Q: I am already a full-time remote employee, so needing to get work done effectively from my own apartment is not new to me. What is new, however, is my neighbors becoming WFH and not respecting that others can hear their noise. What can I do to stay sane with an unidentifiable neighbor (can’t quite pinpoint the apartment) constantly singing arias during working hours? I am open to any suggestions ranging from calming meditation to effective ways to start a petty war. — Caroline, Washington, D.C.
A: There are two kinds of people: cowards and psychos. To reveal who is which, simply introduce a loud neighbor into a residential environment. Psychos will confront the neighbor immediately. Cowards will wish death upon the neighbor until it arrives, or until they move or the neighbor does. Sometimes, if the neighbor is loud enough for long enough, a coward can transform into a psycho. Anyone who confronts a neighbor qualifies as psycho because there are two kinds of people — cowards and psychos — and only one of them would purposely initiate a dispute with someone who might be a psycho.
I know a couple (of laid-back psychos) with firsthand experience in persuading neighbors to move about more quietly. By coincidence, I am separately acquainted with one of the very neighbors they sought to quiet. After consulting the accusers and the accused (in the wake of their domestic drama, all have become good friends — so much so that they’ve never asked me to hang out with them as a group, I guess because their lives are so perfect now that they don’t need more friends, which is fine because I also do not), I believe I have some strategies for you.
The issue: loud walking in an apartment building. Weapons deployed: cookies and a note. The note, left outside the upstairs neighbors’ door, lamented that the building’s poor construction allowed sound to carry easily between floors, and proposed a couple of solutions: Perhaps the folks upstairs would consider switching to socks inside, or putting down some rugs?
The upstairs neighbors were upset to learn that they had disturbed anyone.
Dedicating a few solid minutes to really trying to locate the source of the sound could prove fruitful; is it possible that in the past you gave up too quickly because you were agitated and had no plan for what you’d do once you found the singer anyway? If you can find the offending apartment, present its occupant with a friendly signed note blaming building acoustics (always a safe bet — what are the odds the architect lives in your crummy, non-soundproofed building?), accompanied by a peace offering. Some people might hesitate to accept mystery cookies in the midst of a pandemic, and toilet paper is currently too valuable to leave unattended. Maybe try a candy bar?
If you absolutely cannot identify the noise source, you’ll have to broaden your reach. Affix a note somewhere prominent in a common area that says something like: “As more of us are asked to stay home, a few neighbors are having trouble finding a quiet work environment. The construction of this old building [or “new building”; people won’t argue the note’s logic] means that sound carries through the walls [or between floors, or under doors — again, it doesn’t matter] unusually well. Any efforts to cut back on noisy behaviors during the day will earn the eternal thanks of your neighbors. (Of course, I’m happy to do anything I can to make our lives a little easier right now. Feel free to reach out if you have a request or an idea.)” Sign it with your name, contact information and apartment number.
Yes, this note is filled with deceptions and half-truths — multiple neighbors have not complained to you; you know nothing about the physics of sound; you are not happy to do a favor — but you live in a building where someone is loudly singing all day, so clearly social mores are off the menu. In all likelihood, you’ll never hear from anyone.
The key element in either scenario: The note you leave must be signed. An anonymous note comes off as rude, annoying and begging to be defied. A signed confrontational letter suggests that the writer is a psycho, and must therefore be appeased.
[The following is a question from the era before the coronavirus became everyone’s new boss. We have included it here to remind readers what it was like to work in an office.]
Q: I supervise a team of three. A former co-worker, when he departed the office, left his “365 Days of Amazing Trivia” calendar behind. We have developed the tradition of keeping score of our correct trivia answers for no reason.
Our system is to forget about the calendar for several days. Then, whoever remembers that we have forgotten about the calendar tears off all of the forgotten days at once, reads through them alone, and initials the page if he or she knew the answer. This person deposits the stack of sheets on someone else’s desk, who repeats the process until all of us have had a chance to peruse the questions. Whoever gets around to it (probably me) tallies it all up and adds points to our scoreboard.
One of my team members is significantly older than the rest of us. We love her, but she is also out of her mind and has never grasped the system. We have to give her the pile of cards last, because she will verbally (to herself) speculate about what the answer might be and then announce (to herself) what the right answer was. Listening to her machinations, it is clear that she often does not guess the answer correctly. However, when the pile comes back to be tallied, she has written her initials on all of the cards, indicating a 100% success rate. We have asked her a few times not to announce the answers out loud, but no one has had the “your success rate is suspicious” conversation. She is absolutely kicking our butts on this scoreboard. What to do? — Anonymous, Denver
A: She thinks the initialing is meant to indicate a person has read the card. She most likely wonders why her supervisor has instituted this time-consuming and pointless practice unrelated to work but dutifully reads the masses of random calendar facts that pile up on her desk because you have given her the impression she must. Stop asking her to not announce the answers out loud. Never trifle this woman again with more made-up rules for the fake game she doesn’t realize she is playing. I am glad you love her. I hope you respect her as well. Deduct 80 points from every score except hers.