I want to block the distraction of my colleagues' conversations. I tried different ear plugs, but none of them filtered out speech enough for me. Reading into earmuffs online, I read that ear protection is generally optimized to filter high and low frequencies while at the same time leaving the frequency ranges for speech untouched. For instance the high end 3M Peltor Optime III Premium is advertised as follows:

This results in maximum high-frequency muffling, while at the same time it is easy to understand speech and signals.

This makes sense on a construction site, where hearing your boss's or colleague's shout can save your life. But this is not a problem in open plan offices. So what is the solution to blocking out the room noise and conversations in an open office environment?

  • 5
    Noise cancelling earphones worked for me well - but only while music was playing. Blocked out everything.
    – Oded
    Sep 21, 2012 at 14:49
  • 1
    Work from home!!
    – Sahil
    Sep 25, 2012 at 8:24
  • Tell them to be quiet so you can work?
    – Fredrik
    Sep 25, 2012 at 12:33
  • 7
    Why is it that people with a private office always want to have their discussions in the open at someone's cube?
    – user8365
    Jan 16, 2013 at 14:14
  • 1
    possible duplicate of What can I do about a very loud coworker?
    – user8365
    Jan 16, 2013 at 16:32

4 Answers 4


Noise cancellation headphones like Bose QC-3 or QC-15 are statistics-based and work well for constant droning kind of noises (airplane engines, wind, street noise, etc). You will still hear conversations with them if they happen anywhere around you.

If you really want silence, you can go with shooting ear-muffs that they use on gun ranges. You can usually get them in your local outdoor-sy shops and they are not that expensive. IMHO this will work best, but you will look a bit goofy.

  • 4
    @Framester, haha, try shooting ear-muffs at the office, just don't get arrested :P
    – user3434
    Oct 8, 2012 at 15:07
  • 3
    @qarma - yes, you probably want to avoid camo and bright orange as your color selection ;)
    – user8365
    Jan 16, 2013 at 13:34
  • Working as a software eng. for a hardware company has it's perks. I discovered that the ear plugs we use in our hardware halls make for great noise-cancelling devices. And they cost like 0.50c a pair. Plus you don't get to look like a total douche wearing earphones all the time.
    – BoboDarph
    Feb 16, 2018 at 9:15

Get a white noise generator. generally a static sound that can be a bit annoying for 10 min or so but after you will rarely notice it being there but will definitely notice when it is not. I have worked in places that have them and those that do not and definitely prefer to work where they are using them.

It works great because it tricks your mind into eliminating all of the back ground noise but you can still have a conversation like normal.

  • Are white noise generators used also for headphones? I know they certainly work (seen them in action in a court room), but it might be hard to convince an entire cube-farm to play white noise over loudspeakers!
    – Angelo
    Sep 24, 2012 at 13:22
  • @Angelo - they have personal white noise generators that you can use at your desk. Sep 24, 2012 at 13:24
  • We actually have white noise piped into our whole floor via speakers in the ceiling. I'm not sure how effective it is, but I definitely notice it all day long. And I still hear lots of background conversations.
    – alroc
    Sep 24, 2012 at 17:16
  • @alroc - As I understand it the White noise is supposed to overwhelm your brain with back ground noise so it filters more out naturally. I do know that I have had some that were much more effective than others. And heard some that was more distracting than the noise it was supposed to block. I suspect that it is more the product of using something other than white noise. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colors_of_noise Sep 25, 2012 at 12:53

Headphones with loud music, preferably in-ear, to block the sound and to distract yourself from the conversations. Noise filtering headphones or ear-muffs will always have problems with speech because its not a constant noise.

  • In-ear isn't that essential. amazon.com/Sennheiser-Closed-Studio-Headphones-Standard/dp/… These work well for me, and no one else can hear a thing. Plus they're eerily comfortable with specs. But this doesn't answer the question.
    – pdr
    Sep 21, 2012 at 14:54
  • 9
    But the music itself will be distracting
    – mmmmmm
    Sep 21, 2012 at 14:59
  • "What do you use to block your colleagues' conversations?" It's completely within scope of his question. If I need to not hear other people, slotting in my earbuds with music up loud enough to drone them out but not so loud that its distracting to others is my solution. I was simply stating that noise cancelling technology in general will no be able to compensate with voice nearly as well as repetitive noise at the same tone and frequency. Sep 21, 2012 at 15:00
  • 5
    @Oded: It's not, but there is a huge difference between "block" and "drown out" for many people.
    – pdr
    Sep 21, 2012 at 17:04
  • @Mark - could try white noise simply noise
    – user8365
    Jan 16, 2013 at 14:05

I see suslik answered about the Bose QC-15 headphones, and I would like to improve on that answer a bit.

I actually am using the QC-15 at work every day. And they are simply amazing.

It is true that while turned on, without any music, they do not cancel out conversations going on right next to you. But they do lower the volume of those quite a bit.

And by playing music in the earphones, even at a very low volume, you will hear nothing of the conversations going on right next to you, at all.

I very easily get distracted by conversations among my peers, even if I am not addressed. And some tasks I cannot perform well with music, I really need silence. But I found that the solution with very low music and noise-cancelling earphones works really well for me.

  • Seems like a get both some upvotes and downvotes on this one. Can the downvoters please explain why, I don't get it? Jan 4, 2017 at 8:39

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