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Author Topic: S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?  (Read 4541 times)

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S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?
« on: August 22, 2014, 09:37:44 AM »
So obviously LadyClaire's Nancy is overstepping in a major way. But it got me wondering if I'm not a Nancy sometimes myself.. let me explain.

I work in an IT department, and our floor is separated by functional groups. For example, there is a system that I help support, and the other members are seated close to me. It's an open concept floor plan, and they're close enough that it's impossible not to hear conversations.

This system is fairly complex and involves several different processing areas. So, the guy next to me supports step 1 of the process, I support step 2, and the guy across the aisle supports step 3. It's happened quite a few times that someone will come up to the step 1 guy and ask him a question that is really more of a step 2 issue. Or, they'll be discussing a potential change/outage that will affect step 1, but it also affects step 2. Is it rude to (politely) butt in to the conversation to ask/answer questions?

Also, personal conversations seem to be fair game around here. I don't mean two people talking quietly in a cubicle, rather, talking across cubes/aisles about current events or whatever. It seems a bit off to interject, but is that really considered a private conversation since they're basically yelling it across the office?

Harriet Jones

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Re: S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?
« Reply #1 on: August 22, 2014, 09:41:42 AM »
The difference between you and Nancy is that you're injecting yourself appropriately into conversations that are relevant to you.


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Re: S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?
« Reply #2 on: August 22, 2014, 09:52:12 AM »
I think if it's a work issue you have more leeway to get involved in a conversation, for exactly the reasons you describe--people might not realize they should actually be talking to you, not Bob, or that the issue will affect you as well as Bob. Obviously sometimes overstepping can occur, but IME many workplaces want people to have the attitude of all pulling together trying to accomplish the same goal, rather than everyone staying only in their own little circle ignoring everything else going on around them. As Harriet Jones says, Nancy's problem is that the things she interjects herself into are not within her purview at all, and don't even need to be done (e.g., "you missed a call" when several other methods tell the person they missed a call).

At my work, if I overheard two co-workers discussing something that I was familiar with, and it became obvious they weren't, I would ask if they wanted any advice, etc.. Why should they struggle to reinvent the wheel that I've already made? And of course if there's a safety thing I would step in--like if, from overhearing them, I knew they were about to do something dangerous or ruinous.

As for the personal conversations, I think that's a bit trickier. If you're talking across the aisles/cubes instead of inside one cubicle, I think you have to accept that there's a risk of other people overhearing and joining in. On the other hand, I personally probably wouldn't want to be the first person to do so (join in others' conversation), because it does seem a bit on the edge of rudeness. More like, it's rude if the original talkers mind, and not rude if they're cool with it, so I'm waiting to see what their reaction is to someone else joining in first.


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Re: S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?
« Reply #3 on: August 22, 2014, 09:54:22 AM »
I don't see anything wrong with interjecting yourself into a conversation that is relevant to your job (or for which you may have additional helpful information to provide), as long as you do it politely. In that situation, either the other people talking have information that would be helpful for you, or you have information that would be helpful for them. This type of scenario seems to be one of the reasons why a lot of employers like open-concept office spaces, because it makes that kind of spontaneous collaboration easier.

For the personal conversations, I think that ends up being more of an office culture thing than a matter of etiquette. It's kind of rude to have loud conversations like that, though it's perfectly acceptable in some workplaces. Likewise, it's kind of rude to interject yourself into a personal conversation, but it's different when you have no way to not overhear it.

Black Delphinium

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Re: S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?
« Reply #4 on: August 22, 2014, 10:00:21 AM »
If you know that the info being told is incorrect, I'm usually cool with interjecting, like the other day I spoke up while a co-worker was talking to a shopper because I had received some of the item she was looking for the day before, while he thought we were out.
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Re: S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?
« Reply #5 on: August 22, 2014, 10:02:42 AM »
If everyone at work is satisfied with how conversations are currently handled that's all that's important.  You need to do whatever works best for your group and given your description it sounds like the conversations are not so much 1:1 but 1:2 or more depending on the issue discussed.  The way you are doing it is more time effective than talking 1:1 and then going around asking the others for their input, then calling the customer back.

If you are curious if it bothers anyone I would just ask them.
Always be polite, even to nasty people. Not because they are nice, but because you are.


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Re: S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?
« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2014, 11:59:28 AM »
One easy way to deal with this would be to ask your coworkers what they prefer. I had one coworker who didn't like it because it made her feel corrected in front of someone, but most people are cool with it.
"Manners change, principles don't. It's about treating people with consideration, respect and honesty." Peter Post



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Re: S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?
« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2014, 12:16:57 PM »
Maybe it depends on the atmosphere of the office. I work in a wide open office -- no cubes, just rows of desks. It was designed this way specifically because in our industry, conversations need to flow and be overheard and joined in on when necessary. So around here, it's the norm to insert yourself into the middle of a conversation if you can be helpful or if you have a related question or whatever. It's the way our business operates.

So, by the same token, we often overhear non-business conversations, and well, the same thing happens. It's understood that it's not eavesdropping or butting in. It's just the dynamic of the office. If anyone wants to have a private conversation, there are breakout rooms where they can go in and close the door. But if people are talking on the floor, it's presumed to be open to everyone.

So yeah, you kind of have to read the general feeling of the office to decide if it's acceptable and even encouraged, or rude.


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Re: S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?
« Reply #8 on: August 23, 2014, 10:44:12 PM »
I think it's OK to call out, 'Yes?' if you hear your name or job description being spoken. I have to do that quite often, as mine is the only door in our office suite that cannot be seen from the reception area. That means quite often the receptionists are unsure whether I am in my office at the moment. Quite often if I hear my name, they're saying something like 'come back when Jocelyn is here' or 'I'm sorry, Jocelyn is not in her office right now' or 'we need to ask Jocelyn when she gets back' and I can save us all a lot of trouble by letting them know I'm there.
It is very odd how often I can walk right past the receptionists' desks, without them recognizing I've done so.  ::)


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Re: S/O of Nosy Coworker - when IS it ok to eavesdrop/interject?
« Reply #9 on: August 24, 2014, 11:01:38 AM »
I also frequently obviously listen in or participate in conversations happening with my cubemate - we are in the same group and perform the same function, but usually work different tasks.  Sometimes I am just expanding my experience, sometimes I have something to add. He does the same when people come to talk to me, sometimes I will turn to him and ask his opinion on an issue. We exchange similar butting-in behavior with the guys across the cube-wall from us, usually when we hear them talking about something relevant to our job (they are a different function, but there is some tangency there). Now that I think about it a little more, I think it's more of a "relationship issue" than an etiquette one. My cubemate and I get along great.

I agree that non-work related conversations which are held in full hearing of others are not and should not be considered private conversations. Similar to if you were at a party and mixing and mingling in different groups, people join and leave conversations all the time.