my nosy coworker keeps joining my conversations

A reader writes:

My nosy coworker (“Nancy”) and I both joined the company at the same time and sit in neighboring cubicles at the office. There are walls to our cubicles, but the walls are short.

Whenever another coworker come up to my cube to chat about anything at all (work-related or not), Nancy pops up from her chair, turns around, and joins the conversation! Sometimes, when she presumably can’t hear all the words of a certain conversation, she will get up from her desk, turn around, and ask “What are you guys talking about?” and then joins in that way. And there have been times when I am having a conversation with a coworker away from my desk, and she will approach us and then just stand there, listening/joining in on the conversation! I want to tell her to mind her own business but of course, I can’t. Besides, the people who are speaking with me at the time of her interruption don’t appear to think she’s rude or appear to have a problem with this — so perhaps I am being too sensitive and uptight? I know that one can interpret her behavior as “friendly,” but I think it is downright nosy and rude to interrupt others and to join conversations uninvited.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My office is only assigning women to cover the phones
  • Interviewer contacted mutual Facebook connections before interviewing me
  • What does it mean when an application period is extended?
  • What do I say when referring a friend for a job?

{ 265 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Akcipitrokulo

    “I want to tell her to mind her own business but of course, I can’t.”

    Why not?

    Not in those words, of course… but a “just talking to Jane… did you need anything?”

    Or is there a reason that wouldn’t be OK where you are?

    Reply
    1. Mediamaven

      That sounds a little harsh for someone who just wants to be a part of the conversation. She may be annoying but she doesn’t seem to mean harm.

      Reply
      1. irene adler

        But the two people talking don’t know why Nancy has approached them. It would thing it the polite thing to do to stop and find out. Might ask Nancy, “Hi, can I help you with something? Did you have a question for me?”.

        My way: As Nancy strides up, stop whatever I’m saying and then whisper to the person I’ve been talking to, “And then Nancy said to me, … Oh,… Hi Nancy. We were just talking about you. What’s up?”

        Reply
        1. CanuckCat

          Wow. I hope that your way is meant to be sarcastic because otherwise that’s bordering on mean girl territory.

          Reply
      1. AMT

        But there must be a polite, reasonable way to ask that a coworker not join a private conversation that’s happening in your cubicle. The LW could be talking about a sensitive or otherwise non-public issue — and even if it’s not, I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask LW to include Jane in absolutely every conversation she has. That sounds exhausting. If I were the LW, I don’t think I’d have a problem with finding a gentle way to convey that we would really rather keep it to just the two of us.

        Reply
        1. Jules the 3rd

          People should not be having private, sensitive, or non-public conversations in their cubicles. They can step outside, into conference rooms, take a coffee break, but everyone hears what is happening in cubicles.

          Reply
          1. Jennifer Thneed

            But this isn’t about sound privacy — it’s about being joined in the conversation. I think we all get to have a conversation with just 1 person, even in the workplace. When a 3rd person joins, a different conversation happens. That can be fine, or it can be irritating, depending.

            Reply
        2. neeko

          But if you are having an exclusive and private conversation, why not do it in a closed office, outside of the office, or in a conference room?

          Reply
          1. AMT

            I guess I’m seeing a cubicle as more of a private area than everyone else does. I don’t think it’s reasonable for a coworker to pop her head up above a cubicle wall or hover around the LW’s cubicle every time she has a conversation. And if the LW doesn’t have an office, that may be the only “private” area she has! Even though it’s technically not a completely private area, it seems waaaaay over the top for the LW to have to book a conference room every time she wants a Nancy-free conversation.

            Reply
            1. Logan

              I do wonder how loud the LW is being, and how distracting the conversations may be to Nancy. I have worked places where my neighbour would have long and loud chats, and I was fairly direct about shutting the social ones down “I’m sorry, but your conversations are distracting me from my work. Would you mind moving to the lunch room?” I know that my experience gives me a different view, but maybe Nancy wouldn’t be so nosy if the LW had conversations in other places?

              Reply
            2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

              Agreed, there’s private meaning that you and bob are talking about something that you don’t really need or want anybody else involved, then there is confidential.

              The first is totally reasonable to hold in a cubicle and expect to not have others join you. The other should be in an office/conference room.

              I think a cubical is analogous to a table in a restaurant… when I’m sitting at a table with my husband talking, it’s a private conversation in that I don’t expect random strangers to either join in or actively listen to. That being said, I wouldn’t expect a restaurant table to be the ideal location to discuss the plans and location to bury our millions in the back yard and expect that information not be potentially be overheard… that conversation is best left to the car on the way home.

              Reply
              1. AMT

                Exactly! The tacit agreement in an open or semi open office is: “I won’t talk about my gross butt surgery in my cubicle and you won’t barge into my cubicle every time I’m having a conversation.”

                Reply
              2. neeko

                It’s definitely not analogous to a restaurant. She isn’t a random stranger and a party at a private table is not the same as two co-workers chatting loud enough about a casual topic.

                Reply
                1. Indoor Cat

                  I wonder if a better analogy is a coffee shop? Because if I run into one of my old friends / relatives / friends of my parents at a local coffee shop or cafe, I will stop over and say “hi.” We usually chat for a bit, they introduce me to the person their with if I don’t know them, it’s all friendly, and then I go back to whatever I’m doing and they go back to whatever they’re doing.

                  Definitely depends on local culture for sure! Even living in different areas of my state (Ohio), in some places the etiquette for running into friendly acquaintances in public is to politely pretend you don’t recognize each other; interrupting them as they go about their day is rude. The assumption is, I suppose, that most people are introverts who only want planned social interaction. I think? So even by chatting casually, you’re interrupting their conversation or whatever they were thinking about. But here, *not* saying “hi” to friendly acquaintances in public is rude, as if you’re snubbing them or something.

                  Maybe LW and Nancy come from different subcultures, or maybe Nancy is just more naturally extroverted than LW, so she doesn’t see why adding more people to a conversation can be stressful rather than “more the merrier.”

          2. xms967

            Man, sometimes I just want to have a conversation with Susan without having to worry about others wandering up and butting in. I don’t see why I should have to book a conference room just to have a 1-on-1 with a colleague about a topic.

            (This assumes that one works at a place with more than, say, 1.5 conference rooms available for the company.)

            The folk I know who wander up and butt into convos oddly never do this to the C-suite folk. I wonder why that is.

            Reply
      2. LSP

        I don’t think it’s extremely rude. I think it’s reasonable to say as long as it’s said cheerfully and with a genuine tone of “is there something you need my help with?”

        It may make Nancy feel a little put on the spot to come up with an answer, but I actually think it’s rude to jump into every. single. conversation that is happening in your vicinity. I have a coworker who sits close to me, and listens in to my phone calls, asking me about things I said when I was on them, and jumps into any conversation happening anywhere she can hear. Now, I happen to like her very much, so I don’t bother with this type of language, but if she wasn’t otherwise so lovely, I would absolutely feel justified in pushing back a little.

        Reply
        1. Myrin

          Yeah, I actually think Nancy is the rude one here. (And in fact, I find that behaviour so bizarre that I would earnestly ask if she needed me for something because it would never occur to me that she’d just… stand there and listen?)

          Reply
          1. MCMonkeyBean

            I am baffled by this. It is so normal in my office that if two people are talking about something near your cubicle you might join in the conversation. I feel like that is normal social behavior.

            Reply
            1. Confused

              Same. I don’t know why everyone is so antisocial in these comments. If the conversation is loud enough for Nancy to hear (and fairly obviously not a sensitive or private subject), why shouldn’t she join? If your workspace isn’t appropriate for a non-social conversation, don’t have one there. People come into my office when I’m talking with my coworker all the time about random things we don’t want others to hear. If someone comes in, we change the subject. Half the time they chat with us, half the time they leave. It is not that serious to actually write a letter about this.

              Reply
            2. Former Admin Turned Project Manager

              I think it’s normal behavior to join into a conversation of interest taking place near your own cubicle, but the LW mentioned that Nancy will interrupt to ask about the topic of conversation (i.e., insert herself as opposed to joining the conversation organically), which I find off-putting. I have a close cube neighbor who comments on every sound from my cubicle (“What are you eating? I heard the wrapper crinkle for a second.” “I heard you say the name ‘Susan when you were on the phone. Is that Susan from Legal or Susan from QA?”) and it makes me feel like I’m under a microscope.

              Reply
              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

                I had a coworker who sat behind a cubicle wall from me, in the next row of cubicles.

                She somehow removed one of the little squares that make a cubicle wall, making it a window from her cube into mine. She’d randomly pop her head through that window into my cube, like a human cuckoo clock, whenever she had a work-related question or anything else to say. Not going to lie. It was driving me crazy.

                Reply
              2. Anon right now

                I have had this situation, shared office with 7 others and only the person beside me will join into conversations that I’m having and ask for context when it is nothing to do with their work at all and explaining it makes getting the actual work done take longer. Has also chimed in with contributions to my side of a conversation when I’m on a call. It gets to BEC quickly.

                Reply
              3. Tina

                Oh my goodness. My reading is that your situation seems to be different than what’s happening in OP’s letter – but I feel for you! That’s really not great.

                Reply
              4. AcademiaNut

                I think it comes down to details. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to have private social conversations in the middle of a cubicle farm, and that people will join in if they overhear conversations of interest. But if someone joins in every single social conversation in their hearing range, or is interrupting to ask what’s being discussed, that would definitely be over the top and annoying.

                And it is reasonable to expect to have work related discussions without random people interrupting and wanting to know what is going on.

                Reply
              5. Khlovia

                “I heard your candy wrapper crackle!”
                “Please forgive me for making too much noise.”
                “Which Susan is that–Legal or QA?’
                “Neither.”
                “[blah blah?]”
                “Don’t worry; it has nothing to do with you.”

                Reply
            3. Someone else

              I think the context is key here. What you’re describing, to me, is normal in general that this might happen sometimes between coworkers who are near each other. What pushes it beyond that is if the LW really does mean Nancy does this truly literally every time LW has any conversation with anyone, on any topic. It is normal to jump into the nearby conversations occasionally if you overhear and its relevant to you in some way, sure. But there’s no way EVERY conversation is relevant and that’s why it makes very little sense for Nancy to jump in every.single.time. It sounds like Nancy is in fact doing it every.single.time and that’s what makes it both weird and rude.

              Reply
        2. Akcipitrokulo

          Yeah, that’s what I meant… NOT rude… but was more responding to “I can’t just be open or communicate (politely) what I need/want”. Partly why not? as in “yes, you can” but also partly “why not… is there an office culture issue at play?”.

          Reply
        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

          Yeah, it’s the fact that it is every single conversation that does it for me. Is Nancy three? Does she have enough work to do? I sat in a four-person cube at OldJob where my neighbor had people visiting her for both work-related and personal chats all the time. We were all friends, so sometimes I would join in the chats for 5-10 minutes, but then I had to go back to my work.

          Reply
    2. MLB

      I can’t believe everyone saying that telling someone at work to MYOB (in the words you suggested) is rude. Sorry but being a cubicle neighbor with someone does not give you automatic right to butt your nose into every single one of my conversations. If I’m speaking low enough for you not to hear me, take that as a sign that you’re not welcome to interject. It could be something I only want to discuss with specific individuals, whether it’s work related or personal. The main objective at work may be to actually work, but we’re not robots and to keep sane need to have personal conversations sometimes. Nancy is the one being rude, and the LW has every right to stop her from that habit.

      Reply
      1. Ragazzoverde

        I don’t agree at all. I would think telling someone they can’t be involved in a non private conversation happening right beside them is actually very rude and exclusionary

        Reply
        1. FYI

          Every. Single. Conversation.
          The OP is talking about Nancy butting in every time she talks to someone — about work or anything else. OP has a right to her own relationships with people, without having to triangulate with Nancy every time.

          Reply
      2. Traffic_Spiral

        If you want private conversations, go somewhere private. If you’re going to gab on in a shared space, people aren’t obligated to act like you don’t exist.

        Reply
        1. Susan Sto Helit

          Agreed.

          I used to work in a desk set-up where the two women who sat behind me (the middle pair in a 2×3 set-up of desks for our team) would have regular whispered conversations that were taking place pretty much directly behind my head.

          It was hella awkward. You’re basically sitting there pretending you’re not there because clearly this is a conversation that doesn’t include you – yet you can’t turn around to talk to your other team members either, because they’re sat right in the middle. It was pretty isolating, and made me, as the newest and youngest, feel quite unwelcome on the team.

          If you’re sharing office space, be inclusive. That means that if a conversation is going on in someone’s hearing, it’s polite to include them. If you don’t want to include them, chat elsewhere.

          Nancy might be nosy, and having her follow along to participate in conversations being had elsewhere is kinda rude. But she’s not completely out of line in wanting to have friendly connections with her co-workers either.

          Reply
      3. Boggles

        Seriously, I’d never have guessed that “am I allowed to be upset if someone insists on making every single conversation I have about them” is a culture fit issue I have to be on the lookout for! How would I even gauge this kind of thing during the interview process? Do I just refuse to work in any place that isn’t offering me a private office? I have a job search coming up in a few months and this is making me paranoid…

        Reply
      4. Akcipitrokulo

        it’s also “take OP at their word” time … they are describing it as an issue – they referred to her as “nosy” and described coming round to as “what are you talking about?”

        Answer to that of “oh, just something with Jane! What can i do for you?” as long as said cheerfully and nicely is perfectly reasonable.

        Reply
    3. SophieK

      The flip side is never joining in and being perceived as being stuck up and unfriendly. Not saying that Nancy is trying to compensate for that here but it’s a hard balance to strike sometimes.

      Reply
  2. Clare

    #2- I’d be really tempted to reply all, and add on all the male employees who were not asked to help, and say something passive-aggressive like “Looks like you forgot to include some people, copying them here so they can help too!”

    Obviously that’s probably a bad idea so don’t actually do that, but wow your company sucks, that is so inappropriate.

    Reply
      1. Let's Talk About Splett

        Yeah, this is an important point. I have seen coworkers call out managers (even managers they don’t report to) in emails like this and it didn’t go well for the employee at all.

        If it were me & I wasn’t sure if the manager was the type to retaliate (even subtly), I’d take my concern to my own manager.

        Reply
          1. LarsTheRealGirl

            I wouldn’t ask why because

            1) it doesn’t matter why, ya still can’t do it and,

            2) you’ll probably get some sort of answer about “oh they’re just so much better on the phones” or “they seem more comfortable being on a call” or “they have a warmer presence” or something else blatantly misogynistic but wrapped in a “compliment”

            Reply
            1. Jessie the First (or second)

              Obviously it doesn’t matter why – except that it does matter, because we *know* the reason is some kind of gender issue. Phones/reception being women’s work, or some such issue.

              The point to asking them why is to make them spell it out. Have them say the words. Whatever words they manage to push out of their faces about why only women in an office full of people would be asked to cover phones will be sexist in one way or another.

              Reply
              1. Charliesmom

                Agreed! Asking the question forces them to have to explain themselves and highlights how ridiculous (and sexist and illegal) they are

                Reply
            2. Jessie the First (or second)

              And to expand, it does not matter whether they think of it as a compliment or not – whether it’s “oh the women here are so much warmer/women’s voices are better for phones” or other “complimentary” crap they spew – you can still push back on the sexism of it. That kind of answer is no less damning, really, and can be protested as the b.s. that it is.

              Reply
              1. irene adler

                But it does give the sender a chance to explain. And maybe-hopefully- realize, he’s being sexist. Then hen can resend the request to all employees.

                Reply
        1. Blue

          Depending on my relationship with my manager, I might take it to them. Otherwise, I’d go to the high-ranking women included on the email, because they have better standing to act, and I bet they’re pretty pissed about it, too.

          Reply
          1. sap

            Yes, going to the higher-on-the-foodchain than the idiot man sending the sexist emails would be my strategy as well. They are probably not too happy about being ordered to do “women’s work” that lower-ranked men could and should do instead, that will interfere with their own job duties (which said men CAN’T do instead), by some dude who doesn’t have any managerial authority over them.

            Reply
      1. Logan

        Sending an anonymous note to one’s boss in a group email is an almost guaranteed way to make this into a huge problem. I can’t see how that would be in any way good for the LW. Not least of which because the focus would change from the underlying problem of sexism into a huge concern about IT security.

        Or maybe you were being sarcastic?

        Reply
    1. 123456789101112 do do do

      I did this with the Christmas party. I noticed that my grandboss had only [invited/Shanghai’d] women to be on the committee, including me. Pettily, I impressed a few of my male coworkers into service, claiming that their invaluable expertise was needed.

      Reply
        1. SarahTheEntwife

          Originally, to kidnap into naval/marine service. Now, to unexpectedly grab into some sort of task. Origin is probably kinda racist but I’ve never actually looked up the etymology.

          Reply
          1. e

            The story I was told in Oregon (where this apparently happened a lot) is that Shanghai was a common destination for the ships sailors were press ganged onto. I am Chinese-American and I use the expression, but I guess it’s possible for people to assume it says something about Chinese people?

            “Open kimono” is a phrase that has an apparently innocuous origin but which I will not use, because I don’t want to invoke what people would think about it today. I think Shanghai-ing is cuspy.

            Reply
        2. Trout 'Waver

          Shanghai’d means forced into slave labor, typically aboard a pirate vessel. The word probably isn’t PC, but I’m not going down that rabbit hole today.

          Reply
            1. BenAdminGeek

              I worked that into my performance review this year! Probably not my wisest move ever, but it was fun…

              Reply
          1. Zennish

            According to Ye Olde Wikipedia… The verb “shanghai” joined the lexicon…in the 1850s, possibly because Shanghai was a common destination of the ships with abducted crews.

            Reply
    2. LSP

      I would go to my manager and point out the problem and ask for their advice on how to address such a completely blatant case of sex discrimination. If it were my manager, she’d be seriously irritated about this, and would feel comfortable pushing back, but not all managers are like that, unfortunately.

      My office only has women answering the phone as well, but we’re an office of about a dozen people, and the only two men are both directors. Our VP is a woman, as are two other directors all our support staff and two project managers, including myself. No directors ever get asked to pitch in answering the phone, but I will very, very occasionally.

      Reply
    3. Khlovia

      “Oops, you accidentally left about 50% of the available personnel off of your list. Don’t worry, I just fixed it for you!”

      After I had my next job offer in hand, anyway.

      Reply
  3. Dust Bunny

    Nosy Nancy: As soon as she moved in on the conversation, I’d stop and ask her if she needed help with something. If she doesn’t bug off, end the conversation (at least for now). If she doesn’t get any juicy payoff she’ll have to find another way to entertain herself.

    Phone Rotation: Oh, no. No way. Yes, I would point out publicly that they “forgot” to include men on the rotation. So not cool.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      A lot of us like you, Nancy.

      I’ve had a few “hey Not Nancy! Let me tell you this funny thing that Joe in production did.” moments. I know Not Nancy will cackle with me but Nancy I’m not super close to but we’re cool, you know? But then Nancy joins in and it’s delightful…it then makes me want to include Nancy next time. *shrug*

      Reply
    2. Hmmmer Simpson

      Same. Especially if I hear someone ask a question and not getting the correct answer right away. It is tough.

      Reply
    3. Tina

      (It is socially normal to be a Nancy depending on office culture.) I mean, I’m in offices and if theres a couple of people talking in one office I’ll leave my office and join the convo sometimes.

      Reply
    4. CMart

      Work-related conversations happening right outside my cube are my catnip. Generally I don’t insert myself into them unless I actually have something to contribute, but I learn so much from “eavesdropping” on these chats that they clearly didn’t mind my overhearing. Higher level insight into projects I’m working on at the peon-level, drips and drags and longer term impacts for things. Just stuff that gives more robust color to my work. It’s great.

      Reply
    5. Susie Q

      I’m a Nancy too on occasion. But that is only because I’m on the only woman on my team and I am routinely left out of conversations unless I interject myself into them. It’s incredibly frustrating.

      Reply
    6. AJK

      I used to be, and I probably still am, but I’m super paranoid about it now – at a previous job, I sat at an open desk with two other people – it was like a reception area, sort of, there were no walls between us of any height. People would drop by constantly and chit chat with my two co-workers in a normal conversational tone, about all sorts of things, and so I’d contribute too, thinking this is a good way to get to know people, etc. No one seemed to mind.
      I didn’t last long there, and while I was being let go the HR person had all of the bad reviews about me on the desk in front of her where I could easily read them – and one of the negatives was “she constantly inserts herself into conversations.”
      I have social anxiety to begin with, so that didn’t help. I feel like everyone else just *knows* how to follow all these rules and I’m missing something, so I annoy people without even trying. I’ve been at my current job for almost three years now, but I spent the first few months terrified to talk at all. I still don’t think my self-confidence has recovered, I never had much to begin with but what little I had hasn’t come back.

      Reply
  4. Kurious Koala

    #1 – this might be her way of trying to build office relationships, especially if people are coming to your desk more than hers. She may just be trying to be social. She probably things y’all are office friends and just unthinkingly joins in! If that fits with your situation, and if there’s nothing major about her that really ticks you off, you might just try to think about these interactions in a positive way. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. Justin Gerald

      I wish my colleagues had been charitable to me at my last job. They would go cold and silent if I tried to join a conversation happening literally around me (we were all in one room, no walls).

      Reply
      1. Positive Reframer

        Yeah that sucks. It’s one thing if its strangers in the store or something but why shouldn’t people join in on conversations with their colleagues?

        Reply
        1. Justin Gerald

          They eventually told me they thought I was annoying. I am sure that I can be, but, well, I was better at my job, so after that, I put my head down, did my work, got promoted, and didn’t have to deal with them.

          And then left the org later. Not being managed very well cost them real productivity.

          Reply
      2. RainbowGrunge

        It really is the worst feeling. It doesn’t happen to me too often at work, but if I go to an event where I only know one or two people and I want to try to not hover around them constantly, I’ll try to latch on to a conversation. It feels so cold when people get silent…or even worse, physically cut me out of the group by having a few people stand directly in front of me. It’s turned me into two things, depending on my mood: a homebody who turns down all invitations to events at which I know only a few people, or a shadow to my friend, not leaving their side.

        Reply
        1. Plague of frogs

          I hate that feeling, but on the plus side it’s taught me empathy. I try to look for those people who are getting left out and draw them into my circle.

          Reply
      3. CMart

        This scenario is exactly what I worry about as a new employee. I’m not new to my company, but I do change roles/groups with some frequency (every 6-12 months) and become the newbie over and over again. I avoid joining in on the chitchat happening around me for a very long time because I don’t want to be that weird interloper throwing cold water on a warm collegial conversation.

        I know I’d be crushed if my cube neighbor was laughing and chatting with someone about the new restaurant down the street and, when I attempted to join in to say that I’d been there and it was great, they fell silent and just stared at me. So I just stay quiet for several months until we all warm up to each other and I’m invited in to the conversations.

        Reply
    2. AMT

      This is going to sound a bit negative, but for me, knowing someone’s motivations doesn’t really make the problem go away. When issues like this come up, people tend to be eager to explain the person’s behavior (“She’s just friendly”/”She might have [diagnosis]”/”Her last job was so isolating that she’s eager to make friends here”/”She likes you, so you should feel flattered”). But I don’t think a behavior has to have malice or thoughtlessness behind it to affect someone’s quality of life. I think if something genuinely bothers you — as it must bother the LW, because otherwise why write in? — it’s worth addressing regardless of what the root cause of the behavior is, or if you even know the cause.

      I’m going to quote the entirety of “You Need to Get Off My Foot”:

      “If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.

      “If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.

      “If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.

      “If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.

      “If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot. If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.

      “If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.”

      Reply
      1. Positive Reframer

        But in this case they aren’t committing an actual offense, the OP is choosing to see it as annoying, they could as easily see it another way. Joining in on conversations with your peers in a public space is normal. Some people may not like it, but in this case it is as likely that the issue lies with the OP as it is with “Nancy.”

        Reply
        1. AMT

          I draw the line at joining conversations that are taking place in OP’s cubicle area. I don’t see someone’s desk area/cube as a “public area,” especially since the LW doesn’t seem to have a private office. This has clearly gone past mildly-annoying territory, especially since the LW is bothered enough to have written in!

          Reply
          1. Academic Addie

            “Besides, the people who are speaking with me at the time of her interruption don’t appear to think she’s rude or appear to have a problem with this — so perhaps I am being too sensitive and uptight?”

            It may be that you feel that way, but “cube == private” doesn’t seem to be the culture in this particular office. It’s fine for her to not like Nancy. But I would guess that LW is going to burn capital for little effect in her quest to exclude Nancy.

            Reply
            1. AMT

              I’m guessing that these coworkers don’t see it as rude because they’re not having every conversation interrupted by Nancy (assuming these conversations aren’t with the same people). I imagine it’s much more jarring to have someone popping their head over the wall or barging into your cubicle to interrupt your conversation multiple times a day than to have Nancy pop into your coworker’s cubicle during the one or two times a week you talk with her.

              I realize it’s a delicate balance between “keep things friendly with your officemate” and “keep yourself sane,” but there has to be a middle ground between the LW totally alienating Nancy and totally failing to set boundaries with her. I can’t be the only one who thinks it’s crossing a line to jump into every one of your coworker’s social conversations.

              Reply
              1. Someone else

                Agree. The problem with Nancy is not that she ever joins conversations. The problem is the frequency with which she’s doing it. And I think the frequency described by the LW absolutely crosses into “Nancy needs to dial it back” territory.

                I also think the whole “are cubicles private or not” debate is sort of a straw man. Sure, cubicles aren’t private as in closed-door private, but they’re also not public like hallway public. They’re an in between sort of space that has a clearly defined purpose that is not intended for absolutely everyone. It’s the specific person’s workspace and anyone in there is the vast majority of the time working on something with them. Sure, everyone has social chats now and again at their desk, but just because someone is meeting at one’s desk and not in a conference room doesn’t make that meeting any less of a meeting, and doesn’t make interrupting them any less of “interrupting someone else’s meeting”.

                Reply
          2. neeko

            Even if cubicles are private to you, the OP stated that this happens away from her desk and it also annoys her.

            Reply
        2. Strawmeatloaf

          Can someone really “choose” what is and isn’t annoying? A mosquito hovering around your ear making that incredibly irritating high-pitched noise they do while flying is annoying. There is no way to block out such a thing.

          Just saying, just because one person can convince themselves that something is not annoying doesn’t mean everyone else can.

          Reply
      2. CanuckCat

        Except the foot stepping analogy is meant to be used for people with privilege when they talk down to someone who’s in the minority about how they’re not being offensive when the minority person has told them they are being offensive. So unless Nancy has some sort of cubicle privilege, it doesn’t really work, especially if OP #1 hasn’t actually tried to tell Nancy it’s annoying her.

        Reply
        1. AMT

          That’s one way to use the analogy, but I’ve heard it more in the context of discussions about social boundaries when someone is being told that they shouldn’t get mad at X bad behavior because said behavior has Y and Z reasons behind it. The point is that the causes of Nancy’s behavior are irrelevant when the LW just needs the behavior to stop. And you’re right — the LW *should* find some way of conveying this to Nancy. This whole thread has been about whether it was appropriate for the LW to indicate that she doesn’t want to talk to Nancy now and/or needs more privacy to talk to her coworker.

          Reply
          1. CanuckCat

            Agree to disagree I guess, since I’ve only ever seen it used in relation to allyship. While I think we’re both agreed that LW should find a way to talk to Nancy though, I’m finding some of the responses ridiculously hyperbolic (like suggesting LW freezes Nancy out of the conversation) when the point remains, LW has not told Nancy that what she’s doing is annoying so Nancy might not even know.

            Reply
          2. Ragazzoverde

            In this analogy wouldn’t the OP also be stepping on Nancy’s foot by excluding her from conversations she clearly wants to be a part of? I don’t think it seems very fair that Nancy can’t join in when only the OP seems to mind if

            Reply
            1. Someone else

              I don’t think it’s reasonable of Nancy to want to be involved in every one of OP’s conversations. You’d be spot on if Nancy only did this occasionally and OP were trying to ice her out. But just because Nancy wants to be a part of OP’s conversations does not make it reasonable that Nancy gets to be part of every single conversation. If it’s social, sure fine, let it go. If it’s related to work she’s also doing, sure fine. But it sounds like there are a bunch of other conversations where neither of those things apply and Nancy’s still jumping in on all of that. And it’s reasonable to ask Nancy to stop doing that, or at least significantly reduce doing that.

              Reply
      3. Traffic_Spiral

        Yeah… maybe you shouldn’t co-opt a social justice piece to justify wanting to have a bunch of conversations in front of someone while excluding them. Not really the same.

        Reply
    3. MLB

      But the problem is that it’s not the way to build relationships. If someone did that to me ALL THE TIME, it would keep me from including her on purpose. Once in a while is fine, but every single time is obnoxious and rude. It makes her seem like she’s listening for some juicy tidbit so she can spread it around, whether that’s her intention or not.

      Reply
      1. AMT

        Right. Even if we agree with the most innocent explanation (that she’s lonely with not-great social skills), that doesn’t mean that it’s not hell to deal with on a regular basis.

        Reply
      2. Zennish

        At the very least, it makes her seem like she’s fairly oblivious, or just doesn’t understand open office workplace etiquette, neither of which will be helpful career-wise.

        Reply
        1. bonkerballs

          I think open office workplace etiquette may vary widely. I’ve only ever worked in open offices and cubes were in no way considered private. Anyone could and would jump into anyone else’s conversations at any time. If you were having a private conversation, you needed to actually take it somewhere private to ensure that. Someone who tried to exclude someone specific from joining in a conversation that was taking place out in the open office plan would be the person thought of as oblivious and not understanding workplace norms. And from OP’s own admission that no one else in the office seems to feel the same way as her, it sounds likely that it’s OP who’s out of step with her office’s open office workplace etiquette.

          Reply
  5. Former newbie

    I don’t know if this is the case for Nancy — she may truly just be nosy — but in some ways this reminds me a lot of when I was new at work and everyone around me were quite friendly with each other. They would stop by each other’s cubes to chat about the latest — “How’s Tommy? Did you see the latest episode of [show we watch together]?” — friendliness based on having known each other for a while. As a newbie, I didn’t want to be the loner who didn’t talk to anyone, and I really wanted to be friendlier with them and join the conversation (“I love that show! Last night’s episode was crazy!”), but didn’t know how to do so without butting in or appearing to eavesdrop. If Nancy is generally nosy outside of this issue, then that’s that. But there may be similar situations where the coworker isn’t actually nosy, but is just trying to join in office comraderie and doesn’t yet have that foundation built with you all.

    Reply
    1. Clare

      Yes, I always struggle with that too. If I don’t join in people immediately label me standoffish and unfriendly, but I never know how to insert myself without being (or feeling like I am being) a Nosy Nancy. It’s a hard balance to get right!

      Reply
    2. Forkeater

      I struggle with this too, I don’t know when it’s appropriate to join and when it isn’t, so I normally just don’t. This post made me sad.

      Reply
      1. Washi

        I think to me, if reasonable and friendly people are involved, it’s about body language. If two people are standing out in the open, talking at a normal-ish volume, and I have something to add, I usually feel free to join. If two people are talking together in a cubicle, standing close together and talking at a volume where only they can hear, that’s not a conversation I would try to join. I think the more clues you have that the people want to just talk to each other (volume, location, topic, etc) the less leeway you have to jump in. And especially in an open office where there is pretty much nowhere to have a “private” conversation, I tend to consider cubicles as private space.

        Reply
        1. Confused

          I mean this makes sense. There is of course a chance that Nancy doesn’t have any social awareness or boundaries, but OP’s coworkers don’t appear to be at all bothered by Nancy, so maybe that’s not the case here.

          Reply
      2. RainbowGrunge

        Same, while the nature of my job prevents me from being a nosy Nancy at work, this is something I especially relate to outside of work. I have very few friends in my area. I’d like to make more. I’ll attend events with friends, trying to get to know their friends, hoping to create friendships with those people. But it’s hard. My friends’ work friends only ever discuss work to which I can’t relate. Others seem to communicate only through inside jokes. I find myself often hanging out at the edge of a group, trying desperately to join in on the conversation, waiting and hoping it turns to a topic I understand and/or a conversation I can contribute to. I wonder how often I am negatively viewed as a Nosy Nancy who just can’t take a hint.

        Reply
        1. Michaela Westen

          Meetup groups are great for meeting people. They won’t all be BFFs, but some might. And the whole purpose of the group is to meet and interact, so it would be weird if anyone was excluding you. :)

          Reply
      3. CMart

        Same. The Nancy question is exactly why I keep my head down and don’t engage with my coworkers when I’m a new person. I worry that they’ll be annoyed just like the OP is.

        I’m in a position where I change roles every 6-12 months, and my worry about being perceived as annoying means I spend the first 50-75% of my time in any given role not having much friendly interaction at work. Polite and professional, sure. But not warm and friendly. I know that’s more than okay, if not preferred, for a lot of people but I find it very lonely.

        Reply
  6. Indie

    Wow, on the phones thing. Is this going to be one of them; “Huh, boss, you didn’t ask the blokes to do clean up and I believe Bob is over there with his thumb up his bum” and you get the whole “Silly me! Just an oversight. Didn’t copy him in and I refer to him as one of the ladies all the time!” So, you end up accepting the non apology and classing it as a wacky coincidence that only women get asked but you end up with both eyes on your boss forever after.

    Reply
    1. sfigato

      Ugh. It’s bad enough that we men tend to expect women to clean up/get coffee/etc. But to ask only the women to answer phones? Plus, do you really want the manager you are paying a six figure salary to spend her time answering the phone? Is that the best use of her time?

      I think receptionist is one of those roles that should be paid as much as an executive assistant, i.e. a lot. A good receptionist is worth his/her/their weight in gold. They are the first contact most people will have with your organization, and to do their job well they need to have a thorough understanding of who everyone is, what they do, their work styles, etc. It is not an easy job. It bothers me that so many companies take that role for granted.

      Reply
      1. Is It Performance Art

        One year our company was doing some sort of baking-related activity to support a non-profit and raise the company’s profile. The person organizing it sent the email asking us to bake for the cause to all of the women and none of the men in he department. And it began with “hello ladies”. The most senior executive in the department was a woman. At least that was optional.
        In some cases, having senior pich in can be good for morale, but if the only senior people get asked to pitch in, it just lowers morale even more.

        Reply
    2. Emelle

      Back in my receptionist days, one of the interns was trying out misogynistic language (for kicks? To see what happens when he says it to someone over 18? It was a mystery.) He managed to insult the entire admin staff in one fell swoop (all women, of course.) And mocked how I answered the phones. The next day, his boss sent all of us admins to lunch together and had Intern answer the phones while we were at lunch. (The joy of flying solo on your first day.) It was delightful. Until the CEO called in. He was *pissed* that a dude was answering the phone. (Calling closed door meetings, slamming doors, stomping around.)And all of the other dudes in the office got upset, until Intern Boss shut it down by explaining that he was not going to tolerate people disparaging the work the admin staff does and he would have every last one of them covering my lunch break if they didn’t zip it.
      (Joke’s on them, they did away with the receptionist position and now they all have to answer their own phones and do their own admin work.)

      Reply
  7. Bea

    I’m seeing both sides with Nancy. This is regular behavior in the last cube farm I dealt with. We’d pop up and join in but also were a collaborative office. It wasn’t much that didn’t include the others on some level. When it’s social, it’s in the open because it’s not private that Darlene went to a concert or Betsy is planning to go home early to get ready for her anniversary dinner kind of thing.

    However if it’s not the culture you have or have come from, it is off putting.

    We get a lot of “I feel left out, how do I get my office mates to include me??” questions. In my experience Nancy’s approach can be insanely helpful in being included. I think she needs to be more selective perhaps but meh, you’ll rock a huge boat and cause a bad vibe by saying anything to her or walking away/ignoring her.

    IMO if someone froze out Nancy on my ship, I would write the freezer out up. That’s unacceptable just because someone butts into conversations in the way described. It’s not fostering a collaborative open work environment and that is how my offices run. We don’t exclude others.

    Reply
    1. Dust Bunny

      Uh, uh, no–I am not obligated to include Nancy in my conversations just to make her feel good about herself. She’s free to start conversations of her own. This is not kindergarten. And not wanting to include her in everything is not “freezing out”, it’s just that not everybody wants to talk to everyone every time.

      Reply
      1. Dust Bunny

        It might, however, become freezing out if I feel like I’m forced to include her. I won’t talk to anyone any more than I have to, period.

        Reply
        1. Babs

          I have to agree with Dust Bunny, and I think it’s just each person’s different personalities at play here. I’m an introvert. I don’t like to disclose all of my extracurricular activities to everyone I work with. I am vague and I think that’s okay. I’m not obligated to be friends with the people I work with. I can be respectful and a helpful coworker, but we don’t need to be friends. Just like in my personal life, I have very few people at work with whom I allow a glimpse in to my private life. But even they don’t know the WHOLE me. My family and close friends do. And unless the conversation is about the last tv show/movie you watched, I find it off putting when someone is constantly dropping in on conversations I’m having. That’s where I politely end it and come back later.

          I should note that I do not work in an open collaborative office. Very different culture here.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            You don’t want to talk to people about your personal stuff? That’s fine. But making the conversations you are having in a reasonably public space off limits to people who are around is a very different thing.

            Reply
            1. Jules the 3rd

              +1. My understanding is that Alison’s perception of ‘exclude coworker from public conversation’ as rude is wide spread.

              That said, abot 15 minutes before I saw this post, I checked in with the person I do this to the most, and she said, ‘no! it’s fine!’

              Reply
          2. Babs

            I’d like to add that if I were to start a general conversation with someone about a concert or my pets, and I were standing in the open office, I’m fine with others popping in on the conversation. That’s happened and I’m cool with it. But if someone I’m closer to is in my office and we are talking about something say – medical, or other sensitive information, then I’m not cool with other people popping in. It’s all in the circumstance.

            Reply
                1. AMT

                  Right, it seems like part of the issue was that the LW is at her desk in her cube having a conversation with another employee. That makes Nancy’s habits more invasive than popping in on them in the hallway or the lunchroom. If you only have your cube for privacy, where is Nancy *not* welcome? Like, does the LW have to book a conference room to get a moment away from her? In an open office/cubicle area, I think the bubble of space around someone’s desk and the inside of someone’s cubicle should be treated with a bit more caution than Nancy is showing.

                2. Nervous Accountant

                  Wait I must have missed that in the original post. Following someone in to their office uninvited is clueless or rude…But in a public section of the office really isn’t, Just imho

                3. Observer

                  Yeah, well the OP is not in an office. It’s cubicles with low walls. They are DESIGNED for what Nancy is doing. (And it’s one of the reasons so many people hate them.)

                4. CMart

                  As a person who works in a cube setup just like in the OP (3+ cubby walls, but only tall enough to maybe offer visual privacy if you’re sitting and short and definitely no auditory privacy), as Observer noted the entire point is for the entire space to be collaborative.

                  Therefore it’s my office’s culture for it to be totally acceptable for people nearby to drift in and out of conversations that don’t directly involve them. There’s no expectation of privacy for work or personal chat. If I’m talking to the person I share a cube wall with about the new taco truck that parks down the street then we better be okay with the person who sits three cubes away to pipe up “I went there yesterday, it’s awesome!”

                  It’s a collaborative environment, and the rude thing to do would be to attempt to turn it into something else. It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s like being mad there’s kids at a Chuck E Cheese.

                5. Zennish

                  Cubicles rarely imply a “collaborative environment” outside a few fields. They more often just imply “workplace too cheap to provide actual offices” If I want to have a conversation with several cubicle neighbors at once, I’ll position myself to include all their cubicles, if I’m clearly standing in one person’s space, talking in a tone that carries mostly to that person, I’m talking to that person.

            1. RainbowGrunge

              If your office has a door that is closed and a Nosy Nancy pops in while you’re having a private conversation, I think it’s completely acceptable to say “Nancy, I need to talk with Joe privately. Are you needing one of us right now, or can it wait?”

              If your office is not all that private though, I’d suggest you go to a conference room to have private and personal conversations.

              In an open office/cube environment though, I would probably just learn to accept Nosy Nancies entering conversations.

              Reply
            2. Atria

              Is the door closed? I there any indication you want privacy?

              Can the people hear you outside the office?

              All these things matter to whether or not it’s reasonable for the people outside the office to join in.

              Reply
          3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

            So, I agree with everyone that said “if you want it to be private, go somewhere private”, but according to the OP, when she and the other person do go somewhere private, Nancy follows them there: “And there have been times when I am having a conversation with a coworker away from my desk, and she will approach us and then just stand there, listening/joining in on the conversation!” Honestly, that’s where I would draw the line. I get having to include others when I’m in or around their workspace, but following people around the office with no other purpose but to listen in on their conversations is a bit different.

            Reply
            1. Forkeater

              “away from my desk” could be a water cooler, the cafeteria, the printer. This is a workplace, not a date. If it’s so private do it offsite or behind closed doors.

              Reply
              1. SarahTheEntwife

                Yeah, I want to know whether “away from my desk” means out into the general office open space (which I’d consider basically public space where conversations aren’t assumed to be private) or over to a quiet corner or something where yes, Nancy can overhear but it’s usually office etiquette to lowkey pretend that you can’t.

                Reply
              2. Jules the 3rd

                Yeah, I read ‘away from my desk’ as break room / printer / etc, not conference room or other space that can be made private.

                Reply
                1. AMT

                  But, like…the same coworker? Joining conversations with various coworkers throughout the day in public areas is different from following someone to hover around their conversations (in addition to all the conversation-joining you’re already doing at that person’s cubicle). That just seems weird to me.

            2. AMT

              Yeah, I think some commenters have a much more benign view of what is happening. Going into someone’s cubicle anytime they have a conversation and following someone around the office to join their conversations is verging on stalker-ish behavior. Strategically, the LW might choose to do nothing and write it off as a quirk, but it’s not wrong or “mean girl” behavior to want it to stop.

              Reply
              1. Detective Amy Santiago

                I didn’t get the impression that Nancy was “following someone around”. But if I’m walking past the printer and two of my colleagues are standing there talking about something, I might stop and chat.

                Reply
                1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

                  I guess what would help me understand the situation better at this point would be, is Nancy only doing this to the OP? Yeah if I am in a breakroom waiting for my lunch to heat up, and two of my coworkers are also there also waiting for their coffee to brew or whatever, I might add to their conversation while we all stand around and wait (and then take my lunch, wish them to enjoy theirs, and leave). But I don’t know if I’d purposely walk up to two coworkers talking in a hallway and just… stand there.

        1. Michaela Westen

          If she doesn’t want to talk to anyone, she should get a job like coding, where she doesn’t have to.
          If she is an a job where she needs to work with people, she needs to be ok with them.

          Reply
      2. Quiet pls

        Feel free to have your private conversations elsewhere then… If you have conversations clearly in someone’s range of hearing don’t be surprised when they join in!

        Reply
        1. Academic Addie

          Agreed. I understand that open plan, or low-walled cube farms muddy the issues because not every employee has access to a private space to have conversations. But honestly, if it’s that important that only your buds are invited to your personal conversation, have it in the bar after work. In the case that it’s a work convo that she shouldn’t be part of, AAM’s script is perfect. There’s no need to treat a coworker like some sort of pest looking for a “juicy payoff” who needs to “bug off”.

          Reply
          1. Wannabe Disney Princess

            And, perhaps, if there’s “juicy payoff” to be had…….don’t talk about it at work?

            Reply
            1. Academic Addie

              Right. If you don’t want everyone knowing your business … don’t put it in front of everyone? LW notes other coworkers don’t mind Nancy’s behavior. It might be worth examining why – are other coworkers keeping their personal matters after hours? In any event, since other people aren’t bothered by Nancy’s behavior, I think she’s going to end up burning social capital telling Nancy off. Probably better to go out for drinks or coffee or lunch offsite if one really needs to talk private business with coworkers.

              Reply
          2. Observer

            I understand that open plan, or low-walled cube farms muddy the issues because not every employee has access to a private space to have conversations.

            You still can’t have private conversations and expect them to be private. Which, as I mentioned upthread, is one of the reasons so many people hate them, even if they are not introverts. You can be fairly extroverted and STILL want a place to be able to talk quietly / privately.

            Reply
            1. Babs

              Agreed. If you don’t have an office or conference room to go to for private conversations, then I guess it’s fair game for “Nancy’s” to join in, no matter how irritating that may be, for whatever reason.
              Open offices and low walled cubicles are terrible office plans IMHO. For some industries its likely great. In others they can be a distraction. It’s all about office culture and where you fit in. Not every person fits in the puzzle at every work place.

              Reply
            2. Academic Addie

              And? Just because you want it doesn’t mean your employer has to provide it. If the LW has some business need to have private space, the business should provide one. If the LW just wants private space to chit-chat with friends without Nancy, she should do that off the clock.

              Reply
        1. Atria

          A few years ago a friend, who I’ll call River, had a situation like this with two of her employees. Vastra liked to have conversations with work friends at her desk (adjacent to Jenny), in the break room, and the women’s WC. Jenny would occasionally overhear them and sometimes join in. Jenny wasn’t trying to be rude, just social. While Jenny sometimes chimed in at inopportune times, she wasn’t a serial interrupter, she didn’t try to switch the topic or focus of the conversation to her advantage. She was simply trying to participate.

          Vastra blew an gasket because one of the conversations at her desk, with Jenny less than a foot away, involved a somewhat personal matter. In front of everyone in the break room that day she scolded Jenny for “eavesdropping” on her private conversations and butting in to “all her private conversations.”. River had to very firmly explain to Vastra that any conversations had at there desk or in the break room were, by definition, not private. The conversations in the bathroom were only private to the extent that no other parties were present. If there was even 1 other women in there using the facility for it’s intended purpose, the conversations were not private. River told her if she truly needed to have a private conversation at work with a work colleague, she should come and ask to use River’s office. She never did. She also never got promoted because she badmouthed Jenny for “getting her into trouble.”

          Conversations at work, even social ones, don’t necessarily follow the same rules and norms as those we have among friends or in other social or public contexts. These are colleges, so there’s a presumption that things are, well, collegial.

          One has to be very clear with the reason one objects to a colleague joining in a conversation at work:

          (1) Is the conversation about a work matter or just social chatter?
          (2) Is the conversation intended to be private? Is that expectation reasonable based on the parties and location? (e.g., HR and employee behind closed door, boss and employee in the office with the door open, in an two employees in open cube farm)
          (3) Does the third party interrupt? A lot?
          (4) Does the third party topic switch or try and shift the focus to how impressive they are?
          (5) Is the third party included in other conversations of a similar nature by others? By the people involved in the conversation? If so, how often? If Vastra and her friends Amy and Clara chat all the time about non-work matters in front of Jenny and make no effort to include her when she’s 2 feet away, that’s bad for morale. It can come across as being mean girls even if it’s unintended.

          Another tale related to “public” work conversations: I had friend I’ll call Jack. Jack sat next to Rose. Rose yammered all day with other coworkers about non-work related matters. Jack tried giving subtle hints about how it was interrupting his work. Didn’t stop the chatter. He tried being clear that he couldn’t work with a lot of noise or conversation. Didn’t work. Finally, he’d join in on the conversations and offer opinions. The conversations about the best brand of tampon (yes, seriously) moved to the ladies’ room after Jack chimed in about how his sister was telling him about the DivaCup and how marvelous it was. The conversations at the desk eventually stopped. Because he interrupted and either changed the topic or peppered them with a lot of questions about the topic at hand. “I’m so glad you ladies are talking about Blue Widgets. I’ve not had the ability to learn about them yet. Can you tell me what you think about Blue Widgets v. Lilac Widgets?”

          Reply
          1. $!$!

            Thank you for this. I work in a cube farm at a healthcare nonprofit and there are 6 pods with four desks at each—all open plan. When I needed to talk to a coworker about an in law getting arrested we (gasp!) left the area to discuss it. I couldn’t imagine discussing the details and then getting angry at another coworker for overhearing it

            Reply
            1. Aveline

              There’s a reason for the legal term of art “reasonable expectation of privacy.” You don’t have one in a cubicle farm. That’s part of the point.

              The things were originally designed for the express purpose of having coworkers talk to each other more.

              Sometimes they work too well.

              Reply
              1. CMart

                “Sometimes they work too well.”

                Ha, yes. I commented upthread that I work in one of those collaborative, half-walled cube farms and anything and everything is fair game for people not directly involved in a conversation to join in on.

                Personally, I like it a lot. I learn a lot more about my job by the people several levels above me chatting about Work Thing nearby and it gives me really valuable perspective to have a bigger picture. I also am friendlier with my coworkers because it’s totally the office culture to pop in and out of friendly conversations happening nearby.

                Reply
          2. Confused

            Perfect response. Of course there are times/places to have private conversations, both work and non-work related, but in general, if there are people around, they might join the conversation. That’s not weird or rude (unless the conversation is sensitive/private).

            Reply
          3. Traffic_Spiral

            I’m thinking that this might be a ‘Jack’ situation. Maybe Nancy would have fewer conversations to join into if OP could shut her yap once in a while.

            Reply
            1. Kevlar

              What an unkind thing to say. OP states that Nancy has joined conversations away from her desk, and there isn’t any information on Nancy’s perspective nor the frequency of OP’s conversing so your comment is nothing but speculation which isn’t helpful.

              Also, I don’t understand why a lack of privacy should equate a lack of boundaries. OP shouldn’t exclude Nancy if possible, but Nancy also doesn’t need to single out OP’s conversations based on proximity or anything else. It’s not difficult to be more selective about interjecting.

              Reply
      3. EmKay

        So if you’re in a public type place (like an open plan office), and are chatting with coworkers, and Nancy walks up to join the group, you’ll… what? Ignore her? Stare at her but not speak? Turn your back on her? Because all of those options are super rude.

        Reply
        1. Wannabe Disney Princess

          And mean. Being morally superior, or whatever, does not grant anybody the right to be mean.

          As someone else who is introverted and private, I understand not wanting someone to butt in on my personal conversations. Which is why I either lower my voice OR don’t have them at work. I keep work conversations light because I’d rather my boss overhear me talking about the latest episode of some TV show rather than an embarrassing medical procedure. Have I had to have private conversations at work? Yes, because things happen. But I’ve managed to keep them private by going somewhere private or keeping my voice low (and have politely told people I’ll be with them in a second if they’re hovering). But if I’m not talking sotto voce, I kinda feel it’s open game.

          Reply
    2. Nervous Accountant

      As someone who was frozen out the first few months of my job and couldn’t figure out why (and trust me I was beating myself up wondering what was so awful about me), I second this.

      I mean I can understand if Nancy (or I) was really nasty or always negative or just unpleasant to be around. Then the issue is different than just being nosy I think. But someone who sits and works in an open office plan? Unless the convo is off to the side in private, loud convos in a “public” setting aren’t off limits.

      Reply
    3. ragazza

      In my office we had a Nancy, and it was more that with any conversation of this type she would make about her or otherwise dominate it. So eventually people did learn to avoid having conversations around her. I felt sort of bad but it’s not our job to tell our coworkers they are a little self-involved.

      Reply
      1. Kathy

        Right? We have a guy at my job that’s rude, condescending, and incredibly oblivious to the fact that he is rude and condescending, even when called out. We’re not about to include him in conversations to make him feel good about himself either, and especially when he butts into conversations the way that the LW describes. He’s the one that’s being rude and while sending the rude back to sender probably isn’t ideal, neither is suffering through an unpleasant conversation where he immediately hijacks the conversation, tries to pry into our personal lives even if we were talking about work to then lecture us about how we’re doing it wrong, and then complain about his own personal life.

        Reply
    1. Nervous Accountant

      I am torn on this. He sits right next to me so if I ever say anything to someone nearby, he raises his head and listens in. I don’t want to be rude so I don’t say anything. Instead if it’s something I truly don’t want to include him on, I’ll have a conversation on the side or thru chat.

      Reply
      1. Positive Reframer

        If you are his manager you could have a conversation with him about it. Showing and telling him that he will be explicitly invited to anything that he needs to know about could go a long way. In a new position it can be tricky to know if you need to be aware of what is going on and sometimes that’s the only way to gain institutional knowledge. A talk about this would be especially appropriate if his work involves a large degree of focus and you know that his work is halting so that he can listen in. Its not rude to address a performance issue.

        Reply
        1. Jules the 3rd

          Yeah, a talk saying, ‘thanks for paying attention!’

          Her support will learn *so much* that is helpful in his position through this – I’d lean more towards it being his job to listen. This is very different from a colleague with an unrelated job.

          Reply
  8. Mediamaven

    Perhaps because we have an open office plan, but I’m trying to picture two people having a social conversation in our workplace, and someone else joins in on the conversation and the others frowning upon it because they felt she was being nosy. I can’t picture that ever happening. Everyone welcomes each other in discussions! So, maybe make her feel included even if it bugs you.

    Reply
    1. Wannabe Disney Princess

      Yeah…this is my office too. Unless people are talking about something in sotto voce…it’s pretty much all free game.

      Reply
    2. Charliesmom

      yes exactly I work in an open floor plan and will frequently jump in on conversations about light non-work related things, just to be friendly and feel included. I don’t understand LW’s issue with Nancy

      Reply
    3. CanuckCat

      I’ve definitely had conversations with my entire row of cubicles before; we even sometimes joke about people being lonely when they’re the only person working in their row on a given day. If “Nancy” was always butting into actual work discussions, especially if it wasn’t work that she normally did, I could see it being annoying but I agree I don’t get how you can expect to have a two person chat in an open office, without taking the conversation somewhere else.

      Reply
  9. All about that action

    Sounds like Nancy is just trying to build work friendships and get in on the social conversations. OP #1 sounds clique-ish for wanting to exclude her. What’s the harm?

    Reply
    1. Lemon Sherbet

      I’m coming at this from an introvert’s perspective, but if I walk into the kitchen to get coffee, and two of my coworkers are having a conversation, I’m not going to join it. It started before I got there, they haven’t invited me to join, so I’m going to pretend I don’t hear anything. That changes somewhat if there are more than 2 people. At that point it feels like a group discussion more than conversation, but two people feels more intimate to me and I don’t want to be the third wheel.

      Reply
      1. Tina

        But that’s your comfort level. It would be equally appropriate for you to join in and say hi. It would be rude for them to then say “uh, private convo, excuse me” depending on the topic of conversation. Social cues come in handy here – if they seem to be talking about something private or it’s more open like about a TV show.

        Reply
        1. Perse's Mom

          It depends on tone and body language too, though. If they have serious expressions or their voices are very quiet or they turn away a bit, I’m not going to be upset about it, I’m just going to recognize that their conversation isn’t open for my input. Whereas if they’re cheerful or turn toward me or smile and wave or whatever, I can recognize that as a signal that I’m welcome to join their conversation or not.

          Reply
    2. anontoday

      I think the problem is that Nancy seems to join in a whole lot. Like, pretty much every conversation she sees the OP having with someone else. That, to me, would be pretty annoying. I shouldn’t have to book a conference room just to have a conversation without someone inserting themselves. It’s not that she can’t help but overhear and contribute, it’s even when she can’t hear, but she knows the OP is talking to someone.

      If I’m in a coworker’s cubicle, and we’re speaking with our voices lowered so that we can’t be overheard, and someone came up and just stood there to butt in, I’d be annoyed. We don’t really have anywhere private that we could go, and I don’t see why I should have to leave the building just to keep having to include someone in a private conversation. If I’m getting coffee in the break room, that’s one thing. But the impression I got from the OP’s letter is that Nancy doesn’t seem to see a conversations he doesn’t think she should be included in. I have a coworker like that, and it is extremely annoying. She’s not super pleasant to have conversations with and if I’m in an obviously private conversation, I don’t think I should have to just because there aren’t walls around me keeping her away.

      Reply
      1. Windchime

        Anywhere I’ve worked, cubicle culture has dictated that you learn to be selectively deaf when your neighbors are having conversations that aren’t meant for everyone. If my cube neighbor is making a doctor’s appointment, I am deaf to it. None of my business. If two people are in a neighboring cube and speaking quietly to each other, then it’s not a conversation that I’ve been invited into and I don’t insert myself. On the other hand, if people are speaking in a normal tone of voice about Westworld, I am probably going to chime in (because I need all the help I can get understanding).

        In other words, it seems like it’s pretty easy to tell when to feign deafness and when to join in. I have to say that I would be pretty skeeved out if a coworker tried to insert themselves into every single one of my conversations at work and it’s weird to me that people are acting like that’s totally normal.

        Reply
        1. Workerbee

          This. I’ve been puzzled over the claims of rudeness against the OP. I had thought that cube farms/open offices came with the selective deafness clause, or at least a recognition that it’s okay for Not Everybody to be in every conversation at the same time all the time. (Clearly I wouldn’t be happy in an open office.)

          I’m trying to think how I’d feel if I were Nancy: There’s a conversation going on that’s near me but doesn’t include me, yet I think it’s okay to pop up, join in/interrupt and ask to be caught up before the conversation can continue, and stay with it til the end…

          Nah. I can’t do it. It’s just too weird a concept, especially with the frequency that she’s doing it. I’m thinking there’s a lack of reading social cues. Then again, the OP believes her other coworkers have no problem for it, so, that’s an unfortunate culture fit. :/

          Reply
      2. Marion Ravenwood

        Agree. I totally get the wanting to join in thing – I’ve been the ‘Nancy’ either joining in, or wanting to but feeling like I’m interrupting – so I do sympathise with the fact she might be feeling lonely but isn’t sure how to get involved. If this was just the occasional non-work-related chat, then it’d probably be fine. But it’s the fact that it’s every conversation, including when OP is indicating that it’s a private conversation (ie walking away from the desk), and in that case I think it’s OK for the OP to tell Nancy – nicely – that it doesn’t include here.

        Reply
    3. smoke tree

      I think it depends on the specifics of the situation. It would be rude to give Nancy (or anyone) the cold shoulder whenever she tries to join a conversation, but I do think it’s annoying to constantly try to insert yourself in any conversation that happens within earshot. Particularly if it’s the next cubicle over and she keeps interrupting every conversation even if she doesn’t know what it’s about. I think the proximity might be making it a lot more obnoxious.

      Reply
  10. TheNotoriousMCG

    Did an update ever come in regarding #2? That is awful and I’d be really interested in hearing what happened

    Reply
    1. misc.

      Same. I can’t believe only telling the women to help with answering phones…like, that takes some serious crazy-pants obliviousness to their own sexism.

      Reply
    2. Clorinda

      Yes, the update is long overdue, as the original letter must surely have been written in the 1980s, right?

      Reply
  11. ThePaperLibrarian

    #1 – I wonder if OP and Nancy have the same or similar job duties? Because if a coworker comes to talk with OP about X issue, perhaps Nancy is thinking, “Oh, I was wondering how to do X! I’ll just listen and see what I can learn.” My office doesn’t have cubicles, but this kind of behavior is super normalized here, regardless of whether it’s work-related or socializing-related. But OP, you can still be upfront with Nancy and ask her if she needs anything. If she’s watching for good-faith reasons, you’ll probably get a reasonable answer.

    Reply
  12. misc.

    Something about #3 rubs me wrong though. The LW says that these people are acquaintances at best, which means that they probably don’t know LW very well and couldn’t speak much about her. Why would any hiring manager want to talk to someone who doesn’t actually know the person very well? I know I’d be frustrated if a hiring manager spoke to one of my late mother’s friends who I’m still connected to on facebook and she told her she’d never met me in person but she didn’t like all of my cat posts. Facebook connections are typically not work connections, so it just feels like an icky mixing of work and personal relationships.

    Reply
    1. Lala

      Yeah, I was surprised at the response to #3 for exactly these reasons. I’m friends with a lot of people on FB who know nothing about me other than I post lots of cat photos, or that I’m my mother’s daughter or my husband’s wife. Most of them I haven’t seen in over a decade or more. Some I have never met or even spoken to over the phone. It would be super weird to ask those people about me just because the hiring manager also knows them. The same thing wouldn’t be weird at all if my name came up in conversation and the hiring manager asked what they thought of me, because it would at least imply that unlike the people on FB, they probably know me better than someone who I was friends with in show choir fifteen years ago or my husband’s former colleague who also likes cats.

      Reply
    2. Akcipitrokulo

      Our company has a strict ban on looking anyone up on social media (apart from linkedin) if you’ve got anything to do with the hiring process, because for our work (not social media related :) ) it’s not relevant, and could open us up to questions about “why did you choose x and not y?”.

      But mainly… not our business.

      Reply
    3. sofar

      Yes, I was a little weirded out by the advice on that question, too. It was pretty clear to me that the hiring manager was clueless. It’s pretty widely known that people’s Facebook friends are a hodge-podge of exes, their parents’ friends, people they haven’t seen since kindergarten and a person they may have met at a party once five years ago. I can’t imagine what useful info this hiring manager was expecting to glean, and reaching out via Facebook is, if not invasive, is a red flag about their judgment.

      Reply
    4. Queen of the File

      Me too! It’s so easy to imagine a kindergarten friend I accepted a friend request telling my potential new boss that I seem like I go on a lot of vacations or whatever. Ick! Nevermind what would happen if the recruiter contacted a current coworker I am friends with and let them know I was job searching. Eep!

      Reply
    5. bonkerballs

      But how does the hiring manager know they’re only acquaintances without asking them? They’re *mutual* acquaintances, so it’s not like the hiring manager is just calling strangers, she’s calling people she knows well enough to value their opinion who also has a connection to the person their interviewing. If it turns out they only know each other because one used to babysit for the other or one used to date the other one’s best friend’s sister, then the person can say that. But it’s not unreasonable to think “I work in this industry. I know this person who also works in this industry. This other person is looking for a job in this industry and also knows the person I know so it’s likely they know each other in a professional way. I’mma reach out.”

      Reply
      1. anoniaa

        If you’ve lived a straight forward life. Some haven’t. You reaching out is only alright in that YOU can handle what someone might share unprofessionally, and they are able to keep the conversation professional. The medium used doesn’t lend itself to that in any way. More though, if the position was for beginning or middle level jobs, is it really important that a manager ‘receive’ this additional social information? I don’t know.

        Reply
        1. bonkerballs

          Am not sure I know what a “straight forward life” is.

          People in hiring look at candidate’s facebook pages and other social media all the time. That’s been a given for probably a decade by now. And there’s plenty that can be gleaned from someone’s social media that could make someone not want to hire them. Are they drunk in every photo they post? Are they posting bigoted rants against people of color or the queer community? Are they completely unable to string a complete sentence together? This is all “social information” but it’s beneficial for a hiring manager to know to make a more informed decision.

          I’m not saying facebook is this great professional place that’s going to allow a hiring manager to make the best decision. But let’s be real, neither are interviews or calling a candidate’s carefully cultivated reference list. There’s a reason Alison continually urges people do their due diligence when hiring someone and often suggests speaking with acquaintances specifically NOT on people’s reference lists . Yes, even beginning and middle level jobs.

          Reply
          1. Mad Baggins

            But I think it’s just as likely that the acquaintance says, “Oh, we went to high school together. Looks like on Facebook she attended a Pride parade,” or “she’s really passionate about social justice” or “I saw she recently went to Israel on birthright” or “she’s about to have a baby” and now the hiring manager has information that has nothing to do with their professional abilities or career, and if it affected their decision it would be illegal (or should be).

            I wholly support calling all manner of professional contacts so you can see how the candidate behaves /at work/. But everyone knows that who you are on Facebook is not who you are in real life or at work, and the acquaintance has access to information that is not public; namely, the candidate can set privacy settings to limit what friends/family/acquaintances see vs. their boss/the public. I think it also gives an unfair advantage to allow any information about the candidate gained through any method to be fair game, but all the candidate has about the company is… anonymous Glassdoor reviews? Because I can’t imagine anyone deciding to work for a company or not based on what a Facebook acquaintance thinks of one person at the company??

            Reply
    6. Hey Karma, Over here.

      This, because FB doesn’t categorize friends. It lists all your contacts as friends. You can note them as family, but that’s about it.
      Oh, look, Karma knows Bob. I’ll call Bob and see what he has to say.
      Which could be anything from “she set up a spaghetti dinner to help my child raise money for the albino goldfish”
      to “we went to high school together and ran into each other in the parking lot at a NKOTB reunion show.”

      Reply
    7. Snickerdoodle

      Yeah, I don’t think Facebook is appropriate for work connections. That’s what LinkedIn and references are for. Your Facebook friends list is not a list of references who know anything about your experience and work ethic who can speak to your character and are expecting that kind of contact. Worse still, it could turn out that one of the people contacted via Facebook is a current employer/coworker unaware that they’re job hunting, which could lead to all kinds of awkwardness.

      Reply
  13. Utoh!

    We have an automated gate into our parking lot, it had been open during the day and only closed at night but due to tightened security it is now closed during the day and people need to be let in when they use the call box. When the devices to open the gate were initially being installed, I was told by the guy installing it he was directed to install one device in the admin’s cubicle and one in mine (our cubicles are right next to each other within a cubicle farm). I am a technical support specialist who is very busy, am the most senior member of a team of five, and the only woman on the team. I completely balked at this and went immediately to my manager to tell her I should definitely NOT have this device installed in my cubicle nor be expected to be the admin’s backup for this purpose. I have no idea if she had known or agreed to putting this device in my cubicle, or if it was the director of our department (a man) who suggested it, but definitely was NOT installed in my cubicle. It was placed in a general area where *anyone* could open the gate if someone called. Of course the only people who even looked at it, and asked questions about it were the women of the department. I had also brought up instances where I was being treated as the admin of our team to my manager, but none of the other members were ever tasked to do the same. While it’s gotten better, I still have to remind her every now and again. It sucks that this needs to be pointed out, at no time in the 14 years I’ve been with this company had my role ever been administrative except in the technical sense. Unfortunately, women are still looked at, regardless of their title, experience, education, etc. as the admins of the world. I have and will continue to push back.

    Reply
    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      It’s so flattering that your boss can look to you to pull together the loose strings of her department. She can get so much more done and be so much more effective because she has someone to assist her. Of course you will do X, Y and Z. She would do X, Y and Z. Of course she doesn’t have to now, because you’re here. Before she only had herself and the men on her team, so what could she do?
      It’s freaky how she’s so oblivious to it.

      Reply
  14. Oogie

    We have a nosy person like that at my work. We aren’t trying to be mean by not wanting her to join conversation, but if she does she always just talks about herself and her 9000 dramas, which we are sick of hearing about. We just don’t chat much until she goes to lunch.

    Reply
  15. HiC

    #1- I had a Nancy at an office I worked at some years ago- we were temps who started at the same time, and worked for different departments and our work didn’t overlap at all, but were seated near each other in low cubes. Our schedules were such that we’d both be in the office at the same time a few days a week.
    At first I thought she was overly chatty, but friendly. We casually socialized after work once. Then it seemed like she’d latched onto me and couldn’t let me get by a moment in the office without her presence. She’d butt into any conversation anyone would have with me anywhere in the office, work or social. Work conversations that had nothing to do with her department all still needed her input. If she was nearby when I walked by a coworker asking a casual question, she’d RUN over to try to be involved. If I was in someone’s office, she’d hover outside and pop her head in if the meeting wasn’t 100% work focused. She’d chatter at me constantly, no matter how busy I was, how often I told her I needed her to stop and let me focus or even after I put on headphones. I stopped responding to her, stopped making any eye contact, and only responded in one word answers.

    I was only a temp worker at that point and people seemed to respond to her well, so I didn’t want to cause a conflict before I left. Then I returned to the office sometime later for an additional temp period, and turns out other people had been sick of her as well.

    Reply
    1. Jules the 3rd

      That seems more intense than how OP is describing Nancy. That’s much more on the ‘my coworker interrupts my work’ side of the issue, which is a much more serious problem.

      Reply
  16. Terra C

    Re: 3. Interviewer contacted mutual Facebook connections before interviewing me –
    Two thoughts:
    1) If that’s a concern, turn access to your friends list to “private”
    and
    2) For those doing the hiring, bear in might that people main all sorts of connections on FB for all kinds of reasons—including plenty of folks they may not be fond or or respect or trust, but stay linked there (perhaps also blocking those people from seeing much of their posts) because they do so to keep up on family news, old highschool classmates, folks in their field of interest, etc. I might “know” someone because they are the cousin of an Ex who occasionally shares funny jokes, or that idiot former boss who is a great photographer and shares really wonderful images (while still being an idiot) that I enjoy seeing from his travels, or even someone I have no idea is really brilliant and a consummate professional, but that I “knew” only as one of the old college crew of heavy drinking pranksters.

    So I’d be really careful about presuming someone’s mutual FB friends will be useful to vet a person. You each may know a different era or version or side of that mutual friend. And they may barely know your prospective employee (or only know an out-dated or irrelevant aspect of them.

    Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      I’m pretty sure that even if your friends list is private, someone can see what mutual friends you have.

      Reply
      1. Safetykats

        If your friends list is private, I don’t believe they can see that you have any friends. Now, if they look up who their friends are friends with, they would be able to see your name on their friends lists. But since they would literally have to go through the friends lists for all their friends, that’s not likely to happen.

        I think checking people’s social media is one thing, and calling their friends, even if also your friends, is another. It’s normal to route someone’s resume to people who have worked at the same places to get input, but it’s not normal to call purely social contacts to do so. I really wouldn’t want to work for anyone who would do this.

        Reply
        1. Jules the 3rd

          I’m pretty sure that even if your friends list is private, people can see your mutual friends. It’s just that’s all they can see.

          Reply
  17. Charliesmom

    LW 1 – I don’t see what’s wrong with Nancy’s behavior. Unless I missed something it seems like Nancy just doesn’t want to be excluded from the friendly work atmosphere. Is there a reason you don’t want to chat with her or include her?

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Thneed

      Nancy is very self-centered and doesn’t pick up on social cues — or does but willingly ignores them. She is *leaving her desk* in order to join social conversations that are not near her desk. That’s a lot of attention she’s paying to not-her-actual-work to monitor conversations and join them.

      And if you’re joining an existing conversation, you join it and LISTEN. You don’t pop up with “what are you guys talking about?” because that’s making yourself the center of the conversation. Instead, you listen and figure it out from context, and maybe ask a question (“Oh, are you chatting about Joe’s vacation pictures?”) that can get a quick yes/no answer.

      Anyway, when I want to get to know people in a new workplace, I stand with groups of people in the break room, laugh at jokes, and maybe say something about the coffee, but I’m not initiating any of this. I join into existing conversations to start to get to know people, but I don’t take the conversations over and I don’t introduce new topics (that waits until people recognize me more). BUT I am gaining information and can say something about a person’s dog/child/vacation when I see them later. I want to be known as the person can always crack a joke, not the person who always takes over conversations.

      Reply
  18. DCompliance

    We have a Nancy in our office. She just pops up from her cube like a prairie dog on the horizon when there is conversation going.

    Reply
  19. Indie

    So I think that you just don’t like Nancy, LW and it doesn’t really matter why. It might be you’d be fine with her joining some conversations, but not every.single.one, you may not be much of a group chatterer, she may turn the conversation to herself, she may be giving off a gossipy ‘what’s the scoop?’ vibe or you two simply may not gel. It still boils down to the old ‘at work, there will be humans you don’t necessarily like enough for chit chat’. My personal formula for those folks is a) be collegial and b) be rather unrewardingly dull.
    So:
    Nancy: “Hey what are you two talking about?”
    LW: *one word summary of topic*. But enough about us! What did you come over here to tell us about?
    Nancy: Nothing. I want to hear about topic, though.
    LW: Oh. I was just saying *two word summary of topic* but I can’t remember where we got up to.
    Other coworker: Agrees/expands (but you don’t)

    Other scripts: “I don’t even know! Jess and I were just chin wagging. You?”
    “Sorry my mind is a sieve today. I think I was being very original and talking about the weather.”

    The idea is to teach her that you don’t do well and have nothing to say when interrupted, even if others are fine with it. If she gets that message then she’ll either adapt her approach to you or she’ll seek out conversations with others who don’t mind the interruption.

    Reply
  20. Manatees are cool

    In regards to number 2 I’m curious as to the number of times someone has written to Alison about a sexism related problem at work. It was only this morning that Alison highlighted a problem that tends to occur more with women than with men.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Multiple times every day. It’s increased in the last few years. It is exhausting, honestly. (I’m not complaining about the letters; it’s the sexism itself and its prevalence that’s exhausting. For all of us.)

      Reply
      1. Logan

        I would try to view it positively. I don’t think the sexist behaviour is greatly increasing, rather we are now willing to identify it for what it is, and are looking for scripts to address it. I know this statement doesn’t help with your energy levels, and this type of problem can be emotionally draining, but hopefully my comment is a reminder that there are parts of this that are getting better, and we (of all genders) appreciate your insight on these topics.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yes, I definitely don’t think it’s that the amount of sexism in the world is increasing — I think it’s that people are more aware of it and have the language to better talk about it. Which is a good thing.

          Reply
  21. VeryTired

    Working in a cube farm is hard. We’ve talked a lot here about pretending you don’t see/hear things at your co-workers desk. Some of us have to meet and collaborate with people, at our desks, in the open cube farm. There isn’t another place for us to work that’s officially private. [Sometimes we do go work at empty tables in the break room when we need to spread out, but it’s still the break room.]

    If a co-worker consistently joined my working conversations that HAVE to be at my desk, even with enjoying talking and working with her, it would be hard for me to get work done. That would be frustrating.

    Reply
    1. Elspeth

      Yeah, I think that’s what gets me about this letter. Nancy MAY just be trying to be friendly and fit in. Nothing wrong with being friendly with coworkers, but I think the takeaway is not to jump into every single conversation, especially when you’re in Cube-Land. I’ve been on both sides of the equation, so maybe once Nancy’s been there a bit longer, the behavior will taper off.

      Reply
  22. Q

    Only woman are asked to cover the phones – yes this happened to me at a job as well. The company was was run by a family who was from another country, and I immediately noticed only women were being asked to take turns covering the receptionist desk. I flat out refused and told my boss no. We were also expected to tidy up the break room and fetch coffee for the president because he was dating my boss. The phrase “this isn’t what I went to college for” kept running through my head the entire time I was there, and the whole place was incredibly sexist from the top executives down. Unfortunately this sort of treatment of women was common in their country so it flew even though we were in the US. I hightailed it out of that place and regret not quitting sooner.

    Reply
  23. CanuckCat

    All of this discussion about expectations of privacy in open concept offices reminds me of my first post-college job, where my team lead who sat next to me would have regular whispered conversations with another co-worker who was close friends with her, essentially pretending I couldn’t hear them. Sometimes the conversations would start when they went to get coffee and then just continue when they got back to the office but other times the co-worker would just drop by the team lead’s pod and have intensely whispered conversations for 10-15 minutes at a time, while I did my best to ignore them.

    Reply
    1. michelel

      Ugh, whispering! My supervisor sits behind me, and she faces another colleague who will whisper key phrases or half-conversations over their pseudo-wall. The whispering is sooooo much more distracting and attention-grabbing!

      Reply
  24. Ahra

    Re: #2 Something similar like that happened to my friend. She was the only woman in her IT department and when the receptionist for the department left, some genius decides to use her extension in place of the former receptionist without telling anyone. The kicker is that my friend is hard of hearing so they never set up a phone in her office. Took about 3 days before someone figured out what was going on.

    Reply
    1. Tina

      That is so bonkers. Sexism aside (and really, jeez) to not tell anyone to expect more calls? Or discuss it with them first at all?

      Reply
  25. Tara S.

    “hiring manager (the person who will be the manager of the person being hired)”

    I don’t why, but this is the first time I’ve seen this definition. I always thought “Hiring Manager” was the person running the HR process, so part of the HR team, not necessarily the person who would be managing the new hire.

    Reply
    1. LiveAndLetDie

      “The manager overseeing the role being filled” is always how I’ve understood the phrase “hiring manager”!

      Reply
    2. Marthooh

      I’ve always taken it to mean “the one who gets the final say”, so, usually the manager of the one being hired.

      Reply
    3. Someone else

      If you read through the archives here, you’ll see this frequently discussed/clarified/defined the same way as in this afternoon’s column.

      Reply
    4. Jennifer Thneed

      It’s the person who interviews you and will be your boss. It’s the MANAGER who is hiring YOU.

      Reply
  26. LiveAndLetDie

    I understand folks want to be charitable and assume the best from Nancy, but honestly to me it reads like she’s a buttinsky who just wants to be in on every conversation that happens around her. There’s nothing wrong with having a quick chat with just one coworker as you pass by their cube, there’s no reason to think that because you talk to one person you MUST therefore ALSO talk to everyone within earshot. However, I think it depends on what kind of conversation you’re having how much you should worry about including/excluding her.

    If it’s work-related, she doesn’t need to be involved if it doesn’t affect her work, and you can (politely) steer her away with a “can I help you?”
    If you’re just chatting about the most recent Game of Thrones episode or something else casual and non-work-related, it’s can seem cliquish and rude not to include her if she’s also a fan who just wants to join in on the fun.
    If it’s SENSITIVE, you probably ought to find a way to have that conversation somewhere more private than a cubicle, but understandably not all offices have that kind of freedom. In that case it’s a toughy, but saying something like “Sorry, Nancy, but this doesn’t concern you” is really all you can do.

    Reply
  27. Bones

    I have a pushy coworker like Nancy, who just ignores other people’s boundaries. If it were every once in a while, I would maybe agree that OP is being cliquish. But it seems like it’s happening all the goddamn time, and OP has every right to be annoyed by that kind of cluelessness/entitlement.

    Reply
  28. Strawmeatloaf

    I get everyone feels that Nancy might just be lonely, but it sounds like she does this EVERY time and even follows them.

    The comments are sort of bordering on “why don’t you just go out with him once? You might even like it!” To the guy who has been asking you out every day for the past 2 months when you’ve already told them you have a boyfriend.

    Is Nancy probably lonely? Sure. But to do it for every conversation is over the top, and I would certainly get annoyed having to stop my conversation to explain the entire thing to them (because they were no part of it) just to catch them up on the conversation every time I decided to have one. And what if they can’t find anywhere private? What if they aren’t allowed to use the meeting rooms to discuss private conversations? What if someone else is in the restroom when they try to have it there?

    I think Nancy needs to be talked to, if only to be told to tone it down a bit on the conversations. She doesn’t need to be in every single one, even if she is a new employee.

    Reply
  29. Lipton Tea4Me

    #1, If someone constantly inserted themselves into EVERY conversation I had with anyone in my own cubicle, I can tell you I would not be thinking they had every right to. And since I tend to be blunt, they wouldn’t last long in that conversation. To me, it is rude to insert yourself in a conversation you were not invited into in the first place!
    Since most of us work in cubicle city, most of us also tend to view that cubicle as “ours” for the duration of the time we are there. We decorate it how we want to, we position equipment to meet our own needs, the lighting is different from cubicle to cubicle, so why would we then assume just because it does not have a door or high walls that it is not private? Technically, yes, it is not really “private”, but at the same time, the open front door of my neighbor’s house isn’t an invitation to just walk right in either. There is a line here that Nancy is stepping over and if I could think of the word for that line, it would be helpful. Welcome to aging!

    Reply
  30. sagegreengrrl

    I can see both points of the Nancy issue, but I have to say, as the person at my job who is left out of almost all conversations, it’s pretty lonely. We only have seven people other than the supervisors and they are all cliqued up. No matter what I’ve tried over the years, they never think or want to include me. I used to comment on conversations, I mean, I can’t help but hear them, my coworkers talk loudly, but then they started making passive aggressive remarks about it, so now I just keep to myself and read in between calls. Course, it’s hard to hear my calls when they are talking loudly sometimes, and sometimes they will use sexual innuendo’s between each other, which I definitely don’t want to hear, they can’t seem to help themselves. I just wish they would shut up most of the time.

    Reply
    1. ctstud2010

      I don’t understand this mindset. If you have friends and a social life outside of work, then it shouldn’t be of much consequence if you don’t socialize much at work.

      Work is primarily for working, not socializing. If you make friends at work, great. But if you don’t it is no big deal because that is not the reason why you are working unless you have won the lottery.

      I am all-business at work and find there is much less drama if I am quiet and keep to myself.

      Reply
      1. WS

        I’m the same, but I am also an introvert who would be even happier working completely alone. Some of my co-workers are extroverts and do genuinely feel sad and left out if they can’t talk to anybody – one of them has a job which requires about an hour of solitary work a few times a week, and since there’s nobody with her she talks to herself for company! Different people like different things and that’s okay.

        Reply
      2. Jennifer Thneed

        > Work is primarily for working, not socializing.
        Work is primarily for making money to pay for food. But we are social animals and socializing is what we do. And SageGreenGirl is saying that everyone around her is socializing with each other and specifically not to her. If she were in a quiet office it might be different, but she’s not, she’s where she is, and she’s been there for several years.

        You’re responding to someone literally explaining how it feels, and you say that you don’t understand the mindset. In other words, you’re not believing SGG when she says it’s a lonely way to be. It would be far better for you to listen, and then you might start to understand the mindset. Just because it’s not your experience doesn’t mean it’s not valid.

        Reply
  31. ctstud2010

    Whenever I have a conversation I don’t want others to overhear, I invite my colleague into the washroom and chat there with the door locked. Or I chat via email or text.

    If you have a conversation in a in an office with other workers, you have no expectation of privacy and should assume everyone is listening.

    Reply
  32. ctstud2010

    It sounds to me like Nancy has no life of her own outside of work. It is my experience that people with no lives do not value other people’s time or space. They will talk so much they become unproductive and they believe their jobs are more for socializing than doing work. They do not care if other people have lives outside of work and will spend as much time as they want, even if other people have to stay late to let them finish.

    Reply
  33. WannaAlp

    We had someone like this at work once. You couldn’t really have fun in a work meeting, because “Curious Chris” would hear the (muffled) laughter and find where you were having your discussion, and pop up with a friendly “What are you talking about?”.

    I think Chris thought we were socialising, but we weren’t. So we’d reply cheerfully “We’re talking about the [name of the project]. Have you come to help?”

    Cue much backpedalling and exit of Curious Chris. Just as well, because Chris was an utter leech when it came to social conversations: wouldn’t let go, wouldn’t take a hint, would try and cling on as you reversed out of the door.

    Reply
  34. Birch

    It’s not about whether cubicles are supposed to be private spaces or not, it’s about the lengths that Nancy will go to in order to insert herself into every single conversation OP has. If Nancy can’t quite hear the conversation from where she is (as evidence by physically getting up and coming over to ask what they’re talking about), then it wasn’t meant to include her in the first place. It wasn’t intended to specifically exclude her, but if everyone is sitting down at their desk or intentionally visiting another cubicle to talk to a specific person and a small conversation is happening between a few people, it’s weird and rude to intentionally get up, go over, and demand that you are included in the conversation. If she did this in the coffee room it would be completely different and OK because that’s where people mill around without a specific conversational aim. There’s also no reason to expect that you should be part of every. single. conversation. that goes on in your public space. That’s exhausting for everyone involved and sounds like she’s paying more attention to everyone else than to her own work. I’m so glad I’ve had good officemates in the past… who ignore conversations that obviously aren’t for them and who chime in when they have something useful to say. I think it’s the asking “what are you talking about” that’s the real signifier for me that Nancy doesn’t actually care about the content of the conversation, only that she is involved in it. Which makes her both annoying and a bad conversationalist.

    Reply
    1. Khlovia

      This. The only excuse for butting in on a conversation is that you have good reason to believe that it does concern you, at least tangentially. That Nancy has to *ask* what the conversation is about means that she *doesn’t already know* and therefore cannot possibly have reason to believe anything at all about it. Nancy’s premise seems to be “If I can *see* a conversation, I have the right to *hear it and participate* in it as well.”

      LW, and anybody siding with Nosy Nancy, I would suggest that if “the people who are speaking with me… don’t appear to think” she’s pushy and annoying, that just means they’re putting on the same blank, poker face you are.

      Reply
  35. peachie

    #1: I missed this yesterday, but man, this is why I have work social anxiety. I’m so afraid I’ll be a Nancy that I end up just… not having work friends. :/

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Before you comment: Please be kind, stay on-topic, and follow the site's commenting rules.
You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.

Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS