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I find that when I am in the bathroom I want to get in and out. I don't mind a simple "Hi" or "How's it going?" when I wash my hands but some co-workers step over this line.

I have had managers talk to me while in a stall and other coworkers having a "normal" conversation with me while I am in use of a urinal. Is this behavior normal? What do I say to a coworker or manager to let them know I don't like potty-talk? I don't want to come across as rude but you know...

  • Meta discussion here: meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/q/2620/325 – Monica Cellio May 1 '14 at 16:47
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    Suggested edit: "Can anyone who has dealt with this tell me what worked for them to discourage bathroom conversations?" This asks for experiences instead of opinion. – MJ6 May 9 '14 at 23:42
40

Whenever someone asks you something (or says something that needs a reply) in a circumstance where you don't feel comfortable having a conversation (could be the bathroom, the first few minutes of a meeting before others have arrived, whatever) just say

Can we talk about this shortly? This isn't really the time or place

In place of "shortly" you could say "later this morning" or "in 5 minutes" or "after the meeting." A general "later" runs the risk of being interpreted as "never". For someone senior to you, if you think "this isn't really the time or place" might be seen as a rebuke, stop after just the first question. In that case, you might want to be more precise than "shortly", saying "back at my desk" or "when I'm finished doing this" or "when I get to the sink".

You don't need to clarify why - it should be obvious. You don't need to tell them about the general rule or anything more than that you don't want to talk about this now. Short and to the point.

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    I agree, personally I'd be tempted to add a little bit of humour rather than risk criticising their timing. Maybe "Can I come and catch up with you in a few minutes? I've got my hands full at the moment!" or something silly. Leave them chuckling rather than feeling like they're being scolded. Of course this kind of humour depends very much on who you're talking to! – Liath Apr 17 '14 at 7:38
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    FWIW I'm not sure that all senior managers would accept that the junior employee gets to decide what's the time or the place. So as always the language might have to adapt to the audience. There's also the worrying prospect of someone to whom it is not obvious, who genuinely believes you can be collared for a work conversation at any time and place. For example, that same guy who calls your mobile when you're on leave might disrespect other boundaries. – Steve Jessop Apr 17 '14 at 7:39
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    All these "hands full", "holding something important" and flat out "touching my penis" answers make me say "ick". First, men are not the only ones who pee, you know. And more, I think it's a bigger social transgression than starting a conversation in the bathroom. Now, that said, this is a general issue about coworkers, and it's possible that if a senior VP strikes up chit chat in the wrong place, you should value the opportunity enough that you chat even in the bathroom. That's a special case. "Can we talk about this in a moment?" is polite, and the VP can always insist on here and now. – Kate Gregory Apr 17 '14 at 11:11
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    @KateGregory I think you're right, it's difficult without knowing the culprit. The OP mentioned urinals so I assumed it was a guy problem. I don't really know the etiquette of a ladies' bathroom. The OP will have to judge the correct response to use! – Liath Apr 17 '14 at 12:11
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    "This isn't really the time or place" comes across a bit harsh (you are judging their behavior as unacceptable). Instead I would say something like, "Sorry, I just don't feel comfortable talking in the bathroom and would like to be able to do what I need to do in silence". Make it sound like you have a particular need, not like they are doing something unacceptable. See also this question which presents a similar situation in a different setting. – Muhd Apr 18 '14 at 0:49
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When Awkward-man attacks, use your super-humour powers!

Just say something funny - as long as it is with a smile and you keep it cool.

One second, I need all my attention in this important business.

And once outside, be the one that reaches out and that will make sure that the person does not feel like you are avoiding him or her.

So, now that I no longer have anything extremely important in my hands, what did you say?
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    I like this better than mine. – Basil Apr 17 '14 at 13:40
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    Very good, I wish you were my coworker. – BlueTrin Jul 22 '14 at 14:08
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It's normal like chewing with your mouth open. Half the people you meet don't see anything wrong with it, the other half are grinding their teeth but too polite to complain.

I handle this by embracing the idea of talking in the bathroom but showing them why it's weird, all at once: "Hey, isn't it weird how people just chat while holding their penis at a urinal? I never thought about it before. Is this weird?"

They won't forget that, and won't be able to talk in the john without thinking back to this conversation.

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    You can enhance the conversation by saying ding-dong instead. – Joel E Salas Apr 16 '14 at 20:53
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    If you want to keep it on this side of the line, sure... – Basil Apr 16 '14 at 20:56
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    I dunno, I think a few people would be more than willing to engage into a conversation about the weirdness if you give that opening. – Zoredache Apr 16 '14 at 21:09
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    So you are suggesting that I start a conversation about penis holding? – blankip Apr 17 '14 at 13:09
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    I'm saying that any time someone makes you uncomfortable by talking in the bathroom, interject like it's something you just thought of something even less comfortable. – Basil Apr 17 '14 at 13:39
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The blunt and direct approach is the one I favor, and it works wonders for me.

"Uh... I'd really prefer to talk about this when I don't have a hand on my penis, if you don't mind."

Usually it gets a chuckle, occasionally it gets an ~"oh, of course," but it always ends the conversation, and no one's had a problem with it so far.

5

Just say, in a firm but non-threatening voice:

"I'd like to talk to you, but let's chat outside when I'm done."

That's all.

4

In some office cultures it is normal. At least in the women's room, conversation happens. I don't think it's why we're all in there so long - but waiting in line for 10 minutes will eventually prompt conversations.

I get a sense from male friends that it is less OK in the men's room... but I bet that mileage varies.

I would say that, for either gender, you're well within your rights to expect private time in these moments, and whether or the other person finds talking in the restroom to be weird, it's fine if you do, and it should be fine to express it as long as you do so in an inoffensive way.

I've noticed that polite, clueful people will say "mind if I ask you a question?" or something similarly cautious - at which point, it's totally fine to say - "give me a sec, wait for me outside" or something similar.

On the joking (funny as some of the jokes are) - I think you need to figure out what kind of expression works for you. If you are not naturally a person who cracks jokes, a false attempt to do so in the restroom will read as just as awkward and weird as talking in the first place. OTOH - if you are one those people who can be crude and yet make everyone in the room laugh with your infectious benevolent charm - go for it and steal one of the great jokes in this thread.

If you don't think you can pull off peeing, joking and not being awkward - say as calmly as possible - "can we take this outside?" When you've gotten outside, make sure you ask what the question was, and say "hey, I just find it weird to chat in the restroom... it's just awkward." That way the other person knows what's wrong and probably won't repeat it.

The only thing I'd avoid is a super serious, much delayed conversation. Saying, randomly, in a 1 on 1 - "hey, I wish you wouldn't ask me questions in the bathroom" - is pretty difficult and off putting. Much better to catch the culprit in the act.

0

I can quite assure gentle readers there are no actual rules about behavior around mens urinals.

What doesn't work well is to expect that "your rules" are "someone else's rules" unless there is an expectation by authority that all parties have adopted them. I will laugh about this answer when I finally see such rules.

Let's get philosophical: There's no reason to start a conversation if one is not comfortable doing so, ever. "No means no". If you aren't comfortable with conversation at a urinal, don't start one, no matter how many conversations you see. (I'd posit many urinal conversations are started by people that don't realize they have the freedom not to start one in the first place.)

Now let's bisect those who believe that conversations at a urinal are okay into two groups: One is sensitive to others and the other has not yet been blessed with this trait.

The folks that are sensitive will immediately notice someone who is uncomfortable having a conversation. It doesn't matter if it is at a urinal, a bar, passing on the street or on equipment at a gym. If you provide practical feedback that you are uncomfortable with a conversation in exactly the way you would in a situation that didn't involve genitals, a sensitive person will "get the hint" and not continue with the conversation in a graceful way. Similarly, if you dispel your inner awkwardness and continue the conversation out of a sense of duty, they have no way to know that you are not a fan. In that case, you have allowed the uncomfortable situation to manifest.

In this world of gross generalities, the other group is insensitive folks. Insensitive folks are generally also very insecure. They may be having a conversation with you because they have such inner turmoil around urinals that they cannot avoid making you a part of their drama. They tend to do this everywhere, not just in the toilet. So now let's capture that insecure awkwardness but suddenly change the setting to the office kitchen. In this less meaty situation, most jump directly to pity for the insensitive soul who can't just leave the awkward passing at a smile and a nod.

So what do you naturally do when you pity someone?

Therein lies the answer to what your natural response should be when someone makes you feel awkward at a urinal. It's not the same for everyone. Pity is defined as "the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others". We learn to sense pity of others, it is an alarm clock to personal improvement. When delivered with true compassion, change happens.

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It is normal behavior for some people, but there is nothing wrong with being uncomfortable with it. As others here have suggested, it's okay to say, "give me a moment, let's catch up outside". However, I'd recommend against trying to make any jokes about the situation; you want to avoid comments that might seem tasteless, unprofessional, or possibly even risk being construed as sexual harassment.

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