It’s Valentine’s Day, and at Ask a Manager, that means a full day of questions about workplace romance, as well as our speciality: creepy, inappropriate coworker behavior. Here’s the first one (of six!).
A reader writes:
How does one deal with a coworker who you suspect has a crush on you? I won’t detail all of the reasons why, but he will stare intently at me when we pass in the hallway, and he’s said a couple of not-very-appropriate-for-work things to me. Looking back, I realize I should have called him out on the inappropriate remarks, but I was fairly surprised and couldn’t really think how to react in the moment.
I’m married, so I feel it should go without saying that I am Not Interested. I know in the past you’ve advised the direct approach, but it seems like it shouldn’t be necessary for me to march into his office and declare that I have no intention of cheating on my spouse in general or with him in particular. Other than keeping my distance while still being professional, is there anything else I can do?
Well, it’s hard to give a perfect answer without knowing a bit more about what he’s doing, but unless he asks you out or makes some kind of pass at you, it doesn’t sound like there’s a need to directly confront him. Instead, the most graceful way to handle it is to simply set and maintain very clear professional boundaries, making more of a point to do that than you might with a friendly coworker otherwise. There’s no need to announce, “Bob, I am not interested in you, so stop it with the soulful looks.” You can simply maintain appropriate boundaries.
But you should address the inappropriate remarks if they happen again. It’s sometimes hard to do this in the moment if you’re not prepared for it, so you want to have a couple of phrases ready to use. For instance: “That’s inappropriate.” “Hey, I’m not comfortable with that.” “Please don’t say that to me.” “What do you mean by that?”
If it gets to the point where it’s really making you uncomfortable, you might handle it differently — but you don’t mention that that’s the case, so I’m assuming it’s no more than the “I’m the object of a colleague’s crush” discomfort.