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The workspace at this job is divided with small cubicles just high enough that you don't see the person next to you when you're both sitting.

Recently the worker next to me has been engaging in a lot of long non-work related conversations, either through the phone (in english or in spanish) or in person, with the second person standing up.

Of course small talk is part of the work place, but these talks tend to drag on and on. I getting stressed easily and I simply can't concentrate when there's a conversation happening right next to me. Just this morning the guy spent more than an hour (I timed it) talking to a coworker about his wife. The coworker was standing less than 2 feet away and was leaning on my cubicle panel. I simply couldn't get any work done and had to "go to the restroom" a few times just to vent a bit.

Now I don't care whether or not they're actually working and I'm not there to snitch on them: I believe that if you get work done, so be it. But when they're preventing me from getting my work done, there's a problem. I also don't want to be the guy to tell them to get back to work and I fear that talking about it to my boss (who isn't their boss) would only complicate things. All in all, I may have to work with them later on and I want to keep good relations with my coworkers.

So what can be done about coworkers having long conversations right next to my desk?

EDIT: I have seen this question and, while there is pertinent information there, I feel that this question is different since my situation involves conversations that could be held elsewhere while the this other situation (loud coworker) involves a person being distracting while working.

marked as duplicate by Justin Cave, Chris E, gnat, Rory Alsop, Lilienthal Jun 28 '16 at 10:34

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    Have you tried headphones or another similar approach? If you can't work when people are having conversations, presumably that is true whether the conversation is work-related or not and you'll need to find something that works for you to block out the noise. – Justin Cave Jun 27 '16 at 18:25
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    I have tried headphones, but since they are right next to me, I would need to put the volume really high. It doesn't really help. Also it tends to be better if it is work related. Maybe it's because it doesn't last as long, but I don't tend to lose my concentration. – Alex Millette Jun 27 '16 at 18:41
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    Check out workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/4206/… – WorkerDrone Jun 27 '16 at 18:59
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    I don't think this is a duplicate; the other is about ongoing persistent noise that probably can't be relocated, while this question is about bursty movable, optional distractions. A coworker with a persistent cough is a different case from a coworker who spends hours on personal phone calls. – Monica Cellio Jun 28 '16 at 15:22
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Most likely they are oblivious, especially the occupant of the cubicle. (He's sitting, so he doesn't see you and doesn't stop to think about what's right on the other side of those near-useless partitions.) And as you said in a comment, cranking up the music in the headphones doesn't really work -- and anyway, some people can't work well with headphones anyway.

What I've seen work -- from both sides of this problem -- is a gentle conversation that assumes good intent. Some time when he's alone in his cube, ask your neighbor for a few minutes of his time and walk to a conference room, the kitchen, the hall, or some other place where you won't be broadcasting to your other neighbors. Then say something like this: "Bob, I'm sorry to ask this, but I'm having a lot of trouble concentrating on my work when you have long conversations at your desk. Yeah, those cube walls aren't good for much, sound-wise. When it looks like it's going to be more than a few minutes, could you try to migrate to (insert nearest suitable place)? I'd really appreciate it."

The most likely case in my experience is that he'll say something like "gosh, sorry! I didn't realize our voices were carrying so much". if so, great -- you've raised awareness. Next time things get loud, wait a bit to see if he moves on his own. If not, standing up in your cube and making eye contact with him will probably be enough of a reminder.

Your coworker might instead say he'll try to keep it down. Give him a chance to try that, even if you're pretty sure it won't work. This is about building good will with your neighbor. If you have to follow up, you can say something about how you know he tried to lower his voice, you also tried to mitigate it with headphones (shows you're trying to help too), but there's still a problem. It might take several tries to improve the situation and there are going to be conversations where it doesn't happen, but your immediate goal is for things to move in the right direction.

If he brushes you off and says he's not going to change, that's harder. You might need to ask if you can move to a different cubicle in that case, unless other neighbors are complaining too. I wouldn't go running to his management just yet if you need to be able to work together.

  • I'm still afraid to confront my coworker, but since both you and Kilisi think I should just talk about it, I'll try to do so. Thanks – Alex Millette Jun 28 '16 at 12:09
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    @AlexMillette I think of a confrontation as more like "hey dude, will ya keep it down over there?" shouted over the partition. What I'm suggesting is polite, private, and with an alternative solution to his problem (his conversational needs). I think most interpersonal workplace issues arise from lack of perception, not bad intent, so try to correct the perception first. – Monica Cellio Jun 28 '16 at 12:42
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I'd just politely tell them I can't concentrate. Most adults will then move elsewhere for their conversation. A very few might take it as a challenge and try and start a confrontation, in which case you just shrug and ignore them and let them draw attention to themselves and their obnoxious behaviour.

"Sorry guys, I can't concentrate on my work with you guys chatting, can you take it somewhere else please."

Realistically the fastest way to let someone know you have a problem, is to tell them. Normally it solves the issue straight away, when it doesn't it leaves you a clear way forwards since you have passed the most important step.

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Be polite and talk to them about it. If someone is hanging on your cubicle there is nothing wrong with asking them to please move because it is distracting. Always try and go with the simple solution first.

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