my coworker is hovering, staring, and making me uncomfortable

A reader writes:

I have an issue with a male coworker of mine. When I started out at the job, we became good friends and I had joined his family for dinner a few times but it always felt a little awkward and began to feel like he was getting too close to me. He seems to take interest in everything that I do, regurgitates my calendar to me if I have any kind of out-of-town events or hanging out with friends, whatever it may be, and picks up any hobby that I have. It’s driving me crazy!

I recently talked to my boss about it, and he reassured me that this coworker tends to attach himself to a specific person and tells that person everything. It made me feel a little bit better, but I still get uneasy vibes from him. I finally talked directly to my coworker about how I was feeling and that I feel like he’s gotten too close to me. Things seemed to have gotten better for a little while, but now it is starting back up again. He seems more quiet and reserved, but in any meetings that we have or when my boss comes in to talk to me (our desks are side by side with a cubicle wall in between), he is constantly staring at me and it makes me feel SO uncomfortable. If I ask a coworker a question, he jumps in immediately to answer before even giving my coworker a chance to answer.

I’ve read your articles about addressing the staring, and will probably try that out this week, but another thing he does is constantly apologize to me for every little thing. For instance, if I react a certain way to something he says, he will then approach me later when it’s just us and say, “Can I talk to you about something?” And then he apologizes profusely for things that don’t even matter. I feel like he’s constantly looking for my forgiveness for some reason.

If you have any advice on this, please send it my way. I am in desperate need.

Your boss thinks that the fact that your coworker does this over and over with different people somehow makes it better?

If you made it clear to your boss that your coworker is making you uneasy, that’s a really inadequate response. If your boss knows this is a pattern and knows that it’s creeping people out, he should talk to your coworker and tell him that he needs to dial the intensity of his interest in people way down.

We can’t make your boss do that, though, so let’s focus on what you can do. One immediate thing: It sounds like it would help if you were able to put some physical distance between you and your coworker, so could you sit somewhere that isn’t right next to him? Assuming you need your manager’s okay to to do that, I’d say this to him: “Fergus continues to make me extremely uncomfortable with the amount of personal interest he takes in everything I do. He stares at me, makes unwelcome comments, and generally gives me the impression that he’s interested in me in a way that isn’t appropriate for a coworker. I feel uneasy about his interest, and I think a lot of this would be solved if I weren’t sitting right next to him. Given how uncomfortable he’s making me, will you okay me moving to another desk?”

Also, you may need to be more direct with your coworker himself. I would say this: “Fergus, the issues we talked about earlier are coming up again. When you stare at me, jump into conversations I’m having with others, and initiate so many private conversations to apologize for things, it makes me uncomfortable. I’d like you to stop.”

I know this won’t be a comfortable conversation, but what he’s doing now is making you uncomfortable too. Since you have to choose between two uncomfortable options, take the one that makes him more likely to stop.

Also! Keep in mind that if he’s genuinely a nice guy who doesn’t realize how uncomfortable he’s making you, he’ll respect this request from you — in which case, problem solved. He might a bit hurt or embarrassed, but he’ll abide by what you’re asking him to do. (And really, nice people don’t want to creep out other people, and want to be told if they’re inadvertently doing that.) On the other hand, if he’s not a nice guy, then that’s all the more reason to speak up clearly and explicitly, so that you’re on record as telling him that his behavior is unwelcome, and then are able to more easily escalate if it continues.

{ 151 comments… read them below }

    1. JJ*

      Omg. Fergus sounds exactly like this guy at my work work place. He creeps me the fuck out. He seem nice and normal at first then he just started getting too close, leaving little gifts on my desk. And he started calling and texting me even though i told him i dont want to be friends outside of work so much to the point i had to block him and then he started calling me from a private number and he’s always apologizing to me in private. I don’t like the drama but i think I’m going to report him to HR.

  1. Jennifer*

    Wait a minute, it’s okay at this place for a coworker to repeatedly kinda stalk people? He’s not a baby bird who imprints on the nearest “mommy.”

    1. AMG*

      lol-that is a great description. He sounds very needy and vulnerable. Not your place to suggest, but he could benefit from counseling.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Boss is probably rationalizing away having to have an uncomfortable conversation by saying ‘oh, well, if he does it to everyone it’s not weird or harassing, it’s just his quirky little ways.’

      1. Specialk9*

        I had heard of this blog but not read it. That was a good post, thanks for sharing.

  2. Ell like L*

    It’s unconscionable that your boss hasn’t intervened with this guy before if he has a pattern of attaching himself to specific people and makes them uncomfortable. What?

    1. Katie the Fed*

      As a boss – it’s REALLY hard to address fundamental personality issues. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try (focusing on the specific behaviors), but it’s definitely one of the hardest things you can deal with. I’d rather deal with someone not wearing deodorant than someone with a creepy personality.

      1. Ell like L*

        I hear you, but the way this reads is that Boss was much more willing to brush it off than have a serious conversation with the guy; like he didn’t even take it that seriously. It’s inexcusable to expect women to deal with creepy behavior just because it’s hard to address.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s hard to say without knowing more about how much the boss knows. If the guy has done this to men and women and it’s been framed to the boss as the coworker just being overly clingy, he might be seeing it as annoying/awkward friendship behavior. (The OP does say that she was close with the coworker at first and hung out with him outside of work, so the boss might not realize that the coworker’s behavior is making her uneasy now — unless she explicitly tells him that.) If people aren’t framing it to the boss as “I’m uncomfortable with this,” the boss may not be getting the right information to act on.

          I don’t know if it’s that or not, though — I can’t tell from the letter.

          1. Ell like L*

            Fair enough, good reminder that I’m not operating with all the information! If that’s the case, I think it’s important that OP goes to Boss again and emphasized that it’s not just social awkwardness though.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Yes, the letter says he tends to attach himself to “a specific person,” and it doesn’t say whether it tends to be men or women. I can definitely see someone like this doing it to both–it reminds me of someone I knew in school.

      2. Shannon*

        If only they made a deodorant for creepy personalities. Creep-stick? Creep-be-gone? Creep-away?

      3. AnotherAlison*

        Sooo . . . I have a new coworker that has some personality issues. I was initially paired up with him for some work, so I brought my concerns to my boss. I told him I was struggling working with Coworker because he’s very high strung (phrased differently to my boss). I said I could work with him in the future, but I’m dealing with some other very stressful stuff right now and didn’t have the mental bandwidth for this too. My boss’s response was that they knew the guy was “rough around the edges” when they hired him and anticipated this. They assigned a different person to be the point person helping him, so the situation has been managed. They haven’t addressed the underlying problem, but I think there are ways to manage around difficult personalities, as long as they’re not crossing into harassing behaviors.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          (Also – not trying to argue with Katie that this is tough managerial issue, just trying to provide an example of how I saw it handled successfully.)

      4. mazzy*

        I bet. My people are normal but someone else in the office is very weird. He thinks up computer issues and is always in a huff and walking back and forth back and forth and always scratching himself and popping prescription pills and complaining. Only thing that they’ve addressed is the complaining.

  3. fposte*

    And you can cut him off on those apologies. Don’t even wait until there’s an opening. “Stop [complete with hand gestures if needed]. Fergus, I said yes because I thought this was work information. This is personal and inappropriate, as we discussed. We need to go back to work.” If he keeps talking, “Fergus, I’m working. Stop now, please.” (Or just put earphones in.)

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes. Do not underestimate the power of the hand gesture. A raised, flat hand in the universal ‘stop’ gesture is very effective.

      1. Natalie*

        And if needed, just walk away. You don’t need him to give you permission or even to acknowledge that the conversation is over.

  4. Katie the Fed*

    Also, when he says “can I talk to you for a minute” I would respond “no, unless it’s clearly work related.”

    It’s ok to be rude at this point – he’s being rude by not respecting your boundaries.

    1. Kiki*

      I had to do this once with a coworker and he actually had the nerve to complain to his boss that I was very cold and unfriendly. wtf

  5. Alice*

    Oh, my goodness, this kind of stuff gives me the CREEPS. (If anyone has seen What About Bob?, this is the kind of stuff I’m thinking of…people who don’t recognize that, while what they are doing is meant to show affection and/or attachment, if the other person shows signs of discomfort, he/she should stop doing what he/she is doing.) I’ve had people do this to me in social situations, which normally means my only option is to speak with them directly and hope they stop. But in this case, I agree with Jennifer and AAM – your boss should not be tolerating this just because it’s one of this guy’s personality quirks. If this is becoming a serious problem for you to be able to do your work in a positive environment, you should talk to her and insist she say something if a one-on-one conversation with him does not work.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I don’t know why everyone thought that movie was so funny. The character was so inappropriate and creepy that I couldn’t get around the idea of having to deal with that person on real life. It was very hard to be entertained.

          1. Alice*

            Oh, my goodness, I totally agree with you guys! My roommate showed it to me because she thinks it’s hysterical, and the whole time we were watching it I just sat there in terror that Bob was going to show up on my street or something.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Aw to each his own I guess, but I love that movie. The whole point was he had separation anxiety and the dr blew him off and then had to deal with the aftermath. Whereas if he had just dealt with him in the first place, all that interrupting the vacation wouldn’t have happened. Remember, the rest of the family loved Bob and the Dr is the one who ended up cracking.

      2. Jessica (tc)*

        Oh thank goodness! There are other people out there who hate that movie as much as I do. I have never met another person who was as creeped out and unnerved by that movie as I was, because everyone else seems to find it hilarious. I kept wondering why no one else felt that his behavior was inappropriate and out of line, because it’s so obvious, right? Right?! :-O

        1. Mookie*

          I’ve always thought that Cringe Comedy (like the original The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Thick of It, et al.) or whatever you call it works so well for some viewers either because seeing it happen to someone else is like a talisman that will help ward off it ever happening to you or that experiencing second-hand embarrassment and uneasiness from a safe distance is comforting and makes your own past gaffes seem mild by comparison. A lot of people enjoy those awkward, squirming moments, but I can only take the fictional ones in small doses and the unscripted, live ones never. I have to leave the room.

          1. Jessica (tc)*

            I think you have something there, Mookie. The first time I saw Office Space, I hated it. I was actually IN a terrible office situation, so it rang too true to be remotely funny to me. I saw it again later, removed from that job, and I actually laughed at a few places that made me cringe before. I don’t know exactly what causes the visceral reaction to What About Bob?, but it just really just causes me stress instead of laughs.

            I don’t do well with movies or episodic TV that goes for the pena ajena for laughs. It just makes me uncomfortable for the person being embarrassed. I don’t mind and even love black humor, but making someone look crazy, gaslighting (especially when everyone around the person believes in the weirdness going on), or embarrassing people just doesn’t make me laugh (in real life or on film).

  6. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Oh wow.  A few things come to mind…

    1) Just because this guy does it with other people, doesn’t mean it’s any less of a problem for you.  It’s a problem for you, and your boss needs to acknowledge that.  By saying otherwise, s/he is taking the lazy way out.  Don’t let that happen.

    A good response is, “Coworker may do this with everyone else, but he’s still making me uncomfortable.  I’d like to do X, Y, and Z to remedy that.”  You acknowledge what your boss is saying, but you’re circling back to the original problem that remains.  It doesn’t matter how other people feel; it only matters how YOU feel.

    2) The apologizing thing can be a form of manipulation (the day care letter, anyone?) or his sincere effort to address a problem.  Either way, you can’t know his intentions, and it doesn’t matter in the long run.  You don’t need him to apologize; you need him to dial it down.

    A good response is, “I don’t need apologies.  I need you to stop doing [specific action(s)].”  Make sure you look him in the eye, and you’re not smiling or even turning up the corners of your mouth.  Don’t be nice; be polite/cordial.  If he’s apologizing for something minor, make sure to keep the interaction as brief as possible.  Give him as little as possible to respond to.

    3) When you ask a coworker a question and he jumps in the conversation, both of you should stare at him.  Then when he’s done talking, return to the conversation as if he never said anything.  Better yet, your other coworker should continue talking as though she was never interrupted.  (That’s the best way to deal with interrupters.)

    4) Beware any sort of behavioral justification or personal story.  I certainly don’t deny that that’s a possibility, but whatever he’s struggling with is his own to deal with.  Nothing gives him license to act that way toward you.  Again, be polite/professional about it, but don’t be sympathetic and nice.  Never give the impression that his behavior is okay no matter what the circumstances are.

    1. embertine*

      One good question to ask the boss might be that, if the co-worker has done this to other people, have they all been women? Because if they have, that kind of destroys the plausible deniability of “oh he’s just a bit socially awkward.”

        1. Anon for this*

          I won’t, but only because I had a coworker who did this sort of thing. (I grant you, only doing this to men is the more likely scenario – but I know the more generalized behavior does happen.) Actually drove a couple guys in the office just about ’round the bend.

          Gave me no real trouble: I channeled my inner Alison and took a deep breath or three and just explained to him, at each instance, that X behavior bothered me and I’d like him not to do it. And yes, I had to do it for each of several types of behavior, but those behaviors _rarely_ repeated with me thereafter and he would correct mid-course if he realized they were.

          The two guys I know of for sure who were bothered by some of it, didn’t want to talk to him about it (despite my advice to them that it worked and didn’t cause awkwardness, which in fact was the case) were still dealing with it right up until he found another job.

          (And our mutual supervisor tried to address patterns but wasn’t wholly comfortable with the conversation, and I’m not sure how strong it was. He actually had to deal with more issues from this guy to him than I did to me….)

          Certainly a _lot_ of the time you see this sort of behavior, it is from a man to a woman or women, and he doesn’t do it to men, or at the very least doesn’t do it to men above him on the org chart. But not always.

          1. Mookie*

            Yeah, I kind of feel that adolescent hero worship functions similarly, the preoccupation with whatever the object of the worship is doing, the desire to placate, the desire for approval and contact, the singular-ness of the one-sided friendship where the worshipper only has eyes for one person at a time. In this instance, I don’t really see the gendered quality others are (understandably) speculating about. It feels like it might be a pattern that probably developed much earlier in this man’s life, like he grew up believing friendships have instruction manuals and this is how you systematically create one*, rather than having the wisdom and experience to know that such relationships need to be more-or-less natural and not staged or manipulated into existence.

            *for the record, this is also how PUAs and Nice Guys operate on women, thinking they can hack into the schematics of the Universal Female Brain, insert their coins, and win their prize fair and square by playing by the “rules”

    2. Nancy Raygun*

      Very good suggestions. I’ll note that Your point #2 could also be that he is very self-conscious and doesn’t understand the more subtle social cues. I had a coworker like this and I learned I couldn’t be as open and talkative with him if I wanted to get my work done in peace. Be polite and cordial, but definitely be firm when you’re rebuffing him so he gets that it’s a serious issue. Keep your business to yourself and keep conversations short.

    3. Petronella*

      “Better yet, your other coworker should continue talking as though she was never interrupted. (That’s the best way to deal with interrupters.)”
      I am trying to teach myself to do this – to just keep talking when someone interrupts me, without pausing. It’s hard but very rewarding!

    4. straws*

      “Just because this guy does it with other people, doesn’t mean it’s any less of a problem for you.”
      Why is this so difficult to understand? I have a coworker who frequently stares at my chest when we speak (I’m female). I brought it up to my boss (male) and his response was essentially “Oh, he does that with everyone. Don’t take it personally. He stares at my chest too, and it doesn’t bother me!” I attempted to open a discussion similar to the quote above, but got nowhere.

        1. straws*

          I did move on to a similar argument, also pointing out that even if I suddenly decided to stop caring there are other women who weren’t a part of our conversation that would certainly be uncomfortable. He kind of acknowledged a potential issue by saying he’d see if a good opportunity came up to address it and concluded by heavily implying that I was overreacting and it’s unlikely anyone else would care (since he didn’t, I guess). It’s far from the worst issue here, so I’m focusing my efforts elsewhere at this point.

      1. Your Weird Uncle*

        Ugh. The worst. At OldJob, the leery old guy who had been there for ages and ages (and loved to stare at my chest and made comments about my bottom looking good, etc.) was not only one of the highest execs in the place, he was also the Sexual Harassment Officer. So gross.

        1. straws*

          I guess at that company, the Sexual Harassment Officer was the person who was the best at sexual harassment?

        2. JennyFair*

          Oh my goodness! What on earth can anyone do if the compliance officer is the offender?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            A good harassment policy will have a procedure for this situation — someone to report the harassment to if you’re not comfortable reporting it to the normal designee.

            1. JennyFair*

              I guess I figure if they care enough to have a good policy, they’d care enough to have a good officer? I’d find it intimidating-bordering-on-frightening to be in this situation, myself. Not that I wouldn’t do/say anything, just that it would concern me.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      I’m a big fan of “I don’t need you to apologize. I need you to do X” (or stop doing x).

  7. some1*

    “When I started out at the job, we became good friends and I had joined his family for dinner a few times but it always felt a little awkward and began to feel like he was getting too close to me.”

    This is why I am always a little wary of new coworkers/neighbors who want to be besties with me right off the bat, and it’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way. The people who have tried to push a quick friendship ended up crossing boundaries in ways I wasn’t comfortable with, and it’s tough to dial back a friendship with someone you see every day.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Same here. I learned that lesson the hard way at my first job, and that’s why I always keep new co-workers at arm’s length for at least a year.

      Many times, I’ve had to remind people that we’re not friends. We were thrown together but chance, not choice.

      I even had a boss who complained that she didn’t “know” me despite the fact I worked for her for many years. Do I get my TPS reports in on time? Am I a reliable employee who regularly produces good work? Then that’s all you need to know!

      1. Menacia*

        +1111 Yes, this! I don’t want to be best friends with my coworkers, work together, all. day. long., that’s more than enough for me. I don’t a lot of the people I work with any further than what they do maybe a little about their personal lives. I had, in previous jobs, become friendly outside work with some folks, but it never worked out, so I just keep my distance now. I do socialize during work hours, and at work events, but not beyond that.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          Same here. Previous couple jobs people hung out after work and acted like we were all besties. Then I’d get laid off (this was during recession) and before long they didn’t even want to communicate with me. Silly me I thought we were friends! It was just the illusion of friendship but really we were just “working” overtime together. I’m glad current job doesn’t have social element to it.

          1. Petronella*

            I’ve had that experience too. Amazing how quickly they forget you ever existed. It definitely cured me of thinking that anyone at work was really my friend. I suppose if you end up doing things with the other person completely off the clock and unrelated to work, i.e. something other than after-work drinks, then maybe you might start to consider them a friend. It doesn’t seem to happen that often though, IME.

            1. Specialk9*

              In my mind, if you’ve seen my house or vice versa, you’re likely a friend. Otherwise we’re friendly co-workers. But I’m pretty guarded about moving from bright socializing, to real friendship.

          2. another anon*

            I hear y’all about the risks of merging work life and social life (the “it’s tough to dial back a friendship with someone you see every day” also goes for dating).

            After a couple of layoffs I did stay in touch with some coworkers – and *those* became friendships.

      2. Laura*

        YES. It’s very important for me to keep my private life out of work. Work isn’t school, where it’s expected that you make friends and socialize. Work is work.

      3. Trout 'Waver*

        Totally agree, Snarkus.

        It plays out on another level, as well. At work, you are perceived as being at the same level as the people you associate with. It’s best for your career and job performance to understand how people are perceived in an institution before picking sides.

        I know that sounds somewhat Machiavellian or cliquish, but you gotta look out for yourself. And reputation management is important. Not as important as doing good work and being nice to people, but it still is important.

        1. themmases*

          I don’t think it’s too Machiavellian, just wise. You could also decide to try to project not being in a particular group at all.

          I did this in a very political workplace (where I only had one direct counterpart, so I wasn’t in an automatic clique really) and I felt like it worked out very well– at least, as well as working in a highly political office can. I ended up will allies among many different departments and roles that normally worked and socialized apart.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yep. Learned this one the hard way — came into my new department, had a senior coworker immediately take an interest in me and try to be besties. Found out later that it was because she’d alienated almost everyone else due to really bizarre and inappropriate behavior (racial jokes… ugh…) and had to spend a lot of time working on repairing my reputation after she left.

      4. Anons333*

        Ugh, I know. My co-workers all hang out with each other ALL. THE. TIME. They have numerous drunken stories about each other. No thank you. I do my work and do it well. I don’t want to be friends with you.

    2. SuperAnon*

      Even if they don’t end up being boundary pushers, coworker friends can put you in an awkward spot. I work with someone who wanted to mediate a conflict over our work styles on a joint project using all sorts of feelings-talk. At work I am extremely task oriented (the norm in our industry) so her approach took me aback. Then I wondering if I’d set myself up for it because when we interact socially I do talk about stress and feelings and all that. I also realized that while our friendship is a positive thing for me socially, our differing work styles mean that while I successfully lead several other interdisciplinary teams, I will probably always struggle to work with this person. And that is awkward knowledge to have. As another commenter said, it feels particularly Machiavellian to distance myself from her at work, but I think I need to in order to maintain my productivity.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I think in any new situations it’s good to hang back and see what people are like before making friends and getting closer.

      I have a niece whose life has taken a decidedly “lower socio-economic class” turn, and she and her boyfriend are often being befriended by people who turn out to have boyfriends w/ drug problems, or once who flat-out stole from them (and apparently schemed to do so).

      It made me realize–people with no boundaries (either bcs they’re just clueless or are skeevy) will reach out right away. People who care about who they hang out with, who choose their friends carefully in order to create healthy relationships and a calm, drama-free life, will wait to see what you’re like before they reach out.

      So it’s really worth it to wait a little bit. If you fill up your early days in a new place with the boundary-challenged, you won’t have room for the sane people, and they also will NOT reach out to you at all.

      1. Specialk9*

        Well, there’s reaching out, and offering friendship off the bat. I guard my inner circle closely because I take loyalty seriously… But I will also be the person asking a new co-worker to coffee or stopping by to chat. Because kindness and making someone feel welcome is good. So I think there’s a nuance there – if someone wants an Insta-BFF situation – is pouring their soul out without prompting and setting up non work events –
        be very careful. But if someone is just being genetically welcoming, assume they’re kind unless they give you reason to be suspicious.

    4. AcademiaNut*

      It’s very common in my field (not just workplace). It’s not mandatory, but usually when someone new starts if they’re reasonably friendly they’re asked along on social outings. Part of that is the highly transitory nature of junior positions, and the fact that almost everyone has moved long-distance to start the job, and has no friends in the area. It takes time to establish yourself in a new city (or country) and to make friends outside of work. If you’re moving every 2-4 years, that can add up to a lot of lonely nights at home.

      At my current institute, there’s also a cultural/language issue, so the work social network is also very useful for things like figuring out how to rent an apartment, pay utilities, buy groceries or furniture, get language lessons, navigate buses, make a doctor’s appointment, find clothes that fit, and a myriad of other things that aren’t immediately easy or obvious. And with a demanding full time job, you’re looking at a few years of concentrated study before you know enough of the local language to make friends outside of work or expat groups.

      1. Specialk9*

        Oh, yeah, expat life has it’s own rules! There are lots of people with whom you have nothing in common but hey, we need someone to do stuff with… But we all know we’ll never talk again stateside. As you say, you need to band together a bit to figure out the local situation, but it’s not the same as real friendship… Unless of course it is .

  8. Ann*

    In today’s world, this creepy behavior is too scary to be left unchecked. It’s been reported to Boss. Boss has not responded appropriately, now either HR needs to be brought in or someone above Boss needs to know. I would definitely give Boss one more chance but would also let him/her know where it will go from there. This has the beginnings of something no one wants to talk about. Maybe Fergus needs some psych counseling to deal with some issues that do not belong in the work place. Good luck.

      1. Petronella*

        Increased rates of workplace violence, including mass shootings? That’s how I interpreted Ann’s comment.

  9. themmases*

    I really appreciate the last paragraph of AAM’s response– this seems to come up every time similar issues are discussed.

    I have come on too strong with people before because I was depressed, or just in a situation that I was navigating awkwardly. It hurt my feelings to be put back beyond an appropriate boundary, but that was because I was horrified that I made someone uncomfortable– not because I didn’t want to know!

    Letting people know how you want them to behave is a kindness, especially when you compare it to the alternative of resenting someone for behavior you don’t like but never told them to stop. (Even if they should have known on their own.) I for one am a nicer person, and better at my job, because I had to own the times I wasn’t acting right.

    1. Specialk9*

      Yeah, I can be socially awkward, and in my teens and 20s more so, and I sometimes got too enthusiastic (some instances still make me cringe) and in the process lost a couple friends. Lesson learned! Now I have an inner mantra of “keep it cool” and I’ve learned to focus on helping others shine instead of showing off How Awesome! I Am! (I ask follow up questions about their stories instead of trying to match or top it, or follow conversational crumbs they drop.) So I, and I think a lot of us, get socially awkward.

      But at work? This seems like asking for a ton of free emotional labor, for a guy who creeps her out. I trust my creep-meter and would want distance and management to remedy what has become a hostile working environment. And I’d want to make sure this guy didn’t know where I lived!

  10. KR*

    Yuck. I’m sorry OP. Alison has some good advice. Having to enforce boundaries is so so awkward and I’m sorry you have to do it in this case. The manager should have stepped in and told this person to stop attaching himself to people.

  11. SJ*

    “and picks up any hobby that I have.”

    Somehow, that’s the weirdest part of this whole thing to me. So if you talked to him about how you like bird-watching, did he start bird-watching too? Eek.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Oh that’s very Single White Female.

      There’s someone like that at my work too – she gloms on to anyone friendly (especially other women). She would pop up on IM the second I logged in each day. I just blew her off until she found someone else to wear as a lampshade.

      1. Koko*

        I had to deal with a friend like that in my personal life. She seemed fairly normal when we first started hanging out, but after a couple of years she slowly became obsessed with me. Sycophantically agreed with everything I said, even if it contradicted something she had said not 2 minutes prior. Adopted all my hobbies. Refused to ever make plans until she heard mine so she could do the same thing as me. Followed me around at parties so I never got a chance to talk to anyone new without her also being there. She also never got mad at me for anything I did, even while complaining to me about other people she was mad at who had done the exact same thing I had done. Since we lived close to each other and she didn’t have a car, she always just assumed I would come to her house before group events and give her a ride there and back home to the point where I started to need to have an “excuse” for just for once wanting to go directly home from a party by myself without being responsible for someone else and having someone yammering away in the car while I’m tired and done socializing. It was maddening and suffocating.

        I later found out she had been doing this to someone else during the first couple years I knew her, but had a falling out with that person and so transferred the behavior to me. It took me the better part of a year to distance myself from her, including the fact that I had to avoid a lot of group events where she would have been, and in general stop hanging out with people as frequently as I did to help bolster the notion that I was too busy to see her as often as she wanted to see me. She is probably doing it to someone else right now.

        1. Pennalynn Lott*

          I had a friend like that, too. I reconnected with someone I knew in junior high on FB and we renewed our decades-old friendship. The first red flag was when she asked what songs were on my iTunes playlist. I rattled off a few and she said, “Oh, good! I was worried you might like X or Z kind of music.” And I remember thinking, “So what if I did? What the hell does that have to do with anything?” She also wanted to know where I bought my clothes, what movies I liked, what food I liked, etc., all so she could duplicate my stuff.

          Then came the texts and IMs at all hours of the day and night. And little gifts being mailed to my house based on some random throw-away line during a conversation. (i.e., me saying, “Brrr, today would be perfect for some hot chocolate,” and — BAM! — a container of organic, ethically-sourced “Hot Drinking Chocolate” shows up at my house a few days later. Mind you, she lives off SSI disability insurance and has no money to spare).

          Then she started treating me like she does her family — blaming me for any and all of her bad moods, then begging me to forgive her for screaming at me. The straw that broke the camel’s back was something relatively minor. She’d gone to a fast-food burger place late at night and taken her ever-present dog. She texted me about how the dog let the burger lady in the drive-thru window pet her. I said, “My dog will let anyone who smells like yummy burgers pet her, too!” And the friend went off on me about how I was ruining her moment; why couldn’t I just let her enjoy something good for a change; didn’t I know how her dog is always afraid of people; I was *always* spoiling things for her, etc. I wrote back that it was just a light-hearted joke about dogs loving burgers, and she replied, “Whatever.”

          I realized that I didn’t want to spend one more second of energy on her and went zero contact. She showed up on my front porch about a week later with gifts. I told her through a crack in the door that I wasn’t interested in being friends anymore and asked her to please go away. Which, thankfully, she did.

          And all of that happened in under 4 months. So weird. So intense. [FWIW, she was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder while I knew her.]

          1. Cactus*

            little gifts being mailed to my house based on some random throw-away line during a conversation. (i.e., me saying, “Brrr, today would be perfect for some hot chocolate,” and — BAM! — a container of organic, ethically-sourced “Hot Drinking Chocolate” shows up at my house a few days later. Mind you, she lives off SSI disability insurance and has no money to spare).

            That’s always so difficult. I’ve had a few situations where people who wanted to get me to like them wanted to buy me things. (For no real reason.) Neither person had the money to be wasting on me. And I don’t have a ton of space where I live to store a bunch of random gifts. It’s become one of the huge red flags for me of “extremely overinvested person who doesn’t actually know me, BEWARE.”

        2. Starlite99*

          Been there, and I hated every moment of it! Had an coworker who was older than me (50+) latch onto me so soon after I started to work with her. Within 2 weeks of meeting her, she started copying everything I did (clothing, hair, demeanor, my habits). She watched my every move, and tried to position herself at her desk to where she could easily see me. She wanted to know all of my personal information, dating life, etc., but she got nothing. She, too, was sycophantic; agreed with everything I said, and would change her opinions to match mine (“Me too! Me too!” Was her catch phrase). She also followed me around (including the restroom), popping up in places where she knew I’d be, would stare at me in meetings, do unnecessary favors for me, etc. It was all super-creepy, and I strongly disliked her for making me feel so smothered. The more I distanced myself from her, the clingier she got. I ended up documenting everything she did, and reporting everything to management.

          Over time, her obsessive behaviors subsided, until the day she suddenly quit. This whole experience really creeped me out… needless to say, I’m so glad I no longer have to work her.

    2. Jen RO*

      My boyfriend has a ‘friend’ like that. Ee don’t find it creepy, just sad, like the guy doesn’t have any friends and is trying waaay too hard. And the behavior just makes us less likely to want to hang out with him..

      1. Koko*

        Yeah…I mentioned a friend upthread who does this. And there’s no doubt in my mind that she does it because she has very low self-esteem and is insecure about her friendships. It was making her cling desperately to me and agree with everything I said and idolize me like some kind of role model, presumably because she didn’t want to lose me as a friend, but of course it had the opposite effect.

        If I wanted to hang out with someone who was exactly like me…well, I’d just spend time enjoying my own company alone. When I’m socializing with other people I would like them to have even just slightly different interests and opinions so that there’s a point to talking to them.

  12. -A*

    I had exactly this when I joined my old company. You need to be direct and get your concerns down on paper.
    You are not wrong for feeling uncomfortable, you just need to remember that.

  13. Apollo Warbucks*

    I’m curious if it is only women that get this extra attention from this guy, if it is then that adds an extra dimension to the creepiness, if it’s also directed towards guys its obviously still bizarre behaviour but a little less sinister.

    At any rate I agree with Alison when she says:

    Your boss thinks that the fact that your coworker does this over and over with different people somehow makes it better?

    Yeah its so much worse if the guy is socially awkward and making a number of people uncomfortable, the manager needs to address this pattern and the guy needs to take some responsibility for modifying his behaviour.

  14. Barkis' Old Clothes*

    Wow. I used to be in the exact same position. You don’t happen to work in the Biotech industry in the Midwest, do you? Anyway, in my situation, he kept escalating. I tried to remain friendly while keeping a distance, but he kept creating these little dramas to get my attention again. Eventually, it ended very badly when I started dating someone. He got more and more bitter and then had a mini-nervous breakdown where he accused me of all sorts of misdeeds. The problem was since this was in a work environment, he started telling others at work all these completely insane, made up things I had supposedly done. I think it still affects me professionally to this day since I’m sure some people believed him.

    1. Laura*

      I am so sorry that happened to you. How awful. Did management/HR do anything to help you?

  15. Tuckerman*

    I wonder if this employee struggles to understand social cues, or has an autism/aspergers diagnosis. If the latter is the case, the boss may be concerned about how to manage without discriminating against someone with a disability. Of course, ignoring the problem isn’t helping anyone. I’d be curious to know whether the employee interacts well with others (except with the one person he fixates on), or if there is a pattern of troublesome communication overall.

    1. Nancy Raygun*

      Totally, I’m pretty sure this is what was going on at my old job. Everyone was like “well, he’s nice and he’s trying,” but no one would actually talk to him about it. I thik if management had been better prepared to address his issues, he could’ve stuck around and been more successful at work. And he wouldn’t have driven me so nuts.

    2. Petronella*

      So what if he may have a diagnosis? That’s not the OP’s concern. Why must this come up every time a man makes a woman uncomfortable. Suppose it became known in the workplace that this guy has Asperger’s or whatever, does that change what the OP is supposed to do about it? Should she put up with the behavior? Should she try to counsel him or offer him therapy? I don’t understand why someone must mention this every time.

      1. PolarBearGirl*

        I can’t speak for others, but I brought it up because I couldn’t glean from the letter whether this person only has inappropriate interactions with women or whether this is an issue regardless of gender. If ASD is a possibility, that adds valuable data and perspective about what tools she and her boss have at their disposal that are most likely to make this situation stop. Because it definitely should stop, and it is definitely management’s responsibility to back her up on that.

        Of course, he could be a freak-o stalker, and that implies a whole different set of tools and steps that could be taken.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          It doesn’t change anything for the OP because it’s not her responsibility to manage him or teach him appropriate workplace behavior.

        2. Myrin*

          If the guy has some kind of disability that prevents him from behaving a certain way/makes him behave a certain way, that’s on him to disclose to the appropriate people. It’s not the OP’s or the manager’s job to glean that kind of information from him.

      2. Katniss*

        I do understand why this was mentioned, and I don’t think Tuckerman was bringing it up to try and excuse Creepy Dude, but you’re right that it really isn’t relevant to the fact that Creepy Dude still must cut out his behavior.

        This reminds me of the brilliant Get Off My Foot:

        If you step on my foot, you need to get off my foot.

        If you step on my foot without meaning to, you need to get off my foot.

        If you step on my foot without realizing it, you need to get off my foot.

        If everyone in your culture steps on feet, your culture is horrible, and you need to get off my foot.

        If you have foot-stepping disease, and it makes you unaware you’re stepping on feet, you need to get off my foot. If an event has rules designed to keep people from stepping on feet, you need to follow them. If you think that even with the rules, you won’t be able to avoid stepping on people’s feet, absent yourself from the event until you work something out.

        If you’re a serial foot-stepper, and you feel you’re entitled to step on people’s feet because you’re just that awesome and they’re not really people anyway, you’re a bad person and you don’t get to use any of those excuses, limited as they are. And moreover, you need to get off my foot.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Gods bless the foot-stepping analogy. It has come in handy more times than I can count, because it moves the focus back onto the harm being caused, rather than on excuses or speculation on causes. Sure, we can all discuss later if you need help learning how not to step on feet, but in the meantime, STOP STEPPING ON ME.

          1. Katniss*

            YES! Exactly. I’ve even changed a few minds using it, though really my purpose using it is still to reduce harm to myself and people like me.

        2. Anna*

          This is good, but what bothers me about it (and it’s been used on AAM before) is at no point does it say, “If I tell you you’re on my foot, you need to get off my foot”. If someone steps on your foot without realizing it, by its very definition they don’t know and need to be told.

          Step One: Don’t be a creeper.
          Step Two: If you are being a creeper and I tell you you’re being a creeper, don’t be a creeper.
          Step Three: There is no step three because it’s your freakin’ responsibility to not be a creeper.

        3. The foot stepper*

          Yeah…. if my culture is being blind, and you think blind people are “horrible” and should “absent themselves” from events because they may step on people’s feet, then you are a fascist…. and I will step on your foot…. with a wheelchair…. while I listen to your hate speech :P

          What if she said she felt he was creepy because he was black, or Jewish, or Irish? But change those words to autism, Aspberger’s or even a physical disability (which carries less stigma), and it somehow becomes OK? In my eyes, this is borderline workplace bullying, if not discrimination.

          You know, as someone suffering from visual impairment, I have had more than one person comment about how I was “staring,” and talk to me like I’m some sort of freak. Then, when I tell them I’m visually impaired, hurt by their comments, and can’t help how I look… they try to excuse what they said, as if they can somehow pretend they are not prejudiced…..

          This is why I’m glad that there are laws to protect us from this sort of bullying in the workplace. Discrimination against disability is illegal, and can result in a human rights case. Also, there is no legal obligation to disclose any disability (in fact it’s illegal for an employer to ask).

          Sure, this guy’s “odd” behaviour may need to be addressed, but with professionalism and maturity. Remember, he’s not breaking any laws, and has no legal obligation to disclose any disability.

      3. AnonymousAndroid*

        Of course the OP shouldn’t have to put up with behaviour that makes her feel uncomfortable. But if it is due to autism / Aspergers, or something similar, then the solution may need to be different than if he’s “just” creepy.

        Either way, it’s ultimately for management to address, not the OP.

      4. Sunshine*

        Thank you. I’m always frustrated with the discussions of “Let’s try to figure out why Person is acting this way.” Creepy/offensive/sexist/racist/whatever…. “But maybe they didn’t MEAN it that way!”

        It simply doesn’t matter. Nor does it change the response from the offended person. It just needs to stop.

        1. Tuckerman*

          The thought behind my original response was that inclusion in the workplace comes with unique challenges. Maybe this co-worker is way skeevier that the impression I got from the letter, but to me, this sounded more like my autistic co-worker than my skeevy co-worker. I absolutely support clear, direct communication about expectations, but some behaviors are hard to modify for some special needs populations. What is an appropriate length of time to l0ok at someone before it is considered staring? 2 seconds? 5 seconds? How many times can you go up to somebody’s desk before it’s inappropriate? As his manager, I would have trouble coaching him on modifying some of his behavior.

          1. Sunshine*

            Fair. And I agree it would be hard to manage. But do any of the answers to your questions change if the guy is just skeevy vs. being autistic? I don’t think so. And that’s for the manager to deal with, not OP. I’m not assuming that the guy means any harm – but again, that doesn’t change the suggested actions from OP.

    3. PolarBearGirl*

      Yes, I wondered the exact same thing. People in the workforce do not always think about their peers as possibly having an ASD diagnosis. Clarity of signals are very helpful in those instances, so if this is a factor, being more clear is actually helpful rather than “rude” – assuming, of course, that you are not being hostile. And of course any medical privacy issues would make it more difficult for a boss or HR or whoever to be clear with you about exactly what is going on.

      1. Petronella*

        Why should the OP have to worry about whether she is being “hostile” to this man? He’s the one causing the problem, not her.

        1. AnotherHRPro*

          True, but there are disadvantages to participating in the escalation of an issue. Personally I have never found it beneficial to be rude or hostile. Direct and firm is often required and I feel often under used by many. But that is different than rude or hostile.

          1. Kate M*

            Yeah but she was direct with him, and he’s now back to the same behavior. I’m not suggesting she yell at him or anything because that would be unprofessional, but being annoyed/snapping at him might make her a little rude, but totally understandable to me. He’s the one who’s being rude/creepy/unprofessional. If she is short, direct, ignores him when it doesn’t have to do with work, and even veers into somewhat rude territory, I certainly couldn’t blame her. It’s so frustrating to be the object of such unwanted attention when nobody will back you up.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This tends to come up every time these sorts of issues are in a letter, and I want to be clear that if someone is on the autism spectrum, it doesn’t change the advice at all. If anything, it makes it even more helpful to be clear and direct with the coworker that the OP wants his behavior to stop. The manager can also step in to give that direction without it triggering discrimination issues.

      1. Anon for this*

        Yes, this is the beauty of that approach. The former coworker I mentioned somewhere above may well have been on the spectrum from what I observed. But I have no idea, and he may just have been really awkward.

        Either way, I told him directly what was bothersome and needed to stop. The one behavior that had a clear goal, I suggested other ways to achieve the goal that were both more effective and more welcome.

        And he changed his behavior toward me.

        Whether or not he had or could have had a diagnosis didn’t really matter, at that point. (Although I admit, I pretended to myself that he did every time a new behavior came up, only because it made it easier for me to be calm and kind about it. That probably means I’m not as nice about such matters as I’d like to be, but if it worked to help me handle it better – well, I’ll take that, regardless.)

      2. neverjaunty*

        Also, people on the autism spectrum are human beings with different personalities, just like everyone else. Someone with an “autism/aspergers diagnosis” can also, as an entirely separate thing, be a creepy, entitled jerk. Autism spectrum disorders make it difficult to read social cues and intuitively learn social mores. They do not make it difficult to understand being explicitly told ‘don’t do that’ or ‘I don’t like what you are doing’.

        Assuming that every person with boundary issues might have ASD is pretty patronizing and obnoxious.

        1. Anna*

          Agreed, but there were a couple of things in the OP’s description that set me off on thinking that might be the case because they are exactly the same things I saw with a student who on the spectrum.

          Granted, this student wasn’t a creeper at all, just a bit dramatic and prone to asking innocuous questions after a very serious sounding, “Can I talk to you?”

          Either way, communicating that This Is Not Okay is important and the behavior stopping is the only goal.

        2. ThatAspie*

          As someone who is autistic myself, I couldn’t help but wonder if that guy is somewhere on the spectrum, because the behavior sounds EXACTLY like stuff that I’ve done (and probably still do, just to a lesser degree because I have learned a few things). Thing is, nobody’s told this guy, as of the writing of the letter, exactly what is wrong. Nobody told him not to do this. That’s a big problem: if I’m doing something socially wrong, and people are sitting there, making vague hints or saying nothing at all or whatever, I’m likely to assume I’m within bounds. But if I’m doing something socially wrong, and someone gently – but honestly – tells me, “Hey, ThatAspie, when you do X, people might think Y” or “Hey, yo, ThatAspie, I’m not into it when you do A, because it makes me feel B and C, and it just looks wrong” or “Um, could you please not do X, Y, or Z? Because, when you do these things, I feel uncomfortable, because A, B, and C”, then I’ll be like, “Oh, okay, sorry, Asperger’s moment, I’ll cut that out for you.”

          Of course, it’s entirely different when people are just like, “UGH, WHAT A LOSER THAT LADY IS! Hey, loser lady, &@#$% OFF AND #*&@%$ GO TO %$@#@ *@#%$&!!!” or “GO DIE IN A HOLE!”, that’s just hurtful. That will make me cry. Don’t do that.

          1. Specialk9*

            Exactly. I’ve dealt with people who didn’t get social rules, but spelling them out using words works because they are clueless rather than jerks. I’ve also had a memorable creeper who *loved* knowing he scared me, and amped up his behavior to watch me squirm. Those are two very different situations. (Though as a previous commenter said, they are not mutually exclusive.) I think that’s why this keeps coming up.

  16. Solidus Pilcrow*

    This jumped out at me: He seems to take interest in everything that I do, regurgitates my calendar to me if I have any kind of out-of-town events or hanging out with friends, whatever it may be, and picks up any hobby that I have.

    Another thing you can try is controlling the information flow. How does he know of your hobbies or hanging out with friends? Don’t tell him (or talk about it with others within his hearing), keep your calendar private. If you’re connected on social media, block or severely restrict his access.

    1. the.kat*

      Depending on what system you use, there are ways to make calendar events private, even if your calendar does need to be shared/stay visible. Setting all of your non-work events to private might even train him to stop looking at your calendar. If there’s nothing there to see, there’s nothing to memorize.

    2. Lily Evans*

      OP might also want to consider what information she’s sharing with other coworkers (if she is sharing things about her schedule/hobbies with others in the office), so that they don’t unknowingly spread any information to creepy guy that OP doesn’t want him to know.

      1. Petronella*

        Well, that would be a real shame, if the OP now has to censor herself and stop having enjoyable conversations about plans and hobbies with her other co-workers, just so that this man doesn’t get hold of her info. She shouldn’t have to moderate her behavior in order to “manage” his.

        1. Solidus Pilcrow*

          Agreed that she shouldn’t have to change her behavior. Unfortunately, the only people we can control is ourselves and we sometimes need to take steps to protect ourselves. All I’m suggesting is she remove as many avenues for his glomming-on as she can. If he’s getting info from her directly (or thru social media), it should be fairly easy to cut off that line of info since it doesn’t seem she wants to have any contact outside of work. If he’s getting it from overheard conversations, she can try: getting her desk moved as Senior Blogger Green recommended, asking co-workers “can we take this to the break room?”, or having personal conversations at other co-workers’ desks.

        2. Lily Evans*

          It would be a shame, but unfortunately OP can’t control what other people will tell him. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have to “manage” other people’s behavior by changing our own habits, but this isn’t a perfect world. If not sharing information with other coworkers and keeping her private life and work life totally separate will make the OP feel more comfortable, she should do it.

          If she’s comfortable with her coworkers she could consider saying, “Please don’t share this with creepy guy.” But ultimately you can’t control what other people will say.

  17. Nancy Raygun*

    Wow, I could’ve written this about a coworker I had once. He was extremely socially awkward and had a staring problem. He’d also lurk behind me and was terrible at conversation. I had to be very firm about enforcing boundaries and telling him what I expected socially because he just couldn’t read between the lines. Management didn’t get it because he was generally nice, just not socially aware and he’d apologize profusely over every little thing. He was like that with everyone, but I noticed that if you were friendly and helpful, he’d “imprint” on you like a baby bird. My coworker wound up being his mama bird. He ended up quitting, probably from stress. I felt bad for him because he really didn’t seem to be able to understand, but I was glad he left.

  18. Takver*

    Boy, if there were ever a perfect crossover question for Ask A Manager and Captain Awkward, this is it. Alison has the manager aspect of this covered perfectly. For the coworker aspect, I thought of an exemplary Captain Awkward letter about a needy, bothersome roommate (link to follow). Now a roommate is not the same as a coworker, but I think a lot of the detailed and practical advice that Jennifer gave to her letter writer can be adapted for this letter writer’s situation. Take for example this point:

    2.b. Change the venue & budget the time. You know by now that if you hide/avoid him, he will seek you out. So, when he comes to your room to talk, stand up immediately and go to a “public” part of the apartment. Make some tea, and say very clearly “Hi, nice to see you. I have about 10 minutes, what’s up?” Focus your attention on him fully for those 10 minutes. Don’t try to multitask. Make soothing noises and then when 10 minutes are up/the tea water has boiled say, “Aw, that sounds hard, and I’m sorry you are dealing with that” or the soothing noise of your choice, followed by “I really do have to get back to work now. Hope the rest of the evening gets better.” Then go to your room and shut the door. Put on headphones. Imagine that the door of your room is the gateway to another dimension and that you no knowledge of what’s out there.

    Important: Your private space is no longer Venting Land. He is not allowed in there right now. He is not allowed to linger in the doorway

    So in this case, LW, if your coworker approaches you at your work space, then you would get up, go to the hallway or breakroom, and find something small to do–cup of tea, copying a document, dropping off a file–and say you can only talk for that amount of time. When you return to your work space, wrap up the conversation and say firmly that you need to get back to work. Then ignore him.

    Read the whole letter, it has a LOT of great stuff you can use.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Thank you for sharing that – I can see that being super helpful in gently setting boundaries.

  19. Former Retail Manager*

    I just want to say that I’d LOVE an update on this in the future!

    In my experience, people with personalities like this don’t tend to make substantial change, regardless of what you say to them. They tend to believe that their behavior is “normal” or “nice” and usually seem generally bewildered when people tell them it’s unwelcome. I hope that won’t be the case for OP. Please keep us posted.

  20. Down the Road*

    I know this guy! Every time he asks for a conversation you can feel a whole load of energy draining from your body.
    It’s not your forgiveness he’s after, it’s your attention. Try to find ways to shut down the conversation in as few words as possible, and repeat as necessary. “Can I talk to you about something?” can be met with “No”, or “There’s nothing to be said”, or “I would prefer not”. If he starts to apologize, just wave him off and go back to your work with “Busy…”

    If you open the door even slightly, he will stick his foot in, so keep the door closed.

  21. JennyFair*

    I worked with someone like this. The mere act of being in the same place at the same time made me her ‘new best friend’. She would relay that she liked to talk to other people about me (and indicated to them that we were good friends), etc. One day she mentioned how much alike we were, and I actually went to my manager to ask if that were true, because it worried me. Come to find out, she did this repeatedly with people and no one shut her down. When she sent me a facebook friend request, my manager said I should accept it and then hide her, to avoid causing any upset. I think that’s ridiculous advice, and I didn’t take it. It’s not my responsibility to keep an unreasonable fellow employee from having their feelings hurt. This particular person exhibited other boundary/logic issues, as well, such as randomly switching to Japanese while talking to a customer with an Asian (but not Japanese-not that this would make it acceptable) last name. We dealt with this for years while hearing that there was nothing that could be done.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      That reminds me of a woman I know who walked up to a man who had newly joined our large group activity and started speaking to him in Chinese. The man and I eventually became very good friends. He’s Filipino.

      But now that I think about it, behavior like that is a clear indication of a misunderstanding of boundaries that has to be nipped in the bud.

    2. Cactus*

      This particular person exhibited other boundary/logic issues, as well, such as randomly switching to Japanese while talking to a customer with an Asian (but not Japanese-not that this would make it acceptable) last name.


  22. AtomicCowgirl*

    As the mom of a special needs kid, I wonder if it might be possible that this guy has a mental health issue or is on the spectrum. Of course, he could also just be a creep, but it sounds like he has little concept of boundaries and personal space. Of course, the manager should never just brush off these kinds of problems with staff members, even if there are known issues with the employee he is not able to share with his coworkers. I hope the OP can get this resolved, regardless of the reason for the behavior, being on the receiving end can be completely unnerving.

    1. Petronella*

      The Gift of Fear is an amazing book that everyone should read. It analyses workplace violence and stalking very well, with some terrifying case studies….that started out very similarly to the situation described in this letter.

  23. The foot stepper*

    Some of the comments are a little disturbing to me.

    First, it is a little disturbing to see such a lack of empathy towards someone, just because they are awkward. If this guy is only awkward, he has not broken any laws, and deserves our compassion. Food for thought, a lack of empathy toward others is a red flag for possibly having a cluster B personality disorder (and you thought only the coworker could be suspected as having mental health issues ;) ).

    Second, why are we taking sides? How do we know this guy is really “creepy”? The manager seems to not be concerned, and they work beside each other, so perhaps if we were in the same workplace we may think differently. For all we know, the guy could be making normal chit-chat, and the OP could be over-reading into things. We just don’t know, and there are so many possibilities! We really should have more information before we make judgments.

    TL;DR – Asking someone directly to stop doing something is not polite, reflects poorly on the individual, and shows a lack of social tact to handle situations gracefully. There are so many better ways to handle the situation. For instance, some mature tactics could be to make to use some respectful humor and seek closure by asking more information from the coworker and having a discussion about things in a professional manner, including explaining your thoughts and feelings about the situation and eliciting more information from the coworker.

    Hope this helps!

  24. So-ThisisHappening*

    I have this same thing. A guy sat near me when I started my job was just overly friendly at first. At first I was open, why not be friendly back, but he started getting too personal and was paying way too much attention to me and asking lots of personal questions and telling me lots of personal things, and timing his departure so we left at the same time, and just invading my personal emotional space, etc, so I started just saying niceties and then make it clear I didn’t want to chat all morning by cutting off the chatter after a reasonable polite greeting, but when I set boundaries, like, “ok, I have to get back to work now,” he would act angry, typing really angrily and loudly, slamming things, etc. And also, he would then just try harder, for example bringing me cookies and trying to get me to go to lunch with him and further ignoring my boundaries. He offered to take me to lunch, on him. This made me very uncomfortable, so I said, “oh, thank you, but no…maybe another time…” It’s hard to explain, but his anger was really scary, and one time after I was ignoring him and his angry typing all afternoon, with earbuds in, he loudly banged on my cubicle wall to get my attention and then waved goodbye with a plastered-on grin, then dropped the grin, then walked away. SO CREEPY. I decided this was not okay, that I didn’t want to sit by someone who was doing this. I didn’t even want the drama to continue, I just wanted away. So, I spoke with my boss, but she said, “he does such a good job,” and “he’s got a really good heart and means well.” I told my boss I wanted to move for sure and as soon as possible and just not have to deal with it any more. She started to work on the move, but made it clear what an inconvenience it was. She also tried to talk me out of the move. I told her I was dead set on moving. She seemed to think I was just an alarmist or something so I told her that I’ve worked with all kinds of people, but have never had to move away from anyone or had this kind of issue before. She seemed protective of him, like I was hurting him. He seemed to pick up on this furthering his convictions that I was doing this to him and that he hadn’t done anything wrong. I did bring this up with her, but it didn’t help and just made her defensive and seemed to further indict me. Others in the office have rallied behind him too, one coworker who used to be friendly toward me starting being kind of aggressive. And others in the office seem to have have gotten less friendly including our boss’s boss, who likes him. I found out that there have been others who have quit or moved away from him for the same reasons, but were similarly considered people who were mean or didn’t like him or overly-sensitive/had other problems that made them intolerant or were just not part of the office clique. It’s a really bad environment.

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