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A coworker has a song as their phone's ringtone, and the song lyrics could be flagged NSFW. It does not contain actual cursing, but has tons of obvious sexual innuendo. I think it is disturbing.

I talked to them, but it was to no avail. They refuse to change the ringtone. Other coworkers agree that this ringtone is not a good one, but that I should not press further.

Is there a way I can get them to change the ringtone, without escalating too much?

  • 3
    How often does this happen? How many times per day/week? – user44108 Feb 1 '17 at 14:56
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    Your company has no rules about keeping your phones silenced at work? I would think that would cover this. My ringtone is the Zelda theme but I'm fairly certain nobody at work knows because we all keep our phones on DND mode to avoid distracting other coworkers. – Ethan The Brave Feb 1 '17 at 14:58
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    Would you be willing to accept an outcome like, "All phones must be on vibrate during work hours"? Keep in mind that if you keep escalating, a global ban on something is a likely outcome. – jpmc26 Feb 1 '17 at 17:14
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    Look, I'm not gonna edit this, but I think "How to deal with him?" is very poor choice of words, especially if you mean this question seriously. – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Feb 1 '17 at 19:06
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    dilbert.com/strip/2003-07-04 – Dan Neely Feb 1 '17 at 19:53
94

Is there a way I can get they to change the ringtone, without escalating too much?

You have talked to your coworker and he is disagreeing. You have also established that your other coworkers don't want to get involved. Your next step would be the guys manager.

Only you can know if you consider that "escalating too much".

32

You could call his phone while a manager is within hearing distance.

But your colleagues are right, escalating things might cause more problems without really solving this one. People have a right to choose their own ringtones on their own devices after all (even though it's just good manners to have your phone on silent while in the office).

Unless he's getting calls every half hour, I'd ignore it.

Over-reacting and escalating the problem can also create a hostile workplace. While it's possible to claim that people have a right to do this and that, the OP here has to live with the consequences and sometimes sucking up a minor inconvenience is better than creating or worsening a potentially toxic working environment with a co-worker.

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    Except for the fact that his phone probably has caller ID, and if OP isn't careful then NSFW-Ringy Coworker™ will know exactly who called at an awkward moment. – hBy2Py Feb 2 '17 at 1:48
  • Call from the work phone,if it shows the company trunk not the actual extension. – JDługosz Feb 2 '17 at 8:44
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    Just make the call with Skype. Problem Solved. – BonsaiOak Feb 2 '17 at 13:57
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    "People have a right to choose their own ringtones" -- I mean, yes, in general, but that doesn't mean all choices are okay. Just as it's not acceptable to periodically shout offensive things in your office, it's not acceptable to use your phone to do the same thing. There's of course a question of degrees, and I'm not sure exactly how bad it is in this case, but certainly some ringtones would be too disruptive or offensive to be reasonable. – Cascabel Feb 3 '17 at 1:39
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    You give up a lot of 'rights' in the workforce. One of those is non-conformance to social norms. This is why the pushback on people who are politically incorrect at the office, or who outright bully or intimidate. Also why employers can ask employees to cover tattoos or remove excessive or offensive jewelry. Save the risque ringtones for the bar. The new workforce is less tolerant of offensive behavior and this individual could cause others to leave too. You owe it to your company to escalate this. – Bill Leeper Feb 6 '17 at 19:47
29

Making his phone ring while the boss is nearby is a cute idea, although it may not garner the desired response (ie: changing his ringtone.) His boss may not care enough to say anything, or he might just apologize quietly and not do anything else. It could also backfire on you if your coworker can trace the incoming call back to you, so tread carefully.

A coworker has a song as their phone's ringtone, and the song lyrics could be flagged NSFW. It does not contain actual cursing, but has tons of obvious sexual innuendo. I think it is disturbing.

If a human being were to speak the lyrics to another human being in the office, would it reasonably be considered sexual harassment? Harassment in the workplace can take many forms, and women are not the only ones allowed to complain about it.

You could take a transcript of the lyrics to HR and ask them what the company's policy is regarding language like this in the office. Not naming the coworker specifically, or even admitting it's someone's ringtone. Just tell them you're trying to gauge what is or is not appropriate around the office. That could help to inform you on what should be done next as well as how likely you are to get support from people outside your department.

Filing a (politely worded) complaint with HR is not necessarily over-reacting. You could even submit the complaint anonymously if you're really worried about it, so they know what's happening without knowing who exactly brought it up.

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    If the boss hears the ringtone and doesn't object, then you escalate. - Learn the whole song, and every time his phone rings within your hearing, sing the remainder of the song at projected volume while he's trying to have a conversation. – A. I. Breveleri Feb 1 '17 at 20:33
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    Keep in mind that something that would be inappropriate or akward to be said might be less inappropriate in a song. – Pere Feb 2 '17 at 18:39
  • Good idea to take printed lyrics to manager or HR. – user2338816 Feb 3 '17 at 12:09
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Personally, if I were in your shoes, I'd probably talk to my manager about trying to set up a policy to require cell phones to be set to vibrate or silent mode while at work. Or, if that policy already exists, about enforcing it more strictly. Regardless of whether the ringtone is a song with NSFW lyrics, it's disruptive to have other people's phones ringing audibly in the office.

I might also mention the issue of some people having NSFW ringtones to my manager as yet another reason to support the aforementioned phone-silencing policy. Whether you name names on who has such an inappropriate ringtone is up to you, but it seems unnecessary in this context unless perhaps your manager specifically asks whose it is. Avoiding naming names would help to limit escalation while still hopefully providing enough incentive for your manager to get this problem shut down.

Having the policy of putting phones on silent operation while at work also has the benefit of allowing your coworker to keep his phone on the inappropriate ringtone if he so desires without disturbing or offending you or others in your office while he's at work.

12

Not progressing further than asking them to change their ring-tone is correct, and your colleagues are correct about that approach. You just can't always have an environment 100% free of anything you don't like, this really is a minor issue.

Few times my colleague used very annoying (though not offensive at all) ringtones. I didn't even comment on it and I really think obsessing about stuff like this is a waste of time.

If you absolutely can't tolerate this then obviously talk to your manager. But don't expect your colleagues to back you on anything. They clearly stated that they don't like it but tolerate it and even explicitly advised you not to push this.

  • I disagree: surely there are ringtones that would be intolerable to you (maybe: black metal, a murder scene from tv, or a Hitler speech). A chauvinist hip hop track with aggressive, male rap would upset me not less. Someone who insists on playing such a thing in the office, despite complains, is almost sociopathic. Of course OP should take action (and all phones should be silenced, that would be the optimal outcome, so this argument will be over once and for all.) – Felix Dombek Feb 1 '17 at 23:11
  • @FelixDombek black metal doesn't work as ringtone, because it usually demands high quality loudspeakers to be heard correctly, and it will just sound like noise if played through average phone speaker. so, this is bad example – Sarge Borsch Feb 2 '17 at 9:18
  • @Sarge well, I had this once, but in general you're right – Felix Dombek Feb 2 '17 at 9:24
  • @FelixDombek Nice one! Some In Extremo songs work pretty well too despite the lack of decent speakers. – Tonny Feb 2 '17 at 10:42
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    @FelixDombek Neither of those things would be offensive enough to make me care. I listen to black metal. If someone had a hitler speech as a ringtone, it's either for parody/balck humor, which I don't mind or he endorses hitler and in that case that is the problem, not the ringtone. – Tomáš Zato - Reinstate Monica Feb 2 '17 at 11:17
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Other coworkers agree that this ringtone is not a good one, but that I should not press further.

Okay, so your coworkers do not support further action in terms of persuading the colleague to change the ringtone.

Therefore, the answer to "how to deal with him" is deal with it.

That is, just ignore it.

-5

Use the same ringtone, which will make the ringtone not unique to him anymore thus devalues it in his mind. When he asks tell him that after a while you started to like this ringtone.

This will eventually make him change it to something else.

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    Bad idea. Not only his but also yours will disturb others. Furthermore, after he changes it, what are you going to do? Keep using the ringtone he used? Then you become the one who disturbs everyone. If you change it back to your original one, then he changes back to the disturbing one? It won't work. – scaaahu Feb 2 '17 at 9:28
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    Might be a sound approach at school, maybe... – Alex Feb 2 '17 at 14:17

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