Advice column: my room-mates' personal phone calls are distracting. What can I do to deter them?

Dear Ash

I share a small office with two other colleagues and I’m finding their behaviour to be quite annoying and distracting. Both are in relationships and tend to make numerous personal calls to their respective partners throughout the day. My objection to such behaviour is not motivated by envy, although I am admittedly currently a singleton, but by the often loud and personal nature of the calls. For example, one of my colleagues seems to constantly lie to her partner about how busy she is and seems to exaggerate the amount of work she has to do, seemingly in order to avoid going home on time. I am unsure how to broach the subject without being accused of listening in on personal calls.

Ash replies

Working in a relatively confined environment often results in increased tensions. You tend to have no room for any privacy and, speaking from my own past experiences, have inevitably had to endure all manner of coughs, smells, and loud communications from colleagues.

When making phone calls in such confined spaces you can sometimes be so engrossed in the call that you fail to realise how loud you are. It seems that your colleagues are also ignorant of any inconvenience you may have to endure by their actions. I therefore suggest that you perhaps consider initially making subtle hints to them during their phone calls by, e.g. rustling papers, coughing or leaving the room. If such an approach does not deter their behaviour, it may be worthwhile taking more direct action by providing them with a taste of their own medicine in order to get the message through to them.

Therefore, the next time they are both actually doing some work, perhaps take the opportunity to phone a friend/relative and speak at the same volume that you normally have to endure. Perhaps also cheekily express that you don’t usually phone during work hours as you are too busy, but thought you would make an exception on that particular day!

If things don’t change, then consider requesting a move to another room in order to ensure that relations do not continue to deteriorate. However, do be aware that you may come across similar, or indeed worse, issues in another room, and it may therefore be better just to buy some earplugs instead!

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