution that utilizes plants, posters, cabinets, sticks, hay, mud -- whatever works. Of course, management might not approve. If the boss had to hear what we must hear, however, then she would be using the poster from last week's conference as a makeshift cubicle wall, too.

2. Get earplugs or headphones. We risk looking anti-social around our teammates, but it's all in the name of concentration and rising productivity, isn't it? Earplugs and headphones do work to ease the problem. Of course, our boss is going to wonder why we're wearing them, so it might not be worth the risk of having to explain as the never-ending knuckle cracker does his thing.

3. Find something else to focus on. It might be meditative breathing, a favorite song in our head, quietly tapping our foot to our own drummer -- anything that draws our attention away from the noise so we can concentrate on the work. Slam! Was that a filing cabinet door? Whew, we didn't hear that one coming! Well, deep breathing doesn't work for sudden noises, but it could come in very handy when our co-worker returns from break with a giant bag of Bugles and a 20-oz. bottle of soda. Ready, set, breathe in, breathe out...

4. Speak with the noisy employee. Ah, now we come right down to it: The most obvious solution of all, but often the hardest one to put into action because how, exactly, do we tell a co-worker to stop making non-verbal noise without creating a bigger problem? First, remember to be kind and diplomatic, and employ the words "please" and "thank you." Tell the employee how the noise has become a productivity issue, and how we'd appreciate more noise compliance on his or her part. Also, we should ask if we have any noise problems that grate on this co-worker. We might be taken aback at the answer. But when I chew gum, I'm QUIET about it! Uh-huh.

5. Speak with management. It's always best to work this problem out one-on-one with the offending co-worker without involving management. Most employees will appreciate the opportunity to work out morale problems on the down low without a manager in the middle. Elevating the issue should be a last resort, especially if the office spit swisher is the boss's special snowflake. We'll have to decide if it's worth complaining -- and worth losing our co-worker's trust forever -- which brings me to Tip #6...

6. Relocate to another work space. The grass is always greener, especially way over there, far away from the chronic nail clipper! It seems so near, yet so far as another nearby co-worker farts on the quarter-hour like a foghorn. Perhaps we can disguise our sudden willingness to relocate as a creativity and productivity issue? A change of scenery could do us good. Let me know if it works. If our workplace doesn't offer permanent desk space, then problem solved! Simply sit somewhere else next time.

7. See the positive side. No matter where we go, there we are. We'll run into the same problems over and over again. If it's not the noisy noodle bowl inhaler, it's the fragrant flip-flop footer or the jingly-jangly jewelry wearer. Different face, same problem. Focus on the noisy co-worker's many positive qualities, and look on the bright side: Our friendly, finger-licking co-worker is always offering us potato chips! That's nice. We might politely decline before offing this co-worker the gift of watermelon-scented hand sanitizer. Have you heard that the job market is improving?

In sum, we're noisy because we're human. We have to accommodate each other's non-verbal body noise on some level, and make sure that we're not expecting too much in terms of complete quiet. It simply isn't possible in the modern office, the library, the movie theater, a yoga class, an upscale restaurant, or anywhere else these days. (Burp.)

See? We can, and we will, navigate the architecturally-abysmal, 21st-Century workplace together! I'm not sure we've hammered out a solution here, but we've made some noise on the topic. It's something to chew on, anyway, preferably with our mouths closed. Now let's pipe down and try to concentrate, shall we?

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