Co-worker Won’t Stay Out Of My Business.


I have a co-worker that sits right beside me; a thin cubicle wall divides us. She eavesdrops on ALL my conversations, both personal and business, and even makes comments out loud! More than once, I’ve had a supervisor in my cubicle, giving me directives or asking for information, and my coworker stood up and came over to my side, interrupted, and given her opinion or advice. I’ve asked her politely to stay out of my business, particularly when it involves my bosses, but today she did it again. How am I going to convince her that I want her to mind her own business?


Next To Trouble


Dear Next To Trouble:

There is no sure way or quick fix to changing another’s nosey habits. You told her to mind her own business and she butted in again. Habits are stamped in over time and it might take time to stamp them out. It is not uncommon for some well-meaning people, almost instinctively, repeat and repeat bad habits, such as say, “You know” and to find others who don’t really mean to curse like the devil, but do. Not one politician, even if he wanted to, could not conclude a speech with out saying, “God bless America.”

You may have to be blunt repeatedly to make it clear that you don’t like it. However, this should not be only up to you. You have a boss and preventing distraction is part of her/his job. Have you no rules? Working with thin walls requires more than thick skins. Open offices need rules of when and what communication is and isn’t permitted. Have you looked at your policy book or consulted your supervisor or Human Resources about such matters?

You say your boss has seen Jane, or whatever is her name, intrude. On the spot, your boss should have politely but firmly, said, “Jane, this is between Sara and me. I’m sure you should understand that.” And/or in a private conversation, not long after, your boss should have counseled Jane about what is and isn’t acceptable.

Apparently those in your work area need to meet to establish a set of rules as to what is and is not appropriate communication at your work-stations. A communication do and don’t session should make explicit rules, put them in print, and post them. For example, Don’t butt into a coworker’s communication! Don’t offer one’s opinion when hearing what is said in another cubicle, to that individual, to one’s self or to a third party. Do attend to one’s own business. Don’t intentionally listen to what is said in adjoining cubicles. Do speak respectfully with a gentle voice. Do wait until a break time to chat about non-work topics. The area supervisor should be in on such a session and be committed to enforce the rules.

Until these rules become second nature, as they are in certain areas of a hospital, each week all parties in an area should candidly collectively review how well the rules are working and modify them as needed. Does this make sense? If not you might find creative solutions, such as: posting Quiet Work in Progress signs, or you might record her comments and play them back, or wear ear muffs, or give her a piece of duct tape each time she noses in. Working next to co-workers should be friendly but not intrusive.

Think beyond just this coworker distraction to the mission of your work. What might make it more effective and cut wasted supplies, time, and money? What actions will create a good work climate? Working together (or next to another) with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.

William Gorden