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4 Polite Ways to Get People to Pipe Down When You're Trying To Focus


We've all been there – sitting harmlessly in Starbucks, studying for a test, reading the paper, writing an email, when a brazenly loud person gets on their cell phone and begins an intrusive conversation. What do you do? Do you ignore the behavior, despite exasperated glances from patrons all over the place? Perhaps not. Here are four polite ways to get people to pipe down when you're trying to focus in a public place.

1. Lead By Example

rude on cell phone
Getty Images | Yellow Dog Productions

A subtle way of asking someone to pipe down is by accepting a phone call, and announcing that you'd better "move outside/to another area so you don't disturb everyone." Try to catch the talker's eye briefly, in a non-threatening way when you say this. Then, actually move to that more secluded spot. Perhaps this will be enough of a hint to quiet the noise.

If that doesn't work…

2. Smile

Getty Images | Nicholas Eveleigh

Sometimes, a smile can disarm a loud talker quickly, politely, and effectively.  Often, people have no idea they are being so boisterous, so catching their eye and smiling in their direction can alert them that you can hear them, and if perhaps you can hear them, then everyone in the room can hear them. Maybe, they'll adjust their volume.  Plus, since a smile is so non-aggressive, the person may sheepishly smile back.

If that doesn't work...

3. Use Bribery

Getty Images | Jack Hollingsworth

Sometimes, subtlety won't get you very far, especially if the talker is engrossed in a conversation. So, why not spend the best few bucks of your day, and order him a coffee/lemonade/refill on the sly. When the order comes up, ask the barista if she wouldn't mind delivering it for you, with your compliments and a request: pipe down a bit.  When the talker looks in your direction and smiles (rolls their eyes, whatever), offer a toast with your beverage and consider your location a little less noisy. Most people will be shocked into silence by your audacity.

If that doesn't work...

4. Outsmart Them

Sad dog

It really never turns out well to approach someone and just flat-out ask him or her to be quiet. Never. But that doesn't mean you have to listen to their never-ending prattle. You can say something to the loud person, as long as you say these next words, and these next words only.  With an apologetic tone of voice and humble body language, say, "You might get mad at me for saying this, but I'm really having trouble focusing on my work." Then smile your most pathetic, endearing smile.

 Psychologically, this is a good approach! By giving the owner permission to get "mad at you" and thus, putting yourself in a very vulnerable position (the person about to be the recipient of anger), you immediately cause a normal, rational person to try to rectify an initial angry response because no one wants to intentionally kick someone who's down (and you definitely were, because of your clever acting skills.) By putting yourself in that position, you gain the advantage by getting them to quiet down in a peaceful, non-threatening way.

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