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Background

I've encountered this problem several times and under different circumstances. It really annoys me when people constantly make noises with their mouth. Now, I can't name them and they come in different shapes and forms, e. g. different kinds of sucking in air (involving the lips or not, tongue, saliva), or movements with their tongue and I don't know what else. They are not loud, but too loud to not be heard when in their vicinity.

This doesn't concern a one-time occurrence, but when I am subjected to these noises for a prolonged period of time. Perhaps, I'm more sensitive about it than others are.

Situation

While learning in a computer room, another student sat down at the PC next to me. I didn't know that student and am not sure if I even saw them ever again. There was often a distracting acoustic level (people talking or laughing), but that student made those noises described above and this really got on my nerves.

Some noises I can tune out pretty well and then they really do not distract me, but these are really none of them.

Problem

There are two issues that make it hard for me to handle:

  1. I don't know how to address it.
  2. Adding to that, I can't be sure that they are even aware of what they are doing.

Question

How do I politely communicate to a stranger to stop making a noise that I can't even name?

My goal is that they stop doing it or at least become aware of it, and I hope to avoid an awkward situation arising as much as possible.

Notes:

  • I'm looking for IPS approaches to solve the issue that are also applicable in situations where I can't shield myself from noises/voices, e. g. via headphones.
  • This is not about whistling, noises made while eating or anything needing the vocal cords.
  • Sorry if there is actually a name for these noises that I'm unaware of. But if it's not widespread, I can't use it.

For those who are curious: I finally wimped out and went to another computer room.

Edit

To clarify what noises I'm taking about, I will try to describe them, although it's hard (since I can only speculate how they are done by reverse engineering). It's not about necessary noises that maybe louder than usual, e. g. breathing noises (in case someone has a medical condition). These are noises that happen, for example, when you press your tongue in between your teeth and then suck air into your mouth, or if you suck in air through the closed lips. And probably variants of that.

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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misophonia – David K Oct 26 '17 at 15:55
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    According to an acquaintance who brought my own to my attention, the term is "unnecessary mouth noises" – Andy Oct 26 '17 at 16:05
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    Some terms that I think might describe what you are trying to describe: "teeth sucking", "tsking", "tongue clucking". Describing it accurately is important because people make these noises for specific reasons which could impact the best way to address the problem... (For example, school computer labs are usually full of students who are trying to figure out something difficult, which is why they are making the noises. Interrupting them with a personal request could go poorly.) – user3067860 Oct 26 '17 at 19:41
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    I want to warn you that this person may have Tourette's. Once, I was bothered by the sounds a classmate was making. I never actually said anything to her, but I guess she could tell I was bothered because she messaged me and told me she had Tourette's. I felt pretty bad and I never would have guessed. Now I'm not saying this person does (I'm not diagnosing anyone), but I would be prepared for an awkward conversation if this person does have some sort of pathology and is extremely self-conscious of it. – Azor Ahai Oct 26 '17 at 19:49
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    To help, can you explain what situations this is occuring in, where you can't wear headphones? If we're talking about something like a lecture, then you asking the person to be quiet would make sense. If it's on the bus and you simply hate headphones, then maybe you need to figure that out rather than trying to change other people. – djsmiley2k - CoW Oct 27 '17 at 12:26
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I can empathize with this question, so please don't let the answer lead you to believe I'm insensitive to your plight.

For some uninvestigated reason, I cannot tune people out (I have never been able to. I remember complaining of "noise pollution" when I was very young.) TV, music, etc., yes. But there is something hardwired in me that makes it impossible to tune out real people. This has been a blessing and a curse, but mostly I dislike it. Like you, I would not be able to "not hear" the noises made by people nearby.

On the flip side, when I'm alone with my thoughts, I make habitual semi-involuntary noises when stressed in some way. (They aren't tics.) When I'm frustrated, I make a noise I absolutely hate, even when I'm alone, and every time I make it, I'm annoyed with myself. But this noise seems to allow me to let go of my stress.

Because I can't not hear others, I sympathize with you. But I cannot imagine myself asking another person to stop making an annoying noise, much less tactfully. First, they may be completely unaware they're making it, and asking them to stop it might lead to, "What noise was I making?" (I imagine a pretty funny conversation ensuing.)

Secondly, it might embarrass the person, who might not be able to help it. (Imagine another scenario where someone can't help making the noise they do: "Excuse me, sir, but can you stop moving your legs? Those metal braces are making a terrible noise that make my teeth hurt.") No one would dream of the latter, but the former may be as unpreventable as the latter.

If the noise is of the involuntary kind when people are deep in thought (tongue-clucking, tooth-tapping, etc - no, I don't do those) the only polite and tactful thing to do is to either move or use some noise barrier.

If you're willing to risk it (embarrassing someone), though, or have no choice (there are no other seats available), you can lean over and whisper,

I'm sorry to ask you this, but I'm trying to study and I'm having trouble concentrating. I don't think you're aware of it, but you're making a fair amount of noise. Do you think you could work more quietly?

Then let the conversation take it's cues from his/her reaction. An apology makes it clear that you understand he may be inconvenienced by your request. Then thank him, once when you finish talking to him, and again when either one of you leaves. That shows that you really appreciated the effort you put him through.

All bets are off if the noise is inconsiderate (talking on their cell, chewing gum loudly, humming, etc.)

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    +1 for adding in a piece about involuntary actions. As someone with ADHD (I know you've seen my P.SE answers), I don't always realize when I'm doing something and sometimes can't help it. I used to get in trouble at work a lot for whistling, and although I have managed to quiet it a bit, I still can't really stop doing it. – Anoplexian Oct 26 '17 at 17:31
  • Is the second thank you a good idea? I hate a second out of context thank you at the best of times but if they were embarrassed the first time this is just further exposing their embarrassment – Richard Tingle Oct 26 '17 at 19:28
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    @RichardTingle - I think so. Unless you didn't think they had any reason to be "giving something up", in other words, you're not grateful, just entitled to peace and quiet. But I am just one person. I'm not sure I've ever been offended by a second acknowledgement (Thanks again!) – anongoodnurse Oct 26 '17 at 20:42
  • The first 3 paragraphs (and a sentence, and a word) seems more comment and less answer - I might suggest removing them. – NotThatGuy Oct 27 '17 at 11:00
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    @NotThatGuy i think they are necessary to show empathy for the situation. Otherwise OP might say "you don't understand" and ignore the answer. As it stands, this answer is much more likely to make a meaningful impact. – user3316 Oct 27 '17 at 18:56
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I'm going to expand on a brief comment that was later removed, and say you should find a way to filter this out, because there is no good way to broach this, especially with strangers in public.

There is a very strong possibility, if you do choose to approach someone about something like this, that they will decline to change their behavior, and/or will respond in a very rude and hostile fashion. A request like that runs a strong possibility of being taken as a personal attack.

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    @Catija - part of IPS would also be advising on when something is a bad idea. Like I said, there is no way to do this. I can't advise on the best way when there is no best way. Probably 90% of the reaction would be a two word response, the second being the word "you." So, instead, I advise to deal with or eliminate the irritation, on her end, because that is something she can control, unlike a stranger unconsciously irritating her. Sometimes the answer is "don't." Choosing when to interact or not to inappropriately engage is certainly an IPS solution. – PoloHoleSet Oct 26 '17 at 15:34
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    @Catija - yeah, if you're humming to yourself, but OP is talking about breathing noises, or the sound their tongue makes when they move it around their mouth. That's a whole level of sensitivity that you seem to be ignoring here. – PoloHoleSet Oct 26 '17 at 15:41
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    @anongoodnurse - I've already commented on why I think it is a relevant answer, and I've fleshed out, to a certain extent, why asking for the change in behavior is not a good idea, which was not covered, at all, in the comment. – PoloHoleSet Oct 26 '17 at 15:42
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    @AnneDaunted - "different kinds of sucking in air" – PoloHoleSet Oct 26 '17 at 15:56
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    @AnneDaunted - "a breathing noise" is pretty generic, and doesn't doesn't specify what kind of breathing noise, so what I wrote isn't a named noise, either. Sucking in air, and exhaling, is what breathing is, but describing it as such doesn't name it what, specifically, the noise is (vs "snorting in the back of the nasal passage", "whistling sound in the nostrils"). My referring to it as a "breathing noise" isn't really different or more specific than "sucking in air." – PoloHoleSet Oct 26 '17 at 16:26
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In my opinion, if you want to stay and don't leave like you did, you will always have to create a somewhat awkward situation.

Now, this situation can be really discreet, just like the one I'm going to suggest.

Approach the person that is bothering you calmly and in a low tone and say something like: (I assume you know the source since you described the guy. If you don't, try to identify before acting)

Hello, I am sorry to bother you, but you are making a noise that's distracting me: describe the source (mouth, feet,(...)). I don't know if you were aware of it but can you please stop it? Thanks.

This should work with everyone, by working with everyone i mean you talk to them and try to understand their reasons why they are making disturbing noises if the person is with the hearing blocked (headphones and such) approach from the front of him and look at them directly, should be enough. If the person is sitting against a window or wall and with hearing blocked, just a small touch on the shoulder to get their attention and you're golden.

P.S. I assume those noises are involuntary but not caused by a medical condition. If they tell you it's not intentional, apologizing and moving on are the next steps. This is where IPS solutions end and where Lifehacks begin. Still, you have no idea if they are doing it "on purpose" or not, so I think you lose nothing by asking top stop

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Oct 26 '17 at 20:47
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From what you describe it seems like the noises in question are not something that people do consciously. I doubt that anyone thinks "Hmm, it's 10:21 right now, I haven't done any air sucking in over 5 minutes, better do it now, unless someone objects, then I can reschedule". Basically it's (probably) something that people do without thinking, so to stop doing that they'd have to become hyperaware of these background habits. So if you approach them asking that, what you're essentially saying is:

Hey, this thing that you unconsciously do is preventing me from concentrating on my task, so could you please stop concentrating on your task, and focus on your mouth instead, k thx bye.

There is no good IPS way that I can think of, to tell someone that their concentration is less important than yours.

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    Nicely said, I hadn't thought about it exactly like that. My thought is it is more of a me problem than a them problem. Since it is my problem, I need to provide sound barrier, move, or deal. Though sometimes I have had to make confrontation. – Tony Oct 27 '17 at 20:56
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You may be suffering from what has been called misophonia. This is not (yet?) officially recognized as a medical condition, but if you broach the subject in these terms, people might be more likely to be forthcoming and less likely to take offense.

However, as the other answers show, a good IPS solution probably does not exist.

In addition, you may therefore want to consider other non-IPS strategies to cope with this issue, not limited to headphones, such as habituation and learning to focus on something less irritating.

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    The question specifically says that the OP is not interested in non-IPS solutions. As written, I don't see that this actually answers the question. The OP is not asking for us to tell them that they have a dubious medical condition. Could you expand your answer to explain more how this solves their problem? – Catija Oct 26 '17 at 15:21
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    @Catija See paragraph one, second sentence. In addition, it is good to know where not to look for a solution. – user510 Oct 26 '17 at 15:31
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    @Catija, this is still awkward, but it is true that a large majority thinks otherwise. Feel free to delete or convert into comment. I'm going to wait for (down)votes first. – user510 Oct 26 '17 at 15:35
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    @Catija - No, it's not a perfectly fine solution, unless getting obscenely berated by a stranger is "perfectly fine." – PoloHoleSet Oct 26 '17 at 15:36
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    @Catija - You're assuming that the people in question are actually make obtrusive noises, which is not at all what is being described. – PoloHoleSet Oct 26 '17 at 15:43
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It doesn't really matter whether you can explain the noise or not. The point is that you're in a public space where everyone is supposed to be respectful of the others around them and should make an attempt to allow the space to be conducive to study.

I'm personally bothered by an odd collection of noises and find them very distracting but it can often be unpredictable when I'll be annoyed by something or not. A lot of these noises are things that are barely audible. I have very good hearing and things like radios turned down nearly all the way but not off or TVs in standby mode are things that I can hear and will often be unsettled by them until they're either turned off or up to a fully audible level.

This situation requires some tact and some deference and respect on your part and a willingness to apologize if the noise happens to be something that they can not control. They don't have to comply with or even consider your request but that doesn't mean you can't make one. Most people are reasonable people who are willing to be considerate of the others around them, particularly when they're doing something that they can control but were unaware that others could even hear or be bothered by.

  1. Get their attention.
    • They're sitting next to you, so give them a wave.
    • Smile - you're annoyed but don't show it in your face.
    • If they have earbuds in, pantomime pulling them out of your own ears.
    • Say "Excuse me".

    These things are open, friendly methods to get someone's attention.
  2. Recognize that they're unlikely to be aware of what they're doing and how it's affecting you.
    • You're already smiling, keep that up by being careful to have a warm tone to your voice.
    • "Hi, I'm sorry to interrupt you. I'm guessing you're not aware of it but you're making some noises that are distracting to me and preventing me from being able to work."

    You're showing that you've thought about it and are trying to respect them and asking them to respect your work.
  3. Ask them whether they could stop doing whatever causes the noises.
    • "If this is something you can control, could you please stop making the noise?"

    You have allowed for the possibility that they can't fix the problem, showing them that you will be understanding if it's a medical condition on their part causing the noise.
  4. Give them the opportunity to respond and thank them.
    • If they apologize, accept the apology.
    • If they explain that it's something that they can't control, accept that and thank them for letting you know (I've found that sometimes knowing that the noise can't be prevented makes it annoy me less).
    • If they say "no" or some other response that implies that they're not willing to consider your request, it's probably time to say "OK, I understand. I'm sorry to bother you" and find another solution, whether that's earbuds, moving to a different computer, or a different computer lab.

Sure, it's going to be a bit awkward but be friendly and be willing to step back if necessary. You're not asking something that's unreasonable considering the space you're in.

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My dad was crazy sensitive to noise when I was growing up. He has passed that along to me now and I can't stand any noises but music.

Buy a pair of good ear plugs, ones you can carry with you and reuse with a nice container to hold them. These things work pretty awesome, if you don't like them you can search Amazon for High Fidelity Ear Plugs. Thank me later :)

If you must have confrontation, I would stick to something short and sweet.

"Excuse me, the noise(s) you are making with your mouth (or body part) are bothering me. Mind stopping?"

If they are making them because of something medical, there is nothing offensive about the comment. They would more than likely say, "I'm sorry, I cannot help it, blah blah" and you would follow up with "Oh, that makes it easier to deal with, sorry for interrupting you."

I haven't personally come across a medical reason but usually people just tell me "Oh, I'm sorry", and stop making it.

If that doesn't work, just stare at them until they feel uncomfortable and leave :D

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Personally, I've just put on headphones. I can generally tune-out most noise, but sometimes either it's someone talking in the office, or as per your situation an otherwise silent room 'broken' by someone shuffling about, packing/unpacking their bag, sniffing (or blowing their nose), coughing, or whatever else that I'm not really sure you can ask someone to stop doing. In all such cases, I've found some headphones and something you like to listen to really helps.

Since having kids, I've discovered the wonders of the 'white noise app' - playing that (even quietly) can 'drown out' pretty much anything for me, even more so with some noise-cancelling headphones. Handy if music is also distracting (which some times it is, even for me).

Actually talking to people is probably a more 'positive' thing to do, but I find having to do it distracting (I'm guessing as you're asking how to do it, you don't find it an easy thing to do, and so presumably distracting too?). Just slipping on headphones is less hassle ;-)

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