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#sowhoknew: Why talking too loudly drives your co-workers crazy

My youngest daughter has no volume switch. Just like her late Grandfather, she has only one setting. Spinal Tap ‘up to 11’ loud. And just like anyone in business with the same genetic affliction, I find myself simply switching off when they speak. So why is it such a problem and how can it be fixed?

Look, I get it. Everybody wants to be heard. So it makes total sense that to gain an advantage in a conversation, or to merely grab someone’s attention then speaking louder seems like a perfectly reasonable solution. Wrong. The sad truth is that it’s actually counter intuitive and it’s often just a source of irritation for the listener. Me included. Whenever I am on the receiving end of a high decibel audible assault on my eardrums, the only thing I can think about is duct tape.

It seems that I’m not alone in this viewpoint either as the most sonorous employees in the office also win the award for most annoying. A study of 2,318 workers conducted by Harris Interactive and Randstad in March 2016 into the most infuriating habits in the workplace was the ‘loud talker’ who was hated by almost a third of respondents. Interestingly both second and third placed pet peeves were also audibly related with ‘annoying cellphone ringtones’ bugging 30 per cent of people and ‘use of speakerphones’ a further 22 per cent.

Lynn Taylor, author of the book ‘Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant‘ explains that, “Loud and talkative coworkers can be one of the most annoying distractions on earth — and, unfortunately, they’re pretty common in today’s workplace.”

So how do you deal with the problem diplomatically without offending your colleague? The truth is that it is pretty difficult to find something tactful to say. According to Michael Kerr, the author of ‘You Can’t Be Serious! Putting Humor to Work‘, he suggests using something non-confrontational such as, “Hey, I need your advice on something. I know it can be challenging working in such close quarters. Is there anything I can do to improve your work experience being that we work so close by each other? Do I tap my pen or slam my cabinet? You never know until you ask!”

Hmmm, well that all sounds fine in principle but it relies on the subject being able to decipher your rather unsubtle critique and then offer the proverbial olive branch of suggesting that they themselves could tone down their dulcet tones by way of a compromise. I still think that the duct tape solution is more viable. Ok maybe that’s a little extreme. What about a set of noise cancelling headphones instead?

And what if you are one of the aforementioned loud talkers yourself? If you have a high level of self awareness and can recognise that you have a problem, what methods can you adopt to try and converse at a more convivial level? Here are five tips to try and tone it down:

1. Practice listening more than speaking. After all you have two ears and one mouth, so try and use them in that ratio.

2. Control your environment. Excessive background noise will inevitably make you speak louder so try to eliminate extraneous sounds.

3. Stay positive when speaking negatively. Oftentimes people raise their voice when there is a difference of opinion. Stay calm and always deliver your point of view without deviating from your normal voice.

4. Train your voice. Speak from your diaphragm which will help you to speak at the same level.

5. Get your hearing tested. It may be you speak louder because of some impairment in your hearing, so get it checked.

So what do you think? Are you irked by the Chatty Cathy or Effusive Eric in the office? If so, beyond duct tape and/or headphones, what do you recommend to get them to turn it down? And if you are a loud talker yourself do you even think that there is a problem? As ever, I’m keen to hear your point of view…

Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.
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