Since I'm based in Seattle, many of my consulting projects are with organizations based here in Seattle.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a day of strategy development meetings with one of my top clients downtown. Returning from lunch early, I grabbed a coffee and went through e-mails in the lobby. Immediately next to me were two people having a work conversation that never should have taken place in a public space.
Long story short... An employee was meeting with an HR leader to discuss inappropriate things that happened in a skip-level meeting (a meeting in which an employee meets with their manager's manager).
Because I am your HR doctor (*grin*), a few things I want to ensure you know:
1) Never initiate a work conversation that pertains to anything confidential in a public place. Ever. Just because you caught a busy person "with a free moment" doesn't mean you can have a sensitive conversation in public that should be occuring in a private setting.
2) Similarly, if approached, don't be caught off guard and enter into such a conversation. Find a 100% private location or schedule a time when you can meet in a 100% private location. Demand this even if the person is senior to you.
3) By "conversation" I mean not only personal things that pertain to your employment, but also any topics that can be tied to anything of a confidential nature (client information, NDA-related matters, etc.).
I'm bothered to know that an HR leader would think that a lobby is a satisfactory location for such a conversation. Just because you may see similar behavior modeled in your organization, that doesn't mean it's okay. Courteously state that you'd be more comfortable discussing said topic in a private location.
Workplaces are getting increasingly fast paced. Each day, slow down and remain grounded enough to do the right thing – to model professional, respectful behavior and to expect it from others.