A reader writes:
I have a coworker (a man) who stares at me (a woman) from across the room in office meetings, regardless of where we’re sitting in the room. Sometimes, he even turns around to look at me (for instance, acting like he is tying his shoe but then staring at me while turned). I read your advice about dealing with staring, but it seemed to assume that the employee could address the coworker in the minute it was happening. During an office meeting, I can’t. Apart from ignoring his stares and limiting my contact with him to what is necessary for work, is there anything I can do to get him to stop? I would prefer not to make a complaint to management; I just want him to stop.
Go up to him right after the meeting ends and say something like, “I noticed you kept looking at me in the meeting. What’s up?” He’ll probably deny it, at which point you can remain matter of fact and say something like, “Yep. You kept looking at me. It made me uncomfortable, actually.”
The point here is not that you expect him to have a constructive answer, but to put him on notice that you’re going to call him out on doing it, which makes it fairly likely that he might stop.
But if he doesn’t, then you need to decide whether you’re willing to ignore it or whether you want to talk to your manager.
I would not talk to your manager about it if your vibe is that he’s just socially awkward and maybe doesn’t even realize he’s doing it — that’s the kind of thing that doesn’t rise to the manager intervention level and is just annoying. But if you’re getting a sexual harassment-y, creepy vibe, I do think you should talk to your manager.
If that’s the case, I’d say something like this: “Hey, I feel weird bringing this up, but it’s making me uncomfortable enough that I feel like I should talk to you. Bob is doing this aggressive staring thing with me in meetings, even going out of his way to turn his head and stare at me, and it feels creepy, frankly. If it seemed like basic social awkwardness, I’d let it go, but that’s not what it feels like. I’ve asked him directly to stop, and he hasn’t, and I’m at a loss about what to do from here.”
I know you wrote that you don’t want to have to talk to your management about this, but if telling him to knock it off doesn’t work, it’s really the only remaining option if you want to get him to stop. And if it’s a sexual harassment-y kind of thing, it really is appropriate to speak up and you shouldn’t feel weird about that.