Advice column: my colleague's angry personal phone calls are distracting me

Dear Ash

I have recently started to share an office with a female colleague, and although she is perfectly pleasant with me, she has another mean side to her when she makes personal calls to her husband. She can be speaking pleasantly to me or laughing and joking with clients over the phone, and then as soon as her husband phones she starts screaming down the phone to him and goes red in the face with anger. As soon as she puts the phone down again she puts on a smile and starts to acts pleasantly as if nothing has just happened. I tend just to put my head down and pretend to be working, although it is often difficult not to be distracted by her calls. I’m not sure if I should say something to her, as, although it has been affecting my ability to concentrate on my work, frankly I do not want to be subjected to the same treatment she vents towards her husband!

Ash replies

I can appreciate it must be difficult dealing with essentially a Jekyll and Hyde character, as you never quite know what type of mood they will be in. However, so far you seem to have been fortunate in not having been subjected to the more mean side of this person.

People can sometimes be different towards family members while maintaining a more pleasant demeanour within their social circles of friends and work colleagues. However, this is not to say that your colleague’s behaviour is either appropriate or acceptable. Continuing to ignore the problem will not resolve the issue and will potentially make the working environment more intolerable, as you will continue to feel on edge and unable to concentrate whenever she makes these calls. 

I suggest therefore that the next time she puts the phone down angrily, you merely ask her if she is OK. This may remind her that she is still in a shared office environment and that you can hear her conversation! She may become embarrassed by your question and be careful about making such personal calls in an open environment in the future. However, if she responds angrily towards you then you should calmly make clear that it is difficult to maintain concentration during her personal calls. Either way, it is better that you are open about this issue.

In one way you should perhaps feel flattered that your colleague feels comfortable enough in your company to reveal her true emotions, although I can appreciate that this is probably a side to her that you wish she had kept well and truly hidden!

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connect, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS. Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, Manager in the Registrar’s Department on 0131 476 8105/8200, or

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