ProgrammersArguing Developers
[+45] [27] Desolate Planet
[2011-02-23 16:43:23]
[ work-environment distractions ]

My head hurts as I type this question. The reason for this? I've got two developers yelling behind me at the top of their voices while everyone else tries to get some work done. I've worked in three companies so far and I've noticed that developers refuse to make use of meeting rooms and instead feel the need to enter long drawn out conversations where they yell at each other.

Any ideas on how to handle this? A "Please be quiet" doesn't seem to have any effect and my head is thumping, so I'll entertain any ideas.

(41) Noise cancelling headphones? - StephenPaulger
Stephen, I've tried headphones and ear plugs, the point is that this seems to be such a common problem and folk don't use meeting rooms etc. That's like me medicating myself to sleep every night because upstairs are too noisy at 4am. There has to be a way.... - Desolate Planet
(10) @Desolate Planet: as Rob Z suggested, ask them nicely to keep the volumne of the debate down as it interferes with everyone else. If they don't, escalate to management by saying that you simply can't get work doen when these other two start going at it. And make sure the two debaters know the problem will be escalated. - FrustratedWithFormsDesigner
(26) Throw cold water on them. It works with dogs fighting in the yard. - Adam Crossland
(2) Are they at least arguing about code? Where I work they tend to argue about weird, meaningless shit. Yelling at each other about who shot first, Guido or Solo, would be a major step up. - Crazy Eddie
(5) @Crazy Eddie - Han's shot first, what's there to argue about? ;) - Rob Z
(5) Strange - I've worked at several places, and never had that problem. - David Thornley
(15) I have never encountered behavior like this in the last 20 years. That's inexcusable. What are they yelling about? - John Bode
(1) @John, It can range from anything from one developer stopping another from checking in duplicate code to pay rises to one team not pulling their weight etc. It's a constant stream of moaning and it just explodes into an office argument and your just trying to get your job done and go home to whatever you need to deal with. I wouldn't call myself a 9 till 5 developer, but this arguing has me constantly watching the clock. - Desolate Planet
(15) @Desolate Planet: If no one else is using the meeting room, sign it out for yourself and take your computer in there. - oosterwal
(4) Stopping each other from checking in duplicate code is one thing (although you'd think they could use indoor voices for that), but the other stuff is highly unprofessional and shouldn't be happening at all in a work environment. Save that crap for after hours. Where is your manager in all of this (I'm assuming you all report to the same person)? This is something that needs to be run up the chain of command immediately. Somebody with authority needs to tear those jackasses a new one. - John Bode
(1) "LOUD NOISES!!" - travis
@Stephen, much much better than noise cancelling shotguns! - Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen
(2) @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner: the real fun kicks in when it's the management itself that prevents you to get your work done, because they have to take a stroll around the open-space office whenever they are on the telephone, sometimes even screaming profanities. That is the real fun, also because the same management doesn't want you to use any kind of headphones, because when they need you they have to call your name loud, without using the phone. - s.m
One solution is to yell with them, or bring stuff to do more noise than they do. Bring firecrackers, a casserole and a big spoon, etc. Seriously, you should consider talking to a superior, or start threatening them, even push them if nothing works. Child games should stop. - jokoon
I'm usually one of those yellers. Tell me often to shut the hell up because I really do need to break that bad habit. 'Means I ain't writing code. - TokenMacGuy
A healthy debate is one thing. But if these people are actually arguing arguing, that kind of behavior is poisonous to the team and rude to everyone within an earshot. Learn some manners, y'all! They both need a time out. One for yelling and the other for enabling. - Mark Canlas
@s.m, that sounds very much like my experience in the corporate world. Very annoying. - Desolate Planet
(1) @Rob - my point exactly. - Crazy Eddie
[+72] [2011-02-23 16:48:23] biziclop [ACCEPTED]

I'm usually listening to music, so when the argument is too loud, I just take the headphones off and ask them if they can keep it down because they intefere with the death metal I'm listening to.

That should startle them. And funnily enough, the softer you say it, the more effective it is.

(14) +1 For listening to death metal :-). - Oliver Weiler
(3) Layer of the Minotaur and Lamb of God work the best IMO - jim
Agreed, I work in an office adjacent to the sales personnel, when they "get going" Death Metal is the perfect way to bloke out all noise. Cannibal Corpse, or Death are examples of high volume Death Metal. - wonea
I'll have to mark this as the accepted answer based on my taste in music and the originality behind it. - Desolate Planet
High quality in-ear monitors have a higher noise barrier so people would have to really yell their arses off before they'd become disturbing. - Robert Koritnik
+1 I have came across this scenario many times. Headphone with music really works... - Jigar Joshi
(2) That's it. I was listening Thrash Metal, and that must be the reason why it doesn't worked for me. I'll have to "harden" my Mp3 collection. Thanks! - Tomas
+1 @biziclop: That's evil... :-) - blunders
I prefer 90's Swedish Sci-Fi Techno. :) - John Kraft
@John Kraft I agree with the 90's Swedish bit. :) - biziclop
(2) Does anyone else have an issue with the incompatibility between "I can't think because of the noise" and "I'm listening to death metal"? - Jon Hopkins
I prefer Cradle of Filth. But not a real cradle of filth. That would be horrible. - PeterAllenWebb
Seriously though, don't crank it up too high. I'm 25 and already suffering hearing damage from practicing violin and constantly listening to music on headphones. It can happen faster than you might think. - Rei Miyasaka
(1) @Jon Hopkins Ostensibly yes. But when you think about it, music (mostly) doesn't demand much attention, because you already know what's coming next. It certainly is less distracting than the normal office background noise and helps with focusing. And much less distracting than the loud and unpredictable noise of an argument. - biziclop
[+71] [2011-02-23 16:52:12] davidhaskins

enter image description here

always keep a case in your desk drawer for just such an occasion.

hmm...tempting though it is, I don't think those are legal in the UK :) - Desolate Planet
Typically, they are only legal if you are law enforcement or military.... - Berin Loritsch
(5) What show was I recently watching where someone exclaimed it was insane to stamp "Made in USA" on our weapons because it makes everyone that they're used on mad at us? - Crazy Eddie
(3) Why does it need to be legal? You just need a distributor that doesn't mind bending the rules. ;) - jwir3
(2) @Crazy Eddie - Jon Stewart did a bit about that a week or two ago. - Dan Ray
(1) @crazy Eddie - UN arms control export treaties probably require it. - davidhaskins
(1) @Dan - that's right. Our smoke grenades where tossed at Egyptian protesters. Now I remember. Love that guy. - Crazy Eddie
I think my employer might have OH&S issues with that. Nice idea though :-) - Stephen C
Rock solid answer! - orokusaki
I really wish there were smaller(and legal) versions of these I could carry around on me for such an occasion. - Earlz
I'd love to mark this as the accepted answer, but two things worry me. The legal implications behind procuring such an item and secondly, the impact it would have on other members of staff If It came to me using the flash bang. +1 :) - Desolate Planet
Hmm... 1.5 seconds delay? Can this be really used without risk of exploding in hand? - sharptooth
@sharptooth No if you do it quickly - Coyote21
If your enemy sees the maker's mark, you've made some kind of mistake... - PeterAllenWebb
[+41] [2011-02-23 16:47:45] Rob Z

If they are yelling at each other and disrupting the workplace then tell them to take it someplace else, if that doesn't work, elevate it up the chain to their supervisors. If it's a one off thing then just pointing out to them might cause them to be embarrassed and take it someplace else and if it's a constant thing then it needs to be resolved to prevent future disruptions.

(12) +1 If they won't listen to people's requests to keep it down nicely, and this is a persistent problem, it really should go to management. - FrustratedWithFormsDesigner
(7) Yep, also possibly try and build up support from the others around you. Peer pressure is effective in these situations when the realise they're annoying everyone, not just one person. - Jon Hopkins
If management is useful for ANYTHING, they're useful for this. - Dan Ray
[+34] [2011-02-23 22:38:52] Christopher Mahan

Go next to them and stand there without saying a word.

(9) +1 for passive resistance. - MPelletier
(1) Especially effective if you shave your head and wear white robes. - Dan Ray
@Dan Ray: I think that's unnecessary. You can just mutter to yourself in german. - Christopher Mahan
(1) @Dan Ray You don't need white robes, when you shave you're head you only need an tuxedo, and gloves... Hitman style... - Coyote21
[+17] [2011-02-23 17:24:28] Berin Loritsch

This is the type of behavior that Human Resources needs to deal with. It's their job to deal with that type of behavior. It is not professional, constructive, or in any way beneficial to the company. It also may very well cross into the territory of harassment which is another legal entanglement.

If you are just another "Joe" at the company, then you have two options.

  1. You can inform them that if they don't start speaking civilly that you will contact HR, and they can work it out with them.
  2. You can simply inform HR and don't deal with them at all. Most companies have privacy policies so your complaint remains anonymous to the offenders and your boss.

Either way, you need to put this problem in someone else's hands. I personally have never been in a company where people thought that it was OK to behave in this manner.

(9) NOTE: don't make an ultimatum and not follow up on it. If you choose option 1 and they turn on you, you owe it to yourself to go to HR. - Berin Loritsch
[+11] [2011-02-23 17:21:12] WalterJ89

I usually start throwing pens at the two offenders, they usually get the hint. I go through a lot of pens, but at least I know my coworkers have a lot to share.

Saying "trying to work here" works when I'm out of pens.

(4) if you are in an environment where it is frowned upon to throw pens, well thats no fun. - WalterJ89
(3) What happens when you hit someone in the eye? I think the flashbang is a better solution - at least the developers know there could be repercussions when you pull it out of your desk. I'm betting after you set the first one off, they will immediately disperse when you pull one out at a future date. - jwir3
Statistically speaking... well let me know if you hit someone in the eye. It's not a very large target. Try hitting a bullseye in darts. It's not that easy even if you are trying to hit it. - WalterJ89
(3) Koosh balls work better; they're heavy enough that you can loft them across the office, but not so heavy that they do real damage, and the odds of putting someone's eye out is practically nil. - John Bode
(1) That's what all these things are for: - Crazy Eddie
@Crazy Eddie. hmm Duck tape, spare pens and a rubber band. I have an idea. - WalterJ89
(1) I think a Nerf gun might be effective while not having quite such a sharp point on the end. The only "downside" is Nerf wars... - justkt
I especially like the 's lightsaber. What an effective way to end an argument that has got to be. Pull out your lightsaber (no, the one you bought at thinkgeek). How could they not stop their arguing at that point? - Tchalvak
@jwir3 - most developers wear glasses so the risk of eye injury should be minimal. - Carson63000
@justkt: when you pull out of your desk, they'll know you mean business. :) - Maxim Zaslavsky
[+6] [2011-02-23 20:12:30] beck

If they aren't responding to you asking nicely talk to your boss. From a selfish point of view they don't want you sub performing when the problem can easily be fix.

in case of emergency pull out the Joel test [1]

8. Do programmers have quiet working conditions?

If one of them is your boss then...err good luck


[+6] [2011-02-23 22:46:51] Slomojo

Sounds like it's...

... oh, no I mean ...

Hammer time.

(7) When all you have is a hammer, it's hammer time :) - wildpeaks
hahaha, +1 for Hammer time! - Jas
[+5] [2011-02-24 04:12:15] Arkaaito

If you can pull it off with the proper level of humor (curiously, this usually involves keeping a completely straight face), join in the argument with a completely nonsensical third option. This generally (a) defuses tensions somewhat and (b) teaches them that if they want to avoid having their loud argument derailed, they should conduct it elsewhere. If you do it badly, though, they'll be irate at you for not taking the issue with the seriousness it deserves, and you'll get sucked into the debate.

In college I deployed the "Cone of Silence" occasionally for repeat offenders. The Cone of Silence was a flimsy paper construct (not actually a cone, more like a tube) just large enough for two people. Walking over to the conversationalists with it, conspicuously measuring the distance between them, hefting it, nudging them a little closer together, etc., was enough to get them to agree to go outside. Depending on your workplace's attitude towards slapstick, this method might or might not be effective. If you go with it, though, I'd recommend substituting posterboard for paper; the latter just tears too frequently to be worth the effort.

+1 for making their argument derail. When all else fails, troll 'em. If that fails too, crowbar 'em, I might add. - s.m
[+5] [2011-02-24 13:42:37] Reno

The point is that you can use this opportunity to prove yourself to be alpha. Its typically beta to be boisterous and noisy. Buy a good pair of earphones with active noise cancellation.

Dont yell at them, like some have said here. Like they say, empty vessels make more noise. Act cool and unperturbed. Act as if they don't exist in your universe.

I also suggest that working in cube farms is not cool. I really like workplaces in europe where they usually have separate rooms with 2-3 developers in it. Search for a new job with a nice ambience. You will also find great guys/girls to work with at such places (because these companies care about their employees).

Oh and pic related :)


+1 for looking for a new job, if this repeats... - Coyote21
Where's this picture from? - sharptooth
@sharptooth its a British WW2 poster that somehow became a meme :) - Reno
I learn something every day. - sharptooth
[+4] [2011-02-23 17:31:48] jiceo

Once I was working out at my university's gym and there were two CS students arguing on the top of their lungs about whose algorithm was better for the assignment they were working on together, while taking turns bench-pressing. Everyone was quite disturbed and amused at the same time.

oh come on ... who's the down vote? you have to admit that's at least mildly amusing. - Will
(3) cs students bench pressing? wtf? - Muad'Dib
(2) Not believable. You're never going to convince me that any CS student has ever seen the inside of a gym. :-) - Brian Knoblauch
you forgot the /csb - Malfist
To be fair, it does sound like an oxymoron. It's also amusing how much a lot of CS students workout at my university. It's something about my university's culture. - jiceo
At my university, the only culture they have is to start with 4 or 5 projects at the beginning of the semester, so that they can keep us occupied (some say this is brain wash) - Coyote21
That can be good to a certain extent. If it's freshmen intro CS classes and you go in with some programming experience, you can finish those quickly and focus on other things like math or physics. - jiceo
[+4] [2011-02-23 20:40:26] community_owned

how about telling them to get a nice cup of shut the f*ck up. Seriously you need advice on this?

(1) as idiotic as it may sound, yes. As I've said in my previous comments, I've been in 3 companies where this has been the norm. It comes across more of an ego battle like the meeting of the gods in Valhalla. Problem is that management know that these people are loud already and nothing is done. I don't want to ruin my day by yelling at folk because they are loud, but I shouldn't have to tell them they are loud when there is a large empty kitchen and a meeting room is they want to discuss things there. - Desolate Planet
If your management isn't going to do something about it, then you really need to find a new place to work (yeah, I know). This really isn't the norm, at least not from my experience (6 different companies since 1990, big and small, although those were all in Austin, TX). What's the field (Web development, desktop development, corporate IT, ...)? - John Bode
Mobile Dev and Financial Dev, those are the main areas I've found this problem surfacing. My head still hurts btw. - Desolate Planet
7 companies in 3 cities in 2 countries over the last 15 years and I've never seen behaviour like that either. I'm with John Bode, this isn't normal. - Carson63000
[+4] [2011-02-23 21:55:02] PSU

All kidding aside (and I really like some of these ideas), you need to ask politely that the gentlemen in question either be quiet or move to a different area. If a couple of repetitions don't work, by all means escalate, either to your immediate supervisor, or if that's not advisable for some reason, to HR. What I would add to what others have said is that it might behoove you to document these instances, to back up your complaint. And I would also add that allowing them to dictate your work environment (noise cancelling headphones, abandoning your workspace, etc.) is not IMHO a solution; at best it's a capitulation. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

[+2] [2011-02-23 22:31:40] MPelletier

Joel suggested that every now and then you should reserve the meeting room, bring a laptop, lock the door. Now would be a good time.

If you don't have a laptop, moving your computer and screens could be more difficult, but is more noticeable, which is actually a good thing.

[+2] [2011-02-24 08:55:28] HuBeZa

Co-workers shouldn't yell at each other at the top of their voices. At least not because of professional disagreements.

For a software team to work efficiently and build a healthy and productive work environment, it must develop a good discussion culture. Maybe, before sending programmers to professional courses, we should send them to rhetoric lessons.

I know things can hit up from times to times, but if this behavior won't stop after a few polite or humors remarks, then you got a problem.

  1. Is this kind of behavior occur often?
  2. Do you find yourself dragged into this kind of "conversations" although you oppose and condemn it?

If so, I'm afraid you got a serious organizational problem. I know a lot of software companies use this methods for years. Some of them are even have professional and financial success. But I dare you to check the rate of employee resignations and satisfaction.

My bottom line:

Yelling is a type of verbal abuse and should not be tolerated.

I've recently left my work place because of those reasons.
It wasn't like that at first (usually you can spot it when arriving for interviews). It developed due to management personnel changes. For a long period I've tried to discuss different levels of managers in order to clarify that we do have a problem. I even try the HR channel, but unfortunately some specific management members have a stronger say. Needless to say that I was not the first to leave because of those reasons.

Hi everyone. English is not my first language, so it's hard for me to pronounce myself on subjective matters. I hope non of this will interpret as sarcasm nor as a whiny and conceding approach. - HuBeZa
[+2] [2011-02-24 09:04:33] community_owned

Offer them some tea, say "there's no better place to drink this tea than meeting room. it will help you discuss and help me work" :).

[+2] [2011-02-24 13:08:34] Avi

I'll suggest what I advised my son to do if attacked in the street (if running away is not an option): Do something totally bizzar, unexpected and funny. Maybe start singing at the top of your voice, recite a poem or (if all else fails) undress.

This will very porbably get their attention.

WOW!!! Have you really advised your son to undress if attacked at the street? Way to lose the point, I think... - Tomas
Yes I did. Run if you can. If you can't - manage the situation, and try to lead it to other directions instead of violence. Take the initiative. Surprise your opponent. Wet your pents. Vomit. Appear irrational. Of course, if you can get out of trouble by giving our wallet - do it. - Avi
My approach to this has been quite the opposite: if you can't avoid the assault (at this I agree, better fly than fight), hit first and hit hard. - Tomas
I agree. But to hit first, it's best to first de-stablize your opponent. Hence my suggestion. - Avi
[+2] [2011-02-24 13:27:47] Amir Rezaei

This is a symptom of lack of respect for coworkers.

If you are their manager, you should consider why they don’t have any respect.

[+1] [2011-02-24 10:31:59] Robert Koritnik

Use in-ear monitors

Buy yourself a pair of more expansive Ultimate Ears in-ear monitors ( They tend to dump surrounding noise very very effectively while also not disturbing others with what you listen to. Actually when it's very loud others can't hear a thing. PERFECT.

I use them when I work at home and don't want to listen to arguments between my wife and daughter. Works miracles. Ultimate Ears SuperFI, TrippleFi or similar. I own Studio Fi which are not produced any more since Logitech bought the company.

And if you decide to buy yourself these sound pearls, I suggest you also buy those soft foam tips from Comply. They're very soft and really keep monitors in place for a long time without causing any physical stress to your ears. Love'em. I had problems with any size rubber/latex tips but these foam ones are really good. Squeeze them before inserting and then they expand in your ears closing any gaps and keeping monitors in place.

Ultimate Ears 700 Ultimate Ears 600

I used something similar, but then this girl comes up to me and says it can cause bacteria in my ear to multiply and stuff. D: - Reno
@Reno: If you were able to hear her it meant they weren't cancelling noise too well. ;) But seriously: Taking care of ear hygiene shouldn't produce any problems. I didn't have any in 4 years I've used them. - Robert Koritnik
[+1] [2011-02-24 15:25:48] Paul Nathan

The guys at the other end of the bay can talk pretty loud. One day I was pretty tired of it, and went over to them and in the quietest tone I could manage, I pointed out that we could hear them on the opposite side of the bay.

They've been better since. But, we do have a culture of quiet in general.

[+1] [2011-02-25 00:16:34] Coyote21

One of these should do it, you only have to attract them to a place where there isn't anyone else, and then the fun and joy can start... Or you can place horse heads on their beds...

On the other hand, you could try to tell your boss or HR (like it was said), and if that doesn't work look for other job.

[+1] [2011-02-23 16:56:59] JB King

Could you try to go somewhere else just to get away from the noise? Once everyone has calmed down, you may want to have one on one discussions with each of those in the debate to ask if they could avoid that in the future or you'll have to call in reinforcements to resolve this matter. Calling in one's boss or police may work though be careful if you are trying this as a bluff as that may well backfire disastrously so.

[+1] [2011-02-23 18:48:25] Muad'Dib

hand each of them a chain saw and/or machete. they can kill each other and then it wont be your problem any more. additionally, there is the entertainment value of watching them battle. you might even be able to score some cash by selling tickets/taking bets on the winner.

[+1] [2011-02-24 07:37:47] Rei Miyasaka

Is there any reason that you can't just tell them to take it outside?

Battle of the egos is my guess, and such things require an audience. - Desolate Planet
[+1] [2011-02-23 23:38:08] Neil G

The first couple times this happens, you should choose the least aggressive way of dealing with the situation, which just put on your headphones or reserve a meeting room.

If it keeps happening, talk to them. Walk to where they are and wait for them to acknowledge you. If they don't feel sheepish about their behaviour, then say "I know you guys are having an important debate here, but it's making it hard to concentrate. Is there somewhere else y'all can discuss this?" Make eye contact with both of them.

If it keeps happening, talk to your manager. After your one-on-one, say something like "I feel like office disruptions are hurting my productivity..." Since your productivity is high on her list of priorities, she'll ask you the relevant questions, and figure something out. Make sure that it comes across that you have nothing against these people, but you don't know how to convince them not to disrupt your work environment and now you want your manager's "advice". Ideally, she'll talk to them or their manager, or maybe she'll move your desk or theirs.

If it keeps happening after you've talked to your manager a few times, then something at the company is broken.

nitpick: When there is an unknown gender needed(to be singular), it is actually proper to use "he" not mixings of he and she and not "he/she". But there is all this politically correct BS that gets people paranoid - Earlz
(2) @Earlz, Who died and appointed you arbiter of correct English? - TRiG
[+1] [2011-02-24 02:48:11] patterns

A slight variation to @ChristopherMahan is to gather the rest of the team / office around, or even better inside/in-between/up-against (the more awkward the better), the two yellers. In my experience, being passive (ignoring) does not make it go away. At worst, being polite makes me the jerk or "that guy". If you can handle it with humor, they won't be offended (hopefully, thick skin and all). If you do it right, it will be a running joke that every time they yell at each other, it's the cue for everyone to congregate at their desk.

[+1] [2011-02-24 03:19:01] Evan

If they are not using the conference room then I would take a laptop in there and go to work. Or I'd take a walk and think.