Jeremy Stein - Journal

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Cubicle Non-walls

Attention everyone who works in a cubicle:
We can hear everything you say on the phone. Really. If you’re talking loudly enough for the other person on the phone to hear you, then we can hear you too. Cubicle walls are specially designed to transmit and amplify sound.

I once overheard someone discussing a medical procedure. I tried not to listen. Oh how I wish I’d been able to tune it out. Way too much information! A couple months earlier, I overheard someone quote his salary. That probably wasn’t something he wanted to make public.

Why is it that a few people don’t seem to understand this concept? I’ve wondered about that for some time, and I have a theory: I think that 95% of the cubicle population understands this concept, and it only makes it worse for the 5% who don’t. You see, the 5% never overhear anything personal from other people’s conversations, because everyone else is careful. Since (1) they don’t hear other people making that mistake and (2) nobody points out their mistake, they continue under the delusion of privacy.

I had a coworker a few years ago (in another cubicle world) who was disgruntled with his job. He made many phone calls from his cubicle to old contacts looking for possible openings. [Note to self: don’t do that.] The rest of the office couldn’t help but hear him discussing, in what he thought was a lowered voice, how he wasn’t happy at his current position. Eventually even his boss (who was in an office with real walls and a door) heard what he was doing and asked him about it. The poor guy later stopped by my cubicle and asked if I had been able to overhear him making phone calls. Apparently he had no idea that cubicle walls aren’t sound-proof. I felt badly for him.

Conference rooms tend to be open a little before the hour, after one meeting has ended a bit early and before the next meeting has begun. Great place for personal phone calls. Your cubicle: bad place. Are we clear?

July 28, 2004 No Comments.

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