This non-eavesdropper needs a different job

Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: I work in an office where passive communication is the norm. I am frequently given information thirdhand (sometimes fourthhand), which leads to confusion, discrepancy and, in some instances, hurt feelings. Many things I'm expected to know I could only have found out through eavesdropping. I was raised to believe that eavesdropping is rude. Therefore, I tune it out, but I find I am not receiving information that others expect me to have because I won't listen to other people's business. It seems that my attempts to encourage people to be more direct have had the opposite effect: People don't want to approach me because I'm not playing the passive-aggressive game. So they have someone tell someone to leave an ambiguous note in my inbox.

It seems ironic to me that my employers frequently say things like, "Let's be a team" when they are unwilling or unable to speak directly. Do you have advice for how I can change my behavior or know what I could say that might encourage people to be a bit more forthright?--Straight-shooter

DEAR SHOOTER: One thing you could do differently would be to look for a different job -- one where your direct style would be an asset.

If you are unwilling (or unable) to do this, then you are going to have to hunker down and operate as others do in your workplace -- even if you don't like it (and I agree with you that this style is not ideal). According to you, this ambiguous style originates at the top, so correcting it isn't realistically feasible.

Nothing (work related) you hear in the next cubicle should be off limits to you if it enhances your ability to do your job well, so take off your noise-canceling headphones, forget what your folks taught you about eavesdropping and dive in to the passive pool.

Just make sure you verify any fourthhand information before acting on it.