No matter the title, all need to be able to give feedback

Dear Joan:

I almost made the mistake of losing my cool the other day and decided to email you for advice. 

I work for a national brokerage firm. My job title is “team leader” but I have nothing to do with HR issues. My problem is that certain units within our office have become so blatantly loud I find myself and others competing with the noise in order to attend to our customer phone calls. I am sometimes embarrassed because the caller can hear the ruckus and asks, “What on earth is going on?” Imagine calling your bank for information and hearing people cackling and shouting in the background. 

It gets better: one of the employees causing the problem is actually a supervisor. She is loud by nature and refuses to use the handset when attending to her phone calls (unless it’s a personal call). I can hear her entire conversation through the speaker and it’s extremely distracting (not to mention annoying). Yesterday, I was working with figures and was constantly interrupted by these people. I almost lashed out and asked them to tone it down! 

Instead I took a walk to the ladies room to calm down. My question is, how can I bring this to her attention and everyone else’s without acting in an insubordinate manner? I’m at my wits end with this problem. 

Answer:

There is nothing insubordinate about asking people to tone it down, so you can speak to a customer and do your job.  

Of course, you will need to make your request in a calm and professional manner. Here is a suggested approach: 

Go to the loud supervisor and ask for a brief meeting. “I need to talk with you about something I need your help with. When will you have a few minutes to talk?” 

Open the conversation like this: “I’m sure you’re not aware of this, but I’ve been having a customer service problem and I could really use your help. I’m all for people enjoying their work and laughing and talking in the office. But lately it’s getting so loud, I’m getting complaints and questions from customers. For example, several customers have heard so much laughing and shouting in the background they have actually said, “What on earth is going on in your office?” It’s embarrassing because I know we want to portray a professional image. 

I find it very distracting, too. The other day, I was working with figures and I kept losing my concentration because of all the noise. I had to go to the ladies room to keep from yelling at people to pipe down. 

I don’t mean to sound petty and I sure don’t want to be a wet blanket—we all enjoy a light atmosphere. But it would really help if people toned it down a little. I also don’t want to have everyone think I’m a whiner or complainer who is spoiling all their fun. So, I really need your help to communicate this.” 

Hopefully, your supervisor will quickly see that she has contributed to this problem and will offer to stop using her speakerphone for her calls. If she doesn’t pick up on this, suggest it. “One thing that would really help is to use your phone’s handset. Or, if that’s inconvenient, use one of those headsets with a microphone for your calls. I’m sure you don’t realize it but I can hear every word of your conversations.” 

This is a reasonable request and your supervisor should act immediately to fix the situation. She should change her own behavior and ask others to do the same. She can say to other loud coworkers, “You know we’ve really got to tone it down around here. Customers on the phone have been hearing the laughing and loud talking and are making comments about it. I’m going to use my handset from now on, since I know I can be loud myself. So, let’s all lower the volume, okay?” 

In fact, your supervisor should be pleased that she has an employee who is concerned about customer service and the firm’s professional image. I’m sure many supervisors reading this wish they were as lucky.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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