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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Avoiding Confrontations, Speakerphone Etiquette, More...

Dear Sue: I manage several professionals and have 30 years of experience working in the programs I'm managing. I was a co-worker of many of these employees prior to my promotion and have a good working relationship with most of them. However, I have a few younger employees who never seem to be satisfied with their positions and try to work the system to their advantage. These employees are out for themselves rather than the mission of our programs. One employee in particular has tried to cheat us by lying about what he is doing and the amount of time spent working. This employee is a very intelligent young individual and it seems that every time I have to deal with him on issues, I’m nervous about it even though he is young enough to be my son. I don't like conflict and I try to resolve issues peacefully but I don't believe that is going to work in this case. What can I do?

- Intimidated

Sue Says: You can decide not to let this young employee intimidate you. Whatever he is doing, it is working; he has you afraid to confront him, which is enabling him to continue his unethical practices and ultimately manipulate you. Until you stop avoiding him and confront him you have no idea just how he will respond.

You have every right to question him about what he is doing. Unless he is told otherwise, he will continue to do the things he is doing; it is your responsibility to tell him what will be tolerated and what will not. He may be easier to deal with than you think, but you won't know until you try to talk to him.

Dear Sue: When is it considered okay to use a speakerphone? I work with someone who uses it for every call, including personal calls, which forces me to listen to all of his conversations. I don’t think the people he talks to have any idea that their conversation can be heard by many other people. And, the person using the speakerphone tends to yell when speaking. Is this right?

- Annoyed

Sue Says: It is fine to use a speakerphone when you are talking with more than one person or when there is a need to have your hands free due to the nature of the conversation, such as looking for files or writing/typing a record of the conversation.

Using a speakerphone for every call you place or answer could be considered rude and may appear as though you are too busy to devote your full attention on the person you are speaking with. Your coworker should not only be informing people that they are on a speakerphone, but should be asking permission before placing anyone on a speakerphone – it’s common courtesy. You shouldn’t have to listen to all of his conversations, but there is a good chance he has no idea that he is talking as loudly as he does or that others can hear every conversation.

Do yourself and your coworker a favor and tell him that although he may not realize it, you are hearing both sides of all of his phone calls. Chances are that is all he’ll need to hear to change his ways.

Dear Sue: The receptionist in our office is not particularly fond of me and I think she is taking it out on the people who call me. Whenever I get a phone call, her reply is “Your name?” She will put the call through to me, but never tells me who is calling. When I asked her why she does this, she told me that she likes to know who is calling. Why does she care? I don’t think this is right.

Last week my brother called and when she asked his name, he told her it was none of her business. She ran to my boss to complain and hasn’t spoken to me since. Help!

- Tim

Sue Says: Your receptionist should be advised how to answer calls for you and the others she takes calls for. It would be best if you all agree on the one and only way you prefer she handles calls. However, if you can't all agree, you need to request that she handle your calls differently.

It is true that some people are irritated when asked to give their name to a receptionist, but it is common practice. However, rather than saying “your name?” a more effective way to she can ask is to say, “May I tell him/her who is calling please?”

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
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