Are you sensitive to noises such as chairs scraping on cement floors, ear-piercing laughs and sneezes, and dogs constantly barking? I am. I may have inherited the sensitivity to noise from my father (we’re both 5-Observers in the Enneagram. He required absolute silence so he could concentrate on his reading.
I sometimes wonder if my love of beautiful sounds and my infatuation with music (Beethoven, the Beatles, great jazz, Shostakovich) has squeezed out other brain activities: especially my memory. I almost never forget music but I have never remembered historical and other facts well.
Except for the dog barking down the street right now, I feel fortunate to live and work in a quiet house in a quiet neighborhood. I'm going to tell you about sounds in the workplace. But first, to emphasize how important quiet is to some of us, let me tell you about Burt.
Burt, normally a kind and law-abiding man, took a leave from his job in order work on a PhD. He spent all his days studying while his kids were in school and his wife was at work. The dog next door to him was left in the back yard while his owners went to work. It barked at every leaf that moved and drove Burt nuts. After many months of this he bought some dog food and lured the dog into his car. Then they went for a ride across a large body of water over a bridge and miles and miles through suburbs until he found a neighborhood where the people seemed kind. He let the dog out hoping someone would take it in and he never saw it again.
Noise is a distraction to most of us but some do their best working in a noisy environment, like a busy café. I know 9-Peace Seekers, who are usually easily distracted, who paradoxically thrive in such environments.
In “Where Sounds Have No Barrier” (NY Times 3-2-14), Phyllis Korkki discusses three kinds of office set-ups: open, enclosed, and those with glass enclosures. I was surprised to hear that office equipment has become so quiet, other sounds now stand out more and distract us. Even the absence of sound can be distracting.
It’s a problem when we switch our attention to a sound, then back again to the task we’re working on. Korkki writes, “Some companies now install sound-masking equipment—which emits a continuous, nonirritating sound to help deal with noise concerns and protect confidential conversations… if you can’t understand what people are saying you can more easily ignore it.”
Ideally, the office has spaces for collaborating and spaces for individual focusing. Glass enclosures offer the possibility of keeping in visual contact while cutting down on noise. Korkki says Twitter, Facebook, and Google favor open offices to promote collaboration.
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