Strange Things Overheard in the Office

Children are loud and uninhibited. It's in their nature -- they're supposed to be rambunctious and noisy (to a point). A child can be sitting two feet from you and she will speak at the same volume she uses when she's playing on the soccer field. That's when you politely say, "Use your indoor voice."

Of course, even when using their indoor voice, most children don't think to filter their thoughts before they speak. How many parents lie about something ("It's a pleasure to meet your husband") only to have their children ruin everything ("You're right, Mom, he does look like my gerbil!")? Immediately after this occurrence, parents teach their children that some information should stay private.

If you've held any job for more than a few days, you've probably realized that some parents didn't do a good enough job with their children. Some professionals can have fancy job titles and drive cars worth more than your college education, but they don't know how to use their indoor voices or when to keep some information to themselves.

We asked people to tell us some of the most outrageous things they've heard at work (but not necessarily at their current places of employment). Here are four responses and the lessons we can all learn from them:

1. "Fernando just called in. He says he can't come to work because God called him on the phone last night. I asked him how he knew it was God (besides Him saying so, of course), and he said because his phone had been disconnected awhile back, and only God could have called on a disconnected phone." -- overheard by Bruce Campbell, vice president of marketing for Clare Computer Solutions

Lesson: Your excuses should be relevant to the job.

Why: Technically, the person Campbell heard speaking wasn't the one who needs the lesson -- Fernando is. Fernando's deduction that he spoke with a deity is a personal matter, but his decision to use it as a reason to skip work affects everyone. He doesn't explain why he's going to inconvenience other people who rely on him. At one time or another, everyone wants to skip work, but you don't do it unless you can justify it to the boss. When you skip work, people have to either pick up the slack or rearrange their schedules, and they expect you to provide a good reason.

2. "I only lie to girls I'm dating." -- overheard by John Fischer

Lesson: At least try to act like a decent person

Why: Unless there is some context that radically changes this overheard statement, the speaker sounds like the kind of guy you don't want your daughter, sister, mother or friend dating or even knowing -- and you probably don't want to know him either. Simply put, he's gross and if you heard him say this at work, you now have a low opinion of him.

Offensive or potentially offensive statements, especially when heard out of context, can really color people's perceptions of you. If you're going to say something of this nature, keep it between friends and away from the office. Everyone's job will be smoother if they can at least be civil to each other.

3. "At a newspaper I worked at in the Midwest, an editor who sat in an open area regularly got into lengthy, difficult and loud discussions with her estranged husband. She was going through the divorce process, and I'm sure it wasn't easy, but it made everyone extremely uncomfortable. The discussions could be heard clear across the room. They argued about everything -- money, kids, custody, his work. It was really unprofessional on her part, and very awkward for her employees, who had no one to complain to since she was their boss." -- Robyn Davis Sekula, professional writer and media consultant

Lesson: Don't let your personal mess spill into your professional life.

Why: Every single worker has a personal life that is sometimes unpleasant. Money woes, marriage problems, troublesome children or a million other issues can complicate your life. On some level, everyone is sympathetic when you're stressed. But when your personal issues get mixed with your job, people question your professionalism -- they assume you're spending more time cleaning up your personal problems than doing your job. And if you're in a position of authority, they won't feel confident in your ability to lead, and that can have long-term effects on your career.

4. "I was a temp with a company in Iowa. I had arrived before my supervisor and was sitting in the hallway waiting for her to open the office when I overheard the most unusual conversation. A man in an upper management position in the office near where I was sitting was listening to his voice mail on speaker mode. The gist of the conversation was that he had been having an affair with someone in the office and she now was upset with him. She left him a scathing voice-mail message defining the affair and, in bold terms, described how she felt about it and him. He then proceeded to return her call. There was plenty of screaming and swearing involved in the conversation and it continued until he realized that there were other people arriving for work. I just sat there and kept quiet. I never said a word to anyone. Rumors had been circulating about this guy for some time. I was the one who now had firsthand knowledge about what was going on and was not about to share what I knew -- especially being a temp." -- the Rev. Jennifer Ann Bowers

Lesson: If you are mixing business with pleasure, keep quiet. (And close your door.)

Why: Conventional wisdom advises against starting an office romance, especially if one or both of you are married. Nevertheless, that's between you and the other person -- and that's where it should stay. Workplaces are not unlike tabloid magazines: Once a private scandal goes public, people are more concerned with those details than with your work. People might never find out the whole truth, so they will fill in the details themselves and make assumptions about you. Suddenly your reputation has been hit hard and you've singlehandedly turned the office into an episode of "The Young and the Restless."

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