is my laugh too loud for the office?

A reader writes:

I think (know) I have a loud laugh. How can I tell if I need to dial it back, and how do you freaking do that?

I’m a generally loud person; it’s a trait probably every single one of my friends would mention about me if asked to describe me. However, I have managed in my work life to learn how to modulate my voice and am usually successful at having conversations in a cubicle appropriate volume.

I also, perhaps predictably, have a loud laugh. Again, usually I can manage a snort/giggle at a pretty appropriate volume, but I’m a jovial person and somewhat frequently (a few times a week, not several times a day) let out a belly laugh that can be heard across the room. Again, my work friends say nice things about my laugh, for example I had a partner at my last company tell me she was going to miss hearing my laugh, but I wonder if not everyone finds it so charming.

1) How do I figure out if people find my loud laugh annoying? Should I just assume that they do? Should I care?
2) If I should care, how do I fix it?

Yeah, I’d assume some people find it jarring. Think of it like any other sudden loud noise when you’re in the midst of focusing on something — for a lot of people, that type of thing will jerk them out of whatever they’re concentrating on. And it can be especially annoying when you’re hard at work, and you hear what sounds like a jarringly loud indicator that someone else … isn’t.

Plus, if it can be heard across the room, it can be heard through the phone, and your coworkers are probably sometimes on calls where a sudden loud laugh in the background might not be appropriate — especially if they’re delivering tough news or having an otherwise serious conversation.

So I do think you should care and try to rein it in, both out of courtesy to your coworkers and also to help maintain a professional environment.

As for how … well, I might be entirely wrong about this, and feel free to tell me if so, but I tend to think that we can all control this sort of thing when we want to — you presumably would be able to keep your laugh down in a quiet library or somewhere else where a loud laugh would be inappropriate, right? So whatever the restraint is that you exercise in those situations, that’s the restraint you want to call upon at work.

Now, I know that some people will say that this is nonsense, that the sounds of joy should never be stifled, so I want to make it clear: The joy is good. It’s just about recognizing professional norms and the needs of coworkers to focus, especially in an open office plan or one with cubicles.

And as one of those people who finds sudden loud nosies (even if they’re jovial) to be jarring when I’m concentrating, thanks for caring about it.

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