A reader writes:
I joined my current company about 2 months ago, so am still pretty new and don’t want to rock the boat with what might be a completely inappropriate question, but I’m not sure how to handle this situation.
I work in a large, open-plan office of around 80 people. My job is in client services, so I work on several different client teams, with each team being made up of a different group of people. On two of my teams I work with a man who joined the company about a month ago. He’s around my age (early 30s), and like me is married. At first, I thought he seemed nice and easy to work with, and while he has done nothing to contradict that initial impression, over the past three weeks, since we started working more closely together on a project, I have found myself feeling incredibly uncomfortable and uneasy around him.
I’ve very rarely, if ever, reacted to someone like this. I am friendly and easy-going and have never had problems with colleagues in any previous job, but my intuition, for whatever reason, seems to be sounding the alarm this time. I’ve read The Gift of Fear and trust my intuition, but this man honestly has not done anything that I can think of to warrant this feeling, other than speaking to me a bit too familiarly for someone I just met and staring at me a little too often (our desks are in a position where we can see each other). I’d talk to HR about this, but again, I don’t have any concrete examples to report, and I’m new and don’t want to get a reputation as someone who causes needless problems.
Any thoughts or advice would be much appreciated. At this point, I’m continuing with business as usual and treating him like all my other colleagues, since we do have to work together (and since by title, he is my superior). Is there anything else I can do besides keeping him at arms length and making sure I don’t end up alone with him in a conference room or something? Or, if I am being ridiculous, anything I can do to move past this so I don’t get nervous when I have to interact with him?
Keeping him at arms length and ensuring you don’t end up alone with him sounds right to me.
I agree there’s nothing you could take to HR at this point. You can’t really report a vague creepy feeling. But you do have that vague creepy feeling, and you should trust it.
As for being nervous when you interact with him, it might help to remember that he’s highly unlikely to do anything terrible during normal work interactions. And if he does cross a line, you’ll have something to report. In the meantime, you might feel better if you familiarize yourself with your company’s harassment policy so that you’re clear on what steps you’ll take if indeed he does do something that violates it.
And as for the staring, if you’re inclined, you might call him on it (see this post on staring for ideas that could potentially be applied here). If he’s a garden variety lech, calling him out on the staring might put a stop to that, at least.