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My colleague is a 64 year old guy who is very verbal when working. He often shouts out slander towards his computer and also an ex-employee. Even though these outbursts are incredibly unprofessional I find them absolutely hilarious and have started to make a collection of quotes from his verbal outbursts.

If someone finds out about this - could I be in potential hot water? I don't plan on sharing them with anyone.

Here are some quotes:

"I'm going f---ing bananas!"

"What has the f---ing russian done?" (referring to the ex-employee)

I keep a record of the quotes in my personal notebook, no names are written down, no time is recorded. Every time he has an outburst I just write down the words that he says.

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    I think a lot of it depends on the personality of your coworker. Do you think he would be upset if he found out you were writing down the things he says, or would he laugh with you and admit he says some pretty ridiculous things? – David K Jan 29 at 16:51
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    "I don't plan on sharing them with anyone...Here are some quotes:..." – maxathousand Jan 29 at 17:19
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    Completely out of curiosity, aside from the current answers, would this guy care if he knew you were doing this? What is his personality like? Is there a possibility he wouldn't mind at all, possibly even find it equally as hilarious as you? IMO this rides the line between totally inappropriate/unwarranted and just plain fun. I had a school friend (while I admit, different atmosphere than work) that had a knack for slipping hilariously embarrassing one-liners/questions into conversation and he was all for recording them and "publishing" a compilation later, but that was just his personality... – Broots Waymb Jan 29 at 17:39
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    I think a relevant point: is this guy a friend of yours? making note of ridiculous quotes from a friend, possibly for taking the piss later, is less odd than if it's just a person you happen to work with you're not particularly friends with. I've occasionally seen retirement presents along those lines and friendship/fondness changes the context quite a bit. – Murphy Jan 30 at 13:55
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    You can just ask the colleague (if you may in the future keep notes). If they don't mind, go ahead. If that feels too awkward, well ... there's your answer. – DonQuiKong Jan 31 at 11:34

17 Answers 17

65

It depends who finds out and how much context they have, but it cannot lead to anything good.

If someone other than the person you're quoting finds it, assuming you don't have timestamps, it should be easy enough to lie it away and do not attribute it to your co-worker (and in this situation that's exactly what I would suggest, I'll explain why in a bit).

If the person you are quoting finds out about these notes, it is possible that things may turn hostile pretty damn quickly. The most obvious explanation (read: conclusion that will be jumped to) for these notes will be to give to HR, which may lead him to believe that his job is now on the line. If a co-worker blabs about the notes to the person who spoke them, It may also lead them to feel like they are being targeted. That MAY also be used to expose you to disciplinary action too for creating a hostile workplace.

If a manager or HR finds out about the notes or the context behind the notes without your involvement, disciplinary action can still be taken against the speaker depending on how 'edgy' his comments are and how much of a zero-tolerance policy the company officially has but unofficially doesn't usually enforce. Probably an edge-case but still worth considering.

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    "The most obvious explanation (read: conclusion that will be jumped to) for these notes will be to give to HR...." Just to emphasize this point, this was my exact thought when I had read nothing further than the title of this question. – Wildcard Jan 29 at 19:36
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    Unless the co-worker is prone to jumping to conclusions and has an exploding temper, I feel like paragraph 2 can easily be defused with a reassurance that the quote book is purely for OP's own amusement. From there, the natural progression of the conversation would lead to "Do you want me to get rid of it?", at which point the co-worker's response will be a clear indicator of what OP should do. – Abion47 Jan 29 at 19:45
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    @Abion47 If I were that person, I doubt I would buy that explanation though. If they are happy enough to write down things I say for their amusement behind my back, then they are happy enough to lie about how it would be used if I caught them doing it. At the very least I would be left unhappy and distrustful around that employee, and I don't think that's unreasonable. – DoctorPenguin Jan 30 at 15:24
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    @520 That's easy. "Yes, co-worker, I've been writing down some of the things you've said because I personally find them absolutely hilarious. I've only kept it a secret from everyone though because I didn't want you to get in trouble over some of the perhaps less 'workplace-appropriate' snippets, but I don't have any problem with them myself." – Abion47 Jan 30 at 16:35
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    @JTPenguin Um, no? Writing things down that someone else said is not an inherently malicious act. Intent is what makes things malicious, and OP's intent was quite clearly benign. And OP wouldn't necessarily have made them aware if they A] are shy or B] don't know them well enough to be comfortable bring it up. – Abion47 Jan 30 at 16:43
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Simply put: anything you keep to yourself is your private record. If you don't feel you're using company resources to record it, then don't feel bad doing it. As long as it stays with you and you only, you can write whatever you want.

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    The problem is, where is OP going to keep it? If he does it at the office, it's work product to which the employer is entitled. How does OP plan to account for himself when it's found? Now he's on his heels trying to strain explanations to HR, "I wasn't going to do anything with it" won't convince anyone. – Harper Jan 29 at 17:06
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    @Harper he sketches it down, takes it home with him, writes it into a notebook at home, keeps notebook there, destroys original....Lather, rinse, repeat. – Retired Codger Jan 29 at 17:17
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    Right. This isn't rocket science. Keep your own business to yourself (but also share it with us someday because it sounds hilarious to me!). – Mikey Jan 29 at 18:22
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    nothing, in the universe, has ever stayed "with you and only you". – Fattie Jan 29 at 18:56
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An anecdote if I may: At a software house I used to work at, we would add things like this to a random quote generator built into our bug tracking software (Bugzilla?), so each bug would have an accompanying quote, usually something someone said when they were somehow excited or angry about something, but some were just inspiring quotes people found and added. There were only about 40 of us, all in the same giant room, so any outburst or random comment was fodder for the quote generator because everyone (who didn't have headphones on) heard it. Anyone could add quotes, and if someone didn't like a quote that was attributed to them, they could simply delete it.

Was it unprofessional? Probably. But it was also fun and frequently added a bit of humor into a hectic day. They're probably still using it.

I think whether your situation could get you in hot water is more likely to be determined by your company culture. If people are overly sensitive, might be a good idea to keep your list to yourself. If everyone (including the "author") has a good sense of humor, it might be fun sharing them. You'll have to make that call yourself.

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    One project I was on, we ran a "quote of the week" on the whiteboard. The previous quote stayed there until someone came up with something which (by general approval) was stupid enough or strange enough to feature. The company also had a "Herbert" award where daft events that month were collated and voted on at the monthly company meeting, with the "winner" getting a garden gnome called Herbert to keep on their desk that month. And until they got some crap managers who screwed the company over, it was a brilliant place to work with massive mutual respect amongst people. And also fun. – Graham Jan 30 at 8:54
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    "what has the --- russian done!" - have said that myself at a previous workplace. rofl! – vikingsteve Jan 30 at 9:32
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    Same company we had a rule where if a dev broke the build, they had to keep the "cone of shame" on their desk until the next build break and then it'd move, unless they were the culprit again. The dev manager got wind of it and raised hell, so the cone of shame was no more. However, the incidence of build breaks dropped dramatically when it was in play. – delliottg Jan 30 at 15:10
  • Same here, we used to rotate quotes like this on our in-company narrowcasting system so they where shown on the screens we had on almost every wall. For our bugtracker we kept it professional though, so we used the bofh excuse generator – Douwe Jan 31 at 11:25
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This is beyond unprofessional, it is childish. Unless you are collecting material for your part time comedy job, there is no good reason to be keeping such a record. What are you going to do, go back to your notes later to get a good laugh?

The consequences should this employee or any other co-worker discover what you are doing could result in your termination. If you value your job, leave the man alone.

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    One of my coworkers keeps a list of especially dumb or otherwise notable things over the course of the year. At the end of the year he curates them and reads them out loud at the holiday party. A "winner" is chosen and awarded with candy of some description. – MikeTheLiar Jan 29 at 17:40
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    "What are you going to do, go back to your notes later to get a good laugh?" I assume this is exactly the point. – The Guy with The Hat Jan 29 at 18:04
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    I agree with @RichardU, this is actually awesome. Soon when the co-worker retires and gone, these notes are gold even to the coworker himself. – Sandra K Jan 29 at 18:42
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    It's debatable whether it's unprofessional, but I absolutely wouldn't call it childish. I'm with RichardU - it's just harmless fun. The only issue would come from if A) the wrong people found out about it, B) it was traceable back to the co-worker, and C) someone decides to make a stink about it to the boss/manager/HR. But I'd say, in this case, someone who would actually do that is someone with just a few too many chips on their shoulder and sticks up their butt. And besides, if the outbursts themselves weren't enough to make someone complain, then I doubt a record of them would either. – Abion47 Jan 29 at 19:02
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    @RichardU You can bring it up at his retirement lunch. Stand up and flip out your notebook and blast out some quotes from the past. Like hey, remember that time you slapped your monitor and shouted, "How the ----ing russian did it!?" I'm sure everyone would have a good time nodding in agreement like yep, I remember that. – Dan Jan 29 at 20:08
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Thats how we did it in the old days. If you yell at it, it makes it go faster. I don't see any problem writing it down. I'd probably put it up on a BBS's general files area for everyone to enjoy if they were still around.

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IMHO, Its not a hot water, you putting yourself in lava.

Better use your mind to remember these quotes.

Everything written can be found and used out of context with worse possible consequences

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Keep the quotes, but don't attribute them to anyone, don't log the time or date.

Take them home, copy them down, and don't leave the originals at work.

You don't want to be seen as creepy, and if caught with anything in writing, it might not be good for you. Keep anything at work on your person.

2

Better to concentrate on your work and just laugh at the time.

You cannot capture a moment on paper because you need the context. So trying to hoard 'moments' is a waste of time unless you do the whole story and share it with others. Especially when you're trying to capture other peoples rather than your own.

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    I can totally agree with the context requirement. I kept some "funny" quotes from classmates back in the day and when I went over them later, most of them were...pretty awkward at best. Without the context at the moment, you lose a lot. Even looking at the quotes presented in the question they aren't in any way exceptional. It seems like a normal thing to say with an added expletive. Noting you can't hear at any other time in any other place. It's probably funnier in context at the time but when I read it now, all I can say is "is that it?". – VLAZ Jan 30 at 9:05
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I personally wouldn't consider it unethical or unprofessional unless there is something that could be problematic for the person ranting. From the two samples I don't see this. But your HR will decide if you are in trouble, not me. As it is always better to be safe than sorry: don't get caught.

One scenario how you could be "caught": while you are eating lunch, someone opens your notebook and finds these quotes. While he could be in some trouble for being too nosy, he could simply say he needed [how you solved a recent problem] and to avoid bothering you during lunch, he hoped you wrote it down in your book.

Simple solution: (if you don't have a mandated corporate phone) Write them in your phone. Impossible to sniff with security + anyone looking will be in far more trouble than you.

But then again, from these two samples you gave I could imagine outburst was funny for you, while quotes themselves aren't noteworthy to me. I hear similar outbreaks daily and never even thought to write them down for they are far too common and irrelevant out of that moment. You only get to know how many swear words someone knows. Have you tested some of these notes on a friend to see their reaction? Anything resembling "you had to be there" => delete notes.

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TLDR: It's simple, ask for permission or don't keep the notes.

If you want to know whether it's okay to keep the quotes, ask the co-worker (preferably via a chattool so you have it in writing). If you feel that it is not your place to ask him, then it is not your place to keep notes. If he agrees that you can write down some of his outbursts for fun citations, still make sure to not attribute them to him (in front of 3rd parties that didn't hear them in the first place). If he ever changes his mind or isn't fine with what you do with the quotes, respect that and adjust your behaviour.

I don't agree with all the answers that consider that in general a totally bad idea. I've worked in offices where the most fun quotes where hung up around the office. It all depends on company culture - and obviously you need a bit of a feeling what could violate your company guidelines and what doesn't. Everything that was said in earnest to a colleague in a negative way is typically a no-go to spout around for fun, insults hurled at machines are - in the company cultures I know - typically okay, depending on expletives used perhaps.

Then again, I'd not find the two quotes particularly funny out of context. So I wouldn't see the value in keeping them, but your mileage may differ.

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They could be taken out of context if someone finds them.

In my previous role, I had 2 colleagues who were scribbling notes to each other. Colleague 1 was having a hard time with work, and colleague 2 was just trying to console them. Manager found the notes, and took it the wrong way. Unfortunately colleague 1 was let go, as they thought they were slandering the manager and company.

So it is risky. Is it worth writing these down and keeping them? In my experience, no. I don't know why you can't just keep a mental notes of these outburst for you amusement.

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    I need them written down because it would be great source material for video game character. – Jeremy Jan 29 at 17:23
  • Make a mental note, and write them at home. Just saying you have to look after yourself in these situations. Someone could find them and take them out of context. Don't get me wrong, I would probably find them hilarious too. But I've experienced someone taking things out of context, and someone losing their job over it. – Sionwj Jan 30 at 11:17
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"Is it unprofessional" is hopefully as obvious an answer as it can get. Can you really imagine anyone describing that behaviour as "professional" in a vaguely serious way?!

"Is it unethical" is widely open to interpretation, some would say yes, some would say no. But if you're forced to lie about taking these notes (or land in hot water), that would certainly make it unethical.

However:

If someone finds out about this - could I be in potential hot water?

Absolutely you could. You might be able to hide or lie your way around it, but this seems like such a trivial thing it's hardly worth the effort.

Just take a note of the outbursts mentally and use those memories to force a smile on a stressful day at work instead. Much better all round!

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It's extremely rude and the opposite of team play. Also, unless you happen to be an ADA attorney...

ADA here being a symbol for the body of laws worldwide that requires inclusive, empowering treatment of people with disabilities....

You really should not mess with that. There is at least one medical condition that causes this.

The gist of such laws is you must do what is easy to accommodate those with disabilities. Firing a rude non-team-player is easy.

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Keeping quotes unattributed should be fine. You will have check the temperature of the room if you reveal them. One the managers at my current employer puts out a slide of weekly sayings. They are hilarious because there is no context.

There should be no issue. If at some point he gets offended then you will have to put a stop to it.

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Keeping track of coworker actions is only a good idea if you personally have a problem with it. In that case you want to document any outbursts so you can later refer to them without having to do things from memory. No HR department worth their salt will take you seriously without properly documented events if you go and complain to them.
In all other cases it's just a bad idea to document anything about your coworkers, it's creepy and someone without the right context will draw their own conclusions about you if they ever find your notes.

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Here's a diametrically opposed view from the Netherlands. (You did not put op a location tag, so your mileage may vary with this).

In a company I worked for we had the obligatory Christmas dinner every year, and on this dinner our CEO/Owner would hold his yearly Christmas speech. During this speech he would discuss the previous year, a good part of this consisted of funny anecdotes about stuff that happened that year. The notes that you are taking would be exactly the kind of thing he would ask us for a few weeks prior to the event. Mind you, he had a keen sense for keeping it lighthearted so nobody took offence or felt embarrassed.

This site has taught me however that especially in the US people have a very different outlook on professional behavior and the way employees and companies relate to each other. (This is why I think location tags should be mandatory) And stuff like this can even get you into legal trouble there I gather from the other answers. But coming from a place where you can call the CEO by his first name and make fun of the color of the bicycle he rides to work: Make a nice "best of coworker" list and share it with the rest of the company, so they can have a laugh too :)

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I can relate in that at my last workplace we had this older person who had frequent outbursts. I imagine if you find it hilarious others do as well.

There's a bit of sadness to the situation I was in. The guy was recently diagnosed with as diabetic and require medication. Also he's retired from the military and receives a pension. Double if you count the 401k and social security he gets from work. He's married and has grandchildren. It begs the question why is he still working at a job he hates well into his retirement age where he should instead be enjoying life?

So with that in mind, it might be hilarious to others and I can see how. Keeping it in a notebook sounds a bit sillier. Imagine if someone found this without any context to go with and seeing quotes like, "how the ----ing russian did it?" might be taken out of context. It's all about context and remembering the situation is a better idea. But hopefully you can sympathize with his situation and hope you don't end up in your late 60s still working at a job you hate.

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