Eavesdropping Coworker

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker’s interfering comments:

I have a coworker that loves to comment from her nearby office while I am on the phone talking to customers. She yells over from her office how I should be handing the call, what I am saying wrong or will even ask who I am talking to while still on the phone. How do I make her stop this?

Signed, Overheard

DearĀ Overheard:

It sounds as though your coworker has yelled from the other room many times. You don’t mention if you are the only other employee or if there are others and she does this to everyone. I’ll assume that you’ve at least tried to let her know that you don’t like her actions. Now is the time to do something forceful enough to make her stop.First, talk to your supervisor or manager about it. Take the approach that you want to let the supervisor know your plans to solve a problem. Describe the problem by saying what your coworker does and the effect it has on you and your work. Your supervisor should be aware of what has been happening, but at least this way there is no question.Among the things you may say about the effect on work is that it makes you feel that she doesn’t respect your ability to handle a call, it’s upsetting for her to imply you have to check with her, the people on the phone can hear her and its very distracting at the time as well as after you hang up, because you’re usually so upset.

You could point out to the supervisor that this employee is the only one who does such a thing. If you’ve asked the employee to stop, let the supervisor know that as well.Once you have described to your supervisor how frustrating the coworker’s behavior is, say what you have in mind and see if he or she agrees with your plans.

Here is one way to deal with it: Make the next time the first and last times. When she yells something to you about anything, but especially while you’re on the phone, either close out the conversation or tell the person you will call them back. Then, go to her office and simply say, “Lisa, please don’t ever yell from your office to me again. I don’t know if you realize how upsetting that is, but it is. So. don’t do that ever again.” (You would probably word it differently, but it should be firm and very clear.)

You’ll notice I don’t suggest an attempt to reason with her, like, “Lisa. Why is it you think I need to be told how to handle a call?” Or, “Lisa, are you aware it’s distracting to have you yell at me from your office?” Or, “Lisa, I’m sure you don’t realize how it sounds in the other room when you question what I’m saying on the phone, but really, I wish you would stop.”None of those things will work. At the very most you’ll probably just get into a conversation with her about it. What you need to do instead is to stop it quickly and get it over with. You know very well she has never read a book that advised people to do that kind of thing.

She knows it’s not appropriate, but she’s done it before and maybe even gotten results from it, so she’ll keep doing it unless you stop her in her tracks.If she says she heard you making a mistake or that she wasn’t really yelling, or anything else except she is sorry and won’t do it again, don’t even get into that discussion.

The broken record technique is the best one in that case: “I’m not going to talk about it. Just don’t ever do that again.”If nothing seems to get through, tell her you’ll talk to her in the supervisor’s office and will let her know what time to be there. I don’t think it will get to that point. But, be prepared for her to somehow make it seem that you are over-reacting. You aren’t over-reacting, if she is doing the things you describe.The bottom line is that you will probably have to be more harsh than you like to be, but being too easy to get along with probably has contributed to this. I’m not suggesting that you have to be unpleasant or mean, just be firm about how you want to be treated.You may also find that your coworker is a bit cool toward you for awhile, especially if she feels embarrassed about being corrected. The best subject of conversation to get things back to normal is to talk about some aspect of work. But, the big test will be if she is able to keep from interrupting you when you’re on the phone. If it happens again, that will be the time to involve the supervisor rather than handling it on your own. Hopefully, it won’t come to that. All of these suggestions put the burden on you to be strong about standing up for yourself in an appropriate way. But, won’t it be a good feeling to have that problem solved, once and for all?I hope you’ll let us know what happens, since we can often use situations to help others. Best wishes to you.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.