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I work as a contractor for a web development company. Where I sit I am sometimes negatively distracted by the music. I'm not certain of the details, but the speaker is built into the ceiling but I think a collection of people who sit in the area use bluetooth to control the volume and song being played (presumably from their phone or computer).

The music distracts me because it sometimes is

  1. too loud
  2. the choice of songs are sometimes annoying and not really something I can listen to in the background
  3. the speaker is on one side of me and I never noticed this before but actually find it really irritating hearing music on one side but not the other

I noticed that the people near the speaker often wear headphones so I wonder if they don't like the music and who exactly is playing it? The other day everyone had left and I was staying late to try to finish something and the music was really irritating.

I'm relatively new to the job and don't work with the people who seem to be in control of the music. I work closely with one other person in the area. My boss is in a different city.

What's the best way to address this? I tried listening to my own music on headphones but that interferes with my ability to quickly answer questions my colleague in front of me asks.

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Your choices are in order of my preference:

  1. Directly address the people. "Your music is really distracting. We can hear it really well. Can you please stop?" In this example, if they said anything other than "yes, we'll stop", I'd just leave without saying anything and pursue a different option. To boost your confidence you could take a coworker or two with you to the other floor.

  2. Indirectly address the people. Tell your boss: "I can constantly hear music on another floor. I can't work. What should I do?" Your boss should do something.

  3. Get some noise-cancelling headphones. I usually play white noise to cover up loud noises like conversations when I'm working.

  4. Do nothing. (Wouldn't recommend.)

Handling it yourself is the ideal option. It's good practice for you, that way you're not dependent on management to handle conflict for you.

This impacts other people. Hence going to your boss is preferred to headphones.

  • 2
    This seems needlessly aggressive and likely to escalate the situation/tempers. I'd chose a gentler set of words and ask nicely. – Stun Brick Aug 23 at 7:39
  • Good, especially item 2. Talk to the one who signs your contracting time cards, and ask if the music can be turned down so you can be more productive. Be polite. I bet this is not the first time this has come up. Item 3 is good too. – O. Jones Aug 23 at 14:17
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If you have the choice of being constantly distract by music that you didn't choose, and not being able to quickly answer questions from your colleague, then the number one thing to stop is the constant distraction.

So put up some decent closed noise cancelling headphones. With mine, I can just about hear the weekly fire alarm test. If your colleague has a quick question then (1) they should really think hard about whether they should interrupt you, because interruptions destroy your focus on the task at hand for at least 15 minutes, and (2) they may have to get out of their chair, walk up to you, and get your attention. If they are not willing to do that, then the question wasn't important in the first place.

You should also bring up the matter with your manager at the earliest point possible, because this music is damaging to your company and if you can't do anything about it, it is your manager's job to do that.

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    Wow you seriously have a fire alarm test every week? – AffableAmbler Jun 9 '18 at 15:08
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    Why the assertion that the music is damaging to the company? – tddmonkey Jun 9 '18 at 15:16
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    1. Yes, seriously. Fortunately it is announced about 15 seconds ahead and you see everyone scrambling for their headphones who isn't wearing them yet, because this is a Fire Alarm That Won't Be Ignored. 2. Absolutely, since at least one employee is working less efficiently then they could. – gnasher729 Jun 9 '18 at 18:51
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    Indeed. At least one. And quite likely most employees. Music is fine when you do not have to think (e.g. when gardening, lugging stones etc. But in any workplace where you have to work with a brain it totally kills productivity). – Hennes Jun 15 '18 at 20:08
  • @Hennes "But in any workplace where you have to work with a brain it totally kills productivity" My personal experience as a senior-dev is the following: When I have to listen to pop-songs in my office I get distracted and annoyed, whilst when listening to instrumental jazz music I get very motivated and creative - but I guess every individual is reacting differently to various kinds of 'noise'.. – iLuvLogix Aug 23 at 10:54
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I think a collection of people who sit in the area use blutooth to control the volume and song being played

The speaker's location in the ceiling, and that fact that it plays when no one else is there, makes me suspect that it's a piped music system, such as Muzak. Back in the 1930's there was a theory that music should be piped into office spaces to improve worker efficiency. These things used to be ubiquitous in large open offices, medical offices, grocery stores, and elevators. They started becoming less common in the 2000s, but there are still a lot of them around. A lot of them now simply get their programming from a local radio station, rather than a private source like Muzak.

It may be that none of your co-workers has anything to do with this annoying music. Talk to your manager about it. It may be an "amenity" of the building that everybody has simply been ignoring. If I'm right, your manager should be able get in touch with the building facilities manager and get it turned off.

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Quite odd situation that you don't seem to know how to control it and where the music comes from... ask. No need to feel shy about this. Also, see if it could be moved away from you.

Ask into the room if "we could pick some other music" or even if they mind to switch it off for a while as it distracts you.

Normally, if someone brought a speaker/radio they generally would ask around if people mind. Should the music come from a PA system you inquire who is responsible for it,chat with them.

There shouldn't be some sort of constant background music carpet at your workplace unless you work in an elevator or a club.

Music tastes and preferences on working in silence or with music are very subjective and nobody should have an issue with it if you feel disturbed or distracted by it.

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