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Seeking silence and inconsiderate gabbers | Ask Erin

Cubical frustration

Dear Erin,

I work in a large office building where we work in cubicles. Some days when I am really trying to focus, the distractions around me can be very frustrating. People will have meetings in their cubes and the conversations can get noisy.

There are three conference rooms on our floor but people still seem to meet at their desks.

Any suggestions about what I can do? Most everyone around me is my superior so it’s hard to say anything.

Sometimes, I listen to music but that can be just as distracting. I see some people using ear plugs but I’m not sure how well they really work.

Searching for the Sounds of Silence in Silverdale

Dear Sounds of Silence,

The joys of cubes!

Each person has their own style when it comes to concentrating.

Some people prefer commotion and background noise and excel in those environments. Those who bring their laptops to a coffee shop come to mind.  They thrive in the espresso machine ruled world.

Others find bustling environments too stimulating. If they tried to accomplish a task in a coffee shop, the end result would be an earful of overheard conversations. They aren't able to filter out the chatter.

My guess is that you fall in the second category. When your coworkers have  impromptu meetings, your focus gets sucked into their conversation.

Could you speak with someone in human resources about the problem? You don’t need to be a tattletale and reveal names, but instead bring up the issue and see if you all could brainstorm a solution.

You also could invest in a decent pair of noise canceling headphones. Even without music, they are very good at blocking noise. Plus, they are easier to manage than ear plugs.

And rest assured. If others in your office are using ear plugs, you aren't the only one bothered by the noise.

Cell phones and the public

Dear Erin,

I am so tired of people talking on their cell phone. I am a pediatric nurse and often try to talk to a mom to ask some medical questions and she is on the phone.

And why do people talk so loudly on their phone in public places?

Mobile Madness in Manchester

Dear Mobile Madness,

I hear your pain.

It’s almost as if people who sign up for cell phones should be required to take a test on cell phone etiquette and sign a “Promise to be polite” clause with their phone contract.

Nowadays, it’s hard to not witness daily acts of cell phone rudeness. I recently noticed a sign at the pharmacy that asked customers to please refrain from talking on their phone while being helped by the pharmacist.

Is common courtesy as dated as the rotary dial?

There is no excuse for a parent to be on the phone while you are trying to help. Next time, stop what you are doing and look their direction until they get the point and hang up. Maybe your office needs to put up “No cell phones” signs as well. (Which is ridiculous that people need to be reminded—and makes me wonder, are we not far off from needing “No belching” and “No gum smacking” signs?)

Oftentimes, cell phone talkers feel obliged to speak at decibels used for the old “can-and-string” telephones (which, as I child, I never could get to work). And nowhere is this more evident than on the ferry where businessmen walk around spewing figures and teens describe in great detail their recent breakup.

And just because I’m sitting in a ferry booth and my back is to you doesn’t mean my ears don’t work. I’ve heard earfuls crossing the Sound, everything from love affairs to details about medical issues. Perhaps I should start a reality television show called “Ferry Booth Confessionals,” because it wouldn’t be hard to find material.

— Write Ask Erin, Kitsap Week, P.O. Box 278, Poulsbo, WA. 98370 or email


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