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

Say What??

Dear Sue: What do you think about women who talk about personal and private things at work? I am not sure if the women know that other people can hear their conversations, but I am forced to listen to things I have no business hearing or knowing about.

I consider these conversations to be very unprofessional and I believe that private matters should not be discussed at work at all. People often hear more than others think they can. 

- Heard enough

Sue Says: In your situation, you are overhearing the conversations of other women. However, I doubt that women are the only culprits of this type of problem. Anyone (male or female) can talk too much, too loud or too personally, and cause embarrassment for the people who happen to be in hearing distance of the conversation.

What do I think about people who talk about personal and private things at work? I think it is fairly common even though it may be unprofessional. We spend so much time with our coworkers, it is natural to develop friendships and grow close enough to share personal information. However, this doesn't mean that you have to sit silently and listen to what goes on around you. I doubt that these women want you to hear what they are talking about, nor do I believe that they are aware of the fact that you can.

I will never forget the time when I was out to eat with a friend of mine. We were engaged in a very personal conversation, totally unaware that other people (strangers in this case) could hear every word we said. We were so grateful when a woman seated at a neighboring table came over to tell us that she knew our conversation was personal, yet was able to hear every word we said. Although we were embarrassed, we appreciated knowing that we were talking so loudly that others could hear us.

Do these women a favor and let them know you can hear their conversations. I am sure that once you do, they will either talk quieter or take their personal conversations someplace else. If they don't, politely suggest that they do and let them know that their talking is interfering with your ability to concentrate and do your work.

Dear Sue: I share a small office with my boss, who is very short tempered. The other day he got mad about something and yelled at me in a very angry tone, which really upset me.

I decided to talk about it with the general manager, who listened intently to what I said and seemed genuinely concerned. He said that he would look into the matter and get back to me.

There were two witnesses who heard my boss yell at me, and I found out that both of them were asked about the situation. The next day I was called into the manager's office. Not a word was mentioned about the situation from the day before. However, I was told that I need to work on my time management skills and that from now on I would be given a daily list of the things that need to be done. In addition, I was told that I need to work at getting along better with my boss. I couldn't believe it!

I am very upset over the way this was handled. Is there something wrong with this situation? What should I do next? 

- Stunned

Sue Says: Here's what I think may have happened: When the general manager asked your boss about the incident, he (your boss) decided to blame you for what happened. He probably talked about what he perceives to be some of your shortcomings in an attempt to justify his frustration and outburst. By focusing on you, he took the attention away from himself, thus making you the problem.

I understand your surprise at the turn of events. Because you were taken off guard, you missed the opportunity to ask questions about what transpired. Hopefully, your boss will try to control his temper now that he knows you will complain if he doesn't.

You can pursue the matter and request some type of explanation from the general manager if you want, or you can approach your boss about the issues he has with you and what it will take to work more effectively together.

You also have the option of learning what you can from what happened, let it go and move forward. However, if this happens again you may need to make it clear that you cannot and will not tolerate this type of treatment. After that, if things do not resolve themselves, consider moving to another department or another company.

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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