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Ask the Cube Guy

Go ahead.  Ask me for advice ... but only about cubicle life, please.

If you'd like to ask the Cube Guy a question, send an email to and include your name and location if you dare!

Dear Cube Guy: I'm an elderly woman still working and a co-worker regularly sneaks up so quietly and starts talking that I'm afraid I'll have a heart attack some day. I'm reluctant to complain because I fear they'll try to get rid of me instead of her (she's young and attractive). What should I do?  Susie, Milwaukee, WI

Dear Susie: Your co-worker is definitely exhibiting some odd and very annoying behavior.  For starters, I recommend that you place a wide-angle car mirror on top of your monitor as that will enable you to see your co-worker approaching and prevent you from being startled.  This type of mirror is included in all Cubicle Survival Kits by the way.  Second, I would not hesitate to ask this person to refrain from this conduct and if she insists on continuing to sneak up on you, notify your manager or the Human Resources department.   In case you don't know, there is a Federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are 40 or older so you shouldn't worry too much that you'll be terminated if you ultimately complain about your co-worker and if you were terminated for no good reason, you would have the makings of a good lawsuit.

Dear Cube Guy:
I work in an office with out cubicles--its just 4 desks in one room.  As a result, my boss can see what I am doing.  I am craving a cubicle.  Should I get my head examined???  Peter, Washington, D.C.

Dear Peter: I refer to your situation as the "police precinct" style of work environment based on the sets of police-themed televisions shows such as NYPD Blue and Barney Miller.  I'm not surprised that you're craving a cubicle (as absurd as that may sound) so your head is just fine.  It's probably not realistic for you position a screen in front of your desk to literally shield yourself from view but you might want to consider stacking lots of books, papers and other appropriate office items on your desk to create a marginal barrier from constant inspection.  Additionally, the one benefit to the precinct-style workspace is that people are unlikely to have even the illusion of privacy so they may refrain from public discussions of medical and personal problems, as well as certain other offensive activities.

Dear Cube Guy: I share a two-person office with a guy who talks like the other person on the phone is deaf and is on conference calls all day. He even has the bad habits of passing wind loudly while he is on these calls with no regard to me. The most annoying habit is that he eats potato chips everyday and his goal is to get the maximum crunch volume echoing around our small room. Fifty percent of the time I have to leave my office to even hear myself think. J.C., Piscataway, NJ

Dear J.C.: This sounds like an extreme situation that possibly calls for extreme measures.   Based on what you wrote, I think you need to confront your office mate in a non-threatening but assertive way and detail the things he's doing that annoy you.   Use language like "it would really help me out if you could lower the tone of your voice when you're on the telephone" and "please refrain from making any other offensive sounds while I'm in this office."  If that doesn't work, I think it's time to bring this to the attention of your manager, and if he or she is unresponsive, check in with Human Resources Department.  If all else fails, bring in wire cutters and sever his telephone cord when he's talking on the phone too loud and buy a super soaker and squirt that bufoon whenever he annoys you in any other way.

Dear Cube Guy: Farting and cubes: How does this work?  When is it OK to let one fly.....they could always come back unexpectedly!  Help!!!!  Tony, New York, NY

Dear Tony: Interesting question - this seems to be a big issue in the New York-New Jersey area..  Needless to say, I think cube dwellers should be considerate to their neighbors and this includes not subjecting them to offensive odors.   Burnt popcorn and odorous microwaved lunches eaten at one's desk are two common examples, and you have identified another.  I think the only time when it would be okay to "let one fly" as you put it would be when you are absolutely certain that nobody is or will be near your cube (late night or on weekends).  Otherwise, I think a bathroom break is in order.

Dear Cube Guy: The person in the cubicle next to me has the volume set on their phone ringer at what sounds like the highest setting.  Every time her phone rings, I almost have a heart attack.  What should I do? Don B., Sterling, VA

Dear Don: That sounds pretty bad ... and loud.  Here's what you should do.  Get in early or stick around the office a little late and adjust the volume on your cube neighbor's telephone ringer down by one increment.  Then let them get used to the lower volume for a day or so and repeat this procedure until their telephone doesn't send you into cardiac arrest every time it rings.


Dear Cube Guy: I share a double wide cube with another person and while I can't be sure, it sounds like he's burping all day long.  His burping isn't really loud so I think he thinks I can't hear it.  This is totally gross but I'm embarrassed to say something.  Allison K., New York, NY.

Dear Allison: Geez, there's probably not a "no burping" rule in your employee handbook to rely on and this definitely is an awkward issue to raise with your cube mate.  I think the best approach is to subtly inform the burper that you are able to hear his burping by expressing some uncertainty as to the cause of the sound so he's not embarrassed (you'll have to continue to share a cube with him after all).  When you hear him going on a "burp solo," try saying something like this: "Hey [Bob], do you hear that sound too?  It sounds like someone is knocking on a door or something.  Can you hear it too?"  Hopefully, he'll clue in that you can hear his burping and refrain from further performances.

Dear Cube Guy:
I used to date the man who sits in the cubicle right across from mine and now things are really awkward.  We see each other all the time and I can hear when he's on the telephone making plans with other women.  What should I do?  Anonymous.

Dear Anonymous: Sorry, but the Cube Guy can't fix every problem.  You should have foreseen this problem before you started dating this guy.  Here are a few ideas: first, if there is an unoccupied cube elsewhere in your department, you could fabricate a reason why you need to switch cubes; second, maybe now is the time to apply for a job in another department or company; third, you could contact some headhunters and give him you old flame's contact information and tell them he's interested in a new job.

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