Five Leadership Tactics To Survive A Noisy Workplace

pic for noisy workplace

My head was pounding after my morning presentation at a manufacturing firm this past week. I was anticipating the afternoon session with trepidation, wondering how I would present and facilitate with the loud background pounding and whistle-blowing. Although the workshops were in a private training room high above the manufacturing floor, the noise levels from the plant could be heard and even felt.

As the supervisors arrived to the program, some of them carefully took off their hard hats and goggles. There was a mixture of office managers and operational leaders in the class. The client wanted the classes to be a combination of both sides of the business, hoping to help them understand the challenges each side experiences. Thrilled to have the different leadership perspectives of this organization all gathered together, I was armed and ready.

As we began with my thought-provoking ice breaker, the floor started to vibrate. The noise of the machines began to roar and we all had to speak a bit louder to be heard.

“Wow! A bit noisy even up here” I blurted out to the participants.

“You’ll get used to it”, they laughed back.

“How do you communicate with each other with all the racket?” I asked.

That’s when the program on Effective Communication really got interesting.

Noise in our work worlds may not be machinery but perhaps loud talking outside of our desks or cubicles. It may be constant phone chatter or talking over one another. Whatever the form of noise, it can be very distracting and even prevent us from being able to focus or concentrate. What can we do to overcome the loud noise?

Five tactics for leaders at all levels to survive a noisy workplace:


You may be laughing at this point, but earplugs or headphones can be a very helpful way to reduce the noise levels and enable us to be more focused. Many of us already do this at our places of work, even listening to music to keep us centered. If using headphones or earplugs isn’t an acceptable policy, try using your leadership influence to share the positive features of temporarily shutting out the decibels to perform.


In the workshop last week one of the participants explained that he and his teammates use hand gestures to communicate over the din. They created a unique language to speak with one another using their fingers. They even train new employees on this method of communication. Quite inventive!


Another way to make sure important information is shared and discussed is to schedule short meetings in quiet spaces with doors to connect. One of my clients had a slew of small conference rooms that were used for that purpose while the rest of their workspace was fairly open. Removing ourselves from the clatter can empower us to think more clearly and be more productive.


If ever we were begged to be active listeners, there is no more challenging place than in a loud, noisy work environment. As difficult as it may be to listen in a typical workspace, it is even more overwhelming to listen strategically in a raucous office or manufacturing plant.

  • When having a face-to-face conversation, turn towards the person and look into their eyes.
  • Notice the speaker’s body language and facial expressions.
  • If on the phone, listen for emotion and concern.


When I was faced with the constant noise levels during my presentation, it was helpful and refreshing to have short breaks and step outside where the sound was not present. Although our ears may be able to acclimate to loud decibel levels, we need to protect them and honor them.

How have you survived a noisy workplace? What tactics work for you?



10 thoughts on “Five Leadership Tactics To Survive A Noisy Workplace

  1. It’s hard to find the drive to focus on our work sometimes when it’s noisy and there is just so much going on. These are some great tactics and I definitely use them as much as possible. I know not everyone is lucky enough to have an office with a door they can close so one of the strategies my office uses is a card signaling system. Outside of the cubicles we post Green/Yellow/or Red cards to identify how welcoming we are to the distraction of others. This my not help with the noise, but it prevents people from disturbing you during a time you really want to focus. I will pass this article along to more people! Great stuff.

  2. I love your idea of a card system, Brent! Creating simple ways to help us deal better with all the distractions we face is so important in all of our office environments. Distractions are challenging and are also a form of noise as they often pull us away from being in productive flow.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your wonderful story!

  3. I worked in a recruiting call center and was lucky enough to be in an executive role which meant a private office with a door. All of our recruiters were out on the floor (100+) making calls and trying their best to stay focused on their candidates despite the loud buzz in the room. In their case, headphones helped, they could hear their caller and focus on their conversation instead of the people around them.

    Also appreciate your suggestion of quick meetings outside of the din. In our case, it wasn’t equipment making the noise but colleagues. First thing in the morning, we had team huddles to get focused and connect with each other before phone time.

    I can only imagine your training! What an experience!


  4. Good points indeed.
    Noisy working place is a very difficult pace to concentrate / work.
    Another alternate……. Remove coat, tie & shoes / socks (if possible).
    This might will improve your comfort level.
    I appreciate the idea of using good quality / soft fiber earplugs. This might reduce the noise level by 70 – 80 %.
    Zafarmanzoor, Engr. Pakistan.

  5. Noise does come in many different forms in our workplaces but can be as distracting as a loud machine. Headphones are a terrific way to screen out much of the noise and as you shared in your great story, while still allowing us to focus on conversations.

    The training was actually fun!

    Thanks Alli for your insights and lessons!

  6. What a great idea to work in more comfortable clothing to overcome some of the noise and distractions. I remember that when I needed to constantly wear suits in the workplace, I was always focused on the way I felt. Our work should be our focal point.

    Thanks so much for your comments Zafar!

  7. This has happened to me soooo many times: “Noise in our work worlds may not be machinery but perhaps loud talking outside of our desks or cubicles. It may be constant phone chatter or talking over one another. Whatever the form of noise, it can be very distracting and even prevent us from being able to focus or concentrate.” It’s always a fine line between joining in the camaraderie and conversations around us and putting up a wall of silence so we can ignore the distractions and get our work done!

    There is a LOT to be said for developing community by partaking in conversations around us, but I find that the best way for me to concentrate is in total silence—and for that I need people to either keep their mouth shut or tone it down. But, as you mention, noise is not always optional so we need to find constructive ways to work around it…great article!

  8. So true that there is a fine line in developing relationships and carving out time for ourselves to overcome noisy workplaces. We each need to find the balance and space to be able to focus and not be distracted. It’s alright to tell our teammates that we find it difficult to concentrate with loud chatter around us. But sometimes we just need to remove ourselves to get work done.

    Thanks LaRae for your helpful additions!

  9. Great article Terri! The hand gestures, and colored signs mentioned in your post and in the comments are great ideas.

    I’ve worked for companies with lots of noise, but had an office, and access to conference rooms as needed – but found this post to be very thought provoking. Thank you!

  10. Thanks Chery! Sometimes we are knee deep in noise levels and as the participants in my class shared, they just try to work around them. Noise can be very debilitating and can derail our focusing. Empowering ourselves with ways to overcome the din, can be profound and enhance our productivity. If we are faced with loud chatter we always have the option of talking with others to reduce that.
    Always appreciate your additions Chery!

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