One guy in my office seems to be extremely noise sensitive. He is an older man and I suspect may be starting to suffer from poor hearing, which is known to make people more sensitive to general noise (it's harder for them to pick out individual sounds, and sudden noises are more startling).

He has now taken measures to reduce noise in the office to such a degree that it is so quiet it is distracting. Every little sound, even people typing, is jarring. Before there was enough ambient noise for the brain to tune it all out, but not any more.

I have considered using headphones with white noise. Is there any other way to deal with this? I find headphones uncomfortable to wear for long periods, and I need to move about a bit at my desk so the cable gets tangled. This guy is higher ranking than I am but approachable.

  • 4
    What kind of noise did he remove ? It would seem kind of odd to want to add noise to an office. As for the headphones, you can find Bluetooth headphones so you can move around your cubicle / desk freely.
    – ApplePie
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 10:59
  • 2
    What do you want him to do for you that's in his power to do? What specific actions do you want him to take? Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 12:03
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    @AlexP, extreme quiet is just as distracting as noise for some people. Personally I would slit my throat before working in such a horrible environment.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 12:59
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    I found headphones uncomfortable too - until I got some 'over-ear' headphones. They don't squash your ears and I can wear for hours before taking them off unlike 'on-ear' or 'in-ear'. There's also SimplyRain.com which is great if white noise just doesn't quite cut it.
    – Ian
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 14:35
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    MoJo, can you please describe what measures to reduce noise did he take? It is hard to answer your question unless we know what exactly is going on.
    – Tomas
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 10:02

5 Answers 5


It seems like his quiet requirement is to the point where it is hindering the productivity of everyone in the office.

It's time to suggest that he wear the headphones and let everyone else get on with their work.

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    +1 for suggesting the coworker wear headphones, but I disagree about having management step in. The OP did state that the coworker is approachable.
    – Brian
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 15:16
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    I find these to be excellent Headphones I use them all the time at work :)
    – majjam
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 17:40
  • +1 for the headphones. Regarding the loss of hearing, I'm 34 and have excellent hearing, and co-worker sounds drive me absolutely crazy. Every knuckle-crack and foot-tap makes me reach for the headphones. Usually I don't even bother with music, I just block out the sound.
    – roryok
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 9:40
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    @Brian - that's a good point. After reading again, it appears the co-worker as made the office a quiet zone and not management, so there's no need to bring them in.
    – user8365
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 11:20
  • How does he wearing headphones help him?
    – mmmmmm
    Commented Aug 20, 2014 at 11:57

Be honest. Say

I think we may have gone a little bit overboard with the noise reduction. I am now almost afraid to make noises, and it prevents me from working effectively.


I can tell you what works on many companies I worked for - white noise generators for the whole office. It does reduce the level of distraction and it doesn't take too long to get used to.

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    We've had one of those in my office for about 4 years. You aren't supposed to notice it, but I hear it constantly. To the point where the noise it makes is distracting to me. There are some days where it's more distracting than the noises it's supposed to mask. I think it's just very poor at masking certain frequencies which are commonly found in my office, or its frequencies are combining with the HVAC noise to amplify both.
    – alroc
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 16:02
  • 1
    As with all kinds of equipment, it must be properly adjusted to your environment, and it probably wasn't.
    – user1220
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 16:11

I would talk to your manager and explain him that loss of hearing needs to be caught early and counteracted with a hearing aid.

In the early stage the ear is still hearing good enough, so it can adjust to the new situation, if he waits too long the ear will forget how to listen and even the hearing aid won't help.

Also it is important to get hearing aids for both ears, often insurances pay only one because that's good enough.

Informations are how I remember them from my lecture "physiology for engineers", there's probably links somewhere to back that up.

Personally I find waterfalls or quiet background music less distracting than noise generators of any kind.

Also working full or half time from home might be an alternative for your manager.

  • The OP only suspects that his co-worker is starting to suffer from hearing loss, it isn't confirmed. This sort of feedback could backfire if there is another issue at hand here.
    – Tyanna
    Commented Aug 19, 2014 at 17:43

There is a high likelihood that it isn't loss of hearing that is making this man so sensitive -- more likely it's a condition called MISOPHONIA, or hypersensitivity to sound. I have it, as it's part of my Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), which is on the autism scale. It's a debilitating condition that causes the hearer to be extremely sensitive to sound, and as a person ages, it gets worse. I've been highly sensitive to sound since I was born, and it's definitely gotten worse in recent years. Right now I'm wearing Bose noise-canceling headphones plus using a fan AND a white noise generator at my desk at work because of a coworker who constantly makes grunting, disgusting noises (think toilet sounds) all day, as well as whispers/talks to himself/his computer constantly, which literally makes me feel ill. If you Google misophonia, you'll find many others like me, and I suspect this gentleman referred to here is the same.

Misophonia is difficult and exhausting to deal with, and believe me, wearing headphones all day, while it helps, becomes an issue in itself. People like us need to work at home, away from all the noises, but often this isn't possible. Hopefully this condition will become more widely known and more accommodations can be made to help workers who suffer from it, like allowing work-from-home at least part of the time. Until then, it's a nightmare for those who suffer from it.


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