when is eavesdropping okay

On Friday morning, I stopped by my favorite bagel store on the way to the office and sat down, laptop open checking email.  I was in an area where there are a few couches and a piano (not sure why the piano is there, but whatever works for the owners).  Two gentlemen were sitting about ten feet away engaged in a conversation.  I was alone, just me and my laptop, no headphones playing tunes I know by heart to block out the ambiance.  So it was not surprising I could hear their conversation.

I’m not sure what business they were in, but they didn’t seem to work for the same company and were discussing the challenges of marketing to our connected society.  “Have you ever heard of PURLS?” one gentleman asked.  I had, in fact, I’ve gotten emails and direct mail pieces sent to me with PURLS and know of programs where they have been sent by marketing groups in Xerox.  PURLS are personal URLs (personalized webpages).  They take the concept of 1:1 marketing that much closer to actual 1:1.  You can go here for more information as this is not the main point of this post. 

I lost a bit of the conversation since I was doing some work of my own (well, company work, but I tend to take ownership).  The next time I looked up I heard the following:  “and are you familiar with this Twitterthing?  It’s like a turbo facebook and I guess you can put messages there that people will read.”  Interesting spin that almost made me jump out of my seat.  That’s where the problem arises.

When is it okay to admit you’re eavesdropping?  Let’s consider that these gentlemen were in a public place, they were not giving out trade secrets and were speaking loud enough to be heard at least 10 feet away.  I was obviously online, or at least on a laptop, but looked at them a few times (a signal to me when I’m conversing that the person is either stretching their neck or listening to what we’re saying).  Let’s also consider that I feel I would have been able to contribute to the conversation.  I have experience in social media both from the corporate side and the personal brand side.  In fact, that has been part of my focus and is an area I continue to pursue as a career path.  My current role is going to help me better develop my writing skills, more in the technical style, but writing to me is like drumming.  The more you do it, the better things flow.  When you stop and think too long, you just mess it all up. 

What would I have said?  I think I would have started with the “I apologize for the interruption, could not help overhearing a discussion on Twitter and social media, perhaps I could contribute a few thoughts.”  Now that I read that, it sounds pretentious and may have landed a nice stiff armed “thanks but no thanks”.  It may have been appreciated, or I may have come across as some nosy dude who can’t keep to himself.

Are there rules?  Guidelines?  When you go to conferences and seminars, you get to jump into these conversations all the time.  It’s expected.  Of course, the purpose of those events is networking.  The purpose of sitting down for coffee and a bagel is sometimes hunger, sometimes just discussion.  If a conversation could use some help, and you’re not trying to sell anything (or even if you eventually could), what is the protocol for injecting your comments?  What would you do?

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2 Responses to “when is eavesdropping okay”

  1. Toi Says:

    Lost opp, A-Man. I would have butted in. Right setting. Decent vibe. Stop being so PC.

  2. Pam Colosimo Says:

    Since you had something worthy to contribute, I think you definitely could have joined the conversation and it would have been totally appropriate. I just started blogging myself, so I usually click through on FB when you post a link. I agree with you on writing (“The more you do it, the better things flows…”). Hope all is well! -Pam (Feliciano)

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