Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cubicle Life Conundrums #2: Phone Manners

Cubicle Life Conundrums #2: Phone Manners – Tell Us More About Your Hemorrhoids and Cheating Boyfriend

Sure, everyone gets caught up in the moment. We lash back at the mother-in-law for pointing out spots on our silverware. We say I love you at the end of the third date in hopes of getting some action. When the police pull us over for speeding, we say the “f” word in front of our children.

When the intensity of a moment overpowers our sense of discretion, trouble often ensues. The same principle applies to your phone conversations at work. When speaking with your dismissive doctor, lying significant other, or drug-addled lawyer don’t allow your passions to sabotage your commitment to being a professional. Uncontrolled bursts of emotion can humble even the most intelligent and respected cubicle inhabitant.

“She cheated on me! What do you mean she wants the jet ski and the car! She can’t swim or drive a stick! Huh? What the hell is repressed motor skill recall?”

Remember: When at work, your employer owns your right to privacy.

I write in Chapter 3, “On the Phone” in The Cubicle Survival Guide: Keeping Your Cool in the Least Hospitable Environment on Earth:

“When America’s founding fathers penned the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they had no idea that one day entire generations of Americans would spend most of their productive years crowded into tiny spaces beneath glaring lights divided by carpeted walls. Forget the Patriot Act; how many rights to privacy and self-expression do we forfeit for the sake of corporate political correctness, institutionalized homogeneity, and a secure paycheck? Live free or die, but whatever you do – don’t rock the company boat with personal or embarrassing information. Not if you want to sail in the seas of steady income and health insurance...”

It’s easy to commit professional suicide by being socially inept at work. For some reason employees across the globe don’t know when to lower their voices or simply shut up. In the old days cell phones were called mobile phones, which means people had enough sense to move around while carrying on a conversation. Today people will answer their cell phone in their cubicle and talk about the color of baby feces:

“Green and blue? Really, Hilda? The little tiger must be eating crayons again. Just give him a Flinstones vitamin and please don’t forget to clean behind the entertainment center. SpongeBob SquarePants is behind there somewhere.”

Unfortunately busy parents, your hypochondriac cube neighbor, and that doomed marriage Elizabeth three cubes down keeps trying to resurrect over her office phone, are part of the cubicle life. If you just can’t take it anymore, find somewhere private to maturely and professionally address the offender with your concerns. Otherwise earplugs and white noise techniques are reasonable options.

However, keep in mind that the most effective means of promoting good phone etiquette is by personal example. And it will prevent you from being a hypocrite if you ask a coworker to tone down their personal phone conversations. Here are some things you can do to be a role model for phone manners in your cubicle community:

Speak in general terms: “Can you elaborate on why that is necessary?” sounds much better than “Can you tell me why a rash requires all sorts of expensive pills and crèmes?”

Keep the conversation brief and set up a contingency plan: “Thanks so much for the phone call. I really appreciate it. We’ll catch up this weekend when I’m not at work so we can really talk” is better than “Thanks so much for the phone call. I really appreciate it. So, how is your Uncle Jed? Is he out on parole yet or did that last drug bust stick?”

If you must field the phone call, take it for a walk: “Thanks for letting me know. Let me get your number and I’ll call you back in a minute from my cell (somewhere more private)” is much better than “Thanks for letting me know. Actually, my boyfriend is paying for it so I’ll have to ask if he likes the silicone option.”

Answer with “Yes” or “No” when possible: “Yes” or “No” is a much better answer to “Honey, did you put the vinaigrette dressing in the pantry again?” than “Who cares. So I forgot that it belongs in the refrigerator after opening it. Are you really going to bother me about this or is there something else in our relationship that you want to argue about?”

Best regards, James F. Thompson

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