There are obvious benefits to an open office. Have a question for your manager? You can just walk right over to her. Want to have an impromptu conversation with your team? You don’t even need to go into a conference room.
But there are also times when you really need to get something done—and all that ruckus around you makes it hard to focus. You could just shout, “Hey, jerks! I need some quiet time!” But that’s not only rude, it probably won’t work, either.
If you’re at a loss for ways to tell your co-workers to be quiet in your open office, here are a few ideas to help you get what you want.
1. When Someone Won’t Leave Your Desk: Meet Them in The Middle
The flipside of being able to walk over to someone’s desk? They can do the same to you. And it usually happens just at the moment when you need to hunker down and get some work done.
There are probably two reasons you’ve experienced this. Your teammate might have something work-related to talk to you about, which is totally reasonable. But he also might want to talk about a certain football player’s personal life, which you just don’t have the time for.
If it’s a work-related conversation, you can say:
“I’d love to chat about this, but I have a firm deadline coming up. Can you grab some time on my calendar for us to chat later?”
But if it’s just friendly banter, try saying:
“Hey, I have a lot to say about this and can’t wait to discuss this. But I have to get this done before I can step away.”*
2. When the Entire Floor’s Loud: Be a Little Blunt
There’s one universal truth about open offices: You’re bound to get wrapped up in fun, yet completely unnecessary, conversations on a regular basis.
Maybe it’s a reality TV show that you all watch. Or maybe you all had a really terrible taco for lunch and can’t stop talking about it. You could put your headphones on and try drowning out the noise. But sometimes you just need a little quiet, right?
Want to shut down the conversation without sounding like a jerk? Try something like this:
“Can we bring the volume down a bit? Or could you take this into the kitchen? I have to meet this deadline and can’t focus now that I’m thinking about that terrible taco we just had.”
3. When It’s Just One Person: Ask Them Face-to-Face
Sometimes there’s that one guy who can’t stop laughing at a podcast he’s listening to. Or he keeps taking personal calls at his desk. Whatever it is, he’s kind of loud, even when everyone else is laser-focused at their desks. And because you know he’s not doing it maliciously, it’s hard to find ways to tell him to pipe down.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t approach him about his volume. Instead of shouting back at him from your desk, get up to talk to him. And when you get to his desk, try something like this:
“Hey, I know you’re not doing this on purpose, but it’s getting a little loud. I’m trying to get something urgent done, so could you be a little quieter?”
These are all guilt-free ways of asking people to be quiet, but that doesn’t mean you’ll feel comfortable doing it as soon as you’re finished reading this article. It’ll take practice and you’ll probably make mistakes along the way.
The good news is that it’s perfectly OK as long as your intentions are in the right place (and you’re not just being straight-up rude). Do it right and I promise nobody will hate you for it. In fact, they might respect you even more for being the person to pipe up.
Photo of people talking courtesy of Hero Images/Getty Images.
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.More from this Author