On the Job

Stopping a Space Invader

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, March 21, 2008; 12:24 PM

Just as your kids or spouse can drive you up the wall with an annoying habit, so can your fellow workers.

So, how do you deal with it without ruining the day-to-day collegiality that all offices need to keep their operations running at least somewhat efficiently?

One of my co-workers insists on picking up her phone line at my desk when she hears her line ringing. I need a polite and subtle way to keep her from picking up my phone. In the past, members of our office have become ill as she has retrieved calls from our phone lines while she was sick but still at work.

Sandra Crowe, a Rockville human resources consultant who specializes in tackling conflict in the workplace, says this worker could deal with this annoying co-worker's misguided phone etiquette in a couple ways:

One would be to simply and quickly answer the call herself and then tell the caller she was putting them on hold while the intended recipient went to her own office to pick up the line.

In another scenario, Crowe says the annoyed worker could also tell the co-worker, "I'm expecting a call and want to keep the phone open. I'd really appreciate it if you would use your own phone."

That strategy, Crowe says, is "simple, but it's pointed. It involves ownership of your space. It's about the way you want to operate in your own office" or at your own desk. "It's telling the other worker, 'Don't be offended,' " Crowe says, while making it clear that answering your calls on someone else's phone is not proper.

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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