The problem: Several young people in my office wear headphones and listen to music (I assume). They don’t always look up when I come over to their cubicles with a question or request. How do I best interrupt them? Or shouldn’t I?


Low road: Strike up the band! I’m seeing several brass players and, of course, a cymbalist.


High road: This is a common challenge in many workplaces today, and not just among young people. A current love affair with open layouts and closely spaced cubicles — which magnify carrot-chewing and dinner reservations being made (or is it just me who does that?) — compel many fellow toilers to reach for earbuds. But this does not give anyone a pass from being part of the team.

Your hesitation to “interrupt” is kind, but misplaced. This is a business. Decisions must be made, errors corrected, ideas shared. Start by giving the zoner a heads-up with a polite e-mail: “Need to grab you for a quick clarification. Is this a good time?” If you don’t hear back and time is of the essence, head over, catch his or her eye, smile genuinely, and point to your ears. It’s the universal symbol for, “There’s no way out.”

If your co-worker has conveniently set up shop with his back to the world, gently tap him on the shoulder. If he has any sense at all, he’ll quickly turn, tug out the buds, and be all ears for you.

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