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How to Deal with a Snooping Coworker

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When you work in close proximity to others, they hear and see things you might rather they didn’t. But snooping, such as intentionally eavesdropping on conversations, is rude. If your coworkers are snooping into your professional or personal life, take action to stop the bad behavior.

Bad Behavior

Your coworkers might just be nosy, prying into your personal life and gossiping about you when you’re not around. Or the snooping behavior might be more nefarious. For example, coworkers may be accessing your information to steal clients or to uncover information they can use to cause problems for you in the workplace. Although the degree of bad behavior can vary, snooping is always a form of bullying, and you have a right to expect better treatment.

Confront Offenders

For most workplace situations, the most effective way to end bad behavior is to politely and firmly confront the other party. Take the nosy coworker aside and explain your concerns. Listen objectively to ensure that you haven't misinterpreted your coworker's actions. If you can keep the conversation civil, chances are the snooping coworker will start to respect your limits, if only to avoid further confrontation.

Make Snooping Difficult

If direct confrontation doesn’t work, find ways to limit your coworkers’ ability to snoop. For example, if people tend to listen in on your conversations, close your office door, turn off your speakerphone or make your calls elsewhere. If you think coworkers might be accessing your computer without your permission, create a password and lock the computer when you're away from your desk. Keep personal or professional correspondence and your appointment calendar inside locked file cabinets or drawers. If coworkers ask you prying questions, politely decline to answer.

Speak to a Supervisor

Nosy coworkers might be a tolerable nuisance, but if their actions cross into unethical territory, you should speak to your supervisor or the human resources department. For example, if a coworker is riffling through your files to find proprietary documents, chances are management would want to stop such unethical behavior. Ask for a private meeting with your supervisor or a human resources representative, and explain your concerns as objectively as possible. Offer proof of the snooping behavior, including witnesses, if possible.


Stan Mack is a business writer specializing in finance, business ethics and human resources. His work has appeared in the online editions of the "Houston Chronicle" and "USA Today," among other outlets. Mack studied philosophy and economics at the University of Memphis.

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