Sunday, May 14, 2023

Should you tell a friend if you overhear a personal conversation with his Lyft driver?

I suppose it’s human nature to be curious. But is there a line where one’s respect for someone else’s privacy trumps that natural curiosity?

A reader we’re calling J.K. received a call from an old friend recently. The friend had called while he was being driven by a Lyft driver to a destination in a town to which he had just moved. J.K. happened to be walking outside when his friend called. It was a good conversation, J.K. recalled, though occasionally the street traffic on J.K.’s walk made it challenging to hear.

His friend filled him in on his new job in the new town. As the conversation wrapped up, the friend said goodbye. At first J.K. wrote that he couldn’t hear that his friend was signing off so he kept his phone to his ear. Quickly, however, it became clear his friend was no longer talking to him but had neglected to disconnect the call and was speaking to his Lyft driver.

I do not know if Lyft drivers have taken their place alongside barbers or bartenders, who historically have been perceived as receptacles of stories from random people who confide in them. I also don’t know why some people have felt comfortable sharing personal stories with barbers and bartenders and now Lyft drivers — stories whose details they might never share with those close to them. But they do. And it was clear J.K.’s friend was entering into such a conversation with his Lyft driver.

“He was telling his driver about his former job and why he had left,” wrote J.K. “They were details I had never heard.” J.K. listened for a while but grew uncomfortable that his friend didn’t know he could hear them.

“I disconnected the call,” wrote J.K., “but I heard enough that I’m concerned.” Now, J.K. wants to know if he should say something to his friend or just pretend the event never happened and wait for his friend to bring up his past job experience if he wants to talk about it.

Ideally, J.K. would have disconnected the call as soon as he realized his friend didn’t believe they were still on the call. He could have shouted into the phone that he could still hear him, but it’s likely his friend wouldn’t have heard him. The simpler thing perhaps would be to say nothing and pretend he didn’t overhear anything.

But since he did hear him, the right thing, I believe, is to let his friend know he heard the beginning of his friend’s conversation with his Lyft driver because he didn’t know they were finished talking. He doesn’t need to go into detail about what he heard — which J.K. wrote wasn’t much — but he can let his friend know he heard him. He can leave it to his friend to decide if he wants to talk about what happened at his former job. If the friend doesn’t want to talk about it, J.K. should let it go.

J.K.’s friend may be upset when he’s told about the call, but he also might appreciate J.K.’s honesty. There’s no guarantee the response will go one way or the other, but the right thing is for J.K. to be honest and do what he would hope his friend would have done for him had the situation been reversed.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin


No comments: