A reader writes:
I work for a very large company which encourages healthy living in a positive manner: they have an on-campus gym, the kitchens are stocked with healthy foods, and bosses are understanding about doctor visits. I’m a competitive and successful bodybuilder, so I think this atmosphere is an amazing support for what I do. Until recently, that is.
A bit of necessary backstory on me: I know that bodybuilding is a rather extreme sport, and I know that being 6’2” and very muscular can be intimidating. I always go out of my way to be very polite and helpful to people because my appearance can be imposing. I pride myself on being approachable and kind. At the same time, I don’t ever talk about my diet or training because it is quite intense compared to most people’s lifestyles, and most people don’t care other than out of a passing curiosity.
Now for the issue: the company hired a registered dietitian to work with people who wanted some help with their diets. I politely declined the initial offer over email. Then I happened to run into the dietitian in person. She immediately insisted upon my meeting with her which I still declined. Even so, she’s taken it upon herself to stick her nose into my life and demand that she plan my diet, going so far as to email me a weekly meal plan that I didn’t ask for and demand I track my eating and progress and report to her. She’ll also find me during lunch time and examine my meal, giving off unwanted advice right then and there.
I don’t want to insult this woman, but frankly, I’m far, FAR more knowledgeable than her when it comes to my diet. While this woman is a registered dietitian, she is in no way qualified to handle an athlete’s diet, much less a professional, competitive athlete. I require a very strict, complex, and evolving diet, and the meal plan she sent me was not even close to being appropriate for me. So far, all I’ve told her is that I appreciate her input, but my diet is sound and I don’t need any help. Despite this, her harassment is getting worse and more frequent and I don’t know what I can tell her to leave me alone. HR has been of no use, and my boss is stumped, as she ignores him too. What do you suggest?
When someone doesn’t respond to a polite “no, thank you” and keeps pushing instead, the next step is to get much more direct with them. And that’s what you need to do with this deranged dietician. The next time she hassles you, say this: “I’ve told you clearly that I’m not interested in working with you. Please stop asking.” If she continues, say this: “My diet and health are private issues. Your insistence on discussing them after I’ve told you no is inappropriate and needs to stop.” You can say this in a pleasant tone if it makes you feel better, but the key is to be assertive and really direct. Repeat as needed.
And while you may feel rude saying this, she’s the rude one. You attempted to handle her politely, but she’s forcing you to be more direct because of her rudeness and boundary-crossing. And while you’re thoughtful and considerate to go out of your way not to be physically intimidating to people, that doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate boundary-violators.
However, if you really don’t want to use this approach, you can simply ignore her. She can’t make you talk with her. But I hope you’ll tell her to back off, because it’s warranted.
Frankly, you also need to go back to HR and tell them that they need to rein her in. I wonder how clear you were with them the first time — did you spell out how inappropriate she’s been or were you vague? If in the interests of being diplomatic, you weren’t fully direct, it’s time to get more explicit. Point out that having someone trying to force employees to discuss private health matters is inappropriate for the workplace and is creating an uncomfortable environment.
Also: What is wrong with people?! This is obnoxious and bizarre.
You can read an update to this post here.