My company just moved and as a result we are by a group which does not like talking.

The nature of some of our work involves conversations. However, the next group of cubicles over (another department) continue to "shush" us.

How can we balance talking with a next door department which desires quiet? By the way, most of them wear earphones and still believe it is too noisy.

  • 2
    If these are personal conversations in a work place then yes they have a right to expect quiet
    – paparazzo
    Jul 31 '15 at 17:35
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    The nature of some of your conversations involves conversations? Did you mean to type "the nature of some of our work" or am I missing your meaning?
    – Air
    Jul 31 '15 at 17:37
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    @HLGEM Ridiculous? Funeral quite? I seriously doubt they are getting shushed for an occasion normal tone of conversation. If you go into someones cube and have a quite conversation is does carry over to the next set of cubicles (and heard over earphones). I bet they are having business and personal conversation across cubicles when they could have the courtesy to go to the cube or pick up the phone.
    – paparazzo
    Jul 31 '15 at 17:57
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    And why should they have to work differently because some think that they are making too much noise. What makes one group's desire for quiet be more important than the other group's need to have conversations? Heck I have seen people complain because people near them type too loudly or because the office equipment made too much noise. I have also seen people successfully do tasks that require concentration like programming while sitting in a building that was on the flight path for Navy jets (trust me no conversation approaches that decibel level).
    – HLGEM
    Jul 31 '15 at 18:08
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    I don't know what job function these people are performing, but it has been proved time and time again that developers are more productive in quiet environments. So much so that the CEO of this fine site gives all his developers then own private offices. Unfortunately, that makes this a management issue, because the other groups have a right to their conversations. In my experience it's very much the exception that people who need (or prefer) silence to work are granted an office. Of course, you can guarantee the people responsible for the cubes have their own offices. Jul 31 '15 at 18:17

I think it is important for both groups to remember that it is a shared space.

This means that sometimes there is going to be noise from people talking, but this also means that groups need to be mindful of their volume and impact on the environment around them.

There are a couple of options for you to consider in this situation depending on how you want to handle it. Note that most of these will tackle how you can lower your volume, as this is the side of the problem that we can control.

  1. Talk to the coworkers who are shushing you, maybe apologize for the noise but explain that it is necessary work talk. This should help ease things over and open up the conversation between the two of you about how you can meet in the middle. For example they could use headphones, or pop their head round and ask you to keep the volume lower (rather than flat out not talking) if you do get a bit loud.

  2. If the above doesn't work, or if you think it will not help and choose not to do it, then you might need to talk to your manager. Not necessarily to complain about the shushing but instead to express your concerns that sometimes conversations need to be had but this is distracting others nearby.

    Bringing it to their attention shows you are actively aware of the issue and are trying to find a means to get it resolved. Failing resolution you have now made record of the issue. If enough people complain they might investigate solutions (better soundproofing, more spaced out cubicles etc)

  3. Where possible try to take the conversation away from others. For example if the conversation might go on for a while or involves a lot of people, then making use of a nearby meeting room will at least stop your noise from distracting them for very long.

  4. If there is not a meeting room to make use of then consider if everyone needs to be physically present for the conversation. If not then it may be beneficial to have a conference call with everyone in it. Phones are very sensitive and good at picking up on low volumes so you are likely to talk quieter when using one, providing less distractions to those around you.

The key to most of these is compromise, but to get to that point you are probably going to need to talk to one or more people about it.


Talk to your manager and have him talk to their manager and see if a compromise can be reached. At a minimum they need to work out the decibel level that is where the line would be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable noise or they need to work out a different arrangement of work spaces.

In most workplaces if your group needs to have work conversations (and if your personal conversations are of a normal volume), then the other group is going to have to move or put up with it.

Lots of people lately seem to think they are entitled to a totally quiet workplace, but that is ridiculous, everyone needs to learn to work around some noise. If their work truly requires quiet (and off-hand the only thing I can think of that would is scientific research on the nature of sound and those workplaces do have the kind of soundproofing I am talking about like anechoic chambers), it is up to their boss to provide the walls and soundproofing necessary to get that quiet. If the company is unwilling to pay for the cost of such a thing, then they accept that there may be lower productivity and that is OK with them.

One thing you don't do is deliberately become rowdier and more noisy just to make them mad. You don't want to be the group escalating the situation. If you are deliberately baiting them, you can expect management to come down hard on your noise level, so keep it professional.

  • 1
    I've seen white noise machines used effectively too when lots of conversations happen throughout the day.
    – enderland
    Jul 31 '15 at 19:16
  • I second the notion of white noise machines - I went from nearly quitting a programming job (programming requires concentration) because it was as loud as a callcenter, to being able to ignore the problem and work at top speed, with white noise. I use a website for this: simplynoise.com Aug 2 '15 at 14:06

I doubt the the next set up cubicles is shushing for no reason.

If you are having a quite conversation IN a cubicle it should not carry over to the next set of cubicles.

If are talking across cubicles that is not good cubicle etiquette. Go to the cubicle or pick up the phone. For sure the next group should not have to hear your personal conversations - if the next set of cube knows you went to the game last night then yes they can expect quiet. If everyone did that you would not even be able to talk on the phone.

I worked in a group where one pair would talk all day long across cubicles and it filled the whole room. It was just rude. We asked them to stop and they did not so we went to management.

We had a guy that would take every phone call on speaker at max volume and the whole room would have to hear every word. Rude, pick up the phone and understand you are in a cubicle. If everyone did that it would it would have been a roar in the office.

If you are having quite conversations in a cube and by the time it gets to the next set up cubes it is just a muffle then yes they need to mellow. If you are having conversions across cubes business or personal then that is rude. If you are in an office where everyone is OK with it then fine but this is a whole group and they want to work.

If you are marketing and need to have open exchange then they would not have moved you in next to accounting.

  • Come down vote what is the problem?
    – paparazzo
    Jul 31 '15 at 21:23

Cubicles are not capable of isolating a person from the noise of the office around them, including conversations—nor are they designed to provide that. If your coworkers need more quiet, that's an issue they should bring up with HR.

That said, I could understand their complaint if you were talking through cubicle walls (or across the aisle) at each other. It's reasonable for people to hold conversations inside their cubicles—there's a good chance you have a phone in your cubicle, after all. It's less reasonable to hold conversations between cubicles; they may not be designed to completely isolate the worker from office noise, but they are designed to reduce the noise from your neighbors somewhat compared to a completely open office or "bullpen." You have to raise your voice a little bit to speak with someone in the next cube over, or stand up and poke your head above the divider, which also projects your voice a bit more to everyone else.

If it's really important that you have discussions during the work day with your cubicle neighbors, maybe you could get into the habit of walking into each other's cubicles ask questions or hold conversations. You could also try using the phone—as silly as it might feel to dial the extension immediately next to you—or choosing to use email or an internal chat room where appropriate.

If your neighbors complain about conversations you have at normal "indoor" volume while sitting face-to-face with someone in your own cubicle, then there isn't much you can do to resolve the problem. Explain to them the importance of these conversations to your work, and suggest they explore a privacy/noise solution with the company's HR department. It would not be unreasonable, assuming the resources are available, for their desire for quiet to be accommodated by the company.


Balance: If it's more than a few minutes of chatter, especially if it isn't directly related to the job, take it to behind closed door (a conference room, if all of you are in cubes) and/or make an active effort to keep your voices down, and/or reconvene after work. At the very least, if folks ask you to hold it down, do so. Be courteous; people will notice if you aren't and you don't want that reputation.


This might sound rude but I would continue to talk regardless of what is said. And if they continued to "shush" me, I would simply talk to my manager about it and see what he/she has to say about it. I would take this up to HR if needed.

Unless they have a requirement for a quiet environment such as with talking on the phone, then reality is they can't tell you that you can't talk.

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