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How to handle a workplace distraction

Posted by Pattie Hunt Sinacole  March 2, 2009 08:15 AM

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Q. There is an attorney in my office who conducts his business at his secretary's desk, this includes telephone calls, dictating, etc. I'm very busy and my concentration and productivity is greatly affected by this. I've tried talking to my boss, but to no avail. Any suggestions?

A. This sounds like an unpleasant situation. With open offices and cubicles being the trend, this is a more common situation than in past years. It sounds like your boss may not want to confront the situation either.

I am also someone that can be very distracted by background noise so I share your pain. Here are some suggestions:

- Reserve a conference room for a block of time during the day and take work that requires focus and concentration into this conference room. I have even seen employees use a lunch room or quiet spot in the cafeteria to avoid distractions.

- Try to determine if there is a schedule or pattern that this attorney follows, specifically with the time spent at his secretary’s desk – is it after lunch, late in the day? Then, can you work around it? Can you take lunch at that time or use another cubicle or desk at that time?

- Consider purchasing ear plugs and using in a discreet manner.

- Can you use a small set of headphones to provide some white-noise relief?

- Ask his secretary if he/she has any suggestions – perhaps ask his secretary to offer to relocate to the attorney’s office for activities like dictation rather than handling some of these tasks at the secretary’s desk.

- And lastly, could you approach him in a non-threatening but polite way? Although I see this as a viable option, I do know what your work culture or organization. I would not want you to threaten your employment situation so this is certainly an option that might be risky.

I realize that this attorney may be driving you nuts with his noise levels but my guess is that he does not realize it is affecting you so negatively.

I am alway interested in the opinions of our readers. Do you have any solutions to offer?

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2 comments so far...
  1. Use a fan or a white noise machine between you and the offending noise. Be on the lookout for an office you can relocate to. Ask around to see if your co-workers are bothered by this attorney's loudness. Come into the office earlier in the AM when it's quieter. Very nicely butt into his business once in a while "Oh, I couldn't help but overhear what you were saying and... ".

    Posted by DWilliams March 8, 09 06:38 PM
  1. You can also use a White noise machine in the office to mask out distracting noises and increase concentration.

    Posted by Gabriel Mendoza July 29, 09 02:42 PM

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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.

Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.

Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.

Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.