my coworker is creeping me out, but I don’t know why

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.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 235 comments… read them below }

  1. american_banshee*

    I, like the OP, have a similar situation, except the person who gives me “that creepy feeling” is a volunteer (I work in a large, member-driven non-profit and we have quite a few volunteers in the building, most of them older men). This volunteer is leading up some archival project on our organization’s history. In my position as the organization’s news person, I have come in contact with him quite a few times and he definitely freaks me out, but I have no idea why. The hair on the back of my neck stands up and I get what look to be hives. I explained this to my supervisor and now my supervisor acts as a go-between to this person. It has saved my sanity and not once did my supervisor question my feelings.

    1. Ivy*

      You are lucky that your supervisor is understanding. I don’t know if that would work with OP considering the fact that the creeper (as he shall now be known) is at the level of a supervisor and he is a full time employee. I agree with what OP is doing and with what Alison said. Especially since OP has only been at the company for 2 months, she has a high chance of getting a stigma if she brings up the creepy vibes (I also assume that the creeper has been at the company for longer and probably has a lot of connections within the organization).

      OP I’m not saying not to trust your gut instinct, but I think you’d be a lot better moving on and not thinking about it. I still wouldn’t go out with him, but I think it is pretty unlikely that he would do anything at the office. Just keep in mind that some people give off creepy vibes without meaning to and without having creepy thoughts. As for the staring, if he sits right across from you I wouldn’t think its a big deal. I stare at the people in front of me all the time while I’m thinking (don’t ask me why, I don’t even notice I’m doing it). Now it would be a different story if he has to turn all the way around to do that.

      1. Two-cents*

        The OP indicated she’s been at the company longer than the creeper, she for 2 months and the creeper one month. And OP didn’t indicate that the creeper is a supervisor, just someone at a higher level, which may or may not be a supervisory position. Good point about whether he might be staring into space vs. staring at the OP. I’ve done that and also been creeped out when I noticed someone else staring in my direction; it still feels creepy!

        1. Ivy*

          Woops… that one month thing totally slipped me (I kind of assumed because when you’ve only been somewhere for 2 months I feel like you generally the newest). I agree that he may not be in a supervisory position, but someone higher in the food chain is still higher in the food chain :P

  2. K.*

    I sit on a board with someone like this. He spoke to me pretty familiarly when I first joined, which I squashed with comments like “You don’t need to worry about that,” and was also a little leery (would talk about my “radiant smile” and the like. He’s married, I’m not, and he’s 20-25 years older than I). He walked right up against my “you’re a creep” line without going over it, so it was hard to voice exactly why he made me uncomfortable.

    As I’ve gotten to know him, I’ve learned that I just don’t like him (I find him self-important and condescending – he takes four paragraphs to say what could be stated in two sentences), so keeping him at arm’s length has been easy, and it’s helped. Setting boundaries has been crucial. I second Alison’s advice.

    1. Ivy*

      I hate “radiant smile” comments… especially when someone says things like that over and over again. I get it… I have a radiant smile. There’s only so many ways to say thank you before it gets awkward so let’s move on now shall we!

      1. fposte*

        You could talk about how often you get food stuck in the crevices and that time you had a broccoli floret rotting away in there for *days.*

        1. Ivy*

          HAHA! That literally made me lol… Deal with an awkward situation by making it even more awkward! I’ll have to try next time I’m in a similar situation ;P

    2. Anonymous*

      Student, I can relate. My harasser was someone who seemed normal and friendly at first. However, as time went on, he changed because of things in his personal life that he couldn’t deal with. He would come into my office for work-related questions and overstay his welcome, occasionally pausing his question to pick at things on my desk without permission. A sharp look ended the picking, and soon I turned to feigning extreme busy-ness so he wouldn’t stop by. He started with harmless appearance- and work-related compliments, but later took that too far, when he touched my shoulder and saying I should do a certain thing with my appearance so he would “visit” me more.

      After that day, I made sure to talk about my spouse a LOT more than I was already, and bring him around to pick me up, to appear at after-hours social functions he’d typically not attend, etc. This prompted him to send personal e-mails demanding to know why I was being so unfriendly, which alternated with telling me far-too-personal crap. I ignored them, and while initially they came once a month, they eventually dwindled to 3 or 4 times a year, then stopped. It was very stressful to deal with, but worked out in the end.

  3. Job Seeker*

    I’m sorry you are having to deal with this situation. I was in a similar situation (I am a single woman). The man was around 40 years older than me, married, he had money, and he was influential at the company and in the industry. The man touched me inappropriately once when we were in a meeting in his office. I was LIVID and scared. I didn’t know what to do. I prayed and waited for an opportunity to do SOMETHING. This person was also friendly with the CEO (the CEO hired him and I believe that they went golfing together). One time, he even made sexually inappropriate comments around both the CEO and me. The CEO said nothing. (I will acknowledge that the CEO might have said something to him later, but I doubt it. I think that if he’d had any respect for me, he would have addressed it with this man at the time). A few weeks after the “touching” incident, several of us from work went out to eat. At the time, a news story about a famous person (don’t remember who) who was in trouble because he had an affair was being circulated widely. Someone brought up the situation. I mentioned that I would never have an affair. (If you try this, you might want to be sure you don’t come across as being judgmental. I honestly wasn’t trying to judge anyone. I just wanted that man to leave me alone and I didn’t want him to think that his inappropriate comments or touching were appreciated). I was frustrated and not thinking straight. It worked – he left me alone after that.

    1. Job Seeker*

      Sorry – I meant he is around 20 – 25 years older than me. Thinking about that situation still gets me flustered sometimes.

      1. Anonymous*

        At least you addressed the problem and stayed at your job. When I was 22 one of the bosses at a company I worked for made a improper advance. Believe me, I was not a world wise person and so upset. I went to HR and quit. Back then, if I had not been so young and inexperienced I would have handled the whole situation differently. I would by all means trust your instinct.

        1. Job Seeker*

          I hope you’re not regretting your response to the situation too much. We all have our own ways of responding when we are threatened. You are still here, you are safe – and that’s what’s important. That said, I hope you were able to find another position without too much trouble.

    2. fposte*

      Just to be clear, your co-worker broke the law, criminal as well as civil. You would have had every right to call the police on the spot and press charges for a sexual assault as well filing a sexual harassment complaint with your company. I’m so sorry this happened to you.

      Fortunately for the OP, her situation hasn’t gotten to there and, hopefully, won’t.

      1. Job Seeker*

        Thank you so much for your kind, soothing words. I actually considered reporting him to someone. When I left his office, I called one of my best friends (on a cell phone) and told her what had happened. I told her I was thinking of telling one of the senior managers. She asked me a question I am SO grateful that she asked. She asked if I was willing to “follow it through”. In other words, would I be willing to deal with the drama that would likely ensue if I accused this powerful, influential person who does so much for the community (blah, blah, blah) of inappropriate activity? Would I be believed? Just as importantly, would people who believed me question me anyway because they didn’t want to cross him? For me, the answer was absolutely not. I am not recommending that course of action for everyone. There are situations where you need to go to HR, management, the police and other officials for help. I simply did not believe I would get any support from my company.

    3. Sarah Eadie*

      I’m really sorry to hear that you went through that, Job Seeker. Not only did the offending individual make these inappropriate advances in the first place, his position in the company – both socially and officially – caused you to feel unable to speak with a higher up like your CEO. I don’t blame you for feeling flustered, and I’m glad he finally got the picture and backed off. Out of curiosity, are you still with the company?

      Reading your story and other comments on this post, I wonder how companies can structure policy around these issues to maximize individuals’ abilities to make empowered decisions. It sounds like american_banshee had a supervisor who was trusting and open to his/her employees feelings. While acts of individual kindness on the part of supervisors is great, I wonder if there are ways to build that same trust and nonjudgemental guidance into harassment policy.

      Has anyone worked for a company that had a particularly innovative harassment policy or process? Alison, do you have stories of companies like this?

      1. Ivy*

        I don’t know if we’ll ever get that far… simply because there are double standards when it comes to men and women. While people have legitimate concerns (like many on these posts), there are dramatic people out there unfortunately. While I don’t want to work for a company that over looks harassment, I also don’t want to be worried about accidentally catching someones eye in the hallway and then dealing with HR for harassing them (I can definitely see this happening to a man). Dealing with harassment… HR/supervisors should be all over that… but dealing with people you find awkward or creepy… you’re on your own (generally).

        1. Ivy*

          Sorry for not really answering any of your questions… I just wanted to throw in my 2 cents :P

          1. Sarah Eadie*

            No, please don’t apologize! 2 cents is exactly what I’m looking for. I’m asking my question because the topic is an incredibly complex, difficult one to grapple with. Discussing the issues hindering the creation of a good solution only helps to better articulate the underlying problem. We can only build an elegant solution when the exact problem is identified.

            1. fposte*

              Sarah, I think one problem is that ultimately the power differential isn’t really redressable. The power difference between the employer and the law helps, but I think the law is most useful as a deterrent and as a standard of appropriateness. If that’s not enough to keep somebody like Job Seeker’s colleague from doing what he’s doing, the law provides recourse, but it doesn’t shield from risk.

              A lot of my staff are students–grad students, but still students, so we have a particular investment in their welfare and the power differential is particularly acute. I make sure the staff knows that there’s a general interest in their welfare and that if one responsible person–like me–isn’t somebody they’re comfortable talking to or feel they’re being treated seriously by, then they should talk to another one–that no one person is the only one they’re allowed to talk to. But somebody who says that could also fire people for doing exactly that, so they still have to take the risk.

              Obviously this is less of an issue for people who aren’t employed at will, but I’m mostly familiar with actual or functional at-will status.

              1. Sarah Eadie*

                You’re right – the risk is still there. I think that openly encouraging your staff to speak with an individual they’re comfortable with – rather than any single individual – provides them with a sense of comfort and power that it sounds like Job Seeker was denied. While it doesn’t “solve” the power differential (which, I agree, is the fundamental problem), it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Thanks for sharing!

                Thanks for sharing!

        2. fposte*

          I’ve never seen a policy that would get anybody in trouble for catching somebody’s eye, though. Unless they’ve been told to stay in another part of the building and they broke the cordon to catch their stalkee’s eye.

          That doesn’t mean you can keep anybody from making a “He caught my eye! Make him stop!” complaint, but you don’t want to make the mistake of focusing on stopping complaints rather than stopping harassment.

        3. Student*

          Just so you know, false accusations of this type are pretty rare. They happen at about the same rate as false accusations for other violent crimes, like assault, robbery, and murder.

          Yes, it’s terrible when false accusations happen. However, statistically it is a completely overblown, over-hyped fear. It’s like a fear of shark attacks. The truth is, sexual harassment is overwhelmingly something people are likely to get away with and suffer no consequences for, not something people are likely to be falsely accused of. People are much, much more likely to assume that any accusation is false than to assume you are a letch. If you’re skeptical, I strongly encourage you to look up the actual crime statistics.

          In fact, in many environments, anyone who accuses you of sexual harassment (with or without justification) is more likely to be fired than you are.

          1. Ivy*

            I agree that it is unlikely, but it is possible. On a similar strain of things, I had a close relative accused of sexism even though he is the farthest thing from sexist. That wasn’t really the main point of my post though. I was just trying to say that the world is an unbalanced place because of the differences between men and women and the differences in power (as someone else mentioned). I don’t think there will ever be a surefire, perfect harassment policy because of that.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think the key things are that you have a policy that makes it very, very clear what is reportable and unacceptable harassment (so that victims don’t have to wonder if something is reportable), that you train everyone on that policy and how to report problems, and that you train managers on creating a safe environment for people to report it (and on their own obligation to speak up if they witness it). But any policy is going to rely on people speaking up and reporting, and that’s where it gets tricky.

      3. Job Seeker*

        Yes – I am still with the company. Fortunately, I rarely see this person. We no longer work on the same projects. Also, I chose the name “Job Seeker” because I am actively looking for another job. Not because of him – but because my workplace has become increasingly dysfunctional over the years. I want to work in a more mature organization that is managed properly.

  4. Chocolate Teapot*

    I often find gut reaction (or Spidey-Sense if you prefer!) is right. I have encountered one or two inappropriate people who seem to have a higher than normal creepy factor and so I try to avoid them whenever possible. I especially hate the “interrogation” into personal matters.

  5. AD*

    Lots of times people act weird when they start at a new place because they are trying to fit in and going about it all wrong. It’s not just that they are trying too hard, it can also be that they are modeling a familiarity that others show one another without realizing that familiarity took months or years to build up.

    I think you are absolutely right to listen to your gut, and maybe be a bit extra-cautious around this guy, but hopefully you won’t relegate him to a permanent blacklist in the event that he does shape up with time.

    1. Dan*

      I completely agree. It’s important to listen to your gut and be careful, but also don’t “black list” the guy until you have real reason to believe that’s what he deserves.

      I’ve been in his shoes. Years ago, I had a new coworker who acted weird around me, in hindsight, it probably should have been obvious that I needed to give her space. However, I was stupid and did the opposite, I was extra nice and surely made things worse. I wasn’t at that job much longer and found out years later that she thought I was a creep and was relieved when I left because she was on the verge of going to HR. I don’t know what would have come of it, but I can’t imagine it would have been a fun experience for anyone.

      1. Nichole*

        Thanks for your perspective, Dan, it’s not often that you get the other side of this situation.

      2. OP*

        Thanks, Dan, I really appreciate the perspective. This is exactly what I don’t want to do. He most likely is just a nice guy who threw off a few vibes that have had a lingering effect. I don’t want to be his friend or anything, but I certainly don’t want to “black list” him or do anything that would impact his reputation or position in any way, especially since he hasn’t done anything wrong at this point.

  6. Liz*

    Creeps look for signs of weakness, people who seek approval or will put up with discomfort to keep the peace, and people who don’t have allies.

    If you were my little sister, I would tell you to hold tight to your allies and watch for my any signs that he is hurting your reputation or trying to isolate you. If you will be supported by others, he won’t think you’re a good target.

    Fwiw, this standard creep behavior is a lot of why I take gossip about things I haven’t personally observed with a huge grain of salt.

    Good luck!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Excellent advice.

      Also the OP mentions she read “The Gift of Fear” by security expert Gavin de Becker. I recommend anyone, male or female, who hasn’t read it to do so. One of the things he says is that many victims are afraid of being rude to someone who is targeting them, unfortunately not stopping a potential danger in its tracks.

      Sometimes it helps to practice what you would say or do in the event of a situation, so that being prepared and knowing how to react is at the ready if you need it. And of course, know how your company handles this type of thing. As a new employee, you can ask about it without mentioning your feelings about Coworker, if they haven’t given you a handbook.

      1. Anonymous*

        Thanks for providing this helpful insight. Having been both bullied and sexually harassed by several different men on the job, I always felt like my situation was partially my fault. Growing up abused and fitting the profile of a typical workplace bully’s target don’t help. Also, because we didn’t want wedding rings; because I tend to talk about my home-life infrequently out of fear that I’d be taken off the upward track; and because when I first meet people, they think I’m the intern rather than the boss (suit, a conservative professional outfit, or jeans and a cardigan…doesn’t matter), I’ve been extra susceptible to harassment.

        After spending quite a bit of $$ on counseling and self-defense books, I’ve gotten stronger, but regardless, am still not where I need to be. CBT hasn’t worked at all, and while assertiveness training/books have helped some, I’m not always able to execute on the advice because my mind goes blank and I feel like vomiting during the PTSD-induced reactions. I’m considering downgrading to a role where I’m an individual contributor rather than supervisory, and/or look for jobs that allow staff to work from home part of the week, because even when I am successful in combatting it, the stress takes a severe toll, to the point where working exhausts my energy for the day. I envy those who aren’t targeted or who have dealt with this successfully, but can’t seem to generate similar results.

        1. Liz*

          That sounds really hard! Fwiw, a lot of women I know have been harassed on the job, and it didn’t have anything to do with their personal history or assertiveness. Harassers tend to throw around a lot of mud to see what sticks.

          Don’t blame yourself for not being able to be 100% harassment free. And if you’ve been even somewhat successful while suffering from PTSD (I have a lot of military people in my family) then you must be incredibly strong. Kudos to you for hanging in there :)

          1. AMG*

            Thank you for your insights into this topic, Liz. It’s really helping me with some things I am going through at work.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          You have to do what’s best for YOU. Stress can make you very ill. You’re not alone in this, and harassers are the only ones responsible for their behavior. It’s not your fault at ALL.

        1. Mishsmom*

          i bought the book after reading about it on this site – it’s so good and such worthwhile reading!! highly recommended

    2. Dorothy*

      “Creeps look for signs of weakness, people who seek approval or will put up with discomfort to keep the peace, and people who don’t have allies.”
      Wow — this is completely true and makes sense with what I have observed with regard to creeps in my own workplace. (Fortunately, knock on wood, I have not been the creeps’ target).

  7. A Bug!*

    AAM gave some pretty good advice.

    With respect to the staring, if you can’t bring yourself to address it directly, is there something you can do with your desk to place an obstacle in his sight line? Could you move your monitor, or get a plant?

    Maybe it would solve that particular problem, or maybe he’d move so he could see you again, but at least in the latter situation you’d have some confirmation that the staring was and is intentional.

  8. KM*

    You mention that the guy was too familiar with you when you first met, so it may be that you sense he doesn’t have proper boundaries and that that’s what’s giving you the creepy feeling. People with poor boundaries don’t check to see if what they’re doing is okay with you, so it can feel like a violation even if the behaviour is otherwise harmless. It doesn’t really matter why he’s creepy, though. I agree with Allison’s advice and with The Gift of Fear that, regardless of the reason, if he makes you feel uncomfortable you don’t need to be alone with him in order to seem polite.

    1. fposte*

      Though, to be fair, poor boundaries is still a violation. It’s an explanation, not an excuse.

  9. Kev*

    My wife hates it when I stare at her. I had to reposition my comfy chair so I wasn’t. Thing is: I’m not really staring at her, I’m off in my own little world/spacing out/however you want to say it. She just happens to be where my eyes are pointed, even though I’m not seeing her.

    Your coworker might also be in his head when he seems to be staring, if your desks are set up that way.

    1. Anlyn*

      “You seem to be staring at me; please stop, it’s distracting me from my work.”

      It’s up to you to decide if you think the above phrase will help or hinder; I don’t know your circumstances, and giving this guy any attention at all may not be in your best interests. (Listen to your gut!) Personally, I would ignore him and try not to be alone with him. But if you do decide to confront him over the staring, then that phrase will couch it in terms of affecting your work, without being rude or unprofessional. Especially if it turns out he isn’t aware he’s staring.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Re: the staring.

        You could try waving “hi” to him when you notice he’s staring at you. If he’s just looking off into space, it will wake him up.

        When I was a secretary, if someone was staring at me, I would ask if there’s something I could do for them (’cause that was my job). Most people were just staring off into space and didn’t realize I was there.

  10. OP*

    Hi all, OP here. Thanks so much to Alison for the advice, and to the AAM community for the comments. It’s been an interesting few weeks, trying to figure out how to handle this without coming off as alarmist (or rude!) The Gift of Fear is an excellent book, and I’m so glad I read it because it taught me not to disregard these feelings as paranoia. Even if they are just paranoia, I still can be on my guard, and thanks everyone for validating that, because that was kind of my main struggle – am I being ridiculous or not? Even if he’s harmless, I can still be careful.

    Anyway, this morning I actually taped up a list of phone numbers to my computer monitor, which effectively blocks the staring issue. It’s amazing how much better I feel just from doing that. Aside from that, I’ll just continue to treat him as I do any colleague, but carefully. If anything ever crosses the line, I’ll go to HR, but hopefully that won’t be the case, and we’ll be able to work together.

    As always, thank you AAM community for the support! Only place I know on the web where you can get straightforward workplace advice with a supportive community of readers.

    1. Person*

      The biggest problem is that you are trusting your instinct. Human instinct sucks. You need to think clearly and rationally analyzing the situation with the logical side of your brain.
      Try reading books about cognitive biases, human evolution, psychology, not “pop books” recommended by charlatans such as Oprah Winfrey (okay, so she just recommends a lot of woo and magic, doesn’t sell it herself).

      Think about what you can do to react rationally and you will do a lot better in life, and not get into these kind of situations.

      1. Anonymous*

        Unfortunately, there’s a deluge of irrational “thought leadership” in the field of psychology. Freud comes to mind, but so does the currently popular field of evo-psych, which attempts to place everyone in a narrow box, and rationalizes its far-fetched theories on gender socialization by promulgating the idea that people’s animal instincts override their free will and reason.

        It’s clear you dislike the Gift of Fear, and perhaps it’s not for you, but many people familiar with the book and the author’s work find that it helps them sort through gut instincts and use logic to decide which instincts merit follow-through rather than acting on all feelings. The author uses anecdotes to back up the data he’s collected over years in the security field, and he does so because anecdotes are more relatable to the majority of readers. I’m a data wonk myself and it appealed to me anyway.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        I disagree. My instinct is pretty good at seeing something that is not quite right. I rely on it heavily to do my job. It causes me to dig deeper. As far as I know, my instinct has never been wrong.

        Telling someone to ignore their instinct is wrong. They don’t have to act on it – other than to take a closer look. . I’ve found that when the alarm bells go off it is because some very subtle thing is off. It takes a while to identify it. Usually digging around a bit unmasks the issue.

        1. Laura L*

          I agree with EngineerGirl. Gut feelings alert you about a problem and then you can dig deeper and determine how much of a problem/threat it is and decide what actions to take.

      3. Anonymous*

        Thank you for lending another voice. My instinct, now that I’ve learned to trust it, has not led me astray in years. Getting a feeling about something doesn’t lead me to make immediate, unfounded accusations of malfeasance. It simply means I’m going to look more closely at a situation, gather facts, and weigh evidence, which will lead me to a decision.

      4. Liz*

        Humans also vastly overestimate their ability to assess a situation correctly via logic a reason. A fact which I only know because I read books on cognitive biases, human evolution, and psychology :)

        Seriously, “Thinking Fast and Slow” was amazing.

        1. fposte*

          Also Gladwell’s “Blink.”

          To be fair, I actually get the skeptic’s point, and de Becker does tend to claim a lot of victories based on hindsight. But it’s the most successful work I know for making it clear to people who’ve always prioritized niceness that prioritizing niceness when you think something is wrong can get you killed.

      5. Student*

        Did you actually read anything that the OP wrote?

        She put up a list of phone numbers so that he doesn’t stare (or appear to stare) at her. This is pretty darn mild, akin to listening to your iPod to drown out the sounds of an ice-chewer.

        I really can’t see why you’d call her out on that as an irrational response. It sounds eminently reasonable and logical to me. There’s no logical reason she should just ignore the staring if it annoys her, and there’s no logical reason that the phone list should somehow offend Mr. Stares-a-lot or provoke ill will in the office.

        Frankly, you’ve gotten more emotional and illogical about her response than she ever was.

      6. Two-cents*

        Thinking rationally is what gets people into trouble when they ignore their instincts and begin to think, “Oh, I’m behaving rudely and irrationally for feeling like that stranger in the elevator is staring at me and standing too close, so I should just ignore it and pretend I don’t see him and maybe he’ll go away.” Then it turns into a Lifetime movie situation.

        1. Anonymous*

          I read several of these posts and I definitely believe in listening to your instincts. I remember just knowing when I was single and in my 20’s when someone was interested. I am now a married lady and a middle-age mom. I still sometimes get unwanted attention. You just know when it is coming. Today, I was out and doing my 5 miles and I noticed a man around my age trying to keep up with me. At first, he had a young son with him ( around 11) and then after following me he had his son go somewhere. I knew I was right, he was trying to keep up with me. I am in good shape he had to really try to keep up with me. I am married. He continued to follow me and try to start a conversation. Luckily, I was almost done and gave him a couple of short replies and left. It happens to everyone. You just know when someone is trying to overstep their boundaries.

  11. Logic*

    The Gift of Fear and trust my intuition,

    this is a BAD idea. Use logic and reason, not your intuition.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Have you read the Gift of Fear? It doesn’t sound like you have.

      Plenty of people have been assaulted and worse because they ignored a gut feeling that they were in danger.

      1. Person*

        Yeah, I have actually. Its disingenuous at best. The idea isn’t ignore a gut feeling, but react to the feeling in a rational way.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, you should react in a rational way — no one is suggesting otherwise. But that doesn’t preclude paying attention to your gut.

          1. Person*

            Agreed, but once you analyzed the situation and realized that the other person *isn’t* a threat there are other factors at play. If you continue to act as if s/he is, that person will react in a way which makes you think s/he is even more of a threat which increases the cycle.

        2. Person*

          The book is basically a bunch of anecdotes without scientific evidence to backup the claims it makes. Reading an introductory psychology textbook will help you a lot more.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Not all good advice comes with data to back it up. Hell, my advice on this site doesn’t. The author of the book is a nationally recognized expert on security issues. Please don’t tell people on this site to ignore their intuition; that’s a dangerous message and not one I’m willing to play host to.

              1. Person*

                You should treat a gut feeling as just that – a feeling. If you think someone may harm you figure out why you feel that way, determine if there is actual reason to feel that way, and react appropriately.
                Don’t assume that just because you have a feeling that makes it absolutely true.

              2. JT*

                “I’m not telling people to ignore their intuition, just not to _trust_ it.”

                Great distinction.

                1. OP*

                  I like to think that by seeking an outside opinion on this, I wasn’t making decisions willy nilly based on my instinct alone, actually. That’s why I haven’t run to HR with a “he creeps me out” complaint or said anything to anyone who knows him, and might have their perception of him influenced by my thoughts.

                  I’m trying to take this feeling that won’t go away and find a rational course forward that won’t hurt anyone but that will still let me be in my workplace without feeling nervous or uncomfortable there.

        3. Lexy*

          It seems perfectly rational to say “this person creeps me out for reasons I am not sure about. I will keep my eyes peeled and not be alone with them”

          Alternatives would be “This person creeps me out for reasons I am not sure about. Since I can’t pinpoint what they did wrong I’ll just ignore it.” or “This person creeps me out for reasons I am not sure about. I’m going to tell HR & everyone that they are a creeper and get them in trouble because [GUT]”

          It seems the middle road would be to be aware & cautious, something which keeps you safe in the event the person IS a creeper but doesn’t ring alarm bells if they’re just socially awkward.

          1. Nichole*

            The message I took away from The Gift of Fear wasn’t “my gut says it so it’s true-run away!!!”, it was that what we consider irrational intuition usually stems from our base instinct to make logical connections based on past knowledge and experience. The trick is exploring the logic and determining if those past experiences are reasonably related to this situation. It assumed that people are predictable, including and especially “unpredictable” people. I think The Gift of Fear is fabulous place for the OP to be coming from in figuring out if this guy is a threat or not. That’s just my 5 minute book review, though.

            1. Liz*

              Yeah. What I got from it is that when someone overrides your “No” or any hesitation, then it’s a huge danger signal, but not one that we have been trained to recognize as such.

              For example, a guy who wanted to date me displayed visible anger with me – a near stranger – over the choice of a restaurant. But everyone I know still urged me to keep dating him because “He was probably just nervous and I’m sure he’s a nice guy.” Nice guys, or women, don’t use anger to get their way. They just don’t. But I wouldn’t have thought that before I read the book. I would have kept dating him until it escalated.

              1. Long Time Admin*

                As women, we were brought up to always give others (meaning “men”) the benefit of the doubt, no matter what our instincts were telling us. Many women still have trouble over-riding the self-doubt reflex and seeing danger when it’s right in front of them.

                I’m thinking most of the people posting here, deriding the “creeps me out” feeling that the OP has and the book “Gift of Fear”, are male.

                Most women are tired of being labeled “hysterical females” when they get these signals that something is wrong. When that happens, we need to be alert and pay attention to what’s going on.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s also true that most women simply live in a very different world on this stuff than men do. Ask a man what he did to avoid being raped this week, and he’s likely to look at you like you’re crazy. Ask a woman, and she can probably rattle off measures she took in the parking garage, walking home at night, and how she got home from a party. We deal with a very different set of circumstances, and of course it affects our perceptions, on both sides.

                  (I am NOT saying this guy is a rapist — he could be a completely normal, inoffensive guy, for all I know. But I AM saying that men and women each bring a different set of experiences to bear on these issues.)

                2. Man*

                  I think it’s kind of crappy, Alison, to say that men don’t have to watch out for possible danger, such as rape, in our everyday lives. It happens…

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Did you read what I wrote? I didn’t say that men don’t have to look out for possible danger or that they don’t/aren’t raped. I said that women live with a different set of circumstances in terms of danger and generally feel the need to take more/different precautions than men in daily life. This is borne out pretty widely through studies.

                4. Man*

                  Yes, I am completely aware that men and women deal with different circumstances with regards to danger (and many other things) in everyday life…

                  However, your original comment seemed to trivialize the idea of men taking precautions to prevent themselves from being subjected to sexual assault. That is all.

      2. Spokker*

        Why is the Gift of Fear advocated here freely when saying the same thing about young black males would be considered racist and hurt you professionally and personally if people knew you felt that way?

        Men are disproportionately more likely to sexually assault a woman than a woman is to sexually assault a man based FBI statistics. According to the same statistics, a young black male is even more disproportionately violent and criminal relative to their representation in the population.

        Either the Gift of Fear applies in both cases or it does not apply in both cases.

        1. Liz*

          You have pretty seriously misunderstood the book, I’m afraid. There is a huge difference between “this coworker doesn’t respect my boundaries (as foisted pointed out he is doing when he speaks too familiarly)” and “this black guy is more likely to attack me because statistically blacks are more often violent offenders.”

          The first is extrapolating a specific behavior to predict the behavior of an individual. The second is extrapolating from the general (black people) to the specific (this black person). It is logically invalid, as well as one of the most commonly repeated errors in logic. I honestly think people who say this should be embarrassed. It is like using “ain’t.”

          1. Spokker*

            The question-asker never once cited any specific behaviors.

            And yes, announcing you are afraid around specific young black men in specific contexts is going to get you labeled a racist these days.

            1. Liz*

              1) The question asker cited two specific behaviors.

              2) Reasoning from the general to the specific is logically incorrect and therefore an embarrassing faux pas when it is applied to ANY topic. If anyone feels the need to persist in this logical fallacy as it applies to race, then sure, people probably will assume the person who persists must care more about race than about logic.

              1. Spokker*

                Right, and the Gift of Fear was all about the general (“A man who is being nice to you might just hurt you.” ) to the specific (“Be afraid of this specific man because he is being nice to you.”).

                Here is the actual summary of this pre-incident concept called PINS. “Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a person in order to manipulate him or her.”

                Okay, so how is that different from generalizing (“A black person who is asking for help probably just wants to take advantage of you.”) to the specific (“This specific black person asking for the time is going to knock you out once you look at your watch.”)

                Gift of Fear tells women to be afraid of men being nice to them. Shouldn’t the same concepts tell me to ignore young black men asking me for the time in New York City?

                1. Emily*

                  Have you really read GoF or just a Wikipedia summary of it? You’re taking that PIN dramatically out of context. It’s not simply being polite and friendly. It’s being polite and friendly [i]in order to manipulate[/i] the other person.

                  Any woman who has ever gone to a bar has experienced the difference between someone being genuinely nice when paying a compliment, buying a drink, holding a door, offering a seat, and someone who is doing one of those things as a calculated ploy to make the other person feel as though they owe something in return. There are subtle differences that can sometimes be hard to articulate, but on the balance you’ll get a “gut feeling” that the person’s charm is only on the surface.

                  Do you agree that 1) some people are manipulative, and that 2) it’s possible to recognize or see through manipulative behavior? Or do you reject one of those two assertions? If you agree with both of those things, then you understand the PIN and are just misrepresenting it.

                2. Dan*

                  “…Any woman who has ever gone to a bar has experienced the difference between someone being genuinely nice when paying a compliment, buying a drink, holding a door, offering a seat, and someone who is doing one of those things as a calculated ploy to make the other person feel as though they owe something in return. There are subtle differences that can sometimes be hard to articulate, but on the balance you’ll get a “gut feeling” that the person’s charm is only on the surface.”

                  This is not true. If you think your gut is going to tell the difference between a nice guy having a fun night out and his friend trying to get a one-night-stand, you’re kidding yourself.

                  Some guys are pick-up artists that can succeed any night of the week, others have no game no matter where they go. Fooling your “gut feeling” is a learned skill. Women in bars are shooting down nice guys with good intentions as often as smooth-talkers-in-training.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s not about the difference between a nice guy having a fun night out and his friend trying to get a one-night-stand. It’s about the difference between a guy who won’t potentially assault you and one who might.

              2. Spokker*

                By the way, you’re being really disingenuous here. Okay, the staring thing. Let’s run with it.

                She comes here and claims the guy was staring at her. Who knows if it’s even true, but okay. That’s a very bad thing and everything agrees.

                I actually had this experience once. I was complaining that a guy was staring me down once, perhaps sizing me up, waiting for me to do something or flinch or whatever. And I thought it was creepy too. I happened to mention that he was black and I was called a geeky white guy who is scared of black people and that I should man up and that I harbor racist feelings and blah blah blah.

                Come on, don’t tell me there isn’t a double standard here. It’s crazy.

                1. Liz*

                  You obviously haven’t read the book. And if you want to persist in a logical fallacy that is your business, but I didn’t make up the rules of logic just to enjoy watching you misapply them. Although it is a little bit fun :)

                  Gos ahead and Google “reasoning from the general to the specific” if you don’t believe me.

                2. Spokker*

                  Too bad I don’t know how to do the mirror thing, or else I’d be able to stoop to your level of cluelessness.

                  I guess in your world there is no information asymmetry but you get to go by your gut whenever you feel like it anyway. And this is how society likes it, I guess. Hey, I’m not even fighting it anymore.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The Gift of Fear doesn’t tell women to be afraid of men who are nice to them. It tells people to be wary of people who don’t respect their boundaries. There’s a big difference.

                  Spokker, I realize you’re new to posting here, but you need to keep it civil — calling other commenters clueless isn’t acceptable here.

          2. Spokker*

            By the way, taking the woman’s word for it without evidence is never a good policy. Ask A Manager never even thought of the possibility that she was being too sensitive or overreacting. She can’t even name one specific thing he did to make her feel creepy. Does he not respect personal boundaries? Does he talk about inappropriate things? No, it’s just, “Keep an eye on that potential rapist, lady.”

            It’s more modern male bashing in a PC society that values women over men. Male privilege my ass.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Of course I thought of that possibility. But it doesn’t matter — she’s not planning to report him for anything (unless something about the situation changes). She’s uncomfortable around him. Whether she’s right or wrong, she’s entitled to keep him at arm’s length, which was my advice.

              1. Liz*

                The OP did cite two specific behaviors, too: staring and speaking in a way that felt “too familiar.”

            2. Anonymous*

              Have you ever been drugged and raped by a nice guy who made you feel uncomfortable, even though you couldn’t name one specific thing he did wrong up until that point? I have.

              So maybe OP is being too sensitive and maybe she’s not. I wish I had ‘overreacted’, gotten away from him, and maybe it wouldn’t have happened. I hope she listens to what her gut is telling her.

            3. Lils*

              To be honest, Spokker’s manipulation of the conversation, belligerent insistence that he is correct, and inability to maintain a civil tone is kinda creeping me out right now.

              1. Anon.*

                Lils: I agree completely. I have gotten increasingly uncomfortable as I read his posts.. he is a troll, is argumentative for the sake of it and is actually making my chest hurt.

            4. Anonymous*

              @Spokker, I am a regular reader of the blog and occasional commenter, but I have to speak up about this. I normally give my name on here, but am staying anonymous for this post due to the nature of what I am about to say.

              Look, I’m a guy. And yet, I have had a similar situation happen to me. When I was in graduate school, I had to deal with a married woman (I was engaged during my time in graduate school, as well, although it ended, unrelated to this story) who, for lack of a better term, gave me the creeps.

              I am a pretty logical person, honestly, but when someone goes from complimenting me to asking about personal details of my life and my (then) relationship, inappropriate touching and serious boundary crossing (like popping up when I was talking to someone and expecting me to drop everything and pay attention to her), and, as it would happen, we both worked at the same internship during the latter part of my grad school experience.

              Now, I never had her straight up say that she was interested in me, but, that being said, I had, yes, a gut feeling, but I used my logic and understanding (by the way, my studies were in mental health, so I know a thing or two about those things, as well as fear and instinct) to discern that this was not cool.

              Needless to say, we (mercifully) fell out of contact after graduation, but I had to go by my gut. I was completely open with my (then) partner, and was actually in therapy at the time (unrelated to this), and my therapist (a woman) said that this woman’s behavior was wholly inappropriate, so it wasn’t just my opinion that I was going by.

              So it happens. To men and women. It shouldn’t be ignored, and, hopefully, my story will show you that this doesn’t just happen to women, and there is nothing remotely “male bashing” about my story.

              1. Anonymous*

                Thank you. I am the Anonymous at 9:04 pm on July 5, below. My male spouse has been creeped on and stalked by a female acquaintance. It happens often enough, but the same social stigmas that tell women to ignore their intuition because it’s “crazy,” instruct men to swallow their feelings about being harassed because expressing them makes them “wimpy” or “not real men.” It’s ridiculous.

            5. Anonymous*

              If that were so, then why are men much, much more likely to be hired than women every time we recover from a recession? Why is it that when women make accusations of sexual harassment or worse, a sizable number of people side with the accused party, and the accused is typically advised to find a new job? Why is it that almost all women report being sexually harassed at work, but very few report the issue being resolved in their favor? And why is it that when women raise complaints of harassment or bullying with HR, the company often finds a reason to fire the accuser and keep the accused on board in the majority of cases, sometimes even promoting or rewarding the accused, in spite of a blatant poor track record?

              Note that I did not gender the accused, because women frequently bully and sometimes even sexually harass other women. There is a high-profile case in my city involving a female boss and a female subordinate, where the sexually harassed subordinate was terminated, and the harassing boss promoted.

              Your false accusation is highly unfortunate, but does not negate a general pattern.

        2. Anonymous*

          I’m a trained mathematician, and on the subject of crime statistics:

          I had the opportunity to view the holding cell at the DC Superior court a few Mondays ago. This is where all of the prisoners who screwed up over the weekend wait for arraignment.

          Out of, oh, 125 prisoners, 120 were black and 5 were white. Yet, the demographic makeup of DC is 50% black and 40% white.

          I don’t know that we can prove that black males are more likely to commit violent crime. What we do know is that black males are more likely to be arrested for violent crimes. And yes, there is a huge difference.

          1. Anonymous*

            Yes, and the vast the majority of people who use illegal drugs are white, but the vast majority of people in jail for using them are black. Drug enforcement laws in particular have a blatant racial bias.

    2. Anonymous*

      With all due respect, I don’t necessarily agree with you, user-handle Person. Having grown up in an environment where I was told I was crazy and my wants and needs were irrational, it’s taken literally decades to unlearn that conditioning. In my teens and early 20s, while I was distrusting my instincts, I wound up being seriously taken advantage of, bullied, and in one instance, raped by an older friend who set off bad vibes in my head that I ignored because, well, I’d been conditioned to think it irrational and to value pure logic.

      The balance between crackpot Nixonian paranoia (not a partisan statement – the man had some great policies, but was morally and psychically bereft) and well-honed, actionable intuition can be difficult for people to achieve. This is especially so for young women, who often receive more messages from peers, parents, male significant others, and cultural institutions that their thoughts and feelings are irrational and crazy. Some people take it too far, operating under the Schroedinger’s Criminal/Rapist/Abuser model, which halts their potential to trust and connect. Sadly, in my experience, more people err on the side of too trusting, and allow themselves to be gaslighted into ignoring valuable instinct, to their detriment.

  12. Editor*

    In addition to screening yourself at work with the phone list or a plant or whatever, check all your privacy settings on social media and do a couple of searches to see what is out there about you. Tighten up your online privacy.

    Some of the creepiness might be related to this person looking up co-workers on the Internet just out of curiosity, then becoming inappropriately interested by a particular profile. Or, your co-worker may be genuinely creepy and checking you out repeatedly online as a stalker might. Or not.

    But if you are feeling uncomfortable, making sure others can’t see your Facebook page is probably a good idea. If you had an old MySpace profile or something, see if you can empty it or kill it off. Substituting pretty flower photos for photos of your face on online profiles might be another change to make.

    I’m not quite sure what to recommend about LinkedIn, other than keeping it really professional, or about dating sites or other places a stranger might have seen a profile and photo.

    1. Lils*

      Some workplaces allow you to specify that your personal information (home address, home phone) are invisible in the company directory. I would do this now, along with Editor’s wise advice.

      And OP, I sympathize with you, as this has happened to me also. I 100% disagree that you should “ignore” these feelings or smother them with logic. As GdB says, if you feel creeped out, there is a reason that your conscious mind isn’t yet aware of. Set your boundaries and strictly stick to them.

  13. Yuu*

    This kind of thing is difficult to explain in words, but one thought that popped into my head that might be the case is – perhaps he has some sort of social syndrome? Are your instincts that he is dangerous, or that he is weird/unsettling? Sometimes people just don’t have the genetics to be clued into the social undertones. For instance, we have a new contractor at our work who seems like a really nice guy, but when you have a conversation with him, and he is talking to you he will go on for a very long time and stare directly at you (in American culture, usually the listener looks at the face of the talker, while the talker looks away and glances at the listener from time to time). It can be unsettling, yes, but I think he’s harmless.
    I would be more concerned if he seems to be targeting you especially in ways that he isn’t like towards other people.

    1. Dan*

      “…I would be more concerned if he seems to be targeting you especially in ways that he isn’t like towards other people.”

      This is very good. If he behaves the same way around everyone else, then he’s just a little different. If he is weird only around you, then you need to figure out why.

      1. Long Time Admin*

        Oh, please don’t give it a cutsie-pie nickname. That’s just degrading.

        Aspergers Syndrome, for those who are wondering.

        1. Jacob N.*

          Actually, with due respect, the term “Aspie” is usually used by those with Asperger’s syndrome (such as my brother). I don’t think she was being degrading, and I am pretty into advocacy for Asperger’s-related issues.

      2. Grace*

        Good point. Asperger’s Syndrome. I was recently fired from a new job for not attending a going-away lunch with a co-worker
        who started harassing me and stalking me within 24-hours
        of my hire. He’d lay in wait for me after I used the ladies restroom, come up and stand 1″ from my body when I was using
        the copier or other machinery, stare at me, ask inappropriate questions, and track my every move. And he’d stare and stare and stare at me. Come up and stand behind me and stare at me. It was frightening! I told him his behavior was inappropriate and unwelcome. I asked him to leave me alone and he wouldn’t.

  14. Anonymous*

    I’m also a young professional and have gotten the office creeps from others. It stated with a friendly chat in the break room and then after a few weeks, this guy (about 20 yrs older than me) asked me out on a date. It’s just gross to even think of. After that, I stoppped talking to him, even not syaing hello as we walk pass each other. He still attempts to say hello to me, and doesn’t get the message, but I try not to let it bother me.

    1. Nathan A.*

      Just out of curiosity, did you respond with a “no, thank you” in a polite manner, or did you just blow him off?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think Nathan makes a legitimate point here — people need to realize that they will occasionally be asked out by people they’re not interested in, and you need to be able to say “no thank you” without turning the experience into a trauma. Obviously, if the person has managerial authority over you or if the person persists in unwelcome behavior, that’s entirely different and then can get into harassment, etc. But let’s not distract from the very real problem of harassment by getting upset over being asked out by a non-supervisory coworker one time. We are all adults.

      2. Liz*

        Just out of curiosity, how polite is one required to be when an inappropriate request is made in an inappropriate setting by someone who has reason to know better but is likely taking advantage of the power imbalance, and has proven to be impervious to hints and signs of discomfort? I’m all for politeness generally, but I wouldn’t fault her for matching his level of rudeness here, at all.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          I could argue that you gain more power by being polite and saying no. If you get rude then you’ve shown that you’ve lost control.

          1. Liz*

            I believe that you don’t get to control other people, and trying to exert power rather than cooperate is a violation of another’s boundaries, as well as a lot of work. I just saw this and realized that assumption about interactions is probably why we differ so much on this topic :)

            1. Long Time Admin*

              I think EngineerGirl meant you’ve lost conrol of your own emotions.

              My niece’s ex-husband used to do this all the time – deliberately baiting her into arguments. When I noticed that he’d get that smug satisfaction look on his face, I talked to her about it. If he could goad her into an argument, he felt that he’d “won”. It’s a power thing.

              Staying as calm and rational as you can when someone else is deliberately behaving inappropriately lets them know you’re not going to back down, and you’re not going to come down to their level.

            2. fposte*

              You don’t get to control, but you can often influence–and, in fact, if you’re rude back because they’ve been rude to you (which nobody was in this case, dammit), then they’ve influenced you. No reason you can’t influence in the other direction.

        2. Elise*

          I’m a bit confused. With just what Anon posted, what is there to indicate there is a power imbalance or that it was an inappropriate request. During the friendly chats he probably indicated some level of interest. Unless she was clear that she was not interested (or either of them are married), asking for a date wasn’t really an inappropriate request. Most workplaces do allow co-workers to date provided one is not supervising the other.

          1. Elise*

            The only thing mentioned is the age difference — which isn’t automatically an issue for everyone. Unless the poster did let the person know that it was an issue, it is silly to assume he felt the same way.

          2. fposte*

            Totally with you on this. We have no evidence of a power imbalance, just an age difference. Being asked out isn’t an inappropriate request. Nor is it inappropriate for her co-worker to say hello to her. Maybe there’s something else that’s a problem here, but it’s nothing this person said makes this guy’s behavior inappropriate–there’s an important difference between “things you don’t like” and “inappropriate.”

            1. Anon.*

              I think there is really a big difference between 20 yr old vs 40 yr old and 40yr old vs 60yr old. My impression is that it is the former, not the later. And so, there is a perceived power dynamic with the elder man having the power. Most young woman would be uncomfortable being asked out (at work! must. be. nice.. Not.) by their father.

        3. Spokker*

          People hook up through work all the time. If you’ve said no and he keeps asking, then you’ve got a problem, but if he asks once and then goes away, it’s fine.

          1. Liz*

            I really wish we all learned to mirror each other in kindergarten with the ABC s.

            1) A young woman new to the workplace is very likely to be professionally imbalanced, power wise, with someone who is 20 years older.

            2) People hook up at work are generally people who are the same level. Even then, it is not that easy.

            3) Friendly behavior is not the same as flirty, and there should be small steps taken to make sure flirty is acceptable WELL before you ask anyone out. Particularly at work. There isn’t some “no harm in asking” rule when it comes to coworkers. You are expected to be more careful at the office.

            1. Spokker*

              It makes sense not to shit where you eat, but it’s not some major crime. It happens, you say yes or no, and that’s the end of it.

              1. Liz*

                That isn’t the end of it. The woman has no idea how upset the guy will be or how it will come back on her that she turned him down. It is awkward. It is a lot easier for other people if you just don’t bother coworkers unless you are really, really sure that it is mutual.

                1. Spokker*

                  But I thought that was over after all those workplace discrimination and harassment laws were passed.

                  In any case, you can never be 100% sure and you can’t go through life trying not to offend everyone. There truly are people who are too sensitive just as there are people who are too overbearing.

                2. Joshua*

                  I guess we’ve hit the limit on nested comments so I’m putting this here.

                  “But I thought that was over after all those workplace discrimination and harassment laws were passed.”

                  I was going to do a response addressing the general tone of your comments throughout this thread so far, but this right here sums it up pretty nicely and saves me the effort. I’m not at all surprised you’ve had issues at your workplace.

              1. Grace*

                +100 for your reply to Spokker. A quick way to poison the well at work is to be unprofessional and to be assuming that you’re desirable, hitting on co-workers for dates, etc. It’s just not done at most places and many places have no-dating policies because they don’t want harassment claims.

        4. Dan*

          I guess it would depend on what you mean by “inappropriate”. If he says, “Would you like to go out to a movie Friday?”, it might not be good for you to slap him and call him a jerk. On the other hand, if he pulls you in close and says, “someting too racy for this blog”, then the slap and loud insult might be a good idea.

  15. Anonymous*

    OP, if I get anything out of this post, I want to thank you for mentioning about the book, “The Gift of Fear.” I have never even heard of this book before, and when I previewed the pages in Amazon, I was instantly hooked. I am making this a must-read on my list. So, thank you! and thanks AAM for posting this topic.

    1. OP*

      My pleasure – I first read about it in a previous AAM post, and I highly recommend it. It offers some great insight into why and how your intuition operates – where those feelings may be coming from, as well as how best to handle certain situations, warning signs to look out for, etc.

      1. Jamie*

        I also read about that book here, and insisted my daughter read it as well.

        Oh – and while I don’t have enough information to determine whether or not the creepiness is founded in something…well, creepy…just wanted to mention that we can have responses to new people if there is something about them which triggers past creepiness.

        If one has been attacked, even years later meeting someone with certain resemblance (even scent or voice patterns) can give a feeling of uneasiness totally unrelated to the person in question.

        Still, trust your instincts, because you aren’t harming him by being guarded and aware…but it is in the realm of possibility that he’s totally without malice.

        1. khilde*

          Oh, this is so true about some people resembling others from our past that trigger yucky feelings. In college there was this guy that I had a terribly stupid fling with and he was bad news as I later found out. I was never harmed or hurt by him, but I deeply regret ever knowing him and doing such a stupid thing in my life.

          Fast Forward 10 years later and there is a guy that restocks the Coke machines at my office and I had an instant dislike and unease around him. It took me a while to figure out that it was because he resembled this loser from my past. I have absolutely zero reason to dislike the poor Coke guy. I just do because he reminds me of X. So that could be something there for OP to think about, too.

          1. Anonymous*

            Yea, those de ja vu moments has happened to me before, and I don’t feel bad about having an instant dislike towards someone b/c of it. From my experience, they often look “and” act the same too.

      2. Anonymous*

        Oh I didn’t know it was mentioned here before, but thanks for bringing it up again. I just got a copy of the book today!

  16. mh_76*

    It’s difficult for me to gauge the situation without being there in person and observing whether your colleague is truly creepy (possible) or if you’re easily creeped out (also possible, not a bad thing).

    The advice that I have for everyone is this: listen to both your intuition and to your head, quickly analyzing where & why they differ.

    If you need to “draw a line”, don’t be afraid to do so, but do so kindly (at first). If you need to, take the person aside and explain how what makes you feel, that maybe your overreacting but maybe you aren’t, ask if the person knows that he is [staring / touching inappropriately / etc] or not, ask what his intention is (if any). Also don’t be afraid to say if ___ continues / happens again, I will have no choice but to ___ [go to a supervisor / HR / call your wife / slap or swing …consequence].

    My boss (about 15 years older than I), with whom I also work at a micro-job, has a bit of a creepy side. I knew that going into the FT-contract job and took the job because I know how to manage him (in addition to needing the money). At the micro-job, I had to “draw lines” a couple of times (which he hasn’t crossed since in either setting) and I once got really pissed and stormed out of the room when he said something completely inappropriate (unrepeatable here; he hasn’t crossed that line again). What works for me (aside from those 2 examples) is rolling my eyes, shaking my head, looking at him like I think he’s absolutely crazy, and sometimes telling him that he’s dreaming or that he’s full of s—. I’ve also told the stories about the couple of times that I did have to slap someone across the face for not heeding my warnings about line-crossing (and the boss hasn’t put his hands where the “slapees” tried to). I don’t feel like he’ll put me in danger because he knows where I live (a few blocks away) and knows where I work (um, he hired me) and no danger yet (we’ve worked the same micro-job for a few years). Of course every situation is different and has to be addressed differently.

    So…why did I take the FT-contract job, knowing that I was going to be working even more with someone who has a creepy side? Because, despite that side, he has a high level of professional respect for and speaks highly of me, and is one of the very very few people who’s even tried to give me a chance professionally. If he had any say about my paycheck, that would be higher…much higher. But since that is what it is, I’ll probably start looking again in a couple of months (my job search is mostly on summer vacation right now), Boss has said already that I should continue my search, and I am very sure that he’d be a very good reference to have. So I’ll continue to shake my head, roll my eyes, tell him he’s dreaming/full of s—, and (if needed) draw more lines. Hopefully I won’t have to go to his boss or to the company harrassment officer…but if it comes to that, I’ll do so in a heartbeat… but hopefully none of that will happen and either his boss will see the light & convert me to a decently-paid W2 or I’ll start looking in a few weeks/couple of months and have a good reference.

        1. mh_76*

          Thanks. I’ve been catching up with the comments and saw a few about female-to-male harrassment… definitely something I’ve seen in multiple arenas (work, school, etc) and definitely an issue that needs to have more attention brought to it. Also same-gender harrassment but I’ve seen that far less frequently, esp. among guys.

  17. Danni*

    I work in a small organization and aside from the bosses/directors and a few managers, it is entirely run by grad students. One of the bosses (they are a married couple) is incredibly inappropriate, but it feels impossible to report since we don’t have a HR department. I could go to the associated university but the power differential is intimidating. This man frequently makes comments about how the female students look or what they are wearing. He also frequently makes comments like “we should send so-and-so to the conference because she looks the best in a pair of heels”. He also “jokes” about watching porn in his office.

    I find it incredibly disturbing and inappropriate but it’s definitely that gray area (as far as how people see it, not how I personally see it) where nothing “really bad” has happened. I’ve also had the displeasure with working with other female grad students who seem flattered by the comments, or at least just giggle along. I’ve found that the best way is to NOT react and especially not LAUGH. I think it’s definitely a power thing, knowing that people are intimidated or don’t feel that it is their place to complain.

    1. JT*

      This is disturbing, and as soon as you can afford to you should report this to the university. Document everything now.

      I have to say that this seems very different than the OP’s problem. For all we know, the creep the OP is dealing with is harmless. She should keep an eye on him and be prepared for trouble, but at the moment it’s not the same as someone actually doing something abusive.

    2. Student*

      Ombudsman. Talk to the ombudsman. That’s the university guy who ought to be dealing with this. I’d start with your department head, though – ask him to a meeting with as many of the women as will come forward (and men who’ve witnessed it, if you can convince them to help you), have a selected spokesperson explain the issue, and demand he take action. Ask for help changing bosses, ask for the guy to get a talking-to. Department head probably doesn’t want an issue made of it in the papers, but it’s completely up in the air as to whether he’ll do something. Then go to the ombudsman, who is much more likely to want to protect the university’s reputation than to protect Mr. Creeper.

      Also, quit. Don’t underestimate your ability to get a new adviser. It’s easier than you think and it happens more often than you realize. You might be able to do similar research in a related department, even. If you have any collaborators who are decent folk, enlist their help or ask for them to advise you instead.

      I say this as a grad student who switched advisers after 5 years of working with the group. I had a postdoc assault me and my adviser badly mishandled it. Yes, I got stuck here an extra two years because I made a late switch. However, it’s been great for my career overall, even with the delay factored in. I’m happier and much more interested in my work now that I’m not worried about horrible co-workers and a horrible boss. Remember, Mr. Creeper is not going to seriously support your career goals if he sees you as eye candy.

  18. Nathan A.*

    I’ve seen a post like this before, and I think I’ll state what I did then as well:

    Maybe the person is a bit socially inept. Some people aren’t afforded the benefit of meaningful social exchanges growing up – so, when they work in an environment that is very social (perhaps for the first time), their gesturing can come off as awkward or creepy.

    I had several situations growing up where I was called “creepy”, and the truth of the matter is that I didn’t really get the social nuances of what was expected in those situations. Do I look at you or not look at you? Do I keep talking or do I be quiet? How close is too close? Too far? Should I talk with my hands? Keep them in my pockets? Should someone introduce me before I talk with you if I’m in public, or is it OK to actually go up to you and strike up a conversation?

    I think that there are some that take these exchanges for granted, and if you are a novice at this, it generally reads “creepy”.

    Also, I would consider social (and cultural) differences – some are brought up to talk and look someone in the eye the whole time that a conversation is conducted.

    If this person gives you the creeps, it’s also possible that he may intimidate you (either because he is doing it intentionally or foolishly). He may be trying to visually attending to you to see that you are being productive, for example. Being around him a bit longer will shed light on what kind of person he actually is.

    1. Liz*

      We’ve all been judged unfairly. It’s not fun.

      I don’t know why more people don’t know this, but for some reason we are taught to match an ideal, rather than to mirror the other person. Most of these miscommunications would cease if people were taught to just pay attention to other people and match their energy levels, facial expressions, emotional state, and word choices.

      Some really smart people I know will have these long explanations for conversations that they thought would happen, “But it made sense for me to say____ and she should have ___” and it just doesn’t matter. Match the other person. If she doesn’t talk, don’t talk. If she seems friendly be AS friendly and no more.

      The more time you spend watching the other person, and out of your own head, I swear the easier it will all seem.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        I can’t agree with you. You don’t want to match negative actions or energy. It will only escalate a bad situation.

        It is appropriate to ask for clarification. But mirroring has its limits.

        1. Liz*

          I would have thought it was obvious that you don’t want to tell back if someone seems crazy, but apparently not :)

          You DO however want to respect negative energy, and allow the other person the right to it. If someone seems angry, back off respectfully. That is still mirroring, because you are letting the other person set the terms of the interaction.

          I always think these things are obvious – it is called an interaction because there are multiple elements driving it, right :)

          1. Student*

            Some of us interact with lots more crazy people than you do, I suspect. I grew up around crazy. Hardcore crazy, not just the usual slightly dysfunctional family. As a consequence, it is hard for me to differentiate crazy and not-crazy.

            Nearly everyone I work with has an identifiable crazy trait, now that I am older and somewhat know what to look for. It’s a field that attracts “a certain type.” I also have crazy traits, and I’m sure I haven’t mastered all of them. Your approach of mirroring just doesn’t work in places like this. It’s a decent approach in many situations, and I’m glad it works well for you. It just isn’t universal – that’s all I’m trying to say.

          2. Emily*

            Yes! I do a lot of acute crisis management. Because I’m really good at calming folks and defusing high tension situations, I’m also the person at parties who talks down the drunk guy, helps subdue the person who took too many drugs, or get the asshole to stop being an asshole.

            I’ve learned that the best way to do this is to affect a neutral but firm disposition, and don’t question the agitated person’s worldview. If the asshole is super pissed at some perceived offense, I get him to take a walk with me and I let him bitch his heart out to me while nodding and agreeing how much it must suck for him to be dealing with the situation (even if I really think he’s being ridiculous), and damned if after 5-10 minutes he usually hasn’t calmed down enough to be able to rejoin the party. If someone took a bunch of drugs and thinks they’re being pursued, instead of telling them they’re not being pursued, I tell them that I’m going to take them to a place where they’ll be safe, and then I take them to a quiet, calm environment where again, I listen and soothe without challenging what they believe to be true, and after several minutes this usually does the trick.

            It’s not mimicry, but it’s the right form of mirroring for situations where the other person’s energy is negative or problematic.

      2. Andrew*

        The more time you spend watching the other person? As in, uh, staring?

        I find the idea of someone studying me and “matching” my energy levels, facial expressions, emotional state and word choices creepy beyond belief.

        Please stay in your own head. I don’t want you anywhere near mine.

        1. Liz*

          Of course. Fwiw it isn’t intended to be controlling of the other person – and it really is how people talk with each other. I had no idea that some people actually would not want to connect with the other person. It surprised me that some people here got angry. I guess I need to read more about how introverts think.

          1. khilde*

            In defense of Liz, I think she has some good points, a lot of it is basic social psychology and how humans interact without even realizing it. When you have good rapport and good vibes with another person, you often fall into a pattern of subtly mirroring each others’ expression, movements, etc. We’re often not aware we’re doing it. Have you ever been talking to someone and they brushed at their nostril? And then you found yourself doing the same thing? (generally, this brings up my awareness and then I get paranoid!!). Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and observed that the other person is watching your mouth when you move? (or they’re moving their own lips when you talk – that drives me nuts, man). Anyway, I think it’s all an attempt for our brains to match up with the other person to send the signal that “I’m like you. You can trust me. We’re the same.”

            Now, all of that said I am not really following this particular conversation about whether you should do that with someone in a negative situation. I’ll have to think about it more because it’s almost lunch time and that takes priority.

            But I just wanted to say that Liz often lends a really interesting perspective so cut her some slack.

  19. JT*

    “Most of these miscommunications would cease if people were taught to just pay attention to other people and match their energy levels, facial expressions, emotional state, and word choices.”

    Is this a joke? Paying attention is a good thing, but the rest of this doesn’t make sense to me.

    1. Liz*

      Not a joke. This is literally what we are supposed to learn as babies – when you are talking to a person look at that person, try to gauge the energy level, and mirror it back. If they give negative signals, back off. If they get more animated, get more animated too.

      It’s like dancing. I honestly thought everyone knew this and some people just didn’t like interacting, until I moved to a city with a lot of introverts and realized they are having a conversation in their head way before I have a chance to say anything. It is actually a weird, disorienting feeling for me when people can’t do this.

      1. Spokker*

        So basically treat everyone like a sensitive child and never be yourself. Gotcha.

        1. Liz*

          Wow. You can’t be yourself and respond to the other person? Only a “sensitive child” would want to take turns and give the other person equal freedom to speak and set the terms?

          Other people exist. Admitting that is kind of a prerequisite for having a conversation, rather than a monologue.

          1. Spokker*

            Whatever you say, Liz. I find that your ideology usually means that women be women and men be… not men, that’s for sure.

            1. Liz*

              I have no idea why you are so offended, or why you think only women would interact as equals rather than try to dominate the other person.

              1. Sadya*

                @Liz- have you noticed that its only the male commentators here who have stated that the guy at OP’s office might be misunderstood/may not be a creep/have a social skills problem?
                That gut instincts of women are just overreactions on their part, tells you alot about why sexual harassment at the workplace still exists despite several laws in place.

                @OP I hope you has told someone at work about the creepy guy. Telling people around you would make them aware of the creepy guy, perhaps give you some info on the guy. Sure some of them might just dismiss you, but still do tell.

                1. Spokker*

                  Why do you equate “creep/have a social skills problem?” Can men have problem with their social skills without becoming a potential rapist that the entire office has to be warned about? Maybe he has Asperger’s Syndrome or something.

                  For Christ’s sake, Sadya, you want her to go around the office to “warn” people about this guy, possibly hurting his career if she is wrong about him? Is this stuff happening in large numbers? He has enough to overcome if he really does have bad social skills.

                2. Anonymous*

                  Man here, although I obviously don’t speak for all men.

                  I think that’s an unfair characterization – do you mean “men are evil sexual harrasers”, or “women have these super-special gut feelings that no man could possibly understand”? Because that’s how your comment reads to me. Men have feeling too. Some of them may be suggesting that the OP is overreacting because they haven’t had similar experiences before – I sure haven’t, and I do not pass judgment on the OP. I wish her the best of luck.

                  It is unfortunate that sometimes, men and women are subject to workplace harassment, but please, let’s not take out the pitchforks so quickly.

                3. Spokker*

                  I’m concerned because I may have been in the position of the man described in the original post, falsely accused of something I did not do.

                4. Charles*

                  “have you noticed that its only the male commentators here who have stated that the guy at OP’s office might be misunderstood”

                  Maybe it is guys who are saying that because guys are more likely than women to be falsely accused of being “creepy”?

                5. Arbynka*

                  I do not agree with Sadya. OP, please do not go around “telling people about this guy”. You have your “feelings”, your intuition and you should listen to it. There is a reason for you to feel this way – but as I said in a different reply, it might be something to do with him – or something to do with you. If you have a good friend outside of workplace you trust I would talk about it – for sure. But not in the office because – someone might feel perfectly fine about this guy, but you come over and start saying how “weird” this person is… and suddenly that someone stops and thinks, oh yeah, he is so weird, turns around and :”Hey Bob, have you noticed how weird…. is…?” ……

                6. Jamie*

                  As a woman I don’t think we have any data which indicates the guy is indeed creepy. He may be, perhaps not…but there is absolutely no way to know from the vague description of the issues.

          2. JT*

            Certainly communications is a two-way process, but in many situations, and especially in professional situations, what you describe is inappropriate and even ineffective. We don’t always have conversations at work. Sometimes we have directives. We can’t always be sensitive to other people being negative or low-energy and back off – they have to get over it and get the work done. We can’t always mirror the behavior of other people who are creepy or giving off bad energy.

            Live your personal life and “dance” with people/babies however you want, but this communications advice, especially in the context of a creepy guy as the original story, seems way off base in terms of professional settings.

            1. Liz*

              What you are describing isnt a conversation and so of course it isn’t a two-way interaction. All conversations have this element though, to a greater or lesser degree. You wouldn’t say, “I am going to dinner” and expect to hear “I grew up in Boise” in response. And you wouldn’t say “Hi” in a bright voice and expect to hear “hi” said sadly in response.

              It is funny. I really thought everyone knew this, but it feels like some people think I made it up to be annoying :)

              1. JT*

                No, I don’t think you made it up to be annoying. I think you’re confused about professional communications and don’t understand that sometimes the communications signal runs in one direction and all one side should do is understand.

                And I also think the “mirroring” you describe will often be absurd in professional situations – particularly situations in which one of the parties is low-performing (due to being creepy or in other ways). The non-creepy party should not be trying to mirror the energy or style of the low-performer. That’s a recipe for spreading low-performance around the organization. If the creep cannot handle normal communications, then we have a management problem or a training problem or a behavior problem for that person, not a communications problem by the OP.

                Mirroring? Ha! The OP could start staring at the other person, or being overly familiar with him? That’s absurd.

                1. Liz*

                  I don’t think we are picturing the same thing when we talk about mirroring, and of course not all professional communication is a two-way (or more) interaction.

                  I guess I just don’t have the words to describe it – you match the other person as well as you can in order to have an interaction/dialogue rather than a monologue or instruction. I grew up in a big family and I guess I just learned it along the way. I don’t know how else to say it.

                  But at least now I am less puzzled as to why some people seem completely caught in their own head, to the point that it feels like I don’t exist for them, even though I am standing right there talking.

                  For example I have a friend who will respond to what she thinks I might be talking about rather than what I actually SAID – I’ll say I want to go to a particular restaurant and she’ll say “I want to date more too” and I have NO IDEA why she brought that up because I literally just wanted to visit that restaurant for the specials. It’s exhausting to try to talk to her because she jumps all over the place and it doesn’t feel like she’s matching what I’m talking about. She also tends to face away from people and her expressions will be weirdly inappropriate to the conversation, which is oddly stressful.

                  Oh, and she makes me explain every single thing in a way that completely derails the topic. I try to tell her I just ate a great dish involving an unusual ingredient and she wants to know what street the restaurant was on. Then she’ll ask who else was at the restaurant with me. It feels like an interrogation rather than a conversation, and there isn’t a good way to keep the conversation going. Once I answer, “Joe and Stacy were there too…” then I’m stuck. I can ask who she went out with the last time she went out, or, if she knows them too, or I can ask when she saw them last. But all my conversational options are leading away from what I was trying to talk about and it feels awkward.

                  So anyway that is an example of NOT matching or mirroring. Does it make more sense when I explain it that way? :)

              2. Liz T*

                I know what you mean, but I think people are reacting to the implications of your latter example–that people who are feeling sad should say “Hi” in a bright voice, thus hiding their actual feelings.

                There’s a difference between responsiveness and mirroring; someone who’s romantically interested in a coworker should observe that coworker’s social cues, and respond accordingly, but not necessarily mirror them back. If I shrink away uncomfortably, you should give me space, not also shrink away uncomfortably.

                1. Liz*

                  I did say, I think twice, that respectful space counts as mirroring to me :) Emily’s explanation above is exactly what I am talking about – you trust the other person’s world view for the space of a conversation while including your own energy.

                  I am just trying to described a vibe where both parties to a conversation have an equal day, and obviously I am not saying it in a way that makes sense even to people who already do it :)

        1. JT*


          “you match the other person as well as you can in order to have an interaction/dialogue rather than a monologue or instruction. ”

          You’re being clear. And what you’re saying is wrong in many situations, one of them being the situation that started this discussion.

          The creep is frequently staring at the OP – do you think she should try to stare back? The creep if overly familiar with her. Do you think she should be *more* familiar with him to mirror that back and have a stronger interaction with him?


          1. Liz*

            I think it is safe to say we won’t be sharing a dinner any time soo, but to answer the question, no. I do not think she should stare back. This is hard to explain, but since he is being aggressive she should be respectfully and appropriately assertive in a neutral way. She matches him while controlling it – what Emily said above.

            To be honest though, you aren’t meeting me halfway. You are insisting on your own interpretation of what I am saying even as I literally tell you that you are not describing the same thing I am.

            I am not surprised this isn’t how you interact with people, and to be frank, you re more rude than you seem to realize. If you find yourself this frustrated wih people in real life, I think you might want to consider the possibility that you are misunderstanding, and being a bit obtuse, ether than assume, as you have here with me, that the other person is just really wrong and needs to be set straight.

            You’re actually doing the opposite of what I’m talking about right now, so no wonder it seems weird to you to think of changing. That isn’t, however, my problem.

            1. JT*

              Liz, the words “match” and “mirror” don’t mean what you want them to mean.

              “To be honest though, you aren’t meeting me halfway.”

              Because you are wrong, or at least inconsistent in what you are saying. “[M]atch the other person as well as you can in order to have an interaction” the phrase you used earlier, has a fairly clear meaning in English. The fact that you’ve backed off that in your last post, qualifying it to mean something different, demonstrates that you were using them incorrectly or at least that they are not appropriate words for (whatever) it is you mean.

              “You are insisting on your own interpretation of what I am saying even as I literally tell you that you are not describing the same thing I am.”

              Because you’re using language in a sloppy way. I’m interpreting words like “match” and “mirror” by their standard meaning. If you want to communicate well, don’t make up your own meaning and expect other people to meet you halfway. Choose better words so you can explain what you mean more clearly.

              And “rude”?” What about “what we are supposed to learn as babies”? That’s a pretty sharp phrase to use early on in a discussion.

              1. JT*

                One last thing – which I think is blunt more than rude – I note you ignored my question about “matching” someone being overly familiar with the OP. Which makes sense, since it would be silly and perhaps even dangerous to encourage more familiarity.

                I think that demonstrates the problem with your recommendation about “matching.”

                1. Liz*

                  I read your response twice, and it just comes off like you want to keep arguing no matter what the other person says. You have a straw man set up, and you obviously aren’t going to listen to me if I type it all out again so I won’t.

                  Bottom line: If the guy who is considered creepy could do what Emily and I are describing he probably wouldn’t have people complaining about him being creepy.

            2. Theguvnah*

              Liz i just want to say thank you for patiently fighting the good fight on this thread. I cosign everything you are saying.

              1. Liz*

                I just want to say that I love your screen name! Puns that depend on a cockney accent are the greatest thing on the world :)

                1. JT*


                  “I read your response twice, and it just comes off like you want to keep arguing no matter what the other person says.”

                  No, I am arguing because of what *you* are saying about matching/mirroring, not a generic other person or generic topic.

                  Second, your mixing what you have said with what Emily said is bizarre. She wrote “I carefully avoided him and rebuffed his attempts to befriend me” and also talked of that sort of thing in bars with creepy pick up artists. She’s talking about avoiding and not engaging – you’ve talked about keeping an interaction going.

                  If you can explain how avoiding someone attempting to befriend her is in a anyway some sort of “matching,” I’m all ears. They seem to be opposites to me.

  20. Spokker*

    Off topic, but have you ever tackled mandatory arbitration, Ms. Ask A Manager?

    If you support anything but voluntary arbitration agreements, then you are basically advocating that workers be stripped of their right to due process, discovery, and appeal. American Bar Association studies show that workers fare worse under arbitration than in public courts even under the good arbitrators that claim to have fair standards. In fact, the more a company arbitrates, the more likely it is to win rulings from arbitrators. Why? Because the retired judges who do it want to be picked again.

    By supporting mandatory binding arbitration, you would essentially support shifting power from the legislature and the executive branch to private corporations. Politicians can pass worker protection laws to feel good about themselves, but they cannot be enforced in the best interest of society if a private arbitration firm is going to rule on the matter. It’s a balance of power issue where an employee cannot, in most cases, refuse work simply because there is a mandatory arbitration clause, especially if more and more companies do it.

    Since you do show up in Google search results quite a bit, it hope you stand with workers on this one.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t support mandatory arbitration in any situation — in the workplace, with your phone company, whatever. I’m actually baffled that it’s legal to require someone to give up their rights to the court system.

  21. OP*

    Hi all, OP here again. There seems to be some confusion in the comments, and I’d like to clarify. First, my situation has nothing at all to do with race. I never mentioned it. It’s not a factor. I’m not sure how that even became an issue here.

    Second, I haven’t accused anyone of anything. As I stated in an earlier comment, the reason I brought my question to AAM was exactly *because* I didn’t want to say anything to anyone who knows this person. I am fully aware that if I did that, I could mar a person’s reputation based on a gut feeling, which I *don’t want to do.* So, no one here is advocating spreading rumors or saying anything bad about this man – not me, not Alison. Instead, I was looking for advice on how to continue to be professional while not completely ignoring my feeling of unease. The consensus seems to be continue business as usual, but be cautious and aware. I’m not sure how that answer could possibly be offensive to anyone.

    Finally, in sixteen years of working (part-time jobs in high school and college, plus several years of professional employment), I have never had this feeling or response to a person, man or woman. Which is why it threw me off so much in the first place. I don’t think it is unreasonable to listen to that feeling and try to figure out why I’m having it.

    1. Charles*

      OP, part of the problem is that so many (myself included) read a post and then “project” our own experiences/situation when it has no bearing on your situation. So, don’t worry about that – I don’t think anyone is accusing you of racism or rumormongering (hey, I actually get to use such a word! “rumormongering”) or anything like that.

      I would second AAM’s advice. Do nothing but keep alert. (Advice, in my opinion, which applies even when there are not bad vibes coming from someone.)

      As for the staring thing, although you mention he is a superior, you don’t mention if he is a supervisor; maybe when he is looking in your direction he is thinking about how he is going to use your skills, etc., on a project? I think it is also possible that others “stare” but since they don’t give “creepy” feelings we tend not to notice. Just two things to consider. I think your solution of blocking the view is the right one at this point in time. (One place I worked the cubicles were at just the right height that the only thing you saw of your neighbors were their eyes and above – a lot of folks put up “blockage” – to avoid seeing their neighbors all day)

      Lastly, not to put down your 16-years of work experience or anything; but, it is remarkable (and do you know how lucky you are?) that you have not come across someone like this earlier.

      I could tell everyone here some real crazy stories of some of the “weirdoes” that I have had the misfortune of working with over the years. Hair sniffer – he would sneak up behind women in the office and sniff their hair; and why for God’s sake was I the only one who ever caught him – no one would believe me! Or the guy who I caught looking at porn on his computer – he sat in a cubicle which faced a window, it was only at night when the blinds were not drawn that the window would act like a mirror and I could see what was on his monitor by the reflection in the window; again, the boss did not believe me! Or the guy (who we did not hire – thank God – the boss believed me) as I walked him through the department to interview with the Boss made a comment about a lot of nice looking “T &A” in the department.

      See, I’m projecting my own experiences here which have nothing to do with yours. Hopefully, nothing will turn bad in your situation – good luck!

      1. OP*

        Hi Charles – thanks for your response! It’s helpful hearing how other people have dealt with these kinds of situations in the past.

        It sounds like you’ve definitely worked with some creepers! I actually have as well, I think everyone has, but I should have been more clear – I actually meant that this is the first time I’ve reacted like this to someone without “good reason” (aka I haven’t caught him looking at porn or sniffing anyone’s hair, thank goodness!) You’re right though, I definitely have been lucky to not have to deal with this kind of uncomfortable feeling before now.

        1. Arbynka*

          Good Morning OP,
          I must admit I have not read all of the posts but I am 100 % sure someone has mentioned “The gift of fear” ( I got it after recommendations posted on this discussion board – long time lurker). There is a “good reason” you get the creeps around this person. Your brain has picked up on something, something “real”, and trust me, you will “place it” later. It might be something connected to this person or it might be something to do only with “you”, but it is there. Of course no reasonable person would go and report someone based on an “intuition”. But on other hand, do not “rationalize” yourself out of this feeling. Follow AAM´s advise, trust and listen to yourself :)

          1. Arbynka*

            Ok, now I see OP has read The Gift od Fear. I missed it . Time for a coffee. A nice, strong coffee.

      2. AMG*

        “OP, part of the problem is that so many (myself included) read a post and then “project” our own experiences/situation when it has no bearing on your situation. ”

        Looks like Spokker has met some accusations. I can’t imagine why.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In Spokker’s defense, if he has indeed been falsely accused, I can certainly see why that would make someone bitter and angry about these issues, and would color his perceptions just as much as someone’s on the other side of the issue would be. We all see the world through our own experiences, and being falsely accused is a terrible thing.

          1. AMG*

            I didn’t say they were legitimate–I am saying he has allowed his anger and bitterness to turn him into a creep.

            (And before anyone gets upset, being angry or bitter in itself are not creepy, but this guy has transformed them into creepiness)

          2. Anonymous*

            The best man at our wedding was falsely accused of rape in college by an ex who sought revenge because he left her cheating butt after enduring it too long. It outraged me to hear of it, and he admits it took him several years and some counseling sessions to move past it. I agree both that false accusations are serious business, and that this particular poster has crossed several lines in communicating with us.

            1. AMG*

              This whole thread is heartbreaking. I cannot imagine how hard that must have been for him to go through after being treated pooly in the first place.

    2. Student*

      OP, I think your thread has somehow picked up several trolls. Don’t worry too much about them, please. You sound very reasonable and sensible to me. I suspect that a very small number of guys who are themselves “creepers” got uncomfortable and defensive once they read about it from your side of the fence.

      Really, it takes a special kind of crazy to call you out for posting a phone list so he can’t stare at you. I’m all for being polite to other commenters with different opinions on how to handle things, but there’s a limit.

      1. Spokker*

        On the Internet, anytime someone disagrees with you they are trolling.

        And now I’ve noticed that all my posts are being queued for moderation. With that, I will cease posting here and remove my subscription to new comments.

          1. MeganO*

            +1. I so very much enjoy the atmosphere in the comments here, where even when people disagree they can generally be respectful about it. Thanks AAM for keeping it that way.

  22. Emily*

    I quite clearly recall the last person who made my hairs stand up and gave me the creeps all over. It was in college and we had mutual friends but I carefully avoided him and rebuffed his attempts to befriend me, even though he hadn’t done anything I could point to as a reason for being creeped out.

    About a year later, he started dating a friend of one of our mutual friends. Then she went missing, and a month later it came out that he had choked her to death and dumped her body on a farm.

    Trust your gut.

    1. Charles*

      Not to belittle your situation, dismiss the lost life, or anything; But, it is nice to hear that you thought something wasn’t right.

      I am always amazed when they do catch a killer like this. All, and I mean ALL, his (Sorry, AAM, I know that when gender is usually unknown on your website the standard is to use her; but, it usually is a man, not a woman, who does this crap, so I’ll stick with the male pronoun) neighbors say “gee, he seems like such a nice guy.” or “wow, he was always friendly, that’s surprising!” Once, just once I would like to hear someone on the news say “yep, he seemed like trouble! we always knew he was a no-good monster!”

      Just look at the folks who were defending whatshisname from Penn state (yes, I know his name, but don’t feel like saying it – the perv!) How many of those folks knew “something wasn’t right” and didn’t say anything. Or the idiot coach who actually did catch the perv in the showers with one of the boys and didn’t do anything but call his father at home that night asking for advice. (I catch someone in the showers “doing something” with a young boy *I* will be the one going to jail for battery.)

      So, yea, trust your gut. The OP should trust her gut; but so far has no reason to act, nor should she until she has real proof.

      1. Anonymous*

        As someone whose first abuser was female and, well, a parent, I’d like to point out that not believing the victim can apply to female perpetrators too. I can’t tell you the number of times I have received harsh rebukes from women subscribing to the branch of feminism that says “women are incapable of violence – it simply never happens.” And likewise, I can’t tell you the number of times my painful childhood/adolescence has been belittled and chalked up to my “spoiled” attitude and inability to accept “good, old-fashioned corporal punishment” by the branch of conservatism that says children are to be seen and not heard.

        The only person in my family who would totally understand the dynamic of the PTSD I grapple with most days of the week is my grandfather, who was both a WWII vet, and a victim of abuse from both his wife and his daughter (aka my mother). He viewed his impending death from chronic heart disease at age 87 as a relief because depression and self-hatred plagued him his entire life. I cry to think of what the young victims of the Penn State abuse ring will endure as they go through life.

      2. MeganO*

        Agree. Emily, you just gave me the shivers. I’m so sorry that happened, but I’m also glad you were able to recognize it and avoid him.

        1. MeganO*

          Anonymous, that’s terrible for you as well – if you’re grappling, it sounds as though you at least haven’t sunk under yet. However Liz put it, PTSD is a wretched thing, and good luck as you continue to deal with it.
          My dad and I were just having that same conversation about the victims abused at/around Penn State, and what the fallout from that is likely to be. So much sadness.

  23. Ellen M.*

    Comparing the earlier “staring” Q&A to this one – why is it creepy and inappropriate when a man is staring at a co-worker – and the OP should pay attention to her feeling creeped out and be wary of him – but if if a woman is the one doing the staring, everyone tries to think of a good reason why her staring might be harmless?

    If you ask me, staring at a co-worker is creepy no matter who is doing the staring. If someone has a bad gut feeling about someone, should that feeling be taken seriously only if the creepy-staring person is male?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s because the OP here is feeling uncomfortable about him (not just because of the staring, but also for other reasons), whereas the OP in the earlier staring post didn’t seem to have feelings about the person beyond the staring itself.

      1. Ellen M.*

        In both cases the staring was described as “creepy” and the OP said she *felt* “uncomfortable”. Also in the earlier Q&A there were others who were made uncomfortable by the staring too.

        From the earlier Q&A:

        “…it’s downright creepy.”

        “Turns out she stares at everyone – throughout the day (i.e., at large meetings, lunches) and it’s making us all really uncomfortable.”

        Replace the “she” with a “he” in the previous sentence. There’s a double standard going on here with the creepy staring behavior.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Others might read it differently, but to me this OP is expressing a very different thing than the other OP. The earlier OP seems to be being made uncomfortable by being stared at, end of story. She didn’t like being stared at; there wasn’t anything else to her discomfort (that she mentioned, in any case).

          This OP seems to be being made uncomfortable in general, with the staring only part of the reason why.

      2. Arbynka*

        I agree. I think that the discomfort is the key here. I also think that you should listen to your intuition no matter if it is connected to a man or a woman.

        1. Arbynka*

          Yes, Ellen, but as the previous poster said it was the staring that made them uncomfortable. That the staring was creepy – not the woman doign the staring – and she was staring at everyone. OP here said this man makes her feel creepy and the staring is just one part of why. I personally would feel way more worried about a man/women staring just at me than about someone that stares at everyone. Because if a man/woman stares at everyone, it might be a personality trait, something he/she is not aware of… etc. If a person is staring only at me – than yeah, I would might be worried.

    2. Liz T*

      Gender is definitely relevant here–not in our collective response to the respective questions (which went off the content of the questions), but in the OPs’ reactions to the staring. Yes, of course, a woman is going to be more nervous about a man staring than a woman staring. We’re trained from an early age to be on guard about male aggression. While women are frequently perpetrators of violence, most women (I believe) have more personal experience with men as a physical threat. This man’s staring could be as innocuous as the woman’s staring (however innocuous that was), but it makes sense that the two OPs would be asking different questions .

      1. Anonymous*

        That’s a great point Liz. It made me consider: I) Some women are raised with visions of a great ‘sisterhood’ and may feel guilt at taking a woman to task, and II) Many men are taught the basics of chivalry, and may feel bad about combatting a female harasser.

        While I have never been bullied or sexually harassed by a woman, my boundaries were seriously violated by a female subordinate at a work-related social function. She got much too drunk, led the conversation into inappropriate territory, and touched me several times on the shoulders/torso in ways that I was not comfortable with, as her husband looked on. I think my amazement at seeing this from a woman halted my taking action ASAP, and being a lightweight, my lone martini didn’t help. Going forward, I kept my distance, and when she tried to engage me in an overly familiar way, I would change the subject or find a work-related reason to excuse myself. (“Whoops! Gotta prepare for my 11 o’clock. Catch you later!”)

        1. Anonymous*

          Come to think of it, this wasn’t a double standard though. I’ve been harassed (blatantly harassed, as in received gross sexual comments) by a couple men, on and off the job, and the first time it happens, I am often too stunned to think of a quick retort. The man may try it again; if so, I let him know where we stand. This woman was more of a Nosy Nellie when sober, relishing in telling her business and hoping to bond as you spilled yours. Ignoring those types has always worked best for me. Her creeping on me while drunk…well, I don’t know the heck that came from!

          1. Liz T*

            For the sake of keeping track of the question about gender: are these two “Anonymous” posts by the same person? If so, what is your gender? If not, what are your respective genders?

            1. Different Anonymous*

              I read the above two postings as from one person, a man who was inappropriately touched at a social function (the “creeping while drunk” thing) by a woman who was typically a “Nosy Nellie when sober”. This man was also harassed by men a few times.

  24. Melissa*

    I just want to mention that I think it’s great that the OP is being really open-minded about this situation, without completely dismissing her intuition.

    Also, I am always impressed by your professionalism when dealing with certain people that comment on your blog. ;) It’s great inspiration for those of us that might need a little help reigning in our emotions when discussing these themes.

    1. Liz T*

      Agreed! “Stay vigilant without jumping to conclusions” is the perfect way to proceed.

  25. Anonymous Today*

    Another frequent reader and poster who wanted to post anonymously.
    OP – I’m sorry you are dealing with the creeps from this guy. You seem totally level-headed and smart about how you are choosing to handle the situation.

    As for myself, I have been dealing with an inappropriate CEO/President/Owner for several years. It’s a company with a few hundred employees, but only about 30-40 of us in the corporate office, interacting with him on a daily basis. Everyone just tolerates his behavior: my boss, our department VP, our one person in HR, and all the other departments. He “only” once touched someone inappropriately, and that was over 5 years ago. His issue is commenting on female appearances. And for me specifically, having a strange fascination with my husband. He asks me daily how my husband is, and once in a while jokingly asks if I’m still married.
    I believe his comments stem from a place of seeing women in a very old-fashioned way (hello, “Mad Men”). He is 68 years old, doesn’t like to be challenged on personal or work matters, and I’m quite sure he sees nothing wrong with his comments. Even the outspoken feminist in our office tolerates him. I truly believe he is not dangerous but that doesn’t stop me from being uncomfortable.

    Other than quit, is there anything I can do?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Him: “How’s your husband?”
      You: “Why do you ask?”

      Every single time.

      In response to comments on women’s appearances: “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my appearance. Thank you.”

      If you feel more comfortable, you can say: “I know you don’t mean any harm, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my appearance. Thank you.”

  26. OP of I think my coworker may be stalking me*

    I’m way late here but I just have to say that THIS is exactly how my situation started. I believe my post was the original one that The Gift of Fear was mentioned on. Great book. My situation escalated, mostly because I was too afraid of listening to my own gut at first, also because I was new to that company, nd the workforce in general. I feel for you OP!

  27. Little Tex*

    I was in a very similar situation. A new hire at the company was assigned to the desk next to me and he seemed fine the first day. However on the second day, he was asking me questions nonstop throughout the day about my family, what I did the day before, and even asked what I ate for dinner. He hadn’t done anything wrong, but I had that “creeped out” feeling so I buried myself in my work, avoided engaging him in any conversation beyond “hello” and “goodbye” and he would still ask me countless questions about myself. My supervisor noticed after only a few days and the new hire was mysteriously “reassigned” to a different part of the office and I had not said a word about him to HR. Thank goodness for the awesome supervisor!

  28. john*

    this is not a very big problem. you can secretly ask someone that work with before or his boss about his behavior. you can say something like that is Mr. always steering at people I don’t like that. In that case you do not accuse him of anything you just explain a certain behavior you don’t like.

  29. john*

    this is not a very big problem. you can secretly ask someone he works with before or his boss about his behavior. you can say something like that is Mr. so and so always steering at people. I don’t like that. In that case you do not accuse him of doing anything you just explain a certain behavior you don’t like.

  30. Hope4Spring*

    There is so much passive aggression and cowardice here. 90% of the time harassment stops once confronted. Likewise, if these people are “creepy” they may not know they are creeping you out because you’re going on the internet and talking negatively about them rather than explaining what exactly they are doing to make you feel uneasy and ask for clarification or termination of the action. What happened to treat others the way you’d like to be treated?

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