I remember the time when I heard someone playing music in their cubicle. It was several cubes away, but I could still faintly hear it.
I worked in a cube farm, as it is so affectionately called. Dozens and dozens of cubicles all next to each other in a giant room.
I remember sitting there, straight up, with a look of super annoyance on my face as I thought about what to do. I was a writer, and I needed silence to write. I could deal with the typical ambient noise of the office, but something like music distracts me. Because this person decided they needed to hear some tunes, now I couldn’t work.
Listening to music in a cubicle–when you are surrounded by dozens of other people in cubicles–is inconsiderate and selfish. You have just made the decision for everyone that they will now listen to your music as well, whether they want to or not. To me, that is the utter height of rudeness. Plus—why couldn’t she use headphones?
I sat there in my cube, getting more and more annoyed about how inconsiderate this person was. I was getting worked up. I debated with myself of what to do. “Just ignore it,” I told myself. But I couldn’t.
Finally, I stormed over and found the offender. I told her, nicely, that I was sorry but could she turn her music off because I couldn’t work? She turned it off. I’m sure the second I walked away, she IMed all her co-workers, “OMG some crazy chick just came over and told me to turn my music off, wtf?!” I couldn’t care less.
Some people like to listen to music when they work, or have the TV on in the background, or go to a café where there is ambient noise. Then there are people like me that prefer complete silence with no distractions.
Both of these preferences are okay. But we all have to live and work together in this world. This is how I see it: My right to silence trumps your right to noise. Why? Because my silence won’t bother you and distract you from your work. You can wear headphones to listen to music if you need to, just don’t pollute my air with your soundwaves. Your need for noise will bother me and distract me; my silence won’t bother you.
So, in my mind, the right to silence always wins.
When you can’t avoid noise at work, pop in your headphones and listen to white noise. Or, if you like ambient noise of a coffee shop, try Coffitivity.
I enjoyed reading this. I also found it quite courageous of you to say that “your right to silence trumps their right to noise.” Sometime back, I was part of this group conversation where people were discussing how a chatty group was disturbing the quiet ones in an office. Someone said very dismissively that the quiet ones should be sent off to a corner, and if they needed quiet, that’s what headphones were for. I found her comment extremely patronizing. It really made me angry – but I couldn’t come back with a fast enough response.
It’s great to read someone making an assertive statement about the right to silence. Loved the topic!
Hi Ritu. I would be pretty irritated if I was a part of that conversation, too! In my mind, silence is the “default” or natural state. Those who want noise should be the ones who have to wear headphones!! I feel pretty strongly about that!
I liked your article and wholeheartedly agree.
I used to work in a cubicle at a company whose behavior was less than professional on many levels. But the noise affected me the most. They wanted to listen to music. It drove me bonkers. My point was exactly as yours – they could listen on headphones. I needed to have my ears uncovered because there were things that came up that we each needed to hear – including the phone ringing.
Telling an employee that if they don’t like the noise they should wear headphones is like telling them that if they don’t like the cigarette smoke they should wear a gas mask.
I’m just discovering that I am an HSP and am just now processing the past through that filter. Ugh. If I had known before I would have made different work choices for sure.
Thanks for the article.
I like the smoking and gas mask comparison!! I’m glad you can relate. It makes me (and others) feel less crazy! Good luck on your future work choices 🙂
Ear plugs help me in situations where I can leave them in. I had to share an office with three other people once and ended up in constant conflict with them because of the sound problem. To concentrate sometimes I would go to the empty cafeteria and do my work. What a relief that was.
Yes, yes, yes! Let’s all speak up for the right to silence.
And I’m tired of people saying “just use headphones” or “wear earplugs.” These devices do not create silence. Even “noise-cancelling” headphones only reduce certain steady low-pitched sounds, not conversation and intermittent or higher-pitched sounds. I have them; they’re great for airplanes, as they cut down on that background roar, but they won’t shut out distracting conversations. And earplugs — same thing. Good for protecting my hearing from the NYC subway’s assault, but I can still hear all the chatter around me. It just sounds a bit muffled, but no less annoying.
Plus they are not comfortable for long. The headphones create a sort of vacuum inside my ear canals that starts to bother me after an hour, and the earplugs are even worse. I had to get custom-made ones, because my ears are too small for the kind you can buy at a drugstore, but they still feel uncomfortable.
So yes, the headphone/earplug advice is definitely like saying if you don’t want to breath my cigarette smoke, wear a gas mask!
haha! The gas mask comparison is so good! Thank you for sharing, Karen!!