Q&A: Dealing with the office prairie dog

Office prairie dogs don’t care whether you're on the phone or focusing on a complex report – you’re guaranteed to see their heads poking above your pod.

You might not be familiar with the term, but odds are there’s at least one prairie dog hovering around your work space. You know who we’re talking about — the guy or gal who hears something distracting and pops his or her head over your cubicle wall the way a prairie dog pops its head out of its hole. One dictionary defines the phenomenon as, “The practice of looking over the wall of an office cubicle to observe coworkers.” These folks don’t care whether you’re on the phone, chatting with a colleague or focusing on a complex report — if they catch wind of the slightest sound, you’re guaranteed to see their heads poking up above your pod.

Nina Durante, an etiquette expert in Vancouver, says the only way to deal with a prairie dog is to speak with him or her, but do it discreetly. “Make it a conversation between the two of you. Better to speak directly to the person than talk about it with everyone in the lunchroom,” she says. Explain that the way he or she pops up over your shared wall is distracting and throws you off your game — especially when you’re speaking with a client or colleague. “If that doesn’t work,” says Durante, “speak to your manager, as it’s affecting productivity.”