Our office space is pretty tight and there are no cubicles.

There is a guy sitting next to me and he is the loudest person I ever met. He is groaning, crackling, puffing, giving loud sighs and other very weird sounds. All these are non stop sounds 8 hours a day.

It must be funny to hear (well it does sound funny for my husband) I counted how many sounds this guy produces a minute - it is around 10-25 sounds every minute.
Before he used to talk to himself and exclaim his thoughts aloud. I asked him several times to stop it and eventually he did stop.

Now I'm thinking, I can't ask him to stop breathing, right? What do I do?

Things I tried:

  • Loud music in headphones
  • Earplugs
  • Working couple of hours a day from a meeting room
  • Imitating his sounds right after he produces them
  • Making annoying sounds myself

All of these is still not a permanent solution or doesn't help at all. This situation just drives me nuts.

Things like "go to your manager and ask for another place" - I can't do. We don't have too much space and besides I need to stay together with my team(loud guy is not a part of it).

And even so, what do I say to a manager - I can't concentrate at my work because that guy next to me breathes aloud?

  • 24
    It's my experience that irritating habits only become genuinely problematic when I (or whoever) find the person irritating for other (usually professional) reasons. Would that be the case here, or not?
    – pdr
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 21:06
  • 17
    You may be right. I need to think it over to understand what's the root of the irritation.
    – Nat
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 21:10
  • 53
    @pdr I disagree with you, constant "biological function" sounds are annoying, and a quiet work space shouldn't be an unreasonable thing to ask for.
    – McGarnagle
    Commented Sep 27, 2012 at 15:49
  • 15
    @owen You're welcome to your opinion. I can think of nothing worse than a workspace where everyone's lined up in silent rows, frightened to make a sound for fear of upsetting someone else.
    – pdr
    Commented Sep 27, 2012 at 17:13
  • 11
    @pdr because noisy eating or coughing sounds are not constant
    – Nat
    Commented Oct 2, 2012 at 0:29

12 Answers 12


Any discomfort with a coworker should be known and understood because it affects your productivity. You'll anticipate noises, you'll think about it all the time and when the guy comes back after a break or something you'll start being nervous again. In my experience you solve conflicts this way:

  1. Tell people when you are uncomfortable. If a co-worker is bothering you with ranting about politics etc. You tell him straight: Sorry I'm not interested in that subject. Please let's discuss about something else.

  2. When 1 didn't work: try to avoid the problem. Noise-isolating headphones for instance. Working from home as much as possible. As long as it doesn't prevent good productivity.

  3. If 1 AND 2 don't work, talk to someone who can change the situation. Aka. The boss. Always your boss. Your manager is not only responsible for the paperwork but also maintaining a good spirit in the team.

I think you're at 3 right now.

I had similar problems not too long ago. In my case people were interrupting my work because I'm right beside the printer and people stop and have a chat with me while they print big documents. My solution was to be honest with people and say I got to work and I got a pair of noise-isolating headphones (ugly as hell but functional). In a meeting I told people very gently that when I have my headphones on it's my "Don't disturb time". The only exception is in case of fire emergency (we all agreed on that one).

  • 12
    "I got a pair of noise-isolating headphones (ugly as hell but functional)" _ I googled it, Oh boy: goo.gl/Y6EsE8
    – Kyle
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 11:53

You say that asking him to stop talking to himself worked, even if you had to ask multiple times, why not just do that again? Politely explain that his behaviour is distracting you and try to find a solution to the problem with him. You mention that moving to a different office / space is not an option for you, but perhaps it's an option for him?

If talking to him fails and since you've already tried headphones and earplugs, your last option would be to talk to your manager. Again politely explain that your co-worker is unnecessarily distracting and his behaviour is affecting your work, and let them deal with the issue.

Do not:

  • imitate his sounds right after he produces them,
  • make annoying sounds yourself.

Antagonizing him will be extremely counter-productive, even offensive, and if you are annoyed by his sounds it's possible others are too, do you really want to contribute to the problem by making more sounds?

  • I agree with Don'ts. I guess I was doing it because I was too annoyed with this situation and couldn't see the way out. Bad me. But what do I say to him? How to make it polite? What if he has some health problems and that's the reason?
    – Nat
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 20:46
  • 3
    @Nat If there are health problems, then he really needs to talk with management and perhaps a solution would be that he is moved as far away from anyone as possible. Isolation may not be the best solution for him, but it might be the only solution for you. But this is something you really need to clarify first, not much sense in guessing. He might not want to discuss health issues with you, so if you decide to bring it up, be as delicate as possible. Can't really be more helpful than that, I'm a bit crude myself and usually avoid (or make a horrible mess out of) such situations.
    – yannis
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 20:52
  • 5
    But I really, REALLY want to imitate his sounds while glaring at him! Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 20:00

I realized that I might be one of those coworkers who is a little loud. When I'm working on a tough programming problem, I really get into it to the point where I sometimes find myself growling at my computer screen or talking to myself as I'm working.

Ironically, after reading this post, I've tried to cool it a bit. :)

Being on the other side of this issue, I'd personally appreciate if someone could politely take me aside and say "Hey man, I'm not sure if you realize this, but when you [insert X behavior here], it is sort of distracting. Do you think you could keep it down?".

It's quite possible that your audibly-challenged coworker may not realize he's being a nuisance. So, politely say something; it might not just help you and your other coworkers but also make your now quieter coworker a more pleasant person to be around, which could make his experience better since more people might be nicer to him.

As for me personally, when people come in our office and start talking or joking around, if I'm trying to focus, I just put on my headphones. I've never needed to talk to anyone about such annoyances as I just drown them out with music.

  • Surely "growling at a screen" wouldn't produce any audible sounds....
    – Pacerier
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 10:08
  • 3
    I make a lot of racket when I'm working on something complex too. Especially car repair, but programming too. Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 17:53
  • 3
    @Pacerier what do you mean by: "growling at a screen" wouldn't produce any audible sounds?
    – Kyle
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 11:57

To handle a loud coworker, just drown the person out with some music.

You don't want noise-cancelling headphones, or just any headphones. Instead, you actually want noise-ISOLATING headphones.

"Noise-canceling phones utilize an active noise reduction system. They electronically produce a frequency which, with varying degrees of success, cancel out white noise (constant mid-level sounds like airplane engines and track noise). They require a power source (a single AAA battery in one earphone or two batteries in an external case).

Noise-isolating phones use a passive system, [in-ear versions] simply sealing the ear with a variety of foam canal tips. To the 30db or so reduction in all outside noise this alone provides, sound is enhanced by being sent directly into the ear. The ratio of music to outside noise in the ear is, therefore, extremely high They need no batteries..."

Source: earphonesolutions

Noise-canceling headphones (e.g. Bose) don't block voices. They are unlikely to block coughs, grunts, sneezes, yelps, or any other co-worker-manufactured noise.

(I tend to wear 30 dB foam ear plugs under a pair of noise-isolating headphones.)

Use these, and you won't hear your coworker anymore.

  • Hi user, answers on Stack Exchange aren't meant to follow up or address other answerers. This isn't like a traditional forum. The correct action was to edit like you did on other posts. Thanks for doing that; however, I've flagged this post for moderator removal, unless you edit it and answer the question. Good luck, and welcome to Workplace SE!
    – jmort253
    Commented Oct 4, 2012 at 7:16
  • 2
    I just edited your post to remove the parts that are making people flag this as not an answer, so I think you're good to go. +1 Hope this helps! Please feel free to edit further if I lost the spirit of your answer. Good luck!
    – jmort253
    Commented Oct 4, 2012 at 7:20
  • 27
    It's a sad state of affairs when one ends up needing to purchase some pricey noise-cancelling headphones just so they can concentrate at work. Especially in my case where the distracting people that are making all the noise aren't doing any work themselves.
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 16:16
  • 2
    I think that if you need to take measures like these, you are a prime candidate for a seat in a private office with a door to close. Commented Apr 17, 2014 at 6:42
  • 4
    I stopped listening to the news, and now there's no crime or war in the world. Oh, wait... there still is, and the loud person with no respect for their coworkers still has no respect for them with their headphones on.
    – Webveloper
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 20:48

It's a tough situation and there's no easy solution. I'd say you could discuss about it with this person (again) privately, being very sincere and then also with some other coworkers (also privately, to avoid any embarrassment). Then...

In case they agree with you, and this behavior negatively impacts in the working environment, it could be escalated to your managers (as you're not the only one being impacted). But,

In case they don't agree with you, you'll need to get over it somehow.

Clearly, you both can't share the same workplace. It's a matter to define who doesn't belong to this workplace.

  • 4
    I already touched this topic with one of the co workers. We were not pointing fingers, but both agreed that its hard to work in the office where space is so tight. I understand at some point I have to talk to him, but what do I say?
    – Nat
    Commented Sep 26, 2012 at 20:52
  • 1
    Just wondering... maybe instead of having you talking to him, wouldn't be the case of having someone else (like HR) doing so? This way, you'd avoid being harsh with him. Either way, the message needs to be as clear as possible. Going in circles around the problem may only lead to more frustration... Commented Sep 27, 2012 at 11:03

You may not like this, but what I'm missing in all the answers so far is:

Stop being irritated

You constantly register these sounds because you have an opinion about them. Yet there are thousands of other sounds around you all day that you have no problem with.

As you already said "I can't ask him to stop breathing". That's correct, you might even say "I can't deny him being".

Years ago I had to sleep in a mountain cabin where many people started snoring. At that moment my choice was: Either I'm irritated and I don't sleep properly, or I ignore the sounds. That was a very clear either/or situation similar to yours.

What may help is interpreting his sounds differently. He does not make those sounds to irritate you. He is even a great guy who stopped talking to himself when you asked him! Maybe he just has trouble breathing, or positioning his body, or ... whatever interpretation you come up with that empowers you.

My wife also snores. I interpret it as "Look, isn't that nice - my loved one goes to dream country".

  • 4
    That's very positive attitude, I like it :) It teaches patience, which I'm lacking :) I did tried what you described before, explaining to myself same things, like he is a human, there are tons of other sounds around, etc. And it worked sometime, sometime not.
    – Nat
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 13:59
  • I've learned patience, grit, tolerance from a noisy colleague... and since that person left I have become more productive. Some people just need to talk.
    – user924272
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 1:05
  • 3
    Although I believe, removing expectations could help, I can't completely agree with this.. Snoring is not a choice. On the other hand talking loudly across the room, smacking a mechanical keyboard or producing other kinds of office noises is.. I can't blame someone for having a health issue and having to snore, but I can surely consider someone who types too loudly on a mechanical keyboard disrespectful.
    – tkit
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 12:00
  • 3
    Agreeing with @pootzko. You can't help snoring or having a whistling nose because of medical conditions. But being loud, sniffling constantly instead of blowing your nose, yawning openly, chewing loudly when eating at your desk, regularly whining about annoying clients or an issue you're trying to solve... All of these are choices of sort, a lack of restraint, which seems disrespectful to me. It's also important to note that everyone has a different level of resistance to noise. The power to choose to ignore something is not available to everyone for everything.
    – leokhorn
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 6:44
  • 2
    This fails to answer the original question, and fails to solve the problem. Moreover, if it is not OK for the OP to get the irritating coworker to stop doing something, why is it OK for you to order the OP to stop doing something?
    – Rosie F
    Commented Dec 7, 2018 at 18:32

I had the same issue with a co-worker at a previous job, but I don't think mine was quite as bad as yours. In my case it wasn't ALL day, but it would be several times a day for 30m minutes to 1 hour.

Honestly, you only have a few options and usually you won't completely 'fix' the problem. Maybe you can cut the amount of noise in half and learn to deal with the rest. What ever you do, go waaaay overboard on being nice about it, then blame yourself for needing a quiet atmosphere to be productive.

  • Go to your boss and see if he can do something.

    Some bosses don't like to get involved, so this may/may not work. But, even if they don't do anything, they will be offended if you don't ask them first. Make sure you give them plenty of opportunity to fix it.

  • Go to the other person's boss and politely ask if they can do something.

    You will likely meet the most resistance here. Not only are you complaining about someone they like(probably), but you are also questioning their management ability.

  • Talk to the person.

    It sounds like you've tried this already. You'll get limited success here, because you are trying to change something embedded in their personality that they have probably been doing for years. They will be nice and cut down for a week or two, but it will eventually come back.

  • Ask to be moved.

    Not an easy task, but if they value your time and productivity, they should be able to do this for you.

Chances are that this has been happening so long that you are overly sensitive to it and the smallest sound from him will set you off. You need to learn to deal with a certain noise level. I found this white noise site simplynoise VERY helpful. Just let it run in the background and crank it up when you get really annoyed.

  • Have you proof-read your answer? What is this: "Maybe you can't cut the amount of noise in half and learn to deal with the rest. What ever you do, go waaaay overboard on being nice about it and blame yourself for needing a quiet atmosphere to be productive."?
    – Martin F
    Commented Oct 13, 2014 at 18:34

The question I originally answered was marked as a duplicate, so I moved my answer here.

Having face a similar problem in the past I found it's most effective to be completely honest to whomever is the source of my irritation, me. I know that there is something in me which is triggering this irritation and that however hard I try I will not be able to change other people.

I can ask somebody once or more times, and their behaviour may change for a short while, and they will almost certainly relapse into their old behaviours repeatedly.

So I started wearing headphones.

  • 3
    I just noticed that when I'm upset or tired - he irritates me more. If I'm too involved into my work - I don't hear anything. So yes, headphones is the best solution for me. And trying to stay positive :)
    – Nat
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 14:00
  • 1
    Some people simply don't get the non-verbal cues. I've had my earphones tapped just so my colleague could say "... and another thing I hate is...."
    – user924272
    Commented Apr 30, 2014 at 1:03
  • 1
    As I said, you can't change other people. :( Commented May 1, 2014 at 12:00

I recognized myself in this situation. I was the one who was distracting everybody else from their work. The thing is that I did not understand that I was doing something wrong. I was just being myself. And as long as no one complained, I kept doing it without any idea that my behaviour was irritating. The thing that stopped me from continuing to behave like that was when all my co-workers in the space started ignoring me(not letting me to start a conversation with them). Saying, complain should be not only from you but from all people working in that space.

  1. Try to find out how people in the space feel about him;
  2. Be sure that they feel the same as you;
  3. Then you can start warning him about what bothers you politely and what is important publicly

Worked for me, hope it works for you))) Good luck


I used to sit next to a coworker who would listen to music on her headphones and would start singing the songs aloud. Drove me nuts. I mentioned it to her and she kind of laughed and was like "yeah I know I do that" and when I didn't laugh back and politely asked her to stop it because it was distracting, she took me seriously. She would continue to do it at times and I would stand up, get her attention and ask her to stop. It took a bit but she did stop. I have since moved cubes and it is no longer an issue but I completely understand.

  • Humans naturally push boundaries as far as they can. Not to be rude or disruptive, but just because it is hard to tell where the boundary actually is. If no one cares that she sang, it wouldn't have mattered. That's why being polite and persistent is vital. Commented Mar 13 at 10:43
  • @HappyIdiot Anyone who works in a cubicle in a professional environment should automatically know that singing is not accepted just like loud music, calls on speaker, etc. It is common sense that you are in an open area and to try and not disrupt the people around you. This isn't about pushing boundaries since the boundary should already be clearly established. In any event, my persistence is what caused the behavior to stop but thankfully I find myself in a different cube so it no longer matters to me.
    – rhoonah
    Commented Mar 15 at 22:01
  • "Common Sense ain't so common." It is surprising how many people have to be told "what should be obvious". Commented Mar 15 at 22:48

It's taken me over a year to figure out how to win here (after other attempts from management). I simply asked colleague who sits much further away if I could sit next to them for a while as x is distracting me too much and I really need to focus, whilst looking at x while I'm asking - with a cheeky smile and a nod.. I For what it's worth, I already got on quite well with this person.

It worked a treat... but I think you have to be a bit brazen to pull it off.


Don't go to your manager right away. Try to resolve this by talking to him. If you go out for lunch once or twice a week, take him along with you. Start friendly and light conversations and make sure that he doesn't get a clue why you actually brought him to lunch. Then, when he is totally unsuspecting and in a cheerful mood, tell him politely about this issue. Politely request him to stop making such noise and explain to him that it's actually disrupting your concentration hence your work. I guess he realizes the importance of your work, especially if he's doing the same type of work or doing a work which is as crucial and as critical as yours. If his habits don't change even after trying this, you may have to take harsh steps and go to your HR and inform her. If things still don't improve, then you'll have no choice but to complain to upper management, but that will depend on your relationships with them. So it's only the last resort and I do hope you won't have to use it.

  • this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape?
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 10:55
  • "If you go out for lunch once or twice a week, take him along with you." - hmm, this sounds like she's flirting with him
    – Kyle
    Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 11:59

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