For the last few weeks I've been sharing an office with new colleagues who think aloud all the time. I've asked them to break this habit and though they promise they'll try it starts up again after an hour or so. I remind them of it occasionally but the silence doesn't last very long.

What else can I do? Should I think aloud too to show them how disturbing this is, or or should I print some posters and hang them on each wall so that they are constantly reminded about it?

Those colleagues are from a different department and we just share the office due to the lack of other space so I don't care about good relations. I just want them to be silent... is there a way to silence them?

They're already looking for another room for two other colleagues who complained about the thinking-aloud and myself, but I don't see any improvement soon so I need to deal with them.

How can I get these colleagues to commit to stopping this behaviour? Can I discuss it with them and, if so, how can I make it clear that it's becoming a real problem for us? Or should I go straight to my manager with this?


6 Answers 6


I am totally amazed at how others seem to think what is going on is OK. It's not. Naturally people need to talk to each other sometimes in the office. That can be distracting sometimes too, but it's necessary for the company to function.

However, there is no excuse for someone causing gratuitous noise pollution in a place where others have to think and concentrate. It can be fine on a production line where several people are inserting tab A into slot B all day long, but not where thinking and concentration are part of the job. "It's just the way they work" isn't good enough. They are the ones causing the pollution, and frankly being rather rude.

The first step is to ask them to please be quiet, since you're trying to think and concentrate across the room. You've done that, and it didn't work.

One time I had to deal with this I stopped and engaged them every time they spoke out loud to themselves as if they had spoken to me (since they actually had). They had to keep saying, "Sorry, I was just talking to myself" enough so that they got trained not to do that.

Another time it was in my office. I used the above tactic a few times, but then told them flat out to stop talking to themselves if they want to stay here. It took way too many times, but eventually that worked.

Putting up posters is just being obnoxious with the presumed attempt to start a fight. Don't do that. That makes you as bad as them, and starts a war rather than increasing the chance of solving the problem.

You need to go to your boss and tell them that you can't concentrate since these people are talking out loud to themselves all the time, and that it's hurting your productivity and possibly the quality of the work you do get done. If it gets fixed, great. If not, there is little more you can do other than decide whether you'd rather have this job under these conditions, or find a different job under better conditions. Don't threaten the manager with this, but ultimately that's your choice if the company refuses to fix the problem.

  • Why is it on them to change for your comfort? What is stopping you from wearing headphones if you need silence to concentrate? Other people have just as much a right to speak as you have to silence. You can simulate silence for yourself, they can not simulate speaking aloud for themselves.
    – Joe S
    Sep 11, 2019 at 16:58
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    What's the difference talking to yourself or talking to other people? You're in an office where people talk. That's the whole point of being in an office. Otherwise you might as well work from home. Sep 11, 2019 at 17:56
  • Your first suggestion (responding to them when they talk to themselves) seems very passive-aggressive to me. I would not want to work with someone who is passive-aggressive in that way (or any other way!), same office or not.
    – Ertai87
    Sep 11, 2019 at 19:02
  • @dan-klasson The whole point of being in an office is to do the work you are paid for in a suitable setting. If that work does not include talking to these persons, then the setting is not suitable, and cause the employer to waste money. Oct 25, 2019 at 9:23

Since this is temporary, you should just put up with it on a temporary basis. Printing out posters or competing won't really solve anything.

Do the same as anyone else in a noisy office environment - either ignore/block it out or use headphones (if employee policy permits).

As you said, the situation won't last forever. Creating confrontation won't win any friends.

  • That's why I'm going to try the diplomatic way first and not the warpath. I don't see any reason why any of us should put up with this. We aren't the ones who interfere with the workflow of other people. Thinking out loud is not normal and it needs to be dealt with.
    – red-shield
    Dec 5, 2016 at 13:24
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    @JoeStrazzere That a habit has impact on others doesn't necessarily mean it should be stopped. Different but similar example: some people fidget. They might twirl a pencil constantly, or fiddle with some knick-knack on their desk, or play with a headphone cable. That behaviour might be equally annoying to someone sat next to them. The trick, I think, is not to try to curtail people's natural behaviours, but to find a way to accommodate them. I'm not saying there's no issue here, but that responding by mandating specific behaviour isn't constructive.
    – Dan Puzey
    Dec 6, 2016 at 9:45

Rather than silencing them, why not make it more difficult to hear them? Use headphones at work, listen to music while you work.

This will not be allowed in every environment (Works best in office based environments that don't require you to be on the phone a lot), however if you can speak to your boss and explain your current predicament, you could negotiate during this time you could use headphones (If you are not normally allowed).

Trying to get people to stop a habit is difficult work and you will be causing more tension than it's worth (Especially since this is a temp situation), instead try to find other ways to remove the problem.


I've always discussed such distractions with my manager.

Sometimes my manager was able to get the office to be less distracting. Other times I've had to resort to listening to my iPod when things got noisy.

  • 2
    I got the impression that you're the first person that actually seem to understand how difficult it is to work in a noisy environment and also did something more about it then just give up without even trying out of fear of losing friends.
    – red-shield
    Dec 5, 2016 at 19:54
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    @t3chj0b It's not about losing friends, it's about damaging professional relationships. Putting up posters and mimicing your colleague is only going to anger them and make it difficult to ever work with them in the future. Going to your manager is a good option, assuming you approach it constructively and professionally without trying to demonize your coworker. Keep in mind that if your manager says there's nothing to be done, then the decision has been made and you need to suck it up and live with it.
    – David K
    Dec 5, 2016 at 20:12
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    @t3chj0b - in these days of "open offices" constant noise seems to be the norm. I think it's ridiculous to have to put up with it, but most companies don't seem to care much. Dec 5, 2016 at 20:13
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    @HLG: No, talking is the hardest noise to not be distracted by. It engages something in your brain that interprets and tries to parse and react to the speech. Planes taking off, cars going by, fans kicking in are all much easier to ignore. Thinking out loud is fine when there aren't others around. When they are, it's just plain inconsiderate and rude. Don't try to blame the victim. What if I had a clock in a shared off that loudly said "The time is ..." every 5 minutes. I doubt you'd think that was OK. Or if I often left smelly cheese on my desk, etc. Dec 5, 2016 at 22:10

It helps me to concentrate on what I'm doing and retain specific elements of the idea into my memory bank when I think out loud. It helps me to stay focused when so many other "noises" are vying for my attention, such as the conversation happening down the hall, or a co-workers phone ringing. It seems to me that you should find a way to cope with the irritation in lieu of demanding someone else to change the way they process information. We aren't all created with the same learning styles in the same way that we all aren't created to work in the same way. You can't control others, but you can control yourself. Buy some earplugs. Train yourself to tune them out.

  • It seems to me that you should not tell people to cope with your irritating behaviour because thinking aloud is not normal. You're not alone in the office and I can find a ton of things that would annoy you and tell you deal with it. How would you like that?
    – red-shield
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:00
  • Why should I tolerate your unpleasant behaviour and you completely ignore my thinking process? Maybe we should swap and for a change you give me my space for thinking by simply staying silent?
    – red-shield
    Sep 11, 2019 at 17:06
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    @red-shield It's fairly common in software engineering. There's even a term for it. To talk to the rubber duck. Sep 11, 2019 at 17:58
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    I think we can lower the tone on the comments, guys. No need to use strong words or attack other users. On other note, I think that rubber duck is OK as long as you don't bother others. Respect is a two-way street, but also at the end the good of the many prevails the good of the few (that is, if only one or few people are bothered by this, they are the outliers, or the company culture is not the one those people would like)
    – DarkCygnus
    Sep 11, 2019 at 18:10
  • this post is rather hard to read (wall of text). Would you mind editing it into a better shape? Also, this seems to merely repeat points made (and much better explained in 2nd and 3rd top voted answers. See Back It Up and Don't Repeat Others
    – gnat
    Sep 11, 2019 at 18:26

Extroverts often use a discussion with others to elicit and articulate their thoughts. Introverts seldom have discussions because of their internal dialogues raging their heads to work out the LOGICAL issues...sometimes at the expense of emotional and social issues attached to the problem at hand.

You are missing a golden opportunity to think outside the box of your own skull when you use your chatty colleagues as sounding boards, and as a method to expand your ability to problem-solve with feedback. Tune them into your station by changing the song of small talk into news you can use.

  • Sounds like an environment with a lot of talk. I wouldn't like that. Dec 5, 2016 at 19:49
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    This answer could be improved by linking and quoting some supporting information.
    – user30031
    Dec 6, 2016 at 3:20

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