Welcome to the icky world of bathroom networking

Is this the proper venue for business talk?

WORKING STIFF – By Darren Garnick
The Boston Herald (October 26, 2005)
It may be a bit unconventional, but I’m thinking about
making a quick wardrobe change every time I visit my
office bathroom. Nothing fancy. White letters on a
black t-shirt.  A simple font like Helvetica or Times
New Roman will do.

The message: “DON’T TALK TO ME.”

I work in an office building shared by several small
companies. Quite frequently, when I’m doing my
business in the men’s room, workers from other
companies will try to strike up a conversation with
me. “Nice day outside!… Will the rain ever
stop? … How about those Patriots?”

Remaining focused on my target, I grunt one word
answers – a blunt hint that I’m not there to meet new
people. Strangely, this doesn’t discourage the
weak-bladdered jabberjaws. On two separate occasions,
these one-sided bathroom conversations were recently
upgraded to business talk.

“What does your company do? You guys seem busy!….
We make widgets… If you ever need any, I’m right down the hall!”

Welcome to the secret, icky world of “urinal

You would think that shaking hands (which I did not
do) or exchanging business cards in the men’s room
would be beyond unthinkable, especially given the
latest hand-washing statistics from the American
Society of Microbiology. An estimated 25 percent of
guys snub the sink in public restrooms opposed to only
10 percent of women – based on a secretly observed
sample of 6,300 random people.

Germs aside, I suppose the invasion of privacy
shouldn’t surprise me. A few  elections ago, during
the New Hampshire Primary, I had the rare privilege of
urinating next to a stall being used by U.S. Sen. Phil
Gramm. I avoided eye contact with the presidential
candidate, whom I assumed had more pressing
priorities. That didn’t stop a guy behind him from
asking a question about economics. The senator
passionately answered the question – in midstream.

Sadly, it’s now OK to harass non-famous people in the
bathroom, too. My experience is hardly

Ann Marie Sabath, author of “Business Etiquette: 101
Ways to Conduct Business with Charm & Savvy,” says
that the issue of “tacky” restroom behavior often
comes up at her etiquette workshops across the

“Many individuals do indeed ask me this type of
question in private rather than in front of colleagues
and managers,” she says. “While all is fair in love,
war and prospecting, urinals are definitely out of the
picture! Once the bathroom is entered, conversation
should be minimized. If anything, small talk could be
appropriate upon entering/leaving or at the sink.”

“When possible, follow the ‘one-over rule,’” adds
Sabath. “In other words, stay out of the next stall to
avoid having the person next to you misconstrue you
for his work therapist.”

The etiquette expert’s advice is logical but
impractical in my case.  Our office men’s room
unfortunately only has two stalls. Her other tip: Hang
an anonymous sign above the urinals stating: “Mind
your Pees and Q’s. Please respect my urinal space by
keeping conversation to a minimum.”

Way too cutesy for me. My gut instinct is to crassly
tell Mr. Social Butterfly where to stick his
questions.  So far, I’ve kept quiet. Making enemies in
a small office building is not my first preference.
After all, a urinal is an awkward place to have to
watch your back.

But it may ultimately come down to a confrontation.
Either that, or I’ll have to make fewer trips to the
water cooler.

Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every
Wednesday in the Boston Herald. Story tips from the
workplace are welcomed via email at


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