are personal calls OK at work? what if it’s an argument?

A reader writes:

I have an office with a door that closes, but fairly thin walls. What are the rules on personal calls? Obviously not overly numerous, but the occasional one?

I ask because: I made a personal call today that (very unexpectedly) turned into an argument. I kept my voice down and civil in tone, but it was an argument. The walls are thin. I am so embarrassed; while there’s no reason to believe someone might have overheard, they could have (I share walls with coworkers). I truly did not expect this and would not have made the call had I thought we would argue. Some arguments occur exactly this way though — without expectation. If that’s the fact of the matter, then is it ever appropriate to make personal calls at work, even when on break time/in an office with a closing door?

It depends on your office culture, but in most offices it’s fine to make occasional personal calls, particularly when you have your own office with a door that closes.

With normal (non-argument) conversations, the constraints are less about being overheard and more about keeping the calls in moderation so you don’t look like you’re neglecting your work. But moderation doesn’t mean none! Occasional calls to sort out logistics or deal with things that are much more easily handled during business hours are generally fine. When it looks bad (or starts annoying people) is when you’re having longer calls just to socialize. So basically: a short call asking what to pick up for dinner or sorting out a billing issue is generally fine. A call with friends or family just to catch up or chat is usually better saved for your own time.

If a call turns argumentative, that’s definitely something you don’t want coworkers to have to overhear — it can be really hard to focus when you can hear someone arguing with their S.O. through the wall next to you, and it can push negativity into other people’s workspaces (even if they just hear angry tones but can’t make out words). Because of that, I’d try to cut it off pretty quickly if the conversation takes that kind of turn, by saying you’ll need to finish the conversation later. If that’s not possible (some conversations really do need to be had right then and there), sometimes relocating will work, like to outside or a car or even a private stairwell if that’s an option.

{ 184 comments… read them below }

  1. Elle*

    I will never forget sitting in an open-office environment and hearing one of our older subject matter experts shout into the phone at his wife, “G*d d*mmit, Jan, you’re going to give me another f*cking heart attack!” If you have walls and tried to keep everything civil, I think you’re probably in the clear.

    1. sacados*

      Yeah, especially since, while LW mentions thin walls, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the neighboring coworkers could make out the actual words being said. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could hear LW’s voice but not the actual content of the conversation — so as long as LW was keeping her voice low and speaking in a normal tone, they might not have noticed anything other than “Oh LW is speaking to someone.”

    2. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

      We used to have a husband and wife team in my group and they would occasionally SCREAM at each other in the conference room – IN FRONT OF other meeting attendees, who REPORTED TO THEM. My heart would be pounding and I’m like 5 offices away!

      I liked both of them personally but man, the lack of boundaries or professionalism was painful – didn’t happen often but when it did it was excruciating. I’m not sorry they are gone.

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        This is an excellent reason not to work with your spouse. I once worked on a TV news show where the meteorologist was married to one of the anchors, and they would occasionally have MAJOR arguments in front of the newsroom. They’re still married 20 years later, so I guess it worked out…

    3. soontoberetired*

      I worked with someone who would get into arguments with all sorts of people via the phone in the days pre cell phones. I learned his mother and sister were in prison, his mortgage was screwed up, his nephew ran off with two months of rent money for his shared house, etc. Plus the woman on the other side of me would frequently talk to someone about all the bars she visited. Like when she dropped off her grandkid for school orientation and went to the bar instead of attending with the child.

    4. SometimesALurker*

      Yeah, I think this is very much one of those cases where Allison’s advice is applicable to events going forward but the OP doesn’t need to worry that their coworkers are horrified at them, because their behavior was really not egregious.

    5. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

      At Old Job, I one time listened to my boss SCREAM at her dental office over the phone for a good 20 minutes. Her door was closed and I don’t *think* any students were in the library, but I Really Did Not Want To Hear That

  2. Jenna Webster*

    If you are fairly certain your coworkers can hear your argument, you can be fairly certain they will be uncomfortable about it, and it will be disruptive for some of them. If things take that turn, I’d recommend either ending the conversation until later or simply getting up and finding a space where you can have the conversation in private.

    1. The Starsong Princess*

      Be careful with the place you find. We used to have a little area with a phone that looked like a great place to conduct personal business. People would use it to fight with their significant other, give details to their lawyer on their divorce, talk about their medical issues, cheat on their spouse and run their side hustle. How do I know this? Because I could hear absolutely everything on the other side of the wall along with four ther people. We finally put up a sign saying the area was not private and any conversation will be overheard. If you don’t want everyone to hear it, don’t talk about it at work.

      1. Dixie*

        Yeah, my office is off this long hallway that many people think is quiet and out of the way. But it’s not – it’s not only my office area, but that of our whole small department. Plus it has marble floors, which means everything echoes. On many occasions I’ve had to come out into the hallway and ask someone to please keep it down and/or relocate.

      2. JustaTech*

        Yeah, at my old building we had a space that was labeled “phone booth”. It was literally a glass box next to the elevator with one side facing into the atrium, smaller even than a real phone booth, so there wasn’t room for a chair. And it was completely not sound proof, at all. At least one person had a phone interview in there while every coworker who walked by could listen in.

        I personally hate our open office for when I get an unexpected emergency phone call – when my house alarm went off and I couldn’t remember the secret phrase to tell them to turn it off and got very upset about the whole thing, my entire floor had to listen in because we have no walls (and there weren’t any empty offices). It was incredibly embarrassing.

        But some times you do just have to make a personal call from work, like when the business you’re calling is only open during your office hours so your options are trying to find a quiet corner or standing out on the street on hold for 45 minutes.

    2. Beth*

      It may take some effort to end the call. I had a (long since ex) boyfriend call me at work once and pick a fight, and I think it took me ten minutes to get him off the damned phone. If anything like that happened today, I’d end it way sooner and then turn off the phone — but I was younger and dumber then.

  3. Bernice Clifton*

    Also, don’t take personal calls on speaker (if it can be helped) if you don’t want to annoy your coworkers.

      1. Jora Malli*

        I used to work for a really scatterbrained boss who took all their calls on speakerphone with the door opened. I learned a whole lot of things I wasn’t supposed to know.

        Say no to speakerphone.

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          Yikes! I use speakerphone sometimes… but I work from home and only the dog is here, so no risk of overhearing. I can’t imagine using speakerphone in an office especially with the door open.

        2. JustaTech*

          After the third time a coworker a level up from me (with an office with a door) took an extended, tense call with his door open I gave up being polite and just started closing his door without asking permission (or even making eye contact). I’m honestly not sure he noticed.

          After a while I started doing it to folks who were on the phone even if they weren’t on speaker. A few were appreciative because they literally couldn’t reach the door once they picked up the handset.

      2. no longer working*

        And is it really necessary to put speaker on to DIAL a call that you’re going to pick up anyway? The beeping could be heard by the entire office. Hated this beyond reason.

      3. sb51*

        Eh, I actually find it more distracting/harder to ignore when I’m only hearing half a conversation; I can tune out a two-part conversation pretty well, but something in my brain, when presented with half a conversation, thinks the person is talking to ME and must be engaged in the conversation.

      4. Curmudgeon in California*


        There is almost nothing worse that having some jerk who is on his speakerphone 75% of the day in an open plan office. Especially when he is so ****ing loud that even headphones don’t drown him out.

        Please do not be the “Mr. Speakertphone” of your office.

    1. hayling*

      OMGGGG I worked in an office with thin walls and the guy next to me always took calls on speaker and it was the worrrrrst

    2. Distracted Librarian*

      Ugh, yes. Had a co-worker years ago who would listen to her voicemail on speakerphone with her office door open. Did I mention she got a lot of voicemail?

    3. tamarack etc.*

      The only calls I ever put on speakerphone in a work settings are conference calls with a group around the table in a conference room that hopefully is well insulated sound-wise.

      I have earphones that connect via Bluetooth (or are wired) to the device the phone call is arriving on.

    4. Lenora Rose*

      I can think of places calls on speaker make sense, including at work. Open office plans or open office doors are never the right ones, and especially for personal calls.

  4. JustMe*

    Don’t get overly personal. I will never forget my cubicle neighbor calling to schedule an STD test for her 27 year old son, or when the same neighbor called her insurance to sort out her grandson’s circumcision.

    1. Not that kind of doctor*

      And this is why I wish every workplace had a designated soundproof closet (essentially a phone booth) for private calls that have to happen during business hours. When making a doctor’s appointment or when I had regular calls with a lawyer after a car accident, my only option was to walk around outside, which didn’t exactly feel private, either.

      1. stampysmom*

        I agree. Sometimes you just can’t take a call after work hours and a private space like that would be so handy.

      2. Momma Bear*

        I’ve gone to my car. Once I drove to a local park for a scheduled personal call.

        I think that as long as it is not frequent it’s fine. Some calls just go sideways. You can also tell the person you are at work, cannot discuss that right now, will call them later.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Unfortunately that’s not an option for a lot of us. I live in NYC where 75% of my coworkers (and me) do not drive. And if the business closes at 5 pm and you work until 5 pm or later, you’ve got to take the call during work hours. No way around it.

          1. stampysmom*

            or even if you do drive in NYC – its too darn cold to sit in your car in a lot of places for portions of the year! I’m in Canada and not wanting to sit in my car in Feb to take a call!

        2. Ketall*

          That’s a good option if you drive to work. I had some medical (and insurance) issues I had to make calls about during business hours when I worked in a cubicle in a city office building and took public transportation to work. Talking outside with traffic and pedestrian noise was impossible. The only real option was a stairwell, which is hardly private, either.

      3. ThatGirl*

        Several places I’ve worked have had small rooms with just a phone, chair and small table in them to function as a temporary office, basically – for private calls, zoom webinars, whatever you need. Though I think if you were yelling someone might be able to hear you. But I still appreciate that they’re there.

      4. Marion Ravenwood*

        I had to take quite a few calls at work relating to my divorce a few years ago, and the only place I could do it with some element of privacy was a random little corridor off a stairwell. My worry about people walking past and overhearing was always in the back of my mind and it often made it difficult to concentrate on what my solicitor was saying, especially if someone did go past me or I heard a door opening.

        1. JustaTech*

          When I was getting married I had an hour-long phone call with my lawyer about setting up the prenup which started very easy-breezy and ended with me crying several times into the phone. I’d been at the job maybe a month and because I had to read the document I was sitting at my computer, in the cube I shared with two other people.
          I was so embarrassed to have to subject them to all of that (and if I’d know that I would get so upset I would have scheduled the call when I was at home). Both my coworkers were very kind about it and accepted my apology coffees and cupcakes and never mentioned it again.

    2. Miss Muffet*

      I had a cube mate that would call to talk to her 1 yr old son every day and be doing baby-talk at him for AGES. I had no escape.

      1. SixTigers*

        And you didn’t lose it? I am so full of admiration for you! I’d have gone Hulk on her after the second week.

      1. Jacey*

        The kind that has over-reaching parents. Or disabilities (mental, physical, and/or developmental) that make it difficult to schedule their own appointments. Or are extremely busy and asked their mom to do them a favor. Or…

        The mom making the call with no privacy at work? Not ideal! But I’d like to push back gently on the idea that this kind of parental help is shameful after a certain age.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          Thank you for the gentle pushback. My daughter is well away from that age but given her developmental history, it’s possible she’ll still need (some) support at that age. She’s smart, and she’ll be able to live and work independently, but her executive function is well below age range. We’re actively working on that but I can absolutely imagine situations where she’s in a challenging situation at that age and needs support from a parent or a partner to get tasks done.

      2. Lana Kane*

        Oooohhh, as a former scheduler, you’d be surprised. “He’s just so busy!” And then they’d get mad when we’d tell them that Percy is a legal adult and has to sign a consent form to have someone else make an appointment.

        (There are also cognitively impaired adults, and that’s obviously a different situation)

      3. allathian*

        Yeah, it’s weird. For a parent to be able to schedule an appointment for someone over 18 here, the 18 year old has to sign a power of attorney to specifically allow it.

        Kids here start school at age 6 or 7. My son’s about to turn 13 and he’s in 6th grade. So most people are legal adults when they graduate high school (I was 19). The day they hit 18 the school is no longer allowed to give out any information about the student to the parents without the student’s explicit permission. Does this cause problems with immature students? Yes, and there are ways around it if the young adult needs extra support, but the default assumption is that 18 year olds are perfectly capable of being responsible for their own studies without any parental intervention. When that’s the expectation, the vast majority manages perfectly well.

  5. Crinklish*

    I think there’s also an unspoken rule of thin-walled offices that neighbors pretend not to hear the details of obviously personal conversations, even if they can. Like apartment living in a crowded city, sometimes you need to feign ignorance so you can all survive each other :).

    1. Important Moi*

      I feel like a lot of “unspoken rules” are going away for whatever reason given the questions I see here and elsewhere.

      Like apartment living in a crowded city, sometimes you need to feign ignorance so you can all survive each other. People now want to know if they should comment on what they heard :)

      1. Web Crawler*

        I think it’s more that some people have never been good at picking up on unspoken rules, and now they have a method for asking about them.

        I’m talking about autistic folks like me, but also garden variety cluelessness, cultural differences, or people with social anxiety.

    2. oranges*

      Definitely this. I once took a similar, unexpected call from my sister in the conference room off our desk area. She was in a legit crisis far from home, and I got VERY loud trying to get her to realize the danger and make an exit plan.

      That level of drama was completely out of character for me, and bless my co-workers for never saying a thing. (But my work BFF did wait a couple weeks to make sure things were fine before she clued me into how clearly they could all hear me that day. Woops!)

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        I’ll forever bless my manager in this situation, because he caught what was happening with me shouting over the speaker phone at my sibling, and stated “Get your coat, I’m starting the car, she’s in XXX city correct?” (It was only an issue of the safety of the physical building issue, CO detector, thankfully, but she was being a stubborn freaking idiot.) This declaration was enough to snap her the hell out of inertia, and thank goodness as it turned out to NOT be a false alarm, either.

    3. Amber T*

      I think this is important to remember. Your coworkers are people too, with their own lives and problems and issues. Obviously if this was a habit or something regular, that’s a problem, and your coworkers shouldn’t have to listen to it. But if this was a one off thing because something’s up, I think good coworkers would just ignore it and pretend it never happened.

    4. This Old House*

      Definitely. The first person at work to know I was pregnant with my last baby was the random guy from a partnering org who had the cubicle next to mine. We barely knew each other enough to to say hello in the morning. I had to take or make a phone call from the Dr. at my desk. He politely pretended to be none the wiser.

    5. Nanani*

      That goes both ways though – people will politely ignore your argument and not pry, but you should also not make a habit of having arguments on the phone at work, you know?

      Like the difference between ignoring a fart and farting in every single meeting (real letter).

  6. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I’ve worked in offices where I had argumentative work calls all the time, so an argumentative personal call would probably fly under the radar. NB: professional, yet still argumentative; never provide non-legal services to large law firms…

  7. Meghan*

    If you’re keeping your tone even and civil and end the call as soon as you can, I don’t think it’s that big a deal.

    1. kiki*

      Yes! It’s not ideal, but it seems like the LW is incredibly embarrassed when it sounds like it probably wouldn’t have even been notable to their coworkers. If this started to happen a lot, it’d be a concern, but everyone has a life outside of work and every so often it creeps in. People understand that. This isn’t Severance! (also everyone watch Severance, it’s very good)

  8. Charlotte Lucas*

    A caveat on the “private stairwell”: I work in an old building, & the acoustics in the stairways are pretty fabulous – if you want to sing a show tune. Pre-pandemic, I overheard so many private conversations (not by choice) that I started warning new staff about it.

    1. Rainy*

      Lol, I just left a similar comment below, except my building is 10y old. LEED certification does not have any provisions about privacy!

    2. a tester, not a developer*

      Another vote for “don’t expect privacy in the stairwell”. My ex-boss and his mistress/direct report got busted canoodling in the stairwell. Kissy kissy sounds carry…

      1. Dancing Otter*

        At old job, I was warned my first week that Wakeen got caught doing a lot more than kissing in the stairwell. Still not sure whether the warning was about avoiding being alone with Wakeen or about the stairwells. Or maybe the woman who told me had run out of people she hadn’t told…

    3. Smithy*

      Man – private stairwell/hallway – even that single occupancy restroom – often have a lot less sound privacy than you’d expect. Older buildings or not.

      All to say, those brief/bad calls – be they personal or professional from your desk are very often understood and given some grace. Partially because we’re all people and things happen, and also because in most workplaces the person getting the “bad” call is aware that they’re at their cube/in their no-soundproof office and does try to moderate the time or volume as much as possible. Thinking you can take an HR screening interview or other call you don’t want coworkers hearing in the single occupancy restroom/back staircase – that’s often when that hits the greatest trouble.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        Yes voices carry outside of bathrooms. We used to hear enough men’s room conversations that we started telling the guys to tell the new hires there was no privacy due to the ventilation system.

        1. JustaTech*

          At my work there was a weird thing where sound carried *perfectly* from the men’s bathroom to the women’s bathroom. Normally this was no big deal, because most people don’t talk in the bathroom.

          But one morning my coworker got an unexpected and urgent call from his general contractor while he was in the bathroom. I was in the opposite bathroom and got to listen to the whole thing. It wasn’t anything angry or super personal, but it was clear that he thought that it was in a private space.

          So later that morning I stopped by his desk and said “hey, just so you know the sound carries perfectly between the bathrooms, and sorry about your cabinet problem.”

  9. Bb*

    I used to hear a coworker’s calls with her emotionally abusive husband all the time. He yelled loudly enough that I could hear him through her phone and her crying, though our office walls. She pretended I couldn’t hear and everything was fine. It was awful.What really sucked was he definitely knew she was at work and called her there on purpose, while he was a parole officer who worked from home.

    1. Endorable*

      Oh my, that is a terrifying image… a parole officer working from home! I can’t imagine a parole officer letting his parolees know where he lives!

      1. Anonononononononymous*

        That was your takeaway? To be worried about the husband and not the woman he was abusing?

        1. JSPA*

          Putting his family at risk; and he himself being a risk to his family; and him scaring his parolees to the point where he figures they’re not a risk? That all goes together pretty believably (sadly).

      2. Curious*

        Actually, the concept of an emotionally abusive parole officer horrifies me with respect to the parolees over which they have a scary amount of discretionary power.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          Horrifies, yes.

          Surprises me though? I think I listen to too many true-crime and true crime adjacent podcasts.

      3. SnappinTerrapin*

        Setting aside the issues about this husband’s misbehavior, I appreciate your concern for the general safety of parole officers, but before the widespread availability of cell phones, there wasn’t much way for parole officers in most jurisdictions to keep their residence secret, and it’s still nearly impossible in rural areas.

        Probation and parole officers have to be reachable 24/7 to manage crises. That used to mean having the home phone number publicly listed, so that the parolee, their family members, or the police could call if an issue needed to be addressed. Cell phones have made it a little harder to use the phone directory to track down the address, so at least officers in urban areas have a little more security about their home address, but in rural areas, not many people’s home addresses are “secret.” That’s just the nature of the communities.

        On the other hand, in this context, working from home most likely means doing the bulk of his paperwork at home instead of in an office. Meetings with the offenders under supervision are most likely at the courthouse, a police station or other public facility, or at the offender’s home or workplace. There are a lot of safety issues in that job, and when I was in that line of work, very few jurisdictions had good plans or policies to mitigate those risks.

    2. cncx*

      i came here to say this, my abusive ex husband intentionally started fights with me during work hours so that my employer would see me as the person who both cries and takes personal calls at work.

  10. SleepyHollowGirl*

    When I was planning to leave a job, I went to my coworker’s office to ask if he’d be a reference. Immediately afterwards, the coworker in the office adjacent to his office came over to talk to me–turns out he’d overheard.

  11. Me*

    OP just a little reassurance based on how you handled the call – unless you are having frequent loud phone arguments, what you described, even if coworkers overheard a little bit, is unlikely to make more than a blip of notice.

    Most people are reasonable and realize that we are all human. We’re all not our best at times and most of us realize that and give others a bit of grace at those times.

    So please don’t be embarrassed or worried about what people might be thinking of you.

    1. Golden*

      I second this. A coworker forgot to mute themself on Zoom during a large meeting and apparently was having a heated argument with their spouse. They didn’t hear the moderator’s frantic pleas to go on mute, and it took a bit for the mod to figure out how to mute them. I think everyone felt really bad for the person and everyone still thinks highly of them. Honestly, everyone is more concerned with our guy who regularly makes business-related calls with his office door wide open lol.

      It happens, and I’m sure next time you’ll be pretty cognizant of it and take the call after work, find a more private spot, etc.

  12. Rainy*

    Also if you’re going to relocate to a stairwell, know your building’s acoustics. In my building, if you have an argument in a stairwell you have a pretty good chance of letting four floors and part of a kitchen know allllll your business.

    1. SometimesALurker*

      Hah, yes. Not an office setting, but I used to work at a residential summer camp. One of my bosses there decided that “which parts of camp are suitable for a private conversation, and which ones look private but have weird acoustics that will share your conversation with half of camp and all the rest of the lake” should be part of staff orientation, and I think that was a really good call.

    2. Ariaflame*

      Stairwells can be really good if you want that sort of echo for certain songs. I tended only to sing in them after hours though.

  13. GreenDoor*

    The disruption factor aside, it also comes down to whether a personal phone call will keep you from getting work done and how unreachable you become to your coworkers. I had a coworker in the next cube when I was part of a group that had to work collaboratively through much of the day. She would be uninterruptible for loooong periods clearly just talking to her kid about stuff that the child’s caregiver could have totally handled. As long as you keep it brief at try to handle the call at times of day when you colleagues are less likely to need you, it should be fine.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah. I had to be available by phone to my kid’s caregivers when he was in daycare, but the calls were always short. I’m still available to his school, in case he gets injured or sick during the day and needs to be picked up. So far, though, it hasn’t ever happened.

      I don’t make long personal phone calls when I’m supposed to be working, even if that would be easy now that I’m mostly WFH.

  14. HelloHello*

    If you’re not yelling, the subject matter isn’t obviously inappropriate, and this doesn’t happen frequently, I’d say this isn’t a big deal at all.

  15. JimmyJab*

    I used to have a cubicle co-worker (we shared a cube wall in a cube filled office) who would have daily 30+ minute conversations with his priest (and I assure you this was not work-related). So, unless your office is particularly quiet and/or super stuffy I think an occasional argument in a closed office is no big deal.

    1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      “Bless me, father, for I have sinned, I did not file my TPS reports…”

  16. Dust Bunny*

    Personal calls are no big deal where I am but an argument is definitely best deferred.

  17. OnlyABill*

    Agree with all of the above–if you cut if off and tried to keep it down no one is going to think anything of it. For some reason, it does seem that employees who regularly have phone arguments are also the ones who do it loudly and for everyone to hear and just don’t seem to get how weird that is. (Maybe they’re just low in conscientiousness in all areas of their lives? Who knows.)

  18. Quiet Liberal*

    I’m with Alison. Personal calls are just fine if they are things you can’t handle outside of business hours. However, if you have any inkling that others might be able to hear your conversation, I’d try to delay those calls to when you’re on a break and have privacy. At an old job, we had a coworker who had a side business with her husband and he never paid the bills. Suppliers and/or her husband would call her at work and she’d scream and yell and cry very loudly. She never thought to close her office door, though. We just started closing hers and our doors as soon as the caller was announced to her because we knew it would likely escalate. It was good when she finally quit. Our managers sucked there.

  19. Office Manager*

    This is making me think of The Office runner when Oscar makes a personal call that turns into an argument and the whole episode everyone is trying to figure out who he’s talking to.

  20. Leilah*

    I had a co-worker who called her husband 4-8 times a day, every day, just to chat. We just had cubicles, so it was definitely distracting as you could here the whole conversation even though she spoke quietly. I definitely thought it was odd, distracting for us and reflected poorly on her commitment to work. After I got to know her a bit better I found out it was due to a disability on the part of her husband and I didn’t judge her any more — there was a reason, and all things considered it wasn’t that big of a deal once I understood why this thing that had at first seemed wildly unusual was necessary. I say this just to give an example of what I consider “too many” personal calls – multiple calls a day, especially for no particular reason (ie, making an appointment or asking someone to pick the kids up from hockey practice).

      1. Me*

        This is a bit unkind. Leilah was giving a situation where they admit they were wrong. Not only that but I dare say manyn many many people would have had the same initial reaction.

        Every human on earth passes judgement on things based on the info they have and then adjust when they find out more.

        When we learn we can do better.

        1. Important Moi*

          I don’t think it was unkind to offer my understanding of Lelah’s comment. In fact, I am glad you responded. I’ve often been on the other side of people wanting/needing more information before offering approval. Interesting to see other perspectives.

      2. Jora Malli*

        Yes? This is the way human brains work. You see a thing that seems outside of regular norms, categorize it as weird, then get context on why it’s happening and move it from the “weird” category to the “things that happen for reasons” category.

        I work with the public and we have a policy that forbids staff to have their cell phones in the areas of the building where the public are allowed. When my boss saw that I had my phone with me, it was absolutely reasonable of her to be upset about it until I gave her the context that my mom was having health problems and I was waiting for my sibling to call me with an update.

        What Leilah describes here is a really normal way for people to react.

      3. Dinwar*

        A more precise way to put it: “I formulated a conclusion based on available data and past experiences, but when presented with additional information I revised my conclusion.” Since this line of reasoning is the heart and soul of science–the one unifying thread in that grand epistemological experiment–I’d say it’s a pretty good way to operate.

        My wife and I are going through this right now. One of our children was recently diagnosed with autism. This has changed our view of some of his behaviors. Prior to this we thought they were attention-seeking and just him acting up; now we know they’re due to him being neurodivergent. It’s unacceptable to do certain things if you just want attention. If you do it because it’s how your brain functions, that’s very different and the behavior is fine.

        Ultimately behavior in and of itself is neither acceptable nor unacceptable. The reason for the behavior is what is acceptable or not. If the reason for the behavior is that you’re caring for someone with a disability, or that you have one yourself, you get far more leeway than if the reason is that you’re simply bored.

        1. allathian*

          Up to a point. That said, no diagnosis gives anyone the right to be a jerk. If you’re standing on my foot, it’s going to hurt me whether you do it by accident or on purpose.

          Knowing that there’s a reason for behavior that would otherwise be frowned upon, such as calling to check up on a disabled partner every few hours, does make it easier to shrug off the minor distraction the frequent calls might otherwise cause.

    1. Caregiver*

      Thank you for this. I have a spouse with disabilities and I check on him over the course of the day. 3 minute conversations, tops. But I do call him on my cell every couple of hours to check on him.

    2. anonymous73*

      I’ve worked with plenty of people who do lots of non-work things at work and I couldn’t care less unless it affects my job. Then it becomes an issue. So as long as what you’re doing isn’t loud and/or distracting, and you’re not affecting my ability to finish my work, you do you and I’ll mind my business.

  21. Heidi*

    Used to have a former coworker that would make all kinds of personal calls while in the bathroom stall actively going to the bathroom. Weirdest thing ever

    1. Me*

      We have people who do this at my work.

      I admit I am baffled by people who do this. Total lack of privacy aside there’s the germ factor. And does the person you are talking to not care that you are on the toilet?

      1. I should really pick a name*

        Germ factor?
        You aren’t encountering any germs you wouldn’t encounter when using the bathroom for standard purposes.

        1. birch*

          I think the germ factor is the assumption that people actively using the phone at the same time as actively using the bathroom are touching the phone the whole time. Granted, many people are on their phones in the bathroom, but playing a game or scrolling through Twitter also allows you to put it back in your pocket before finishing up and washing hands before touching the phone again, whereas taking a call usually requires the phone to be in your hands the whole time.

      2. SixTigers*

        If I discover that I’m talking with someone on the toilet I hang up instantly. Okay, no germs are traveling through the acoustics, but there are things that are grossly unacceptable, and subjecting someone to your potty habits is grossly unacceptable. There may be people who get off on hearing that kind of stuff but I’m not one of them.

    2. Dragon*

      How times change. On an old game show called “Tattletales”, the men contestants were once asked:

      “ You’re at a restaurant, and you go into the men’s room where there’s a public phone. A man on the phone is lying to his wife that he’s working late at the office. You realize if you flush the toilet right then, you’ll blow that man’s story. Would you wait till he hangs up, or flush the toilet anyway?”

      I told a coworker that story, she said her husband would express his disapproval and flush.

      1. Gumby*

        Because offices don’t have toilets? I don’t see how flushing lets the man’s wife know he isn’t at the office working late.

        1. allathian*

          I doubt they have public phones in the space where the sinks for washing your hands are, “You’re at a restaurant, and you go into the men’s room where there’s a public phone.”

          In the era of ubiquitous cellphones, this scenario wouldn’t work. TBH, I can’t remember when I last saw a public phone.

      2. pancakes*

        One time I was in a pub in Highgate, in London, and a guy who seemed to be a contractor took a call from a client and told them he was just finishing a site visit, while he was in fact sitting by a cozy fireplace having a pint. I laughed!

        I agree with everyone who thinks it’s gross to take a call in the bathroom. Yuck.

    3. Green Goose*

      I still remember this one incident from 13 years ago! I was at an upscale restaurant with a group of friends (special occasion) and went to the bathroom. A woman who was dressed like Angela from The Office walked into the large bathroom and went into a stall and then called someone. She was trying (and failing) to speak quietly and was chastising the person on the other end and repeatedly said “I’m going to [beep]ing kill you.” It was so chilling!

    4. SnappinTerrapin*

      I overheard a conversation in the next stall where it was apparent that both phones were on speaker, and several people were on the other phone. I heard something that made me wonder if it was a video chat, but I really didn’t want to contemplate that, so I left as soon as possible.

  22. Allonge*

    Assuming that a wall in fact limits how understandable your speech is (so things get at least blurred): there is a high chance that nobody was 1. there 2. listening 3. comprehending what you said. And even if there is someone who had all three, there is still the factor of 4. caring at all. It’s incredibly unlikely that anyone will recall this a day later.

    That said: if it’s more comfortable for you to draw a hard line, no-personal-calls is a completely reasonable policy for yourself.

  23. anonymouse*

    Reminds me of the time I called my parents house. My brother answered and I remembered I needed him to take one of the tasks I was calling my parents about. Off handedly, “Oh, since we’re talking can you do X?”
    He flipped his s&*t.
    Suddenly we were teenagers again having a screaming match in our parents’ kitchen.
    Only I was at my desk. In a cube farm.
    People heard. Like my supervisor. (shudders of shame as I type this.)
    So, OP. I feel your pain.
    “I’m at work. I’m hanging up,” has been my go to for fifteen years. So, in a way, it helped me learn that “You don’t have to attend every argument I am invited to.”
    So you are not the only one. Everyone will get over a one off and hopefully you will be stronger from it.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Working so hard on this! Work boundaries seem like a good way to enforce it with yourself.

  24. Reluctant Listener*

    Try to get off the call. The CTO at my previous company would have phone arguments with his family a few times a year. Hearing him be unkind to his daughter made being in the office uncomfortable and really changed my opinion of him.

  25. Laura*

    While it’s not ideal, sometimes things happen and honestly I’m sure if anyone even noticed it was a blip that they’ll quickly forget. The only coworker I remember arguing off the top of my head was the guy who would have frequent (daily or more) sustained arguments with his wife using the phone in the shared conference/break/lunchroom while those of us eating pretended not to hear.

    1. Lacey*

      Because the OP was trying to keep things civil, you’re probably right.

      But, I will say that I had two coworkers who occasionally had very heated calls with their wives and not only do I still remember years later, it substantially decreased my respect for them at the time. The way the call is handled matters just as much as the frequency of them occurring.

      1. Important Moi*

        I ask in all sincerity, because I often see comments about disapproving events that can’t be undone.

        Your respect for them decreased but then what happened? Did you tell them? What could they do other than not have the argument in the first place? But, people fall short often and do the wrong thing. Your coworkers couldn’t undo having the argument.

        1. Lacey*

          Are you suggesting that because the even can’t be undone I should be… what? <Less disapproving? Why?

          No, I didn't tell them that their very unpleasant behavior towards their wives made me respect them less. That would be strange and probably inappropriate. I did clue them in that the break room isn't private.

          After that, either I continue to hear them be rude to their wives over the phone and keep thinking what jerks they are (which did happen for a time) or I never hear them do it again and the impression fades.

          But I don't owe them a certain level of respect simply because their actions, like all actions, cannot be retracted after the fact.

          1. Important Moi*

            “I did clue them in that the break room isn’t private.”

            That was what I wondered.

        2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

          I can’t speak specifically to Lacey’s experience, but my read of the comment is that these people occasionally had these heated conversations and so it wasn’t a one-time thing. Maybe not a weekly thing, maybe not even monthly, but if over years of knowing someone, you witness it happen multiple times without improvement, I can see it decreasing your opinion of the person.

        3. Rusty Shackelford*

          I hope you don’t go around telling people when you’ve lost some respect for them. I also hope you understand that it’s okay to disapprove of people’s actions even when those actions can’t be undone. Otherwise, we’d have to let murderers go.

    2. JSPA*

      Many, many, many things are in the wide gray zone of, “unusual enough to raise an eyebrow, but not a problem.”

      I remember the guy who calmly and methodically walked his wife through every step of the recipe she was cooking for dinner, including where in the kitchen to find each ingredient, which pot or pan to use, what temperature to set the stove on, how to stir, what to flip with.

      Every day.

      Including if it was, say, hamburgers on a bun with sliced tomatoes. Or spaghetti with sauce from a jar.

      She was a gainfully-employed adult with no evident disabilities or inabilities; I got the sense that this was just a thing they liked doing. (But, who knows. Maybe she had a stove phobia, or had been chased by a rogue fridge as a child.)

      People were a bit mystified, eyebrows were raised, and there may have been an eye roll or a smirk here and there. But nobody would have asked him about it, or asked him not to do it.

      1. Distracted Librarian*

        “Chased by a rogue fridge” is creating a hilarious film loop in my mind. Thanks for the Monday laugh!

        1. bratschegirl*

          Now I’m wondering which are the most dangerous: top freezer, bottom freezer, or side by side?

      2. allathian*

        Yeah, that would get me to raise my eyebrows to my hairline, and I’d wonder if he otherwise treated her like a competent adult.

  26. This is a name, I guess*

    I don’t have an issue with personal calls, especially if you have kiddos or older parents etc at home. I remember having to call my mom at work in a lab as a kid because my dad was unreachable when he was on service calls for his business (pre-cell-phone days).

    BUT, if you are going to take tons of personal calls at work, don’t be a hypocrite with your coworkers. I used to listen to my busybody coworker take personal phone calls from her ADULT children and her husband all day, and then she would make snotty comments about my “irregular” work hours (I’m an individual contributor and did not need to have set hours), my work-from-home, and my vacation use. She policed my butt-in-seat time, which is ridiculous because she spent so much of her work time on the phone.

    1. Elenna*

      Agreed, sometimes personal calls during the day are obviously necessary. When 13-year-old me fainted in gym class, the school clearly had to call one of my parents, and my mom (who worked in an office) was a better choice than my dad (a high school teacher), if only because it was a lot harder for Dad to leave work unexpectedly. I don’t think personal calls are a problem unless they’re happening frequently and just for chit-chat that could have waited.

      (For the record, I was fine, just exerted myself a bit too much without drinking water. I probably could have gone to the rest of my classes for the day, even, but the school decided to play it safe and send me home.)

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      Ugh, that was my ex-boss Umbridge. She got angry with my coworker once because her daughter had happened to call while coworker was in the bathroom, and Umbridge answered the call. Except Umbridge was the personal call queen, Mr. Umbridge was always on the phone either getting abrupt with us if Umbridge wasn’t at her desk or thinking he was being funny by making up stupid names for us to tell Umbridge who had called.

    3. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex (she/her)*

      There was a really hilarious thread on twitter awhile back reminiscing about calling your parents at work and acting all grown up like “May I speak with Susan please, tell her its urgent?” and then when you got your mom on the phone, tattling on your siblings or asking if you can make frozen pizza. I still remember my dad’s old office number. 80s/90s latchkey kids abused the heck out of those work numbers.

  27. Middle Aged IT Guy*

    years ago at a client site a woman who worked in a cube farm decided to have a screaming argument over the phone with her ex-husband. That was awkward to overhear.

  28. Spicy Tuna*

    Before I was WFH, I had an office with a door that closed, but the office culture was to mostly leave the door open unless you couldn’t be interrupted.

    There was a woman in the cubicle directly outside my office who talked ALL DAY LONG – either on personal calls or to co-workers. She didn’t talk loudly, but it was still highly distracting, and she had a voice that I found to be highly irritating. She was in another department, and her manager was in another office on the other side of the country, so there wasn’t too much I could do to address the situation.

    I would end up just leaving my door closed all day to avoid the distraction. She was eventually let go, much to my relief!

  29. anonymous73*

    I think you’re fine (even if a colleague on the other side of the wall could hear what was happening). Life happens and sometimes it’s necessary to take/make a personal call while you’re at work. As long as it doesn’t turn into a screaming match I would say there’s no issue. As Alison suggests, end the call and let them know you can’t have that conversation while at work.

  30. Lacey*

    Your coworkers can hear you.

    Please, everyone, just assume they can.

    We all have to take personal calls at work sometimes, no big deal, but if you need to tell your wife to “Calm down right now and stop being so emotional!” you really need to do that in your car. I know you think the break room is private when no one is in it, but your coworker on the other side of the wall still hears every word.

  31. Purple Cat*

    Oh the other extreme – I had a manager who would CONSTANTLY take personal calls from his wife. Including stepping out of important meetings for “I love you so much. I know, I love you too. Mush, mush, blah, blah, blah.”

    This is an oxymoron but “professional personal” calls are fine. Make an appointment, book a reservation, quick check-in. No one wants to hear extreme emotional outbursts – anger or amorous.

    1. Not a cat*

      I worked for a cheap ass tech company in the ’90s that made us share business cell phones when we were traveling for work. I got one from IT and there was a message on it. So I listened. It was a sexy VM (not dirty-dirty but very flirty sexy) from the wife of the sales guy who had used the phone prior to me. It was hilarious.

  32. MCMonkeyBean*

    OP, as you say sometimes these things happen rather unexpectedly when the initial call was expected to be short and perfectly work-appropriate. As long as 1) you were not like shouting and swearing at someone and 2) it’s not a frequent occurrence, then I don’t think you need to feel embarrassed or ashamed about this one phone call.

    It can be hard to keep your cool in the middle of an argument, but I think ideally if it were to happen again the best way to handle it in the moment would be to say firmly “I really can’t have this conversation at work, let’s talk later” and then just hang up the phone before the argument gets too far.

  33. Elena Vazquez*

    Had a co-worker who would call his married girlfriend (he was so single so it was kind of an affair) and they would discuss the previous night’s bedroom activity.

    1. allathian*

      Ugh, that’s gross. It’s also sexual harassment, because he’s involving others in his sex life without their consent.

  34. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    This might help you feel better but OP could you invest in a sound machine? A white noise machine might help drown out the conversation. We use them at work and sometimes if someone is extremely loud we can tell someone is having a conversation but not necessarily the actual words or tone. To me it just sounds like when the teachers talk on the old Peanuts shows.

  35. Abogado Avocado*

    I have an inexpensive white noise machine in my office that has a low and a high setting (but, somehow, no medium). So, even though the walls are thin in my government office, when I turn it on, it somehow garbles noise, whether its coming from my office or through the thin walls. I highly recommend this if you’re in an enclosed space that isn’t sound-dampening or soundproof.

  36. MI Dawn*

    Yelling on the phone….one time, my kids were home for a snow day (old enough to be left alone with a neighbor checking in regularly)…and they both vanished. No call to tell me where they were going and the neighbor didn’t know. I called home every 30 minutes until one answered, then exploded. Everyone in their cubicle turned and stared because in all the years, and stressful calls (phone unit at an insurance company), I had NEVER raised my voice. I tore child a new one, told them their sibling was ALSO being punished, that I expected the driveway (3 cars long, 2 cars wide) to be CLEAR of snow before their father got home in an hour. And they were grounded for a week.

    I rarely exploded at my kids so they knew they’d really crossed a line, and never did it again. I also apologized to all my office mates who, when they heard the story, all forgave me (including my boss who had a write up sitting on her desk – she tore it up as I spoke).

  37. Dinwar*

    Reminds me of an argument I had with my wife. I was part of a sample team at the time, and had down time. I kept trying to tell my wife I couldn’t talk, and she kept telling me we had to discuss something. Then someone cut loose with a high-pressure gas test that sounded for all the world like a space ship was launching next to me. I politely informed my wife that while I would love to chat, I physically couldn’t do so, and I’d call her when I could. (For the record, I was in an area that was safe. Just loud.) Fortunately my coworker, who knew my wife, thought the whole thing was hilarious.

    Ironically enough, the argument was about the budget being tight and me making an unexpected expense. The expense? A birthday gift for her–one that had immediate practical use for her, along with being one that she had specifically asked for a few times!

    On the whole I’d say infrequent calls, or calls scheduled to be during times when you’re not busy, and quiet enough that folks can reasonably pretend to not listen, aren’t a problem. Even disagreements aren’t really a problem. We’re humans, not robots; stuff happens. And until you pick up the phone you don’t know why they’re calling.

  38. AthenaC*

    One of the reasons I hated working in a cubicle with no place to take private calls. If I got a call from my SO, I have to answer it because it might be about the kids, and if a personal argument was thrust upon me … I didn’t really have a choice but to handle it in front of everyone.

    And then of course it comes back to feedback for me. At least I don’t work there anymore and I’m not in that relationship anymore. Oh well!

  39. turquoisecow*

    I used to work with people who took constant personal calls at their desks, and it could be super annoying and unprofessional, or it could be unnoticeable. Some people I ended up hearing every last detail of their lives – one woman was constantly on the phone with various companies about late fees and bills she hadn’t paid. Other people spoke quietly and I almost didn’t notice they were on the phone at all. I personally rarely took calls at my desk and would usually go to a stairwell or a quieter part of the building to answer if it was something that would last more than 30 seconds. If I had to make a call, I’d do it over my lunch break, or take 15 minutes to go outside in the afternoon. But I didn’t make many calls.

    I think if you’re in an office you have a lot more leeway than those of us in the cube farm. Even if they’re thin walls, if you have a door that can close it does a bit to muffle sound. And if your office has a good amount of background noise, it most likely won’t be noticed.

    My current office is super quiet, far less chatter and noise than my old office. People respect the quiet and go out to the hall or stairwell or outside to have calls. My old office there was background noise and constant chatter most days, so people felt more comfortable contributing to it. So if it’s dead quiet in the office, someone taking a heated personal call is likely to be more noticed than in a more boisterous office.

  40. taco thief*

    I remember sitting at work and hearing the person behind me having a screaming argument with her (elderly) parents. It sounded like they were unreasonable but it was very uncomfortable for me. And I wasn’t sure if i should tell her I could hear her or if it would be better to pretend I didn’t. After a few calls I told her and she stopped yelling. i think she went somewhere else for the calls.

    1. Not a elephant but I remember*

      One major reason for my hatred of open offices is in my experience, people have no sense of boundaries, including spouses. The husband who came into work to have a massive and highly personal/intimate fight with his wife (coworker); my coworker who talked on the phone about her health, her insanely poor financial decisions and her intention to con her father out of money; my boss who had a massive argument with her “perfect” and unmarried won about him getting a one night stand pregnant..on and on. And that was just one office of five people thirty drive years ago. I still remember them. Their choice to have personal moments in the workplace had a negative impact on my view of them and taught me that there is no sufficiently good reason to engage in that behavior at work in front of others. Hang up, walk out, go to your car… Get out of the office.

  41. PNW Zebra*

    I’m sending this link to my dear FIL who owned his own painting company for 35 years and is now retired. He does not understand that the average person is not available to take phone calls whenever he feels like calling. He called my wife like twice a day for really minor/casual things and no amount of asking him to stop helped (it got really bad when he retired because he was just so darn bored. He has friends and everything, he’s just used to being active and doing something all the time). So she stopped responding to him and he started calling me instead! I ignored the first two calls, but at the third call I decided to pick up… on speaker… during a meeting that I was leading. He was so embarrassed. Now he never calls during work hours without texting us first.

    I don’t recommend this approach for everyone, but I was fortunate in that it was a small meeting with my team of four people and we’d been working together for years. I’d never had done it if any of our items were serious/urgent.

  42. CatPerson*

    “When it looks bad (or starts annoying people) is when you’re having longer calls just to socialize. …A call with friends or family just to catch up or chat is usually better saved for your own time.”

    Yet it’s OK for co-workers to have such personal chats that might last, say, a half hour, while standing in a middle of a bunch of cubicles? I have a lot more sympathy for people stuck on the phone than I do for people who stand around all day talking about their kids.

    1. Critical Rolls*

      Nobody said that half-hour in-person chats were okay. And I’m not sure what makes the topic of kids egregious enough to be called out over half marathons or houseplants or whatever.

    2. Dinwar*

      I’ll buck the trend here and say that I think these are okay, in certain contexts.

      If you listen you’ll find that quite often these conversations are not just about family–they include work-related items. Let’s face it, the reason we associate with coworkers, the common ground between us, is work, so it’s going to be a natural topic of conversation. I’ve seen these conversations save companies millions of dollars in fines, incidents, or just plane things going sideways.

      Second, this is how networking works. If all you talk about is work people won’t find you relatable. You have to connect with people on a personal level. Kids are a great way to do that. Every parent has “Yeah, Junior acted up again” stories, usually from the last 48 hours. And there’s almost always a picture or memento on the desk, opening the line of discussion in a natural way. It’s almost as good as weather for small talk!

      In my line of work, these conversations serve a few other purposes. I literally rely on coworkers to keep me alive–and, increasingly, to keep other people alive. It’s one thing to watch someone’s back because Form 12631 of SOP #A-27-Q, Line 17, says to. It’s something else entirely to do so because you actually like the person. These are also a good way to gauge how a person is feeling. Are they frustrated? Are they angry? Are they about to pass out from heat exhaustion? You can tell a remarkable amount by how a person sounds in a casual conversation. Works in offices as well. If you ask how the boss’s day went and he starts grumbling about the dog eating his briefcase and the kid denting the car and the toilet flooding the bathroom, it may not be the best time to broach the topic of an inter-personal dispute between you and a coworker, for example.

      And bear in mind, talking and working aren’t mutually exclusive. I used to pick microvertebrate fossils out of sediment for 8 hours a day. You can have a lot of really interesting discussions while doing that–you learn to think with your eyes, and having something to listen to has a measurable positive impact on your capacity to do the task (we’re nerds, we checked). It also kept everyone else away so we could work. Paleontologists have….different views on what constitutes polite conversation. For example, a common topic of discussion is masceration, stripping the squishy bits off road kill. Not something your average construction worker wants to discuss.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, it really depends on the job. I write for a living, and I can’t talk and write at the same time, or even listen and write at the same time. This doesn’t mean that I need total silence around me while I’m working, but I need to focus on either listening or thinking/writing, I can’t do both at the same time.

        This is why I’m much more productive WFH than at the office, when you look at how many items I can cross off my to-do list. But in the longer term, to do my job well I need to cultivate relationships with my coworkers, and that’s much easier to do around a cup of coffee, or lunch, than in video meetings. Even if I sometimes take 90 rather than minutes for lunch, or sit for 30 minutes rather than 15 minutes and chat on my coffee break when I’m at the office, I consider that time well spent on networking with my coworkers. I don’t do this if I’m unusually busy, and not every day I’m at the office, but sometimes. My job doesn’t require much collaboration, and this week I only have one 30-minute meeting scheduled. This is also why I’ve started to go to the office about once a week now that I feel comfortable doing so again.

    3. CatPerson*

      Your points are well taken. My comment was tainted by my work environment, in which, yes, my coworkers would stand around talking about their kids for a long time, repeat over and over. It was just terrible, constant, never-ending, mind numbing.

  43. lizard*

    At an old job we shared a wall with some startup where there was a loud boss who yelled at people quite often – both over the phone and in person. The coworkers I shared an office with and I started a routine of banging on the wall when it started up, but eventually it became clear it would continue. Our business manager didn’t want to talk to them because “that isn’t done”. It stressed me out a lot even though we usually couldn’t hear the words being said – just being a booming, angry voice was enough to make my day much worse (and working much harder).

  44. Delta Delta*

    Life happens. Sometimes you need to do a personal call, so you do it and you move on. If it’s heading to an argument or something sensitive, it seems okay to say you’re at work and that you need to call back later or you’ll finish the discussion later, or whatever.

    I had a coworker once whose wife would call his phone with some frequency. If he didn’t answer his phone she’d call into the office on the office “secret line,” which bypassed the front desk and went directly to the voicemail menu. There would be times he’d be away from his desk and she’d call one, then the other, and back and forth for several minutes. Once this went on so many times I went into her office, answered, and said he was busy and that I’d tell him to call back. They were both embarrassed that it got to that point but it was very annoying. And she wasn’t calling because the house was on fire. she was calling to find out what he wanted her to pick up for dinner.

  45. tamarack etc.*

    I’ve found that personal calls that turn into something that isn’t neutral background noise for those who might overhear is a *great* opportunity to practice standing up firmly to someone. “I wasn’t expecting a concern, so let’s not continue this while I’m at work. Let’s get back to this tonight / once I’m home / in an hour / …. Bye.” Also, to practice restraint and proportional reactions. The child who just admitted lying about their grades, the spouse who made a decision you needed to be involved in etc. – such conflicts will all need to be addressed eventually, but do *not* need to be addressed this very second.

    Personal calls are perfectly fine in my workplace, but if they become intrusive, especially emotionally (= something you keep out of the workplace) there has to be a good reason for it (eg. a genuine emergency, possibly of the kind where you’d then leave work to attend to it). And we are pretty generous about what is not intrusive, esp. in times of COVID. Dogs or children intruding on conference calls are *fine*.

  46. InsufficientlySubordinate*

    At one job in a very tightly packed cube farm, a rather unpleasant co-worker spoke in very loud tones in a very offensive way to his wife such that everyone could hear it. 5 or 6 people complained to the manager/HR and he was told to never do that again. He hadn’t even sworn or used vulgar words but it was….offensive. Most people walked away from their cubes for arguments, but if voices weren’t raised we were accustomed to “not hearing” other peoples conversations (like “not hearing” bathroom noises in the bathroom).

  47. Lady*

    I worked as an admin and their was a group of partners. I’ll never forget going into one partners office to get something sign and him giggling listening at wall to hear the partner next door get into with his wife. By the end of it all other partners and direct admin were in there listening in. We all loved a good soap opera.

    It didn’t bother us as far as them arguing. He did say a couple things though that were just not ever okay to say to any person much less your spouse. So he did end up in some hot water bc it was bad enough to offend most the office.

    So as long as you were quiet and didn’t say anything that was inappropriate or offensive. You are probably fine. Someone may of overhead and thought it was funny (bc we thought it was at first when it was just your normal spousal nagging) cause everyone has arguments and problems.

  48. Chickaletta*

    I sit outside the office of our SVP of HR, and oooh boy, I am pretty sure there is more than one customer service rep reliving their calls with her with their shrink. She is nice enough at work in person, but in her personal life, if anything does not go exactly the way she wants it, you don’t want to be the person to pick up the call that day.

  49. Water Everywhere*

    Our personal lives don’t go into stasis while we work so I’m of the opinion that occasional personal calls are fine and you handled the unexpected argument as well as you could. I have a similar office setup and the sounds of my coworkers regular voices on either side is just part of the background noise.

    Frequent loud calls are where the problem is. Some years ago I worked in a cubicle farm with a supervisor who would get into arguments with her boyfriend on her work line for like 20 minutes at a time but chastise her reports if they left the room for 5 minutes to take a personal call on a cell phone. Just one of the ways she was a lousy supervisor, tbh.

  50. SixTigers*

    Might have been the part about “speaking in a normal tone.” When I’m having a fight with someone, I seriously doubt that “a normal tone” is happening.

  51. Ataru no Miko*

    Been lurking for many years but this post gave me such traumatic flashbacks I felt the need to finally step out from the shadows to share my story (well, one, anyway).

    In one of my first jobs, I once worked with someone (in the same room with no cubicle walls between us) who was on the phone with her boyfriend all day (office line, pre-cell phone ubiquity). The call that started five minutes after she sat down would escalate over the next hour or two into a screaming match. That call would end in a hanging up ritual complete with bashing the handset repeatedly against the base. Then there would be the makeup call with baby talk and kissy noises which would devolve into full-on phone sex (well, just the sexy talk part on her side but who knows what the boyfriend was up to on the other end of the line) by late afternoon. I don’t know if she ever took a phone break because you can bet I always spent the entirety of my lunch hour and two 15-minute breaks as far away as I could get and still get back on time.

    Since headphones were disallowed and the VP was a rules lawyer who used to spy on us, I just settled for being a lot slower than normal (I still got promoted for exceeding minimums). Early on I got in trouble for using earbuds (not playing anything, just having them in a desperate attempt to block at least some of the screeching/moaning) and was admonished in front of everyone, but she was never similarly reprimanded publicly and kept on doing her thing so I have no idea if she was called on it and kept doing it or just never got in trouble.

    I honestly don’t know how she could stay on the phone like that every day for hours and still do her job, or whether she actually did do her job. I don’t know what kind of job her boyfriend had that he could do this too. Maybe he worked from home or was unemployed or worked nights.

    This was not the first or only girl who repeatedly and nonconsensually subjected me to hours of baby talk and phone sex calls to her boyfriend, but the other time was a college roommate, and that was the least of the horrors the roommate perpetrated upon me.

  52. This space intentionally left blank*

    At my office we had a new guy have multiple extremely loud, angry phone calls with a rental car company in the office kitchen over the course of a few days. EVERYONE in the office could hear all about how he’d been charged a fee for returning a rental car with half a tank of petrol and he was NOT happy about it. This was when he’d only been here for a couple of weeks! Not a great first impression!

  53. Cricket*

    I’m in the unfortunate position of not being able to take personal calls at work at all unless I want my entire department to hear the conversation. I don’t have an office or an area to call my own, our break room is always full of people coming in and out, and the rest of the workplace is either full of my coworkers, or else totally open to the public. Even my car is too far away (in a garage down the street) to regularly pop over to make calls. Usually I just make sure I don’t need to make sensitive or overly personal calls during the work day, but it has sucked being in this position several times throughout my career there—most recently when I was buying a house and the mortgage company would call with questions, and I have to find somewhere to whisper my information into my phone. I also have coworkers, however, who really don’t care about the lack of privacy and are open books. I’ve heard all kinds of things I didn’t need to hear or know.

  54. WulfInTheForest*

    As a reminder, not everyone can just cut their conversation off. As a domestic violence survivor, at my last job I had to get plenty of warnings from my boss about my abusive husband (now ex) calling constantly. He did that specifically so that I was seen as unreliable. If I didn’t answer it, I endangered myself and my 2 year old.

  55. JB*

    When working in an open environment years ago we had a guy on a neighboring team that would frequently fight with his partner on the phone. Full on yelling and slamming the phone down. Frequently he would slam the phone down to hang up and then immediately call them back and say “And another thing!” and proceed with the argument. We were a fairly low drama team so it was usually a nice little break in our day when it happened.

Comments are closed.