I don’t want to be caught in a Nerf gun battle at work

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question.

I work at a software company and our office is fairly small (14 people, only two of whom are female). I have worked here over a year, and have really enjoyed my job duties, and my quiet work environment. However, one of my coworkers recently purchased Nerf guns for the whole office.

When I heard about this, I immediately made it clear to my coworkers that I was not interested in being shot at at work, and said I wanted my desk (which is in a back corner) to please be left out of the Nerf zone. I have a lot of anxiety, especially social anxiety. And, being one of the only women in the office, I did not want to go into work every day feeling like I was literally being attacked by my male coworkers.

Recently, another one of my coworkers was promoted to a lead position. He often walks over to my coworker’s desk and shoots at him. When he misses, the Nerf darts wizz past my face. I immediately get a lot of anxiety, and I will remind him that I do not want to be part of this, and he laughs hysterically and runs away. No apology, nothing. And, no one stands up for me.

I feel extremely alienated, and others at work have started avoiding me. I have spoken to my manager, who is a 23-year-old man who is enthusiastic about the guns. He “doesn’t get it” and refuses to help ameliorate my situation. I have gotten to the point where I no longer feel like I fit in at work anymore, simply because I do not like being shot at with a Nerf gun. Ridiculous, right?

If you were me, how would you handle this? Would you just start looking for another job? Would you make the situation clear to someone in HR?

Readers, what’s your advice? (Mine would include using the words “The total lack of attention to what I’m saying about this is the kind of thing that makes it challenging for tech start-ups to attract and retain people who don’t fit into a very narrow demographic profile, and I’m sure we don’t want that, right?” … but my head will explode if I keep thinking about this, so I’m turning it over to you.)

{ 891 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Snark

    Upgrade to an Airsoft gun. “Next one of you sons a bitches fires a Nerf gun near my face gets a three-day welt somewhere embarassing. Make my day, pal.”

    In all seriousness, I got no more than Alison does. These guys sound like stereotypical tech bros, and frankly, that demographic is not doing a great job of showing that it has any great allegiance to social obligations beyond “have lots of fun and convince as many VC firms to shovel money at us as humanly possible.”

    Reply
    1. Susan Calvin

      I’m gonna focus on your first paragraph and try to move on with my life, because any attempt to formulate a real response here makes me so unspeakably tired. Just – No.

      I have a pretty substantial chip on my shoulder about being a woman in tech and ‘leaning in’ or whatever, but honestly, this whole situation would give me the same overall feeling of dread that has also prompted my blanket restraint from reading comments on most websites. And while you don’t have to love your job all day, every day, once you’ve sunk to that level – it’s time to quit. Couldn’t pay enough.

      Reply
      1. Dr. Pepper

        I pretty much only read the comments on this site, for the exact reason you describe. I work in a heavily male-dominated field too, and the bro-culture can get ridiculous. The only thing I’ve found that works is to be placidly unconcerned with whatever stupid bro-ness the guys are up to. They often just want a reaction out of you and when you never give them one, they give up. That and not being afraid to be labeled a bitch. Which sucks. I shouldn’t have to struggle against a negative, gendered insult just to do my job. Not sure what I’d do here. Nerf gun battles have, thankfully, never been an issue I’ve had to deal with.

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        1. Falling Diphthong

          Be placidly unconcerned with whatever stupid bro-ness the guys are up to. They often just want a reaction out of you.
          Reluctant seconding.

          I get that OP’s anxiety makes that hard to carry out, but I suspect it’s the general direction of any practical “If you don’t want to quit and management doesn’t care…” advice.

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          1. Dr. Pepper

            I have two modes I use for dude-bro idiocy. The aforementioned placid unconcern, and pure, fires of hell rage. When they do something completely unacceptable and I do not want them to ever repeat, they get rage complete with profanity and the glare of death. I’m not scared and I will hurt you is the attitude I give off. Often the guys who are the biggest dicks are the biggest cowards.

            I wish we could all act like mature adults, but some people are just dicks and when you work in an environment that fosters bro behavior, you’ve gotta deal with it.

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            1. only acting normal

              Oof. Yes. I have a long fuse with a seriously massive bang, and have scared the pants off more than one colleague who pushed me too far. Not coincidentally the recipients of my towering wrath have always been high on the dudebro scale.

              (Also a woman in a majority male office+sector).

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              1. IDontRememberWhatNameIUsedBefore

                “A long fuse with a seriously massive bang”

                I love this phrase, I hope you don’t mind if I steal it because it fits me to a T.

                Reply
            2. EJane

              Second this. I worked at a stock exchange satellite office, and we had interns who were about three years younger than me and did that college boy thing where they don’t patently hit on you, but you’re aware they’re paying too much attention.
              I always made a point of touching up my makeup before I walked into the office they all shared (it helped that I wore stilettos to work) and looked completely uninterested in all of their nonsense. The one time they escalated–used one of the smaller boys to play a trick that involved asking me to come fix a nonexistent printer issue for him–I figured it out, checked with my boss to make sure my “don’t waste my fucking time” reaction was accurate, and then walked into their office, closed the door, and said “Who would like to explain the email I just got about the copier?”
              Dead silence.

              It was extremely satisfying, as a 23-year-old second assistant.

              This isn’t super helpful to OP, but I have found a lot of strength in my armor at work. I also have anxiety disorders, and I find a lot of solace in also imagining myself as a protagonist in one of my favorite books. “What would Fayre do? She wouldn’t take this shit.”
              Dead silence.

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                1. AnnaBananna

                  I thought at first she meant Feyre, who is also a badass bitch who would take no shit. Now I’m curious what this tome is…?

            3. SoSo

              This reminds me of when I was maybe 10 or 11, and my dad was acting like an idiot in the car. He kept doing something to annoy my mom- I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it had been going on for at least an hour or two while we were driving out of town. She’d told him to stop several times and had kept her cool, but she finally lost it after a certain point… While she was driving she grabbed the sunglasses off his face and threw them out the window of the car going 75 down the interstate. With a grave look she asked him “Think you’re done now or should I keep going?” He immediately stopped.

              Unfortunately, many people like that will not, under any circumstances, stop until you go completely nuclear. If I were OP I would destroy any errant nerf bullets and maybe even the guns themselves with a “Respect of boundaries goes both ways.” I’d also be looking for a new job, because surely this wont be the end of it.

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              1. TinLizi

                I like the idea of calmly picking up any nerf darts that land on your desk and cutting them in half with a giant pair of shiny scissors. “Any nerf that touches my desk, you don’t get back.” Icy teacher voice.

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                1. Birch

                  I LOVE THIS.

                  Cultivating the icy teacher voice + “you disappoint me” face combo comes in handy in so many situations!

              2. a girl named Bob

                I was going to ask what happened to the nerf “ammo” that came her way because if it was me I’d be tearing them in half with an evil glare EVERY TIME. Possibly followed by a pithy comment as I throw it in the trash. Or preceded by the comment: (picks up nerf bullet/dart, whatever, and looks at it) How very Freudian of you. (rips & drops in trash. Smiles to self.)

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                1. OwlEditor

                  Or a small can of acid, a la “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” Not possible, but oh… what fun to watch it melt!

            4. Kathlynn

              My newer coworkers seem not to take any correction/criticism on their actions seriously unless I get angry to the yelling (or very pissed of speaking) stage. And I hate this. And it’s not a gender thing in this case, they were like this with my male coworker too. (possibly cultural idk)

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            1. Falling Diphthong

              While true, this is why you either include the step “And start looking for a better job” or convince yourself for various reasons (excellent pay and benefits with a short commute) that this is minor stuff that shall be water off a duck’s back for you.

              Second graders can’t decide to go to a different second grade five miles away, which is why primary/secondary school can be its own special hell; adults can switch jobs.

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              1. smoke tree

                Sure, but it’s still intensely frustrating to me that so many privileged men are able to operate on a second-grade emotional maturity level indefinitely, at the expense of the rest of us.

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          2. MatKnifeNinja

            Having worked in BrohsVille, it’s like being surrounded by 12 year olds. Nerf guns, wrist rockets (shooting frozen balls of wadded up paper towel in the hallway), and other stupidity. Placid unconcern is the only way to roll.

            I’ve put up white flags and a sign saying Demilitarize Zone on my cubie. Also threatening to rip out the trachea of the fool nailing me with frozen paper towel.

            Dealing with Brohs is a lot dealing with hecklers when security doesn’t do their job. Ignore/acknowledge and humour, or go scorched Earth on their asses. Scorched Earth is the last ditch effort, and I wouldn’t do it unless I am actively hunting for another job. It will either put the Brohs in their place or ramp up the situation where you’ll quit anyway.

            OP, I feel your pain. Good luck!

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    2. neverjaunty

      Actually, playing hardball with these bros while aggressively looking for a new job sounds like a good plan. Sometimes you have to talk to glass bowls in the only language they understand.

      Possibilities:

      1) Find out who your conpany’s workers comp insurer is (even if you don’t have HR, there should be some mechanism for WC reports) and make Concerned Inquiries about projectiles at work. (This is not BS, speaking as someone who has been shot in the face with a high powered Nerf gun.)

      2) As soon as your idiot co-worker sets down the Nerf gun, shout “SNEAK MELEE ATTACK!” and grab it. Whether you choose to empty the magazine of darts or just smash it on the floor is up to you.

      3) invest in or borrow one of those high-end, super-mechanized, mega-battery-powered Nerf guns. When Jerkdace is actually working, walk up behind him and fire the whole thing into his back.

      Reply
        1. Perse's Mom

          This tactic *pushes glasses up* is only properly employed if OP wades into the middle of a bunch of the dudebros all at once.

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        2. Not A Morning Person

          Why foam? Let’s go nuclear with a real chain saw.
          Seriously, though, I think OP should pick up any nerf darts and destroy them. And I think she should ask one of the dudes for one of the nerf guns and then break it and hand it back with a stern face and a stern voice “This is what I think of Nerf guns at work. Stay away.” And then calmly walk away.

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      1. Dzhymm

        #3 is exactly what I did a couple of jobs ago. It wasn’t as bad a situation as the OP describes but it was persistent. What I did was to quietly start gathering up all the loose Nerf darts lying around, and I bought a battery-powered Nerf machine gun. When I started hearing people commenting that the Nerf ammo seemed to be disappearing I took up a position behind a half-wall and announced to the office that I was indeed the thief, but I’ll give back the ammo now. I then sprayed the whole office :)

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      2. Canadian Public Servant

        Oh man: rage and sorrow on your behalf, OP.

        A colleague playfully shot a few nerf bullets at me one day. I then acted like a schoolmarm and confiscated them, and locked them in my desk. He became increasingly apologetic when he realized I was not joking about not giving them back. But, it was one decent colleague who misjudged the situation, not an office full of bros, and he had limited ammo so the confiscation had a practical impact. I’m also very comfortable with confrontation.

        In this environment, I’d probably be taking or sabotaging guns, and removing or destroying bullets, from any person who refused to respect the “no nerf near me.” And job hunting.

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        1. Wendy Darling

          A colleague kept throwing stuff over the cubicle wall at me after I told her to stop so I told her I was going to put anything she threw at me in the trash from now on. Then I did.

          She didn’t realize I was serious until after the trash had been taken out and a few decorative items she’d lobbed at me were no more, but that stopped it.

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            1. Wendy Darling

              In this case because you have the interpersonal skills of a six year old and think it is HILARIOUS when your cube neighbor gets annoyed because you pelt her with office supplies and bits of paper while she is trying to concentrate.

              And also much like a six year old you have not yet consistently internalized that there are consequences for actions.

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              1. MatKnifeNinja

                Paper? I had a small Dixie cup (around 3 oz of water) lobbed over the top of my cube.

                Really glad it was just water, and nothing sticky, gross or bodily.

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        2. mcr-red

          Yeah, OP needs to do what I do with my youngest who likes Nerf guns and will get it in mind to shoot Mom with them – any ammo that gets shot at me I keep or throw in the trash, depending on how mad I am. Much like my CHILD, they will probably get mad and demand it back. Tell them, “I warned you not to shoot me with it.” The best way to do it is with a completely dead straight face, no sign of emotion.

          You may have thought you would never have to talk to your co-workers (or possibly boss!) like an errant pre-teen, but here we are.

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        3. Ralph Wiggum

          Yeah, I’ve taken the approach of calmly collecting the ammo and walking away. I’m not sure if that works at scale, though.

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          1. Queen Esmerelda

            I also add, with RBF, “How very high school of you.” Dudebros like to think they’re all grown up, and while they may have continued their behavior, they didn’t do it around me anymore.

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      3. michel

        joining in is absolutely the wrong answer, it will destroy any option you have left because you are basically playing along. getting up and destroying the gun is acceptable, but sneak attack or any kind of playfulness will hurt your credibility.

        the strategy I used in a similar situation (we work outside and during summer it is a “tradition” to throw buckets of water over each other) is to explain that you do not want to be included in their games and next time you are included you will go home sick/stressed/burned out/injured. Then next time they do hit you or the darts come in your area, get up, walk to your boss say you are sick/injured and go see your doctor.

        repeat until they stop or someone higher up puts a stop to it.

        again do not play along your will be stuck forever in their games

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        1. Izzy

          Agree 100%. The second you join in with crap like this in any way, they will decide that you’re cool with it and it will never, ever stop.

          OP, from previous experience with groups of guys who think this stuff is hilarious, my strategy is similar: I would just continue to very seriously tell them every time this happens that you’re trying to do your work, you don’t like it when they do this, you’ve already asked them to stop and you don’t understand why they’re acting like this. Escalate from serious to angry to furious as necessary. They might not respond to that either, or think that’s funny as well, but playing along will not do you any favours.

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        2. neverjaunty

          Could not agree more, and I should clarify that shooting somebody in the back at close range with a full clip of darts from a 4-D-battery powered mega Nerf gun is not playful. It’s shocking, painful, and aggressive, and not any fun for the dudebro on the receiving end.

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      4. mrs__peel

        I would be filing a workers’ comp claim if I sustained so much as a slight bruise. And maybe also giving OSHA a heads-up.

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      5. Djuna

        We had an outbreak of Nerf guns in our office a few years back. It took someone getting injured (he flung himself out of the path of a dart, into the edge of a metal cabinet, and got carted out in an ambulance) for HR to take notice.

        Nerf weaponry is no longer allowed at the office, and the injured party was the butt of “arrow to the knee” jokes until the day he left the company.

        Someone *always* gets injured, so taking the insurance/HR route to head that off before it costs the company money is a great angle.

        Reply
            1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels

              Maybe if you bathe in it. I use 100% acetone to remove my nail polish, including gel polish (which means constant skin and nail contact with acetone for 15+ minutes) and other than needing to moisturize afterwards, there’s no issue whatsoever.

              Reply
              1. White Wine Spritzer

                I guees your skin is tougher than mine! Acetone brings me out in massive red painful weals, then the skin cracks and bleeds. It’s not an allergy (I got tested), just that it’s too strong to use on my skin. I have to use nail polish removers that do not contain acetone for this reason.

                Reply
                1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels

                  Oh man, that’s awful! I never really thought there could be such a huge difference in non-allergic reactions, but duh, should’ve been obvious. I’m glad I know now (though not glad you get painful, cracking and bleeding skin); thanks for replying. :)

    3. Myrin

      Seeing how they sound like such stereotypical tech bros, I’m really wondering what OP’s relationship with and comfort level around them was before this started. She says she “really enjoyed [her] job duties, and [her] quiet work environment”, but what about the people? I’m asking because I find it really unlikely that these were all swell guys she got along with swimmingly until someone brought a Nerf gun and suddenly, all prior rapport and friendliness with one another went out the window (unless the darts like, infected them with some dudebro-douchiness-virus or something).

      OP, I’d really encourage you to think about this a bit more deeply. Did you put up with what were basically the same behaviour and attitudes (minus Nerf guns) because of your enjoyable job duties and the quiet environment? Or were you friendly and professional but the guns kind of brought about a weird 180° shift? Because if the latter, I can imagine this being salvageable, partly through passing time making the battles more uninteresting, partly through turning to the people you’ve had the best relationships with before. But if the former… hooo boy, I’m sad to say that I really don’t see any solution to this other than a new job.

      Reply
      1. JS

        This! I mentioned in my comment unless OP has made a huge stink out of it (doesn’t really sound like it though tbh) it’s very likely this wasnt the only culture issue shes had. A small office like this unfortunately it is just better to leave then try to fight against 14 people with HR.

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        1. irene adler

          Is there even an HR person to fight against?
          We are 13 people here and there’s no HR dept. The VP handles health insurance, and the CFO signs the paychecks.
          That’s it.
          Got a complaint about a co-worker? You can take it to the CEO. He’s sympathetic, but generally useless.

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          1. JS

            I’m thinking if OP mentioned HR then its likely a satellite office. Or HR is the one recruiter/bookeeper/HR rolled into one. But regardless if nerf guns stop because OP told any hire up with authority, its going to alienate her further.

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            1. Decima Dewey

              I’m imagining a worst case scenario in which the guy who giggles when OP complains about the Nerf gun battles *is* HR.

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              1. JS

                It’s unfortunate. I wish there was a better solution for OP than “get a new job” it sucks when you have found work you actually like doing, good salary but the culture just isn’t a fit for whatever reason. A bigger company wouldn’t tolerate things small startups can get away with even if everyone was on board.

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          2. MatKnifeNinja

            My office is that small. Collecting all the Nerf darts and trashing them will mean 12 Brohs whining to the higher up that I’m a buzz kill and harshing the mellow.

            I have a feeling OP’s coworkers more or less ignored her until now. She wasn’t on their radar screen.

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      2. Teapot Tester

        I agree with everything you said. I also tend to think the passage of time will make this a non-issue. Things like Nerf guns get old, and I don’t think it will take long for others to get bored of it. I worked at a software company where the tech support people were all in one big rooms, with desks along the walls. There were Nerf guns and on occasion a dart would whizz past my head and stick to my monitor but it wasn’t a frequent thing, and the guys tended to shoot each other and not really me. I was in my early 20s, and most of these guys were older than me by at least 10 years.

        I wonder if a temporary move out of the Nerf zone would be possible, until they get bored of shooting each other.

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      3. Mary Smith

        Playing off this, OP, I’d think about whether this is the right culture for you. I work in a very laid back tech office (but not bro-culture) and we’ve started interviewing people during fun times at the office (one manager went so far as to interview someone at an arcade when we were there for a fun day) to make sure that someone will fit into the culture.

        I’m not blaming you, I’m just saying, if this is the culture, this place may not be the best fit for you.

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          1. Susie Q

            I think the assumption that there are women who wouldn’t enjoy and thrive in this type of work culture is sexist. Just because OP is a woman and doesn’t like this culture, doesn’t mean there aren’t other women who would like nerf gun battle in the office. And that also doesn’t mean there aren’t men who wouldn’t fit into this culture and would hate nerf gun battles in the office.

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      4. Annoyed

        “OP, I’d really encourage you to think about this a bit more deeply. Did you put up with what were basically the same behaviour and attitudes (minus Nerf guns) because of your enjoyable job duties and the quiet environment?“

        Reading your entire comment I understand what youre saying, but yhis paragraph kind of smacks of victim blaming.

        i.e. “if OP ever tolerated any behavior ftom them then it’s her own fault that they disregarded her clearly stayed “no” about the Nerf gun stuff, basically shr was asking for it.”

        Reply
        1. Myrin

          I mean, I guess I get how you could read it that way but as you say yourself, this is one sentence in a moderately long comment, so I’m not quite sure why you’re bringing it up when you actually understand the meaning? (Not to mention that what comes after your “i.e.” is certainly not what I meant.)
          I don’t really like it when (in general, not even just regarding myself or just internet comment sections) people pick one sentence which belongs in an entire, more-or-less complex context and then say “But this sentence was phrased imperfectly!”. (Nevermind that 1. I don’t agree with that reading here anyway, even if I ignore the rest of my comment, and 2. I’m not a native English speaker so it’s indeed possible that I sometimes phrase things less-than-perfectly, so I’d especially enjoy it if other readers gave me the benefit of the doubt.)

          I could’ve asked differently: “Has your office actually always been like this but the positives outweighed the negatives for you/you were willing to ignore the negatives because of the positives?” And I clearly didn’t ask this to imply that she now has no recourse to complain, but rather because I think it’s imperative for her future course of action to ask herself whether this is a one-off in an otherwise normal office or whether her colleagues have always been disrespectful and childish like this, just in different ways – I really think the answer to that is basically the crux of how she’d best continue on.

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    4. Josh S

      I am inclined to think that there is no way to appeal to their sensibilities on this. But, if you want to try, go Full Speed at it with the following story:

      “Do you remember [scary shooting event….like the Las Vegas concert shooting…pick one that was relatively close to your area of the country because good lord we have enough to choose from, right]? I was a block away from that. I still hear the screams of the victims and people running away sometimes when I sleep and any time I hear police sirens it takes me back. It was traumatic and still is. And EVERY TIME YOU FUCKING SHOOT A NERF DART NEAR ME, I’M REMINDED OF IT ALL OVER AGAIN. I’m done with this. YOU NEED TO STOP.”

      Reply
      1. Jessica

        This was my thought. I had a friend killed in Vegas and my mother was also shot in the face. While I’m ultimately not triggered with PTSD like she is, I’d make it very clear to them how unacceptable this is and more or less shame them into realizing it. I’m not all for just ‘making up’ a situation, but sometimes it takes something over the top to get people to understand that projectiles at the face isn’t exactly a welcomed sight. I also agree with the above poster—I’d have serious concerns for workplace accidents. I can tell you my organization would NEVER let us do this as it’d go against the extensive safety policies we have here.

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        1. Anon for this

          So sorry, Jessica. Jedi hugs if you want them.

          Too often, people don’t understand the pain that exists out in the world, much less that it exists right next to them. At my workplace, you can tell who was here during a workplace violence incident based on if they react uneasily at sirens or not.

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      2. Purple Jello

        And if you’re not in the habit of using profanity, this is even more effective. I drop the f-bomb less than once a year at work, and everyone jerks to attention when I do.

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        1. DesertRose

          Yup.

          In my personal life, I can be fairly foul-mouthed, but when I was working, I kept a lid on those elements of my vocabulary while at work. It can work very well in your favor when you, the fairly quiet, friendly, efficient admin assistant (me in my pre-disability days), reach a point of I’ve Had Enough and say so in the strongest language.

          “I asked you at least three times to stop [X behavior]. Fucking STOP already!”

          A certain flavor of asshole will be much amused because they made you lose your cool, but in my experience, my effectiveness in my job played much better with the higher members of the chain of command than the short-term amusement of immature dude-bros (and it was always guys) who had a far-too-high opinion of their own “humor.”

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        2. Argh!

          I don’t normally raise my voice or cuss, but I have shut down two obnoxious coworkers that way. It takes what it takes. (Just don’t do it around others)

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      3. Nea

        I want to agree with this, but the kind of person who giggles when reminded that they’re already upsetting a co-worker is going to be exactly the kind of person who steps up the attacks just to get a reaction.

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        1. SamSam

          The key is to tell the coworker the story in front of as many people as possible, so they alienate the others if they continue.

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          1. mrs__peel

            And maybe add a bit of humiliating condescension in front of other people. “I’ve already asked you several times to stop. Do you think you can do that?”

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      4. Nopetember

        Please do not co-opt people’s ACTUAL TRAUMA to argue your case. It’s insulting to those who have actually experienced these situations to use their pain and suffering as a tool.

        If you are genuinely triggered by these Nerf attacks as a result of ACTUALLY having been traumatised by such an event, have at it! But otherwise – it’s not your story, and stealing it to make a point is a horrible thing to do,

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        1. Story Nurse

          As someone with trauma related to a mass casualty event, I agree—it’s not okay to pick a random event and claim to have been there. But I also absolutely support saying, “Look, the odds are good that someone in this office has experienced gun violence or knows someone who has. Trauma is real and you need to knock this shit off NOW before you cause someone real harm.” Because people who do carry around that kind of trauma don’t always feel able to speak up about it.

          I must reluctantly advise avoiding the word “triggered” even though it would be be completely accurate, because people of certain political persuasions will immediately jump on it as a meaningless term only used by namby-pamby weaklings who want to control everyone’s life, and everything else you’ve said will be drowned out in the static.

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        2. J

          Disagree. No one is suggesting she attempt to obtain sympathy or attention from a lie. It’s an effective way to shame these jerks into leaving her alone. She’s not stealing anyone’s story she’s trying to survive in a toxic environment. She is the one being hurt. Lying about a shooting doesn’t hurt the shooting victims.

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      5. Nessun

        This is unfortunately where my head went, too. I was involved in a robbery at gunpoint once (at my place of work at the time – one more reason to leave fast food when I could). I have turned down teambuilding exercises because they were at laser tag, and the association was too much. If someone pointed a Nerf gun at me, I would be extremely upset, probably fully triggered, and I would leave. I would later make it a point to explain why it effected me as it did (I have no issue sharing the event, as long as it is a calm conversation). Without having a personal event such as that, LW still has a right to state that being shot at can be upsetting, for all the same reasons. No one deserves to experience PTSD in their workplace – or because of it.

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    5. anon24

      Airsoft? I was thinking paint ball. 3 day welt and they get to show the world their stupidity until they can change clothing.

      Reply
    6. media monkey

      my response would be loud and sweary of the “for f***’s sake” variety. however i appreciate that wouldn’t wash in a US based office and coming out of the mouth of someone less naturally sweary person (I’m Scottish, swearing is in my DNA).

      Could you manage something like “I have asked multiple times not to have NERF guns shot near me. i’m keeping the bullets (what do you call those spongy things? pellets?) each time it happens going forwards”. If they know if they go near you you will keep them i am willing to bet they will stop.

      Reply
    7. Len F

      Or get a Nerf gun, open it up, pull on the spring to stretch it out and put it back together. That increases the firing power of the darts. Then insert sharpened pieces of metal into the plastic tips of your darts.

      (Don’t do any of this. But it’s fun to dream about)

      Reply
  2. JokeyJules

    Holy Shit.

    Your boss’s opinion on guns has absolutely nothing to do with not wanting flying objects in your personal space. Perhaps phrase it that way. Unexpected objects flying through the air and directly in front of my face make me extremely anxious. I want to be a team player, and would be happy to join in on a good game of Ping pong, office golf, ect, but I am not going to ever become comfortable with things flying past my face while i’m working.
    Try to make and effort to interact with your coworkers aside from Nerf shenanigans, it should make your situation a bit better.

    Reply
    1. Say what?

      Yeah, Jokey Jules has a good point here. Right now you just seem like a wet blanket, but if you show them that you also like to have fun maybe they will be able to distinguish between “hates fun” and “hates this game.” You shouldn’t have to go to this length but you’re in start-up tech…it’s the pits.

      Reply
      1. JokeyJules

        my office looooved shooting rubber bands.

        I refuse to participate. I’ve been accidentally hit in the face twice now. It hurts terribly. So now my office knows i’m always down for a coffee walk, ping pong, or something else, but don’t come near me with a rubber band if you want to continue to use your hand.

        Reply
        1. mdv

          Yeah, we have rubber band six-shooters in our office… They are only broken out under the most dire circumstances, usually misfire at least half of the time, and always shot “up” over the tops of cubicles, usually losing most of their momentum when they hit the ceiling before coming down. BUT, everyone respects if you say “hey, don’t point that my way.”

          Reply
          1. EPLawyer

            Why does shooting things — especially AT coworkers — seem to be the default stress reliever?

            There are other ways to relieve stress that do not involve shooting or throwing thigs at co workers.

            Just stop with the casual violence in yhe office.

            Reply
        2. mcr-red

          Ugh! Back in retail, I had a boss who loved to shoot rubber bands at people. He got me in the face once and I flipped out. He didn’t shoot at me again.

          Reply
      2. Liz

        I don’t see why it matters if OP hates or loves fun. This isn’t a party, it’s a workplace. Their willingness to play pingpong or golf is irrelevant.

        OP should be pleasant, friendly, and focused on succeeding at their job, and that’s it. If these techbro idiots are going to prioritize “willingness to pay stupid games with me” over those qualities it’s not a workplace worth being part of.

        Reply
        1. Totally Minnie

          You’re not wrong, but tech startup culture tends to be filled with dudebros that want *their* workplace to be a shiny special unicorn of fun and joy and hazing with nary a whiff of professionalism to be found. If OP wants to keep working in the tech startup field, she’s going to have to play along to some extent. She absolutely should draw boundaries of what games she’s not comfortable participating in, and she may ultimately decide that startups are not for her and go looking for a more traditional job, but in the meantime it will help a lot if the dudebros she works with aren’t seeing her as “the shrew that ruined all our fun.”

          Reply
        2. aebhel

          Agreed. When I used to work in environments like that, I got a lot of mileage out of embracing the mean/boring/wet-blanket role.

          If they’re not responsive to a cold, direct order (ie, ‘Do NOT shoot that near my desk, ever again), then inform them that the next person who shoots those things in your face is getting their Nerf gun broken. Don’t soften it, don’t request, and don’t smile.

          Alternately, start looking for other work. That place sounds like a nightmare.

          Reply
          1. Kyrielle

            I worked with a woman once who dealt with it by confiscating ammo that entered her space. (It was not Nerf but another similar thing – unfortunately, Nerf ammo is cheaper/easier to replace.)

            Reply
  3. Mike C.

    “Hey @sshole, I told you not to shot those near me.”

    It’s a casual atmosphere, so I don’t see the issue with swearing.

    Reply
    1. Mike C.

      More seriously, use your words, get their attention and tell them that you won’t tolerate being shot at. Don’t back down, don’t accept their lame excuses.

      Reply
      1. Rey

        I don’t know anything about anxiety or social anxiety, but I worry that the OP might really struggle to be this direct and assertive.

        Reply
        1. Holly

          People with and without anxiety struggle with this. You sometimes just have to learn being direct or assertive as a life/survival skill.

          Reply
          1. The One and Only Me

            and sometimes being the quiet one who suddenly snaps when they’re not being heard any other way really leaves an impression. I’m not overly assertive but there was one time at a job where someone continued doing something awful around me despite my many, many attempts to get him to stop. One day he tried to include me in on his awful (but funny to him and his bro pals) thing and he touched me. I yelled out “F***ING CUT IT OUT NOW!” Everyone in the office turned to look at us. I told him loudly that he needed to stop and I was done being nice about it. He did one of those things people who are jerks do where they try to blame you for not being okay with the fact that they’re a jerk and called me a wet blanket / fun sponge / whatever. He never did it again and I got the rep for being the quiet woman who got pushed too far that one time.

            Reply
            1. Argh!

              I shut down the resident Food Nazi that way. I let her know at 1000 decibels that she had no right to tell me what to eat and I went on for some time about it. The next day she apologized and never did it again. I wish I’d done that sooner!

              Reply
        2. Positive Reframer

          There is assertiveness training and treatments of various types for anxiety. She is going to have to take responsibility for her actions and reactions one way or another in this situation. Hopefully in a way that helps her grow in many ways but maybe it will be taking the responsibility to find a new job.

          Reply
        3. ComputerD00D

          I guess I’m the opposite. The majority of my anxiety comes from wondering if I will be able to successfully keep a lid on the titanic emotions that explode in my brain when I have to deal with confrontation.

          Reply
          1. Argh!

            Do you have a history of outbursts? If not, this is not likely to happen. Fear of our own emotions is a common thing and I got over it in therapy. I’ve never killed anybody because of a disagreement and they’ve never killed me, but I had that level of fear when I was younger.

            Reply
      2. Clever Alias

        This.

        It sucks that this is the answer because it shouldn’t be, but it doesn’t sound like there are competent systems in place to make it not.

        I get the anxiety thing that makes it difficult to do this. I definitely would’ve felt that way in my younger days. But I see it as kind of an adapt or leave situation.

        Again shouldn’t be. But it is.

        Reply
      3. zugzugzug

        She *is* “using her words.” Like many women in tech, I use my words. I can be level-headed, or I can code-switch and shout. I can ask nicely, or I can cuss people out. I’m still often considered a “spoil-sport” or a “bad culture fit.” It’s not that I necessarily disagree that she should (continue to) be vocal, but she’s been doing that and it isn’t working. She may need an ally, or she may need to job hunt, but pretending like she isn’t “using her words” is pretending that a them-problem is a her-problem.

        Reply
        1. asdfasdf

          That’s the point, to be a woman in tech you have to be either brower than the bros or you are a “bad culture fit”. I tried the first, then I got tired and left.

          Reply
          1. Mobuy

            Yeah, it totally is a them problem. But now that we’ve established that they are jerks, then what? It’s not enough to just assign blame.

            Reply
        2. Yojo

          Mike C has a point. There’s a difference between pulling someone aside and saying “I would really like this to stop, and here’s why” and, in the moment, a loud and clear “f*cking STOP IT, keep that sh*t away from me!”

          If they’re behaving like children, treat them like children. (As in addressing things firmly as they occur. I’m not advocating using profanity with actual children).

          It’s sort of paradoxical, but the intense demand is going to seem less uptight that the measured request.

          Reply
          1. JB (not in Houston)

            I agree that there is a difference–but Mike C said “use your words,” and she *is* using her words. To non-assholes, that would be enough. What Mike C and others with similar advice mean is “use other words.”

            I don’t want to get bogged down in this, since I agree that in this case going off on these guys may be what it will take, but telling someone to “use their words” when they have in fact been clear about something comes across as kind of condescending.

            Reply
            1. zugzugzug

              Yes, that’s the point I was trying to get at, and I could have been clearer. “Use your words” is something you say to toddlers pitching temper tantrums, not grown adults who have repeatedly asked for what they want, out loud, with words.

              Also, while I agree that it’s worth a try, I do also want to point out that I personally have tried going off on people. It can be effective, but as a lady in tech, it’s really depressingly easy to get labeled as irrational, hysterical, what have you, even if you use the same words and tone of voice as the bros. So it might work, but it can also backfire.

              Reply
        3. Specialk9

          She could buy 13 copies of Ask A Manager, and highlight each copy specific to that person’s transgressions. (On the way out to the new job.)

          /Revenge fantasy

          Reply
      4. AKchic

        And it may be that they need to be told in explicit terms exactly how it can look.

        “hey, I said I don’t want to be shot at. Period. Not with Nerf guns that simulate real guns and prepare children for real weapons, and not by grown men, and not in my place of employment. I do *not* want to have to repeat myself like a nagging mother to grown men who f!cking know better. The optics of this are unacceptable. The stereotype is cliché now. Do better.”

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          Eh, too much detail and sermonizing. “Just stop it. I told you already and I mean it!” doesn’t bring in red herrings.

          Reply
      5. The Other Katie

        “When I heard about this, I immediately made it clear to my coworkers that I was not interested in being shot at at work, and said I wanted my desk (which is in a back corner) to please be left out of the Nerf zone. ”

        ” I immediately get a lot of anxiety, and I will remind him that I do not want to be part of this, and he laughs hysterically and runs away.”

        “I have spoken to my manager, who is a 23-year-old man who is enthusiastic about the guns. He “doesn’t get it” and refuses to help ameliorate my situation.”

        She has “used her words” repeatedly. She’s used her words generally. She’s used her words directly to an offending coworker. She’s used her words to her manager. It hasn’t worked. “Use your words” is infantalising and minimising, especially in a situation where the OP has repeatedly verbally addressed the issue. It’s not helpful.

        Reply
      6. Oxford Comma

        As others are pointing out, OP has used her words. They’re choosing not to listen to her.

        Also, it strikes me that one should not need to use profanity to get one’s co-workers to stop assaulting her with nerf bullets.

        OP: I would find this intolerable and I would be looking for another job. That’s all I got..

        Reply
      1. BF50

        Agreed. Sometimes “bros” respond really well to being called assholes by “chicks”.

        Which is kind of messed up.

        When I was very young, I completely lost it and called my manager an asshole to his face. Our working relationship actually improved immensely. He stop seeing me as a pushover and started seeing me as a person. I was mortified, but it got my anger out. I had been pushing back on any request, even the reasonable ones because he was an asshole and my embarrassment kind of jolted me out of that.

        Now, I would just try my best not to work for someone so immature, if possible, but that’s not always an option.

        Reply
        1. aebhel

          Yes. You have to be MEAN. Embrace the mean-ness. Civilized professionalism is for people who know how to act like adults, not jerks who shoot Nerf guns right in your face.

          Reply
      2. The Original K.

        I tend NOT to curse at work as part of my code-switching, and I would turn all that off in this situation. “I told you I don’t like the f*cking Nerf guns!”

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I agree. I worked in mixed office where three guys tried to convert an office (used by 70 other people) into a tech bro Nerf-gun-style playground. In addition to being extraordinarily frank with them (including the phrase, “don’t be an asshole”), I also went to my boss, who was willing to tell them to cool it.

        It’s harder if you have a boss who doesn’t get it, but I think it’s legitimate to note that it makes it difficult to work and is jarring. But this does sound like a group that might not care about inclusion, consideration, or work-related outcomes.

        Reply
      4. Silicon Valley Girl

        These dudes should know Wheaton’s Law — don’t be a dick. They’re breaking it. Throw it it in their faces metaphorically.

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          Since LW is in a corner of the office, there may be wall space for a custom-made poster with this message. A google image search includes quite a few, including one with Dick Cheney’s face. Considering his history with weapons, that would be my choice!

          Reply
      5. smoke tree

        I’m sure it’s practical, but it really grinds my gears that coworkers who are behaving like literal children get to set the tone for professional communications, because the patriarchy, I guess. But I have a very low tolerance for this kind of atmosphere and I would be out of there as soon as possible.

        Reply
        1. Tehanu

          Plus, why does it always seem it has to be the woman in these cases who has to code-switch from colleague to *parent*?

          Reply
    2. Joielle

      Yeah, I have to imagine that in this office, serious bluntness is going to go over better than a rehearsed speech about boundaries and diversity. If OP was dealing with adults here, that would be one thing – but she’s not, and they don’t understand or care about her reasons for not participating, so stop trying to explain. A well-timed “get those the f*** away from me” might do the trick.

      Also, the mental picture of the coworker/lead “laughing hysterically and running away,” nerf gun in hand, gives me a full-body cringe and a strong desire to slap that guy. What is WRONG with him, seriously.

      Reply
    3. Dr. Pepper

      Yes, do this. I will add, don’t be whiny at all when you say this (guuuuys stoppppitttt!!), be angry in a “you will cease this immediately or hell shall rain down on you” way. Think powerful thoughts. Think of them as errant toddlers that need to be talked to sternly. Often a direct request in an “I’m not kidding around” manner will be successful.

      Reply
      1. SarahKay

        Seconded to the ‘be angry or else hell-fire’ advice.
        Practice in front of a mirror. Then practice with a supportive friend. Then pick your moment at work and explode like the Yellowstone park super-volcano will apparently one day explode. Swear. Make it clear that they are rude, ignorant, thoughtless children and that the next dart that flies past your desk will be returned to sender in a place the sun don’t shine!
        There is definite advantage to being a quiet, steady, stable person who one day explodes, because it is so far out of normal for you.
        Good luck!

        Reply
    4. Just Another Techie

      Yeah pretty much. and (having been the only woman in a 10-20 person tech bro startup before, and there’s a reason I pivoted careers thankyouverymuch) sometimes getting coarse and unprofessional is the only way to get respect from guys like this. It sucks, because professional behavior shouldn’t be gendered in this way, but in these tech startup environments professionalism is often associated with women with a negative connotation (schoolmarms, stuffy HR, etc). I would never advise this response in any other environment but ugh. Tech startups.

      Reply
    5. AeroEngineer

      Yep, this is along the lines of what I would do. I work in a similar environment (actually one of many reasons I wish to find a new job), but if it is this casual, you might need to take a harder line in response. I have no idea why in this case saying something like this actually works, but perhaps in some twisted way he thinks you are still joking because you ask nicely?

      Reply
    6. It's Pronounced Bruce

      Yeah, I agree with this whole direction. Because realistically you are not about to convince these dudes to start being respectful– but you can potentially shame them a little in their own language.

      I think a really languished sigh and “dude, don’t be a dick about this” is a good route.

      Reply
  4. Editrix

    It may be the nuclear option, but I’ll just put it out there that one of my husband’s former jobs had daily officewide Nerf wars until someone literally lost an eye. That put a very quick stop to the whole thing.

    Reply
      1. Editrix

        I don’t think so – they managed to save it at the hospital and he regained his sight (I don’t know details, and I’m not sure I want to), so it wasn’t like a huge story, but it was enough of an incident at the office that it shut down the Nerf wars permanently.

        Reply
        1. ComputerD00D

          Sounds like a retinal detachment. Which requires surgery, and recovery where you essentially sleep in a special chair that leans forward while things knit back together.

          Reply
          1. Ask me how I know

            Yep, impact to the eye can definitely cause this. Requires immediate surgery and is no joke. This is NOT a liability worth risking.

            Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Oooo, I love the idea of bringing up a workers’ comp or personal injury claim. They really are just one stupid fight away from a major medical emergency.

      Reply
    2. Yojo

      Ask Amy had a column about a similar situation: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/ask-amy-tech-co-workers-wage-nerf-wars-in-the-office/2017/04/20/df24d46e-252d-11e7-bb9d-8cd6118e1409_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9ad8d56ea50e

      “I’m caught in the crossfire on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis and have gotten hit by darts multiple times. If it’s somewhere below my neck, it doesn’t bother me as much. But recently I was hit in the back of the head. I just think this goes beyond normal workplace fun and is a huge distraction.

      A few months back another employee got hit in the eye and had to seek medical attention for a scratched cornea.”

      Reply
    3. Augusta Sugarbean

      OMG that’s it. Get a couple of those fake blood packs and next time a projectile goes whizzing by the OP’s face, she can yell and clutch at her face and smash the blood packs. Run around the room bleeding all over the place. Try to get as much blood on the bros’ keyboards as possible. Run out of the room and go home for the day. Next day come in 100% calm as if nothing happened at all. (This is inspired by one of the most awesome cops I know. She’s tiny and soft spoken and her superpower is people underestimate her and are completely taken off guard when she opens a can of whoop ass.)

      Reply
      1. Augusta Sugarbean

        Sorry, OP. I don’t mean to make light of your situation. This situation blows and I’m sorry you have to deal with it. I was shy for most of my life and it sucks. I do think that if it’s an option for you, job hunting is a good option. Don’t take on the burden of teaching grown ass adults how to be adults. Good luck.

        Reply
    4. Canadian Public Servant

      Reminds me of Mad Men: “One minute you’re on top of the world. The next minute, some secretary is running you over with a lawnmower.”

      Reply
    5. yasmara

      I’m not surprised. I bought my 11yo & 13yo facemasks with eye protection to use with nerf. My grandfather lost the sight in one eye from being hit in the eye with a badminton birdie, so I have always assumed that nerf could do the same.

      Reply
  5. March Madness

    My deep sympathies. This is an untenable situation und plays into some of the worst bro stereotypes of the tech start-up culture.

    Your coworkers are, unfortunately, idiots.

    Reply
  6. Dr Wizard, PhD

    ‘Do you think it would be okay to walk up behind me every so often and yell “AAAAH!”? Because that’s the effect you’re having on me every single time. You’re causing me to feel scared and unsafe, and then you laugh at me when I bring it up.’

    But honestly, I doubt this will work. They seem to have written you off as a buzzkill, especially this guy laughing like a drain and running away when you mention it to him. I’d consider trying something like the above if you perhaps haven’t made it clear to him that it actually *upsets* you, rather than that you simply don’t want to opt-in. Mayyybe making that 100% clear will make a difference. But I doubt it.

    Reply
      1. Dr. Pepper

        Oh lordy yes. Don’t do this if you value your sanity. These guys are acting like little brothers. Asking such a question is only inviting them to do this to you.

        Reply
      2. aebhel

        THIS. You can’t deal with people like this by appealing to empathy, because they just think you need to loosen up and then you’ll be having just as much fun as them.

        Reply
    1. MaybeNotTheBestIdea

      Maybe just shriek as loudly as possible every time a dart comes near you and then say “sorry, you startled me!” If your work is getting disrupted, everyone else should see what it’s like to get disrupted too.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        Don’t shriek. Bellow. “GET THAT FUCKING THING AWAY FROM MY DESK.”

        Dudes who think female distress is hilarious often don’t think it’s so funny to be on the receiving end of pure rage.

        Reply
        1. Dr. Pepper

          Yes. BELLOW. I was groping for the right word in a previous comment. Making little girls frightened is a favorite pastime of young boys and alas don’t change much with age. They think making a female shriek is hilarious. They are dicks. They also often shit their pants if you unleash true rage at them.

          Reply
            1. AKchic

              I am a renaissance fair torturer (among other things). I can be heard throughout an entire 10 acre fairground, and then some.
              My voice carrier. I am colorful and creative with my invectives. People don’t anger me twice, let alone on purpose again.

              Reply
          1. Batty Twerp

            My fight or flight response leans heavily towards fight – I’ve nearly punched out a co-worker who snuck up behind me (we’re actually on good terms, he just caught me on a bad day when I had a short notice impossible to meet deadline).
            If you can get your fight response to meet and match their flight reponse you might get a solution.

            Reply
        2. Alli525

          THIS. Actual rage, not just “guuuuuys, come onnnnn, cut it ouuuuut!” makes a huge difference sometimes. “CUT IT THE FUCK OUT, RIGHT FUCKING NOW” from the deepest part of your chest will make an impact. Although I would probably send an email to HR immediately afterward, detailing the long history and my responses, so there is formal documentation as well.

          Reply
        3. Totally Minnie

          Seriously. These idiots are behaving worse than 7 year olds, so muster your best angry teacher voice and unload on them.

          I get that when you default to anxiety, this kind of reaction can be hard. Can you call in a group of friends to help you roleplay? Invite some people over for dinner and ask them to help you practice shouting and swearing until you feel comfortable with it, and the next time a nerf gun comes near you, just unleash it all.

          Reply
      2. Working with Professionals

        Possibly invest in an air horn and anytime a projectile comes into the airspace around you or actually impacts you, blow the horn. When questioned, insist you were just having your own version of fun with the guys and that you’re sure you’ll stop when the Nerf fad fades away. [Sarcasm but totally what I would be imagining doing everyday until it all stopped]

        Reply
    2. Hills to Die on

      I’d start walking around with an air horn and blasting it behind people who annoy me. Also, I think one thing bros really like is tampons. Load your nerf gun (and I mean a big one) with tampons and blast the shit out of anyone that comes near you. But I’m in a bad mood, so…

      Reply
        1. Queen of Cans and Jars

          Yes, OP pleasepleaseplease make a tampon cannon! I’m 100% serious that it would make them run away in abject terror and forever leave you alone. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was fainting and/or tears involved. Tampons are dude-bro kryptonite.

          Reply
          1. Jadelyn

            Ooh, or if there’s a time when you can get to the nerf guns without their owners around, stick (clean, although the alternative is darkly funny to imagine) pads all over their nerf guns. Sit back with popcorn and watch the breakdown commence.

            Reply
          2. Specialk9

            I used to do this in my fire station. Those boys could TALK about their jock itch and butthole itch, like for hours. I’d finally start talking about Vagisil or Monistat, and it was like I had just pooped in their iced tea.

            Reply
      1. Time for a gnu name

        Love this. Not sure anything else could make a dude-bro squirm like this could. OP, if you do this, get a friend to show up and record a video of it so it can go viral!

        Reply
    3. Frea

      Another option is if a nerf dart lands in your space, pick it up, grab scissors, and cut the thing up in front of them. Keeping a bowl of the corpses on prominent display would send a nice message.

      (I know this isn’t a viable solution because property damage, but it would be so satisfying)

      Reply
      1. Nervous Nellie

        I think Dr. Wizard is onto something with asking a question — the next time your boundaries are violated you can turn around and ask “can you explain why it’s funny to frighten me? I don’t get it?” I don’t know if that would work, but sometimes making people stop and articulate why they’re doing what they’re doing can also make them self-aware.

        Reply
        1. Batty Twerp

          Yes! This!
          It’s an oft-cited technique for calling out various isms that are being passed off as jokes.
          In this case it’s a$$holeism.

          Reply
        2. Frea

          Definitely. “I don’t get it” and a blank stare is a great response to sexist and homophobic jokes, too. For some reason, people really don’t want to explain that their joke is funny because it’s sexist. Imagine that.

          Reply
          1. Lumen

            This. “I don’t understand. WHY is it ‘funny’ that the driver was a woman. I seriously don’t get it. Can you explain the joke???”

            Make them say out loud why it’s so delightful to them to upset you. “It’s just a joke” is their COVER. You do not have to give it any credence.

            Reply
      2. Xarcady

        I had this same thought. Pick up the dart, stand up, make serious eye contact with the shooter, and proceed to slice the dart to bits. It has enough of the badass vibe to make a point, without having to curse or swear.

        Reply
      3. serenitynow

        I lived through something very similar. What worked was confiscating the objects and speaking to them like I was babysitting. (“If you throw your toy at me, it goes away.”) It didn’t end the antics but it did cut down on being in the crossfire. After several warnings I would silently take the objects and put them in a locked drawer. Eventually this “game” got old, and I even laugh about it with former coworkers.

        But I also had a boss who sought to hire more women when I told him I felt like a highly paid substitute teacher.

        Reply
        1. E

          This was my thought, keep the nerf darts that enter your area and don’t give them back. Any request for their return is met by “I told you that I don’t want flying objects near me but you didn’t listen”. It’s one thing to enjoy a playful office but everyone needs to be considerate of their coworkers’ personal space.

          Reply
        2. Perse's Mom

          I’m in a very standard office environment and when two people thought it was great fun to start a minor nerf battle, that was how I ended it. Darts ended up in my cubicle? I pushed them into an inaccessible corner and declined to move. No ammo, no nerf battle.

          Reply
        3. Lumen

          I did this when my office ‘went Nerf’. I just started collecting any of the darts I found (easy, since they usually just LEFT THEM ON THE GROUND). Ammo was soon in short supply.

          Sure, they could buy more if they wanted, but already they were talking about having the company reimburse them, and it took 1 manager overhearing them for THAT idea to get scrubbed. The guys also didn’t want to keep buying ammo just to have it get locked away in a drawer.

          It didn’t get rid of the Nerf, but they stopped doing it near me, and some of them even started picking up after themselves.

          Reply
      4. AKchic

        I would be tempted to do this too.
        I’ve done similar things with my kids when they don’t pick their toys up.

        We have a rule in my house: If I step on it, it is trash. Why? Because if it is in a place for me to step on, you aren’t playing with it. If you aren’t playing with it and it wasn’t put away, it is obviously garbage that you meant to throw away but somehow fainted, died, or had a bathroom emergency and just couldn’t make it to the trash and had to drop said item *rightthere* for my foot to find.
        With four kids (or more, depending on the situation), I don’t have time to clean up after children who know better. Pick up your junk or it goes away permanently. The kids learned quickly. Is it mean? Maybe. Do they have too many toys anyway? Sure they do, everyone buys them stuff (especially stuff they don’t actually need and they don’t value enough to pick up/put away).

        So, yeah… the SNL skit of “I keep it now” comes to mind too.

        Reply
    4. Becky

      There’s an area down the hall from me where there are regular nerf battles. They only ever do them in that area so I’ve never been even close to hit, but one of the nerf guns makes this screaming sound when it shoots and it drives me up the wall! One of my coworkers has a collection of the nerf darts that she’s picked up from the hallway and refuses to give back. I don’t know if they notice how many of their darts go missing.

      I can’t even see it and there is no chance of me being hit, but just hearing it is annoying.

      I do work at a tech company but we are far from being a startup.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        one of the nerf guns makes this screaming sound when it shoots

        Those ar ethe darts, not the gun. With whistle notches cut into them.

        And yeah, they sound sort of threatening.

        Reply
  7. EddieSherbert

    How has there been more than one letter about Nerf battles?! Mind boggling.

    I think going over your manager (if you have a grandboss) or talking to your coworker who has shot “at” you (if he’s the only one that has shot at you) outside of a shooting incident would be good next steps.

    If that doesn’t work, then I think a version of Alison’s script would be good.

    ….I also think hoarding the darts that are shot at you and disposing of them quietly is a good passive aggressive option.

    Reply
    1. BeenThere

      Hoarding the errant darts is all I could think of too. And I don’t mind having fun at work, but this is ridiculous… especially when they’ve been asked to avoid her desk.

      Reply
      1. Avatre

        Optionally, if coworker asks for the darts back: “I’ve asked you not to shoot those near my desk, yet here they are. I can’t trust you to be responsible with them.” (Punctuate by dropping dart into a drawer or something that coworker can’t reach. Dispose of darts later.)

        Reply
        1. Rusty Shackelford

          Said as you cut or tear the thing into tiny bits and drop it into your trash can, staring at the offender the whole time.

          Reply
        2. Midge

          I would love for the OP to casually ask “Can I see that nerf gun for a minute?” and then lock it in her desk drawer. Followed up by some of the many lovely suggestions here explaining how awful they’re being and why they need to stop.

          Reply
          1. Wherehouse Politics

            Also, give the guns away to some toy drive- or off site recycling bin. That goes for any you get your hands on, no matter where or how you find them. Even on another worker’s desk.

            Reply
      2. Jaydee

        I do that with my kid if he shoots at me when I tell him I’m not playing. Stare these bros straight in the eye and say “you shoot it near me, I keep it” in a very neutral but no-nonsense tone. Then pocket the dart and go back to work. It takes away some of the incentive to shoot at you just to get a rise out of you because then they lose the dart.

        If they go whine to your boss and your boss gets upset with you, say something like this, “Wakeen, you hired me to program wi-fi enabled chocolate teapots. I want to spend my time here programming the best damn wi-fi enabled chocolate teapots I can, not dodging Nerf darts. I don’t have a problem with Nerf wars in general – I get that a lot of people here enjoy them, and that’s great. I just want the Nerf wars to not happen around my workspace. And since Fergus and Broseph have chosen not to respect my request that they not shoot at/near me, I’m going to keep any darts that find their way into my airspace.”

        Reply
      3. Competent Commenter

        How about confiscating them as they arrive in her workspace…and then quietly and deliberately cutting them up in little pieces, hopefully as they watch.

        Reply
    2. Loopy

      From experience hoarding any time of flying object works. I have experience with syrofoam discs, and rubber bands, flying stress balls. I’ve been in this environment but it wasn’t frequent at all and ended pretty quickly after a few people left for other jobs.

      Still, I would take anything and be remorseless about hiding it away. I commented below on figuring out the response delivery when people inevitably come up and try to force you to give it back- that’s the tricky part.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        What about a big display board for dismembered Nerf darts and guns? One could get very sarcastically crafty. Do one of those labeled explosion diagrams.

        Reply
    3. MechanicalPencil

      I was also going to suggest hoarding the darts as a bit of show and tell. You can’t say that they aren’t shooting at OP if she has all these darts (shown off Vanna White style, natch).

      Reply
    4. WellRed

      yes, take the darts. I once took and hid a pink child’s scooter that someone brought in and used to ride around dinging the bell. I turns out, I wasn’t the only one annoyed by it.

      Reply
    5. Achoo!

      I told my college roommates that any Nerf darts shot in my direction would be confiscated, and followed through. It didn’t deter the Nerf war in general (although it petered out on its own eventually), but it did discourage them from shooting at me without causing any hard feelings (with that particular group) because I wasn’t trying to stop their fun, just giving them a hard boundary of, “hey, keep me out of it.”

      Reply
    6. Anne

      I agree with just taking away the darts. This happened to my wife and the first time a Nerf dart got shot at her (after she asked not to be shot at) she walked around and confiscated the guns themselves. Very effective, but OP might want something a little less aggressive.

      Reply
    7. Susan Sto Helit

      Confiscating the darts one by one and locking them in a drawer would also be my solution. Either they’ll learn to stop firing them near you, or they’ll run out of ammo eventually.

      Reply
    8. anon for today

      Same! I looked twice to find Alison’s note that she revisiting old letters. She isn’t. This crap is still going on! What’s lame about it, is that it’s played out. Nerf gun battle? Wow, didn’t that fade out like Pokemon Go already?

      Reply
      1. Videogame Lurker

        Pokemon Go seems to have turned into a seasonal thing – Summer more then Winter due to weather, and there are more than the first 147 pokemon (Think they should be releasing Sinnoh Pokemon soon since they have to be nearly out of Hoenn Pokemon to tease woth releasing).

        I mean, no I am totally not using my ‘wasted’childhood worth of Pokemon knowledge to help me fill out a Pokedex faster, no, not at all. /blatant lies Trope

        Back on Topic: Don’t people have better things to do with their work hours, like … working? Or in the case of tech, looking for bugs one could patch?*

        *Disclaimer: As my name says, I play videogames, and I admit to being a bit salty at the thought of game designers and the like spending their work hours nerf-warring when they have consumers running their programs and potentially finding bugs (there will always be bugs, because Fix X will Break C or something), so take my response with some consumer salt.

        Reply
    9. Blue Hedgie

      When I was in college I worked night desk at the dorms on the weekends. Almost every weekend guys on the second floor would have a nerf gun fight around the dorms and would purposefully shoot me in the breasts. I asked them to stop and their excuse was it was an accident but it kept on occurring. I reported it to the hall Director but nothing come of it except they were told to stop but yet no consequences were ever implemented when they didn’t. So when they shot me one weekend I picked up their bullets and cut them multiple times. They were of course angry but guess what? They never shot me again and when they reported the incident to student affairs (who reviewed the security tapes for the past month and the documentation I had been keeping) they all got warnings about getting kicked out of the dorms if there was another infraction and they had to attend a seminar on sexual harassment. Long story short, confiscate their bullets and/or cut them up. Document everything.

      Reply
      1. Midge

        I’m glad there was finally a consequence for them. I can’t imagine the gall of deliberately, repeatedly shooting a nerf gun at someone’s breasts and then reporting THEM for cutting up your darts!

        Reply
        1. AnonEMoose

          Having had to deal with a situation that differs in the details, but similar in essence (about which I can’t go into details)…I completely believe it. It’s a continuation of the playground dynamic where girls are playing together, minding their own business, and a group of boys disrupts them.

          Who gets reprimanded or “spoken to” if the girls get upset? HINT: NOT the boys. Oh, no. The girls get told that they should be “understanding,” because “that’s just how boys are.” Or the ever-popular and sickening “they do it because they like you.”

          Reply
      2. JustMePatrick

        This. Document Everything. If you have access to an online Journal such as Penzu, do it.
        I would:
        1. Document Everything
        2. Confiscate all the Darts that fly your way.
        3. If threatened with termination, call their bluff because I don’t know how this can’t be contributing to a hostile work environment. If you want to take it that far see a lawyer. However, a possible solution would be to find a place away from you, far away, if they have access to another room they could have their fun without causing you undo stress. If they can do that, return the darts.

        Any business owner worth their salt would want to avoid a legal mess with an employee that doesn’t want to participate in such things and keeps getting harassed.

        Full Disclosure: * I am not an attorney, nor have I played one on TV. As with anything legally related seek counsel with a qualified attorney.

        Reply
    10. many bells down

      Mr. Bells is in video games, so this has been a thing in almost everyplace he’s worked for 25-ish years. But he at least worked with people adult enough to respect a “no-Nerf zone” where anyone who didn’t want to participate in Nerf battles could have their desks.

      Reply
    11. the gold digger

      I love the idea of destroying or hiding the darts. I was on a 15-hour bus ride in Paraguay and the kid in front of me was playing with some noisy toy. I asked him politely not to make noise, but of course that didn’t work. He was only four.

      So I held my hand out and asked, “May I have your toy, please?”

      He was only four. So he gave it to me.

      And I kept it.

      After a few minutes, he started to look really surprised and upset. His mom finally turned around. I shrugged and said, “It’s a long trip and that toy is way too noisy.”

      Unfortunately, that strategy did not work on the drunk guy next to me who fell asleep on my shoulder or on the guy behind me who vomited in his seat and whose vomit the bus driver refused to clean because, he said, it wasn’t his job.

      Reply
    12. Becky

      Yup disposing of the darts is what my coworker does when she finds them in the hallway. I don’t think the department that is shooting them realizes how/where the darts end up.

      Reply
    13. CM

      I would actually go a step farther and throw their Nerf guns in a dumpster.

      This is not a place you want to fit in, OP, so just don’t worry about that. Loom over them like you’re a parent and calmly ask them why they can’t comply with your request and stare at them until they answer. Let it be super, super, super uncomfortable. Then, if they can’t stop shooting you with their toys, take their toys away.

      Reply
    14. WetBlanket

      Disposing of the darts +1
      Leaving the shredded remains of errant darts in the dollar store vase on my desk labeled “Casualties” (after warning them what would happen to darts fired at me) – how I got my former office to leave me out of the ‘fun’.

      Reply
  8. Teapot librarian

    This is so unbelievably awful. No advice other than yelling at them to stop it. What an immature and totally inappropriate thing to be doing at work.

    Reply
  9. Dust Bunny

    What the everlasting [deleted expletive].

    I would start by keeping any and all darts that land in your space, possibly employing whoopee cushions that trigger air-horns, and job hunting.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Destroying the darts would be even better.

      My suggestion was glitter bombs. Do adolescent boys hate anything more than glitter?

      Reply
  10. Roscoe

    I think its a bit harder since they aren’t shooting “at” you, you are just kind of caught in the crossfire. Not saying it makes it ok, but its definitely not malicious in that they are ignoring your pleas.

    Is there any way you can put up a bigger wall or something to make sure you are shielded from that? (This is assuming you are in like a cubicle area). Aside from that, is there a conference room or something you can go to if those things start happening around you? It’s really hard to say since I’m not clear if these are really just random one off things that happen now and then, or its like everyday at 2 is all out war, because I think its a bit different in those situations. Could you also ask to move desks to a more isolated location?

    I’m also wondering do you think they are really avoiding you, or is that your anxiety making you think that is the case?

    Reply
    1. Dragoning

      I would argue that this is definitely malicious. They literally laugh at her when she expresses distress. I’m not sure how that’s not malicious.

      Reply
      1. esra

        Having worked with so, so many tech bros: The best possible light is they are clueless and careless.

        I second the advice above to hoard/ruin the darts, master your unimpressed bitch face, and drop some swears.

        Reply
        1. Roscoe

          That’s exactly it. I think its more careless than malicious. I didn’t get the sense it was laughing “at” her because she is in distress. Its more laughing because “ah damn a dart went in the wrong desk area”. Immature, yes. I just don’t think they are trying to be jerks.

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            Really?

            “When he misses, the Nerf darts wizz past my face. I immediately get a lot of anxiety, and I will remind him that I do not want to be part of this, and he laughs hysterically and runs away. No apology, nothing. And, no one stands up for me.”

            Reply
            1. Courageous cat

              I think the issue here is that they probably don’t actually believe or understand that someone could experience Literal Distress as a result of nerf balls. They don’t realize the gravity of the situation – they probably think that LW is just annoyed or irritated or whatever, and they’re laughing it off.

              That’s why I don’t think it’s necessarily malicious (although it’s very possible it is).

              Reply
              1. Batty Twerp

                So how do you think they’d respond if OP wasn’t a woman but a vet with PTSD? If they’d still laugh it off because they don’t believe anyone could suffer distress they are still being jerks and need to be held accountable for their jerka$$ immature behaviour. They are behaving like toddlers.

                Reply
              2. atma

                No, of course they understand! But it benefits them if we believe that they don’t understand. it’s a bit like rape culture. Studies have shown that men are fully able to understand soft no’s, but as long as everyone around them wants to give them the benefit of a doubt, they will certainly hold on to that benefit. To turn off your empathy when it suits you is entirely malicious. We don’t have to come up with excuses for them.

                Reply
        2. Lumen

          How come every time a man in the tech industry does something a reasonable adult (or all the reasonable adults in the 500+ comments on this post) would say is not professional or acceptable in the workplace (or probably most situations), he is given the benefit of the doubt for maybe just not knowing any better? How have so many men in tech never learned what other reasonable adults have learned?

          Maybe because they enter the workforce and aren’t expected to behave like reasonable adults. Maybe because every time they screw up, they’re given a pass because they were ‘clueless’. Maybe because we keep refraining from holding them accountable while they literally shoot toy guns at each other and laugh when they upset their coworkers.

          These men are adults in the workplace. It does not matter if they are clueless or careless or ‘understand why’; they need to treat their coworkers with respect, immediately, full stop.

          Reply
          1. xms967

            So much agreement. Why do I have to be understanding about dudes in the office leaving their toys around, when my 2.5-year-old can pick up after themself without prompting?

            Reply
          2. Courageous cat

            Yeah, this is actually a really good point and makes me rethink my earlier response. No matter what, they work in the world with other people now and need to learn to respect that, no matter how pure their intentions or how unmalicious their oversight.

            Reply
            1. Lumen

              This sort of reply (especially because I wasn’t super conciliatory in my comment) is a reminder that the internet is good sometimes. Thank you!

              Reply
          3. Elbe

            I agree 1000% percent.

            These guys are behaving this way because it’s culturally sanctioned. They didn’t decide – spontaneously, individually – to buy Nerf guns and bring them to work. This was explicitly endorsed by management and they are doing it to fit in with the other guys, even if that means doing it at the expense of the LW.

            Reply
      2. BethRA

        This. Judging by their reactions when they “accidentally” buzz her with one of the darts, it doesn’t seem so “accidental.”

        And I’m willing to take the OP’s word for how they’re treating her generally.

        Reply
    2. beth

      Even if they’re ‘intending’ to hit someone else, I would argue that it’s still unacceptable to shoot in her general direction. When I was a kid and my brother and I had snowball fights, my mom often opted out, and would get rightfully mad at us if we hit her anyways. We learned pretty quickly that we weren’t always going to hit our intended target, and therefore to angle our throws so she wasn’t in the line of fire–and we were, what, five and seven? when we first lived somewhere with snow in winter. This is literally kindergarten-level ‘be nice to people’.

      OP’s coworkers are leaping over a clearly stated boundary, repeatedly causing distress, and then *laughing* about it when they’re called out for their atrocious behavior. If it was a one-time thing and they sincerely apologized, that would be one thing…but this is a repeated behavior that they take clear delight in continuing. They think it’s funny that they’re upsetting her. That’s pretty cruel.

      Reply
    3. Rhoda

      Seriously?
      Is this honestly normal behaviour for an office? Or for an American office?
      Nerf gun missiles flying around and your response is put up a bigger wall? As if this is all just some irritation to be endured like someone talking too loudly.

      Reply
    1. 5_Jazzhands_5

      That is a very good idea, aviator googles plus a helmet! This is an environment where you just can’t win so I think if they want to have dramatic, “war games,” the OP will need a dramatic shield to survive another year. Hopefully, they’ll respond with humor and see that visually OP is not with any of it. I also wonder if there are conference rooms available during this time?

      Reply
      1. Weyrwoman

        oh no. just no. My younger brothers, while not in tech, are these kind of people. A helmet means you’ve given up and accepted that you will be shot. It’s damn near an invite to stop respecting your space. And it sounds like OP is more anxious about darts in their personal space than darts hitting them, so the helmet really doesn’t fix the problem anyways.

        Reply
      2. Database Developer Dude

        No. Just, no. If I were the OP, and anyone suggested I get a helmet, I would blow up my Kukkiwon card, and post the replica outside my cube as a ‘hint’ to anyone thinking of crossing my boundaries…..

        For the uninitiated, a Kukkiwon card identifies the holder as having passed a Dan test (black belt test) officially sanctioned by the World Taekwondo Federation. I’m a 2nd degree black belt, eligible to be tested for 3rd. No problem using it in this situation.

        Reply
    2. Alli525

      My first reaction was “I wonder how effective a protective dome would be if it were constructed out of Legos or other cheap building toys?”

      Reply
  11. Not a robot

    My work had something like this but with beach balls. They would toss them back and forth in the cubicles and was so annoying…until one person sued for being hit in the back of their head with a beach ball.

    Reply
      1. Akcipitrokulo

        Ooh.

        so… reluctant to suggest this as a solution… but if a nerf bullet startled OP so that some expensive equipment got coffee inside its innards…

        Reply
        1. Goya de la Mancha

          yaaaaaas

          A well timed arm fling and fake (or real) gasp of surprise have ended many an uncomfortable situation ;)

          Reply
  12. Lilisonna

    My office has nerf gun battles on a regular basis, but we also support the Switzerlands in our office by providing them shielding. We have several people who have netting around their desks that they can pull whenever Nerf bullets start flying.

    However, this will not help at your office because your office is made up of people who are not interested in having anyone but clones of themselves around. If you have an HR department (and I can’t tell from the letter if you’re working in a small startup office of only 14 people or if your office is part of a larger corporation), I would consider speaking to them about the fact that your manager is incompetent.

    I would leave and I would write a blistering letter on my way out the door.

    Reply
      1. Observer

        “Fair compromise”? What, exactly are these idiots giving up? And why does the OP have any sort of obligation to accommodate Nerf guns in her space?

        Reply
          1. Meg

            For the same reason that people get stuck taking allergy medications just so people can bring their dogs to work. Apparently it is a perk that helps them retain people they want.

            Reply
    1. Ender

      OP actually mentions HR in the letter.

      OP I think the best bet is to call HR and set up and appointment and tell them everything you’ve told us.

      Reply
      1. Goya de la Mancha

        This – at this point it’s an HR involvement if your boss/lead is the one being the d-bag.

        But my silly side really likes the idea of a Swiss flag and shield.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Well the Swiss neutrality is backed up by being hugely, heavily armed.

          Not really sure where I’m going with that…

          Reply
    2. Doug Judy

      That still doesn’t fix what a distraction it is. Just because they cannot hit her, doesn’t mean they aren’t annoying and distracting.

      Unless you work for Nerf I cannot fathom that this is a business necessity. If they are just so darn fun and make your day easier, find an empty conference room.

      Reply
      1. yasmara

        Or better yet, DO YOUR WORK INSTEAD OF MESSING AROUND.

        Damn, apparently I have Big Feelings about stupid dudebro antics. OP, I’m sorry, this situation sucks. I hope HR is helpful or you can find something with a better office culture.

        Reply
  13. Madame Secretary

    You need to meet them on their level. I’d hide all the nerf bullets. Or hold them for ransom until they paid for them, $5 a piece. Or turn all the nerf bullets that come into your workspace into a piece of artwork.

    In all seriousness, these guys sound like they have a short attention span. Maybe they will move on to the next fun thing to do when the newness of the nerf guns goes away. Hang in there!

    Reply
    1. MusicWithRocksInIt

      Dye the nerf darts pink.

      Honestly because they are acting like children maybe treat them like children and have a reward system for the ones that leave you alone? Maybe a candy dish on your desk with a cute sign like “Only for allies of Switzerland” or “For those that respect the treaty”?

      Reply
      1. Argh!

        I love it! My suggestion (below) is glitter bomb defense. I think pinking up the office would show them how it feels to be a minority. Go in on Saturday, cover everyone’s chair with pink fabric, paint their desks pink, put Hello Kitty stickers on all their computer monitors.

        It could work.

        (Hey, I’ve had a long day. I came home slightly evil)

        Reply
    2. BF50

      I quite like the nerf bullet artwork idea. You can slice them from the bottom to make legs and glue on some arms in under 5 minutes. This makes you look like you’re not a total buzzkill, removes them from circulation, and doesn’t take a ton of time out of your day.

      Reply
      1. Ali G

        Just make sure to actually cut them up and do something with them. If you just paste the bullets onto something, well, knowing these guys, you will likely come into work to find a huge poster board of male genitalia.

        Reply
      2. Dasein9

        They’re not going to listen to you. But they might respond to the mockery of others.

        How about “joining in the game” by putting up a prominent list of POOR SHOTS, naming each coworker whose shots go into an area you’ve taped out on the floor and weekly naming the one who does it most the Side of the Barn Bungler Boy of Company B?

        Reply
        1. Gelliebean

          I really like this idea. And of course, since no one would ever consider deliberately shooting at someone who asked them not to (what kind of monster would do that?) anything that comes into OP’s zone was obviously from a terrible shot.

          Reply
    3. Ealasaid

      I’d definitely confiscate any darts that come within arm’s reach of you at any time and stick them in a locked drawer. But that’s probably not an effective long-term strategy. If I were OP, I’d be job hunting and asking potential employers about nerf guns during phone screens.

      I’ve now worked in two open-plan offices with nerf guns. The first time I wasn’t in the offending department, so I rarely got caught in the crossfire. I just hated the darts that whistled as they sailed through the air because the shrill noise cut through everything. In my current gig, they mostly throw the darts at each other. It’s annoying but much less dangerous.

      Those guns can shoot darts hard, I’m not surprised to read in comments above that someone had major eye trauma from one. Gah. I can’t imagine the company’s insurance would be happy about that.

      Reply
  14. Sally

    I’m assuming you’re probably in an open office environment, but maybe you could ask for either an alternative space to work that is separate from where the nerf wars happen or the ability to work remotely. Phrase it as “I can’t do my job around nerf guns, so I need a different work space.” You’re not telling them they can’t have their “fun”, you’re just requesting what you need to be productive.

    If you’re more interested in passive aggression, which is sometimes my preferred method, you could start confiscating and locking away any dart or gun that comes anywhere near your desk until the entire arsenal is in your posession. Or play whatever music you want (preferably music the nerf warriors hate) really loudly and if anyone complains say that you’re just trying to drown out the sound of nerf wars.

    Reply
    1. Loopy

      Dang I did this and commented below. There’s a way to do it that’s not quite as passive aggressive, by declaring fair is fair and that’s what they get for coming into your area. I was very up front about it but they key is I held firm on not giving them back.

      It may be a know your crowd thing.

      Reply
    2. Elemeno P.

      I thought about this too. I’m not sure if the LW is American, but anxiety is covered by the ADA. Asking for a reasonable accommodation (an office with a closed door, remote work, etc.) and phrasing it as a legitimate medical accommodation (which it is) will either a) stop the behavior, b) get a sweet office with a closed door, which will make it easier to search for a job with actual adults, or c) provide well-documented grounds for a lawsuit (as the nuclear option).

      Reply
      1. Ender

        She would need to disclose a diagnosis of anxiety to HR, along with evidence (doctors letter), in order to request a reasonable accommodation.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Technically, all she’s required to disclose is that she has a disability. The law doesn’t require her to say what it is or require her to submit a doctor’s note. However, the employer is allowed to request documentation, and it’s pretty common that they do (though it’s also not unusual for them not to with visible disabilities or easy accommodations).

          Reply
        1. Elemeno P.

          Well, yes; this is the case with many things. Allergies have come up often on this site as an example of something that may be covered depending on severity and circumstance. If she discloses a condition and asks for a reasonable accommodation (and “don’t shoot nerf guns near me” is very reasonable), particularly in writing, they have no reason not to accommodate.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Sure, but there’s an important difference between “Anxiety is covered and therefore you’re covered” and “It’s possible the ADA is relevant here.” The employer is allowed to consider whether it meets the standard of a disability for this employee; they don’t just have to accept it without question.

            Reply
    3. Alli525

      Ahh, the AC/DC approach, I love it. When I was working in bars (as a marketing manager) I would keep coworkers out of the shared office by playing my Pandora station full of what they referred to as “vagina music.” (Think pop or indie singer-songwriters.)

      Reply
  15. alice

    Talk to your local labor department! I did this for an issue at my five-person company. There’s little they can do really, but in my case, a phone call from the government fixed it.

    Sadly, it may ruin your relationship with some coworkers, but I don’t think that’s a huge priority right now.

    Reply
    1. Aveline

      “Sadly, it may ruin your relationship with some coworkers, but I don’t think that’s a huge priority right now.”

      These dudebros do not care about her as a person or they would have stopped when asked.

      She’s worried about this negatively impacting how they view her. If this is their attitude, it would have happened eventually because she’s not one of them.

      This type of company will not be capable of growth because it’s run by man-children.

      It will either be taken over by actual adults or it will go under.

      Having seen this personally in SV over and over again, I’d start looking for a new job ASAP.

      Reply
      1. Lumen

        Every word of this. 100%

        If they (and leadership) don’t want to fix this immediately, they aren’t interested in being a functional workplace.

        Reply
      2. Argh!

        ***These dudebros do not care about her as a person or they would have stopped when asked.***

        Absolutely. The only options are fight back or escape (and then sue for PTSD).

        Appealing to their better natures won’t work.

        Reply
    2. Observer

      What relationship?

      These idiots have written her off – not because of her competence or anything like, but because she ~~gasp~~ doesn’t like things flying in her face! The horror! ~~Rolling eyes~~

      Reply
      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        Yeah, this is not Labor Department-worthy. Nor lawyer worthy. There are so many other options here that are much more practical– and better in the long term– for the OP.

        Reply
    3. Not So NewReader

      It’s interesting to read about nerf war injuries. I googled. Apparently there is a tendency not to cover an injured shooter under worker’s comp. The shootee makes out a better. (Shooter can twist around, fall and sprain or break something. They are just as vulnerable to the same injuries as their targeted person.)

      I fell into one forum where a person was talking about that nerf injuries include, eye injuries, neck and back injuries, broken bones and sprains. I did not dig deeper to find a source for that but I bet if you dig OP you will find it.
      One site was talking about a law suit done by an employee.

      This is NOT a plan for what to do if you get injured, OP. This is what to tell your boss how this plays out financially for him and the company if there is an injury. I think I might wander away from him mumbling but clearly saying the word OSHA.
      If a boss cannot prioritize safety and well-being of the employees they probably can prioritize MONEY. They do understand money. So dig up some facts about what type of money we are talking here.

      I worked for a company where X was going on. Where is X is on a par with having a small bonfire in the middle of the work area of a building. X was very obvious to MOST people that it should not be going on., except the people I worked with. So I went through gathered up some random historical facts, talked about the cost of human health and life in dollars. The next thing I know, X magically stopped. This is after years of nicely saying, “this is a hazard”. It wasn’t until I verbally machine-gunned them with facts and figures that action happened. As others are saying, I was not nice about it, I was spitting nails as I explained the facts I had collected up and, yeah, I was cussing. (I walked away saying to myself,”Why do I work here?”.)

      Additionally, if enough employees show an increase in health insurance claims, then your company’s health insurance rates may go up and the insurance rating for your company may go down.

      Part of what you want to do here is actually convince the boss that this is a problem. Once convinced the boss might put their foot down.

      He has turned himself into a person who is not accessible by normal conversational tone. It is his choice to lock himself out of logical conversations. Gloves off, OP. Drop that verbal cinder block on his dense skull. Oddly, because his behavior is so poor, he will not recognize your outburst of temper as being poor behavior. His sense of professional norms is way off the norm.

      Take your time getting your facts lined up and then go for it. Let it rain on him.

      Reply
  16. Loopy

    I had this problem! When whatever they shoot would be in my range I’d quietly pick it up and put it away in my desk. I said if they come in my area I am taking them. The delivery was tricky to make this work. I said it lightly and kind of like fair is fair, suck it up guys so I didn’t come off as acting like their mother but held firm. Yes I was still a spoilsport. But ultimately, no one wanted to lose their ammunition so they made sure nothing came near me because it would disappear.

    Reply
    1. Antilles

      Yeah, that was my thought too.
      I’d confiscate any and all darts that come near my desk and maybe even grab the gun itself out of his hands. You want to act like an elementary school kid, I’m going to treat you like one. When you learn to play appropriately with others, I’ll consider giving you your toys back.

      Reply
      1. Roscoe

        I think confiscating darts is fine. Once you go to grabbing stuff out of someones hand, that gets a bit more tricky to me. Like just because you don’t like something, doesn’t give you the right to forcefully take it out of my hands.

        Reply
      2. Loopy

        Still, even though it worked to keep the battle out of my immediate work area, it’s still a distraction from well, work. I was still salty about it going on around me while I was trying to be productive.

        Reply
    2. sometimeswhy

      We had someone do a serial confiscation of ammo/stressballs/and other projectiles, though less delicate and more, “NOPE. THIS IS MINE NOW, SUCKERS,” occasionally followed up with a quiet, “No really. If the stuff you’re literally hurling around the office comes near me, you should consider it lost forever. Remember?” Which worked with our particular set of interpersonal relationships, somehow.

      Reply
      1. Loopy

        The hard part is handling it so your whole team doesn’t loathe you. I walked a bit of a line, which was really extra effort on my part to even have to navigate it but the truth is, I still had to work with them and rely on them.

        Reply
        1. WellRed

          Loopy, I think you handled it perfectly. If people want to have Nerf gun battles (why?? why??) then rules of war should apply across the board. That includes capturing the enemies goods, right?

          Reply
          1. Loopy

            No one gave me too much trouble but I got the idea from someone else. Her delivery was much much different from mine. She was outright angry and I played it a bit lighter. I think it made a huge difference in reception but really, she had every right to just be plain angry.

            Reply
        2. sometimeswhy

          Yep. Understood. This worked with the particular balance of temperaments of the subset of people involved. Wasn’t intended as a contradiction or an alternative to your specific scenario. I can totally see how different approaches are necessary with different teams.

          Reply
        1. Decima Dewey

          I’d be tempted to keep the darts and count them up on occasion. “Oh, how many darts are there now? One, two…. wow, I have almost fifty nerf darts in my lockbox!”

          Reply
          1. MatKnifeNinja

            My coworker did the *keep the Nerf bullets* scenario

            It escalated to wrist rockets with frozen paper towel balls. Semi soak wadded up paper towel, then freeze.

            The real asshats maked the towel balls like ice balls.

            #goodtimes >:(

            Reply
      1. Loopy

        The two factors I found were either having a lower workload, or having such a frustrating, infuriting situation that you got to the $&#+* level and started goofing around.

        I’m in the very same field but in my current environment if someone did this once it would be a HUGE ISSUE. Massive. So weird how much work environments vary!

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          I would think the top factor is having lots of guys in what is perceived as a guy’s space, and an unwanted woman infringing. That’s how my fire station was.

          Reply
      2. Quickbeam

        My thought too. I had a now retired boss who loved to creep up behind me and scare me. I have a really dramatic startle reflex from being sexually assaulted. I got a rear view mirror and went to HR. It stopped. It seems like too much to ask to just go to work and be left alone?

        Reply
        1. Stone Cold Bitch

          I have a similar reflex and I tend to hit whoever is behind me with my elbows. I make this very clear.

          One co-worker repeatedly ignored my requests to not sneak up behind me. Then one time he caught me unaware at a business event and I hit him quite hard, spun around and yelled “NO!” at the top of my lungs.
          No one has ever tried anything like that again.

          Reply
          1. The Hobbit

            Yikes, that reminds me of the time I hit a college mate on the face with my very heavy bookbag. It was probably his fault, since for whatever reason, he saw me on a crowded street and grabbed my ponytail to get my attention, but my reaction (also due to sexual assault) was to automatically go into danger-self-defense mode. We were both lucky that he didn’t break anything and we were near a small restaurant where we could stop to breathe, assess the damage and have a conversation about what happened. Needless to say, we’re both still mortified about it to this day.

            Reply
            1. Not A Morning Person

              You do not need to be mortified by your reaction. The college mate is the only one at fault. Who pulls someone’s ponytail to get their attention? No one who is smart and doesn’t expect to get punched for it.

              Reply
      3. mrs__peel

        I’ve never been so pleased to work in an office that’s 90% female. We’ve had zero dudebro shenanigans or flying projectiles in all my years there.

        Reply
      4. Not So NewReader

        My theory is that this is in lieu of actual compensation. “Yes, market rate is higher elsewhere but we are a FUNNN company.” (Said in the same whinny voice that is used to say, “We are faaammmilllly.”)

        Reply
        1. The Other Katie

          It’s also a stealth way to keep people at work. It’s easier to justify 18-hour workdays when there’s free food, nap pods and entertainment available.

          Reply
    3. Pennycrest

      This is exactly what I did with my little brothers and cousins growing up (I was the only girl) and it worked like a charm…. until I had all of the ammo and couldn’t remember where I’d hidden it. (note – my Dad was not impressed that I had stuffed the ammo into the air ducts of our home. My 11 year old self thought it was brilliant!)

      Seriously though. Implement confiscating everything that comes into your bubble now. It will get their attention.

      Reply
  17. ThatGirl

    Honestly I’d probably start yelling at some point. Which may not be helpful. But if it’s a casual environment, some light swearing or dramatic reaction could help. Who cares if you’re seen as a killjoy; you have every right not to want to be in the middle of that obnoxiousness.

    More professionally, I would go to HR and lay it out: I have asked them to keep me out of it, this happens repeatedly, JoeBob laughs at me and my manager doesn’t care – it feels very hostile to me. (NB: I realize this may not be a “hostile working environment” – but it can still feel like hostility or complete apathy about your feelings.)

    Reply
    1. The Doctor

      It clearly IS a hostile environment. She asked them to STOP ASSAULTING HER with darts and they refused to stop. That makes it hostile.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        That’s not how the legal term works, though. You can be the recipient of tons of hostility without its meeting the bar for a hostile work environment, because for an HWE the hostility has to be grounded in a reason prohibited by law. While I could make an argument for a gender component here, that’s a bit of a deep dive, and merely not liking Nerf guns isn’t a protected status.

        Reply
        1. ThatGirl

          Right – hence my note – it feels like hostility or complete apathy but it doesn’t meet the legal standard for Hostile Work Environment.

          Reply
          1. Alli525

            It’s “hostile,” but it doesn’t meet the threshold for a legally-recognized “hostile work environment,” which concerns protected classes.

            Reply
            1. Nea

              She’s the only woman, though, and she has made it repeatedly clear that she doesn’t want to participate. So it can be argued as physical harassment on the basis of gender.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                She’s one of two women. It’s also not clear if there are men there who don’t participate in the Nerf battles.

                I agree with you that there’s a gender dynamic here, but I don’t think you’re going to get very far legally on harassment.

                Reply
          2. fposte

            The legal standard isn’t about the dictionary definition of “hostile”; it’s about the legal definition of a “hostile work environment.” The conduct has to be based on the victim’s membership in a protected class to meet that standard. It’s legal to be an asshole to somebody all day long because you don’t like their socks. It becomes a hostile work environment if you do the same thing because they’re Jewish.

            Similarly confusing is wrongful termination–being fired for something the employer incorrectly believes about the employee isn’t a wrongful termination.

            Reply
            1. Susana

              Which reminds me of that scene from “The Office,” in which someone pooped in Michael’s office. He said it should be investigated as a hate crime. Toby said, “it’s not a hate crime, Michael.” And he said, “well I hated it!”

              Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        Since the word “hostile” seems to trigger everyone grabbing a legal dictionary, we do need to find another word that fully expresses the ugliness of this type of thing.

        Hostile is a very effective in conveying the idea that the work area is beyond harsh. Additionally, there are many other words we use here on a regular basis that have a different and limited legal meaning. Yet, we don’t worry about those words.

        Unfortunately, what is happening is that people are trying to say something is awful beyond the pale and they get a definition from a legal dictionary instead of their words being heard. It’s kind of minimizing what people are saying.
        My suggestion is we find a word to use instead of hostile, so we don’t have to keep doing this.

        Reply
        1. ThatGirl

          I was sort of purposely splitting hairs by suggesting that word, in that it might convey something for the OP. But you’re right that it seems to lead to otherwise unnecessary legalese discussion.

          Reply
  18. Yeah, no

    Today I am grateful I work for the federal government, where by no stretch of the imagination would this be considered acceptable. I’m pretty sure if someone here actually showed up with a Nerf gun they’d be tackled by security. Lawd.

    Reply
    1. Kittymommy

      Seriously. I work in local government and I cannot imagine this flying now. One of our stations did this though (quite a few years ago) and someone did get injured. The department got reamed.

      Reply
    2. MamaSarah

      Agreed. I’m in local government and this could never happen…not to mention that a sister agency actually lost half their staff to an active shooter. It would be so insenstive and disregarding to pretend to shoot each other every day. I felt a tremendous rush of sympathy for the LW – I literally would not be able to function in their work environment.

      Reply
  19. Rey

    I’m so sorry that you are dealing with this, and the way that it has made you feel isolated and excluded. If you have a competent HR department, it sounds like they are the next level that you could take this to. I think I would focus on ways that this behavior has decreased the psychological safety of working with your team because it demonstrates their lack of social sensitivity to you as their team mate (and a lack of psychological safety in turn decreases team productiveness). I would emphasize that you are not generally opposed to the Nerf guns, but that you are upset by your team’s refusal to respect your perfectly reasonable request to not be targeted by the Nerf guns (and presumably you also aren’t shooting Nerf guns at your teammate). If you are currently in therapy for anxiety (no shaming), I would bring it up with your therapist to see what their recommendations for coping skills are so that you can feel more comfortable in this situation that you’ve been forced into. It’s hard to not think that maybe this is just a phase that will peter out, but it sounds like you are at your wit’s end.

    Reply
  20. CleverGirl

    This is one of the reasons why I despise tech startups and will never join one despite being a (in my humble opinion) very talented programmer and analyst.

    Reply
    1. Ealasaid

      It’s not just startups. I’ve run into them at my current gig (a company that was founded in the late 90s) and at Intel, where they sometimes used the darts that shriek as they fly through the air. Ugh. Apparently this is a thing, like open plan offices, that’s “in” these days.

      Reply
      1. CleverGirl

        I was offered a job recently and inquired about the office situation–private office or cubicles or what (since I currently have my own office and enjoy the privacy). I was told they were currently in cubicles but were “planning to move to an open office type setup!” soon. They told me this like it was a good thing. I turned down the job.

        Reply
    2. Tau

      +1. It’s tricky because I work in a start-up-prone area and even the non-start-up jobs like to brand themselves as Cool (TM) by going “we have a startup culture!” without realising that I consider this wording a red flag.

      I’m hoping OP will manage, but honestly and pessimistically I suspect it may be time for a new job. This sort of culture thing is just so entrenched, it’s so hard to push back against without being the “buzz-kill”, and they’ve already shown they’re willing to disregard calm reason and laugh at her distress. It doesn’t bode well.

      Reply
    3. MJ

      I feel you so hard on this — and I’m writing this from the start-up I’m working for! I was insanely picky about where I applied, I will say, and won the lottery. I suspect this will be my last one, though — I’m too old for tech bro shenanigans.

      Reply
    4. Courageous cat

      Man, I love them (and work at one currently!) and would be into this kind of thing – but it’s definitely not without its downsides.

      Reply
  21. Amelia

    I’m really sorry you are working with a bunch of unselfaware jerks.

    To answer your question, yes this is worth bringing up to HR. Document everything (the behaviours, and that you’ve asked them to stop but they just respond by laughing). Present this with Allison’s comment about how it creates an unwelcome workspace for diverse people (ie people who don’t want projectiles whizzing past their heads).

    Hopefully your HR department isn’t just a couple of bros who don’t see anything wrong with what’s going on! If you don’t get any satisfaction there, I’d start looking for work elsewhere–that would suck because you otherwise like working there, but it sounds like a very stressful environment.

    Reply
  22. Dwight

    I think you’re best to move on, especially if you’re in an at-will state. If they see you as not fitting in, this young crowd will no doubt cut you soon. Unfortunately, unless you can prove you’re part of a protected class related to this, you’d be on your way out. I think you’re past the point trying to reason with them, as they’ve already shut you out.

    Reply
    1. Wannabe Disney Princess

      Yeah, this is where I’m coming down too. Not leaving because of the Nerf battles, but because of the complete apathy of her manager and coworkers. If she’s already feeling alienated, the Nerf battles stopping may not rectify that. No matter how enjoyable her work duties are, it won’t make up for a miserable work environment.

      Reply
    2. Joielle

      Agreed. Even if OP can get the manchildren to stop shooting the darts near her, they already think of her as a wet blanket, and it sounds like in this environment, that’s a problem. I doubt she’ll have as much opportunity for advancement/promotions/raises/bonuses as the dudebros, sadly.

      Reply
    3. Coffee with my creamer

      Yes, your working in a fraternity with and for boys that are not going to take into account feelings that they don’t have. So I have to agree for your own sanity look for a new job this isn’t going to get better anytime soon.

      Reply
    1. El Esteban

      This was my suggestion. Put a Swiss flag on your desk. Maybe even get some Toblerone to share with your coworkers (once, not on a regular basis.) Then you can “play” the game while not being involved.

      Reply
  23. KatieKate

    On top of looking for a new job, I would grab some cardboard and put up a wall calling yourself “Switzerland.” Literally build yourself some defenses.

    Reply
    1. KR

      I was imagining some sort of folding screen or something that OP could possibly shield themselves with. OP might also have luck with some sort of script like this,”Boss, we have talked about the Nerf guns before and I don’t think you’ve gotten the sense of how much this distresses me. Even if you don’t get it, I still feel a lot of anxiety when nerf bullets are flying near me. It breaks my concentration and makes me very unhappy at work. I don’t mind what you all do but I need a way to ensure I’m not going to be hit by indirect fire. This is really important to me, please work with me on this. ” Then propose screens, a Demilitarized zone in the office, a netting, a desk change, ect.

      Reply
  24. PettyPendergrass

    I can only speak for myself but I’d start throwing the nerf darts into the trash. If they’re the foam ones like I’m picturing, cut them up and throw them away.

    Reply
    1. EEK! The Manager

      Something similar happened to an acquaintance of mine. He and his work friend were throwing around a small inflatable football around their cubicles. A coworker asked them to stop many, many times, and they didn’t, as they thought it was funny. One day the football landed on this coworker’s desk, and in a fit of rage he grabbed it, a pair of scissors, and with a gutteral yell, stabbed the football then threw it back, deflated. At least this is how the story was told to me. I am on the coworker’s side in this one.

      Reply
      1. irene adler

        Similar situation with a mini-basketball. We shrinkwrapped the basketball then threw it into a -70 degree freezer. When the owner begged for his basketball back, we directed him to the freezer. Darn thing was all deflated. We cautioned him not to drop the ball until it returned to room temp. He obeyed. I believe it re-inflated, but was never the same.

        Reply
  25. blink14

    I would make your point less about the Nerf gun situation and more about generally being respected in the office. Tell your manager and your co-workers that you’ve asked them several times not to involve you with their game, as you are trying to concentrate on your work. Ask them to respect your space and your request.

    Is there anyone else in your office who seems uncomfortable or at least uninterested in the Nerf gun game? They might be an ally for you – again, frame it as your space is being invaded and you are asking for your work and personal space to be respected. I would not dive too deeply into why the Nerf gun specifically bothers you, because them shooting it near you is only a symptom of the larger problem of disrespect. Focusing in just on them playing with the Nerf guns could come off as petty, in their point of view.

    Unfortunately though, I don’t think this Nerf game will stop quickly unless someone above your manager puts their foot down. At my last office location, someone constantly zinged beach balloons at people’s heads. I threw it back one day and hit the person who threw it around most square in the face. The “game” stopped shortly after and fizzled out. Hopefully your co-workers will just get bored and move on to something else that might be less bothersome to you, but it sounds like your manager is enabling a culture that won’t go away unless he changes his ways.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I think making it about respect makes it harder, though, not easier. A manager can be expected to control Nerf gun battles. They can’t control respect.

      Reply
      1. pleaset

        It’s hard to control respect toward a person or “work.” But respecting space and a request is pretty straightforward – managers ask employees to do that all the time.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Huh, I wouldn’t; I’d stick to the concrete. “Respect OP’s space” is vague to me. “Don’t ever fire a Nerf gun again” is specific.

          Reply
          1. blink14

            My point is that making it specific to the Nerf gun might be seen as too uptight. It could actually make her co-workers target her out of annoyance. Or, they might stop the Nerf gun wars, but move on to another equally irritating and stress inducing game that still invades her space.

            Reply
      2. Argh!

        A manager can compel respectful behavior, but that would necessitate the manager himself understanding the importance of respect.

        Reply
  26. ItsNan

    Ask the manager about how their work comp company is going to feel when you file a claim for shot by a Nerf gun. Or how they’ll handle it when you call the police for assault. I’m not sure how much clearer you can be other than “don’t shoot things at/near me.”

    It’s all fun and games until someone files a claim or calls the police.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      You’re in an area the police respond to that kind of call? Hell in BFE they didn’t respond to a drunken dude beating the crap out of my friend’s husband because they couldn’t be bothered and it was an area known for shenanigans. Please don’t waste the police’s time.

      Reply
    2. seahorsesarecute

      If all else fails, OP could call their mothers. I’m imagining a surprise visit where they walk in and witness the gun battle and tell them all off while dragging them out by their ears. Seems like a good Saturday Night Live skit…

      Reply
    3. pleaset

      “Or how they’ll handle it when you call the police for assault.”

      This is likely to cause them to laugh at the OP. Not a good suggestion.

      Reply
      1. Another Anon

        Really? Police respond to people barbecuing, moving out of a rented AirBnB, students on college tours, and little kids selling bottled water. An actual assault may be refreshing for them.

        Reply
      2. Courageous cat

        Yes, 100%. Please let’s stop calling things like this assault, I know this can be a controversial opinion but IMO it undermines people who have truly been assaulted, and undermines their ability to be taken seriously (because you don’t want to be the person talking about having been assaulted and have the other party rolling their eyes and going ‘I wonder if she was hit by a nerf gun and that’s all this is about’)

        I don’t want to discuss further and derail, but I do want to make a note to the LW to… not do that. Unless it truly gets to the point where it feels intentional or violent.

        Reply
  27. Susana

    In all seriousness: keep a glass of water on your desk. If someone does this again, THROW the water at him, and explain that it’s a reflex reaction to being startled/assaulted at the office.

    Oh, and don’t aim for the face. Aim for making it look like he didn’t get to the men’s room in time.

    I mean – it’s all in fun, right?

    Reply
    1. Rusty Shackelford

      Or, surely water pistols are as much fun as Nerf guns, right? Join in. And yeah, I like your suggestion for where to aim. After all, you wouldn’t want to hit him in the eye, right?

      Reply
      1. Alli525

        Forget about a water PISTOL, get a friggin SuperSoaker. “Oh, I thought this was a Nerf gun fight! Does my Nerf Super Soaker FloodFire Blaster* not count?????”

        *that is a real product

        Reply
      1. Poolgirl

        I work at a dude bro place, not in tech though, and a few of us love to play these games. We’ve played War with things like little smokies, and those poppers that snap on the ground that you get Fourth of July. One year I upped the ante by, in winter time, filling a Super Soaker with salt water and putting it in the freezer before I used it. That being said, we work mostly outdoors, and only those of us who enjoy the war games participate! I would never ever continue after someone who wanted to opt out!

        Reply
  28. Didi

    Like all boys with toys, they will get bored with their Nerf guns in a few weeks and will forget about them. By all means, confiscate any bullets or guns that come near you, and tell offenders off.

    Reply
    1. anonamatic

      I love these sorts of games, but far from a boy with toy. Don’t stereotype! I’m a 60 year old lady and I’m deadly accurate at 30 ft with those giant rubber bands. I’ve been know to shoot nerf darts out of the sky. The under 35 babes don’t mess with me.

      Reply
  29. Murphy

    I would put up some kid of sign or even caution tape around my office area with a sign “NERF FREE ZONE.”

    It’s disheartening that your manager is ignoring your concerns.

    Reply
  30. zugzugzug

    Hey, fellow lady-in-tech here. Sending lots of sympathy your way! This may not be an option for you, but one thing that has helped me in the past is to deputize one of “the guys.” Is there a man you work with (obviously not your manager, who sucks) who seems more aware of diversity-in-tech issues, or just generally seems like he might be willing to learn? If so, I’d talk to him and basically say something like “hey, it f’ing sucks that I have to ask you this, but for some reason the office isn’t listening to me, so I need some backup. Next time someone shoots a nerf gun near me, could you step in and say something? Like ‘hey, Florence doesn’t like that, dude, stop shooting Nerf guns her way.'” It absolutely sucks that this tends to work, because you shouldn’t need a dude to say something you’ve already said, but sometimes it works. One thing I’ve found is that sometimes, men stay silent because they don’t want to seem like they are white-knighting you, so explicitly asking gives them the right to step forward. Of course, this is super contingent on having such a guy in your office, which is by no means a given (because tech can suuuuuuuck).

    Anyway, you have my sympathy.
    Signed, the woman who had to explain that, yes, she works in this building, no, she is not here to visit her boyfriend.

    Reply
    1. The Original K.

      “Signed, the woman who had to explain that, yes, she works in this building, no, she is not here to visit her boyfriend.”
      OH GROSS.

      Reply
    2. blackcat

      Yes, if their is a bro who has not participated in the Nerf War, recruit them to speak on your behalf.

      It sucks, but I have had great success in getting men to correct each other’s behavior where my attempts have failed.

      Reply
    3. Brittle Soup

      This! I’m a woman in tech and sometimes you just need a second person to back you up. I’m no blushing wallflower, but sometimes the guys I work with get tunnel vision. They see themselves as engaging in a spirited debate while everyone else notices that their spirited debates with women (or minorities/juniors) always involes steam rolling the conversation in a way that never happen with bros. A simple “hey dude, let her talk!” can work wonders. I’m also a fan of a trusted advocate going to talk to a problem person privately.

      (I’m also very much a fan of staying late one day and quietly tampering with the nerd gun or stealing darts secretly until there’s none left)

      Reply
        1. LurkieLoo

          Or cutting and stretching the springs so the sort of plop out instead of firing. ;) One at a time, of course, so it seems like they just wore out.

          Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        (I’m also very much a fan of staying late one day and quietly tampering with the nerd gun or stealing darts secretly until there’s none left)

        My husband spent his junior and senior years quietly stealing whole pieces of chalk from his school. He had decided he was going to try to bring the system (Catholic school) down. I don’t know how he never got caught, but he didn’t.

        He started with the newer pieces of chalk on the chalkboard, then started stealing boxes out of teacher’s desks. If the piece of chalk was half or less, he left it.

        It got so that the teachers were hoarding their chalk.

        A year after he graduated, he was cleaning his room and found the box of chalk in the back of his closet, so he walked into the school office, set it on the counter, and walked out.

        If you do this–stealing the darts–focus on the one really rude guy first, and only steal about half at a time, so he will think he’s just losing them.

        Reply
        1. SarahKay

          I’ll be over here, gasping with laughter. “It got so that the teachers were hoarding their chalk” is just priceless, and I can totally see it happening.

          Reply
    4. Qwerty

      Seconding this, though I find it incredibly frustrating. My general policy is usually “try three times and then get a guy to say it”. No matter what the topic, having a dude say it tends to increase the effectiveness.

      Reply
    5. Brett

      I’ve seen it work even better when Florence can say, “Ernesto and Gordon do not like dodging Nerf bullets and neither do I, so stop shooting the Nerf guns near us.” (And then Ernesto and Gordon can punctuate with a nod.)
      Or “I don’t like his. Stop shooting Nerf guns near me. Ernesto and Gordon agree with me too so I’m speaking for all of us.” (Again, maybe a nod or stern look at most from Ernesto and Gordon.)
      This is only because the company is so small. What the OP needs is more numbers, not more genders, standing up.

      Reply
      1. SarahKay

        Actually, while it would certainly help if there were simply more people speaking up, the OP almost certainly will get further if there are also more genders standing up. Sadly, it is very common for men to pay far more attention when a statement / complaint / comment is made by another man than if it’s made by a woman.

        Reply
        1. Brett

          It will work better for that specific statement, but to really change the long term dynamic of the workplace (where men pay just as much attention either way), it needs to be about numbers with women seen as leaders.

          Reply
  31. Peacemaker

    See if there is anyone else in the office against these nerf guns. You can certainly go to HR on your own, but there’s safety in numbers as far as the social ramifications of going. I would certainly go to HR with your concerns. Assuming you live in America, gun culture is already super toxic and with literally no space being safe from attack, I get being anxious and scared about dealing with even fake guns at work or in general. You shouldn’t have to deal with that, at all.

    Reply
  32. mercato

    Oh my god, this was my pet peeve too. I worked in a video game startup and people thought it was a great idea to shoot nerf guns for several minutes, several times every day. Since I didn’t have one, people never shot directly at me, but I hated feeling like I cannot walk through the room to get coffee without potentially getting ‘shot’ at.
    This is probably not the ideal solution, but I eventually wrote an anonymous complaint to HR and shortly after the guns were banned. There was a lot of grumbling and people tried to find the one person who ‘hates fun’ but at least I was happy :D

    Reply
  33. The Original K.

    I like the stealing/confiscating the darts idea. I think that and making my complaints known to HR are the tacks I would take until I found a new job. That may sound drastic but it sounds like the culture of the company is such that you can’t win this battle. I know what it’s like to just know you don’t fit in at a workplace, and sometimes there’s nothing to do but go.

    … Nerf gun battles. Good Lord. Does any actual work get done?

    Reply
    1. The Doctor

      +1

      File a formal complaint with HR. Keep any darts that land within an arm’s length of your desk in any direction. When Idiot Nerf Guy asks you to return the darts, ask him to first sign a statement confessing that (1) he ASSAULTED YOU with the darts, and (2) he did so MALICIOUSLY and WITHOUT PROVOCATION. Repeat for any other offenders. Then make a copy of the confessions and ask HR to add the copies to your complaint (while you secure the originals).

      Reply
      1. Nopetember

        LOL this is hilarious! Can you IMAGINE the mockery? She’d be the butt of every joke forever, and rightly so if she tried that!

        You are HILARIOUS! ROFL ROFL ROFL

        Reply
    2. Larina

      As someone who solved the Nerf Gun problem at my old office by consistently taking every dart that landed near me and hiding the, I second this. I wasn’t the only person who hated the nerf battles, and a handful of us just slowly hid away every single dart we could get our hands on. No one wants to buy more darts. They are very expensive.

      Eventually we just had empty guns and 1 dart, meaning one person could maybe shoot once, but it dramatically reduced my personal nerf suffering.

      I also gave some serious angry glares whenever I or someone not interested got hit by darts. If they’re going to be childish and not respect you, they can lose their toys like children.

      Reply
  34. nuqotw

    Drone that hovers above your desk, dodges the nerf darts, and sprinkles glitter on the nerf shooters.

    The guy sounds like this is a pathologically jerky thing with him. I am sorry to say you probably can’t fix it.

    Reply
    1. Pebbles

      I like the glitter idea, but I think it has too much potential for collateral damage. Maybe take the nerf guns and glue glitter on the handles. “Which do you want more? To shoot Nerf guns, or to remain glitter-free?” (Use an Evil look when you say this.)

      Also OP, build cardboard barriers around your cube, print out some Switzerland flags, and attach them to the barriers. This should also hide the fact that you are Googling job openings at companies you’d rather work at. And I fully endorse the many suggestions to cut up the ammo. Don’t try to hide or lock them away because then they know they still exist and can sneak into your cube to steal them back.

      Reply
  35. Enough

    I do not have anxiety, but this would still cause me issues. When I’m focused, I get startled very easily when someone walks into my area. If things were flying at me when I’m engrossed in what I’m doing, I would fear this affecting the quality of my work. THIS is something your manager SHOULD be worried about (besides the obvious potential injury at work). I’m all for having fun at work, but it has to be done in a way that doesn’t hinder those not interested or affect the actual work.

    Reply
  36. Meg

    Story of my life.

    Do you have focus rooms or private areas where you can work?

    I engage in nerf wars, but lately I’ve been busy and have been moving to an area to work where there aren’t any nerf darts flying around

    Reply
    1. EddieSherbert

      Oh, this could also be an option. I feel like the “cool” startups also have “cool” extra spaces to work. Haha. Not that you should have to move! But if it’s an option to go somewhere with a door you can shut, that might be your best option until this “phase” blows over (which I think it will).

      Reply
  37. Seesaw

    I would first put my concern in writing in an email and send to the bosses. If it doesn’t stop then when it happens again, see a doctor. Be honest at the doctor and tell the doctor these things fly past you all day you are sick from the fright of it all. The company pays for the whole thing as you are having this injury at work (mental anguish). I reckon that’s where it’ll end. At the end of the day the anxiety is a work health safety issue already you just need a bit more support to put a stop to this. The initial email is your security to show HR and your bosses that you had legitimate concerns and no one did anything.

    Reply
    1. Courageous cat

      Huh, I’m not sure if that’s how this works, particularly the company paying for you to see the doctor. I could be wrong but I don’t think this would be covered?

      Reply
  38. Rey

    I am so sorry that you have to deal with, and that it is making you feel isolated and excluded at work. It sounds like you’ve tried to have direct conversations about being Switzerland that your team has ignored (and I assume you’ve been as direct/assertive about what you need as you can comfortably manage with anxiety/social anxiety). If your HR department is competent, it sounds like that might be a good place to go next. I would frame it in terms of needing your request to be Switzerland to be respected (not ending the Nerf wars entirely), because ignoring your request demonstrates a lack of social sensitivity on your team’s part, which negatively effects the psychological safety of the team and decreases the team’s overall ability to work together. Others have mentioned just collecting any darts that head your direction and I definitely think that would be fine too. I wish we could just say that this is probably a phase that won’t last too long, but it sounds like something that is really affecting you and that you can’t keep waiting for the office culture to improve on its own.

    Reply
  39. Youth

    My workplace has (always had) a Nerf gun epidemic. I’m not entirely opposed to it, but when I’m trying to get something done, it’s annoying to suddenly be shot in the face.

    People tend to avoid shooting me on purpose. Possibly because all Nerf bullets that find their way to my desk become mine. The offenders can shamefacedly walk over and retrieve them, but I never voluntarily offer their return.

    Reply
    1. SJ

      You are much nicer than I ever would be! All the bullets that landed near me would find their way into the nearest shredder…oh oops! No sympathy, no apology.

      Reply
  40. Emily S.

    If you have someone in HR, that is the person to talk with, IMHO.
    Explain in a clear, level-headed manner that this behavior is disrupting your work in a serious way.

    Reply
  41. Audrey Puffins

    The co-worker whose darts fly past your face. I’m reading that the darts appear in your vicinity, you are startled, you ask him to please remember you’ve asked to be left out of this, he giggles, and then he runs away, all as one continuous narrative. Is this correct? So have you tried approaching him when he’s not in a Nerf war and asking him why he behaves this way? I can imagine someone lacking enough in self awareness that they might just be taking your on-the-spot protests as part of the game; it would be a lot harder to do that if you were to approach them when it wasn’t game time and really press them for an explanation as to why they keep doing it. Keeping your tone calm and professional but refusing to let up until he realises what an asshole he’s being might be enough to emphasise that you are serious and he will need to leave you out of proceedings.

    You can also get dividers for desks; worth putting in a request for your manager/HR/facilities person to get you one? These guys are preventing you from getting your work done, having dividers around your desk to keep it out of your area would help you get your work done, and realising there’s an actual financial cost to their refusal to leave you alone could help your higher-ups be more willing to defend you.

    Reply
    1. Thinking Out Loud

      Yep, as a woman in a tech startup, this is my recommendation too – when he’s not in “the fog of war,” tell him you hate having the misfires come near you and all him if he can think of a way to keep you out of it.

      Reply
  42. irene adler

    Too bad you can’t go in early some morning and render the Nerf guns inoperative.
    Or, make them disappear completely. Out of the building. No trace.

    Maybe up the ante to water pistols. But that’s probably not a good idea because it will only exacerbate things.
    Even worse: use ink instead of water.
    But that would end up with you in a whole lot of trouble.

    Fun to dream though.
    I’m sorry your situation is not being taken seriously by the manager. He can’t even figure out a way to reconfigure the office furniture so that you are completely removed from the line of fire (regardless of how poor a shot)? Or even arrange for you to have an office away from the antics ? Or establish some firm ‘no fly’ zones which include a very large buffer around your work area?

    Reply
  43. Just Me

    Redirection. It often works with toddlers, maybe it will work with your coworkers? It sounds like they want an activity that’s spontaneous, a little active, and playful. What’s something else, less violent, that would fill that need? Office-wide hide and seek? If we can find something else successful, you’ll end up looking like a fun-having team player and hopefully get what you want out of it. But, I hear you! I think you’re in a ridiculous situation, I don’t want you to feel like I don’t agree with you. I hate it when my own kids have nerf battles.

    Reply
    1. Positive Reframer

      Duck Duck Goose perhaps?
      I’d avoid Red Rover and Dodgeball but lunch time kickball could be an option.
      Nerf sword/axe duels would at least be easier to contain and probably involve less flying objects.
      A dart board in the break area? A Nerf shooting range? Something that would restrict flying objects to a small area.

      Reply
  44. Laura

    Letter from lawyer about the potential liability to the company if someone sues because of an injury. Maybe you can find one who’ll draft a letter for you for free.

    Reply
    1. AvonLady Barksdale

      I am not a bro, nor do I appreciate Nerf battles, but if it were my workplace I would take one look at that letter, laugh, and ask the OP if she wanted to resign. The nuclear option is not the way here.

      Reply
  45. Lady Ariel Ponyweather

    I think the problem is less the Nerf battle and more that they’re not respecting your ‘NO’. This is an office that’s very comfortable violating your boundaries. You’ve already said that no one stands up for you and people are avoiding you. That’s such an isolating and frightening environment, because you know that no one will help you if someone decides to escalate. Even if they stop with the gun battles, they already know they can deliberately upset you and get away with it.

    If it were me, I’d start job hunting. You can still try to salvage this job in the meantime, if you think there’s another person in the office who also doesn’t enjoy the gun battles. Perhaps approaching the boss together might help. From the sounds of your letter, no one’s interested in listening. If you feel that will remain the case, keep your head down (literally and figuratively), find another job and leave a Glassdoor review that this workplace is not safe for women.

    I hope people can give you ideas for the inevitable ‘why did you leave your last position’ question, because I’ve got nothing other than telling the truth. I’m sorry this is happening and hope it works out soon.

    Reply
  46. JS

    I think this is less about demographics in tech and more about OP wanting her space and boundaries respected since it effects her social anxiety. Even if she didn’t have anxiety, not wanting objects flying by her person isn’t an objectionable stance to have at work (where you don’t work at batting cages, golf course etc).

    I’m not sure how I would approach HR. If your office is small with 14 people there is a good chance the HR rep isn’t onsite and if they are, is OK with whats going on. If HR is offsite, while they could stop the nerf wars it would be obvious it was OP who told which would alienate her further. To be honest unless OP has made a real stink of the nerf situation (getting visibly, although justifiably, irate), it is probably other issues or culture mismatches that have some of the others avoiding her. Does OP participate in happy hours? ‘Watercooler talk’ with coworkers? Not required, but people could think its someone being standoffish and anti-fun (think Angela from the office) rather than OP’s social anxiety.

    Tech, especially small offices often have the uber relaxed culture with the work hard/play hard mentality which leaks into actual work hours since often odd hours or long hours are worked. This may just be a culture mismatch for OP. I worked in tech and teams are close and goof off with each other. It can also be very toxic as if someone joins who doesn’t fit-in, things like this do happen. I work in media now and while things are more structured and corporate (this nerf thing would NOT fly) someone with social anxiety would have a hard time as if you don’t go to work events or socialize with your coworkers you are looked at oddly. I don’t think anyone HAS to be overly chummy with coworkers or want to goof off but in some industries not doing so will alienate you.

    Reply
    1. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

      Culture mismatch?

      Ugh. The whole “if you’re not a nerf bro you don’t fit in here” is EXACTLY a problem with demographics in tech.

      Because when you keep hiring nerf bros, and pushing out the non-nerf bros, you wind up with an entire staff that is demographically similar (generally young white men).

      Reply
      1. JS

        I’m a woman of color who worked in tech, specifically video games. We had people who enjoyed video games and tech and people who did not, but overall the people who enjoyed the product we sold, engaged in it, participated in company culture, were the most successful ones. Yes this includes nerf gun fights, team happy hours where we all got too drunk, non PC 4chan/reddit talk, video game/tech industry talk, volunteering for work trips, etc. There were a lot of young white men there but I actually enjoyed the nerf-bro culture and held my own well (you can’t out troll a troll) and was respected by them.

        It was actually the women I found who were jealous as most of the women there did not game or were not into tech as an outside hobby so I often found myself getting opportunities/perks over other women who had been in the same role longer than me just because others liked how much more involved in the culture I was over them. I ended up leaving not because of the men but too many conflicts with a particular woman I worked with who was too jealous and ended up making the job toxic for me.

        Reply
        1. Mad Baggins

          But isn’t it a problem if people who enjoy the company’s product/engage in the culture surrounding the product are rewarded/promoted rather than people who are just good at their jobs? Do you want an accounting team who is really good at accounting, or do you want them to enjoy video games? I doubt Nike is staffed solely by athletes who get promotions based on their enthusiasm for CrossFit.

          Reply
          1. JS

            At a company like Amazon or Apple, it doesn’t matter if you arent the biggest Amazon spender or you like Android products as much, especially in an operations role. However people who are enthusiastic about the product in the interview and knowledgeable about the company are going to be looked at more favorably then those who don’t no matter if you are even the janitor. Although at one major gaming company I interviewed for literally -everyone- is a fan of the company and their games, everyone. The company is HIGHLY successful and people trip over themselves trying to get jobs there since they are big on inclusion policies and perks.

            At small tech startups where you have less than 30 people its important to find people who not only can do a good job but fit in with the culture as well. That doesn’t mean you only hire white guys, plenty of races and women would enjoy a nerf gun fight.

            Reply
      2. LadyPhoenix

        This this thiiiiiiisssss.

        Crap like this turns businesses into fraternity groups and either push out or vicimize people who don’t fit in. Namely, women, LGBT, people of color, older people, etc.

        Reply
        1. JS

          It’s one thing to not fit in and its another to be victimized because you don’t fit in. In small environments people should make an effort to be apart of the established culture. If they are excluded from it and targeted that’s a completely different issue than them not fitting in and just not liking to work in a certain culture. Saying this as WOC.

          Reply
          1. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

            Thanks for your perspective, JS.

            I would tend to disagree that people should HAVE to “assimilate” in order to fit in, but I do understand that as a (white) woman in tech it’s certainly HELPED me fit in because I can hold my liquor, talk sports, etc. and I’ve definitely used that to my advantage.

            Sometimes I have wished I didn’t have to feel obligated to go to the bar after work, or join the office fantasy football league. But the people who don’t get left out, so I do it — often kind of grudgingly. I guess my struggle here is, it doesn’t feel fair to non-dude bros to *only* have dude bro team bonding activities, if those dude-bro activities are not work related. Gaming, I totally get — if you work in gaming, you should probably have an interest. But the other stuff? I dunno.

            Reply
            1. Tardigrade

              Like I doubt many dudebros, are out there wishing they could fit in and identify with the culture of make over wars or whatever.

              Reply
            2. JS

              I can see your perspective as well. I made a comment above that it does suck when you like a company, your work, your pay well but there is just certain aspects of the culture that make it unbearable or hard for you to be fully satisfied (ones that are actually culture and not bordering or entering any kind of discrimination violation).

              However, I do see the value as a lot of jobs in tech are high-stress/high-goals/fast-moving, to have a culture that allows you to blow off steam at work. There’s a similar but more structured culture in media and in advertising as well. I think it has to do with industries that are relationship/ networking dependent for sales, investors, clients, etc. The perks, easy going culture and tight-knit culture is what keep people sane in an otherwise too stressful job, especially in startups where company could go belly up.

              This is even so at the larger established tech companies, teams or divisions can be cliquey and even outright toxic and the culture is dependent on your team. I do think though no matter what the industry or culture people who do assimilate, socialize the most and fit in the best are going to have the most advantages.

              Reply
              1. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

                Yup yup. I think we are on the same page here. God knows that I have worked in enough “high test” organizations where the beer and ping pong were the only things keeping me from killing everyone.

                I feel like the (unrealistic?!) answer could be to hire *enough* people that enjoy non-bro de-stressing activities (knitting group? yoga fans?) to provide enough variety to attract a more diverse workforce. But… it’s kind of a chicken and the egg scenario, right?

                Reply
              2. mrs__peel

                Pretty much all jobs have their stressful aspects, and lots of fields have fast-moving, high-stress workplaces (e.g., in law, medicine, finance, etc.) It’s still generally considered unprofessional there to blow off steam by shooting your coworkers with projectiles.

                Reply
                1. Specialk9

                  I’m just imagining a bunch of gowned and masked surgeons running around a hospital with Nerf guns.

                2. JS

                  Yes but in law, medicine and finance you have job security 99.9% of the time. Those are constant, stable and highly regulated industries. Tech is different, especially start up, there is no guarantee your company will make it and little to no job security, so they want to make it worth your while culture wise.

  47. Delta Delta

    My first thought is to see if you can move your desk to an area that is less likely to be in the Nerf combat zone. That probably won’t fix things entirely, but would at least get you out of the immediate crossfire. I think in the conversation with the boss about moving (I’m making some assumptions that you can move and also that you’d probably have to talk about the move), you can say that you feel you have no choice but to do this because you really need to be away from the Nerf darts. If he continues to act like he doesn’t get it, continue to be firm and stress that you need to be away from that scene.

    And feel out whether others in the office also don’t like the nerf darts. I’d guess you’re not the only one but people go along with it because it’s easier to get along than make a deal of things. Maybe y’all can band together and make part of the office a No-Nerf zone.

    Reply
  48. LarsTheRealGirl

    1) Take the newly promoted dude-bro aside at a not-shooting point and say “I know you think it’s funny, but I need the nerf gun to not – even accidentally – go anywhere near me again. It’s exacerbating a medical issue and it needs to be done before I have to go to HR.”

    2) If there is HR, you are way past needing to go to them. Go to them. Say that it’s causing you substantial anxiety and you need it to stop.

    2.5) You manager is useless, avoid him in this.

    So this may or may not be true for you, but in my experience as one of the few females in tech startuppy environments, women tend to be relegated into this “mom” role that 20-something dude-bros can’t help but need. It’s absolutely infuriating and sexist and gross BUT, in situations like this, you can use it to your benefit, because you can put on your best “adult face and voice” and sternly tell them to stop, and they may actually listen. Be the lame mom ruining everyone’s fun. It may ruin your position as “one of the guys” but you’re already not going to fit into that, so you may as well use it to your benefit.

    Reply
    1. Brownie

      Yup. A buzzkill reputation with hard-enforced boundaries is something I’ve had to deploy in the past to stop dude-bro behavior. What I never expected out of that reputation was becoming some kind of elevated ideal to all the other women in the group, most of whom came up to me at one point or another and told me they wanted to be me because then their boundaries would actually be respected and the dude-bros would listen to them. It’s a lot of work to be the buzzkill, but I’ve found in some situations it’s worth it if it means my (and other’s) boundaries get respected.

      Reply
      1. LarsTheRealGirl

        Yup! And as a bonus, being the adult in the room can line you up for promotions much more quickly than being one of the boys. That’s not always true, but in start up environments that are growing, people really quickly realize they need an adult in the room.

        Reply
        1. Brownie

          Doesn’t even need to be startups. I’ve seen it in clubs in college, at gaming groups, at conventions, even sports. It’s this weird social phenomenon where if the instigator thinks it’s all in fun then boundaries either don’t exist or can be ignored in the name of fun. Which is patently untrue, but it’s still a core belief of a lot of people, mainly those who have a tendency towards dude-bro-ness.

          And having typed that out now I’m re-evaluating this whole Nerf War issue where boundaries are ignored in the name of fun with office decorations and all the other “fun” office events people are forced to be part of despite their saying “No.” Nerf wars are only the tip of the boundary-ignoring iceberg looming for the OP.

          Reply
  49. Hillary

    One of my coworkers wore a hockey helmet for a week. The games involving throwing stuff or shooting all stopped.

    If you have one, going to HR is also a reasonable option. If you were hired by someone other than your manager or if you have decent rapport they could also be an option.

    Talking to someone about this is probably going to be anxiety-inducing (it would be for me), but two things might help to keep in mind. 1) you’re in the right. this is not reasonable, and this is an early symptom of how to create a toxic culture (the lack of respect for your preferences, not the nerf guns). 2) think about what you want and what your alternatives are before you start the conversation. Your manager doesn’t sound like a leader. Would you ask to WFH? Would you negotiate an exit? if you plan out the conversation it’ll be easier for you.

    Reply
  50. Annastasia von Beaverhausen

    Get a Super-Soaker and use it liberally whenever one of these bozos doesn’t respect your space. Aim for the crotch.

    Seriously though, I would start looking for a different job. Even if you like the work you do, having coworkers this ridiculous sounds exhausting.

    Reply
    1. Polymer Phil

      I like the Super Soaker idea a lot. I bet if you “accidentally” get a computer, printer, copier, etc wet and short it out, that should get your bosses to pay attention and put a stop to this.

      I have a very hard time taking tech startups seriously. It seems like they all try too hard to make a show of being a “fun” place to work with Nerf guns, foozeball tables, arcade games, etc.

      Reply
  51. Number One

    Ask HR if they can set up a specific nerf arena where the guns can be limited to. Or else a nerf free zone for people who need to concentrate on work. Or ask for a cubicle partition that can block you from being in the midst of it.

    I like the nerf arena best bc it is least likely to result in feeling further socially isolated at work.

    Reply
  52. OlympiasEpiriot

    I would take a selection of every aggressive potential response listed here and do all of them at the same time, plus tell these F*^3ers they are out of their ever loving minds AND probably put some special malware on all of their computers that randomly locks their computer screen with a graphic of something threatening for about 3 minutes. I possibly would put in enough work to figure out what would INDIVIDUALLY be a deep ear and put that onto the screen.

    Short story: one site I was on many years ago got several copies of a plumbing supply house’s calendar with a soft-core porn photo on each month of a (female) cutie done up in scanty “construction” garb. These were put up all over the field office trailers, including at my desk. I am a woman. But, I suspect that even if I were a man, I wouldn’t want to be looking at that at work. There were a LOT of problems with this site and its management, this kinda baloney was — believe it or not — the least of it; I was far more worried about things being built properly and Code being followed. So, it was a low priority, although it still stuck in my craw.

    Eventually, one day I came in very early after having done some shopping at a couple of junk shops rooting through 1970’s gay porn mags. I had several pictures ready, cut to-size and all, and glued them on ALL THE CALENDARS on months following the one we were in so that it wouldn’t be noticed immediately. Lots of 1970’s hair…not just on the head and face.

    As luck would have it, my tasks shifted a little and I (unfortunately, *sob*) was not present when the calendar page was turned. I got a call from the only other woman on that site, another consultant, who just said when I answered the phone “It was you, wasn’t it?!” She was suppressing laughter, to say the least.

    I realize that this kind of direct action may not be for you; but, ime, it is the only kind that gets through to some people. They are a$$holes and have no empathy.

    Reply
      1. Specialk9

        Planting malware is such a bogglingly bad idea. Though just taping up a picture would be fine.

        Hysterical calendar though.

        Reply
    1. Hillary

      I absolutely love this answer.

      You might enjoy a calendar we get sent most years – one of our vendors does boudoir-style pictures. With semi trucks photoshopped where the people would be. It’s delightful.

      Reply
  53. Tuxedo Cat

    Are the higher up managers more receptive to this kind of thing? If so, I’d report it. Besides your own issues (which are fair), it seems like someone is going to get hurt or something will get damaged.

    Reply
  54. Chie

    We have Nerf guns in our office, which are rarely used… However, when they are, they are fired at targets rather than other people. I wonder if you set up a target (and, if you feel comfortable, you can even put a picture of your face on it or something) and have them fire at that rather than you? In general, having targets around the office is safer and more fun… And you can have accuracy contests!

    Reply
    1. EddieSherbert

      I think targets are a great idea! I’d personally avoid pictures of anyone though (myself included), but I like the spirit of that offer :)

      Reply
      1. Chie

        One alternative is actually fictional characters… We had the boss from Office Space and a few particularly despised Game of Thrones characters up as targets at one point.

        Reply
        1. Rinn

          I would strongly recommend not decorating your office with pictures of actual dictators, even if they are meant to be targets. As a general rule, Hitler photographs do not belong in the workplace.

          Reply
          1. Argh!

            Those were off-the-top-of-my-head suggestions. If I were more knowledgeable about bro culture, I would have suggested comic book movie characters.

            Reply
  55. irritable vowel

    I’m honestly surprised at how many people here work in places that do this. I have never even heard of nerf guns, and can’t imagine why they would be tolerated at any workplace. It sounds like the kind of thing that you’d use at the beach (and annoy everyone around you). Aren’t you supposed to be…working…at work?

    Reply
    1. RedBlueGreenYellow

      It is such a thing.

      At my last (tech-industry, medium-sized business) workplace, my team didn’t participate, but every member of the team next door had a Nerf gun. At my current (tech-industry, large business) workplace, most of the Nerf guns (and darts) were bought and distributed at the authorization of the head of the division. Some people bought their own upgrades, but the Nerf wars are definitely encouraged by management. Fortunately, people who declare themselves Switzerland are respected, but the occasional misfire happens, and there’s no escaping the noise.

      Reply
  56. LQ

    “You kids clearly have nothing in your lives other than work, so you can play nerf wars all you want after the rest of us get our work done, feel free to stay at the office until 3 am practicing your horseshit aim, but I’d like to get my work done and leave at some point.”

    Ok that likely wouldn’t work, but I’d definitely (verbally because apparently you have to clarify that) attack the aim of anyone who accidentally shot near me (with cursing you better believe) and take those darts. I might even set up a spike to spear them on. Really I’d want to light one on fire and set off the sprinklers, but that seems like a real bridge burner, so I wouldn’t actually do it.

    Reply
  57. John Rohan

    Wow, from the tone of the comments here, one would think this was an issue of a serial sexual harasser at work. It’s nerf gun, a children’s toy, and can’t hurt you even if you tried. Sure it’s annoying, but it’s not the crisis of the century (I wish my office was this fun).

    If it really bothers you so much, then escalate your complaint to your manager’s supervisor, and failing that, to HR. Then most likely, the nerf guns will be banned, and you will be seen as the “mom” who killed fun in the office. I’m not saying that’s a fair description, I’m just pointing out the likely outcome.

    Reply
    1. tink

      You can literally shoot someone in the eye and cause them to lose vision with nerf guns, and you don’t even have to be trying that hard. (This article is from last year: https://www.bbc.com/news/health-41307816) So yeah, they’re “children’s toys” but there’s an actual risk of injury, it’s disruptive, and it’s causing OP anxiety. There are other ways to have nerf/marshmallow/whatever battles in the workplace (dedicated time/space, offering OP some alternatives, etc.) that aren’t alienating a single person while they’re trying to get work done and laughing at her when she has visible startle reactions to the nerf darts she’s already said she doesn’t want being shot near her.

      It’s not sexual harassment, but she’s asked something simple (don’t shoot these at or near me, because it makes me anxious and messes up my concentration), and her coworkers aren’t respecting that. Worse, one of them literally laughs when she has a reaction. That’s exclusionary and its own form of harassment, imo.

      Reply
      1. John Rohan

        In other words “you’ll shoot your eye out!” (reference to “Christmas Story”).

        OK, EVERYTHING has a risk of injury, even opening a door, driving your car, or the office playing volleyball on a team building day. You can wrap people in bubble wrap – or you can take common sense approaches to safety. In the link you gave me, the woman was shot in the eye directly close up, not from across the office space. And eventually she was fine.

        Reply
          1. Specialk9

            He also misses the point that when a whole passle of women point to a specific behavior as troubling, and connect it to well documented gender-discrimination trends in an industry, then maybe men should listen. They won’t, of course, because they have power. But they should.

            Reply
        1. SarahKay

          You know, it’s funny, but for some reason the HSE team on my site don’t seem to think that “eventually she was fine” is actually where they want to draw line at keeping people safe. So unreasonable of them, right? /s

          Reply
        2. Green Cheese Moon

          So what’s the common sense safety approach to nerf wars in the workplace? And who is supposed to implement it?

          Reply
        3. mrs__peel

          Unless you work with children or at an actual toy company, there is absolutely zero reason for grown adults to be playing with toys in the workplace on company time.

          Reply
          1. Jamm

            And if you actually work with children you’re still supposed to act like an adult even while playing with them, not be one of them.

            Reply
    2. Observer

      It actually IS a matter of harassment.

      For one thing, you are factually incorrect – it is absolutely possible to get injured with a nerf gun. For another, if someone does not want to have stuff thrown at them, even “in fun”, that’s a totally reasonable request and should be honored. To repeatedly deliberately continue IS bullying.

      Reply
    3. The Ginger Ginger

      It IS hurting her. Just because it’s not bruises doesn’t mean there’s no hurt. And if physical hurt is the only thing you care about, go read the comment about a coworker nearly losing an eye to a nerf gun. And while there’s no sexual harassment here, there is nearly a 100% chance that gender is playing a role in this situation. Safety aside, the basic issue here is that the OP’s coworkers do not respect her, and are behaving unprofessionally (not by playing with nerf toys, but by not respecting a colleagues wishes to not participate) which is a serious issue. These guys aren’t children, and work “fun” needs to be fun for everyone or it needs to not be happening in shared spaces.

      Reply
    4. Bow Ties Are Cool

      You have also (inadvertently?) pointed out the sexism inherent in the situation.

      And it’s not about getting hurt–it’s about being startled, about having anxiety spiked by something that is NOT NECESSARY, and about being distracted from her job, which she is there to do.

      Reply
      1. Snickerdoodle

        Yeah, I noticed a LOT of uses of the word “bitch” in the comments (in the context of “don’t want to be seen as a bitch.”) If the letter writer were male and laying down the law of appropriate treatment, I doubt there would be this level of dismissal.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          That really was kind of startling.

          Seriously, I’d love to see a statistical analysis of this comment board’s use of the word “bitch” as compared to say 10 other letters.

          Reply
      2. Argh!

        Just being subjected to annoying behavior after asking it to stop is enough.

        I don’t get how men can be such thoughtless jerks that they can’t imagine not everyone is a mirror image of himself and might think differently — and justifiably — about a situation.

        Reply
    5. Essess

      Nerf bullets at velocity in the face can cause serious damage. These frequently aren’t just a simple soft nerf pistol with a little foam sponge. They make nerf automatic weapons that shoot darts with extreme force. I have been forced to dive under a desk when there was a sudden slamming of 10 darts against the wall less than 4 inches from my head.Also, they knock over coffee and water cups near computers, causing damage to electrical equipment and/or documents on the desk.

      Reply
    6. The Original K.

      Someone upthread said that one of her husband’s colleagues quite literally nearly lost an eye to a Nerf gun – had to be hospitalized but his vision was saved. They can absolutely hurt you.

      Reply
    7. The Doctor

      It’s unwanted and therefore NOT FUN for OP. It’s ASSAULT on OP’s person. It’s clearly a Hostile Work Environment.

      Reply
    8. Murphy

      For reasonable adults though, a simple, “Hey, please don’t do that around me” should do the trick. OP’s not the problem here.

      Reply
      1. Tardigrade

        Hah! But yeah, this sounds like someone who hasn’t played with enough Nerf guns to have been shot in the eye (and also lips) by one.

        Reply
      2. Snickerdoodle

        LOL!

        I HATE “Geez, it’s not such a big deal!!” comments, especially when the letter writer has mentioned anxiety or some other issue. If it’s not a big deal, then it won’t be a big deal to just stop.

        Reply
    9. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome (formerly BAL or BLA(h)...)

      If you read through the rest of the comments, you will see that one of those “children’s toys” took out the eye of someone at another office. This is most definitely a liability issue for the company and should be stopped.

      Reply
      1. Snickerdoodle

        Yeah, I kept thinking “children’s toys for man children” because that’s what this Peter Griffin of a boss sounds like. I could never get any work done with that going on around me; participation or lack thereof doesn’t matter when you consider that no work is getting done either way.

        Reply
        1. Jamm

          Yeah, since when is it normal and acceptable for grown-ups to act like kids? If they’re that immature then they can enjoy their childish hobbies outside of work.

          Reply
    10. LadyPhoenix

      Yes, please mansplian how this affront of the OP’s boundaries is totally not a building sexual harassment case… like you always do when there is ansexual harassment case.

      Reply
    11. Courageous cat

      I agree that personally it’s not that big of a deal to me, and I would find it fun, but I think we have to respect the fact that everyone is different and going to work entails working with people who won’t feel the same way about stuff that you do.

      Reply
  58. Magenta Sky

    The problem isn’t nerf guns. The problems is immaturity. Getting rid of nerf guns won’t solve the problem, it will shift it to another form, possibly even more annoying, like sneaking up on people or putting tacks on people’s chairs.

    Realistically, the only options are to wait for the dude-bros to grow up (which will likely never happen) or find a job working with adults.

    Reply
    1. Yojo

      There are tolerable ways for the immature to behave immaturely at work, though. They could get a cotton candy machine for the kitchen. They could all make bitmojis of themselves to use in internal correspondence. I had a job in college where the game was to try to infect each other with the worst earworm songs we could think of.

      There’s childish stuff out there that isn’t going to startle, harm or (horribly) aggravate people.

      Reply
  59. coffeeeeee

    For the people suggesting she talk to HR, in a normal work environment I would say, sure sounds like a great idea.

    But I’ve worked at tech startups before. If her boss doesn’t care, neither will HR. They will see her as a bad cultural fit and may suggest she look for work elsewhere (which she should indeed probably do).

    Reply
    1. Lynn Whitehat

      I dunno. Nerf battles waged for *years* at my current company before everyone finally got tired of the stupid things.

      Reply
  60. Justme, The OG

    I really have no advice for the reader that does not include multiple profanities launched towards her coworkers.

    Reply
  61. AnotherAlison

    Who picks up the darts? Because as a mom of 21-yr old and 14-yr old boys, I spent like 15 years of my life picking up these darts that were EVERYWHERE. My kids even had automatic NERF guns that shoot like a million darts in a few seconds, and high powered ones that left holes in the wall (once). Eventually, I just started putting darts left on the floor in the trash. If I were the OP, I’d definitely throw away any darts that landed near me. Maybe you can fight back by leaving random toys on the floor for them to trip over. IDK, fight 10-yr old behavior with 3-yr old behavior? (I realize these are unhelpful suggestions.)

    Reply
  62. Brownie

    Use anger. Visible anger. Don’t try to be diplomatic, don’t try to sugar-coat or use softening language, they’ve proven they’ll either not understand or they don’t care. The only way to punch through that is to be utterly direct. “DUDE. I’ve asked you repeatedly to leave me out of this and you haven’t. What is your PROBLEM?” Figure out a phrase that explicitly makes it all about his refusal to respect your no-Nerf request, something that makes it clear to anyone listening that it’s him behaving badly, practice it under your breath at home and at work until it’s reflex, then deploy that in a loud voice every time he crosses your no-Nerf boundary. And if the behavior doesn’t stop then yes, HR time if you have an HR, otherwise go up a level above your manager and ask for advice on how to communicate to your manager that this is a behavioral issue which is affecting your ability to work.

    Reply
  63. Dean J

    I work in tech. I’m a 40y old male. I worked in a Nerf office for 3-4 years awhile back.

    The VP was solid; he basically suggested that at two very specific times of day (when the train went by), we all got to shoot each other, but were required to do our damndest to avoid people like you who actively opted out. I’m terrified of getting knocked in the damn eye by surprise, so both of those restrictions were awesome; both the “people tried to avoid me”, and the “I know when this goes off”.

    That said, if one of the leads was laughing at a request I made seriously, I’d setup a 1:1 with them and ask them what I thought about it. I’d expect the outcome of this meeting was “I’m finding a new job”. If you’ve got any depth of other options locally, holy whoa, it seems like the culture of your current org is broken.

    FWIW, like I said, I’m male… but I optimize for working in companies where there are more women in engineering, as it’s a *massive* signal the job is just better. Teams without women, well, there’s reasons for that, and most of those reasons don’t correlate with good things.

    Reply
    1. irene adler

      “I optimize for working in companies where there are more women in engineering, as it’s a *massive* signal the job is just better. ”

      Interesting observation.
      Thank you.

      Reply
    2. LarsTheRealGirl

      “Teams without women, well, there’s reasons for that, and most of those reasons don’t correlate with good things.”

      That’s the best thing I’ve read all day.

      Reply
  64. Indie

    -Definitely start job hunting.
    -Put up barriers. If you have to make a floor to ceiling net, do it. Bonus points if you can make anything hitting the net fall into a confiscation bin. Make a ‘failed target’ list of those people whose bullets strayed and how many strays you’ve collected off them.
    -Send out an email that you’ll be leaving the office whenever NERF battles rage as you can’t get any work done. “If you want a dedicated NERF battle hour, I’ll be out of the office at (lunch time) when you will be free to practice your aim a bit better (I’m looking at you, stray record breaker).” Make the tone friendly as though OF COURSE they don’t expect you to just sit there watching stuff whizz past when you’re not a Nerf player.
    -Say you’ll be reachable via (email/cell) and you can be found in person working at the corner coffee shop for approx half an hour. ‘Feel free to let the bullets fly while I’m gone’
    – Bring back donuts or something occasionally and ask how the battle went in your absence.
    – The minute a nerf bullet flies, even if it’s only one, get up and go to your half hour refuge.
    – If you get back and it’s still raging, consider using a conference room or asking your boss if you can work from home. Or just heel turn and go back to the coffee shop.

    Reply
      1. mrs__peel

        Yep.

        As an aside, I’m doing obedience training with my dog right now, and the fact that women in the workplace have to expend the time and effort to do this kind of crap with their *fully adult, human* male colleagues (to manage their infantile behavior and lack of boundaries) just sends me into a RAGE.

        Reply
    1. Indie

      You would only reward good behaviour, such as they’ve started to respect the NERF hour you requested, but yeah the woman-brings-food dynamic would be an issue if none of the guys ever brought in treats. Suppose it’s possible in this workplace.

      Reply
    2. Nanani

      Dear god, NO.

      She’s not their mom or babysitter, she’s not a beleaguered girlfriend, she’s a colleague trying to get some work done.

      Reply
  65. MuseumChick

    OMG. I’m sorry OP. Do you have an HR department? If yes, try going through them. If not, I think you need to sit down with your boss one more time, script out what you will say in your head, practice saying it in a clear, direct, calm manner. “We have discussed this in the past, the situation is not getting any better. I need to be very clear about this. I do not want any nerf gun fights near me. It is distracting me from my job and making me uncomfortable. Going forward how will we ensure there are no nerf gun fights near me?” If you get push back it’s a great time for the “What I’m hearing” statement. “What I am hearing you say is I have to endure being uncomfortable and distracted. Is that correct? That is simple not an option for me. How will this be resolved?”

    Additionally, as others have said, call it out in the moment.

    Reply
  66. Liz

    I would ask to sit down with the manager one-on-one to talk this through. Say something like, “I have told you that the Nerf gun battles are making me uncomfortable and anxious and interfering with my ability to get work done. I have tried asking people not to involve me and that is not working. Let’s come up with another solution that will make sure my ability to work is not disrupted by this.”

    Maybe he will think you a buzzkill. Fine. Who cares? You are here to get work done, not be the most popular and fun person in the office. Keep centering the conversation around the impact on your work.

    If he says it’s all in good fun: “Well, it isn’t fun for me, and it’s interfering with my ability to concentrate on my work. So let’s come up with a solution for this.”

    He is going to look (and hopefully feel) more and more unreasonable the more you stay focused on getting work done and he stays focused on enabling Nerf gun battles.

    Reply
  67. Persimmons

    I have many suggestions but they range from “sketch by Key & Peele” to “episode of American Horror Story” and I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for.

    Reply
  68. CupcakeCounter

    Between my husband and son I have essentially 2 kids with about the same “dumb ass” brain your coworkers have (which in my personal opinion makes me a expert). So I have a no Nerf/mini hockey puck/ball/whatever rule for my kitchen. Anything that ends up there ends up where ever I deem it appropriate if I get to it before they do. I currently have an apron pocket full of Nerf darts, 3 mini pucks in the liquor cabinet, and at one point I did throw one of the guns off the back deck into the woods. Since it was the good one they immediately went to go find it and it took them a good long while so I got peace.
    I would say if it lands in your area rip the dart to pieces. When they “what the fuck” you, calmly as you can remind them that you have REPEATEDLY told them that is causes an issue for you and keep it away.

    Seriously.

    Also speak to HR and look for a job because they are going to pout like 2 year old and whine about you being a meanie head, fuddy duddy just because you don’t like being shot in the face.

    Reply
  69. Audrey Puffins

    Also what would be really great, if you could pull it off, would be to let your 23 year old manager know that there’s this really great website he might find interesting, a blog run by a manager who invites the public to ask her all sorts of questions related to the workplace that might not have obvious solutions, that really helps people become the best managers they can possibly be. Yeah, it might be a little too obvious that you’re the writer of this particular letter to risk it, but it really could help him refine his managerial style, and with all the back up you’re getting in the comments, he might even finally see the error of his ways.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      If only bros responded to that.

      They will use this all as more ammo and keep doing their thing. They don’t want her there or respect her or anyone who isn’t their bro.

      Reply
        1. Argh!

          They want her to do her work and put up and shut up.

          They want her there in that sense, but they don’t want her personality there.

          Reply
  70. FairfieldJen

    My ex is a tech bro who introduced Nerf battles into his office. After some complaints, they shifted the battles to one lunch hour a month in a restricted space with plenty of notice to everyone. Anyone who didn’t want to participate could go out for lunch or take a walk while the bros battled it out. It was a good compromise for everyone.

    Reply
  71. peachie

    This is not a funny situation, but I have to say the title did make me laugh.

    Other than “get a new job,” I can think of two things:

    * Propose that, if the office insists on Nerf battles, they have a specific start and end time and anyone who is not interested can leave (and not have to use it as their lunch, etc.).

    * Talk to your manager or HR again and frame it as “I’m not just saying this for my own sake–guns are a hot-button issue. I know you may find these concerns “silly,” but in a time where gun violence and mass shootings are regularly in the news, it’s distasteful to assume everyone will be okay with this.” (I’m speaking from a U.S. perspective, but even in a country that may not have our particular gun issues, guns can still be a huge mental/emotional trigger for people.)

    Reply
    1. Anonymouse

      I agree with you regarding the workplace violence. My employer requires active shooter training every year, and no weapons of any kind are allowed on the grounds. Having Nerf guns at work seems hypocritical…and rather unprofessional.

      Reply
  72. Libby

    Make a dart jail. Any darts you find or are shot your way are put in jail. Write Civil War style letters as if the darts wrote them, longing to be back to their true loves.

    Reply
    1. tink

      My darling Rebelle Crossbow, how I long to feel the firm embrace of your string as you launch me across the room again! Your aim was not true last time, and now I’m stuck behind enemy lines, watching as you use those inferior green arrows instead of me, the pride and joy of your collection. Please perfect your aim with the inferior arrows and negotiate my surrender.

      Love, awesome red and yellow arrow

      Reply
    2. Rusty Shackelford

      “Our colors fade as the days pass. I fear you will not recognize me when we meet again, as I’m no longer the bright neon green you fell in love with.”

      – Mary Chesnut

      Reply
      1. Hapless Bureaucrat

        Thank you. I heard this in Ken Burns Civil War mode, with plaintive fiddle accompaniment and panning on a sepia-toned photo of a studio portrait of a nerf dart.

        Reply
  73. Pickwick

    Personally, I’d make the “hey, no nerfing me” part of their game.

    Hang up Swiss flags around your desk, declare your desk area as a neutral, armament-free zone. As part of this, your peace-promoting policies include confiscating any and all ammunition which falls within your zone. And then do that – keep the nerf bullets until the end of the day/week.

    This would hopefully get two points across – a) I don’t want to be shot at with nerf guns and I’m serious about it, and also b) I’m still happy to participate in the laid-back office culture. I just don’t like the nerf guns.

    Obviously – this is just me. If you want to opt-out of the nerf-gun culture altogether, that might be a trickier issue to tackle, particularly in a small company in an industry with a reputation for such hijinks. In that case, if stating your boundaries very firmly with your boss doesn’t work, I’d be inclined to look elsewhere. It sucks, but I don’t think there’s much traction in trying to change that sort of culture when the higher ups are obviously fond of it (and likely see it as a perk/selling point for potential new hires).

    Reply
    1. Serin

      Interfering with the Nerf Red Cross is a violation of the Nerf Geneva Conventions, so depending on the physical layout of the office, it might be possible to brand her desk with signs of Nerf Neutrality.

      Of course, this depends on whether there’s at least one ally among the bros who would be willing to convene a tribunal to put his colleagues on trial for Nerf War Crimes.

      Reply
  74. Owlette

    My husband is a software engineer and he has bought a Nerf gun specifically for work. I wish I was joking.

    But from my experience with my husband and his friends, they go through game phases. Is there a nerdy game you like to play that could distract them from the Nerf battles? My husband brought his WiiU into work and they play Smash Bros all the time. A few of my husband’s coworkers are on a Magic the Gathering kick. They haven’t had Nerf battles in months. Try to see if you can push the bro culture in a different direction that way.

    Reply
  75. Slartibartfast

    What’s the general consensus on saying “I am tired of being shot with Nerf guns” as an answer to why you left/want to leave your current position?
    Seriously, I wouldn’t be able to take that. And I have taken a LOT.

    Reply
  76. Greg NY

    I personally don’t feel that anyone should feel compelled to do something at work that isn’t at least semi-directly involved with the organization’s mission. Retreats, parties (birthday or holiday), company sports leagues (e.g. softball), or recreational activities (e.g. a pool table in the company’s employee or break area) are examples of things that should be optional, not required, even implicitly (participating employees having a bad view of nonparticipating ones).

    But this one rises to a different level of annoying, because of getting hit by shots. This is like the poorly behaved dog from earlier this morning that comes up and gets into people’s faces. I won’t even use the word “unprofessional” because it is often overused, but I think it lacks in common human behavior. Even in purely social settings, no one should be subjected to someone’s dog getting into their face or Nerf shots hitting them. In the case of the Nerf shots, it’s almost juvenile.

    Reply
    1. SavannahMiranda

      Not to mention it may fall, strictly speaking, into a form of assault.

      Getting hit with flying objects one doesn’t consent to, and has spoken against, sounds too close to assault for comfort.

      Assault puts it in a completely different territory than pool tables and retreats. I agree those are eye rolling at best and maddeningly time wasting at worst. But yeah, assault is a different country, one no one wants to visit.

      And no one should be judged for their ‘playfulness’ or ‘sense of humor’ the way these bros are because they choose not to be assaulted.

      Reply
  77. Bea

    They’d all start finding their guns in the dumpster if this was me. I grew up with an older brother and his idiot friends. They’re lucky it’s just trashing their toys and not the DDT I hit the dude my brother had over once who got into my space as a kid.

    Reply
  78. Icontroltherobots

    Oh OP I’m so sorry you have to deal with this. I’ll make some suggestions. I’ve dealt with various levels of douche-bro in my life. A term I find most guys really don’t like being called.

    Culture Fit –
    You are not a culture fit. You are never going to be a culture fit. You may be THE best at your job but you don’t want to play their insane game. Your boss has made it clear that he wants this culture. I’d start planning your escape.

    Making a bad thing bearable –
    1) Steal the darts.
    2) Try to break the guns, I’ve found super glue in the wrong place will destroy many a beloved unwanted children’s toy.
    3) Buy some caution tape, make a no fire zone
    4) Have one last talk with your boss, bring up the “you’ll shoot your eye out” stuff mentioned above, and ask him point blank if he really wants to be “that guy”.

    I seriously doubt anything you say or do at this point will work. Hopefully their interest will wane and you can go back to life-as-normal.

    Reply
      1. Icontroltherobots

        Yes, this has saved me when well meaning grandparents/aunts/uncles/friends but the CUUUUUUTEST noisy toy. Can’t fix the trigger oh well!

        Reply
    1. Snickerdoodle

      I’ve absolutely broken stuff at previous jobs, but always covertly so as not to get in trouble. People make their own solutions when management doesn’t resolve anything. For example, at a fast food job many years ago, management decided to prompt us to work faster by turning the volume on the drive thru timer up as loud as possible. (We were supposed to get cars out under a given time, and if we went over that, the timer would go off every few seconds, which was annoying enough at a normal level.) Everyone complained, the time didn’t improve, and the volume remained ear splittingly loud, so we started wearing ear plugs, which resulted in nobody being able to hear each other or the customers. Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore, and one quiet afternoon when nobody was looking, I pulled the lid off the timer, located the volume control, turned it all the way down, and snapped it off and stole it. Problem solved.

      If management had wanted the drive thru time improved, they could have offered us an incentive of a rewarding nature, respected our hearing and requests for a more reasonable solution, or pretty much anything that didn’t drive an employee to gleefully destroy company property. There’s a reason some places have high turnover.

      Reply
        1. Snickerdoodle

          It was INCREDIBLY satisfying. It was fifteen years ago, and it’s still one of my all-time favorite work stories. Come to think of it, a lot of my favorite work stories are from that job because it was so ridiculous.

          Reply
      1. SarahKay

        Snickerdoodle, you are AWESOME!. I love that you not only broke off the volume control but also took the broken part away with you, just to be sure.

        Reply
  79. Amy RR

    I hate that Nerf guns at work have become such a “thing”. I worked at a place like this, but most ppl were respectful of those who weren’t into it. Unfortunately, your co-workers seem like jerks.

    Can you work from home a few days a week to get away from the madness?

    I think you may just have to look for another job.

    Reply
    1. Snickerdoodle

      Yeah, I feel like Nerf guns at work are in the realm of forced merriment. Work is work, and if you’re bringing toys to build camaraderie, you aren’t doing actual team building. You can have fun at office parties, retreats, etc.; not infringing on others’ space and anxiety issues.

      Reply
  80. High Score!

    I’m a female engineer and have worked for a lot of small companies. But I picked those places bc I enjoyed the comraderie and Nerf gun fights, etc.. things you can’t have at larger companies. Back in the day, we did see those who didn’t play as spoil sports who were ruining our culture. But that wasn’t fair to them. Things I’d do in your shoes:
    1. Purchase dividers and put them around my cube or ask for an enclosed office.
    2. Find a way to interact with your co-workers that you all enjoy – maybe they’ll even like your interaction better.
    3. Be very bold and assertive. Men respond better to very clear communication, ie “keep your f***ing Nerf sh*t away from me or I will destroy it!”
    Unfortunately, almost no technical person will take you seriously if you sweetly candy coat what you’re trying to say. Most programmers, engineers, etc are very very literal and need things spelled out.

    Reply
    1. EJane

      Number 3, especially. I also have anxiety disorders–GAD and a panic disorder–and I’ve found that when my brain acts up, thinking of a protagonist in one of my favorite novels helps. “What would Feyre do here?” “Would Alanna put up with this shit?”
      The answer is generally some iteration of telling the offenders to fuck off.

      Maybe also, on the anxiety side of things, talk to a doctor about starting a low dose of anti-anxiety meds if you feel comfortable? I suggest this because increasing your emotional resilience–speaking as someone who has the same trouble–will make it easier to respond, instead of doing what I do/you might do and feeling your brain overload and then shut down–which for me results in panic or tears, and is nooottt helpful.

      Reply
    2. Yojo

      I got a coworker to stop throwing m&ms at me by cheerfully telling him that I knew which car was his and I was going to start putting them in his gas tank to see what would happen.

      Reply
  81. SavannahMiranda

    This letter is the perfect question for Captain Awkward. She is the Queen of The No BS Scripts for Impossible People and Maddening Situations.

    Oh Captain our Captain, please pick this up?

    LW, if Captain doesn’t pick this up, please do check out her site: https://captainawkward.com/.
    She details excellent ways of overcoming communications with people who don’t want to hear what one has to say, in all kinds of situations.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous Ampersand

      I don’t think I can link directly to the comment, but go here
      https://captainawkward.com/2018/07/02/1120-the-creepy-guy-in-the-friend-group-revisited-four-more-geek-social-fallacies/
      And find the comment thread starting with Sophialoveuncommon
      On July 2, 2018 at 2:05 pm. The captain comments underneath:
      “Listen, every time in my life I can point to that someone was harming or bullying me and they eventually stopped, it was not because I calmly reasoned with them. It’s because I went some version of apeshit – yelling, tears, swears, storming out, making a scene, making it a human resources problem, etc. – or because I removed their access to me (leaving the group, quitting the job, the block button). I finally spoke a language that they understood enough that they stopped. Did it change their minds? I don’t know. That’s not my job.”

      Reply
  82. Cody

    OP, is there something in or near your office…like a bridge…that the Nerf fans could go to “war” over, thus allowing them their fun while leaving the workspace peaceful? Maybe there could be a rule that Nerf toys are not to be used in the office or during work hours but can be brought out for planned events over lunch and those that don’t want to participate are free to be elsewhere.

    Reply
  83. Alpha Bravo

    So I would probably love the nerf battles. However, I would also want a work space free of flying missiles. I would spend some time nerf-proofing my cube. Hang plastic sheeting, or better yet build high walls out of cardboard, preferably with battlements.

    Reply
    1. EJane

      This. With, if your office allows it, some colorful profanity on the outside walls.
      (Don’t actually do that, but do allow it to be very tempting.)

      Reply
  84. Amber Rose

    I would enjoy the Nerf battles, but if it was making someone upset it wouldn’t be fun anymore, which is how it should be if you aren’t completely up your own butt.

    LW, maybe polish your resume and look for a way out. People who are jerks are likely to remain jerks, unfortunately.

    Reply
  85. drpuma

    Fellow woman in tech here. Not that that this is how your situation *should* be handled, but thinking practically while you decide whether to stay or go – are all of the dudes 100% on board with this? Can you speak one-on-one to one of the dudes (ideally relatively high-up) who’s not interested, and see if you can move desks (he should move to you or you both should move, you shouldn’t be the only person moving) and create a demilitarized zone *together* ? It sucks that you have to deal with this, and it’s sucks that you might have to move desks, but if HR won’t back you up and your manager won’t back you up, your best bet (for now!) is to look for another natural ally. Being a woman in tech is great until it’s not.

    Reply
  86. AmySecura

    This kind of thing can happen even in functional, non-bro environments. For example, I’m globaphobic (a phobia of balloons). I work in an environment where balloons occasionally are appropriate. When I say to people, “please keep balloons away from me, I have a phobia,” some people’s instinctive response is to throw them at me. That sounds horrid, but these are nice, normal people. I think the issue is that things like balloons and Nerf guns make them automatically slip into childish behavior., like a brother who chases a sister around with a bug in his hand because she’s afraid of them. They register your fear, but they don’t have an adult response to it, because they’re in a child’s headspace.

    What I have found effective is to talk to people when they’re in an adult headspace, before the bad behavior happens. In the OP’s case, it might make sense to do that, or if someone does fire one near them, to engage them in a quick conversation about a work issue and then do it. For example, Tom shoots a Nerf gun in their direction and grins, and they ask “Hey, how’s Project XYZ going?” Wait for a response, and then add, “You know, the Nerf guns really stress me out. Have fun with them, but not in my direction, okay? “

    Reply
  87. J3

    Aside from the many other reasons this is ridiculous, I’m surprised almost nobody has mentioned how dangerous this is from a public safety perspective. Unfortunately, active shooters in the workplace are an actual concern that people should have at least vague situational awareness of. It’s a horrible idea to acclimate people to seeing a gun-ish looking thing and mentally flagging it as a toy.

    Reply
    1. J3

      Honestly this is so far outside my experience of what is considered acceptable in any office environment I’ve ever worked in that I’m kind of shocked (and I guess grateful for my own situation) by all the people here saying they’re familiar with this as a thing!

      Reply
    2. Indie

      Yeah I work in a school so we have regular ‘shooter drills’ where the doors are locked, we pull down blinds, and I huddle under my tiny desk with any students who happen to be with me. We can’t get up and unlock the door until a special code has been relayed over the tannoy (because the shooters themselves could say ‘all clear’).

      That drill would be kicked off if anyone of the school community were wandering around with a nerf gun. Not even our 13/14 year olds would dream of it.

      Reply
  88. Essess

    I would go to HR and state that I feel unsafe at work. I have already repeatedly asked my coworkers not to attack me and they simply laugh so this has become pervasive. This is also interfering with my ability to do my job.

    Reply
  89. LadyPhoenix

    Ugh. Tech bros.

    If you have anyone else who isn’t into nerf guns, you can ask them to help you when you talk to your manager again (and make it a point about how you don’t want to be included in the nerf fights). Other options could be having your office relocated in a “No Nerf” zone.

    But the fact of the matter if your boss sucks and is too young to change. You’re gonna be seen as “The bitch”, you’re not gonna get invited to work events, you won’t be given jobs that can really help you in the long run, etc etc.

    It is stuff like this that makes me see tech bros in a far lesser light. They are still bros and they are still creating a unwelcoming and semi hostile environment to anyone who isn’t a young, 20-something year old dude.

    Reply
  90. IcontrolRobots

    I’ve worked in tech for several years now and have always ran into this nerf gun issue as well, at multiple companies! The solution that worked the best for me was to tell them I didn’t want to be involved, and then just slowly kept taking all the nerf darts away if they came near me. I didn’t announce I was doing it, but eventually they run out and often no one buys more.

    Reply
  91. Justin

    I worked at a software company that tried incredibly hard to be cool and we had stuff like this there. It’s pretty obnoxious. I played along a few times but in the end work has to get done or people ain’t getting paid and constant “fun” distractions don’t help with that.

    Reply
  92. Rae

    Nerf is the bane of my existence in an office. My office was primarily FEMALE and leaned liberal/anti-gun it was a huge thing. Sneak attacks, full brigade onslaughts and so much more. Open office, high ceilings and a few of the participating guys even climbed over cubical partitions!

    When it finally died down, some jerkoff decided mini-drones battles were awesome. Legit tiny drones flying around with toothpicks! And even our managers were involved.
    SO
    MUCH
    NO

    Another female coworker and I went to HR and said if it was going to continue we would be working from home permanently as an accommodation to our needs.

    Reply
  93. Miss V

    OP, are you okay with being labeled a bitch if it gets you what you want? This is a serious question, unfortunately.

    I went through something similar a couple years ago with some coworkers but instead of nerf guns it was hacked sacks (yes, they are, apparently, still A Thing). I kept getting hit with them while the guys in my office played with them. Finally, fed up, the next time one hit me I grabbed a pair of scissors and cut it open over the garbage can.

    The hackey sacks stopped. I also got a reputation for being a bitch, which shouldn’t happen when I’m just saying I don’t appreciate being hit, but at least the behavior stopped.

    Reply
  94. Bee's Knees

    Ugh, that’s awful, OP. I think you need a good stare. You ask once, politely, for them to stop. The next time, you say nothing. You stare. You do your best to give off annoyance, and Fergus, we’ve talked about this, but you say nothing, and you make eye contact. It’s very unsettling. It works with ages 2 and up. Best of luck to you, whatever you decide to do.

    Reply
  95. smoke tree

    I don’t want to be a buzzkill, but I’m reading all of these suggestions for yelling at them, intimidating them, fighting back, etc, and it’s just making me so tired. I really wouldn’t want to work somewhere where I had to do these things just for a thin veneer of respect. This is definitely something I would leave a job over (not so much the nerf guns as the general douchiness) although I realize the LW might not be in a position to do that.

    Reply
    1. The Original K.

      I completely agree. I wouldn’t want to do this much work to be able to … do my actual work, and I think the larger issue is the company culture, which I don’t think the OP can change on her own.

      Reply
    2. Bea

      I don’t blame you for not wanting anything to do with this kind of nonsense! The entire thread is exhausting. Since sadly it’s a “leave if you don’t like it” situation. The ideas of lawyers and police intervention is giving me a headache.

      Reply
    3. No Tribble At All

      Yeah, the nerf guns are a symptom of a much bigger problem (all the coworkers are jerks). OP might make the symptom stop, but I don’t know how she can fix her coworkers being awful.

      Reply
    4. Green Cheese Moon

      Ugh, yes. I hate every suggestion on this thread. They all assume that the OP should just find better ways to endure it or is responsible to fix the problem. And I’m not blaming the posters, it’s the way that the workplace is creating this lose-lose situation.

      Reply
    5. Nanani

      This.

      And I’m betting no amount of bro-ing back at the bros will work. They are harrassing LW and ignoring her boundaries.

      There is no “just X” solution.

      Reply
  96. SavannahMiranda

    Expanding on my earlier comment under Greg NY, how does this situation change when reframing it as assault.

    Assault does not require someone bodily putting their hands on a person or physically pushing them around. That would be battery. Assault is an unwelcome physical attack.

    LW is feeling physically attacked, because she is being physically attache. By proxy, in a kind of drive-by, but any form of it is unacceptable.

    It’s not about her sense of humor, or playfulness, or diagnoses of anxiety or not. This isn’t ADA or being a sport. It’s assault.

    She does not consent to this physical attack. She has spoken out against it. She has attempted to work with her manager on it.

    I may be jumping to aggressive words, but I wonder what would happen if we, and LW, reframed these attacks in terms of assault. And if she spoke to her manager in exactly those terms.

    “I don’t think you realize this, but having projectiles fired at me even accidentally in a game I did not consent to be a player in, constitutes a form of assault. I don’t want to debate the finer points of the definition of that word. In light of this information, [do you need to speak with company counsel and get back to me, or] what can we do around this to ensure I am not being assaulted in the workplace?”

    Something along those lines.

    She can make it clear the bros can mutually assault one another with consent in a conference room on Wednesdays from 3:00 – 5:00 pm, or whatever the company wants to do. She’s not trying to end the ‘fun’ (eyeroll) for others.

    But not at or near her desk. Not at or near her face. No projectiles whizzing by her. Period

    Reply
    1. Matilda Jefferies

      I don’t think you’re jumping to anything – I was coming to say exactly the same thing. The word “consent” carries a lot of weight, and I absolutely think OP should use it. “I do not consent to participate in a Nerf gun battle.” “I do not want projectiles flying at my head without my consent.

      Granted, the dudebro culture of this office might mean they’ll ignore her anyway. But by saying the word, she’s making a point of elevating this conversation, and demonstrating how serious the issue is TO HER. No more “misunderstandings” or plausible deniability, as the OP has specifically said that she does not consent to participate. Anyone who chooses to ignore her at this point, will be forced to reconcile that with themselves.

      Also, OP, please use the word “consent” for your own sake, as well as for your colleagues. You do not consent to participate in the Nerf gun wars. Period. If you get clear with yourself about that, and you understand *for yourself* that your colleagues either are or are not willing to accept that, I think it’ll be a lot easier for you to make the decision about what comes next. Are you willing to stay in an environment where your colleagues (and your manager, FFS!) disregard your clearly stated lack of consent? Once you’ve stated your position, is the rest of the job worth it if nothing else changes? That’s all up to you, of course, but it’s helpful to be really clear where you stand on this. Good luck, and please keep us posted.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I think the word “consent” carries less weight in a workplace than it does in the rest of life, unfortunately. The at-will doctrine means that you’re essentially consenting to anything not actively illegal by coming in to the job; work doesn’t really give you a menu option to consent to some of it but not all of it.

        Reply
        1. Matilda Jefferies

          Yeah, I was thinking that as I was typing as well, but couldn’t figure out a way to articulate it. Certainly I meant it more in a colloquial sense than in a specific legal sense. I think the takeaway for me is that if the OP applies the concept of consent, it might help her become clear on exactly where she herself stands on this issue, and how much more of it she can put up with if the battles continue.

          “I like the job, but the Nerf battles are really annoying” has a different weight than “I like the job, but I’m being forced to participate in Nerf battles without my consent.”

          Reply
    2. fposte

      I think this is tempting but has a high risk of backfiring. It’s simultaneously overreaching and underpowered, like threatening a lawyer without having one. Right now the OP wouldn’t have much of an actual case if she did take it to a lawyer, so this has the possibility of making her look litigious and thus risky as an employee without giving her much leverage.

      So it’s a bit of a bluff. I think it could be pulled off, but I wouldn’t do it without considering the risk.

      Reply
      1. Bea

        Also you have to find a lawyer who will take the case. Most will tell you they aren’t able to do much and depending on their reputation and availability, a good attorney won’t waste your money fighting a losing battle.

        Reply
  97. sj

    i had a boss that liked to do this. except he was the only one with a nerf gun. he thought it made him (and his leadership) “fun” and “approachable”. i meanwhile, was a 20 year old intern, turned into a 21 year old part time employee, turned into a full-time 22 year old employee once i graduated, so i didn’t really like it, but I had no frame of reference for how off this was. there were a lot of other inappropriate things that happened there, that i only realized in retrospect.

    Reply
  98. fromscratch

    I’ve been here. In this exact scenario – but in a much larger group. Eventually I got hit in the face with a nerf dart while on a customer call, which naturally was disruptive. I told my manager that I would need to work from home to prevent disruptive calls unless they stopped the nerf guns – and that’s how I ended up working from home full time.

    Reply
    1. Observer

      This has to be one of the most depressing posts here. You actually had a documented case where this stuff was interfering with work, and they chose to have you work at home rather than deal with it? Insanity.

      Reply
  99. Fredita

    Do you, by any chance, have a diagnosis for the anxiety or social anxiety? Is the Nerf stuff something you’d be able to go to HR to get a medical accommodation for? The Nerf battles seem like something people with a range of conditions (sensitive eyes! sensitive skin! PTSD!) would actually need accommodation for.

    Reply
    1. BookishMiss

      This is where I went after the initial nopetopus. My anxiety is managed right now, but I would HAVE to request accommodation in your situation.

      Alternatively, since you work with loons and requesting accommodation might go spectacularly badly, could you get some sheer, pretty curtains to hang around your cube like mosquito/golf course netting? That at least would keep the bros and darts physically away from you…

      Reply
      1. BookishMiss

        Replying to clarify that you absolutely should not have to do the netting option – Or deal with this in any way, really. But if having your needs respected or finding a new job quickly aren’t options, this might help in the interim. Physical barriers tend to make people sit up and pay attention in ways that verbal boundaries don’t.

        Reply
  100. AnonMurphy

    Background: I’m in Nerf land also, though I do have an office door I can close if it gets too intense. I have anxiety and attention problems, but the darts have never actually bothered me – although other behaviors certainly have. I am a 36-yo-she in a tech company (not a startup).

    So this is a slight feelingsdump, feel free to scroll past.
    TL;DR Decide if it’s time to hold the line on how you respond

    My advice, earned from hard experience, is to consider doing this hard thing. I’ve found that the alternative tends to be months of agonizing and feeling like you’re going to throw up if you have to go sit there one more time and job searching and rehashing with your bestie and so on.

    Want to go ahead with the hard thing? OK, keep reading.

    Write down what you’re going to say. Practice what you’re going to say. Practice getting a little loud. Practice getting a little louder.

    It’s going to be scary and uncomfortable. Get ready to do it anyway. Think about the worst case scenarios – live them in your head – you start crying, you have a panic attack. Do all this preparation in the safety of your own safe place.
    Do it with the mirror, do it with the dog, do it with your internet friends. Say the words out loud, say them many times. Pretend in your head that the person responds by saying ‘oh jeez, I didn’t realize it bothered you that much, thanks for telling me’. Because that is what a reasonable person would say to what you’re about to do.

    Now go to work and get ready to USE YOUR OUT LOUD VOICE.

    And when that next dart goes by you, then you take a deep breath and stand up from your desk, pick up the dart, look at the person and say, “I DON’T LIKE when you do this. I’ve asked you to stop and it hasn’t stopped. How do we fix this problem?”

    Say it loud. Say it in front of other people. You will feel nervous as hell and flushed and sweaty and scared and they might give you a funny look and say ‘you can’t take a joke’ but then you will remember what you practiced and remember that you’re the reasonable one here and you will feel strong and you will stare in those nerf-fueled eyes so that they’re too uncomfortable to run away and you will say ‘this is NOT a joke, and I DON’T LIKE IT. STOP. DOING. IT.’

    Then say nothing else and hold eye contact and I predict there is a 90% chance they will just…stop. They might say the reasonable thing I said above. They might say something utterly jerky. It might suck and it might also give you an adrenaline rush. You will worry that they think you’re abrasive or mean or what the frick ever, but actually you are showing them that you have a line you will hold.

    It’s hard. It’s scary. Life is difficult; do it anyway.

    Reply
    1. Jules the 3rd

      +1

      OP, your co-workers include some jerks. Your choices with this small a group in this situation are yell (use your loud voice), or run away (job hunt) or go up your mgmt chain. My experience has been that yelling works. Whether there’s enough other stuff in this job / company to make you feel it’s worth it to yell is up to you.

      If you do choose to yell, document first: send an email to the guy who shoots your neighbor (and anyone else who shoots nerfs) and say, ‘I’ve asked you all to leave me out of this, I’m telling you again: don’t shoot nerfs in my direction.’ DO NOT SOFTEN IT by saying ‘I’m asking you again’ or ‘please’ or anything like that. Be super clear and explicit. Don’t ask for apologies. This note is *entirely* to cover your rear when the situation happens again and you stand up and yell at someone, “STOP SHOOTING IN MY DIRECTION! I’ve told you over and over – you need to STOP.”

      I am so sorry that you are dealing with this. It really sucks.

      Reply
      1. AnonMurphy

        This is a really good consolidation and clarification of my advice! Thank you.

        You said what I was trying to: my experience is that yelling works – because it often solves the core problem AND makes you better able to handle future social interactions (now I can easily and casually say to a coworker, “please stop banging your pen, it’s bugging me for some reason” without agonizing for hours over the potential emotional repercussions).

        Also +1 for including the empathy I forgot. OP, yes, I am also sorry that you’re in this sucky nerf-anxiety zone.

        Reply
    2. Â

      +1 to this, and +1 to Jules the Third’s additions, too. Brilliant advice.

      HOLD. THE. LINE.

      You’ve got this, OP. Sweaty hands and thumping heart and all.

      Reply
  101. Rae

    Alison- I’m surprised you haven’t chimed in already. Many posters are ascribing this to a “dude bro” “young/millennialzzzz” “man world” “tech/engineer” culture but it’s not any of that. It’s plain old immaturity.

    The only thing I’ll concede is conducive to it is the open office plan.

    As I stated in my above post I’ve had nerf wars at my job that devolved into mini-attack drones. It was 70-90% women. It was probably about 70% 25-35 but there were plenty of those over 40. It was NOT a tech company and it was NOT a startup.

    This bad behavior festers and manifests in different ways. Blaming a particular group of people or type of work just furthers stereotypes that just aren’t really true, and perhaps gives opportunistic license to those in that category who seem to desire to find bad ways to behave.

    Reply
    1. Dee

      No, it’s totally a dudebro thing. I guess in my mind, “immature” is part of the definition of dudebro, but there is absolutely a difference overall between the way that men and women are socialized to behave at work. Not every man and woman, not every workplace, but the commenters with stories of that kind of environment far outnumber your experience.

      Reply
      1. MissPettyAndVindictive

        Wholeheartedly agree.

        As I said in my comment waaaay down low, stories like this are why I won’t get into tech. I enjoy it, from the small amount I have the opportunity to do in my current job I am good at it, and I would get far more satisfaction than I do in my current role.

        But starting with the very first ‘tech’ class I’ve taken, and every interaction I’ve had working with tech guys, they’ve almost all been dude-bros and they’ve all been a**holes to me because I’m not a dude-bro like them.

        Reply
      2. Isabel Kunkle

        Right. And there’s a distinct difference between “young man” (a wide demographic with a large range of behaviors) and “dudebro” (popped-collar fratty yelling WOOOO SPORTSTEAM on public transportation). I also think you can get both older and female dudebros, judging, again, by my commute on game days: basically, it’s a The World Is My Frathouse mentality.

        Reply
    2. Ralph Wiggum

      Thank you.

      I’ve been a software developer for 25+ years, and I’ve had consistently respectful coworkers. I have never encountered this so-called “dude bro” behavior from a software engineer and I certainly wouldn’t put up with it if ever did encounter it.

      I absolutely believe that there are young white men techies who behave like this, but framing the conversation in terms of the demographics is harmful. It discourages people from the field, it sets the expectations that the behavior is common (and therefore appropriate), and most importantly it shifts thinking away from the real issue (immaturity / disrespect) to the idea that certain demographic classes are “the problem.”

      Reply
      1. Rae

        Yeah, exactly. I find these sort of antics much more common in the “work is fun” crowd. The issue is immaturity but giving immature people the license to behave in a certain way because of who they are is just an endless negative feedback loop.

        Reply
    3. Argh!

      Many of the comments have come from women in tech who have been exposed to this, so it’s a legitimate characterization. There may be other workplaces like that, but since the LW is in tech, naturally the responses will be biased that way.

      Some time ago Alison mentioned how many librarians post here. I haven’t seen anyone talk about nerf wars in a library… but I’ll continue to scroll just in case.

      Reply
      1. Rae

        Again, the exact same thing happens with any other group of people. You start pointing out “millennials” or “boomers” and it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        What is the problem is often open offices, no accountability and vast immaturity.

        Libraries are open to the public and are quite different.

        Reply
        1. Argh!

          There are behind-the-scenes workplaces for every front-facing business. What I meant was workspaces, not public areas.

          Reply
  102. Lady Tech

    My heart goes out to you, this would annoy the utter shit out of me so badly that I would probably start looking for another job altogether.

    Reply
  103. Qwerty

    Disclaimer: I’ve participated in many Nerf battles at work

    It’s time to talk to HR. Typically I’d suggest some light hearted ways of dealing with this so everyone is happy, but if the response to “no” is to laugh hysterically, then those suggestions at best would be ignored, and at worst would give them the argument “I thought she was ok with it because she was playing along”.

    Emphasize to HR that the issue is not that they are playing a game, but that your requests to be left out are being met with laughter instead of respect. If you’ve talked to the team lead multiple times but his “missed” shots are still regularly whizzing by your face, then its no longer an accident but deliberate. Your manager is enabling this behavior. Both of them are in positions where they are responsible for setting an example and neither of them are respecting an employee’s right to not be assailed by projectiles.

    It sounds like you are unfortunately stuck at a Brogrammer company that probably won’t change. But getting HR involved may at least make it bearable so you don’t feel like you are constantly under attack.

    Reply
      1. MatKnifeNinja

        Rae, the drones in the office sounds like hell when you are in deep in thought. Were the tooth picks used like jousting lances?

        Reply
  104. Snickerdoodle

    I read the title and thought “What?” My reaction did not improve.

    I’d start job hunting and tell them EXACTLY why you’re leaving during your exit interview. They won’t care–they’ve already made it plain that your feelings don’t matter to them–but at least they’ll know.

    Reply
  105. AnotherTechLady

    So this is a bit off the wall and I wouldn’t suggest it if it seemed like your office would be reasonable. Something I’ve found useful with coworkers who thought it was hilarious to sneak up behind me and scare me: screaming.

    You know how you’d normally startle and jump a bit? So funny to your asshole coworker! If you add on a (not blood-curdling, but audible for the next couple cubicles) “Aah!” followed by an immediately composed “Oh, you startled me. I wasn’t expecting darts at my desk.” and going back to work. You’re not complaining, you’re having a reaction in the moment and then are fine, so you don’t look completely hysterical. Meanwhile, everyone’s looking over at your coworker, who likely feels embarrassed and weird, and will hopefully try to avoid putting himself in such a situation again.

    Again, I don’t want to suggest that this is appropriate for the workplace generally, but desperate times.

    Best of luck!

    Reply
    1. Rae

      Yeah, that sounds like the unintentional start of a horrific prank war. In our office that came before the nerf war and after the “dapper” dress phase.

      Reply
        1. Rae

          Fairly harmless. It came with a ton of bizarre social pressure to basically be in full costume one day a week. I had the gumption to roll my eyes but many of my coworkers spent way too much money when they didn’t really want to.

          Reply
          1. Whaow

            If you don’t mind, what field is this in that you’ve been describing? Each one of your comments makes my eyebrows go up more and I can’t narrow down what field this might be.

            Reply
    2. BookishMiss

      I love this idea. I can’t use it myself, because my startle response is to physically strike, so I just verbally warn any potential pranksters ahead of time that jump scares/startle pranks are a Bad Idea.

      But if you can pull off the yell+”sorry, you startled me, please don’t do that again” combo move, it can be killer.

      Reply
    3. SarahTheEntwife

      It really depends on the particular flavor of jerk here. Plenty of them then go “oh, if we startle Jane she shrieks hilariously! Let’s do that again!”.

      Reply
    4. Quill

      People who sneak up on me specifically because I shriek have gone home with completely accidental bruises before. Usually if they have a worse time of it than me they quit. (And yes, the accidental thing sounds sarcastic but actually my startle response involves blind flailing.)

      Reply
    5. mrs__peel

      I think that only works on this type of guy if you also elbow them in the solar plexus. Otherwise, they may just do it again intentionally because they enjoy eliciting the startled reaction.

      Reply
    6. Not A Morning Person

      I prefer the option of having a “DSR”, abdelayed startle response. Announce it so people can be forewarned of your affliction. Then when a dart flies by, you get up and punch the person with the nerf gun. “Oh, sorry, that’s my delayed startle response. Remember I warned you about that.” Then go back to your desk. Oh, how I wish that were something OP could do!

      Reply
  106. Beancounter Eric

    I miss the days when work was work, not adult daycare.

    Start with HR…injury liability is a good point to bring up.

    Document how much time is being pissed away with the Nerf-wars. Bet it adds up pretty quickly. Expect the instigators to argue it helps morale. Quantify the lost productivity and force them to justify the cost of the “improved morale”.

    Someone needs to remind these pea wits they are there to create wealth for shareowners, not to have “fun” – if they can do both, great. I suspect their “fun” is actually reducing returns for company investors.

    Confiscate any darts landing in your work space. Periodically report to HR the number confiscated. Return them only under the greatest duress.

    Very childish response, but play bagpipe (or any other type of music greatly disliked by the perpetrators). When hey complain, let them know you’ll cut it out when they cut it out.

    You work with idiots, and need to find better. I hate suggesting find a new job, but that may be the ultimate cure here.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      They’re probably all salaried given the idiots involved. So they live long hours in the office and so wasted time isn’t going to ring any dude bro bells.

      Reply
  107. Hmmm

    Only woman in a department here and used to work at a company where in addition to being the only female in a non-administrative position, HATED the Nerf battles raged by the tech bros and sales bros. Here’s how I resolved my issue after my requests were repeatedly ignored:

    I built a Lego fort. I bought a box of large Legos, came into the office on a Saturday and extended the walls of my cube. The bros loved it. Thought it was super cool. So I came off as a fun co-worker even though I wasn’t participating in the Nerf battles. It also cut down on about 90% of the “friendly fire” incidents. Then I looked for a new job.

    It sucks, you shouldn’t have to deal with this and as the only woman you have to be especially cautious of not coming off as “nagging”. But we all have to play the hands we are dealt the best we can.

    Reply
      1. Hmmm

        It was. What reduced the amount was our “cubes” were more like those private workstations in a library so not nearly as large as the traditional cubicle. It was not cheap either. Was worth it to cut down on the idiotic distractions and get my work completed.

        Reply
  108. Queen of Cans and Jars

    Google “Nerf gun tampons.” 100% effective against dude-bros and totally give new meaning to the euphemism ‘feminine protection.’

    Reply
  109. Nanc

    You could let them know that anyone who shots at you will be a new verse in the Heywood Bank’s classic ditty Trauma to the Groin but that would probably be taken as a threat. Or a challenge.

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this–I’m the office non-funster, too. If you want to play around, fine, just go do it somewhere else and make sure you’ve gotten all the stuff I need from you to finish that big project that’s going to help meet payroll for the rest of the year.

    Harumph, danged kids!

    Reply
  110. Colorado

    Oh God OP! I’m sorry you’re dealing with this crap. I would go to HR, hopefully they aren’t an early twenty something bro. I would also lose my shit one time, just once. It takes a lot to anger me and then I snap. I hope one day to read a post on AAM of cringeworthy stories from managers who have matured.…”I was once a manager who allowed nerf gun wars even after receiving complaints from my staff”. Ugh, cringe.

    Reply
  111. Lora

    I’m trying to think of options, but realistically I think looking for a job elsewhere is the safest bet.

    Can you ask to work from home as long as Nerf guns in the office are a thing? Or in another office entirely, since dudebro is incapable of controlling himself?

    I would probably steal every single Nerf gun and hold it for a ridiculous ransom, on the grounds that all these bros get paid way better than me. You want to play Nerf wars? $1000 buy-in, bro, and $20/nerf bullet.

    When I’ve seen men bothered by other men throwing things at them, they usually stopped it by a hugely disproportionate response. Which didn’t necessarily stop it completely but at least cut way back on it.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      As a woman who has dealt with dense and inconsiderate obnoxious female coworkers, a disproportionate response turned out to be the key for me too. I still hear the voice of my Food Nazi coworker in my head sometimes, but at least IRL she stopped pestering me.

      Reply
  112. Em

    They’re acting like animals so I’d be tempted to treat them like animals… if I saw a nerf gun come around the corner I’d get up, clap loudly and quickly at them and yell “SHOO. GO ON. GET.”

    Realtalk: ask the HR person what you need to do to set up full remote until the NERF fad has passed (a month?). In addition, tell them to designate a NERF hour for which you can be absent.

    Reply
  113. Kaitlyn

    This is kind of like having a dog-friendly office, except the dog poops at your desk.

    I like the suggestion of approaching a friendly Nerf-player and asking him to manage his Nerf-mates on your behalf. I also think, if you’re a laptop person, that working in the conference room might both send the Nerf-free message and allow you to get your work done. It sounds like the Nerf wars are interfering with actual work (both yours AND you coworkers, who can’t seem to lay off), so that might be an approach to take with the young manager: inquire how Nerf wars have affected productivity and output?

    Reply
  114. Harper the Other One

    This is one where I would be tempted to be very blunt with my manager. “I’ve talked to you about the Nerf cubs and nothing has been done. My skills are valuable and I can and will find another company that wants them if this isn’t addressed.”

    I think of it almost like the opposite of Alison’s regular advice to bosses about making sure you’ve made it clear to a low performing employee that their job is on the line; this is an employee telling a company that a vacancy is on the line, possibly at a bad time, because if they can’t give you the very minor consideration of addressing this, you don’t necessarily need to give them the consideration of a lengthy notice period. For crying out loud, OP isn’t even asking for the Nerf guns to be totally banned!

    Reply
  115. C Average

    When I worked in a place where Nerf guns were a thing, like the LW I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t playing and didn’t find the game fun. Like her, I was ignored, gently mocked, and shot at.

    So I went to the recycle area, got some big boxes, and built a fort around my desk.

    When people commented on it, I said that since my colleagues were reliving their childhoods by playing with toy guns, I had decided to relive mine by constructing a box fort.

    I had it up for a while, and added windows and turrets. My colleagues liked visiting my fort. Eventually the Nerf craze died off and I took down my fort.

    (I should also note that a few other unamused colleagues took to confiscating all ammo that they encountered, which I think hastened the end of the siege.)

    Reply
  116. grey

    I am reading this and reading the linked article and I have one question – if someone tells another person to not hit them – how is there not a liability factor? How is this not assault? I read the other letter where the person got hit in the face. Why do people not understand that they could be arrested and charged for this? I’m not advocating escalating it to that point; but how can they not realize that a person could do so?

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Because the odds of them being arrested and charged for collateral damage in a game is really small. I understand your underlying point, which is the freaking game doesn’t need to be happening in the workplace, but if the workplace has decided it values the game, the associated risk is really not that great. (There’s a slightly greater chance of a worker’s comp claim, but that’s not a criminal charge.)

      Reply
  117. Michaela Westen

    The more I think about this, the more I think I would look for a new job. Mainly because a company this childish will probably go downhill in the long run.
    It’s my default – in my 20’s I was always changing jobs and had to work on being stable. It was good in the long run though, because I didn’t settle for a dead-end low-wage job.
    It’s not the nerf guns or other games themselves – it’s that the team lead, and probably others there, don’t respect OP’s feelings about this. Is this the level of respect they show customers and investors?
    If you don’t want to quit now, maybe change the configuration. Don’t ask permission – just move your desk to a place not in the line of fire, or maybe bring in a screen to put around your desk and block the missiles. Sigh.
    I really, really lean toward finding a job where you can work with grownups. Good luck!

    Reply
  118. Kate the Great

    I had a similar issue (Nerf Guns in a few adjacent departments) without the anxiety aspect. I don’t like it, but they are here to stay. I loudly made it clear that I would not respond well to any attempts to get my attention and I would not be playing along. If any nerf darts ended up in my area they were put in a little bowl that on my desk to use as bargaining chips if someone from that department needed my help. Worked out well and now that department is no longer by me.

    Unfortunately for OP, this sounds like an issue that you will have to solve on your own. I have found that the best thing to do is to have a firm line, express it as often as is appropriate and to react with the appropriate amount of fear and discomfort whenever that line is crossed. Hiding your feelings is not going to make this issue better, but strong boundaries might. Whenever this comes up just remember that your feelings and reaction to this are valid, your coworkers are the ones causing a bad/awkward situation. Not you. Best of luck!!

    Reply
  119. BRR

    I didn’t have a chance to read through the comments but maybe if a dart lands on your desk, break it. It will serve as a casual reminder that you asked them to stop.

    Reply
    1. Rae

      Yeah, this was always my first step. Everyone knew if one landed on my desk it was not being returned. I gave them to my friend’s children…because it’s appropriate for 8 and 10-year-olds (especially boys) to play in the woods. Not for 35yo (of either gender) to play at work during work hours.

      Reply
  120. Cat Herder

    Kick it upstairs — who’s your manager’s boss?
    Call OSHA. Google “how to file a safety and health complaint”. They will discuss with you whether you have a legit complaint. If you do, I’d take that info to your manager’s boss. If that doesn’t clamp it down, file a complaint.

    They already think she’s an uptight b!tch, might as well go for it.

    Reply
  121. bopper

    Whenever a nerf “bullet” comes near you, just pick it up and break it in half and throw it out. They may start to avoid you.

    Another time maybe you could talk to your boss, and say:
    “I wanted to talk to you about the nerf guns again. I realize that you feel it is all in fun, but I just want to let you know how it feels from my point of view. H having things unexpectedly fly through the air and hit me is very disconcerting and disturbs my work…not just at that time, but then the wariness after. Also, can you imagine being the only women in a group being deliberately shot at by men? What can we do so I can feel comfortable in the work place?”

    If nothing happens, then perhaps talk to HR.

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      Noooooo don’t talk about feelings with someone who has already demonstrated contempt for your feelings! That never ends well. Trust me on that one!

      Trying to generate compassion will generate contempt. Try instead to trigger greed, fear, or embarrassment. Greed (desire to maximize profit), fear (of a costly lawsuit), or embarrassment by having grandboss or HR brought into it.

      Reply
  122. NW Mossy

    Oh dear god, do I want to pull aside this newbie manager and introduce him to A Clue. You “don’t get it”? It’s your dang job to “get it” and actually, you know, manage!!!! GAH!

    A script that may not work for someone with anxiety, but the one that comes to mind for me:

    “Boss, I know you don’t understand why I’m not into the Nerf stuff. Thing is, you don’t need to. It’s enough that it’s interfering with my ability to do the work you’re paying me to do. My workspace needs to be respected as a no-fire zone, and frankly, “don’t shoot things at me at work after I told you to stop” is a fair thing to ask for. I’ve been clear with everyone that I don’t want to be part of this, and it’s still happening. I’m out of options to solve this, and I need you to step in.

    By blowing me off on this, you’re sending me the message that I can’t count on you to take my concerns seriously or follow through to help me solve them. We’ve got to respect each other to work well together, and right now, your checking out on this is implying pretty heavily that you don’t respect me. Truthfully, it’s really hard for me to respect someone that doesn’t respect me, so let’s fix this.”

    Reply
    1. Argh!

      If this dude cares about profitability at all, that’s the way to go. Just as a manager should focus on behaviors that affect work, so should everyone else when they bring up a problem.

      Reply
  123. Kate

    I work in a tech office – when we got Nerf Guns, we built a shooting gallery out of cups from the kitchen. It was awesome because we discovered a well-placed shot could make the entire cup pyramid collapse, but more importantly, it prevented people from shooting each other. I can also confirm that they get old and people get bored with them pretty quickly (at least in my office.).

    Reply