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Whether at a ball game or in a board room, whispering in front of others is almost always inappropriate and generally makes others feel uncomfortable. There are times, however, when whispering is necessary in the workplace, such as if you quickly need to tell a coworker two buttons just popped off his shirt.
The key to whispering is making sure it is done quickly and appropriately, without making bystanders feel talked about or excluded.
Have you ever been in the presence of people who whisper to the person next to them, leaving everyone else out of the conversation? It might not bother you, until they both glance at you and one of them nods or laughs, giving you the impression that they’re talking about you. Then it’s blatantly rude.
Or how about people who suddenly break into another language in your presence, give you a glance, and then give each other a loo? There’s no doubt in your mind they’re doing that to leave you out of the conversation, and it has the same effect as whispering.
Whispering is usually considered to be rude because it often arouses a suspicion in peoples’ minds that the people whispering might be talking about them or that there is a private conversation no one else is considered to be included in.
Also, whispering is considered rude because a lot of times, it is done in a situation where talking would be unappreciated (for instance, in class while the teacher is talking or in a business meeting). It can convey a message to the person that should be acknowledged that they are being disrespected and ignored, sometimes causing irritation.
When people whisper for any reason, they need to include everyone who is with them. Even if they’re keeping their voices down because they think speaking aloud would be disruptive or disrespectful, it appears that they are gossiping.
Whispering excludes all but the two people involved in the quiet conversation. Others around them often feel awkward, self-conscious, and angry. After all, if they were having an appropriate discussion, they shouldn’t have to whisper, so they must be talking about someone there. At least, that’s the perception.
Is it ever okay to whisper? There are certain circumstances when a whisper is appropriate, as long as it’s brief, to the point, and relevant only to the other person. You need to make sure you keep your body language in check so others don’t think you’re talking about them.
Moreover, there is good reason to recommend whispering and soft talk in crowded work areas, when tasks require special concentration and/or when patients are ill, etc. One of the topics rarely on a work-group’s agenda is appropriate communication.
Have you ever been in a staff meeting that collaboratively spelled out do and don’t communication rules and then from time to time reviewed them? A skull session on such a topic could help minimize nosy, annoying and wasteful talk and encourage talk that makes communication more efficient and effective.
Additionally, talk about talk might surface uneven distribution of assignments, something about which you seem to be angry. Thank you for voicing your concern for good manners. May your tribe increase. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS, a spirit that is not mentioned when describing your work environment.
Here are some situations when it would be fine to whisper:
- You need to inform someone that she has toilet paper on her shoe, a button she forgot to close, or spinach in her teeth.
- It’s time to start the meeting.
- You’re not feeling well, and you need to leave.
- You need to know where the restroom is located.
- The person misspoke and needs to make a correction.
- You have laryngitis.
Whispering to Bully
Relentless workplace whispering is a form of mental bullying. Whispering to exclude, damage or demean another person — whether the person himself is in ear shot or not — never has a place in the office environment. The people responsible for constant whispering need to be held accountable through a manager or human resources. The consequences of ongoing whispering perceived as bullying can lead to employee absenteeism, in addition to rising health care, litigation and recruitment costs.
When Whispering Works
In cases where whispering is needed, such as to quickly inform a coworker that her shirt is tucked into her pantyhose, for example, whispering is considered all right. Announcing someone’s personal information to a group is not respectful, and anyone would appreciate a whisper about such matters.
Before whispering, coworkers need to ask themselves if what they are about to communicate is crucial, private information to be dealt with immediately by the person being whispered to. If so, the whisper is generally warranted and accepted by others.
Sometimes work-related information is intended for a few people’s ears only. In confidential cases, the talking needs to happen behind closed doors or outside the building where other coworkers are not present. I
n a board room, for example, voices should be kept low when private, work-related information needs to be discussed and employees are constantly walking by. While whispering may be taking place in this situation, it is not on public display and not as frustrating to those who are not part of the conversation.
Discern the Whisper
It is fair and even considered polite to lower your voice when speaking to an employee in common areas, such as in the break room, someone’s cubicle or the hallways. This is to avoid disturbing others who are talking on the phone or concentrating, for example, and is hardly perceived as whispering for the wrong reasons.
Lowering your voice is also acceptable because the whispering body language, such as a hand over one’s mouth or staring at others, is not present.