The 4 Steps You Must Take to Deal With a Distracting Cubicle Neighbor Before Asking the Boss for Help

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With many people crammed into a small space, the office environment is sometimes disruptive. Making matters worse for many people is the new open-office trend, in which cubicle walls have been replaced by low partitions. Not only must workers deal with sound-based distractions, but there are now visual distractions, as well.

When a cubicle neighbor is especially disruptive, an employee can find it impossible to focus on the task at hand. Over time, this can lead to missed deadlines, declining work quality and any number of other issues that get in the way of career opportunities. If you’re one of those employees with an annoying cubicle neighbor, here are a few tips for handling it in a professional manner.

1. Set a good example.

Before you put the blame on the other person, search for ways to set a good example yourself. If you’re making personal phone calls, take it to a private area of the office where you won’t disrupt others. When any co-worker engages with you in a noisy or distracting manner in the workspace, suggest taking the conversation to a private area. Over time, this behavior may prompt disruptive colleagues to improve based solely on seeing the steps you’re taking to be respectful.

Related: How Much Is the Noise in Your Open Office Costing You?

2. Find your silence.

One of the best solutions to the contemporary distraction-heavy work environment is to mask it. Bring a pair of headphones or ear buds to the office and listen to music or white noise while you work. You'll shut out the noise while signaling your chatty cubicle neighbor that you aren’t free to talk. If your office has a private workspace available, slip in there whenever you can. If your home is distraction free, consider working from home as often as possible throughout the week. You may even be able to sync your telecommuting schedule so that you’re only in the office when your cubicle neighbor is in meetings or on the road.

3. Observe others

Before you take the situation further, step back and observe how others in the office react to this person. Are you the only person who is bothered by their behavior or do you notice that others are negatively impacted, as well? If a person is creating a distraction for multiple employees, management will likely be very interested to hear that one employee is impairing the productivity of so many other workers.

Related: Think Privacy for Open Office Layouts That Work

4. Speak to the employee.

The direct approach is the best approach. This won’t work with everyone but, when the behavior starts, ask the person to stop. This may mean requesting silence when you’re on a phone call. It may also mean saying, “I need to get to work now” when the employee has lingered in your work area or distracted you for too long. Be sure you speak in a voice that can only be heard by yourself and the other person to avoid embarrassment.

When all else has failed, speak to your supervisor.

When all else fails, you’ll unfortunately need to have a talk with your superiors about the person. Start with your own supervisor and ask for a private meeting. Focus on how the behavior is affecting your work performance and avoid anything that could make it seem personal. Ask your supervisor how you should proceed, especially if the other employee has a different supervisor.

Working in a cramped office environment can be tough when your work requires focus. When one employee proves to be particularly distracting, take the time to assess the situation before taking action. You may be able to handle things without getting upper management involved. Whatever you do, be professional at all times to avoid being seen as the person who is causing problems within the office.

Related: 8 Tips for Staying Healthy in an Open Office