Q: My co-worker’s annoying habits drive me absolutely crazy. She is constantly snapping her fingers, tapping her feet, humming a tune or popping her gum.

Share story

Q: My co-worker’s annoying habits drive me absolutely crazy. She is constantly snapping her fingers, tapping her feet, humming a tune or popping her gum. When I tried to reciprocate by hitting my pen against a glass for several minutes, she didn’t even notice. If this continues, I will eventually blow up and say something I regret. Any suggestions?

A: I regularly receive complaints about co-worker noise, so you are certainly not alone. In these situations, people should understand that their colleagues are not being intentionally rude. Some folks simply possess an innate ability to screen out background noise, while others, like yourself, are acutely aware of every sound in the room.

When these two types work together, the “sound sensitives” are greatly disturbed by random noises, while the “sound screeners” don’t understand what the problem is. This physiological difference explains not only your frustration, but also your colleague’s indifference to the retaliatory glass-tapping.

If your snapping and popping co-worker is a reasonable sort, perhaps she would be willing to help. In that case, you might try making a friendly request.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

For example: “Mary, I have a favor to ask. Because I have extremely sensitive hearing, I am easily distracted by noises that don’t bother other people. If sounds from your cubicle make it hard for me to concentrate, would it be OK if I ask you to tone them down?”

But if you fear the noisemaker will take offense, consider employing self-protective measures. Listen to soothing music with earbuds, use a white noise machine, or see if your boss might agree to move your desk.

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at yourofficecoach.com.