One of the most uncomfortable work experiences I've ever had happened a few years ago while I sat in my boss's office waiting for a meeting. For reasons known only to him and God, my boss had the habit of listening to his voice messages on speakerphone. It was bad enough when you could hear his wife's shrewish voice issuing a series of commands when you were in the safety of your own cubicle, but it was a special kind of hell when you had to sit right there in front of him and watch as he was systemically emasculated. This particular time his wife was berating him over leaving the cereal box out on the table where their toddler got ahold of it and made a mess. In other words, our meeting about a Microsoft deal had to wait until my boss was sufficiently castigated for the great Captain Crunch debacle.
That was one of the most awkward experiences I've ever had, but certainly not the only one. Over the years, I've been privy to some of the most unwelcome peeks into my co-workers' personal lives that you can imagine. There was once a guy who would get hysterical phone calls about twice a week from his wife, who judging from his end of the conversation, must have been the least competent person on the planet. He would say, "What?! OK, now calm down, honey! Just take a deep breath. I'll be there in two minutes" and I would picture this poor woman tied to a railroad track somewhere. But then I'd hear, "It's OK, we'll find your keys." Some days he'd be running out, like he was going to a fire, muttering something about his wife not being able to locate the pudding pops.
[Editor's note: I'm not being sexist by relating those two wife stories. I am a woman myself. Maybe that's why stories like these drive me crazy.]
I don't get it. Do people think when they're on the phone that only the person they're speaking to can hear them? Unfortunately, I've never been able to work while listening to music or I would shelter myself from all of this external noise by welding an iPod onto the side of my head. So I'm kind of in a Catch-22 here. I know that I cannot ask people to attend family counseling just so I can get in a good day's work. But I guess I can make an earnest plea:
Leave me out of your marriage, please. I don't want to be a party to your domestic spats. Ironically, I also don't want to be a party to your cooing spousal endearments either.
Before you pick up that phone, think of the letters TMI. They stand for Too Much Information. I don't need to know your credit history, anything concerning you and a polyp, your son's recent day care battle, or a step-by-step reenactment of drywalling your basement.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.