Lynne Curry: Meet speaker phone using coworker half-way

Question: Paper thin walls separate my office from the offices on either side. The co-worker in one of these offices talks loudly and insists on using a speaker phone rather than her handset because "it's easier and faster." She talks so loudly I hear her through the wall. This destroys my concentration and makes it difficult to work.

When I complained to her -- nicely -- she called me a self-righteous control freak and told me to get out of her face. She said she was busy and I was interrupting her and needed to stop making things up and making trouble.

When I asked my supervisor for help, he said he was fed up with all the wrangling between the three of us and expects us to work out issues like this without involving him. Can you help?

Answer: Everyone listens to the same radio station, WIFM (What's In it For Me). How does it benefit your co-worker to make the changes you seek?

It may be that in the past you've inspired those in your work life to make changes to keep you from complaining. If so, that's come to an end. Your co-worker and supervisor both want you to stop grousing, nicely or not.

You need new strategies. Learn to prove you're not whining, learn to negotiate or learn to cope.

If you can prove you hear your co-worker's words through the wall, she may quiet down. You can convince her by repeating conversations you've heard as in, "I'm so sorry your customer 'X' gave you such a hard time this morning." Use discretion in the examples you give. If you say, "That's horrible about your daughter's drug use," your co-worker may smack you.

If you don't hear her words but simply find her muffled sound distracting, you can audiotape the noise to help your co-worker realize if she heard that much sound coming into her office, she'd be annoyed too.

Next, you can more easily get a co-worker to change by changing yourself. Let her know you'd like to meet her halfway. Ask her to consider using a headset instead of the speakerphone in exchange for you dropping your controlling, self-righteous behaviors. Not sure what those are? Let her tell you.

If negotiation doesn't work, learn to cope. You can use a headset yourself to block her noise distraction. Alternatively, you can moderate the effect her noise has on you by playing low background music in your own office. I'm suggesting soft music - not you retaliatory blasting your co-worker with rock 'n' roll.

Finally, I'm not excusing your co-worker's name-calling and rudeness or your supervisor's abdication. But they didn't write me.

Question: Our family needs to leave Alaska to care for aging parents but we can't find jobs in the state where we're migrating. The problem? Alaska wages. Jobs in our soon-to-be-new state pay half what we earn here.

How do we let prospective employers know we're willing to accept lower wages so they don't hesitate to hire us based on our Alaska salary history?

Answer: Offer salary information only if asked.

If a prospective employer asks for salary information on an application form, avert their sticker shock by adding in parenthesis (we're aware salaries in our new home state are "x" and we're very comfortable with this range) after your salary figures.

You can also address salaries in your cover letter: "Your job and working for your company is what I want. I realize your salary range is "x." I'm completely comfortable with that range and hope you'll select me."

Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at