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:
1. WEAR EARPLUGS OR HEADPHONES
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.
2. USE HAND LANGUAGE
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!
3. SET-UP SHORT MEETINGS IN QUIET PLACES
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.
4. LISTEN WITH MORE THAN YOUR EARS
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.
5. TAKE PERIODIC BREAKS
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?