my business ain't nobody's business
September 27, 2012 4:08 PM   Subscribe

Help me write a funny, effective, non-shaming sign asking people to please not talk on their cellphones in the office restroom.

I hate it when people talk on the phone in the bathroom stall. I feel like it's a total invasion of privacy. I realize that the bathroom may be the only private place to take a personal call in cubicle-land, but man, it feels like the equivalent of having a live mike hidden next to the stall.

Is there a reasonable way to address this? I know I'm not the only person who feels this way in my office--not by a long shot.

I kind of feel that a face-to-face confrontation on the spot would not be productive--I would be nervous, the offender would feel defensive. Not exactly conducive to a harmonious work environment.

Alas, several offices share our floor's bathroom, so this isn't something that could go out around in an office email blast or something. And our building manager doesn't get involved in stuff like this.

So, is it possible to effect change with a funny, kind sign in the bathroom? If so, what should I say?
posted by elizeh to Human Relations (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:13 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Please see for examples of how this could be a very bad idea.

What is it exactly that bothers you about people talking on the phone? Maybe try addressing those specific things in your note (if you still decide to write it)?
posted by sparklemotion at 4:13 PM on September 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm not sure - I mean, if you owned the business, then clearly, yes, you'd have the right to do this. But without being the person in charge, I don't see how you really can tell people what to do.
posted by lemniskate at 4:14 PM on September 27, 2012

I would take one of those overblown WW2 or red-scare propaganda poster, and slightly change the text, so that the poster now warns people not to use their phones in the bathroom because enemy pies/commies/gerry are hiding in the next stall specifically to listen to what you're saying and use it for dastardly purposes.

ie make it funny.
posted by anonymisc at 4:15 PM on September 27, 2012 [16 favorites]

Flush. Make really loud bathroom sounds. Generally things that make it obvious that the person is in the bathroom. The only thing I can see working is having them not do it for fear of the other party hearing that they're in the bathroom.

But really, don't worry about it so much. Yes, it's weird. I'll give you that. But I know very few people who don't do their best to hide that they're in the bathroom on the phone.
posted by theichibun at 4:16 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Simple fact: some people don't mind talking on their phone while in the company bathroom. Whatever sign is made will be ignored, if not throughly mocked.

Consider yourself lucky that they aren't talking to you while in the stall.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:16 PM on September 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

Is there a reasonable way to address this?

Nope! Outside of hygiene stuff, no adult is going to pay attention to a sign telling them what to do in the bathroom. Especially when there are no reprecussions.
posted by griphus at 4:24 PM on September 27, 2012 [15 favorites]

Print out a Jeff Goldblum is watching you poop sign and add an addendum that says: "and everyone on the other end of that cell phone can hear ot."
posted by phunniemee at 4:24 PM on September 27, 2012 [10 favorites]

posted by phunniemee at 4:24 PM on September 27, 2012

Is there something you could play on a sound system in the restroom to discourage cell phone conversations? Something along the lines of the piped in Italian lessons present in the restrooms of Romano's Macaroni Grill?
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:26 PM on September 27, 2012

sparklemotion --- the main problem is, somehow or other a lot of people seem to think no one else can hear their conversations, while at the same time they've got the incoming volume turned way up PLUS they're talking way louder than usual "so they can be heard"..... none of the rest of us WANT to eavesdrop on their conversations: we end up feeling like some kind of unwilling peeping toms. (Also, bathroom noises CAN be heard over cell phones.)

True story: a while back, I was minding my own business in a local bookstore. Some dude came into the aisle, already talking VERY loudly on his cell. From the conversation, it was obvious that the guy was talking to his partner/lover/spouse; he was telling them he's just gotten back from his doctor, and "it's okay if we have sex now, the rash is cleared up!" Ick.... I tried asking him nicely to keep it a bit more private; he just glared, but you could tell his partner heard me, and asked who he was talking to. He said he was home, and that was just the TV so I came back with "no, he's in x bookstore on y street, and we don't want to hear about his rash!" The other patrons cheered, and he left.

Bathroom phone calls are worse, because the rest of us are basically a captive audience who can't just get up and walk away.
posted by easily confused at 4:45 PM on September 27, 2012 [17 favorites]

people who talk on the phone in the bathroom don't care that they are talking on the phone in the bathroom. a sign will not do anything.

i have actually heard people say "hold on" in the midst of a sentence and then flush and then continue talking.

sorry, you're fighting a battle you cannot win.

the only thing you can do is have fun with it and make loud fart noises if you feel like it.
posted by sio42 at 4:51 PM on September 27, 2012 [8 favorites]

You could try writing a "Stalls Have Ears" type of column and document what you hear (or just make stuff up) when you are in the bathroom. Create it as an anonymous blog and post the link with a QR code in the bathroom.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:54 PM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

So, it seems like the problem isn't cell phone conversations, it's people talking at all. In that case, a sign that asks for general silence could work, maybe?

I'm not one to talk on the phone in the bathroom b/c what if the other person heard a flush or something...eew! But I feel like singling out cell phone talkers in any environment really isn't fair.
posted by sparklemotion at 5:07 PM on September 27, 2012

Office notes rarely lead to satisfaction for either writer or readers. Proceed with caution.

More broadly, if there's a problem in our office with site issues, we contact the site manager who would send an email out or whatever. Obviously, this is not an issue our site manager would be prepared to communicate on, and I would additionally suggest if the thought of leaving your name on the bottom of an office note you are posting makes you uncomfortable, there is probably a good reason and that is not a note that should be posted up.

This communication method will not be effective except as a device for venting. You may find some snarky replies written on it. You should not feel ashamed asking someone to keep it down or (for god's sake) take their call outside if it's private/personal. But leaving a note is just a tool for expressing and creating resentment.
posted by smoke at 5:11 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

They know they are talking in the bathroom. People who do that clearly don't care that they are talking on their phone in the bathroom, and I cannot imagine them caring that you care that they are talking on their phone in the bathroom. I especially cannot imagine them caring if this is communicated in the form of a note.

If you want to address this, and I'm not sure you should, the best way is going to be to have this conversation with people in person. Since you're telling them that their behavior makes you feel uncomfortable and you don't want an in the bathroom confrontation, tell them this at some other time and in some other location.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:01 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some people are rude/loud/annoying. Usually, fighting a person's personality is fruitiness and just not worth the interoffice drama.
posted by Shouraku at 6:37 PM on September 27, 2012

Loose lips sink more than turds.
posted by Leezie at 6:41 PM on September 27, 2012

Use humor. Use a funny picture and a pithy message. Your aim is to make people laugh first and get the message second. If they laugh, they're more likely to accept the message and change their behavior.

"Stalls have ears" is great. Or "we're straining to hear you" or "stop talking and savor the moment."
posted by MuffinMan at 12:57 AM on September 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't know how do to it in a way utterly without shame, because the practice is so entrenched. I have heard people busily urinating while they talk while somebody is loudly excreting next stall. Why people think it is appropriate to have a phone conversation with those background noises, I don't know, but they do, and I have no idea what can be done.

But if you're willing to mix in a little shame, maybe putting the idea "HEY THE OTHER PERSON CAN HEAR YOU SHITTING" in haiku form, without the obscenities?
posted by angrycat at 4:13 AM on September 28, 2012

How about a sign with a 60's theme, that has a tie-dye background, the words "Poop in Peace," and pictures of peace signs and crossed-out cellphones?
posted by chickenmagazine at 7:39 AM on September 28, 2012

So, is it possible to effect change with a funny, kind sign in the bathroom?

Doubtful. In cases where one person wants to do [thing that is not forbidden] and another person wants person to not to [thing that is not forbidden], the person who is doing the thing is not going to stop.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:17 AM on September 28, 2012

a sign that asks for general silence could work, maybe?

Ah, if only. But the noisy don't care.
posted by Rash at 11:11 AM on September 28, 2012

Ooh, maybe a sign that says:

posted by phunniemee at 11:39 AM on September 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anyone who talks on the cell phone in a public restroom already knows:

(a) that the person on the phone knows they're in the bathroom
(b) that the person on the phone might hear them make bathroom noises
(c) that other people in the bathroom can hear their conversation

so I don't know that most of these suggestions would work. I think you really need to make the point that you're uncomfortable with the person on the phone hearing YOUR bathroom noises. Make it about YOUR privacy, because obviously the stall-caller doesn't care about their own privacy.
posted by that's how you get ants at 11:52 AM on September 28, 2012

People are social, and responsive to social mores; there aren't good social standards for mobile phones because they're so new. Make your phone ring. "Answer" it, and say "Hi Pam, I'll call you back; I'm in the bathroom, and it's nasty when people talk on the phone in here." In the lunchroom "Am I the only 1 who's totally squicked out by people having mobile conversations in the bathroom?"

You asked for sign ideas. Google "sign generator" and you'll get lots of results. Make a weekly 'funny' sign to put up in different stalls, on the mirror, etc.
It's so much nicer not to hear your mobile phone conversation in here,
Accckkkkk, you're on the phone in the bathroom!! Please, no!!
For those who are unaware: This is the bathroom, not the phone booth.

It'll get people talking, and either social pressure will stop the behavior, or you'll learn that no one else is bothered by it.
posted by theora55 at 1:02 PM on September 28, 2012

Considering when I put up a sign in our office bathroom that just said "Please pee in the urinal, not on the floor in front of it" it was promptly ignored. I know, crazy problem to have in a white collar office.

But personally, given that I work in an office and A.) don't care when people talk on their phones in the BR and B.) do it occasionally, I would laugh off a polite sign, and be downright offended at a sarcastic sign or one that questioned my "etiquette." Because nowhere is it officially written that proper etiquette dictates this; its just your personal opinion that maybe a few of your co-workers share. The rest of us see it as totally normal, since most offices don't allow you to take personal calls at your desk.

But the idea being reiterated here that people are infringing on your rights by forcing you to evesdrop on their phone call, and therefore they should not be allowed to make phone calls, seems rather totalitarian and backwards to me.
posted by el_yucateco at 11:30 AM on October 1, 2012

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