8

We work in a quite noisy place where speaking is not prohibited. Moreover, the operations we do are not quiet at all. Some coworkers are eating, listening to music, talking, etc. during the day. It's allowed, though.

We were speaking (in a low tone voice) when one of our coworkers shushed us in a rude way, like:

"Shut up, your chattering gives me a headache!"

I think he used the situation, because he is older than us (he's not superior, though) and there were no others to shut him up in return. He is known there as the biggest yeller.

We are new there and we didn't want to start from being rude. How to react?

[edited]: We are not office workers. Tasks we do are closer to manual labor and don't require concentration. Besides, operations themselves are noisy, as I've said already, so music (without headphones) helps to ignore these sounds. If a sound of human speech is painful and distracting, how did he end up in a place where something always makes noise? So I'm definitely think that he was just being rude and bossy.

  • Maybe you were too loud or you talk too much... – Paracosmiste Jun 22 at 14:02
  • People listening to music without headphones in the office? Which country is it? I have not seen it in 20 years now. – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 22 at 14:42
  • 1
    Curious about the location. "Shut up" I would consider extremly rude to the point that it would get you a reply, while "chattering" is just so quaint! – gnasher729 Jun 24 at 21:22
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The fact you're new there is important - assuming you want to stay there, and this doesn't turn into a frequent occurrence, I'd simply shrug it off. If you start making a fuss, then rightly or wrongly, you'll be deemed as the one who's not a good team player (especially if the other guy has been there for years already.)

If it keeps happening, then you can start responding with something akin to:

Ben, I don't mind you asking us to be quiet, but I'd appreciate it if you could be a little more polite about it.

...just make sure that if he reacts angrily, you stay calm, don't escalate, and have the correct version of events to hand in case it's something that he escalates with his manager.

Beyond that, you can of course go to your manager, but I'd treat that as a position of last resort while you're still becoming established.

7

We are new there and we didn't want to start from being rude. How to react?

If this is the first time that has happened, the best that you could do is to stay quiet. Do not react impulsively and adhere to the slightly impolite request.

There are a number of variables involved here. You are new and you haven't got the chance or time to know your coworker better. You don't know for sure if this is his general nature. There's also a possibility that he is simply having a bad day.

By not reacting, you handle the situation in a very graceful manner. The coworker may eventually realize that he wasn't very polite, may feel a tinge of guilt and is more likely to refrain from such occurrences in the future. Although he was impolite, by not responding, you have set a good example by respecting his desire.

With passing time, you will get chances to know each other further under semi-formal settings. Once the ice breaking has happened, and the two of you become comfortable, I am certain he will refrain from repeating such incidents.

If the behaviour continues, at least you'd be better positioned to talk about it with him directly.

2

Offer your co-worker some feedback. The behavior you’re describing is an attempt at communication, but in an unacceptable way.


In the moment, acknowledge the comment and let it be. Perhaps reply by saying:

“Thank you for letting us know. We’ll do our best not to disturb you.”

Later, discuss your colleague’s behavior in a point of feedback with them. Ask for 15 minutes for a feedback conversation - perhaps:

“Hi ____, do you have 15 minutes today to catch up, perhaps over coffee? I’m curious if you have any feedback for me and would like to offer you some as well.”

In your conversation, offer a point of feedback that:

  1. Describes the behavior you observed
  2. Describes the impact that behavior had on you
  3. Offers a more desirable alternative

E.g.:

“(1) Last week, another colleague and I were chatting close to your desk. You asked us to stop, but lead with ‘Shut up.’ (2) I understood that you were asking for quiet, but I felt very surprised and jarred by the way you asked. (3) In the future, perhaps you could ask us for quiet by saying something like ‘Guys, do you mind moving the conversation to the break room? I’m struggling to concentrate.’”

Your colleague could be very accepting and appreciative of the feedback, or may be very defensive. Regardless, don’t push the subject past getting your point of feedback across. You can politely listen, but you don’t need to engage in any argument.

Continue to offer feedback as long as the behavior continues. If it becomes a persistent issue, consider enlisting your supervisor for help.

  • Wouldn’t hurt to avoid conversations near their desk also, they are clearly bothered by the noise, and while they made a rude request if you were actually bothering them it was an unreasonable one to make. – Donald Jun 22 at 12:46
0

Ask HR. They make policy.

Do not ask them about this particular incident, but as you are new ask them to clarify what the office policy is on talking, making noise, listening to music (I presume via headphones) and so on.

You have not indicated a country so it's also hard to give advice that might not clash with a cultural norm.

As a general rule it's a good idea for everyone in an office or factory to make whatever effort they can to minimize noise. In some places (like a noisy plant and machinery setting) that's just not practical, but if you're in a place where you can listen to music then certainly it's just common sense not to make distracting noise that affects other people. Even in noisy settings adding more noise isn't good.

The incident you mention could have a hundred interpretations ranging from "was joking" through "a helpful warning" all the way up to "angry colleague under great stress" and ending in "arrogant madman". You are new and will have to pay attention to office politics and culture for a while before reading too much (or the wrong thing) into this incident.

That said, I'd tell you to keep the noise down too. Remember that other people may be e.g. on the phone to clients or bosses and don't want to give the impression to others that they work in a noisy, distracting or even too easy-going a setting. Learn to think a bit beyond the scope of your immediate setting - other people have wider concerns than you may about issues. This is not about any specific thing happening at a particular moment, it's about setting the tone of behavior expected from people in work in general.

Listening to music

Keep in mind that this was (and still is) considered a no-no in many places. Just because no one has complained is not the same as it being allowed. Also remember that managers may allow some staff on certain duties (and who have earned respect) to do things that they're not going to be as easy going about with newer staff. You may have to earn these things, even if that's not written down anywhere.

We are new there and we didn't want to start from being rude. How to react?

React as little as possible, although consider that the older colleague may have quite a different (and more experienced !) view of this than you. Again a cultural issue may be at play here as your post suggests a culture where age is a more significant issue than in many Western cultures.

Also remember that "quiet" talking may be extremely distracting. It's a work environment and you need to respect that you are there to work and other things are generally secondary to that. You have to consider other people's needs in creating a good work environment.

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