Do you work or live with someone who often listens to something through an earpiece?  AirPods and similar devices are often so small that you can’t even tell most of the time if someone has them in their ears.

An article in EHS Today written by attorney Bob Nichols discusses the fairly obvious reasons why these devices are not appropriate for use in active construction, warehouse, or manufacturing environments.  Our article today will focus on how they affect cognizance and communication in an office, jobsite trailer setting, or even in a personal relationship.

The normal way to learn the nuances of the construction industry, the particulars of clients, subcontractors, vendors and co-workers with whom you interact each day is to listen and observe.   The industry as a whole is highly influenced through the capture of information, most often, “verbal on the fly”.  This includes all administrative, accounting, and finance professionals supporting the building process.

Successful projects require spontaneous creativity, exchange of ideas, and common purpose that comes with having natural, free-flowing conversations in the workplace to collaborate and solve the many challenges associated with the industry.  Your willingness to step in and help others is also a welcome trait.   If you are shutting yourself to office interactions by tuning out for a substantial period of time with an earpiece (whether for concentration or enjoyment), you are adversely affecting your career.  Sometimes those tuned out can develop resentment, and the whole thing can be seen as “an office-etiquette problem” by those who don’t understand your choice to use them in the workplace.

Should earpieces be ruled out completely?  Not necessarily.  It is a matter of communication and understanding to strike a balance of appropriate conduct.  If you find earpieces help you to focus on a particular task, then timing and communication with those around you is key so they understand what’s going on and how to get your attention—which is what you should be doing if you step out for lunch or disengage some other way.

If you are or wish to be an earpiece user at the workplace, here are a few tips.

Discuss with your manager and share your mindset, e.g. “I really need to concentrate on this spreadsheet, and the earbuds help me tune out distractions. Is there a problem if I use an earpiece when I am doing [X]?”

Each time you decide to have a tune out session, ask those relying upon you if there is anything you can do for you for them before you disengage.

Plan an indicator that your team can use so they’re not irritated with you if they need to get your attention. Maybe they’ll knock on the desk in front of you or wave their arms. Make sure that you look up every now and then to be aware of what’s going on around you; you can have your music/podcast on and still be responsive.

It goes without saying that you should keep your music at a volume where you can still hear people approaching, and also be able to hear some of the goings-on around you.  You don’t want your co-workers to hear the content to which you are listening.

Be careful about the lyrics in your music. Despite the office being an adult environment, there are still some lyrics that might be offensive to some, and you wouldn’t want to lift out your earbuds and have your supervisor hear a slew of obscenities or otherwise indecent content.  Don’t sing along to what you are listening to.

You may think that the request to use an earpiece is only commonplace with the younger generations in the workplace.  It is not.  All ages are technology-savvy nowadays and musical, political, educational and entertainment podcasts are a click away.  If someone is irritated with you when you are wearing your earpiece, it is most likely because they see it affecting your relationship in some way. Your ability to recognize that and professionally address and adjust your usage if needed will not only help make the earpiece a non-issue, but will also show your ability to communicate for mutual purpose and understanding.

To Tuning into best Tune Out,

Suzanne Breistol

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