The other day I had a meeting with a colleague in my home. That’s not unusual. However, on that particular day, one of my adult daughters happened to be in the house visiting us. I realized as I spoke with my colleague that my daughter could probably hear our conversation. Now, there was nothing within that conversation that was private or confidential; we could have just as easily had that same conversation in public over lunch or coffee or even shared what we were saying directly with my daughter, had she been interested – which she wasn’t. But just knowing that my daughter was in the house and within earshot changed the dynamic of our conversation. It made us feel self-conscious. And I think we both restrained and edited our conversation because my daughter was there.
That’s the nature of the beast whenever people share an office, work in a cubicle, or otherwise conduct their business in front of other people. It’s hard when you’re the bystander in those situations not to listen, not to notice what’s going on. But we have an obligation to try. That means we can’t glance or peek at something or strain to overhear a conversation. We can’t read memos or faxes that are lying around in other people’s workstations, even if they happen to be in plain view. We can’t stand behind coworkers seated at a computer monitor and read what is on the screen, without their permission. And certainly, we can’t make comments about the phone and face-to-face conversations we can’t help but overhear.
Be mindful of what you’re doing if you work or live in a fishbowl. Every now and then, have the grace and sensitivity to shut your ears, shut your eyes, and swim behind a rock. — Dr. Laura Hills, Blue Pencil Institute, www.bluepencilinstitute.com