Discretion for Career Mobility and Survivability
It’s the little things that drive you crazy. It’s not the stress of your fast-paced IT life. Nor the pressure of a pending certification exam that has you down. You can handle the intensely complex database administration or system upgrade project that was just dumped into your lap.
But there is something far worse that you’re practically frothing at the mouth over. It’s the person next to you. His name is irrelevant. You know this person. He sat next to you at the last job. He likes to eat at his desk and drop crumbs everywhere, then borrow your pen and chew on the cap. You know this person. She likes to talk in graphic detail about her weekend. We’re talking alternately boring recitals featuring her cats’ water pistol training and explicit details that may or may not feature someone of the opposite sex.
This person makes it almost impossible to concentrate, your work is piling up, and you’ve had no luck talking it over. Your quiet request for more work-minded conversation has been completely ignored. You dread coming to work each day because you never know what mental torture the person sitting in the cubicle next to yours has manufactured, and you’re getting fidgety from continually repressing the urge to scream mean epithets related to moral character, professionalism and sensitivity (or lack thereof). You deserve a comfortable work environment, and when you’ve tried everything you can think of to get the situation back on track, here’s what you do.
Go to a journalist friend and borrow a handheld tape recorder. If you don’t have one and you like gadgets, skip over to the local Office Depot and pick one up. You can use it for other stuff. But for right now, focus and act normal. I want you to smile encouragingly at this person. He or she will fall on that grin like a wolf on a lamb, and when they start spewing, let them. Discretely, with one hand under your desk, click on your recorder. Ask them questions like, “Don’t you ever feel bad, spending so much of company time talking about personal things far outside of IT?” But make it sound good. Keep sarcasm low-key.
When they’ve incriminated themselves enough, take the recorder out and audibly click it off. You want your finger on that button to have the impact of the shot heard ‘round the world, so make sure they see exactly what you’re doing. Now look at that person and say, “I’m going to get back to work. I suggest you do the same.”
Don’t threaten to take the tape to the boss. You’re much more clever and sneaky than that. Let the little chatterbox stew, knowing that there’s something out there that, if placed in the wrong hands, could do serious damage to their credibility. Things will be quiet for awhile. You may have to face some hostility, but smile and laugh it off. Eventually, that person will warm back up. After awhile he or she will probably start talking out of turn again. When they do, interrupt them and ask, “Do you have any blank tapes? The one in my handheld voice-activated recorder is full.”
On the flip side, if you notice your coworkers’ eyes glaze over when you start talking about your weekend, make sure you’re not saying anything you wouldn’t want your boss to hear later.