the clingy coworker — and the return of the Ask a Manager podcast

The Ask a Manager podcast is back from hiatus … and I’m excited to announce that the show is now a part of the HowStuffWorks family (meaning they are producing and distributing the show).

This week on the show, I talk to a guest whose coworker wants a more intense friendship than she does. We talked about how to distance yourself from someone without seeming exclusionary, why setting boundaries is a two-step process, how to rewire a friendship, and more. The show is 25 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

If you want to ask your own question on the show, email it to podcast@askamanager.org.

And if you like the show, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

{ 77 comments… read them below }

  1. LSP

    That is fantastic! How Stuff Works is wonderful! All their podcasts are just stellar, and AAM seems like a very logical addition. Congrats!

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Thank you! I’m so excited to be working with them, and they’ve been wonderful.

      (The sound quality is also now way better, thanks to them!)

    2. Antilles

      I’d echo this; How Stuff Works produces several of my favorite weekly podcasts; if anybody out there is looking for some new podcasts to add to their weekly mix (in addition to the return of AAM), I’d absolutely recommend going through their family of podcasts.

    3. Goya de la Mancha

      ditto this! Most of the podcasts I subscribe to (like all but 3) are affiliated with HowStuffWorks.
      Congrats AAM!

    4. mediumofballpoint

      Congrats! I’m glad you’ve found a way to keep the podcast but make it a little easier on yourself. And it’s lovely to listen to you. :)

  2. That would be a good band name

    I listen with google play and there doesn’t seem to be a way to rate podcasts through that. Does anyone have a (free) app that works with android that will let me leave a rating?

      1. Elaine

        Thank you for providing a transcript. I’ve learned so much from your website and am delighted to get more. But it takes too long to listen rather than read. I’m happy to wait a week!

      2. Yvette

        Will there be a category on the side bar for radio/podcast transcripts? Like the one for Updates? Or is there one already and I am overlooking it?

      3. valentine

        Alison, can you skip a week and publish the transcript simultaneously so those who need it can better participate in the discussion?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          There are logistical issues that would make that hard to do consistently, but also — I’m doing the podcast in addition to the blog so that I can give advice and content in a different medium and format, and I suspect that doing transcripts as regular posts at the exact same time would water down the value of the podcast — and I would much rather people listen than read them, since that’s the point! (But I do want to offer the transcripts later to make them accessible to people who can’t listen.)

          1. Loz

            Interesting perspective. Isn’t the value in the content rather than the medium? Can you elaborate on what the value of a podcast (rather than the message) is?
            I realise some people like them while driving but many of us won’t listen because it’s not efficient.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I think the medium has its own distinct characteristics. Listening to audio is a different experience, and can reveal different things, than reading text. Otherwise I would just have email exchanges with callers and print those instead. But if not everyone is up for listening to them (and I assume not everyone will be), that’s totally okay! They will skip these.

              I do think transcripts are good to offer for people with accessibility issues though (which is why I’m paying to provide them) but ultimately the podcast is the primary thing I want to drive people to with these posts.

              1. NCKat

                As I have multiple disabilities, including deafness, I truly appreciate these transcripts. Thank you, Allison!

            2. Jennifer Thneed

              I can read while I knit, but only simple knitting. I like to knit while I listen to things.

            3. MakesThings

              Blind people appreciate podcasts. People with reading issues/learning disabilities appreciate podcasts. As mentioned, craftsmen and artists appreciate podcasts. People whose only free time is during their commute appreciate podcasts.
              Alison already publishes BY FAR the most web content out of any advice givers that I know of. We have enough comments to read and engage with.
              It’s ok that this one little thing is going to be a bit different.

  3. LSP

    I have known a lot of people who at first blush would be described as “nice,” but when you dig a little below the surface, the person is incredibly self-centered and manipulative, which sounds like this guy to a “T.” This guy doesn’t seem to care about OP, and that she is just an easy mark for him to talk at, and any time she pulls back, he jumps down her throat. I honestly wouldn’t bother to maintain any level of friendship, but would just try to get to a friendly, professional relationship.

    1. JB (not in Houston)

      I was coming here to say this. The LW describes this guy as being really nice, but given his reaction to her telling him that he talked over her, I don’t think he’s so nice.

      1. Antilles

        +1
        That jumped out at me too – she said that she’s tried to set boundaries a couple times and he’s pushed past them. Like, that’s not the actions of a nice person.

        1. Specialk9

          I feel like “nice” is such a muddled term anyway that it’s not actually very descriptive. A good test of whether someone is really nice is to substitute “kind, respectful, and thoughtful”. Does it work? If not, they’re not nice, they just SEEM or are trying to project that they’re nice.

          1. Still Here

            Yes! Think about what advice you might give if this guy were OP’s controlling, manipulative, “nice” boyfriend. Alison did give good advice (the problem really is that OP needs to push back, which can be hard to do). But I really think OP should stop caring about this guys feelings and perceptions — he seems to be only interested in himself, not others.

    2. Myrin

      Yeah, I was actually really taken aback by the majority of what OP told Alison/us about this guy. Now granted, she knows him and we don’t – when talking to an advice columnist, she is obviously going to focus primarily on what bothers her and not talk about the thirty other times that day he was helpful, kind, and warmhearted. But, IDK, I’m having a hard time imagining these hypothetical thirty times with someone who behaves like this even once, let alone daily, although I reckognise that might be unfair.

    3. myswtghst

      Oh yes, this. The more OP talked about this guy, the more I kept thinking “this dude is not nice.” I think sometimes we get it in our head that someone is nice and it creates a kind of block that prevents us from setting boundaries. But a truly nice person cares about your boundaries, and wants you to be comfortable and happy. This guy doesn’t seem to care one whit about OP’s boundaries, so she shouldn’t feel bad about setting and enforcing them as needed.

    4. Naptime Enthusiast

      Reminds me of a childhood friend. They were “the nicest person ever”, but manipulated everyone to revolve around them, and anyone that didn’t was clearly a terrible person for not liking them. Best decision I made was ending that friendship.

  4. TheNotoriousMCG

    So excited it’s back!! Could tell you were with HowStuffWorks now from the beginning of the show since I’m a binge-listener if Stuff You Missed in History Class and recognized the ad that’s currently been playing back to back to back on there :)

  5. Secretary

    Love this!! Would definitely recommend that LW stop the trash talking too. That will help the LW professionally and it will give him less to talk to her about.

  6. Oilpress

    My suggestion for the writer would be to make lunch with this guy a specific day (or two days if that works better) each week. Get this guy excited that you are reserving time just for him, which will take the focus off of the other days that you are apart. I would even go as far as to send him calendar appointments so that you establish some formality about your lunches.

    I think formalizing the appointments reinforces that you enjoy your lunches with him, even while you are effectively reducing your time together.

    1. Jaydee

      Yes! That was my first thought as well. If his clinginess is related to some level of anxiety/insecurity about the status of their friendship or general social awkwardness, then it would probably help him feel more confident in the friendship if they’ve got a standing Wednesday (or whatever day(s)) lunch date. And that also frees the LW up to pursue other things during the other 3-4 lunches of the week. So she doesn’t have to feel like she has to lie about lunching with another coworker once in a while or spending some lunches just reading or taking a walk or doing other things she wants to do by herself.

    2. Jotpe

      +1!

      I think it might help for LW to think about what her ideal outcome is. Is is “we have lunch 3 days a week and don’t chat outside work”? Or maybe “unlimited IMing and one lunch a week”? It always helps me to think concretely about what I’m working toward, and in this case defining what fraction of your time you want this guy to have could help with the guilt when you prune away the other stuff. Focus your attention on the part of your friendship you do want, and you won’t feel so burdening by turning down the parts you don’t want.

  7. Irish Em

    That guy doesn’t sound like a friend, he sounds like someone who wants an audience and someone to manage all his feelings for him :(

    I had a coworker to whom I once said “Hey, we should go to the cinema some time if we’re both off the same day.” The very next day off we both had I was in the shower and she rang until the phone cut off four times and texted me ten times. I decided that boundaries had been violated and she had to delete my number. I continued on to be civil/friendly when we worked together but we were at-work friends not after-work friends. Best boundary I ever set. This guy sounds like he needs to be an at-work friend not an after-work friend. I hope your scripts and reinforcement of them works, Alison and OP!

    1. The Hop

      That’s why I never even pretend to make dates with people at work. I also would never consider anyone at work worth hanging around in my private time. This is a great example to why people should be wary. You pretend that you are interested in meeting up, change your mind but don’t communicate this by ignoring a text or call. Exactly the reason I never bother with anyone anyway, but I wouldn’t pretend I had an intention to hang out with them I would outright say no.

      1. Rat in the Sugar

        I’m not sure what about Irish Em’s comment makes you think that they were only pretending to want to hang out with their coworker. The fact that they decided they weren’t interested in hanging out after the coworker was obnoxious doesn’t mean they weren’t genuinely interested when they first mentioned the movie at work.

        1. Irish Em

          Thank you. I genuinely liked the girl to hang out with at work, which was why I said I’d see a movie with her some undefined future time. I hadn’t even known that she was off the day the phone went for thirty solid minutes. I had to recharge it! My mother thought there was an emergency! So I decided that I didn’t need that level of intensity from a coworker outside of work. (I subsequently found out she has other issues which may have added up to the clingy intensity but it’s not a reason for me to be always on call for her, or to have my phone in the toilet/shower in case she wanted to get hold of me).

      2. Irish Em

        I. Was. In. The. Shower.
        The shower!
        Over the space of half an hour my phone did not stop buzzing between her letting the phone ring to cut-off multiple times and the ten texts.

        Why must I defend to you, an internet stranger, why setting a boundary with a boundary crossing coworker was a good thing? I suspect from your defensive reaction that you have acted as my coworker did and were hurt by someone enforcing their boundary.

        I said, in good faith, that I’d like to go to a movie with the girl as a friend (both of us female, both uninterested in romantic w/w relationships so please do not infer a romantic date) and she behaved like a stalker. I never pretended that I had an intention to hang out when I didn’t I decided, quite naturally to TAKE A SHOWER. Coworker’s stalkery behaviour worried me and so I enforced a new boundary with her. Tell me again why I’m wrong, The Hop?

        1. The Hop

          No right or wrong just simply commenting your example was a perfect why work friendships are a bad idea.

          1. Rachel Rabbit

            Bit of a funny scenario here I got the impression there was more going on too. Makes sense if the co worker was intense that she would be blown off! I like work friends but only a select few.

            1. Irish Em

              She’s a nice girl but she has some issues to which I am not privy (and nor should I be) which I hadn’t known about at the time I said we should meet up some day if we were both off (retail work tended to eat all our weekends, so a mutual Saturday off was unusual) and she had a) not told me she was off the same Saturday as me, and b) not said she wanted to see a movie in the morning. Typically I’d go to the cinema after 5pm, my phone was ringing and buzzing nonstop from 10-10.30am while I quite reasonably, I thought, took a shower and washed my hair.

          2. Irish Em

            You told me: “You pretend that you are interested in meeting up, change your mind but don’t communicate this by ignoring a text or call. Exactly the reason I never bother with anyone anyway, but I wouldn’t pretend I had an intention to hang out with them I would outright say no.”.

            I didn’t pretend anything. I’d happily go to the cinema with pretty much anyone, whether I knew them since childhood or only through work. And I would like to point out that I have made deep and lasting friendships through that job that have continued in the years since leaving it. How would you react to literally anyone blowing your phone up for thirty solid minutes based on “we should go to the movies sometime”, coworker or not?

            I didn’t think going to the cinema was a Huge Big deal, but it seems you do? I really feel like my genuine friendly overture has been taken by you as a hallmark of something very far from what it was. So please, explain to me why my making a good-faith suggestion to maybe see a movie some time was the problem and not my coworker.

          3. Ceiswyn

            Nothing in that example has anything to do with ‘work friendships’ as a general class.

            It’s actually an example of why being a creepy stalker results in people not wanting to hang out with you outside work. And if you think that calling four times and sending ten texts in the space of half an hour is a reasonable thing to do to someone who said they might be interested in hanging out sometime, then you may want to take a step back and ask yourself whether you are also violating social norms.

    2. Whisper

      That’s downright creepy I can’t believe how many times that girl tried to call you. I had someone who acted similar and I didn’t know what to do except keep away from them at work. Stay strong girl!

      1. Irish Em

        I’ve long since left that job, but because it was a retail job I still see her from time to time. And she’s perfectly nice and normal to chat with, but that level of intensity stayed with me, so I keep her at a smiling arm’s length.

  8. Llama Grooming Coordinator

    I don’t know if it’s because of the stalker letter (like, I was legitimately angry that the LW felt so threatened that she is going to CHANGE HER NAME), but…my impression of the clingy coworker is that he’s a Nice Guy.

    Seriously, he sounds like a jerk – he might be outwardly sweet, but he thinks his time and his feelings are way more important than the caller’s. She’s feeling guilty about not liking a jerk (to use site-appropriate language), and…like, she shouldn’t have any shame about telling him to buzz off and never speak to her again.

    (I mean, I GET why. It’s just that apparently it’s Terrible Men Week on AAM and I’m just angry at her coworker on her behalf.)

  9. Foreign Octopus

    Alison, I loved this podcast! It was really interesting to hear that she’d already tried to set boundaries and the extra information that often gets missed in the main letter. Thanks so much for this (and for everything you do here – AAM really brightens my day).

  10. Cruciatus

    This guy sucks and it’s getting worse the more I listen. He sounds manipulative and overly defensive. As Alison said, if he gets upset about not going to lunch (or whatever) then he isn’t a nice guy at all. The caller said something like “I’ve had a nice break because he’s had lunch meetings…” Do you really want to go back to lunches at all with him? Or did you just feel free? I know it’s easier said than done, but I think it’s time to stop worrying so much about his feelings and lay down your boundaries and worry about your own and, while it’ll be awkward at first, I think over time when you claim your time back to yourself you’ll be so glad you did! Good luck!

    1. Yippy

      I agree, well said! Who wants to go to lunch with someone so draining. I bet work is stressful enough as it is without adding this drama in the mix!

  11. Detective Amy Santiago

    So excited for the return of the podcast! I’ve become a podcast addict since starting my new job.

    I definitely got the vibe that the OP was falling into the whole ‘women must be polite’ socialization trap with this guy and I think Alison’s advice was very good. And if he doesn’t react well, then yeah, he’s not as nice as you think he is.

  12. The Tin Man

    Ahhh this does not sound like a nice person. As Myrin said there is a bit of selection bias in what we heard about him but still. One of the things that really got me was him saying “You work hard, you deserve a break! And I have something I need to vent about.” Listening to someone vent, especially about work, IS NOT A BREAK FROM WORK.

    I have had a coworker in the past who was always venting. I had to shut it down when she would call me while I was not working (shift work) to vent about things. There was a lot of me saying “What do you need?” and he would often realize that the venting could wait until the next day when our shifts overlapped. I had to try very hard to rebuff this so that I could actually be away from work when not at work.

    This call made me think of her a lot. So many other clingy things like
    -Asking for a ride home one day then basically expecting it other days. It was not too far but in the opposite direction of my home.
    -Sending texts that sound super urgent but vague. I learned to get clarification before calling (I was assistant manager so I did have to deal with some things).
    -Oversharing about personal things VERY early in us knowing each other
    -Calling me her “best friend”. At all. I may know you from your oversharing but you barely know me dude.

    I learned a lot about setting boundaries in that job. She was eventually let go and, outside of a couple of texts after that went down, I have heard nothing from him. Sometimes I think of her and hope that he finds the help she needs and learns some professional norms.

    1. The Tin Man

      And for old time’s sake I looked at my old text messages and saw how over everything I was getting. For context, CW worked 6a-2p, I worked 2p-10p, and GM worked 10a-7p.

      [9:43AM] CW: Can u call pls. Thanks
      Me: What is it? I need at least an idea of what it was about.
      CW: Wrk related but [GM] can handle it when he shows up. Theres a few mistakes dk if u would remember from memory
      Me: On unimportant things like [what she had a question about] that is not something to call about. That did not need an answer before [GM] or even I got in.

  13. epi

    This is all great advice. It often helps me to think just as Alison said– it is actually kinder to set boundaries with people. The alternative is agreeing to things you know at the outset you probably don’t want, and resenting the person for it even though they couldn’t know they needed to change their behavior. I think of it as setting the other person to be the best friend they can be. And speaking as an anxious person, a) we tend to be avoidant, rather than pushy; b) it is particularly kind to let us know when we are being weird, because the next person’s reaction might not be as tactful yours.

    Also, I don’t want to scare the LW, but this is exactly how my stalker started out. It’s really not OK to demand another person’s instant attention for non-emergencies, question them about where they are/what they’re doing, or manipulate them into conversations or encounters to which they already said no. It can be thoughtful to do unexpected favors for people, but it can also be manipulative. I think it could be a serious warning sign that the LW does not seem to look forward to work or to lunch time, and that they need to rant to their boyfriend about this guy. To me it sounds like they do not really like him, but are having trouble admitting that because they used to like him, and because he is “nice”. What would happen if the LW accepted that sometimes we don’t like even very nice people, and reevaluated whether they are still enjoying *any* of these interactions?

    I would actually try saying one, more direct, “no” to each of these interactions without giving an excuse or explanation or confirming another date. What does this guy do if the LW says, “Sorry, I can’t today. Another time?” Any time I’ve just needed a break from someone who was truly a decent person but missing my signals, I had to be more blunt with them than I wanted to be but they did ultimately respect that “no”. My stalker refused to leave my office, came back later with a prop to show me to manipulate me into talking, and said “don’t run away from me”. Not respecting “no” is a huge red flag. Hopefully the LW can try saying “no” and think of it as giving this person a chance to show he’s a decent guy.

    1. Girl friday

      Well first, stalking has nothing to do with friendship or attraction or interest. It’s just someone with poor social skills who wants to control someone and sees an opportunity. If it weren’t couched in flowery acceptable terms, it would be a lot better for people. Secondly, I really like how you say that giving people boundaries is allowing them to be their best- believing they could do better. I do think people need a map sometimes to become their best selves. Being able to say things kindly but firmly is a great skill to have.

  14. Violaine

    The sound quality is definitely better, but I really liked the theme song in the old version. Kinda sad to see it go. Ahh well.

  15. Teapot librarian

    I was listening to the most recent Ask a Clean Person yesterday and Jolie said that you’ll be coming back on her show, too, so I’m super excited about that as well!

    1. hayling

      Another Cleancast fan here, love the crossover. I also loved that Lizzie O’Leary has had Alison on Marketplace Weekend and she has also been on AACP!

  16. ragazza

    The coworker sounds like an energy vampire. These people demand your attention and engagement, draining your energy. Sometimes our conscious brains don’t catch on to what our bodies are telling us. The LW also sounds like she is an introvert and needs time alone to recover from engaging with others at work. Be vigilant about those boundaries!

  17. Liz

    I have some feedback on the new podcast format.

    Although I’ve loved listening, 3 ads was just too much for me. (One at the beginning before it started, one shortly after it started and one about halfway through.) I don’t mind an ad before and/or after, but 2 in the middle of the show was incredibly intrusive and annoying for a short program. I turned it off and went back to TED talks. Sorry, Alison.

  18. jo

    Oh, OP! I’m sorry! I want to say, I don’t think this man is as nice as you think he is. It sounds like he uses “niceness,” thoughtfulness, and unsolicited favors as a way to control people–but he’s not truly *kind*. (My mother-in-law is like this, and she’s got a lot of people fooled, and it doesn’t make those people’s lives feel any nicer.) He’s definitely controlling you and your time more than a true friend should. When I think of my kindest and most thoughtful friends who sincerely care about me, and I imagine telling them, “I’m going to go take this time alone because it helps me recharge,” I know they would cheerfully accommodate me even if they felt disappointed on the inside. You are afraid to say anything like that to this person. That doesn’t say anything good about his level of kindness.

    I say this because I think maybe you need to hear and believe it in order to give yourself permission to disconnect. It sounds like you feel guilty or nervous asking for what you need because you’re framing HIS needs, as a “nice” man, as more important than your own. (Don’t you think YOU’RE a decent person? Don’t you matter, too?) Try setting boundaries and see how he responds. If he’s nice about it (either right away or after he’s had a brief moment to adjust), that might go a long way in restoring your goodwill toward him, which will feel better to you. If he’s not nice about it, you can take that as additional justification for pulling away–which might not help with the awkwardness, but it could give you some inner peace about your own actions.

  19. Carlie

    Thank you! The previous feeds did not play well with my podcast catcher, so I’m hoping this new one will (I have other podcasts hosted by How Stuff Works, so it should).

  20. cosmicgorilla

    I had issues with the idea of telling lies about a book club rather than saying “I made other lunch plans today” or “I’m eating by myself today.” “Oh, I’ll just come keep you company.” “Not today.” If he persists “Please don’t intrude on my personal time.” This guy needs a direct, consistent message, not all this sneaking around and game playing.

    1. somebody blonde

      Honestly, I think this letter writer has not yet developed the spine to say your messages. A new book club is the kind of lie that is incredibly hard for him to disprove, which is why it might work for her. There’s no way she’s willing to say the things you recommend because she’ll feel like a jerk.

  21. Khlovia

    OP, I very strongly and urgently and earnestly and passionately want you to google “Nice Guy (TM)”. Be sure to include the “(TM)” in the search field.

    Your Nice Guy is going to check off a lot of boxes on the sites that come up.

    You are his vending machine. All he has to do is put a couple of small favors into your day, and you are required to dispense your lunch break. He believes he owns and controls and has total rights to FIVE HOURS OF YOUR WEEK. During which he is going to talk at you the entire time, whether it’s a topic of value to you or not, because your interests, your entertainment, your preferences, your feelings, do not matter at all. What he has to say is worthwhile. What you have to say is not.

    Do not be distressed by the thought of hurting the poor fellow’s feelings. You are not the first sucker he has conned, nor will you be the last. In his opinion, women owe him attention. All women. Therefore they are interchangeable. Therefore, while losing you as the official source of the female attention he is rightfully due will inconvenience him and outrage him temporarily, he will get over it as soon as he manages to acquire a new source.

    However, sometimes people will bash a vending machine that doesn’t dispense the candy bar, so proceed with caution.

  22. Julie

    I rarely post comments online but I felt so uncomfortable and concerned for the caller I had to chime in. This feels wrong on so many levels. I suspect her co-worker is romantically interested in her, potential “stalker” behavior. The caller knows deep down that he will have a strong reaction to any suggestion of less contact. Red flags I heard are his reaction to her calling his “talking over” behavior and how many times she kept defending him as nice. Please caller, run don’t walk from this relationship.

  23. Belle8bete

    I have a different perspective on this friend.

    It sounds like the trio dynamic was working out well, and they were bonded by a dislike of their supervisor.

    I think folks are being really harsh on this guy—he sounds frustrating and socially inept, and though you don’t have to be friends with him, the LW is, and clearly found value in the conversation. The stalker implication seems way off base with the information given. She’s not put down firm consistent boundaries so he hasn’t changed his behavior—no stalking indications in that.

    I felt like the LW kind of shifted a lot on things like “I just want to eat alone I mean I ate with others and lied about it but I feel realllly bad”. That’s middle school grade nonsense. You need to be compassionate but firm, kind but clear. You need to suck it up and deal with the fact this will be hard for him because it is! Right now you are acting in a way that isn’t how you feel and frankly it’s not kind to yourself but also not kind to him!

    You may also try language like “I don’t like it when you keep pushing me to have lunch with you after I have said I can’t go. I’m happy to have lunch with you, but sometimes I am going to have other plans. Please stop pushing me after I’ve said this.” Use a calm tone, and I wouldn’t suggest adding extra emotions. Don’t say “I feel stressed when you do this” or “I feel annoyed when you do that” because that will put you down an unneeded rabbit hole. Say “I don’t like it, please don’t do that. I’m going to do x y z at lunch. We can have lunch on blah day if you want!”

  24. Belle8bete

    Ps he could be a stalker, I just don’t think there’s enough info to reasonably jump to that conclusion. There are many non stalkers who are clingy people /socially inept/lonely people.

    However putting down firm boundaries ( “I’m sorry that you feel annoyed at supervisor, but I can’t do lunch today” ) should quickly show if it gets past annoying and into creepy

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