How to Tell Someone They Talk Too Loudly

By: Susan Sherwood
talking too loud
Lowering your voice: It's not just for riding in the car with your boss (and his phone).

You probably have the same internal monologue every time you're around one or two people in your life. "Really? I'm 3 feet away from you. Why are you talking so loudly? I can hear you!" Or maybe, "You are so loud. Your desk is on the other side of the office, but I can't even hear myself think." If someone you know has a natural volume between a shout and a roar, it's acceptable to say something if it's truly interfering with your comfort or productivity. It's also OK if it's someone important in your life, who is going to be embarrassed after realizing they've been drowning out the rest of the restaurant for 30 minutes.

Some people are inherently loud because of their physical build – they have large larynxes and vocal cords [source: The Body Odd]. Other loud talkers were raised in environments where commotion was the norm and they had to speak up to be heard. People who are hard of hearing may have trouble modulating their voices [source: Shellengarger]. No matter the cause for the volume, loud talkers fall into two camps: those who know they're loud, and those who are clueless. Either way, communicating your concerns requires some sensitivity and patience on your part, but you may end up making your environment a little calmer and quieter.


Approaching a stranger about loud talking might seem daunting — and in a lot of cases, it's really not worth bringing up. But there are some exceptions. A sleepless red-eye flight. A ruined romantic dinner. A movie you can barely hear. At times like this, it's fine to excuse yourself and politely request, "Could you please speak a bit more quietly?" You won't always get cooperation — or even a polite response — but nothing will change if you don't try. You can also ask a flight attendant, wait staff, or movie theater manager to intervene.

Telling a friend or family member that they talk too loudly is a conversation that should be handled privately. If you're trying to get someone to be more discreet, what message do you send if you're broadcasting the complaint? Make an observation and a request, and avoid using "you," as in, "You talk too loudly." Though it may be true, it comes across as accusatory, which doesn't inspire cooperation. "Your voice" identifies the problem without laying blame, so try saying, "You probably don't realize, but your voice can really carry." You may have to offer reminders periodically, since loud talking is often a well-established habit. See if the two of you can strike an agreement on a quiet cue – a signal or phrase – that's effective but not offensive. One trick is to deliberately speak quietly — the other person will often get the hint and lower his or her voice in return.

Addressing loud talking in the workplace is a little different — especially when it's a colleague and not someone you directly manage. Before complaining, find out whether your own habits are affecting your work environment for other people. Be prepared: They really could be. Maybe you have a squeaky chair and constantly fidget, or you sigh a lot.

If you do learn you're annoying other people, don't be defensive. Listen and offer a way to address the concern. Then, it's your turn to talk about speaking volume. Direct criticism probably won't go over well, so try putting the blame on poor soundproofing, thin walls or bad acoustics. This way you're seeking help for a common problem. Acknowledge your own sensitivity to noise, and express your grievance in terms of your unfortunate hypersensitivity. Say something like, "In the office, your voice carries, and I can hear it very easily." Ask for help with the situation and listen to recommendations. Suggest a mutually agreed-upon verbal or nonverbal quiet cue, just as you did with your acquaintance above. With this plan in mind, set a date to check in with each other and measure progress. If you oil that squeaky chair, maybe your office mate will speak more softly.


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More Great Links

  • The Body Odd. "Loud talkers: Why do some voices seem to be set at top volume?" NBC News. March 14, 2012. (April 14, 2015)
  • Dickinson, Amy. "Loud talkers or just plain rude?" Toronto Sun. April 4, 2012. (April 14, 2015)
  • Dickinson, Amy. "Loud talkers or just plain rude?" Toronto Sun. April 4, 2012. (April 14, 2015)
  • Jones, Kate. "How to silence 'loud talkers.'" The Sydney Morning Herald. Oct. 15, 2014. (April 14, 2015)
  • Jones, Kate. "How to silence 'loud talkers.'" The Sydney Morning Herald. Oct. 15, 2014. (April 14, 2015)
  • Miss Conduct. "Can You Muffle a Too-Loud Talker?" May 7, 2006. (April 14, 2015)
  • Shellenbarger, Sue. "Is This How You Really Talk?" The Wall Street Journal. April 23, 2013. (April 14, 2015)
  • Smith, Jacquelyn. "How to Tactfully Tell A Noisy Coworker to Shut Up." Business Insider. Nov. 20, 2014. (April 14, 2015)