The Nosy Parker

Nosy Parkers are everywhere. Your talkative aunt, the neighbor with prying eyes, your chatty hairdresser and sometimes even your best friend are all variations of the same theme. When it comes to the corporate world, nosy parkers present you with a problem (for them it is an opportunity though) that is simultaneously amusing, tiresome, annoying and also a potential threat to your ability to survive and do your job.

First, nosy parkers exist at all levels in the organization. It is wrong to assume that the practice of this special art is limited to the lower levels in the organizational hierarchy – clerical, secretarial and similar jobs. If you have the nosy-parker gene, you carry it to your grave and if the journey to your end passes through various levels in the organization, tough luck on your subordinates, peers and superiors. Sometimes, these genes can also be acquired during the above mentioned journey, defying traditional biological theories.

A nosy parker starts off as a very friendly and pleasant individual, especially if you yourself are shy and reserved and incapable of initiating a conversation. A “hello”, followed by “looks like you are new around here” progresses to, “where do you live?”, “how many siblings did your great grandfather have?” and quickly moves up a notch to, “when did you have your last colonoscopy?”. You are waltzed through increasingly intense sets of questions in a mesmerized manner where you are answering questions in spite of yourself. You reach a borderline hypnotic state where you lose the power to say ‘no’ to any question, however intrusive. In a matter of minutes, your life becomes an open book to the friendly nosy parker who files away the information for future use elsewhere.

Some roles in the company naturally lend themselves to be a good fit for nosy parkers – front desk/receptionist, HR Executives (with whom other staff have ‘personal’ conversations by necessity) and finance executives (who deal with all types of expenses and hence can keep tabs on what is going on), to name a few. This, by no means, implies that an ingenious individual in an obscure department such as Archives & Records cannot beat everyone to the ‘Chief Parker’ title.

Armed with unlimited details about infinite numbers of people and situations, the professional nosy parker plies his/her trade by providing an opportunity for information exchange. For example, the Manager, Operations might overhear (eavesdrop on) a partial conversation between two Project Managers, in the break room or in the parking lot, regarding possible delays in some customer deliverables and ‘report’ this to the Director of Projects. This could in turn result in a variety of outcomes, ranging from a pat on the back for the Manager, Operations to admonishing of the Project Manager(s) or even replacement of the PM’s in question.

Nosy parkers pose special challenges to their managers. Take a look at the following conversation to understand the travails of such a manager:

Nosy Parker (NP): Good morning. May I have a minute of your time?

Manager (desperate to finish a report due in half an hour): Yeah… what is it?

NP: I heard that we are signing a big contract with Customer-A. I would …..

Manager: Who told you that? We don’t have any such contract ……

NP: The salesman concerned has invited us to drinks this evening, so I thought something must be cooking.

Manager: The only thing cooking at present is my brain. I have to finish this report quickly. So, if you don’t mind…..

NP: Well, I would really like to manage that project. Anyway, Liz, the only other project manager in our department, might be pregnant and so I am ……

Manager (walking out, looking at her watch): OK, ok. Let us deal with this when it happens. For now, can we do some real work?

Nosy parkers contribute liberally to the creation and spread of rumors. Blessed with exceptional imagination and extraordinary extrapolation skills, a simple, ‘…Jane is at the doctor’s office’ becomes ‘….Jane has had a nervous breakdown’; ‘customer A is asking for a lot of information’ becomes ‘customer A has canceled our contract’; ‘Tom, the CFO, may be taking a short vacation’ turns into, ‘Tom may have been fired’; and so on.