Noises from my office mate irritate

Published July 7, 2012

Q: I share an office with a woman who makes all kinds of irritating noises. She is constantly coughing, burping and clearing her throat. I have mentioned this problem in a nice way, but she continues to do it. Our supervisor has not been helpful at all.

I know I should not let this get to me, but these sounds are so disruptive that I can't concentrate on my work. After listening to her for eight hours, I go home stressed and angry every day. What can I do?

A: While these ongoing physical rumblings could certainly be annoying, the real issue is your overreaction to them. If you are allowing this minor issue to make you "stressed and angry every day," then you are blowing it out of proportion.

You may not realize that one contributing factor in this situation is your own sensitivity to sound. Physiologically, people vary quite a bit in their ability to screen out background noise. Some can easily ignore it, while others, such as yourself, are acutely aware of every sound in the room.

If your office mate was playing a radio or using a speakerphone, you could reasonably ask her to reduce the volume, but these bodily responses are largely beyond her control. The key to serenity, therefore, is learning to manage your own emotional reactions, because right now you are primed to be angry at the first hint of a cough.

To distract yourself, try using headphones or playing a radio at low volume. When you hear noises emanating from the other side of the room, just shift your attention to the music.

Lack of plumb jobs may speak to skills

Q: I work for a temporary service, but I'm often overlooked for the best assignments. Many of my co-workers get full-time positions, while I usually work only a couple of days a week. Sometimes the placement supervisor says there are no jobs available, then I later find out this wasn't true.

I have been with this service a long time, but seniority doesn't seem to matter. A new employee was recently given a great assignment that would have been perfect for me. How can I get them to give me more work?

A: While you may be focused on seniority, your agency is only concerned with performance. Because pleasing customers is their primary goal, the most highly rated employees are likely to receive the prime positions. Your lack of work may indicate that management has concerns about your competence, your attitude or your work habits.

Since management's opinion of you will be based on both customer feedback and their own observations, you must be consistently pleasant, professional and dependable in all your business transactions. But if you feel that you have no problems in this regard, then you should simply ask what you can do to get better assignments and pay close attention to the answer.

Boss seems too busy to talk with worker

Q: My manager hardly ever communicates with me. During the six months that I've been in this job, "Debra" has never met with me individually. If I send her a meeting request, she ignores it. In fact, she ignores most of my emails. When I try calling on the phone, Debra always says she's busy and will get back to me, but she never does. Dropping by her office is difficult because we're located in different buildings.

Debra expects me to email her a weekly report, and she occasionally replies with questions about my activities. But she never seems interested in my long-term projects or career goals. This worries me, because she is responsible for recommending raises and promotions. How can Debra accurately evaluate my performance if she doesn't talk to me?

A: Some misguided managers view employee communication as a distraction instead of recognizing that it is a core function of their job. Unfortunately, your unapproachable boss falls into this category.

Because Debra is clearly not a "people person," she is more likely to respond to immediate work-related concerns. If you specify the topics you wish to discuss and their relationship to current objectives, you may have more luck getting her attention.

As a relatively new arrival, you might also benefit from comparing notes with your colleagues, especially those who seem to work well with your boss. Ask if they can suggest any useful strategies for "managing up," but be careful not to complain about Debra's leadership style.

If nothing seems to work, then you may simply need to accept that your boss has reclusive tendencies and modify your behavior accordingly. Otherwise, she will eventually begin to find you annoying.