Dear J.T. & Dale: Utilizing the skills I learned from your advice column and J.T.’s website, Careerealism.com, I was able to find a new job that I love – except for two co-workers. “Jane” is extroverted and has great chemistry with “John.” The problem is that Jane’s cubicle faces mine. I try very hard to focus on my work and ignore them, but it’s gotten really bad. I’ve tried listening to music and tried ignoring them, but it just doesn’t work. Should I ask to be moved? – Crystal
J.T.: I believe you’re going to need to have a chat with Jane. Invite her to grab a cup of coffee, and explain the problem. Be sure to mention that ignoring them and using earphones haven’t worked, and now you may have to ask to be moved. That last one might concern her – who wants to be thought of as the person keeping others from doing serious work?
To soften this, you might say something like, “I really like working alongside you, but I’m fearful that my work performance is going to start to suffer.”
DALE: That might help, but I’m picturing the result being something like an episode of “The Office” – John and Jane start to refer to you as “The Librarian” and make shushing sounds when you look at them.
J.T.: At which point you request a seat change. Jane might react negatively, but if she does, at least you’ll know that you addressed it in a straightforward manner.
DALE: Before you say anything, I’d ask you to consider one other option. Open offices are distracting places, and it’s an important corporate skill to be productive regardless of anything else going on. Trying to ignore the distractions only magnifies them. However, it could work to go the other way and, instead of ignoring distractions, work on building your concentration skills.
Start telling yourself, “I can work through anything, anywhere.” I had to do this when I had a lot of business travel while still having writing deadlines. I taught myself to write while sitting in an airport corridor, a restaurant or anywhere else. I don’t do it by ignoring what goes on around me, but by turning up the volume on my mental focus until everything else fades into life’s background music. It’s what to think when you can’t hear yourself think.
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