by Curt Pederson
Work-life on the cube farm can be distracting enough for anyone but especially bothersome for someone trying to cope with misophonia. The noises heard from fellow cube mates run the full gamut that can make even the most focused person lose their concentration.
At a former job, we decided to have a little fun since it seemed a number of people were reluctant to point out that sometimes these noises were distracting and annoying. Borrowing from several different internet sources, we posted a list of Cube/Office Etiquette Rules. The rules were the usual ones that can be distracting and can be trigger noises to a misophonia sufferer: cell phones on silent/vibrate mode, no calls on a speakerphone, no humming/singing to your music, no nail cutting, chew gum/food quietly, drink beverages without slurping, no pen clicking or continuous paper rattling, etc, and even cautioned against eating smelly foods. We reminded everyone that the cube walls are not soundproof and of how sound easily carries. Even though they may not be busy at the time, a neighbor could be trying to focus on a task.
We then took it a step further and assigned point values to “infractions” of the rules at the discretion of the individual(s) noting the infraction. Anyone could “penalize” anyone else or even call themselves out for a rules violation—which often happened and for a while posted point totals on a whiteboard. The goal was to keep it light and get to a point where we could let a co-worker know the noise(s) they were making made a co-worker lose focus or found annoying without being too direct. Some may see it as the “chicken’s way out,” but it worked in our office to make everyone more aware of the noises being made and the impact on co-workers. It also raised our comfort level to point out bothersome noises. Even those with an office had an increased awareness and tried to be more mindful when they visited the cube farm. We had fun with it, no one stormed out, there was no punishment for accumulating a certain number of points or anything of that nature. We felt it was a kinder way to let a cube mate know the noise they were making was distracting/annoying. Several times a person knew they were the guilty party before anyone else said anything. Their “revenge” towards me came on my last day there when several approached my cube with spoons inside empty cups, clanking the spoons in the cups.Want to learn more? Join a Workshop with Dr. Jennifer Brout or Duke CMER at Misophonia Education.