my coworker keeps interrupting me in person rather than emailing, despite my many requests

A reader writes:

I was promoted to a lead position within my company earlier this year, which means that I am not a manager but I am responsible for delegating tasks and overseeing projects. A slightly more junior person was recently assigned to assist me on a project. His manager insists that his work is high-quality, and I trust that. But instead of sending questions via email or instant messenger, this person likes to drop by my desk unnannounced to ask me questions.

I am very uncomfortable with this for three reasons:

1. I have ADHD. Being interrupted in the middle of a task makes it very hard for me to get back on track. If someone contacts me via email or IM, I can finish what I’m doing and then reorient my brain to focus on what they need me to do.

2. When he does this, he likes to get very much in my personal space, and because of the shape of my cubicle I can’t back away. Other women I work with have also expressed that this is a concern for them.

3. He can’t show me what document he’s asking about when he comes to see me in person. It would be much more efficient to screen-share or take a screenshot so I can see what the specific situation is. It’s much harder to answer his question without being able to see the item in question. I often have to follow him back to his desk to see what’s happening, because he hasn’t remembered to bring his laptop.

I have asked him if he can screen-share or email his questions, but instead he has been emailing me to tell me he has a question, and then coming by my desk anyway. How can I express to him that I think digital interaction would be better for all involved?

The nice thing about being senior to him is that you can stop asking or trying to convince him, and instead can just tell him how you want to work together, and then stick to that. Seriously, this is totally fine to do. He’s assigned to assist you! You’re allowed to do this.

For example: “I can’t be interrupted right now, so please email this to me.”

Or: “For things like this, please send me an email.”

Or: “I’m focused on something I can’t pull away from right now. In general, send things like this to me in email to start, and I’ll let you know if we need to talk in person.”

Frankly, you could also do this if he were a peer, but the fact that he’s junior to you and the fact that he’s supposed to be assisting you both make it even more okay to do.

Also, notice that in these examples, you’re not telling him that you “think digital interaction would be better for all involved” (your language in your letter). You’re telling him how he needs to work with you, period. You’re not looking to convince him; you’re giving him direction on a work-related process.

The trick is, though, you’ll have to actually stick to it. If you tell him the sorts of things above but then let him interrupt you anyway, he’s going to learn that you don’t really mean it. So you actually have to be firm about it. Not a jerk, just firm — “I’m busy, but send me an email and I’ll take a look.”

Say it, mean it, and stick to it. Truly, that’s it.

By the way, it also sounds like you’d be doing everyone in your office a favor if you also addressed the personal space thing. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just something like, “Whoa, you’re crowding me — can you step back a little?” Be matter of fact about it, but do say it. It’s actually a favor to him too because if he’s putting people off by invading their space, it’s better for him to know he needs to stop.

{ 236 comments… read them below }

  1. Delta Delta*

    I’m good at boundaries. I’d try something like this “I need you to email or IM me for questions like this. It would be better for the way I manage my work flow, and I can answer your question more efficiently that way.”

    If person repeats the approach, “I told you to email me these questions.” Then stick to it.

    The in-person requests may also be disrupting other people around you. I recall working 2 desks over from my manager, and the pop-ins disrupted not only her, but also my co-worker and me while were trying to concentrate on our own work. Others may feel the same in the OP’s workspace.

    1. Amber T*

      Yes, repeat repeat repeat! Don’t give in the third, fifth, twentieth time he comes over. “I will help you when you email me.” Then do!

      My newish boss has a bad habit of this, and I’ve been trying the “I’m in the middle of something, can you email me and I’ll swing by when I have a chance?” He’s getting better at just emailing me asking me to stop by when he needs something. It’s a work in progress.

      1. And So it Goes*

        I all for more direct clear directions with no wiggle room.
        “From this point on do not come to me directly, to my cube, from this point on email me the issue with the appropriate screen shot. At that time you will get the answer quicker then if you come to me directly, this is how I work and have others work with me. Got it? Get confirmation. Then ask again – “Are we 100% clear?” Make no room for negotiation.

        Sorry to be so blunt, some people just don’t want to hear what you have to say. And you being female plays into it more than you know… (I am not complaining or generalizing, just observing)

        Good luck! This is manageable.

        1. Fibchopkin*

          I… wouldn’t go with that level of bluntness right away. Just like the OP, the employee has a “works best for me” style; he probably gets more clarity from face-to-face, verbal interaction and she feels more at home with the visual cue of the digital interaction.

          That doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t comply with OP’s preferred way of working- he should! Buuuut, she might also recognize that this employee needs more face-time to function effectively than she typically does . I had almost this exact problem with 2 of my team members. They really retain and understand better when instruction is given face-to-face, but much like the OP, the distraction of an unscheduled pop-in pulled my head way out of my work and it took me twice as long to get back into the rhythm of my workflow. I eventually solved this problem by asking my team member to always IM or email me any urgent questions or concerns, but I also established a standing, optional, informal, 15 minute mini-meeting every afternoon. This allowed my team members to bring any questions they wanted personal interaction on my way without forcing the whole team into a meeting. Others in my team also seem to appreciate this standing mini-meeting because I’ve them drop by for things like demonstrations on making pivot tables in excel or back-end work in our LMS. Sometimes a bunch of people come and the mini-meetings end up going a little over, sometimes noone comes and I have 15 minutes to stretch and take my eyes off my screen. Best if all, I’m now very rarely pulled away unexpectedly from the middle of a project, and two of my really excellent direct-reports are able to get things done in a way that works for them.

          Maybe you could try something similar? Offer the guy a set time everyday when he can pop in if he needs to, but tell him that otherwise, he needs to email or IM you.

          1. Khlovia*

            I mean, he has repeatedly ignored her expressed preference for how and when they communicate. In the process of thus disregarding her, he gets so close up to her she can’t back away, something other women in the office have mentioned he does; but by an amazing coincidence, none his male colleagues have needed to complain about it. And he “forgets” his laptop, so that she ends up following tamely at his heels back to *his* turf. He really has her well-trained!

    2. Ali G*

      I would add – don’t stop what you are doing when he interrupts you. Even if you have to pretend because he interrupted you and your ADHD makes it too hard to keep working – just keep doing whatever you were doing, don’t make eye contact and stick to your scripts. It makes it much harder for him to manipulate you into giving him your attention if you aren’t engaging with him.

      1. Sarah*

        I would suggest this after he interrupts the LW a few times after LW has the chat with him.

        I hate to be this way, but the new promotion + the possibility that the LW reads as female (taking this from “other women I work with”, apologies if this is an incorrect guess) means that if LW jumps to this right away it will read as her refusing to engage with/manage the person assisting her. But an upfront talk + a few interruptions addressed on the spot with full attention and THEN no longer fully engaging might read better.

        1. Sarah*

          I bring up the female angle only because we are held to different standards in the workplace and I’ve seen enough young men make petty enough complaints about female managers that at this point I just sigh, accept it, and adjust my approach slightly because I’d rather something get fixed quickly and fight the bigger battles separately. Sorry, I don’t think that was clear.

      2. Hey Nonnie*

        In addition, if you tell him directly, and repeat-repeat-repeat, and he’s STILL ignoring your direction after, say, the third or fourth time, at that point you’d be perfectly fine saying to him: “we’ve already HAD this conversation, multiple times. You ignoring this instruction is a problem. What’s going on here?”

        Sadly, the cultural undercurrent of sexism often leads people to believe that women don’t reeeeaaallly mean what they say, so you should be prepared to call it out if it happens.

      3. Hey Nonnie*

        Yes, and I would say very explicitly that he is interrupting you. That might hammer it home that what he’s doing is problematic.

    3. Emily K*

      I have a junior colleague who I cannot seem to get to use email instead of chat for everything!

      For a while every time he chatted me to ask for something I would say some variant of, “Sure. Can you put this all in an email along with when you need it by?” After a few weeks I switched to, “It’s hard for me to keep track of requests that come in on chat, and unless something is urgent I usually won’t be able to get to it until I’ve finished what I’m currently working on. Can you put this, and in general any requests you have for me that will take more than a few seconds of my time, in an email so I’ll see it the next time I come up for air?”

      I’m…still basically doing that. This is his first job out of college and he’s less than a year in, and I think he’s just more comfortable with chat at this point and he gravitates towards it more naturally.

      Eventually I might have to escalate to, “Hey, as I’ve mentioned I really need these requests to come in via email, but you’ve still been tending to send them over chat. Unless you just need a quick answer to something, please put it in email instead of chat so that it doesn’t have to interrupt my other projects.” But for now I’m not quite ready to go there yet, because the last time I had the “I’ve told you X and you’ve still been doing Y, can you make a point to always do X going forward?” conversation with a junior colleague who wasn’t getting it, it got slightly awkward (he later introduced a new hire to me and mentioned that I prefer X over Y with a sort of uncomfortable laugh as one of the only 2 things he told New Hire about me) and I ended up feeling like I had to be overly friendly every time I saw him so that he didn’t think I was upset with him for having disregarded all the times I asked for X without him getting the point.

      1. Clorinda*

        But you were upset, or at least irritated, and reasonably so. Go ahead and be firm with the new guy, don’t give him eleventy thousand reminders. My dog trainer told me to only give a command once. “The dog heard you the first time,” she said. The more you give reminders but no enforcement, the less your word matters. Be annoyed when they annoy you, Emily. You don’t have to be nice all the time.

        1. Artemesia*

          LOL. kids even more so. Tell them, give one warning maybe the very first time. Then no warnings after that. Otherwise, you don’t mean it until you say it 2 or 3 or 4 times and you are trained to be a nag.

        2. Not Rebee*

          I work with horses and really you’d be amazed at how much behavior is the same across species. Horses, like humans, will do whatever is easiest for them. The trick is to make the correct thing the easiest thing and they will do it, which means making it harder/more uncomfortable to do the wrong thing. In this case, you’ve asked them to do X, and they haven’t done it, which means you need to consistently escalate until the pressure on them to do X is too much for them to want to do Y instead. And by consistently escalate, I mean to recognize that asking for X in A way did not get a response (and therefore won’t get one if you try again the exact same way – they heard you the first time) so the next time you need to ask in B, and if that doesn’t work use C, und so weiter. The other trick is to make sure you’re telling them what you think you’re telling them, just in case you’re asking the wrong thing by mistake and are inclined to punish the behavior they’ve correctly given you for your (incorrect) ask.

      2. Yvette*

        I wouldn’t use a variant. I would have a saved notepad or word pad file with the response. Use the same response each time. And that whole “just need a quick answer” , I would drop that part of the instructions, to someone like that everything just needs a quick answer. If when you see his email in response YOU decide that it just needs a quick answer YOU can decide to interrupt what you are doing and respond.

      3. Sam.*

        I’ve found short, cheery directions and consistency are helpful with most people. One of the directors at my last job really hated IMs for anything but the most rudimentary questions. If she couldn’t answer it off the top of her head in less than a sentence, she didn’t want to deal with it via IM. If you sent something more complex, her reply would just be, “Send me that info in an email and I’ll look into it asap.” And that’s all you got. I only got that response once before I started erring on the side of caution and emailed her pretty much everything. And I used something similar for drop-ins to my office. Easy questions were not a big deal, but I’m not into the “I’m going to hover over you until you do the thing I’m asking about” approach, so I’d just repeat, “Sure, just send me an email!” until they left. I trained most people out of the habit entirely by making drop-ins unproductive for them.

        1. Not Rebee*

          This is very much an animal training method. All animals want to do what’s easiest. Making the wrong thing (dropping in on you) hard (by making it unproductive) makes doing the right thing (sending an email) the easiest option and people will naturally gravitate towards it.

      4. Star Nursery*

        Yes, I’ve noticed this trend with a couple of the newer to workforce employees. They avoid email at almost all costs and prefer to walk over or IM me. But it’s usually a super simple request that would work best if they emailed it to me since it’s something I’ll put in my work queue if it gets emailed to me. I could see stopping by and talking if it was something that we urgent AND needed a discussion as that would save on back and forth in real time… Or somewhat awkward and not sure how to word in an email. But really the things they are asking for are things (no urgent, routine requests) everyone else emails for me to do so I would prefer to get an email. Stopping by to talk occasionally is fine for building rapport which can make future working together easier because it’s a smoother and easy flowing conversation so more times the ideas for process improvements come out of building relationships. YMMV. But for regular requests, please email. Then it would be in my workflow and not interrupt what I’m currently doing.

        Then there is one person who will IM first to ask “are you there” before asking any question. Well could you either all the question or start with email those requests, too. Please and thank you. I do put my out of office email message on and let you know who will be covering while I’m out… even if I’m “here” it depends what you are asking me to do whether it’s more urgent than what I’ve got on my plate. It probably isn’t going to happen any faster if you IM first or just send me the email. I don’t need a heads up that an email for regular (non Urgent) work is coming.
        Rant over.

      5. Soupspoon McGee*

        By phrasing it as a question, you’re inadvertently weakening your point. I’d say “I need you to X,” rather than “Can you do X?” If that doesn’t work, escalate to “Email me directly–no more chats.”

        1. IO_BIO*

          Yes, exactly, it’s not a question. Be way firmer and more direct, one more time, with clear instructions. Next time he does it, a brief, gruff “send in email”…do not say please. Everything after that: ignore him. Do not respond to any work that comes over chat (i.e., give him natural consequences). If that would hurt you in the process, maybe even take the hit once or twice (assuming it hurts coworker as much or more), then bring it up with your boss. Seriously, your coworker is being an ass.

      6. Trixie*

        My first thought being introduced as “Trixie who prefers X over Y.” Make eye contact with new hire, smile, and say, “No, I just prefer folks who can follow directions.”

        Sigh. Why I’ll never be in management…

        1. GlitsyGus*

          Honestly my answer would be a big smile and “yup, that is correct!” Because it is. I mean, there is no reason to rub this kid’s nose in it, he figured out what you prefer and if he wants to be a dink about it, well that’s kind of on him at least he learned the lesson. If you just confirm with a smile, you’re kind of showing no hard feelings and that you have a sense of humor, in a way that doesn’t draw too much attention.

      7. Thankful for AAM*

        I’m a boomer and I would prefer chat. Unless you told me more directly, Don’t use chat, and then ignored my chats, I’m probably going to keep using it given your wording. I would get enough from the sure! that I would keep chatting.

      8. Trig*

        I think you’re using too many words at this point. You’ve explained clearly to him what the problem is/why to do it the other way. Maybe now whenever he chats you a request, respond with a blunt “Please send this in an email.” Every time, no other response on the topic, no back and forth, no “sure, I’d be happy to take a look.” Literally use those exact same words every time. If he keeps adding more detail in chat, just keep responding with the same words. It can’t help but become obvious the more you do it.

        1. Trig*

          Oh gosh, forgot to see if everyone else had already said the same thing, haha. AND forgot to remove the link from my handle from a discussion last week about professional backpacks.

          I clearly need more coffee.

        2. Traffic_Spiral*

          I agree. The problem is not that he needs more explanation – the problem is that she needs to break him of the habit. She needs less words, not more.

          Him: “hey, can you ________”
          Her: “can you put this in an email?”
          Him: “Well I just wanted to _________”
          Her: “Great, put it in an email.”
          Him: “Well I just wanted to _________”
          Her: “Put it in an email and I’ll get back to you.”

          So long as she keeps responding to the chat there’s no reason for him to stop using it.

      9. Sketchee*

        I like where you’ve started and it’s very reasonable. If it were me, I’d have said things exactly as you did at first.

        From here, perhaps consider escalating to remove the questions? I’d cut out all of the “Can you?” type language and all questions. “Great, go ahead email me that. I’ll review the email and get back to.”Note that just like Allison suggested, it’s directions. Not a question. No explaining that I’m busy or that it’s what I think it’s best. Just You + Verb.

        I even turn toward my screen. If they continue, I’ll how my surprise that they’re talking to me. If they ask again, I just repeat “Perfect, I’ll review the email.” Turn to my computer and continue. Personally, it works for me to have pretty neutral and matter of fact tone.

        Observe others in your office who might have this down. Or those who struggle. I’ve noticed that those who struggle will pause and wait for the other person. As if they need permission to end the conversation. An early manager trained me in the “walk away” technique because I asked for advice when getting stuck in conversations. She cheerfully advised “Just leave. Stop talking. Don’t look at them anymore. You’re at work, it’s okay to go back to work without explanation”
        Something that you might consider. Hope this helps a little!

  2. hayling*

    I had a coworker like this. It was maddening. I’d send him a chat about something not time-sensitive, and he would run over to my desk to talk in person. I think he was really insecure and wanted people to know that he was on top of his work (he was really nice but was not a high performer). I was honestly relieved when he was let go because he annoyed the crap out of me.

    1. BeenThere*

      They can fire someone for annoying the crap out of you? Cool!

      (I know that’s not what you said but that’s how my brain initially processed it! LOL)

    2. Star Nursery*

      He was probably needing to get his steps in got the day. J/k
      Some people seem to need the human interaction at a bigger degree if they are wired that way and he might have been in the wrong role if he didn’t get enough people talk time throughout his day that he was jumping at a chance to talk to a coworker. Just a theory.

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        I’d actually think the opposite – that in a previous role he’s been told not to ask questions of people via email and instead to go over and ask them about it directly (or call them). Kind of like the reverse of the direct report who was waiting all day for email feedback in the letter yesterday.

  3. Seriously?*

    I would probably address it as if he has misunderstood the instructions before. He is emailing when he has a question, he just isn’t including the question.

    1. Seriously?*

      It could also be helpful to include how long he can expect to wait for a response. “Send me an e-mail and I will get back to you within two hours. Only come to my desk if it is urgent” could be very helpful in managing his expectations.

        1. Tehmorp*

          Also, if it’s urgent, it most likely still requires a screenshot or screenshare. I say tell him to send an email with “Urgent” priority on it. He can also put “URGENT” in the subject line.

        2. Yvette*

          I’ve worked with people like that, everything was ‘urgent’. Thing is, if everything is urgent, then they are all equally important, which means nothing is more important or ‘urgent’.

  4. Non-profiteer*

    I don’t have ADHD, but I second the plea for starting with email or IM communication before going to in-person. It takes my brain longer to transition from reading/writing to talking/listening. You’re going to get a better answer out of me if you email or IM. Also, in many cases it’s good to have a paper trail of questions and answers – my inbox functions as my external memory storage. This doesn’t mean I NEVER want to talk. But even just a quick IM to ask “hey, do you have a minute to talk about X” would let me transition out of what I’m doing and focus on the X topic.

    And now off my soapbox to a funny but practical thing: this got a little better for me once I realized that my boss had shoes that squeaked in a very specific way when he walked. I could always hear him coming, and could usually prepare myself, “oh, that’s John coming, he probably wants to ask about X.” It was literally a put-a-bell-on-the-cat kind of strategy, but it helped.

    1. Non-profiteer*

      (Though the power dynamics are opposite in my example. I agree with Allison that you get to tell this guy to stop. I didn’t get to tell my boss that)

    2. CTT*

      I think a plea for more open dialogue about preferred ways to communicate might be best; there are some people who are the exact opposite and really prefer to meet in person over email. I’ve had bosses who prefer in-person because follow-up questions come more quickly/naturally, and others who are just anti-email and miss the days when everyone would walk in with a steno pad ready to meet. There are so many options for communication now that it seems like the key thing now is to be clear about which one works best for you.

      1. Leela*

        I definitely, definitely, definitely prefer in person! Some people, especially when they get busy, e-mail responses that only answer half of my question, or answer a question that isn’t the one I asked, and then I have to wait anywhere up to the rest of the day or later when I send a response saying “hey thanks for your response but I need to know blah blah blah in order to proceed”. I also feel like people who don’t fully (or even partially) answer the actual question seem to get very frustrated by my follow-ups because they think they’ve answered something but they really haven’t, and something that would have taken 2 minutes in person can end up being an all day affair.

        If someone has a preference that I e-mail them first I’m happy to accommodate them, especially if they were senior to me and especially if they were senior and part of my team directly. But I agree more open dialogue about the best way to do this is what I’d vote for as well.

        1. Sandman*

          Agreed. I’m more comfortable with email, but it is SUCH a time-waster. A quick conversation can save so much time.

        2. Star Nursery*

          Agreed, certain discussions and conversations are work better in person! It can be less time, allow for back and forth and nuance, depending on how they answer you will alter your follow up questions, etc.

          1. Leela*

            Especially if it’s something that requires follow ups! I’d much rather have an in-person conversation than send an e-mail like

            I need your input on X. If your answer is Y,
            1) follow up question one?
            2) follow up question two?

            If your answer is Z,
            1) follow up question one?
            2) follow up question two?

            Having said that, I think the paper trail created by e-mail is hugely important. Sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to have offices that either don’t require them because seniors and managers don’t wildly change their minds without telling you and then act like they never said the first thing. Sometimes I’ve been lucky enough that I did have those seniors/managers but the office had a policy of “whatever you decide in person, e-mail it back to say ‘to confirm, we discussed x, y, and z, with a decision of ____’ and the other confirm”. Other times, I’ve been at the mercy of he said/she said conversations with a leader who claims they didn’t really say this thing, or that they did but it meant this other thing, or what have you.

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              Yup. If we need a lot of back-and-forth, do it in person. If you need a simple yes/no, then maybe in person. Otherwise, email.

        3. Thankful for AAM*

          @Leela, this!
          I send 2 sentence emails and they don’t answer what I wrote!

          I prefer electronic communication but only if ppl read it!

        4. Hooptie*

          I’m on the other side of this one. I prefer email. However, if you have something important enough that it requires a face to face conversation with me, look at my calendar and schedule 15 minutes with me. First, it doesn’t interrupt what I’m working on at that moment, and second, I can prepare for the conversation just as if it were any other meeting.

    3. straws*

      I could have written this, right down to the boss with squeaky shoes. It’s amazing how there’s always someone out there who can relate to you!

    4. Midge*

      My winter boots squeak and I feel so bad about the noise they make when I walk around the office. Good to know squeaky shoes may actually be helpful in some circumstances. ;)

    5. Dust Bunny*

      I am not an auditory person. I process and retain things MUCH better if I read or see them.

      This guy would drive me nuts.

      1. MeTooson*

        This isn’t necessarily the right situation for a plea for open dialogue about communication. She’s the boss, and he needs to follow instructions.

    6. Mad Baggins*

      I absolutely agree about the paper trail. Some things are better resolved over email, some in person, but at least having some digital record means that both parties can track it, prioritize it with other requests, and follow up on it days/months later. Even if it’s just an email that says “Hey can I swing by later to ask you about butterfly molds?” it means I can put it in a folder or flag it, and then 6 weeks later when Thumbelina asks “hey how did we decide we wanted to do butterfly molds again? Should we do frog molds the same way?” I have some sort of trail to jog my memory.

  5. Falling Diphthong*

    I have asked him if he can screen-share or email his questions, but instead he has been emailing me to tell me he has a question, and then coming by my desk anyway.

    This part makes me wonder if he knows how to screen-share or take a screen shot? While part of it is likely a face-to-face communication style, he seems to have heard “email me” as “email me before you drop by to talk about the thing on the screen in your cubicle.” There may be a technical fix he just isn’t aware of. (Screen shotting is easy if you google it, but you have to believe it’s an easy thing you can learn with a 30 second google…)

        1. Sarah*

          I found out about the highlighter in the snipping tool last week and it has changed my life forever.

          1. Justme, The OG*

            The highlighter in Snip and Adobe (email a lot of Amazon receipts and need to highlight what was in which delivery) save my sanity.

        2. Cassie the First*

          I just learned about the snipping tool – I’ve been training someone for a couple of months and she uses it to take screenshots for her notes.

          I wouldn’t quite say it’s changed my life (yet!) but it sure is more handy than Alt-Print Screen, paste to Word, crop, save… I even found out how to assign a shortkey (I think I’m using Ctrl-F12) so I don’t have to go to the start menu to find the snipping tool.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I’m going to try it, but I am now betting that the snipping tool is why my new co-worker’s screenshots look so much worse than mine.

        Alt-prt scr to capture one piece of software rules…

        1. Bea*

          We discourage print screen…that’s how you end up sharing more info than necessary at times. Snipping is concentrated and only that section you need.

          1. Teapot Tester*

            Yeah, print screen takes the whole screen. The snipping tool lets you capture just a portion of the screen. Way better.

        2. Kelsi*

          Do you mean quality? Or coworker is just doing a bad job of deciding what to clip?

          I haven’t noticed any difference in quality between snipping and regular old Print Screen. Maybe if that’s the issue, it’s how they’re saving them vs. the tool itself?

          (Snipping tool is a godsend when you have two monitors!)

        1. Kelsi*

          Windows tool where you can outline part of the screen to screenshot, vs. when you hit Print Screen and get everything. It’s great!

    1. EA in CA*

      +1 for snipping tool! Plus I recently learnt that right after you take your snip you can immediately place it into your document or email by using Ctrl+P. I had always save the image, then insert as a picture.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        or – Alt-prt scr to save it to your clipboard as a picture, then ctrl-v to paste into doc/email.

    2. Drew*

      Jumping in real quick for the Mac users – command-shift-3 screenshots the whole screen, command-shift-4 gives you a rectangular box you draw around what you want to snip. Saves the files to your desktop unless you change preferences to save them somewhere else.

      1. Agent of the Nine*

        And command-shift-4 then spacebar lets you take a shot of a specific app window!

      2. SusanIvanova*

        Quicktime Player with “Show Mouse Clicks in Recording” turned on – saved me *so* much time when the bug report was missing one critical step that they didn’t think was important.

    3. JessaB*

      There’s another issue here, if he comes without his laptop to show the OP the information, in addition to all the do not do this dialogue, it’s also okay to send him back to get it. If you’re not in the position OP is where it’s easier to address because they’re senior, if the person keeps coming without things that make it easier to answer, make em go get them.

    4. pcake*

      This, and the fact that he gets way too close to females, made me wonder whether the reason he prefers in-person interactions is he gets a kick out of being close to his female co-workers and maybe also gets a kick from making them uncomfortable.

  6. Observer*

    Yes, do *tell* him. Then refuse to talk to him when he shows up.

    Also, do say something about the personal space thing. And if he doesn’t immediately dial it back, please give his manager a heads up and go to HR.

    It’s possible that he just doesn’t realize that he’s crowding people too much. But, if that’s the case, if you tell him he should change his behavior. If he won’t change, you have a different issue and it’s one that HR needs to know about. (Any you may want to let them know in writing.)

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      Yes, you have to make it so he doesn’t get the info he needs without following the correct process. If you continue to cater to these drop by the desk questions, he will keep doing it.

    2. Khlovia*

      If he “just didn’t realize”, he would be doing it to men too.

      He realizes just fine.

  7. Nita*

    I have a couple coworkers like that, and I’m not even sure how to tell them to stop. I mean, asking them to email me won’t do anything because they DO email me. And then walk right in to chat about the same thing that’s in the email. It messes up my concentration every time, and it’s always something that did not need to be discussed in person. If we’re having a discussion with some back-and-forth, they’ll be in my office 15 times that day. I’m pretty sure I’m not doing a great job hiding my irritation after the fifth drop-in, and I avoid asking them anything if I don’t have to.

    Probably just have to admit to myself that there’s no non-awkward way to have this conversation, and finally point out to them how disruptive they’re being.

    1. Essess*

      “I’ll let you know when I’m ready to go over the email you just sent. I’m in the middle of something else right now and I don’t have time to discuss it yet.”

    2. PlainJane*

      I have a co-worker who does this. Technically she’s a peer, but she has a ton of unofficial power, so I can’t just tell her to knock it off. She says she gets up to talk with people instead of emailing so she can get extra steps in during the day. But when she does this, she’s usually interrupting the one hour I have all afternoon that I’m not in a meeting and can get work done. So please, fellow FitBit users, don’t let your fitness goals disrupt your co-workers. Send a dang email.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      “that there’s no non-awkward way to have this conversation”
      And that so much time has passed.
      “Why is that a problem now?”
      “You never said anything before.”
      It isn’t a problem now. I am addressing it now.
      I didn’t say anything before, I am saying it now.
      This is what I need. Thanks.

      1. Nita*

        Thankfully it hasn’t been long. Both of them are fairly new, and I wonder if this has something to do with communication styles in their old workplaces. I guess it would be weird if I said nothing for years and then suddenly brought it up, but it’s been less than a year. I guess that’s one more reason to have this conversation sooner, rather than later.

    4. ceiswyn*

      My boss used to do this. He would email me a question – and then he would immediately come to my desk to ask EXACTLY THE SAME QUESTION in person. Half of the time, the task he was interrupting was me sending him a response.

      Once, he replied to a one-line email with a request for the information… that was in the email…. that he was replying to…

      I could only assume that he regarded email as some kind of ritual, rather than as a means of transferring information. Unfortunately he seemed to have the same notion about calendars and task tracking software, with the result that he asked me to set up a particular query four times, having apparently not noticed that I’d set it up and given him full access to it the first time.

      This guy was managing a software development team. The gods weep.

      1. Workerbee*

        I love the concept of it being a ritual. This makes so much sense.

        We have a non-techie, avoiding-retirement person in our office who does the “Did you get my email?” walk-over right as you’re most likely opening the email. We put it down to him not having successfully transferred over from the messenger pigeon days. Having it be a ritual/part of a process feels better. :)

      2. Thankful for AAM*

        I could only assume that he regarded email as some kind of ritual, rather than as a means of transferring information.

        I cannot stop enjoying that statement.

        1. Marthooh*

          It’s like the butler announcing “Lord Carrington!” just as he walks into the room.

      3. Julia*

        My last job had a higher up guy who would appear at my desk just as I was reading his latest email, with all the materials he sent printed out so he could explain them to me in person as well. It always started with “did you read my email”?, which was always impossible because he appeared so soon after sending that I was still in the middle of reading.

  8. AnonEMoose*

    I feel for you, OP. I have a particular combination of work that can be very time sensitive and requires sustained concentration. It can take me 15 minutes or more to get back on track if I’m interrupted at the wrong time. And “the wrong time” is a particular point of the process, not a specific time of day.

    And I have some coworkers who think “well, I just have a quick question, I’ll just stop and ask her.” They don’t stop to think “wait, there’s one of her and 10 of us, and even if we each only have one question today…”. Or that what they think is “a quick question” probably isn’t as quick as they think.

    I finally resorted to asking my boss to email them at the beginning of my real time crunch to ask them to email me questions rather than coming to my desk between X day and Y day. They didn’t always like it, but they mostly complied. It made a big difference.

    Alison’s advice is excellent. He is junior to you and assisting you, so you get to specify how you would like him to work with you. And as you are senior to him, please also do everyone (including him) a favor and address the personal space issue. It doesn’t have to be a big deal – and if he makes it one, then that is on him, not on you.

  9. Magenta Sky*

    The personal space issue could easily be a cultural thing. Different parts of the world have very different concepts of personal space. It can be measured by extending an arm straight out, and measuring where on that arm you are comfortable talking to someone. For most native born Americans, it’s typically at about the wrist. But for many other cultures, it’s much closer, even inside the elbow. And (assuming this is what’s happening) he probably doesn’t have any clue he’s doing it, or that it bothers people. And it will likely be as difficult for him to stop doing it as it is for you to adapt to it.

    And the thing is (again, assuming this is what’s going on), moving back further will make him as uncomfortable as being in close makes you (and everyone else). If you talk to him in an open space, where you can step back, if you pay attention, you’ll find that after a few seconds, he steps up closer. Then you step back again, and he steps up again, and he’ll literally chase you across the room. With neither of you having any conscious awareness of what’s going on. (I had this happen once with a woman from Central America. She chased me across our entire showroom and backed me against the far wall before I realized what was going on.)

    Now, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t address it. You certainly should, since he’s making everyone else uncomfortable. But it may be easier to address it on this basis. If he understands what’s going on, it will be easier for him to adapt than if he’s just screamed at over it when he really doesn’t understand what he’s doing or why it bothers people.

    1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      My question is: Does he stand this close to other dudes in the office or just the ladies? If he does it to the dudes then maybe it is cultural. If he only does it to the woman… it is more problematic.

      1. Sarah*

        A few weeks ago I asked my coworkers to pay attention to this. We have a new guy in our office and he stands WAY too close and often blocks entrances/exits so you’re stuck and I feel like a cornered animal. I wanted to see if he does it to everybody or if it’s just women (and possibly specifically younger women). Good/bad news is, he does it to everybody. And he did it to me today (crowded into my cube, standing while I was sitting, which made me want to full-body shudder) and I wasn’t even sure how to put words to what I wanted him to do.

        And frankly, while I understand that some people might be uncomfortable standing farther away, I’ll take “It feels awkward to be so far away from you!” over “I feel physically threatened by how close you are” any day.

        1. Seriously?*

          Yeah, I would disagree with he statement that standing too far away would make him just as uncomfortable as the OP feels when he is too close. It might be uncomfortable, but too far away never feels threatening.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            Yes, this. I can’t concentrate on what you’re trying to say to me when my internal alarms are shrieking “TOO CLOSE!!! TOO CLOSE!!! GOOOO AWWWWAAAYYYY!”

            Thus, I will, without apology, prioritize me feeling not threatened over his feeling comfortable.

        2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          I wouldn’t go so far as The Gift of Fear, but it is a power move. It’s an assertive, probably even aggressive position. You can address it. You can make light, “Jim, I know you are here. Trust me you have my full attention. Now give my full space.”
          You can return the posture and take a step closer to him. He won’t move, though so be prepared to chicken fight that one out.
          You can be matter of fact, “You need to step back three feet. You are too close.” And you don’t have to tell him you are uncomfortable. Use Alison’s patent pending look of surprise, “of course are only standing this close because you didn’t realize how close you were and of course you will step back three feet.” *

          *which, btw, is not random. It’s one goddamned step, dude!

          1. Sarah*

            Yeah, I’ll definitely be addressing it in the moment next time it happens. Seeing him do it to other coworkers definitely helps me feel more confident (though they’re all less privileged than he is, so that might play into it).

        3. SarahTheEntwife*

          Yeah, I have a coworker who’s a milder version of this — he tends to stand just *slightly* too close and has this soft, intense voice that comes off as weirdly sultry when you first meet him. But no, he talks like that to everyone — men, women, students, deans; he just has a slightly unfortunate natural speaking voice.

      2. Washi*

        Yeah, I think either way the OP is perfectly entitled to ask him politely to step back. But if he does it with everyone, I would probably keep my tone lighter/softer even if it took multiple reminders, and if he only does it to women, I would move pretty quickly to a brusque “please don’t lean over so close to me” and not soften at all, since something that IS very clear from the letter is that this dude does not take a hint.

      3. The New Wanderer*

        Ugh, you reminded me of a guy in college, not a friend but a fellow dorm resident, who stood thisclose to me when I was working on something. I asked him to back up (back off, really) and he said “In my culture, standing close is a sign of affection.” I said “In my culture, we like our space.” And there is no way he did that to any males ever, but he also never did that to me again.

    2. epi*

      Why would you assume that someone is going to scream at him instead of just ask him to keep his distance a little? That remark in the context of your comment makes it sound like you think it is unreasonable not to want someone in your personal space at work.

      I work in a very diverse field and organization with many people who originate from different countries. They are all really lovely people who have zero problems behaving respectfully at work and not creeping on others, and who will just ask if they think there is a cultural norm they are not quite picking up on. None would ever chase someone around the room who deliberately stepped away from them.

      I don’t think this advice is as inclusive as you seem to think it is. I would be very offended if someone told me they thought I was acting inappropriately and assumed it was because of my culture or identity. I would never advise saying that to a coworker if you are trying to make them feel respected or welcome.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Right? Why scream? I have asked people to please step back, and they did. It is an entirely reasonable thing to ask a coworker to move so they are not physically leaning into you and you aren’t smelling their coffee breath. People typically understand that. “Is this cultural?” is a pretty loaded question too, in my experience.

    3. Pollygrammer*

      I don’t think “could you stand a little further back?” needs an involved cultural explanation or would be difficult to acquiesce to without one.

      1. fposte*

        Yes, this is one of those things where it could be completely true but still doesn’t change what the OP can do. It’s okay to choose to operate in the culture where you are.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          I agree entirely. But it’s going to be much easier to address the situation if everyone has a good understanding of what’s happening in the first place.

          It would be inappropriate to take the same approach to “you come from a culture where people stand a lot closer and it makes us uncomfortable” as “you stand really close to women, but not men, and it needs to change.”

          If it *is* cultural, it would be very easy to step over a line into something that can reasonably be viewed as bigotry, whether it is or not. Sometimes, perception is more important than reality.

    4. okie dokie*

      Yes this can definitely be a thing – I was taught this in my International business classes (IB was my college major). How to recognize it and frankly how to use it to your advantage in certain situations. When in a foreign country if you allow their comfortable difference they won’t be able to say why they like you better than other foreigners but they will just instinctively be more comfortable with you. It can feel hugely strange and off putting until you recognize what it is about. That said it if that is what is happening here it would be helpful to him to know this as he may really not see an issue and wonder why people are standoffish. If that is not part of the issue then yeah mentioning it every time more and more forcefully is appropriate.

    5. Jules the 3rd*

      It also varies by culture within countries – my US friends who are PoC generally have a smaller personal space than my US friends who are white.

      I think, unless there’s some gender-bias or sexual sidenote to the personal space, OP’s better off letting it go than trying to address it. In a diverse workspace, accommodating idiosyncrasies that don’t affect your actual work is an advantage for you.

      As the team lead, OP has a choice – setting a social standard (“hey, please retreat to Standard US White Person Distance”) or accommodating differences that don’t directly affect work (hey, person is standing closer than I am comfortable with. Do I really need to react to that? If there’s touching or a sexual sidenote, then yes, else… tbd). Personally, I think that diverse team members will work better with a team lead who doesn’t ask them to do things that are uncomfortable.

      There is, of course, the argument that people should defer to a professional standard, and it’s possible if there’s no cultural / racial issues at play that I might mention it (eg, if coworker’s a youngish white male). But I lean heavily towards picking my battles.

      The walking over is different, that affects actual work.

      1. Drew*

        I couldn’t disagree more. There isn’t an equivalence between “you are standing closer than I am comfortable with” and “you are standing farther away than I am comfortable with,” especially considering the likely gender dynamics in play.

        Whether Fergus intends it or not, standing in someone else’s personal bubble – especially when Fergus is blocking the exit – reads as a power display: “I am in your space and preventing you from leaving.” Being too close carries threatening undertones that being too far simply doesn’t.

        1. AMT*

          I agree. Let’s not tell LWs to ignore their instincts when it comes to creepiness! Looking at the letter as a whole, I think the LW is more than likely to be right about the guy being weird when it comes to women’s personal space.

          Even if she’s wrong and he just has different cultural norms about personal space, it’s okay to speak up when it comes to other people’s cultural norms! If someone’s cultural norms are making you uncomfortable, they’ve officially become your business to address. I’ll refer to the widely-shared “you need to get off my foot” analogy:

        2. Magenta Sky*

          The thing is, if it’s the cultural thing, he’s *not* standing in someone else’s personal bubble, from his perspective. And if no one explains that to him, he will likely never figure it out. “Too close” is purely a subjective opinion, and it varies.

          That’s the point.

          And when it’s a problem, as it is here, the solution isn’t to arbitrarily impose one side’s opinion on the other. It’s to discuss it, and get input from *everyone*, including him. Then make a decision for that particular situation.

          1. Sarah*

            But again, when one side’s boils down to “I feel threatened” there’s no real middle ground where “Oh well you don’t mean to make me feel that way” is going to magically make me not feel that way. So yeah, I’m gonna “impose” my opinion without apology and expecting it to be accepted in full, and ideally without taking 5 minutes to explain (with somebody still standing too close because they haven’t been sufficiently convinced that I get to decide how close I stand to somebody) the fact that I do feel threatened – especially because that often leads into expecting people to bare their trauma to get people to accept their boundaries.

          2. AMT*

            I don’t consider making him stand further away “arbitrarily imposing one side’s opinion on the other.” When it comes to someone’s personal space and feelings of safety, there’s no middle ground between “I prefer standing closer” and “You are making me uncomfortable and threatened.” Whatever his personal feelings and cultural conventions, he doesn’t get any input on this — she’s the only one who gets to decide how close he can stand to her!

          3. Seriously?*

            It is subjective and he is not wrong to be standing too close until/unless he refuses to step back when asked.

            There are many cases where the correct thing to do *is* to arbitrarily impose one side’s opinion on the other. This is one. There are obviously limits. If the OP were demanding he stand across the room that would obviously be unreasonable, but asking for one step back is not an imposition. In general if someone is uncomfortable and asking for something reasonable, their wishes should be respected.

          4. Mookie*

            No, not at all. People are the sole arbiters of the dimensions of their personal bubble and can assert the right to that autonomy whenever they want. It’s not subjective or relative at all.

      2. Seriously?*

        I don’t think it is really fair to say that someone should suck it up and let someone stand way too close. Unless there really isn’t enough room to ask them to take a step back it is a reasonable request. So long as it is done politely and without accusing them of intentionally invading your space and doesn’t put them in an uncomfortable position (small cubical where they would be agains the wall or on the table) then it should be ok.

        Also, telling a woman that she should let a man stand as close as he wants because there is no evidence that it is sexual is problematic.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Just out of curiosity, would it also be a reasonable request to ask someone to stand a little closer because you’re uncomfortable being so far away? If not, why not?

          Taking an arbitrary approach to a situation like this without finding out what’s really going on is even more problematic.

          1. Emily K*

            If you’re so far away that you can’t hear the person or you’re having to talk so loudly that others are forced to listen to your conversation, or you can’t see the document they’re trying to show you, then it’s reasonable to ask if you can stand/sit closer to hear/see better.

            But regardless of culture, “I feel more comfortable being physically close to you” is not something that needs to be indulged in the workplace. We all have different sized personal bubbles, but the way we feel when someone is inside our bubble without permission is wholly different from our unconscious urge to arrange ourselves somewhere outside the bubble without being too far. We have a right to eject people from our personal bubble, we don’t have a right to demand that people stand or sit at a more intimate, close and personal distance from us.

            Just like I have a right to decline to eat the food someone has offered, but I don’t have the right to demand that someone else eat the food I’ve made. These are equivalent sides of the coin. One is a request for autonomy and the other is an imposition.

          2. AMT*

            Not the same commenter, but IMO, no, it’s not in the same ballpark. It’s a bit like saying, “Would it be reasonable to ask someone if I can touch their shoulder while we talk (because we touch people’s shoulders in my culture and I’m uncomfortable not doing it)?”

            Bottom line, I am the only one who gets to decide my boundaries around my body. Even if someone feels bad that they don’t get to [stand close to me/touch me/hug me/whatever], my decision prevails because it’s not about who is made more comfortable/uncomfortable by the situation — it’s about me getting to set the rules about my body and personal space.

          3. Seriously?*

            It isn’t arbitrary. People have boundaries about how close they are comfortable having someone. Someone standing too close feel uncomfortable because it is a violation of that boundary. Someone standing too far away can be uncomfortable but that is because it goes against a preference and feels less friendly. Violating a boundary is worse than feeling unfriendly.

            This is of course different if there is a reason for someone to be closer beyond just a personal preference. If it is necessary to see or hear better for example then it is perfectly fine to ask someone to step closer.

            In general, “no” trumps “yes”. So someone deciding that they don’t want me to stand close to them trumps my desire to be physically near them.

            1. Boundaries*

              I agree. I am in a social science field where for women especially, sometimes they are told – or feel they have to – put aside their personal boundaries because of intercultural issues. The thing is, by so doing, they often can put themselves into a position where they are ignoring instincts that exist to protect them. This has become an issue of discussion, where women are starting to become less ready to excuse things like feeling threatened by something because “it’s their culture.” Sometimes you need to get used to a different standard for what constitutes a safe interaction, but sometimes, you do need to push back. Speaking as someone who preaches cultural relativism as a professional ethic, being a good relativist does not necessarily mean you have to make equivalences between practices when you feel threatened.
              I’ve talked to too many other women who have tried to do so, and it created difficult problems. If there is a way to get something done that removes the threat or feeling of being caged in, it is perfectly appropriate to do so.

      3. JB (not in Houston)*

        I can’t think of anyone I know from a different culture, even a different U.S. culture, who wouldn’t understand that some people have different personal space boundaries. This isn’t any different from how some people come from a touchy-feely culture, but it’s ok to tell them you don’t like being touched. There’s no reason why the OP can’t tell this dude to please give her a little space, and I’m baffled by why you think it’s a bad thing to very casually ask him to not stand so close to her. She doesn’t have to say he’s creeping her out. She doesn’t have to say he’s wrong. She can just say she doesn’t like to stand that close to people.

        and this *will* affect actual work, by the way because if he makes her uncomfortable, then she won’t want to work with him, and it will affect how she interacts with him and how she feels about him, even if unconsciously.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          I agree. But unless someone points it out to him, there’s no reason to believe he is consciously aware of what he’s doing. Most people aren’t, under the circumstances.

          “You’re standing to close” is exactly the same as “You’re very standoffish, staying so far away.” If you don’t realize what’s going on, it’s nearly impossible to correct it.

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Oh, you aren’t going to get any argument from me on that point. I was responding the the comment that the OP shouldn’t point it out because the person might be from a different culture and it’s not something worth saying.

      4. Observer*

        Having someone in your space most definitely DOES “affect my work” for most people. And any person who is actually uncomfortable with taking a step back when asked has bigger issues.

        Furthermore, the OP has a responsibility to the other women on her team. THEY are also uncomfortable. It’s not fair to expect them to deal with that.

        And, it doesn’t have to be overtly sexual for it to be sexist or even just flat out rude.

      5. Cat Herder*

        No, the OP absolutely can ask (and if that doesn’t work, tell) this person not to stand so close. The hoverer’s reason doesn’t matter. He’s too close and OP is uncomfortable about it.

      6. Magenta Sky*

        Assuming that’s what going on (and it may well not be), I think the best approach is to discuss it, first with him, then perhaps with everyone. It *is*, apparently, making everyone uncomfortable. Perhaps it’s as simple as explaining it to everyone, and everyone letting it go. But perhaps not, since he’s a man, and it’s making women uncomfortable in ways beyond just “you stand too close.”

        Every situation is different, and there’s no universal right answer.

        1. Emily K*

          People are not going to stop feeling uncomfortable with personal boundary violation and “let it go” once it’s “explained to everyone” that he has a Very Good Reason for violating the boundary.

          It doesn’t matter why he is violating their boundaries. Whether it’s innocent or malicious, cultural or sexist, does. not. matter. People have a right to draw their own personal space boundaries and they don’t have to defend it, justify it, negotiate it, or hear out explanations of why someone else thinks they have the right to violate that boundary or thinks the boundary should be somewhere else.

          “You’re standing too close and it’s making me uncomfortable, please back up,” should be the beginning and the end. It is completely unreasonable to argue with someone else’s assertion of a personal boundary, so there is nothing more that needs to be said once that boundary is asserted aside from perhaps, “I’m so sorry, I won’t do it again.”

        2. Mad Baggins*

          Normally I’m the first person to cry, “But different cultures!!1” but I think that doesn’t give Fergus a pass here. Even within different cultures, there are different size bubbles for work/play, when talking to same gender/different gender, when close or flirty/distant or formal, if two people are facing each other or facing outward (like a V shape) or in a group with others…

          Of course every situation is different and there’s no universal answer, but bottom line, if Fergus reads the situation wrong and makes OP uncomfortable, Fergus is gonna get rebuked. Maybe his approach was appropriate for a bar in Spain or a queue in India, but if he’s at work in the US then he is still in the wrong, and OP doesn’t have to write it off as “well he’s from a different culture, so”. Still means he’s acting inappropriate for his current surroundings.

    6. Observer*

      It’s not that hard to adjust to standing further away. And it simply is not the case that standing further away IS going to be just as uncomfortable for him as closer is for OP. I obviously can’t speak specifically to how this guy will respond, but in general it’s just not even close. One is discomfort / being creeped out. The other is “a bit too formal”.

      1. Seriously?*

        There is a visceral response to being trapped that just isn’t there when being farther away than you prefer. It can be frustrating to be too far away (especially if it causes issues with hearing or seeing), but there is no adrenaline rush.

    7. RD*

      That happened to me at a party with a very nice guy from Spain. I studied abroad in Spain and when I was there I stopped backing away, but this was in the US and I wasn’t consciously thinking about personal space. But we were talking about Spain and I think he reverted to a Spanish conversation style. We started in a group of people and neither on of us noticed until we were alon on the other side of the room with me in a corner. We both laughed and went back to the group. It was pretty funny.

    8. nonegiven*

      My husband had a friend that kept getting in his face to talk. He’d back up but the guy would step forward, he could never get to a comfortable distance, so one day he grabbed him by the ears and kissed him on the mouth, ( wasn’t a co-worker, wasn’t at work.) It did solve the problem.

    9. Mookie*

      And it will likely be as difficult for him to stop doing it as it is for you to adapt to it.

      That’s as may be, but the onus is on the person making someone uncomfortable and the person who is uncomfortable doesn’t have to be flexible about their boundaries here.

      If you talk to him in an open space, where you can step back, if you pay attention, you’ll find that after a few seconds, he steps up closer. Then you step back again, and he steps up again, and he’ll literally chase you across the room. With neither of you having any conscious awareness of what’s going on.

      The LW is very conscious of what’s going on. Pretending for a moment that culture is playing some role here, that’s sort of the basis of all culture clashes: you sense a dissonance between two or more parties and then discover the precise source of conflict. That’s okay. It’s normal.

  10. Nea*

    he likes to get very much in my personal space… I can’t back away. Other women I work with have also expressed that this is a concern for them
    I often have to follow him back to his desk to see what’s happening, because he hasn’t remembered to bring his laptop
    I have asked him if he can screen-share or email his questions, but instead he

    Am I the only one watching a parade of red flags go by? He’s ignoring boundaries, he’s ignoring orders, he’s constantly demanding personal attention, and “often” manages to “forget” a basic piece of equipment so that he’s not just getting personal attention but personal attendance.

    Yes, start with Allison’s scripts, but document, Document, DOCUMENT every single one of these interactions, especially the ones you can preface “After my very clear order at Time, Day, Month, he continued to…” and then take it to his manager & your boss & possibly HR.

    1. AnonEMoose*

      No, you’re not the only one. The pattern is concerning when put together. But I think it would be beneficial to the OP to respond as Alison suggests, and see what happens. If he corrects the behavior, everyone can move on from there, and there is still an escalation path if he doesn’t correct it.

    2. epi*

      No, you’re not.

      I’ve worked with exactly one person who behaved like this– coming by after being asked not to, always trying to get help in the way that required the most contact and effort from me, not leaving when I said I was busy, getting too into personal space, noticeably into women’s mental and physical space specifically. He ended up being moved this week after escalating to leaving unwanted notes and gifts on my desk, tracking down and contacting my personal email, and following me to the gym and trying to follow me home. I’m in the middle of an investigation that will hopefully end with him being fired.

      Not everyone who does this is as bad as that guy of course. But it’s absolutely inappropriate, often gendered, behavior that shouldn’t be brushed off. For me, it created an uncomfortable and unproductive environment long before it got truly creepy and I wish I had pushed back earlier and harder.

      1. Boundaries*

        I’m sorry this has been happening to you. That is a lot of escalation, and I will be sending good thoughts while you go through this process.

    3. Washi*

      This seems a little premature? If the OP asks him to give her a little more space and he continues to get too close and also the nature of his popping by starts to feel creepy in nature, then maybe. But for now, even if she has to go to her manager, I’m not sure what documenting would do that “Bob continues to come by in person when I’ve asked him multiple times to email me his questions” would not.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yeah, I think it’s premature. The OP hasn’t clearly, directly told him what she wants him to do differently yet, and she has authority over him! That’s step one.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          I have to disagree – like the next commenter, the ‘forgets his laptop and expects OP to go to his desk’ raises a red flag for me. Not a ‘potential stalker’ red flag, but a ‘Team lead’s a girl so her time and directives are not valuable’ flag.

          I endorse the ‘document document document’.

          The ‘doesn’t follow directions’ – yes, you’re right, OP needs to be more clear.

          The standing too close – we really don’t know enough. Has OP visually checked how close he stands to other men, relative to women? Is there potential for a cultural mismatch?

          1. Seriously?*

            But a potential response would be for the OP to say “Ok, go back to your desk and send me a screenshot.”

    4. pleaset*

      “document, Document, DOCUMENT every single one of these interactions, ”

      Oh come on, that’s a waste of time at this point. And if you need to escalate it, it’ll be easy enough to document it later since he does it all the time.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        The ‘document’ part is ‘OP should document her clear directions’; an email followup to a verbal conversation is really helpful. That way OP can say, ‘like I said on Friday, and in the email…’

    5. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I call those red flags bubbles. Because OP is the frog in the pot of water. She is seeing bubbles and is not sure what they mean, just that they weren’t there before.
      Yes, the relationship you have with this coworker who is officially under you is turning into something unpleasant. Not even making the slightest inference here that he is anything but a needy, oblivious coworker. Not a toxic situation, just unpleasant (and untenable, how long can you be at his beck and call?) He is demanding your time and attention. He is demanding that you react to him and suit his style and meet all of his wants. Stop doing that. Stop doing that by changing the dynamic and taking control of the situation.

    6. Artemesia*

      Exactly. Why would the OP EVER follow him to his space when he ‘forgot’ his laptop. He is disciplining her and asserting his dominance.

    7. Nita*

      Not necessarily, in the sense that the first steps of telling this guy clearly that his behavior is a problem hasn’t happened. All of it (not just the interrupting) is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed head-on, but there is not enough info to tell whether the guy is disorganized and has massively poor social skills, or he’s doing all of this maliciously. I’ve seen both, and I can’t say that one is easier to shut down than the other, but they do call for a different approach…

  11. Bow Ties Are Cool*

    I would be VERY curious to know if he’s in the habit of “popping by” male coworkers’ cubicles and standing too close to them…

    1. Ali G*

      …and making them come to HIS desk to look at something because HE forgot his laptop? Not sure about this dude…

  12. animaniactoo*

    Do not do not do NOT follow him back to his cubicle even if he verbally brings you an issue that you’re willing to talk to him about.

    He can go GET his laptop and bring it to you.

    Everything you’ve written screams “Power Play” and possibly learned helplessness to me. Do not enable it, do not give in to it.

    He can go back to his cubicle and e-mail you or send you a screen shot. Use all of Alison’s scripts – but one of the boundaries you need to draw for yourself is that you do not take your butt out off your seat because HE “forgot” to do something. He forgot? Well then he can go take the time to fix it. And he doesn’t get to pull you out of your space – or into his.

    1. animaniactoo*

      To tack onto that – when you think about enforcing the method of communication – he doesn’t get to pull you out of your time/schedule and into/onto his. Right now he’s succeeding at that. You can still be polite and helpful without letting him continue to succeed – and the measure of that is not whether HE thinks you are being polite or helpful. It’s a general standard, not the one he creates in his head. Enforce it in your own head and with all the comments here and advice from Alison that making him stick to digital communication is not being rude or unhelpful at all. It’s not a favor that you’re asking from him. It’s just what he needs to do, and if he’s being polite and helpful he will do it without kicking up a fuss.

      (Sidenote: Others have pointed out that he may not know how to send take a screenshot/snippet. It would be a good opening point – “I’ve asked you to do this before, but you haven’t. I just want to make sure that you know how to do what I’m asking for? I can show you if you don’t.” – if he says he does already know, then just move back to “Okay, I need you to do it that way from now on then.”)

      1. Washi*

        Absolutely. It sounds like a big part of this is that he’s just lazy – it’s more work to get a screenshot, email, and wait for an answer than getting up the second he has a question- but luckily since he wants things from you and you are senior, you have the power to quash this behavior! He can get up an ask you a question in person 10 times, and 10 times you can say you will only answer by email, or tell him to bring his laptop over.

      2. Zona the Great*

        Absolutely! And honestly, if a question is googleable ( and learning how to screenshot is), the first thing I expect is that my reports exhaust all resources before coming to me with these things. I used to have a report ask me where the scissors were, or the copy paper, the phone number for the local locksmith, etc. My answer was always, “please figure this out without me” and walk or turn away.

    2. TootsNYC*

      He can go GET his laptop and bring it to you.

      Very much this.

      In fact, you can say, “You need to go away because I’m working. You can either send me a screen shot, or you can wait until I call you to come over with your laptop and show me.”

      And then you call him and say, “let’s go over that now, meet me at the conference table–bring your laptop with that file open” or whatever other “stand up and converse place” you can find.
      i.e., not your desk, and not his

      You need to get really “directing-y.” In other words, issue directions as declarative sentences, and without any “questioning” tone, and then stop talking.

      Tell him what to do: “Go back to your desk and wait for me to get ahold of you–I’m busy.”
      “I want to talk about your problem now–get your file open and meet me X.”

      All the work, and all the flexibility, needs to be on him. Partly because he’s assisting YOU, so your time is more important than his, and his time should be structured to SUPPORT you. And also because he’s being problematic, so some discipline and boundaries will be useful.

    3. ket*

      Totally agree here.

      “Go back to your desk and send me a screenshot. I’ll look at it within the next 70 minutes.”

    4. DaffyDuck*

      Yes, I see these behaviors as a powerplay also! The manager needs to draw the line (no drop by, email only) and enforce it. Next time he drops by tell him you can’t talk right now and he should email the issue, you will get to it soon. The manager should absolutely not be following him back to his workspace because he forgot to bring his supplies.

    5. Observer*

      Do not do not do NOT follow him back to his cubicle even if he verbally brings you an issue that you’re willing to talk to him about.

      Yes. This. Absolutely.

      If it really is an emergency that warrants your allowing the interruption, he should have brought it anyway. So, you should NOT clan up his mess for him.

  13. LQ*

    I know someone who has had decent luck with, “if you need me in person, schedule a meeting, otherwise send me an email.” You can do 15 minute meetings. This resulted in moving back to the emails because it gives the person an option that includes face to face but is harder and slower than email. They feel like they make a choice and they can make it face to face if it really is that kind of problem. He has more meetings but WAY fewer drop ins which was his goal and overall it’s created better structure for his day.

    1. LQ*

      And if you do this insisting on an agenda for the meeting is key. Agendas with goals and times and all of that.

  14. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    So much #3. I would really love to know what goes through the head of the people who would stop by your desk to ask a deeply technical question that no one can possibly know the answer to off the top of their head. What other response do they expect than “I will look it up and get back to you”? That said, I can count on my one hand the people who do this at my office, and their number is getting smaller. The few people that used to do that a lot seem to have finally realized that this strategy is not getting them the results they want; that their coworkers are not robots that have all the work information stored in their heads at all times, and will spit it out the moment you feed them the exact query.

    I have talked to people about this and they seem to respond. I had someone pop into my cube on almost a daily basis to get the status of a project I worked on. After a few times, I said, “you know, you don’t have to walk all the way to my desk just to ask me this. The information is available at (project-tracking software), and if you have questions, IM me and I will be happy to answer”. “Oh but I want to see you!” the person said, and never did that again. :)

  15. Essess*

    I had a coworker that would send me an email with some work he wanted done, then he would jump from his desk and run over to my desk and ask me if I’ve finished it yet. He would literally be at my desk before the mail servers had managed to deliver the email to me. I finally snapped at him that obviously I couldn’t be done with a request if he literally sent it within the last 15 seconds and that he needed to wait at least an hour to give me time to finish my current item, read his email, and have a chance to work on it (or ask him questions if necessary).

    I had another coworker that came from a male-dominated culture and he would come over to my desk to discuss a code question (we’re programmers) and he would grab my mouse out of my hand, open up files, change my display setting and configurations to the way he liked them while he was discussing the issue with me. (He wouldn’t do this to the male programmers.) It would take me 15-20 minutes to get my system back to the setup that I needed in order to get back to my work. I finally got him to stop when he pulled that same stunt and started to get up to go back to his desk and I blocked his chair from rolling away from the desk and told him he wasn’t leaving until he put my system back to the way it was before he messed with it. He never changed it without my permission again.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Geez! That’s bizarre! Male-dominated culture or not, you don’t mess with someone’s workspace!

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      yeah, Mr. Jules changed settings on my personal computer, when he borrowed it to Do A Thing. Once.

      After that, he set up his own login and settings.

      1. Alex the Alchemist*

        My parents’ cat turned the desktop screen upside down once. They don’t have Internet at their house, so they had to drive all the way to the library to find out the keyboard shortcut to fix it. Since then, they’ve gotten the cat a very nice blanket to lay in their laps on so she’s not tempted to do that ever again.

        1. MCsAngel2*

          A friend once came home after work one day to find that the cat had walked on the keyboard and the screen said, “Are you sure you want to delete Windows?” He got a good keyboard protector after that.

    3. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      Uuuugh. I had a male coworker who liked to “visit” my cube to show me things, and would grab the mouse out of my hand. That alone was enough to make me contemplate rolling my chair over his loafers in revenge. If he had changed my settings there would have been screeching and profanity.

      1. Paquita*

        I had a (female) coworker who would come to my desk sometimes. Stand over my shoulder, grab my mouse, and pull up the screen she needed me to see. I was getting to the point where I was ready to say something about it. Lo and behold- couple of weeks ago she no called no showed. Department-wide email sent that she is no longer with the company. She did good work but she got on my nerves. Although I am sorry she is having personal issues. *heard through the grapevine*

    4. Gingerblue*

      Ugh. And I thought the “I’ll just disable capslock on my coworker’s computer” intern was bad.

    5. Mockingjay*

      Wow! I’ve worked in some crappy places, but even in ExToxic job no one would grab a mouse from you, let alone change your computer settings.

      Around here, the parlance when demonstrating a shortcut or having IT install something is, “may I drive?” Meaning I need to use your mouse and keyboard, but I won’t touch anything until you give me leave to do so.

  16. TootsNYC*

    When someone is too close to you, take a good-size step toward them. Crowd them. Make them back up.

    W/t his guy, I might even say start by immediately standing up and stepping toward him, hopefully before he gets very far into his sentence. Even if you’re stepping out of your cube.

    Then say, “I’ve asked you to email me; it doesn’t work for me to get interrupted all the time. Go back to your desk, send me an email with a screenshot or a link, and then I’ll send you a reply, or I’ll come get you when I’m ready to go over it.”

    If he says, “well, I’m stuck until I get an answer,” or any other thing, no matter how reasonable it is, say, “Nevertheless.”

    Sure, standing up with mean you’re even more interrupted, but it puts you in the power position (as does that step toward him). You need and deserve that power (read “authority”), and using the physicality and the spatial relationship aspects of it might make you FEEL that authority.

    1. LQ*

      I worked with a man for a while who was real into using his size to intimidate. But I’m 6’2″ and not small in anyway and unafraid of heels. I never had a single conversation with him where he was standing and I was sitting. I would stand if he was, and I would stand over him at his desk. But I never ever had a conversation where he was in that “power” position. It made a big difference and after a week of being really hard line about it (and for the record, no I wasn’t going to say something directly to him because he had a reputation for filing grievances for EVERYTHING) he backed off a lot. I stuck to my guns and never let up so far I was the only person to ever get him to just…do his job while I worked with him. (That they wouldn’t get rid of him is another problem but he’s on his 4th or 5th grievance this year, that he’s filed with zero anything behind it.)

      1. LQ*

        (That is to say, yes, this getting in the power position thing can work, but it’s work to do, and if you can just be direct, do. But yes the power position thing really can work!)

  17. SoCalHR*

    Can you establish a set time (or two) during the day that he can ask you questions in person? That way you are prepared for it, but it may still give him what he needs?

    1. SoCalHR*

      Let me add, that by saying it has to be done electronically, maybe that isn’t the way *he* works best, so the idea is to compromise and try to make it better for both of you (I understand he is more junior, so he should be more flexible to you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try to work with his style as well).

      1. Lucille2*

        Totally agree, and I left a similar comment below. I don’t think the solution has to be communicate the way I work best since you’re junior or to put up with a communication style that is disruptive to the project. I actually had a boss tell me I should get up and walk over to someone’s desk to talk something over because it would help me build relationships and solve a problem more effectively. That’s true, and it did help in a lot of circumstances. However, fast forward a few years and I’m working with remote teams and clients where majority of communication has to be electronic. It’s important in today’s world to be able to navigate in-person and electronic modes of communication, but there will always be times when in-person or over the phone is much better.

    2. Miss Falafel Ringadingdoo*

      +1 We have an employee that has trouble prioritizing and also seeks affirmation for completing their work throughout the day. They would interrupt their manager at least once an hour throughout the day, sometimes for just a few minutes but often for 15-20 minutes per visit. That manager was a hardcore people-pleaser and wouldn’t correct the behavior, and it decimated his ability to get his work done. He was promoted (into a non-supervisory role, which is a very good fit for him). New Manager of problem employee was (appropriately) assertive enough to insist that the employee keep a list of all the questions/assistance requests and they would discuss them all at a certain time in the afternoon. As time passed, the employee learned to handle many of these issues on their own, gained self-confidence, became better at prioritizing, and become much more self-sufficient. It has really been a win-win for everyone.

  18. MuseumChick*

    I find the phrase “Going Forward” super helpful in these situations. “Fergus, going forward I need you to email me your questions with relevant screenshots of the documents in question. Thanks!”

  19. Lisa*

    The only part where I’d take issue with Alison’s advice is the fact that LW has ADHD. Saying “I can’t be interrupted right now” isn’t effective because your brain has already been interrupted. I’d maybe start with a bigger-picture conversation but using much clearer/stronger words than “digital interaction would be better.” This isn’t just a matter of not following instructions; this is inhibiting your ability to function at work.

    1. Observer*

      It’s not effective in the short term, but it DOES change the behavior of non-jerks. And if he IS a jerk (of whatever persuasion), OP will have the clarity necessary to take it to her manager.

    2. Vicky Austin*

      As a person with ADHD, I wholly agree! You wouldn’t believe the number of people who think “do not disturb” means, “do not disturb, unless it’s only for two minutes or less, and then you can go back to work.” They don’t get that the very act of walking in/approaching me/calling me/otherwise forcing me to direct my attention to something other than my work is a disturbance in and of itself. Even if you just need my attention for a minute, it’s too late- I’ve lost my train of thought and I have to start all over again.
      I’ve often explained it as follows: in order to concentrate, I need to make an imaginary bubble around me that blocks out everything else. As long as I’m in this “bubble,” I can concentrate on a task for several hours at a time and you’d never even know I had ADHD. The only problem with the “bubble” is that it bursts whenever someone interrupts me, and then I can no longer focus. And it’s a lot harder to get myself back into the “bubble” once it’s been burst.
      OP, you can steal my bubble metaphor if you want and if you feel comfortable.

      1. Observer*

        I totally hear what you are saying. The problem is that the assistant is not listening. The only way to make things change is to make sure he does not get what he wants when he does this. So, while it’s true that in the short term, it’s not going to help because the interruption has happened, in the long tern, he’ll stop interrupting because he’s not getting what he wants.

        I’d be very hesitant to do any further explaining. It’s possible that he just wants what he wants and he doesn’t care what the effect on the OP is. In that case, he’s not going to change just because she explains this to him. Only refusing to reward his behavior is going to make a difference. But, it’s also possible that what he wants is to actually disturb or bother her in some way. If she makes it totally clear that just coming to disturb her is enough to throw her off, then it makes sense for him to keep bothering her even when he doesn’t get the information he nominally needs, because that’s not what he wants. Disturbing her is what he wants.

  20. Camellia*

    Regarding the personal space issue, I have a technique that I’ve used successfully many times. I simply take a step closer to the person. They instinctively back up. I once used this to gradually make my then-boss back out of a room entirely when he was leaning WAY over a colleague and SERIOUSLY invading her space. He didn’t realize what was happening, as it appeared we were just talking, but after he cleared the door he took a look around and then slunk back to his office.

  21. Lucille2*

    It’s possible this person communicates more effectively in person rather than over email. It’s good to hone the digital interaction skills and understand when it’s best to use those methods over in-person dialogue, but this person clearly prefers the in-person method. I agree with Allison that you need to establish clear boundaries, but in order to work most effectively to accomplish a shared goal, you should consider meeting him halfway. I work in an open-office environment and my direct reports interrupt CONSTANTLY. I have advised them to first ask if I’m available for a minute before assuming I am or consider sending something over email if it’s not urgent. Even without ADHD, it’s hard to get back on a task after someone has monopolized your time.

    Perhaps say something like, “send me a skype/text when you have a question that needs in-person discussion, and I’ll let you know if it’s a good time to chat.” Or asking him to keep a running of list of questions to save for a scheduled in-person discussion. I’ve done that with my own boss so I’m not bombarding him with things that can wait until I have his undivided attention.

  22. Nox*

    I must disagree with certain aspects of this advice in regards to the forcing someone to share a screen. As a leader you need to adapt and understand things are not one size fits all. Some people do not feel they can learn something in writing or in even capture they need a face to face discussion. It also shows you’re engaged as a leader. Its those direct reports at the end of the day who make up the bulk of an organizations structure.

    I’ve removed team leaders from positions when they ever indicate their work matters more than a direct report. That causes a level of disgruntlement with the leader and the quality of work suffers.

    Now for the comfort thing, a simple hey you’re a bit too close could you adjust suffices and there’s no need to gang up on someone who may not realize they struggle with space. Again I wouldn’t tolerate a leader who defines a direct report as creepy. All items are coachable and as a leader that’s on you to rise to the occasion or fall.

    1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      Wow, that sounds really inflexible and unsupportive of people you purportedly have trusted with authority. If a team leader tells me that their direct report is making them uncomfortable, I’m for getting the details before labeling it a ‘them’ problem.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm, I disagree (while also appreciating the difference in perspective!). It’s certainly true that a good manager will be thoughtful about how other people work best and strive to accommodate that when she can do it without signifiant inconvenience to herself, but that doesn’t mean that everything can or should be accommodated. I’m also not sure it would be the solution here; the OP is being interrupted when she needs to focus, and if the employee needs face-to-face interaction, a respectful approach would be to email her, as she’s requested, and say, “This would be easier to talk about in person so let me know when you’re free and I’ll come by” … not to continue to interrupt her work and expect her to be available at his whim. That’s just not practical for many jobs that require focus.

      I’d also argue that in many jobs, the manager’s work does matter significantly more than the employee’s. Not in every job, but in plenty of them. For example, the needs of a busy exec who’s running a team are probably going to need to take priority over the communication preferences of his assistant. That’s not snotty; that’s just recognizing business realities. Certainly if a leader lords her power over others, that’s a problem — but you can be a respectful manager and still work the way I’ve described.

      And last (I’m sorry to take issue with so many things but now I must address all of it), all items are not coachable, and managers need to recognize that and be thoughtful about where it does make sense to invest time and energy in coaching and where it doesn’t. We were talking about this the other day re: writing — someone who’s not a strong writer and doesn’t have an ear for how words flow might be able to improve her writing over time, but probably not in the amount of time that would be reasonable for a manager to invest. That’s not a failure on the manager’s part (maybe a hiring failure, but hiring isn’t a science and you’re going to have those). And if an employee is creeping other employees out, a good manager needs to take that seriously and look into what’s going on.

    3. Bea*

      You’re on a great pathway to a possible lawsuit by an employee who is removed from leadership because they report someone is invading their space.

      You’re only protecting certain employees by stripping your leaders of the ability to sense danger signs of space invaders.

      That’s cool. I wouldn’t work for you anyways. You’re one person with these powers, I’ll take a boss who respects my intuition. Sometimes people are creepy and sometimes that’s the first sign they’re a possible predator.

      1. A username for this site*

        Assuming less malicious intent, prioritizing the ordinary needs and preferences of the employees over a manager ends up with a power dynamic that undermines the authority of a leader. They’re then not a boss, they’re a team concierge, tasked with skipping a management meeting to cover for Fergus who’s 40 minutes late yet again and dealing with Wakeen’s angry customer because Wakeen didn’t submit any of the documentation he was supposed to, and being yelled at by Cersei because Cersei called in sick at the last minute for the 10th time in 3 weeks and is now accusing you of discriminating against her because you had the audacity to question her.

    4. Gingerblue*

      If you “wouldn’t tolerate a leader who defines a direct report as creepy”, then what you’re doing is creating a welcoming and supportive space for harassers. Sometimes people behave badly, and failing to deal with that supports the creeps and punishes people for being creeped on. That’s a fundamental failure of management.

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        This- I think some people get very upset at the word creepy, because to someone who hasn’t often been creeped on it appears arbitrary, and they’re afraid of being labelled that way unfairly. But that isn’t a good enough reason to dismiss it, as that “creepy” feeling can be a serious danger signal. If you discipline people for expressing that they sense something wrong with a person’s behavior and it’s making them uncomfortable (which is what creepy means) you are preventing people from protecting themselves from future or current harassment. It can’t be prevented if you punish people for pointing out the danger signs.

    5. Mad Baggins*

      With that philosophy, do you find that you have effective leaders who can discipline, redirect, and retrain their reports? Or do your leaders feel that they have to please everyone, that they can’t fire anyone because all items are coachable, that they can’t get their own work done at a high quality because they have to coach everyone on everything and accommodate all learning styles? Do your leaders feel that you trust their judgment? Because my impression is that you don’t.

    6. LGC*

      I agree with your broader point…but correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like you expect the team leaders to drop everything for their direct reports all the time, and will demote them if they don’t. That almost reads as if you don’t value THEIR time. (Plus, they could be doing mission critical tasks that are much more of a priority than showing Fergus how to un-jam the copier.)

      Moreover, do you yourself immediately stop what you’re doing to assist a lower rung employee? Because…if you do that 100% of the time, that just sounds pretty stressful.

      Finally, it kind of trains employees to expect their boss to be fully available 100% of the time for anything, which is an unhealthy power dynamic. One of the best things my current boss did was to let me know that I was coming into her office too much. I was mortified. Then I stopped coming in as much and learned how to respect her time. I’m not perfect,but I have improved.

  23. Auntie Social*

    “You have to IM me first. First, if I need to see you in person, you may need to bring documents or your laptop. Second, I want to minimize the disruptions around nearby co-workers. So no more dropping by, I will just send you back to your desk every time.”

  24. Just put it in writing*

    I have the opposite problem …senior person who just does not believe in emails. Personally, I think she does not want it in writing. When she has a question, I am interrupted. I work for 4 other people and most of my work is detailed which means I have to be paying attention to it . She has told me point blank she does not like emails and prefers phone and in person. Most appointments with her are interrupted and re-scheduled due to more pressing things on her part. When she is not there and I have a question and send it by email, it is generally not answered.
    I have asked my manager a couple of times for a switch to no avail because I handle her better than the others who work there. Any advise? I have told her I just don’t remember complicated questions asked in the hallway because I am usually headed towards someone else’s office and am concentrating on the immediate work instead of hers at the time.
    I truly believe she is exceptionally smart, she is nice in other ways and generally compliments my work. But this just drives me crazy

    1. Matt*

      Same goes for me – we have a strong culture of phone calls (or personally dropping by) here, I’m literally the only one who prefers email … even among developers who I would have thought should understand the need for uninterrupted concentration. But no, everyone calls everybody about everything and you’re expected to answer your phone when at your desk (ignoring it is some sort of mortal sin). Well, it’s just the culture, I have (almost) given up on wanting to change it ;-)

  25. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    When he comes to your office, stand up, “Put your query in a email as we discussed earlier. Good, thank you.” Then sit down and immediately get back to work. If he hangs around, ignore him. If he gets into your personal space, then again stand up and say, “You are too close, move back.” No pleases at all, just a simple command. It’s very disconcerting to have someone stand and look at you silently which is what you have to do.

  26. LGC*



    No, seriously, one of our team leads does the exact same thing to me. I’ll email him something and then he’ll come by my desk to answer the email. While I’m doing production work or an intensive report.

    To top it off: We work on opposite sides of the building. I’ve given up trying to encourage everyone to use Skype, which I’d really love (my TL is the only other person that uses it consistently), and although I’m almost as annoyed by interoffice calls (because I HAVE to focus on the call and pick up the receiver – I have employees adjacent to my desk because I work in open office hell), I’d prefer that than actually having to deal with someone at my desk.

    And management wants us to be collaborative and “one team” even across projects, so I can’t really push back too much. (And I’ll admit I can be a bit pushy with face time as well, but I’ve gotten better and I’ll usually ask first if it’s a good time for the other person.)

    I’m totally not bitter and unloading my baggage on your letter, LW. Not at all.

    1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      IM systems are literally the best thing that have happened in the course of my career. I am the kind of person who would be happiest working in a different building than the rest of my department, with a phone that only calls out. Now that I’ve got my coworkers trained to IM for those “little questions that are too quick to bother with an email”, I can go whole days without saying more than “Hello, how are the kids?” to anyone.

  27. Nichole*

    The conversations here are fascinating to me.

    When I started at my job (6 years ago), I had a tendency to use email to ask people questions, have conversations, etc. That led to a lot of unnecessary conflict (due to people interpreting tone wrong, or cc’ing managers, or feeling threatened by cc’ing managers, or just lots of frustrating back-and-forth). My boss recommended that a lot of the time I should stop by people’s desk or call them more often and there’s a senior leader around here who likes to say “email is not a form of communication”. And then my current chief engineer greatly prefers to have a conversation about things and I have adjusted a lot to working to his style, keeping email communications mostly to keeping him looped in on other email conversations, or sharing of technical-type data (though a lot of that still gets covered in person, or followed up in person afterwards).

    Obviously email is better for some things, but I have noticed that since I’ve changed my style to ‘talk to the person first’ rather than email/chat, that the amount of unnecessary conflict has been greatly reduced.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      While I agree that emails can easily get lost in the shuffle, I’ve been seeing IM as the preferred method of communication lately; a conference call where people can share their screen (like a gotomeeting) if a deeper discussion between more people is needed. Most of it is because the teams are spread over multiple offices in different states/countries. There’s physically no way for me to walk up to a teammate’s desk if he’s in India and I’m not. But I’m glad the company culture is going that way at the places where I’ve worked, because honestly I would not last a week in am environment where everything has to be done in person. For one, a coworker walking up to my desk with a question seems to tell me I need to drop everything else I am doing and take care of this person’s issue that they came to me with. Which makes this person’s issue my top priority. Now what do I do if everyone does this, ie everything is suddenly top priority? Doesn’t the saying go that, when everything is top priority, nothing is?

      Second, that’s my personal issue, but after an eye injury and three surgeries in the past five years, my vision is not that great. If I’m standing in a coworker’s cube, I won’t be able to see their screen no matter what, unless I sit in their chair or lean in close enough to be in their personal space. I’d be really upset if I were essentially prevented from doing my work, because I cannot see the person’s screen when I come to them in person, and they won’t share it over IM or goto, insisting that I come see it in person. I mean this is great that different company cultures exist, so we can choose the one that works for us. This one would not work for me.

      1. Matt*

        This. If it’s something that needs talking, schedule a meeting. Phone calls can be scheduled too, just as meetings. But phone calls and deskside visits out of the blue, except in “drop everything now” urgent matters, are definitely one of my greatest pet peeves.

    2. Observer*

      Obviously there needs to be some give and take. But, in your case the key was that people wanted you to change the way you communicated and you did so, because that’s what your boss wanted. That’s one key difference – you communicate the way your boss wants you to.

      Another key difference is that you were genuinely trying to be more effective, and were using a method that many reasonable people would find sensible. This assistant is not doing that, or he wouldn’t show up without the materials needed to have the conversation.

      But, I agree, differences in communications styles is interesting to see. If nothing else, it’s clear that different communication styles can be equally effective, and people need to respect that. Which is why the OP is better off just saying “this is what I need” rather than trying to convince the assistant that her way is “better”.

  28. bohtie*

    Just to address the personal space part, I’ve had really good luck so far with calmly (as possible!) telling people, “Hey, I don’t know if you realize this, but you’re standing a bit close right now.” If they don’t get it, I follow up with “Please back up.” Same tone you might use to tell a friend, “You’ve got a bit of ketchup on your cheek.”

    Most decent people will just be like “Oh crap” and do it, no big deal. I might have to repeat myself a few times, but it’s never turned into a scene or something that leads into a bigger discussion.

    (I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with men who are personal space invaders and are often also EXTREMELY LOUD, which is a major trigger for me, and in most cases, their privilege has blinded them somewhat to the fact that what they’re doing could be perceived as intimidating.)

    (Can you tell I spent half of last night asking my partner to speak more quietly even though he was VERY EXCITED because I knew he was waking up my roommate? heh.)

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      Lol- this. I’ve mentioned to my husband that he is coming across as intimidating/angry a few times when he gets loud when he’s excited about teaching me something (he’s helping me with a few questions about my coding class). He’s been surprised and wondered if he might be coming across that way at work as well, including to other guys who are his direct reports. I think a lot of men just don’t realize how just being men or physically larger makes them more likely to set off instinctive danger sensors in (many) women (including me). They don’t think of themselves as intimidating after all! It’s not insulting to point out, (and doesn’t make me any less a strong woman/ feminist) and good guys will want to adjust because they don’t want to make you uncomfortable (again, personal good experience). It’s tricky to talk about but also fascinating because it’s a cultural/ instinctive wiring many of us aren’t consciously aware of. Like if I’m out later than I usually would be and alone, and a guy approaches me for a totally normal conversation, I might notice after that my adrenaline has spiked because the context put me on alert.

  29. Mbarr*

    My only vaguely similar experience was when I was working in an English job in a French office environment. I’d email the admin staff questions and requests in French… Then they’d phone me in reply. I could converse bilingually face to face, but when it came over the phone, I’d panic, forget all my grammar, and have a really hard time holding a conversation (I think I needed to see the person’s facial clues to help me gain context for what I was listening to). This happened ALL THE TIME, but since I was junior, and it appeared to be a cultural difference (phone vs. email), I couldn’t fight it.

    My other fave part was when people would call my extension by accident. When I first joined, I made the effort to answer my phone in French, but people would start rambling on, not knowing they had the wrong extension. Eventually I gave up and would answer my phone in English, then the other person would mumble, “Sorry, wrong extension!” and hang up. I’d feel worse, but the majority of people who were meant to be calling me were anglophones.

  30. bopper*

    But you must add the caveat…respond to emails in a timely manner. We had a boss that had to sign off on documents…we would email them and never get responses (yes we followed up)…so we took to monitoring his IM status to see if he was at his desk and then run over with a paper copy for him to sign.

  31. bopper*

    “Hey coworker, I want to offer you some coaching. I noticed that you stopped by to ask me about the Clamwidgets instead of emailing me like I have asked. I understand that for you, it is quicker to do this. But as a company, we need to make sure everyone is being efficient…you stopping by for every requests breaks my concentration. In general, you want to make sure that the people in levels above you are being as efficient as they can be, as they cost the company the most money. So I need to know why you have not been complying with my request for you to email requests?”
    “blah blah”
    “Can you in the future email me requests and not come to my desk unless it is very urgent (which should be less than 5% of the time)?

    1. Lavender Menace*

      As a person who is junior-to-midlevel on my team, I do appreciate coaching and mentoring from my senior co-workers…but them starting off this conversation as “I want to offer you some coaching” + what’s essentially “my time is more valuable than yours” (even if true) would come off as incredibly patronizing, especially since I know for a fact that there are plenty of (senior) people at my company who DO prefer that you come by in person. It’s simply not necessary to make the point when saying “this really breaks my concentration and makes it harder to help you” would be more effective and doesn’t have the effect of being condescending.

      I think people are making a lot out of this senior-junior dynamic. Yes, being senior does give the OP some more leverage in talking to her coworker, but some people are taking it to some extreme levels.

    2. Lindsay J*

      This reads as really condescending to me.

      Especially because email is not the preferred method of communication for all senior people.

      And, it’s not the more junior employee’s responsibility to make sure the more senior employee is as productive as possible. It is the more senior employee’s responsibility to ensure she is as productive as possible by coming up with work methods and setting boundaries that work for her, and communicating them to her team.

      It’s using too many words and comes off as oddly formal to me.

      “Hey, coworker. I’ve asked you several times to email me about the Clamwidgets instead of dropping by. Is there a reason you’re still dropping by instead?”


      “I really can’t be stopping all the time to talk to you when you come by. It breaks my concentration and prevents me from doing [important boss duties] that I need to get done. So I need you to email me these things like I’ve asked you before.”

      “But what if it’s urgent?”

      “If it is something truly urgent you can come by, but those instances should be really rare. Like less than once a month.”

      And also, this script does leave room for them to respond with something maybe relevant. Maybe they don’t know how to take a screenshot. Maybe their laptop loses charge as soon as it gets unplugged. Maybe they do email you and you don’t respond before their deadline, whatever. Then you can address that issue.

      Most likely you’ll get a mumble about how they didn’t think it was a big deal, or that they prefer face-to-face, or that it seemed quicker, or whatever. Then you can carry on with the script.

  32. Kelsi*

    I have a coworker who CANNOT give me projects without having a long conversation about them. She is convinced that her projects are different from other people’s in complexity, and therefore require a long back-and-forth. (They’re not. She knows what she wants and it’s not complicated, she just…wants to say it out loud. Also she asks me “Does that make sense?” a million times which makes me nuts. YES I’M NOT STUPID, SAYING YOU WANT THE HEADER TO BE BLUE MAKES SENSE.)

    I’ve not been successful in persuading her not to do this, but the compromise we’ve come to is this:
    1. She schedules these conversations as if they were meetings. They go on my calendar; I know they’re coming and can prepare.
    2. I let her talk.
    3. Once she is done talking, I tell her which things she needs to email me. (Please forward the document you want edited, the new text for the last paragraph, and the names of the new employees who need to be added.)
    4. She sends me an email, which I work from.

    Even though I do sometimes get frustrated still, this sequence helps a lot and I tend to feel more kindly towards her overall than I used to. She gets the time she needs to talk and feel like she’s imparted some extra understanding, and I get the electronic info I actually need to do the work without unexpected interruptions.

  33. Vicky Austin*

    If you’ve tried everyone’s suggestions and he still keeps bothering you in person, it might be helpful to know that ADHD is a legally recognized disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and so you are allowed to have accomodations. You might want to consider telling him that emailing rather than asking in person is a reasonable accomodation you need to do your job effectively.

  34. BahahaBlackSheep*

    Having virtual communications also leaves you with a record you can reference later, if you need an additional reason to offer him that may make sense to him personally. When I was a teaching assistant, we had to do address all student concerns via email, so there would be a record in case the school needed to take action on it or something. It was also a helpful reminder to me of things I needed to address. I would end up saying “I’m not going to remember that, please resend your question or concern to me via email so I’ll remember to address it in depth”. Say that every time he tries to come to your office, even if you end up talking to him a bit beforehand, and hopefully eventually he’ll realize it’s more efficient for him to just email you!

  35. Former Employee*

    According to Carolyn Hax, the person who says “no” is the one who has the final word.

    There is zero justification for having to put up with someone who comes into your space, essentially takes over, blocks the exit, and otherwise acts as if they are running things.

    The one possible exception is if it is the person who actually runs things, such as the CEO, CFO or COO – that might make someone decide it isn’t worth it to push back.

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