my office mate asks me 75 questions a day — literally

A reader writes:

Due to renovations, I’ve been put in the same office as another employee. We work different jobs, but are technically peers in the company’s hierarchy. He is, frankly, driving me crazy.

Every question that comes across his mind, he gets up and verbally asks me. Most of these are surprisingly basic questions. Some questions are work related. Some are random, like how long of a drive it is to get to Chicago.

For the first week or so, I humored this, but when I realized it would be ongoing, I started a different tactic. I wouldn’t give him a direct answer, just reroute him where to find the information he was looking for. For instance, he would ask when a meeting was, I’d ask if he got the pertinent email, and when he responded he had, I’d state the time was listed in the email but I didn’t know it offhand. This didn’t in any way deter him, and he continued with the questions. If anything, I’ve had situations where I’ve directed him to the company’s online reference base and instead watched him leave the office, walk down the hall and ask the same (basic) question to multiple people until someone gives him an answer.

My immediate supervisor noticed this over video conference calls, as he would still interrupt me multiple times with different questions. She asked if this was an ongoing issue, I replied it was. The next day I kept track and found that over an eight-hour shift, he asked me 75 questions. These were everything from asking me what someone’s phone number is (I asked him to look in the online directory, he instead went down the hall to ask) to what time the local bagel place was open until!

I wrote an email saying that the sheer volume of interruptions is negatively impacting my workflow to my supervisor, cc’ing HR. I also pointed out that it’s possible that my office mate may have some sort of issue with understanding written communication as he literally never uses the online resources we have available. There was a sit-down with him. I wasn’t involved, but was told there was no reason for him not to be able to use online resources and he was encouraged to seek them out. He hasn’t. (We can see when documents were lasted opened. He hasn’t used the online knowledge base in eight months.)

Other people in the office have started to notice and have been jokingly calling me “Alexa.” I tried wearing headphones, but he would pull them out of my ears to ask his questions, which just was more jarring.

This came to a head when he got his end of year performance review. He was called out for not taking initiative, not problem solving, and not using resources to their best ability, and may be sent on re-training on using the knowledge base. My review was glowing.

The last week, the questions didn’t stop, but he began to take it out on me that his review was poor, accusing me of giving false information to corporate, and generally stating that nothing stated in the review was true. This has only made our office situation more stressful. Moving offices, my supervisor has told me, is not in the cards, nor is he at risk of being let go.

How do I deal with this whole thing without losing my sanity?

He pulled your headphones out of your ears?!

Here’s what I see in your letter: You’ve done an excellent job of not answering his questions and trying to redirect him — a truly excellent job of that! But you haven’t yet told him point-blank that he needs to stop asking you questions during the day and interrupting you generally.

So, switch to that. First, tell him this: “I don’t know if you realize it or not, but you’ve been asking me dozens of questions a day. I need to focus while I’m working, and I can’t keep being interrupted. So going forward, please assume I’m not available for questions during the work day. If it’s really important and it’s not something where you could look up the answer to somewhere else, you can email the question to me — but we need to break the pattern we’re in where you lean on me to answer questions that you could look up on your own.”

Then, when he asks you the next question (because he likely will), say this: “Like I said, I can’t answer questions during the day. I’ve got to get back to what I’m working on.” And then physically signal that you’re resuming your work — turn away, start typing, etc.

And if he ever tries to pull your headphones out of your ears again, say this: “What on earth are you doing? Do not touch me again.” Say this in the sternest tone you can muster. You want him to feel the awkwardness of what he just did, and you want him to be shocked enough that he doesn’t try it again. It’s okay to be stern when someone is transgressing normal boundaries like this.

And if he keeps trying to talk to you about his performance review or accusing you of contributing false information to it, say this: “I’m not going to discuss your review with you. That’s something you should talk to (manager) about.” If he persists, hold firm — “I’ve told you this isn’t something I’m going to discuss and I need you to respect that.”

The good news here is that it sounds like your manager is willing to take a pretty hard line with him. So the other tool you have is her — if the interruptions or the accusations continue, go back to her and let her know. It sounds like she’d want to know, so don’t feel like you’re supposed to suffer in silence.

As for how to stay sane … Putting up a firmer firewall against his questions should help. Refusing to let him physically remove your headphones (!) should also help. But you are indeed sharing space with a Highly Annoying Person, and I’d just embrace (a) your ability to set firm boundaries and (b) the fact that the renovations will hopefully come to an end at some point. (Although if it’s not clear that this arrangement will definitely end then, ask your manager for help in ensuring it does.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 483 comments… read them below }

    1. Nesprin*

      A friend of mine had to train a guy who asked too many questions. Dozens of questions per training session most of which were answered in the training materials. After day 3 he turns to the guy and says “that’s it. For the rest of the day, you can only ask me 5 questions.” Trainee responds “wait what?”. My friend replies “Four”.

      1. justsomeone*

        That is a terrible stance to take when training someone. Training is literally the best time to ask the questions, even if things are covered in training materials.

        1. Colette*

          That depends on a couple of things – was the person asking the questions making any attempt to listen and understand, or locate the information himself? And were there other people in the training?

          I’ve been in training classes where someone was obviously not paying attention (or walked in late and missed stuff) and then wasted time asking questions they would have known the answers to if they’d put in the effort, and I would applaud the trainer shutting that down.

          1. Jadelyn*

            This – training is the best time to ask questions, yes. But the point at which someone is interrupting a class just because they’re not paying attention to the material, no, that’s not a behavior that should be endlessly indulged ~because training~.

          2. Kes*

            I mean, it’s worth redirecting them to the training materials rather than actually answering the questions. However, five is a pretty low quota for questions during training, and you shouldn’t actually encourage them just to not ask questions – what you really want is for them to consider what additional resources they can start to use to answer their own questions rather than just asking you.
            I don’t think limiting someone in training to five questions is appropriate.

            1. Nesprin*

              To give a little more background- this was a 2 hour training on a specialized piece of equipment that my friend took on as a favor. Trainee had been sent a protocol ahead of time, which he failed to read, and proceeded to talk my friend’s ear off for the whole 2 hours about why the sky was blue instead of paying attention to a machine that could have hurt someone badly, or even giving my friend the respect his time deserved.

              To give more background than that, this trainee needed to be shut down- he once asked me out of the blue if he should donate sperm for money.

                1. Shoes on My Cat*

                  DD-that was my favorite one-liner today! My coffee is now all over the counter but that was so worth the clean up!!!! Thanks!!!!!!!!

              1. Cathy Gale*

                I have trained many scientists and clinicians on technical and educational topics – in other words, people who are generally not dumb and whose zygotes would be very valuable – and very, very few of them ever read the materials provided in advance, no matter how simplified it has been made to ease their time.

          3. NW Mossy*

            Most people have a much higher tolerance for questions when it’s clear that the questioner has given some thought to the subject and can show some progress towards finding an answer. I for one would gladly take 25 thoughtful, well-considered questions over 5 that are trivially easy to answer with a small bit of effort.

        2. Labradoodle Daddy*

          Depends on the questions— some people you can tell are working “smart,” some aren’t.

        3. Eeyore's missing tail*

          What about when the person is asking so many questions they are derailing the session? Or the trainer spends so much time with them that no one else can get their questions answered. It’s harsh, but sometimes that helps keep things moving.

        4. That girl from Quinn's house*

          I’d agree, except I’ve had to train classes like that, where the handful of people who are actually trying to learn the material are eclipsed by students talking, watching Netflix without earbuds, whining, and spilling food over practical materials. (Why didn’t I kick them out, you ask? Because their boss paid for them to take the training and also paid for them to be there, so if they didn’t pass *I* was the one who got in trouble for wasting company money.)

          Some people take advantage, and need to be stopped from doing so.

        5. Antilles*

          The snarky attitude is terrible, yes, but the actual concept of limiting the number of questions can be a very useful one.
          Asking dozens of questions every single training session usually doesn’t really help the trainee learn. I’m not going to be here to answer dozens of questions every day; the purpose of training is to teach you to the point that you can operate on your own – which includes knowing how to look things up in the documentation/manual/online. If you just rely on my knowledge without even *trying* to find it on your own first, you aren’t learning nearly as much.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            Sometimes snark is the only way to get through to people.

            I’ve had training sessions where one person would. Not. Stop. Asking. Basic. Questions. And they derailed every topic with an argument about how the way they did it at their previous company was better. The result was that I really didn’t know what I was doing when I got on site. If the trainer had shut this person down in a slightly snarkier way they might have actually taken note, but their attempts to be nice weren’t getting through.

          2. OhNo*

            Limiting the number of questions is also a great way to deal with what-if-ers, who will ask ten million what-if questions about things that may only come up once in a blue moon, if they come up at all. There’s only so much space in a person’s memory, after all, and letting that kind of thing go on uninterrupted means the trainee may know what to do in case of an alien invasion or if Tuesday is unexpectedly cancelled, but won’t be able to remember how to do daily tasks.

            The snark may not be ideal (or it may entirely warranted), but the solution is a sound one for a couple different situations.

        6. TootsNYC*

          well, questions in training should be asked after you’ve been taught–not in the middle.
          Often when I’m engaged in learning, my mind is jumping ahead and so I have questions, but I have taught myself to wait, because the instructor actually gets to the answer eventually, and in between is a bunch of other stuff I should be paying attention to.
          And it makes the instructor’s job harder if I keep knocking them off pace.

          I personally would hand him a paper and pen and tell him he had to write down a keyword for the question (so he doesn’t forget) and then ask it at the end. and also, I’d make him walk through those keywords and point out to him the instances in which I answered his question without him having to ask it.

        1. Brandon*

          I’d flip the script a little bit – when the trainee isn’t even listening to you, you can be a bit more upfront about how they’re not. They’re being extremely inconsiderate and wasteful of your time.

      2. LaDeeDa*

        The correct response is to say “that is answered in the training materials, why don’t you take a few minutes to locate that answer, and read it, then we can discuss it. “

      3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I am the go to question person. Love to talk, to help, to trouble shoot. Twice. You come to me after that, nope. My coworker tried the “I know you don’t like to help people…”
        OMG almost lost my mind, so proud of myself though. I said, I will instruct you two times. If you don’t know by then, you weren’t listening, and no, I’m not going through the whole thing a third time. We do the same job, if you can’t do your job, talk to the manager.

        1. GreenDoor*

          Yeeesss! Twice is it. We live in the internet age – the worldwide web is full of instructional videos, blogs, and visual aids. If I’ve explained it twice – – and you have online access to a bevy of resources – – and you still don’t get it, then maybe you’re in the wrong line of work.

          I work in public education so it’s not uncommon for me to start with, “You might want to take notes on this” so, there, too, if I”m flat out telling you that what I’m going to say is imporant enough that you shoudl TAKE NOTES and you STILL don’t get it….well, I can’t help you. (speaking about adults, of course, Working with kids who need more time/explaination is different).

          1. Antilles*

            In high school, I had a AP teacher who had an enormous sign permanently attached it to the whiteboard “IF IT’S WRITTEN UP HERE, IT’S IMPORTANT” in red ink.
            Somehow, there would still be at least one student every month who would ask if he should take notes on what the teacher was writing.

        2. Luke*

          OMG, This. Ever. So. Much. This.

          I can direct you to the step-by-step tutorial. I can read it to you. I can explain it to you. I can even walk and talk you through the actual process step by step in real time.

          What I cannot do, is understand it for you.

          1. Meagain*

            I loose it in my lab classes around week 5. I know you didn’t read the instructions before coming to lab. I know you didn’t take any notes while I was giving you a few instructions about where stuff was.
            No. I will not answer any more questions. I see you are safe and are not doing things you shouldn’t be. I can hear what you are asking your partner.

            Read. The. Damn. Manual.

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              I always had a select few students in each class that wouldn’t ever read the manual and would ask questions of “okay so I did x now what?” when it was spelled out very, very clearly in the manual.

              It got to the point where I could say “Hey Lab! (Hey what?) What does EC say most often?” and the rest of the class would chime back with “Did you read the manual?”. Or, if I got asked a Did You Even Read The Directions question, I could just raise my eyebrows and the student would say “Oh, that’s in the manual, isn’t it?”

              1. Luke*

                My favorite was the guy who called me Every. Five. Minutes. For. An. Hour. because he was “stuck”, each time to ask a question that was clearly answered in the instructions I sent him.

                Dude, you have spent at least 5 times as long on the phone with me, as it would have taken you to simply read the gd instructions. So you’ve even managed to fail at being lazy.

      4. Serin*

        The people I’d like to see shut down like that are people whose questions aren’t useful to the session as a whole. Like, I took Home Repairs for Beginners once — aimed at people like me, whose level of knowledge was “This is a hammer; this is the end you hold it by” — and there were two guys in the class who derailed EVERY CLASS with detailed, advanced questions about electrical wiring.

        People who are going to lead a class should have the skill of shutting down time-wasters.

    2. CP*

      I have a few thoughts on what might be going on with this guy. I wondered if he has difficulty following written communication, not exactly the same as being illiterate. So, he’s trying to get by through oral communication.
      But that’s not OK, because what he cannot do isn’t your responsibility. I’m glad management is aware of it and hope they will stay on top of that.
      I also wonder if you’re not dealing with a narcissist. Narcissists don’t care about their impact on others, so they are relentless about getting what they want (your attention). They dismiss any gracious attempts to ‘deny’ them, and they become aggressive if you even half-way rebuff them. They are Boundary Crossers. This guy removing your headphones is the key here. That’s crossing boundaries and a big indicator that he’s socially inappropriate…not just awkward, and my guess is that he doesn’t care.
      I’ve only had success in dealing with narcissists in two ways: being extremely, extremely firm and not budging. You set the boundaries, hold them, and call them out on it crystal clear when they cross any boundaries. No is NO. You cannot be any form of ‘gracious’ in handling a narcissist because they just want what they want and will press you to get it: your attention, for you to comply. Do not.
      That leads me to my second successful way of handling a narcissist: No Contact. This means not acknowledging them at all. At work, you’re not likely to be able to do this, so you have to use Low Contact…until management deals with this guy the way they should.
      I feel really bad for you having to deal with this. Boundary Crossers cannot see this in themselves. They simply feel they deserve whatever they feel is right and just never stop. They cannot keep relationships, except for people they manipulate and control, so they’re always starving for more attention. So, they keep coming around to suck the life out of the rest of us.

  1. Chump with a degree*

    Sweet baby Jesus. I would holler if he touched my earphones or any part of me. Doesn’t sound like it would help with this guy, though.

    1. On Fire*

      +1. If he ever did it again, I would say something to the effect of, “If you EVER touch me again, I will lay you out on the floor.” Then I’d go straight to HR and tell them what he did, that it was the second occurrence, and that I had warned him that I *will* defend myself if it happens again.

      And seconding the comments below on refusing to answer questions. Your broken-record response can be, “Look it up. I’m not answering questions.”

      1. Dragoning*

        I wonder what continuing to ignore him even without headphones would net as a reaction from him.

      2. Artemesia*

        This was assault and if he continues to do the ear bud thing after being told to NEVER touch me like that again, then I’d be making a huge fuss with HR about it. This guy needs to be fired.

        1. Kes*

          I get instinctive reactions and making it very clear to him that he should not touch OP, but I really doubt most HR would consider this assault or be okay with OP deliberately punching him in response.

          OP is better off using words to tell him very clearly not to do that again, and then escalating to the manager if he still does it after being told multiple times to stop.

          1. AnnaBananna*

            + 1

            Pulling out ear buds is annoying as it totally violates space boundaries, but assault it is not.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m not sure telling HR it was assault would be effective. But it IS beyond the pale. Having had younger siblings who did this and got punched for it (instinctual reaction), I’m so glad he didn’t do this to me. I think it’s 1000% worth OP mentioning this and making a big awkward deal of it, though.

      3. Amethystmoon*

        If OP is a woman and boundary-ignoring employee is a nan, she can try going to HR if boss does nothing. But I would try first being firm with the other employee, then boss if it doesn’t work.

          1. S*

            I’m not really sure how this has anything to do with gender. Boundary violation is boundary violation, no matter the gender. This also has no sexual connotation to it, which is what I imagine the implication that you are making.

            1. logicbutton*

              Well, if LW is a woman and if the coworker has a pattern of treating women and men differently in general (like if the office is half men, yet all his question fielders are women), then LW would certainly have another reason to go to HR. The problem doesn’t have to be sexual to be gendered.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But at that point we’re speculating on facts not in the letter, which I ask that we not do (because it often takes us down lengthy tangents that end up being utterly wrong, as last month’s crop of updates sometimes showed).

                1. logicbutton*

                  Yes, of course! I tried to make that clear in my comment, sorry for not being more explicit.

            2. JOA*

              It’s a boundary violation, and HR-worthy, regardless of who did it to whom. Would the perpetrator do such a thing to another man, however? If the answer is no (and it usually seems to be no), then gender is definitely relevant.

            3. AmethystMoon*

              I ask only because I once had a major boundary-ignoring coworker, who was male. I am female. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have done things like follow me around the building (at times when we weren’t going to the same meeting), and also stare at me for minutes at a time, if I happened to be male. I had to go to the boss about him at least a couple of times, after trying to politely deal with coworker resulted in coworker losing his temper and refusing to leave me alone. This particular coworker also had a habit of asking dozens of questions a day, on topics that he had already been trained on, were in the manual, or were easily Google-able. I’ve never had a female coworker do things like follow me around a building or stare at me. However, life is short, so presumably, it could happen.

              1. Eleanora (UK)*

                I don’t think your sample size (one instance, person happened to be male – effectively a 50/50 chance) is big enough to make such general statements on gender in this matter.

        1. froodle*

          To be fair, yanking out your earbuds to get your attention is a classic nan move, so autocorrect isn’t that far off base…

          1. RUKiddingMe*

            Yup. Most women would not do this and males would not do it to other males, pretty much ever.

      4. Close Bracket*

        You are not wrong for having that reaction and wanting to lay the guy out. Saying as much to either him or HR is not going to get you the response you want. That’s a threat of physical violence, and however wrong he is, you would be wrong, too. In most workplaces, you can expect HR to say that if you lay him out, you will be fired on the spot. And you can expect to be fired on the spot for laying someone out.

    2. OG Karyn*

      Yup. I had a guy at my first job who liked to sneak up on me and put his hands on my shoulders just to creep me out and/or scare me. One day he did it and I FLEW backward in my rolling chair and slammed right into him. He never did it again.

      1. Amber T*

        I scare easily, and one coworker thought it was hilarious… until I told him my instinctive reaction when I was 10 was to punch a “monster” that jumped out at me at a haunted house.

        1. OG Karyn*

          OMG, that is brilliant. On the flip side, in my last office, my desk got moved from a position where I could see people coming to a place that was directly around a corner from a hallway, and my back faced the hall. So I couldn’t see anyone coming around the corner until they were already at my desk, or passing it. One day, my boss came up behind me and accidentally startled me, and I literally screamed. He felt horrible, and apologized all over himself, and I told him not to be sorry, it wasn’t his fault. The next day, he came to my desk and handed me a little “rearview mirror” that I could attach to my computer monitor so I could see people coming up behind me. It was very kind of him, and the mirror was VERY helpful!

    3. CMF*

      That would have scared the crap out of me. I would have jumped 10 feet in the air and probably yelled “no touch! no touch!”

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        My response would have probably a bit more R-rated. Like “HOLY S—! WHAT THE F— DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?”

        Ideal in the workplace? No. But I can just about guarantee that those or similarly colorful ones would fly out of my mouth before I had a chance to think about it.

    4. Mimi Me*

      I have a co-worker who sits in the cube behind me. We were hired on the same date. The last day we spoke to each other socially was the day about 3 months after the hire date where she yanked my ear buds out of my ear so she could tell me about her weekend. I yelled at her. She was shocked that I was upset. We now only speak if totally necessary. To make things worse…she has long, unkempt fingernails that literally scraped my cheek as she yanked them out. I can barely look at her without a shudder remembering that. Blech!

    5. The Original K.*

      I’d probably swat his hand! My instinct when someone touches me unexpectedly is to pull away and strike out.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I have (diagnosed) PTSD and so stuff like this triggers me. My instinct is to punch first, ask questions later. Everyone knows to give me a large personal bubble and never to touch/surprise me.

      2. Essess*

        I used to work in accounts receivable at a hospital (many years back) and I was going through and recording a tall stack of incoming payment checks. My office was in an area that the public can access although there is usually no reason for anyone to be in the office other than me and the 2 other receivable clerks. These were checks for tens of thousands of dollars each (insurance payments for an entire month of inpatient stays). When I was working, I was focused only on the checks and my ledger that I was working on. One time my CFO came up behind me and thought he’d be ‘funny’ by reaching from behind me and trying to grab one of the checks. All I knew was that someone was suddenly trying to steal money I was responsible for and it was more than 2 years of my salary and I instinctively slammed a binder down on the hand with all my strength to stop the theft.
        Fortunately, I didn’t get fired and he actually apologized when he realized just how serious that could have been if it hadn’t been someone ‘joking’ so he acknowledged that I didn’t really overreact.

      3. WakeRed*

        I’m definitely in the camp of responding physically (though probably not in an extreme way) – I cannot believe he thought it was okay to touch even an extension of the LW’s body! I work with people who wear headphones and if they can’t hear me, I stand there and say their name/speak until they notice me (and if they’re junior to me, suggest they listen at a slightly lower volume).

        LW, wishing you luck in employing ALL the boundaries to get this pest out of your ears.

    6. CommanderBanana*

      I was at the grocery store the other day staring at the chicken breasts and someone put their hand on my arm to tell me they liked my coat (??). I didn’t see them out of my peripheral vision, so I jumped and bellowed JESUS CHRIST YOU FUCKING SCARED ME into their face without meaning to.

      Tl;dr, WTF is wrong with people.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This happened once with a coworker who sneaked up on me while I was concentrating extremely hard. I didn’t hear her because I had my headphones on. When she spoke, I jumped and whirled around so fast in the chair that I scared HER. After that, I put up a sign that said “Please knock if I’m wearing headphones.” I could hear the knock, just not someone coming up behind me on the carpet.

        Also, I’m sorry for laughing but I’m imagining the look on their face, hahahahaahaha.

    7. Kit-Kat*

      Same!! I was physically bullied as a kid, was taught to yell (adults weren’t taking it seriously before I started yelling), and it’s now a reflex. Sometimes feel bad for friends sneaking up on me lol but the good thing is people definitely know where my boundaries are! I would definitely yell something like “Don’t touch me!” if this happens again and report to HR. And report the initial incident if you haven’t already.

    8. DeepThoughts*

      If he pulled my headphones off, and there was no emergency involving life or limb, what would come out of my mouth would be equivilent to “What in the FU*(K are you doing?”. If you have to get someone’s attention, you lightly tap on their shoulder or say “excuse me please” loudly. Pulling someone’s headphones out to ask them the 70th question of the day is risky – on the pullers part and crosses a personal boundary. I would not do that to ANYONE unless it was an emergency – as in active shooters had entered the building and we needed to hide. This person needs to be educated on boundaries before he ticks the wrong person off. Some people would hit someone for doing this to them. Just sayin’

      1. Quandong*

        I have an extremely strong startle reflex, so a person lightly tapping my shoulder (or arm, or back, etc) is highly problematic in the workplace (or in my personal life). So I would suggest instead of touching a person to get their attention, get into their line of sight and wave rather than tapping them on the shoulder (or wherever) when they have headphones in.

        1. Midge*

          Seconding all of this! I have only been tapped on the shoulder once by a coworker, and I asked that he never do that again. Blech.

          On an amusing note, I did just witness a coworker trying to wave a get someone’s attention– from behind, when the other person was wearing headphones. The whole ‘get into their line of sight’ part really is essential if you want the waving to work. :)

    9. Grand Mouse*

      When my earphonez get yanked out even by accident I instantly feel angry so I can’t imagine I would respond well to someone doing it on purpose

  2. 1234567891011112 do do do*

    My (visceral, shocked) reaction to him pulling the headphones out of your ears (!!!!!!) was to shout, “NO!!” like to a bad dog. Good think I’m working at home, because I likely would have alarmed my coworkers. This is a HUGE violation and it really speaks to how off-the-rails this guy has become.

    1. Murphy*

      Yeah, it sounds like OP is within earshot of other people. I’d take Alison’s advice, but do it loudly so other people can hear you telling him not to touch you.

      Ugh, so not OK….

    2. Kittymommy*

      My automatic reaction would have been too tell “WTF” (& not just the acronym) and swing my arm out in self defense.

    3. That One Person*

      Agreed. Shoulder tapping is forgivable even though there are other ways to get a person’s attention, but I would not be pleased at someone removing my headphones for me. That is such an aggressive action that I’d simply become wary of that person – and if possible avoid direct interaction.

      1. Seifer*

        Yes, exactly! Sometimes I have my music turned up really loud since some of the guys in the actual offices like to put their desk phones on speakerphone, and never has my cubemate touched me to get my attention.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OMG, please, OP, shout “NO” at him like he’s bad dog. I think that’s entirely the right reaction, and it will have the added benefit (hopefully) of freaking him out.

  3. Foreign Octopus*

    I audibly gasped at the earphones!

    You are working with someone who is either/both lazy and incompetent, and/or boundary crossing. I hate that moving offices isn’t an option when it’s clear that your supervisor and HR know exactly what the issue is. Is it possible to ask them for more back up?

    1. Veger*

      Me too! It’s a major personal space violation to take someone’s ear phones. *insert aghast expression*

      At least the OP has assertive skills and a supervisor to back her up.

    2. Works in IT*

      I also audibly gasped at the earphones, and it’s a good thing my manager is at a meeting or he’d be in here asking what is so horrifying on my lunch break.

    1. Zweisatz*

      Cool. What is your advice to LW as she can’t change the past and already involved HR and her supervisor?

      1. Engineer Girl*

        It’s an appropriate response for that incident. Yes, HR knew. But this is a new incident that is severe enough to deserve a phone call either to the supervisor or HR.

        1. Artemesia*

          Just so. Asking questions is annoying. Pulling out ear phones is assault and should be treated as such especially the second time.

  4. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

    What the…nooooooo. I second everything Alison said, with the added thought of it’s okay to yell if he pulls on your earbuds–you’re being assaulted!

        1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

          …grabbing something someone is wearing/has inserted in their ears and yanking it out actually does meet the definition of assault. I’m not speaking out my arse here.

        2. Jennifer*

          Agreed. I think that minimizes assault. It may meet the legal definition of assault technically but the language is dramatic.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes. I think people sometimes bring up assault as an attempt to point to an authoritative source proving something is Really Wrong, but things can be really wrong and not okay without being assault or otherwise illegal. In any case, I’m going to ask that we leave this here because it ultimately doesn’t change the advice for the OP (and it becomes derailing whenever it comes up).

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I agree. It drives me a little crazy, because not all “assaults” (or unlawful activity) are equal. And a thing doesn’t have to be illegal to be inappropriate or wrong. I think folks like to appeal to a “higher authority” (in this case, “The Law”), but it’s always so derailing.

          2. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

            I think assault is assault, and the language is accurate. I think implying that there’s grey-areas of assault is what’s minimizing.

            1. fposte*

              Even technically, it’s not true that “assault is assault.” It has very different meanings in different jurisdictions, and it shares space with battery, which also has different meanings in different jurisdictions. We don’t know the OP’s jurisdiction, and most of us aren’t lawyers. So since we’re not using the term’s legal meaning, I’m not sure it makes much sense to insist on whether it is or isn’t assault in any other way.

          3. Jennifer Thneed*

            I think the legal definition is beside the point. Don’t know about others but when my ear buds get yanked out it *hurts*.

        3. Artemesia*

          Of course it is. You don’t get to lay hands on another person. And once told to stop doing it, it is intentional. I’d be making a much bigger fuss about this.

  5. Où est la bibliothèque?*

    I’d be really interested in finding out whether this was an issue with others before he began sharing an office with OP. Because if it only began with her as a specific target it makes me think this is rooted in a personal fixation rather than a lack of filter/initiative.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Remember the OP whose office mate specifically ate broccoli and beans so he could pass gas all day in their shared office? He bragged how he got the woman out of where she didn’t belong (which he also thought was the field.) At this point, I think it’s fair to wonder what his motivations are. Or at least be aware that he may have more than just being lazy or incompetent.
      Obviously if he’s blaming you for his review, everything is someone else’s fault, which is itself a big issue. Not as big as taking out your earbuds. You need to speak up about that. I’d wear them again and when he pulls them out, walk down to HR and explain that you’ve tried to keep him from distracting you during the work day and this is how he’s responded.
      Also, shut down the Alexa BS. It’s just normalizing his inappropriate behavior.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I forgot about this. Between that reminder and this post, I really dislike People right now.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          I got to “I now work in a natural gas plant” in the update and was like YES YOU SURE DO.

          I don’t think she meant her coworker though.

        3. Perpal*

          Oh my gosh.
          Vaguely wish the OP there had taken the door of the hinges; really, closing the door on top of everything else weasn’t a tipoff to HR/mangement that it was deliberate?

        4. Narise*

          I always thought that letter writer should have placed a fan on her desk and pointed it at belching coworker so he could smell himself all day.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        Yep, the Alexa stuff isn’t helping, even in jest.

        I think I’d say something like “…er, could you not? It’s wearing enough dealing with him being annoying!”

        If there’s something they could do (like if he pulls your headphones again, and you cry out, they could come in and express shock and concern at how Not Right that is) then you could add “if you want to help, you could…” But it’s probably best just to keep other colleagues out of this (except your manager, obviously) and just shut them down when they call you Alexa, albeit in a kind way.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        The blaming is a bit much. At that point I’d bluntly tell him “I’m not responsible for your work or your success. You are!”

        Also “You need to operate independently in order to succeed at your job. I will not do it for you. Do not bother me again.”

        Because sometimes you have to be called “mean” by people with no sense of responsibility.

      3. PJs of Steven Tyler*

        Yep – the Alexa thing would feel really frustrating. My grandmother used to make me run errands while we were on vacation – she was trying to convince the locals that she was the Best Person Ever. SO the locals started calling me “Gopher” after a few days of running to the grocery store for more baking supplies several times per day. I HATED it and was so frustrated.

    2. Bee*

      The fact that he apparently walks down the hall asking everyone he comes across until he gets an answer suggests this is just an across-the-board problem with him, and no one was ever trapped in the same room with him long enough to notice. Like, if the person down the hall swings by to ask you a question once or twice a day, it doesn’t feel like a problem, and you might not put together that he’s doing this to someone EVERY TEN MINUTES.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, I bet it wasn’t concentrated before–now one person is taking the full brunt.

        But honestly, I’m surprised he has time to do much of a job; I’m wondering if his manager is being too lenient here.

        1. Lance*

          I’m wondering the same. Given the performance review, and him acting like a general clueless nuisance (and being fixated on his idea that OP effectively sabotaged him for his review), I’m not sure why he’s not on some kind of notice.

        2. Scarlet*

          I was about to say the exact same thing: If he asks 75 questions in one day, sometimes walking down the hall and asking several people, how much work does he ever get done? That probably takes a full 8 hour working day…
          If you add the attitude problems, I really don’t know why this guy hasn’t been fired already.
          And I’d definitely go further than Alison when he blames OP for his performance review. I think I’d mention every single question that guy has already asked since the start of the day and point out that the review is 100% accurate. And don’t get me started on the earbud-pulling thing…

      2. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        Sounds like OP’s coworkers are all aware that this is a problem, but since 90% of landing on her head no one has been stirred to (serious) action yet. Any chance your manager would switch desks with you for a day? Or discover she had to work in your office with you on a collaborative project for a few hours? Anyone can sympathize, but only someone who’s dealt with the onslaught can empathize – and I think that’s what you need.

      3. designbot*

        Agreed. My instinct on this is that he may not realize at all just how much he does this. If he’s used to having his own office, he may say a lot of stuff like talking to himself. He’s even maintaining that the performance review was incorrect. I wonder if LW shared her tally with him, how he’d react. I bet he’d be shocked, I bet he thinks he asks a few/a normal amount of questions and a lot of this is unconscious.

        1. Observer*

          No, he’s not just talking to himself. Keep in mind that he jerked the OP’s earbuds out of their ears!

          1. designbot*

            I’m not saying that every time is to himself, but I’d be willing to bet that he has no idea how often he does this. If say 80% of the time he doesn’t realize he’s doing it, then LW bristling at it or trying to brush him off may feel super harsh to him the 20% of the time he is being intentional.
            * I feel like I need to clarify that this isn’t making excuses for him: he’s still acting atrociously and it’s behavior that needed to be checked long before he got to the point of yanking headphones out of her ears. I just think making him aware of just how often he does this could be incredibly powerful.

            1. Observer*

              Except that he WAS made aware of this by HR – and his reaction is that it’s not true and the OP is just lying. What makes you think he’s going to listen to her when HR already spoke to him – and has some evidence?

              1. designbot*

                Frequency. If the response he gets is to regularly say, hey, we’ve talked about this and you’ve already done it 5x, 15x, 38x today, that in the moment feedback snaps people out of doing something unconsciously. It’s just like what Alison always says about, have the big picture conversation, but be prepared to say “you’re doing it again” or “this is what we talked about last week” multiple times, because people have trouble connecting the big picture to the occurance in the moment. When he hears “you ask your officemate 75 questions a day, that’s one every 6 and a half minutes” he thinks “no WAY, that’s ridiculous!” But when he starts hearing “that’s the fifth time already” and it’s only 9:30am, it’s a form of mindfulness, just being imposed on him from the outside.

                1. Scarlet*

                  I agree OP should specifically point out the repetitions in the moment, but I really don’t believe this guy is doing that unconsciously. If he was unaware of it, the performance review would have opened his eyes. He’s just denying it and shifting the blame.

        2. xms967*

          I once tracked how many times over the course of a day I was interrupted by someone asking me “just one quick question”, then shared it with him at the end of the day. He genuinely hadn’t been keeping mental track; he just thought it was a few quick questions. (It was more like 30 or 40 “quick” questions.)

    3. Observer*

      Except that he’s going and asking other people as well. So, he’s clearly a boundary crossing jerk, but there’s more to the story than JUST the OP. Not that it makes it any better.

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        He’s taking work questions down the hall to other people, but the “when does the bagel place close” and “how far away is Chicago”–and the extreme boundary-crossing–may still be specifically directed at the LW alone.

    4. Anoncorporate*

      I mostly read this behavior as a combination of laziness and boredom. I admit that sometimes when I get bored at work, I feel tempted to ask a random question to a coworker just for an excuse to talk. Of course, I resist the urge most times and don’t do what this guy does! However, this guy is abnormal even compared to the overly eager/needy coworker. Idk what quirk he has but he’s insufferable and needs to shape up if he wants to remain employable.

  6. SheLooksFamiliar*

    OP, I actually gasped out loud when I read that this fellow pulled your headphones off – that is simply not okay! Also, I echo Alison’s comment about your manager having your back here, this isn’t always a given. Please keep us posted!

    1. CM*

      The headphone thing was shocking to me, too. I’m having a hard time imagining what would be going through his mind that he’d believe that was okay. It takes a pretty bold person to ignore a Do Not Disturb sign like that and demand to be heard anyway. It communicates that he believes he’s entitled to the OP’s attention when he wants it and most of the reasons someone would feel that way seem sinister to me.

    2. Shannon*

      This was shocking to me too! If someone did that to me at the office, I can’t promise my immediate reaction wouldn’t be to karate chop them upside the noggin.

  7. Folklorist*

    Highly Annoying Person needs to be an office certification that gets added to someone’s door or something to earn others, sort of like they advertise who is safety trained!

    1. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Well, that would be an achievement worth mentioning in my resumé.

  8. Erin*

    Oh boy.

    This is one of those stories to remember when you’re interviewing for jobs and feeling the imposter syndrome. Someone hired this dude.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I LOLed at that. But seriously – am I the only one who reads AAM and wonders why I work so hard in my life when some of these train wrecks have jobs they apparently cannot get themselves fired from?

      1. ArtsNerd*

        Not sure how much that gnaws at you, but I was living and breathing that resentment in an old job when I found AAM years ago. “Why do I even bother?” was the essentially the sound of my heartbeat.

        What happened next in my career: the hard workers found better and better employers (and other opportunities) and the train wrecks found their options narrow further and further and further. The hard work does matter (and people do see it!) even if it’s not immediately obvious.

      2. Birch*

        Yep. I wonder how people like this get hired in the first place? Did the interviewer ignore a bunch of red flags? Is he really charismatic when he wants to be? How are people literally too lazy to Google when the bagel place is open? (On the other hand, the idea of physically getting up, walking down the hall, and interrupting someone to ask such a thing seems like so much more work than Googling!)

        1. Bostonian*

          This is what amazes me. Yes, ripping the earbuds is the most serious part of this, but in terms of my sheer wonder at the illogical motivations of this individual asking simple questions UNTIL SOMEONE ANSWERS HIM instead of looking it up himself… just takes the cake!

        2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          He’s definitely comfortable asking questions, and in an interview that can be interpreted as being “eager to learn.” In the first three months, it’s “eager to succeed and build.” In reality, it’s spinning his wheels and pulling everyone else down with him.

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          IME, to get hired while being someone like this, one would have to either be personal friends with all or most of the people interviewing, or be a guy who looks respectable in a suit and can BS his way through an interview. We had one candidate like that and I was deathly afraid that he’d get hired. He did come across to me as someone who would not do any work, and would also talk the rest of his team to death so they woouldn’t be able to do any work either; but he’d interviewed with the managers before us, and I was afraid that he’d charmed the managers. It was just our luck that, as it turned out, one of the managers had asked him a very basic technical question, and the guy responded with “what’s (a very basic thing)?” We did not hire him. But someone else did a few months later! Heck, he might even be OP’s office mate!

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Adding to the previous, I’m said a candidate would “have to be a guy”, because, again IME and in my field, there’s no way in hell a woman can pull this off. We have to be beyond qualified for the job. It is always a guy that slips through the cracks.

        4. Autumnheart*

          “He asked tons of questions at the interview! What a motivated and intellectually curious individual. He’s perfect!”

      3. Wendy Darling*

        I used to feel super bad when I was unemployed when I realized that some yahoos had jobs. Dude who told me multiple sexual jokes in a job interview? Has a job and IS A MANAGER. Dude who during the lunch interview tried to talk me into ordering liquor and then asked me to say something dirty in a foreign language? Has a job. Neither of them hired me and on the one hand I am glad but on the other hand WHAT.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I interviewed with a guy who made a drug joke during our interview. I was supposed to report to him if I’d gotten hired. I was told that I was not a good cultural fit… no s#t!

      4. Pomona Sprout*

        I wonder that Every Damned Time I read AAM!

        When I think of some of the utter b.s. I have been subjected to in some of the places I’ve worked AND remember how hard I was trying to do a bangup job un every one of those instances without getting any credit or recognition for my efforts and then come hear and read about the awful stuff that awful people are getting away with at their jobs Every Single Day, I can’t hep thinking that I was an idiot to have tried so hard.

        I don’t understand why SO many people seem to get away with SO much crap in SO many workplaces. Especially when I remember things like having to leave a job in an art library because the new director so deeply resented the fact that my undergrad degree wasn’t in art. (Her predecessor knew that when she hired me, and it wasn’t an issue until she retired and Almira Gulch was hired to teplace her.)

        Bitter? Hell, yes, I’m bitter.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Right? He sounds unfamiliar, not just with his job, but with how to function as a human on this planet.

      1. 2 Cents*

        And unfamiliar with Google or another search engine in general. “Google, what time does the local bagel place close?”

        1. pope suburban*

          Let Me Google That For You was made for this guy. If only it wouldn’t be grossly unprofessional to message him LMGTFY links every time he did that thing he does.

          1. Matilda Jefferies*

            I actually wouldn’t have a problem with LMGTFY from a professional standpoint – sounds like OP is several rungs above him on that particular ladder already. The reason I wouldn’t do it is that it takes the same amount of time as googling the actual answer – and, more importantly, this guy has already shown that he’s not receptive to hints like that. From what OP has described of his technical expertise, he may not even get that it’s not the real answer – even beyond getting the point, I don’t know if he would even see that OP was trying to make a point in the first place!

            1. pope suburban*

              Oh yeah, it would absolutely be pointless. It’s one of those things that would give you maybe thirty seconds’ satisfaction before things went right back to normal. I can only hope that the idea gave OP (or anyone similarly bedeviled at work) a little chuckle.

    3. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      Great point! I’ve received negative feedback for asking too many questions and people may read it as if I don’t learn or understand things, so I try not to. But I’ve never been anywhere near as bad as this guy – I don’t think I’ve asked 75 questions per day even on my first day! And he has a job, presumably has had a job for a long time.

    4. DarlaMushrooms*

      These stories just make me feel worse about myself, to be honest. How come that guy can get a job and I can’t?

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        Me too. At the moment I am employed but for years I had zero luck in the jobs department and it just destroyed me to see all the horrible people with jobs.

    5. Anoncorporate*

      Right?? I’m one of those people who think they are going to get fired the minute something goes remotely wrong or my manager speaks to me sternly. Then I come to AAM and read about coworkers that put pins on people’s chairs and cross major boundaries and still don’t get fired!

  9. Bordum becomes me*

    I think my eyes popped out of my head when I read the headphones line. That is straight up wrong holy crap

    1. Fieldpoppy*

      (I tried to post this but my wifi died — apologies if it shows up twice)

      I have had three people lift my headphones up to ask me questions while traveling. One elderly man on a train last year to ask me if he could get off when the train stopped to smoke. Twice on planes — one man shook me awake and lifted my headphones to ask how much longer we had on the flight. The other had barraged me with questions as we were taking off, including asking me if I was married and I’d said I was in a relationship with a woman (this was before the legalization of same sex marriage). That guy lifted my headphones to ask wasn’t it illegal for homosexuals to wear wedding rings. (It’s not a criminal act, dude!)

      My point — LW, I feel for you. Your office mate is clearly one of those dudes who thinks other people are there to meet their needs. I hope for an update after you try alison’s script.

  10. Sabina*

    Here’s what I would be tempted to do: Make a 8 x 10 sign to display upright on your desk that states “NOT AVAILABLE FOR QUESTIONS AT THIS TIME”. Every time he approaches you, point to the sign and then turn away, don’t speak or make eye contact. If he tries to tap on your shoulder, or remove your earphones (WTF? really?), yelp really loudly and yell “why are you touching me?” Good luck, LW, this sounds like a crazy-making situation.

    1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I was actually coming here to say something like this. I mean, use Allison’s script first and then the next dozen times he asks back it up every single time with “I can’t answer any more of your questions, it takes up too much time and is distracting”. But after that, sure, make a sign and just point to it when he tries to get your attention.

      Also – if he tries to blame you for his bad review again tell him that if he doesn’t like the information he is getting from you he should stop asking you to do things for him.

    2. Dragoning*

      The first time that happen, I think I would’ve literally shrieked and definitely give that guy an elbow to the face just out of reflex.

    3. Flash Bristow*

      Or a sign to point to for him: Nil by mouth.

      Complete with zipped mouth smiley.

      (If only!)

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        and you win this thread. Then after doing the math I contemplated if an extra $187.50 a day for 75 correct answers would be worth it for dealing with this dude. I mean, if he kept it up that would at least be an extra $1,000 a week – and that is nothing to sneeze at.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Man, I wish I could get away with that at my desk…unfortunately we need to “look approachable” in HR. TPTB are already irritable because my officemate and I have been keeping the office door closed, but it’s cold in this building and we have our own heater, plus our office is right by the back door and gets a cold draft every time someone opens it, so we’re trying to keep the warm air in!

    4. Anonicat*

      Rather than pointing at it, I’d be tempted to whip it out like Wile E. Coyote holding up a “Help” sign. But I suspect that would get old quicker than this guy would get the message.

  11. JB*

    I’ve seen people like this. The underlying problem is that he is a mental infant who is incapable of solving his own problems or taking responsibility. The only solution is to cut him off and allow him to fail or succeed on his own.

    And Allison is right. If he decides to touch you or your earphones again, you need to snap back as fast as possible and let him know it is not okay. And it needs to be loud enough that everyone else hears it.

    1. JB*

      PS. In my case, the co-worker also developed paranoia when he started getting criticized. In his mind, he was a helpless victim and the people who expected him to do work were a bunch of bullies who were ‘out to get him.’ Last I heard, he was hospitalized for mental health problems. Not an ideal solution, but a solution nonetheless.

      I’m saying this not to frighten anyone, but to let you know that these behaviors might be related to deep-seated emotional issues that require professional intervention. If this is the case, it’s not something that you or your supervisors can ‘fix.’

      1. bookartist*

        I suggest someone in need of medical intervention, and getting it, is a somewhat ideal solution.

      2. Aaron*

        Yes, this sounds just like a guy I used to know. He had no sense of social nuance or personal property and simply did what he felt like doing, which lead to some crazy things happening to him.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      My ex refused to bring his work laptop home because he ‘just couldn’t understand’ how to log onto the company VPN. Help Desk showed him how to log in remotely, several times. Gosh, he just didn’t get it, technology wasn’t his thing, sorry. He was a little sore because he didn’t have his own admin like he used to, but didn’t tell anyone. He preferred they think he was just a Luddite.

      His boss snapped when he found out that, when Ex was traveling, he called the department admin, gave her his log in creds, asked her to check email for him…and print and fax it to his clients’ office. Ex swore he was solving his problem, but I still chuckle because he just showed his office what a mental infant he truly was.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I worked with someone at my first US job who, first, refused to learn a fairly simple homegrown programming language that the place was using, and then started snapping at the PM: “why are you assigning this to me?! I TOLD YOU I don’t know (homegrown language)!” Mind you, this was a man whose degree evaluated to PhD in the US. He was probably surprised to find out his strategy was not working, when he was fired one day.

        1. JB*

          This seems to be a cultural expectation in some countries. I’ve noticed people from certain cultures come to expect deference to their age and education. And then they arrive in America and people expect them to learn new skills and do real work, and they experience a major culture shock.

      2. tinyhipsterboy*

        Man, it drives me bonkers when people are shown exactly how to do something with technology and then still act like it’s something beyond them. I understand that technology isn’t for everyone, and even though we’ve made great strides in user-friendliness it can be intimidating, but people who adamantly refuse to learn frustrate me to no end. You don’t have to learn how to code, but typing in a name to Google isn’t that hard to learn (for most people)!

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Me too, and then they complain about not being able to do something that would be seventy billion times easier if they would just suck it up and learn it.
          It blows their minds when I tell them I didn’t know any more than they did when I started using a computer (on Windows 3.1!). And that I google stuff, all the time. I don’t just automatically know it.

          1. ssssssssssssssssssssssss*

            Yep. I once helped a coworker with something that I thought was simple. She retorted, “Well, I didn’t take secretarial classes like you!” I replied that I never took any secretarial classes either. Everything I learned on the fly by actually, like, trying, or looking it up or sometimes, but constructively, asking the right person.

            I’m constantly using Google because I still find issues I can’t solve on my own.

            1. Jadelyn*

              I’ve straight up told my team that the Excel skills they marvel at and seem to think are wizardry of some kind are mostly just the result of google and experimentation. I learned by being asked “can you make this report do X?” and going “Hmm, I don’t know, let me see,” then searching for answers, testing a few different methods, and figuring out what works for our purposes. I’ve never taken a single Excel class. I’m just really good with google.

              1. Alli525*

                Same! My boss considers me her Word wizard, but so much of it is just using it almost every day and googling what I don’t know. Google-fu is an underrated skill.

          2. Mongrel*

            Yeah, I’ve taken over some of my colleagues tasks while she’s out on maternity leave and already found time to streamline them as she’d rather just follow the SOPs than learn the processes.
            And yes, she’s one of the “LOL, I’m not good with computers *giggle*” type, unfortunately we tend to recruit for as “…we can teach computer tasks”

      3. Essess*

        We almost worked for the same boss. I would sometimes fill in for the department head’s admin when she was on vacation. Even though this was in the days of Blackberries and he was the only person in the office who had one, when the head was traveling would call his admin and have her READ all his emails to him over the phone, and then she had to print out every email and put it into a folder and set it on his desk for him to read when he got back. Then he would file them (oops… actually have HER file them for him) into a 4-drawer filing cabinet. I have no idea what happened to them after the cabinet got full.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      The whole thing is outsourcing emotional labor to the extreme. He is basically expecting to store memories/knowledge he needs in someone else’s head. I feel like the Alexia thing confirmed that the OP is a woman, but I was already 95% sure of that before I got that far into the letter.

      1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        The more I think about it, the more this smells like some sort of anxiety that he’s using OP to address. It may not be about answers/help with work; it may be about needing constant “lifts” or “boosts” or even just attention from someone. Which of course is a form of emotional labor. Alison’s advice holds, but OP I’m shooting you a big zap of “you’re right this is nuts and you are not overreacting.”

      2. Kella*

        The irony is that tools like “Alexa” and “Siri” were developed for this exact purpose. It’s likely with a few technological tweaks, he could actually ask a real Alexa these same questions *and get answers to all of them*. But with how much effort he’ll put into finding another human to answer it for him, I suspect he somehow enjoys the aspect of someone else doing it for him, and that a computer doing it wouldn’t be as satisfying.

        1. NW Mossy*

          I can’t wait until we get to the first AAM letter on the topic of “My co-worker is constantly asking questions to an AI assistant and it’s driving me crazy!” I’ve got one of those smart speakers at home and it kills me when it answers by reading a paragraph from a web page….

  12. Amber Rose*

    I feel a wash of frustrated rage when, due to my own clumsiness, I hook my headphones on something and yank them out of my own ears. That feeling SUCKS. If someone else did such a thing to me on purpose, I would see red. Don’t let ANYONE do that to you, LW. Call it out immediately.

    I don’t even let myself do it anymore. I got myself some wireless earbuds. As much as I love them, they are not your solution here. Telling your coworker to manage his own work and not manhandle people is your solution.

    Also, maybe point out the facts? Like, “Hey, did you know that’s the 20th question you’ve asked me today? The answers are all available in X place, can you check there first? Thanks.” That may be a little aggressive but this dude clearly needs to get hit by a Clue-By-Four to figure this out.

    1. TheBeetsMotel*

      God, yes. I get unbelievably ragey when I pull out my own headphones on a drawer handle or door or something. What is it about that that causes the urge to hulk-smash, I wonder?

      1. Jadelyn*

        I have no idea, but I get that way too – instant rage at the universe and/or the hapless door handle that caused the issue. It’s not like it’s all that physically painful, you know? Slamming my finger in a desk drawer or stubbing a toe on a corner of my desk hurts way more and for longer, but I don’t get furious the same way at those.

        But it’s mildly reassuring to know it’s not just me who overreacts at that particular issue. (And I’m with you, Amber, I too got myself some wireless headphones because I couldn’t deal with the damn cords anymore.)

        1. Amber Rose*

          It is good to know it’s not just me! Maybe it’s just a symptom of frustration with cords in general. I constantly have cords running everywhere all the time and I can never get them under control.

          Wireless earbuds are saving my blood pressure.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        I think it is because ears are so sensitive and integral to our lives. Like if something bad were to happen to an ear, there goes your hearing on one side and loosing a whole sense, or just part of one would disturb your life so much you are more protective of them. We are all the same way about eyeballs – if something comes even close to your eye most people freak out – if something went wrong it could mess up your life pretty badly.

    2. Anon and on and on*

      I wear the noise canceling, giant Bose kind* that sit over my ears. When they hook on my chair and come off, it’s gross and disturbing. Earbuds? I would freak out.

      *my boss’ solution to sitting across from two evil women who would talk about all the work each person wasn’t doing all day, who got up from her desk too long, who wasn’t dressed right…all day long.

    3. Oranges*

      Chiming in on the rage induced by self inflicted earphone yanks. I don’t know why it’s so rage inducing myself.

      Immediate thought was that you get so used to them and what’s on them you forget that they’re there. Then the yank happens and not only do you remember that you’re wearing this “device”. And that the device which is supposed to/is usually easy to use suddenly has ‘brain processing cost (aka you have to think about the stupid cord)’ that you weren’t expecting and are NOT okay with.

    4. Alli525*

      For some reason my headphone cords snags almost every day on my front door. It drives me absolutely bonkers but I can’t justify wireless earbuds when I travel by plane fairly frequently (or underground on the subway, although dead spots in NYC are nearly non-existent now).

  13. Atlantis*

    I’m exceptionally impressed with you OP. I would have done something way more unprofessional by this point. Pulling your headphones out?!!! The only time you do that is if the building is literately on fire and the person hasn’t noticed the alarms. Good grief.

    Good on your management for actually doing something with this guy. I hope you’re able to follow Allison’s advice, and that this guy is dealt with sooner than later. I would also mention to your manager the next time you discuss him that he pulled out your headphones if you haven’t already said that. If he’s done it to you, I’m willing to bet he’s done it to others. The only thing better would be if he was to try it again while you’re on a conference call with your manager…

    I hope you can update us soon with good news.

  14. Snork Maiden*

    Please let me know if this is stepping into armchair-diagnosing territory, but there are several flags here that would lead me to asking if this guy has literacy issues – he’s not reading emails, he’s not reading online databases, and he’s not reading maps either (whaa?). It would also explain his weird rage levels because this can be (understandably) a source of much frustration and embarrassment for people. I could also be entirely wrong, since AAM readership skews to the sort of people who will look something up before asking questions.

    This doesn’t excuse his behaviour though – what an ass! None of his treatment of you is normal or OK, OP.

    1. FuzzFrogs*

      From my reading of the letter, it looks like this occurred to OP, but HR confirmed that it was not a factor.

      1. Snork Maiden*

        You’re right, I read too fast. Yikes. I hope the OP can find some support and get this shut down.

      2. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

        People with literacy problems can be REALLY good at covering it up (although if he were trying to hide it, surely he’d not be asking questions every ten minutes!). I hope HR really did check thoroughly.

      3. Mephyle*

        We are told that HR confirmed it was not a factor, but I would still be skeptical. Did HR actually find out that he can read as well as anyone else, or did they think “Of course he can read. Everyone here can read.”
        I don’t think it’s armchair diagnosing to conclude that there is some sort of barrier to his acquiring information in written form – whatever the nature of the barrier. Rather it’s drawing a logical conclusion from the evidence we have. Multiple times OP has asked him to look up the answer to a question of his, and has told him where to do so. Instead he goes down the hall and asks other people, rather than look it up.

        1. fposte*

          But it doesn’t change what the OP does. If he needs accommodation, he needs to get it an appropriate way (and he’s had the chance to do that and declined). That’s the rap against armchair diagnoses–they’re not actionable information.

        2. Myrin*

          In addition to what fposte said – and which is really all there needs to be said – I feel pretty confident in saying that while yes, some kind of “barrier” is indeed “a logical conclusion”, it’s not the most likely one. Literally every person I’ve ever met who was like this (to a lesser degree, though, I thankfully haven’t come across another 75-questions-per-eight-hours person yet) behaved this way because it was easier for them to just blab out questions into the void instead of going to look for answers themselves. And from what I’ve been reading and hearing for the past several years, that really does seem to be the much, much more common reason for behaviour like this.

          1. SignalLost*

            And, not that I’m on this dude’s side in the least, there are days where I’m frustrated with something I’m trying to do, I don’t want to wade through yet another dense knowledge base article, I don’t want to refine search terms ten more times to find my weird edge case, I’m out of resources, and I still have the problem to fix. It would be so nice to just ask someone who knows and can explain it like a human. It’s not unreasonable in small doses – a question or two a week.

          2. Mephyle*

            Good points, and they apply well to detailed questions that would require research, but OP mentions that he even refuses to look up a phone number in a directory. Something’s awry there.

    2. MatKnifeNinja*

      My coworker does all his thinking/questioning outloud.

      Yesterday he left me with 40 minutes of silence out of 120 minutes of work.

      He literally can not think without running his mouth. He’s got zip impulse control, and I could seeing him pulling out my ear defenders.

      It’s like working with a squirrel monkey hopped up on Red Bull.

      He recently was diagnosed with a condition covered under ADA, and is going through a medication overhaul. I’m still waiting for his new meds to kick in. The never ending talking outloud and impulse control issue are part of his condition.

      I’ve resorted to putting up a sign saying unavailable for questions for 60 minutes or however long you need quiet. It works sometimes.

      He also doesn’t read emails because of attention span/”boring”. No literacy issues, just not interesting enough.

      When he gets mad, it’s because his soft skills are garbage, and the impulsivity rides roughshod over what he does have.

      I hope your coworker can evetually get on board. I was told my coworker probably wont get much better. It’s up to me to set the boundaries.

      Good luck. I feel your pain.

      1. Yvette*

        “It’s like working with a squirrel monkey hopped up on Red Bull.” Thank you for one of the funniest mental images I have had in a long time.

      2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

        Ugh. Lately my husband feels he needs to talk to himself for every task he does, with the occasional passive-aggressive muttering when he doesn’t like the way me or the kid have done some household task. I just put on headphones and figure if he needs to address me directly, he will.

      3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Is this one of the situations where Alison would say that management is putting there responsibility on you? Yes, his work environment cannot be hostile to him because of his disability, but that does not equal, “I have to put up with all his bullshit temper tantrums and outbursts. I have to summarize emails for him because he doesn’t want to read them. I have to let him talk at me all day because he needs to think out loud.”
        The company can’t accommodate him by sacrificing the rest of the staff.
        Why yes, this is the first letter I’ve ever seen on this site. How did you know? :)

      4. Close Bracket*

        Just for clarity, bc this is an important distinction and not a nitpick:

        condition covered under ADA

        ADA doesn’t cover conditions. The language gives some examples of potentially disabling conditions, but that is definitely not the same as being covered for those conditions. For example, you can’t look up OCD in the ADA and find that yes, it’s covered. Some people with condition x will not be disabled as a result of it, and some people will have traits of condition x that impact their life to the point of disability without having that condition. ADA mandates accommodation based on the impact, not the condition.

      5. AKchic*

        Ugh. That sounds like my 3rd son. Meds can help, but so can learning the right coping skills.

        But yes, boundaries are going to be necessary, and constantly enforcing them. Your coworker is not his diagnosis, and he can actually learn to control some of his behaviors, he just has to want to. It just takes effort, practice and dedication.

      6. TardyTardis*

        Are you sure he’s not my son? (probably not, he’s diagnosed with a mental problem that meds really help with, and he lives independently, but he can talk on Endlessly. Granted, we’re his only social outlet just about, but it’s still mindboggling to be around him).

    3. Adele*

      Having worked in adult literacy programs, this is where my mind went, too. Many of his behaviors are classic coping strategies for people who are illiterate and are deeply ashamed to admit it. If HR said to him, “Do you have trouble reading?” or “Do you have trouble with reading comprehension?,” it is highly unlikely the office mate will admit to it. He will, of course, emphatically say “No!” He may have undiagnosed dyslexia or other learning disability or simply, for whatever reason, never learned to read.

      Of course, if the office mate is able to write, then he has something else going on. Either way, his problems are not the OP’s to solve. Her problem is removing herself from his proximity or shutting down his behavior. I wish you the best of luck, OP.

    4. Observer*

      Well, the OP has asked he right question of HR. At this point, it doesn’t matter anymore. This person is being obnoxious and placing his issues on the OP.

  15. Walter White Walker*

    His behavior crossed a line from being annoying to unacceptable when he began harassing you about _his_ performance review (!) and pulled your earphones out (!!) If I were in your position, LW, I would inform him in writing, by email, with your manager and HR cc:ed, that he is making you extremely uncomfortable by touching you and harassing you about his review, and that you are hereby asking him to stop doing those things.

    I would then document any further bad behavior from him in writing, with dates and times.

    I’d be very surprised if an office move “wasn’t in the cards” after you present HR with an extensive paper trail of his bad actions. Someone in that office will figure out that it’s cheaper to move you than to write you a settlement check.

    1. Jadelyn*

      Eh…annoyance isn’t usually an actionable issue in terms of employment law. The only thing OP could *maybe* cause legal trouble over would be the headphone-grabbing, but unless he does it all the time even after being told to stop, that doesn’t meet the bar for harassment.

  16. FuzzFrogs*

    This is absolutely horrendous. I work in the public library sphere, where it’s pretty normal for patrons to ask a lot of questions, but even in our question-rich environment this would be totally insane.

    I agree with Alison about how you need to react with earnestness the next time he crosses your boundaries. In my experience corralling loud teenagers as well as slightly-off adults, acting like boundaries are obvious and their overstep is *obviously shocking* helps remind the person that the rules of society *will be enforced.* This type of person does these sorts of things because they think the boundaries are nebulous, and that they can cross them according to personal need–and, because they usually get what they want in the end, they end up doing this all the time, not considering how they’re impacting other people. You need to make your social boundaries HARD. He is, 100%, NOT ALLOWED to take out your headphones. If it helps, think of this as a rule of the universe, not of you, like in big letters on the side of a mountain–NO HEADPHONE TOUCHING. NOT ALLOWED IS THE TOUCHING OF MINE HEADPHONES.

  17. Seal*

    He pulled your headphones out to ask you a question?! That would have been the last straw for me.

    When I was an undergraduate, a student in one of my classes was a compulsive questioner. The instructor could barely get a sentence out before this woman’s hand was in the air. Her questions were such that if she would have just sat there and listened, she would have gotten the point. Worse, the instructor indulged this woman’s nonsense and answer every single question. Half the class dropped the course after Spring Break; I suspect it was because they were fed up with the nonstop questions. Unfortunately, I need the class to graduate, so I had to stick it out until the bitter end. To this day I’m irritated that neither the instructor or one of her TAs didn’t take this woman aside and tell her to knock it off.

    1. JeanB in NC*

      I remember in college once I was in a class with one of these constant questioners. I got fed up one day and just said to the instructor “can you please meet with this person after class or something? the rest of us would like to move on”. I wasn’t rude or anything, but they both looked a little surprised and I think that ended the questions for that person – for that class anyway!

    2. SusanIvanova*

      I had one of those in one class, but it only took about 3 classes before the prof picked up on the body language of everyone else in the room and realized she was the only one who didn’t get it. After a few rounds of “please see me in office hours if you don’t understand”, she either got the hint or dropped the class.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      Oh, I know this person.
      Instructor: “When making a cake, mix the dry ingredients first. Start with the flour.”
      PITA: “Can you use almond flour?
      I: “Yes, you can use almond flour. For this recipe we will be using AP flour because of the lemon extract.”
      PITA: “Can you use vanilla extract?”
      I: “As I stated, this is a lemon chiffon trifle, so we need vanilla extract and AP flour and a full cup of sugar.”
      PITA: “If you use raw sugar, is it still a cup What about Splenda?
      Ha ha, tricked you. There’s no way MeMe McImportantself would bundle a question.

    4. blackcat*

      I once taught one of these constant questioners. I met with him outside of class, said he could ask no more than 4 questions per class, and anything additional, he should write down and bring to office hours. Meeting one on one, he said this would be fine, that he doubting he asked more than four questions on an average day anyways. Sure, kid.

      Next day, I cut off question #4 no more than 15 minutes into class.

      In front of the entire class, he called me an “incompetent [c-word]” and stormed out. An 80 student class.

      The other 70+ students and I were sorta stunned for a moment, then I said, “Well, that was inappropriate and awkward. Let’s continue our discussion.”

      I never saw that kid again.

      Perhaps, he is this guy.

      1. Cassandra*

        From one educator to another, that was a piece of PERFECT classroom management right there. Well handled in the moment — which is the hardest time to handle something well!

          1. blackcat*

            Unlike many in academia, I was actually a licensed teacher and so I went through teacher training stuff. I taught high school before coming to grad school, and I definitely learned that often the best response to awkwardness in teaching is acknowledge the awkward and move on.

            Like the time when I was running wood shop, and I asked two sixteen year old boys where their nuts were.

        1. blackcat*

          I told a dean and his advisor. Don’t know what happened, just that he vanished off my roster and never showed his face again.

    5. Strawmeatloaf*

      I was in a summer class one time with a guy who just would not stop arguing points with a teacher. In a beginners chemistry class. The teacher would try to stop it, but it was like this guy just had to be right and would get angry.

      One day we came to class and there was a police officer outside the door and we were told that he had assaulted one of the female students when she had created a study group and after it was done when the others in the group had left.

      No one was sad that he wasn’t allowed to come back, and no one was surprised either.

    6. Parenthetically*

      Yes, this letter and these comments are bringing back memories of teaching sixth graders, 75% of whom seemed to think that “daydreaming and then asking 85 questions over the material the teacher just covered” was a good substitute for “listening to the teacher and reading the handout she just gave us that covers the same stuff.”

  18. C Average*

    Serious question: is it possible he doesn’t know how to read? Or that he’s computer illiterate?

    Initially I thought he’s just lazy, but the fact that he wanders the office looking for OTHER people to pester with his questions makes me wonder if there’s something more to it.

    (This doesn’t change the answer. Alison’s response is perfect. I just am boggled by this behavior and want to know the why behind it.)

    1. LizB*

      Looks like the OP brought up that possibility in her initial email to HR, and got the feedback that there’s no reason her coworker can’t use the online resources. So if that is his issue, he’s not admitting it to HR, at least.

      1. fposte*

        It’s kind of fitting that several people in the comments are asking this question, despite the fact that it’s addressed in the post. Given the right circumstances, we are all the guy who asks when we could have read the answer.

        1. Mystery Bookworm*

          Oh yeah. I try not to be too judgy when people occasionally ask for info I know I’ve given them, because our attention spans are only so perfect and we all invariably miss things now and again. Plus, some databases can be overly onurous to use if you only very occasionally need info from them.

          That said – this is clearly an above and beyond case, and I do still think it’s appropriate to let repeat offenders know they need to work on their find and seek skills.

        2. LizB*

          Absolutely. Muphry’s Law (sic) in action: if you’re correcting someone’s grammar or spelling, you will inevitably make an error yourself; if you’re talking about reading comprehension, you will inevitably miss something in your initial read!

        3. JSPA*

          Well, functional illiteracy wasn’t named in so many words. We don’t actually know if HR broke down all the potential issues (visual, attentional, dyslexia, executive issues, general literacy, phobias, etc) and addressed each of them explicitly and effectively (insofar as its even possible to do so in a work setting). And we also don’t know if OP and OP’s HR fully appreciate how far people sometimes go to hide such issues, and how hard – wired that becomes (even when “coming clean” would be clearly better in a particular situation).

          I tend to think co-worker can best be explained by invoking entitlement and neediness on top of some other undefined issues. But i don’t see much benefit to saying, “this conversation / these questions are distracting and unprofessional; if there’s some accommodation you need that will allow you to behave more professionally, please notify HR.” The second half puts OP at risk of creating all kinds of legal issues. The first part therefore has to stand on its own.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      He probably has bad critical thinking skills. I’ve known many people who are literate and who struggle to find answers in a system they don’t understand. They have no ability to drill down and think of the right words/phrase to Google or data base search. So it’s easier to ask someone, who will usually know or point you in another direction.

      We all tend to spot read and skim long passages, so if you’re not sure of what you’re looking for, it makes it even more frustrating!

  19. The other Louis*

    There are people who process information better when it’s said to them than when they read it (I’m like that), and so have a tendency to ask people questions instead of looking it up. But, it’s just an ease/preference thing, and not a cognitive impairment that requires accommodation. In other words, it’s like preferring certain lighting, or to work with music on/off.

    I’m really sorry that letting him go is not on the table. I wonder if management, despite being helpful, is framing it as “these two people don’t get along”? That’s a lazy rationale that enables managers not to do the job. If it’s irritating other workers, you might encourage them to complain.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I often prefer the human contact.

      But I’ve realized that it’s not fair, so I make an effort to look in the file metadata to see who the Teapot Data Inputter was before leaving my desk, instead of interrupting people when I get to the Data Input department to drop off the folder.

    2. MassMatt*

      This guy seems to have a real disconnect where he is taking the lazy route (asking someone versus finding the info himself) to a ridiculous extreme where his workaround actually takes far More effort as he walks around asking people when the meeting is etc. Something is very wrong with him, but it’s not your responsibility to solve that.

      I hope the boss is in your corner. That he saw it firsthand (while he was video conferencing with you! He interrupted a conference for his inane questions?!) and made it a subject of a meeting and his review seems promising.

    3. Marthooh*

      It sounds to me like they’re framing it as: “OP does excellent work in spite of sharing an office with Constant Questions; Constant Questions has to be kept because of reasons; therefore the current situation works well enough and we’ll just hope C.Q. improves.”

      OP, you should talk to your manager NOW about the change in your coworker’s attitude. The review clearly made things worse for you instead of better. Also mention the business with the headphones if you didn’t already. I don’t think this issue is being taken seriously enough.

      1. Artemesia*

        The only ways this can change are if the annoyance gets shifted to someone with power to make it change. Could the boss trade places for a few days? Could the OP direct the questioner to the boss to answer the question? Could the OP make a bigger issue out of the touching and the complaining about the performance review; those are a big deal and qualitatively more serious than the question asking. As long as she produces good work they will be content for her to put up with this crap. He needs to be fired. Barring that, she needs a different work space.

  20. Random Thought*

    If you’re able to work from home some of the time, now might be a good time to maximize your use of that particular benefit. Not only does it physically remove you from the shared space, it may help break the cycle because he doesn’t have you there to just question-vomit to. (I’m not optimistic about this aspect because he’s obviously already just going to other people if you don’t answer something).

    I’m also tempted to suggest that you answer his questions with wrong information (because why ask someone who isn’t actually helpful?) but I foresee this leading to him interrupting you to tell you that you’re wrong, which probably isn’t all that helpful.

    1. LovesCoffee*

      I almost wish OP can give obviously stupid answers (“Hey what is Director’s Smith’s number?” “911” “Hey when does Bagel Cafe open?” “When hell freezes over”), but from the looks of it the guy either can’t take a hint.

    2. Zombeyonce*

      I’d rather he go to other people to ask questions because then the complaints about his over-questioning ways will start to come from multiple people instead of just OP, which may get her more traction for change from higher-up.

    3. AshRadSki*

      How about just a blunt “I don’t know” response? IMO that works wonders. But then again, this guy is clearly not taking any hints….

      1. Autumnheart*

        That’s exactly what I was thinking. “When does the bagel shop close?” I dunno! “How far is it from here to Chicago?” I dunno!

    4. TardyTardis*

      But if the OP is gone a few days, the guy may end up annoying so many other people that the bosses will finally do something about him (besides telling OP she can never go on vacation, that is).

  21. EPLawyer*

    I would be very very blunt about not answering questions. This is not a guy who takes subtle hints. Being blunt is not rude. It’s speaking his language. If he is offended, well, that is his problem not yours.

    In addition to Alison’s script on the headphones, I would immediately report it to HR. This is assault. Your manager needs to know that in addition to not doing his own work, he is assaulting people to ask questions to information he can bloody well find himself. This may escalate it from “needs retraining” to “bye-bye and buy bonds.”

  22. Holly*

    The headphones thing is horrific but also underrated is that he interrupted you on a video conference call to ask questions!!! He clearly doesn’t understand boundaries… at all

    1. FuzzFrogs*

      Yes. I can’t believe after literally seeing it for themselves that they aren’t changing things around so that poor OP has some semblance of peace. Putting OP at a desk in the middle of the parking lot would be less disruptive.

    2. Lynn*

      On the upside, at least this means that others have seen and experienced just how far beyond the line this co-irker is. It would be easy for folks who don’t work with him not to realize how annoying and frustrating working with him might be. But, since he interrupted a conference call, they can all see for themselves just how bad it is. I’ll admit, that is a small upside-but with this guy, I’d take the positives where I could find them.

    3. Blue_eyes*

      This! He interrupted a video call with OP’s BOSS to ask questions. It’s not difficult to figure out that you should be quiet when other people are on calls with superiors (or any call, but especially if it’s with a boss).

    4. Yorick*

      I actually think interrupting the video call is worse than the headphones. I mean, he actually thinks his questions (that he could probably just look up) are important enough to interrupt a work-related conference call.

      I mean, our agency director might interrupt my conference call if he had a super important question, but he’d at least be apologetic about it, and he might just email instead.

  23. sourgold*


    The questions were bad enough; the headphones thing is worse — that’s a dude who doesn’t care about other people’s personal space or privacy, OP. Be careful.

    I’m also worried about the performance review. It sounds like this guy is willing to dump a lot of his mental load off on you — treating you like his personal Google, making it your responsibility that he isn’t working as well as he ought, blaming you for his own mistakes — and you might need to preemptively protect yourself against whatever burden he tries to put on you next. Document all of this.

  24. MLB*

    You have WAY more patient than I am. I would just adopt the phrase “Please refer to the documentation” every single time he asks you a question. And keep the headphones in when you can. If he touches them again, say very loudly “Touching me is NOT OK”. People who refuse to use the tools at their hands to do their job are one of the most frustrating things ever. I used to write the knowledge base articles for my last company and every time someone would ping me and ask a question, my first response was “What does the KBA say?” because 9 times out of 10 they didn’t bother to read it. You are not his personal help desk, and you have every right to refuse to help him.

    1. Blue*

      I think everyone in the office needs to get on the same page about not indulging this guy’s questions. He knows that if she doesn’t answer, he can find someone else who will. I’d be interested to know how he’d respond if literally everyone started referring him back to resources instead of answering his questions.

  25. Kate R*

    “The good news here is that it sounds like your manager is willing to take a pretty hard line with him. “

    I’m not sure I agree with this. It does sounds like the manager wants to hear the complaints, and she’s willing to provide critical feedback to the annoying coworker (which yes, is better than a lot of the letters we read here), but what good is it if he’s not at risk of losing his job? Pulling out the OP’s headphones is SO egregious that he should *at least* be warned that touching a colleague like that again would mean losing his job. I realize the manager may not have the power to separate the OP and colleague or fire the colleague, so maybe she is doing as much as she can, but I just don’t see how having a stern talk with him is useful if there are no real consequences to him not improving.

    1. beth*

      This is my concern too. It sounds like OP’s manager is concerned about the behavior–which, it’s good they’re not dismissing it out of hand–but they’re not even willing to move OP. (I understand that there may not be an empty office they could move OP to, given renovations in progress, but they could surely switch OP with someone else–maybe someone who this coworker hasn’t built up such a pattern with.) If they’re not taking it seriously enough to do that, I have doubts that they’re taking it seriously enough to enact real consequences on the coworker.

        1. beth*

          I can’t tell for sure from the letter if OP is a woman or not, but if they are, I do wonder if that plays a role in this guy treating them like an assistant at his disposal…that kind of thing happens often enough even when people think they’re being really aware about gender disparities, and this guy doesn’t seem all that aware. If that’s even a possibility, changing who’s sharing an office with him might really make a difference.

    2. BRR*

      I’m not sure I agree either. It’s better than the manager who does nothing, but if this is a “stern talking to and no consequences” situation then the manager isn’t taking a pretty hard line. What I wasn’t sure about is does the LW and the questioner share a manager? If they don’t I’m wondering if the manager is limited and the questioner has a bad manager.

      Another possibility (hopefully this isn’t LW fiction) is that the LW isn’t fully in the know. I know plenty of places where a bad performance review is needed for disciplinary action (which is an awful policy).

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Another possibility (hopefully this isn’t LW fiction) is that the LW isn’t fully in the know. I know plenty of places where a bad performance review is needed for disciplinary action (which is an awful policy).

        That was my hope, too.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That was my read too – that, other than Coworker From Hell having been given a bad review that he happily ignored/blamed on OP, and OP getting the nickname Alexa in the office, she is pretty much on her own with this one. The management and HR acknowledged the problem and essentially told her they are not going to do anything about it. That’s pretty demoralizing to be honest. Why don’t one of them share their office with this guy if they see him as that insignificant of a problem.

    4. Mystery Bookworm*

      Hm. If this is a larger company, it might be that the manager is trying to take as hard a stance as she can, but her power is limited in this scenario (I’m partially getting this from the note that OP and her coworker have different jobs, and it sounds like they didn’t know each other before, so they could well be on different teams).

      If that’s the case, I imagine she’s very frustrated at this and is likely trying to do all that she can to throw her weight at the coworker’s manager. Particularly since she’s the one who noticed it on the calls and brought it up herself. Similarly, if that’s the case, it may not have been the manager who had the talk with the coworker, but HR themselves. And the manager might not be fully in the loop to let OP know what’s going on. In fact, in that case I think it’s good of her to let OP know that he’s not in danger of being fired rather than allowing her to hold out hope. This suggests that she’s prioritizing OP (even with the possiblity of her leaving, which I assume the manager doesn’t want) over trying to smooth things over.

      One of the annoying things about large organisations is that you can have smooth teams and pretty dysfunctional teams sometimes, even within the same org.

    5. Matilda Jefferies*

      I was going to say the same. I’m not clear if OP and this guy have the same manager, but his performance review seems pretty non-specific to me. If it just says that he needs to get better at problem solving, and make better use of resources, that’s not very actionable. I assume the OP doesn’t know the specifics, but I hope the review includes things like “make better use of resources by looking things up in the database” or “improve problem solving by trying several solutions on your own before asking for help.

      Good luck, OP – he sounds like a bit of a nightmare!

    6. Yorick*

      I don’t know. I think pulling out headphones is very rude, but I certainly wouldn’t think doing it twice is worth firing someone over.

      And I don’t know if OP specifically reported that incident to the manager, either.

      1. beth*

        Pulling out headphones involves approaching someone who’s probably unaware you’re there and physically touching them in a way that forces them to give you their attention. It’s extremely rude and can be pretty alarming, especially for anyone with trauma around being grabbed or even just anyone with particularly jumpy reflexes. It might not sound that serious at first glance, but it’s actually a pretty aggressive way to demand attention–much more so than, say, waving a hand in someone’s face or tapping them lightly on the shoulder.

    7. chi type*

      I was a little surprised at that line myself. It’s not the worst case of conflict avoidance we’ve seen but all they did was upset him without threatening any consequences for continuing the behavior so really they just made the situation worse. Now she just has to deal with his anger along with his questions.

  26. LizB*

    The way I read the letter, it didn’t seem like management was really taking a hard line with this co-worker? HR had a sit-down with him, which is good, but didn’t change his behavior, and it sounds like there was no follow-up until the performance review. If the time gap was only a few weeks to a month between sit-down and review, that’s fine… but if it was more in the 2+ months range, that seems like some pretty passive management. The OP’s supervisor also says “nor is [coworker] at risk of being let go,” so sounds like there isn’t a PIP in place. I guess I just think that, for someone so incompetent and so detrimental to their officemate’s productivity, one conversation and one bad review doesn’t seem like taking a pretty hard line.

    1. MassMatt*

      Yeah I felt like maybe Alison’s take on the manager was a bit optimistic. Maybe the manager still isn’t understanding the severity of the problem, maybe to him it would seem like a PIP for an employee asking too many questions is extreme?

      1. LizB*

        Yeah, and I think it’s a reasonable view that this isn’t a PIP-worthy problem if the coworker is still putting out good work. I just really doubt he is, given his apparent helplessness and overall negative performance review.

    2. chi type*

      Right? It’s like she made a complaint, HR told the person, and now he is retaliating against her. I know, legally, it’s not the same as a harassment claim but it’s still not good.

  27. Sara*

    oooh OP, you are clearly a very nice person because I would have straight up swore at him if he touched my headphones. ‘What the f do you think you’re doing’ would have immediately come out of my mouth – now, is that work appropriate? No. But neither his him physically removing the barrier you’ve placed. I think its ok to be rude when the person you’re dealing with is rude. You’ve tried kindness, you’ve tried escalating, and there isn’t much else left.

  28. Emilitron*

    Can you get your manager’s support to say something like “Asking colleagues for help with things that can easily be found on our website is one of the things Boss was hoping you could work on, right? Boss suggested that we stop answering that type of question.” If you’re feeling charitable, “If it would help, just this once why don’t you open the website on your computer and I can point to where that phone number is listed, but in general I shouldn’t have to walk you through something like that.”

    1. Flash Bristow*

      I wouldn’t make reference to anything that fell out of his review because saying “I thought boss wanted you to work on that” could lead to “so you *did* go behind my back about this! I knew it!” and I don’t think it would help.

  29. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Pulled out your headphones? Interrupted you on a video conference call? Good lord, OP, you have the patience of a saint that you haven’t bitten this guy’s head off yet. And from the sound of it, he may be due for a head-biting, cause it sounds like nothing less is getting through to him.

    He is not acting like an adult right now, and treating him like one doesn’t sound like it’s getting through. Be absolutely blunt; at this point, your goal with him is not to be delicate or political, but to make sure that there is not the smallest scrap of ambiguity or negotiability in shutting him down. You are NOT available to answer these questions, he will NOT receive answers from you going forward, he needs to use his own resources which are abundantly available to him, and if he is unsure about how to use these resources, he needs to talk to NOT YOU about that. You are in no way, shape, or form there to support him in his job and he cannot treat you like you are. Period.

    Good luck! I hope you update us with how it goes!

  30. Jennifer*

    Alexa/Siri/Google all rolled into one, lol.

    He may not understand written communication or maybe just came from a job where people just did everything for him when he asked. Either way, that’s for management and HR to sort out and they have been made aware. Alison’s advice is perfect. Just simply tell him you can’t answer his questions. Keep saying it every time he asks until he gets it. He will probably start going to others with questions and when more people complain, firmer action may be taken.

    I had a similar situation with a former coworker and it got so bad that I lost my patience with him and said something that wasn’t very kind. I wish I’d just said, ‘sorry, I can’t help you with that,’ in Siri voice.

    1. Mongrel*

      “I had a similar situation with a former coworker and it got so bad that I lost my patience with him and said something that wasn’t very kind. I wish I’d just said, ‘sorry, I can’t help you with that,’ in Siri voice.”

      I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that

    2. Autumnheart*

      Since OP is already being called “Alexa” around the office, it might be good for some humor to memorize her “can’t do it” responses. “Hmmm…..I’m not sure.” “Hmmm…I can’t help you with that.” “I’m having trouble connecting to the network.” “To use Alexa’s search functionality, enable the Google skill in your Alexa app.”

  31. AnonAndOn*

    This guy sounds like a complete mess. I can’t get over the fact that he took your headphones out. That’s a huge violation.

  32. Lady Jay*

    I was a little surprised that Allison’s answer didn’t address whether (and how) the employee should approach her supervisors about more complete solutions to the problems, such as an office move. The fact that the supervisor says a move/firing is “not in the cards” actually makes me think that the company is not taking seriously how all these questions are impacting the LW–which is problematic since the employee has made a good effort to shut down the questions, with limited progress, and may need more help than she’s getting from above.

    Any thoughts on if and how help from HR/the supervisor may be further sought?

  33. Mockingjay*

    Alison mentioned using a stern tone if he should try the headphones trick again, but I think the three C’s should apply to all of your interactions with this jerk. Be Cold, Clear, and Concise.

    I used the three C’s last summer on a co-irker who blew up my email daily with IT requests (I am not IT), long diatribes/justification as to why he wasn’t going to give me the info I needed (info hoarding = “my Precious!”), and so on. He would send me a missive and five minutes later send another email complaining that I hadn’t responded to the first. I finally had a very direct conversation with him during which I explained that I am not IT, we provided training on the system and if he needs more, to contact the training staff, and (most importantly) that I don’t have to justify my job to him each time I ask for updated project status. He’s since refrained from the IT support questions (usually repeats of “how do I log in” or “check out a file” questions), but is backsliding a little on information sharing. I will speak with him about that when I see him next week (he works remotely most days).

    1. Danger: GUMPTION AHEAD*

      Me too. I’m trying to imagine asking every question I Google in a day and I don’t think I get anywhere close to 75 questions. I’m oddly impressed

    2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      Meanwhile, my coworker and I are lamenting that one of our trainees doesn’t ask ANY questions. Bleh.

    3. Perse's Mom*

      If he’s just spitting out every random thought (in the form of a question) he has during the course of the day, I could see it.

      Most of us just have a filter that catches all the completely random stuff we think (what’s the name of this song? who’s it by? how late is my vet clinic open? does X store carry Y product?), and most of us are willing to google these things. OP’s coworker seems to not have either.

    4. LizB*

      It reminds me of the “If Google was a guy” sketches from CollegeHumor. (Very funny, definitely NSFW!) There’s one customer in the sketch who keeps asking random questions so quickly that the Google guy can’t keep up with them. “Inch same length Europe? Cream cheese is cheese? Avocado pit huge why?”

  34. Hello, I'd like to report my boss*

    Over an eight hour work day, that’s one question every 6.4 minutes!

    I like helping people out, and I’m pretty chill, but I would also be grinding my teeth with rage. How has he not been found out and sent for training or fired ages ago! Sorry you have to deal with this, OP.

  35. Amethystmoon*

    Do you have my former coworker? I ask because he had the same issue, but my manager never encouraged him to be resourceful. I sent him the 20-page or so notes file I had typed up, repeatedly. I tried copying our nmanager when, after over a year, co-worked asked me the same questions over and over again, and highlighted the section in the manual where he could find it. I tried putting my foot down and being firm on the non work-related questions and told him to Google. I tried everything. Management was only interested in protecting him. I would up leaving that’s job in part because every time he did anything for me, it was screwed up and he just argued til the cows came home. Sometimes, things just don’t work with people and they aren’t a good fit for the job.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      This guy doesn’t seem a good fit for living independently, much less this particular job. Imagine what it would be like to live with him! Constant pestering!

      1. AmethystMoon*

        That was my coworker. He would ask totally random questions out of the blue on the work IM chat, in-between bragging about himself and complaining about former coworkers. He even tried asking me dating advice until I reminded him that I was middle-aged and single. This was recently after we had just met, BTW. Really kind of inappropriate to ask your new co-worker, and I was at least twice as old as him.

  36. Zombeyonce*

    OP shouldn’t do this, but if none of Alison’s solutions make a dent, I’d feel incredibly tempted to put up a whiteboard or piece of paper on the wall labeled “Number of Questions Dude Has Asked On [Date]” and start adding a tally mark every time he asked another one. In a really prominent place and make it super obvious whenever you add another mark in front of him.

    Again, OP, don’t do this, but maybe pretend in your head to make yourself feel better about how ridiculous this situation is. Also, how does this guy get anything done at work and why is he still unfireable? Those are my real questions.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      And if he actually does follow advice and emails questions to you instead, don’t answer them. Just file them into a special folder.

    2. Flash Bristow*

      I was thinking one of those paper flip over counters…

      So he asks a question, you give a hard stare, increment the counter by one, then silently go back to your work.

      Even better if manager comes in with a clipboard towards the end of the day, silently makes a show of noting down the number, then walks away again. At which point you reset it to zero and carry on … Still without comment.

    3. Alli525*

      I worked for a theatre company (stage, not screen) at my work-study job in college. On nights where performances were sold out, we put huge “SOLD OUT” notices on easels next to the box office windows, and on sheets of paper that we taped to the windows… but that didn’t deter anyone from asking if we were really, actually sold out.

      During one particularly popular show, we actually did keep a tally (behind the window, so no patrons could see it) of how many people stood in our long will-call line just to ask. I think we got up past 50 once, which was astonishing to me.

    4. Queen Esmerelda*

      Oh, the white board was my thought as well, but I also thought that as much fun as it might be, it could get OP in a world of trouble.

  37. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    What. The…I’m enraged. They have no intention of moving him? Did you report him yanking your headphones out of of your ears?! That’s a firesble offense.

    I wouldn’t even respond and if he ever touches you again, haul yourself down to HR immediately. He’s being dinged on reviews which is great, now he needs to be fired for being so egregious.

    1. BRR*

      That was the question I have after reading the letter and comments. Was the headphone incident reported? If not do that now. And if he does it again, not only would I tell him to not touch you but I would make sure it’s said at a fairly loud level that others will hear.

      I would definitely be direct with him next and if that doesn’t work I would go back to my manager and say you tried being direct multiple times and it hasn’t stopped and asked what’s going to be done so that you’re able to get your work done.

  38. hbc*

    I agree with Alison that you need to be very direct with him, and very specific. “The interruptions are impacting my work, I need you to never break in when I’m on a call, never touch my headphones, and limit yourself to five questions per day.” Or whatever restriction makes sense, like you’re done for the day if he asks anything that the database or Google would tell him, or he can only ask when your headphones are off, or whatever. Do not debate your limit, just repeat that it’s what you need to happen.

    And after that point, enforce the crap out of that boundary and make it as ridiculous as you need to. Report to HR about him pulling out headphones, keep a very obvious tally of questions asked of you, make little signs to hold up that say “Google” and “database” to hold up without making eye contact, give him obviously wrong answers to even basic questions, get creative. I doubt that you’ll get flak given that his performance review was so negative, but if you do, you can say sincerely, “This is the only way I’ve gotten the interruptions to drop from 75 to X per day, but I’d love an alternative.”

    1. Artemesia*

      They don’t do the same work; the right number of questions is 0. And she needs to not answer a single one — strong extinction program needed.

  39. beth*

    He reached over and physically pulled your headphones off??? What the heck? (Not that the rest of this isn’t terrible, but that particular detail made my jaw drop.)

    OP, you’ve tried being polite and you’ve tried going through the proper channels to address this behavior. I think the only option you have left is being really blunt with him. You’re not his personal Google. Tell him bluntly that you’re not available to answer questions and need him to stop asking you things. This will probably feel rude, because you’re clearly a professional person and it’s outside normal professional talk–that’s ok, because you already tried the other options and this is what’s left.

    When he asks again after you have this talk (because he will, whether because he doesn’t believe you or because he’s testing the limit or out of sheer habit), you say “I told you I’m not answering questions. Please leave me alone.” (You can tweak the wording, of course, but you want to shut him down extremely bluntly; don’t be delicate about his feelings here, he had the option to listen the first time.) Repeat this every time he approaches you with a question, no matter what it is or how easy it would be for you to answer. (If there are some things he absolutely has to come to you over, I like Alison’s offer to answer things on your own time over email. But it sounds like your actual work is pretty separate; if your work doesn’t require you to be a resource for him, I wouldn’t even offer that.)

    If he ever physically interferes with you to get your attention again, throw a (professional) fit about it. That’s absolutely inappropriate in the workplace–and everywhere else, really, I can’t think of any place where it’s OK to go up to someone and physically force them to give you their attention.

  40. ZSD*

    I gasped so loud at the earphones part that my colleagues outside my office asked what was wrong.

    (Also, this is the time when I get to ask, “LOL, do you work with this adjunct professor I deal with?”)

  41. Ginger*

    OP, as annoying as this would be to do (and take away from your work), I would document the sh*t out of everything he asked and present it to your manager and HR. They need to feel the pain you’re feeling and as they say, squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    Especially since it sounds like he is escalating in his anger towards you. He clearly doesn’t have boundaries or impulse control, I fear the worst if he were to build up his anger that is directed towards you.

  42. Julia*

    Others have covered how outrageous this guy’s behavior is. For my part, I have to say I’m continually astounded at how many people write in to AAM without having had a direct conversation about the problem with the person who is causing the problem. They must know that’s what Alison is always going to recommend, right?

    OP tried rerouting the guy’s questions, went to her manager, went to HR (!), has been checking when reference documentation was last opened to see whether he’s following his manager’s instructions, wrote to an advice columnist, and is clearly about to lose her gourd. At what point in all of this did the option get ruled out to say the words “you’re asking me too many questions and I’m not going to answer any of them anymore”?

    I’m not saying a clear and direct conversation would’ve worked on its own; it’s clear that this guy is too wackadoo for that. But that should’ve been where things *started*. These days it feels like nearly every column is some variation on “I haven’t talked to the person I need to talk to”.

    1. Birch*

      It’s all just trying to apply the soft no and expecting people to be able to read reasonable social cues. Unfortunately some people can’t, or choose to ignore them (or steamroll them in order to manipulate the situation). It’s normal to be afraid of confrontation, and a lot of people don’t take well to being told they are being disruptive. I agree though that this is a situation for the hard no–state the consequences. “Dude, I told you three times already that I can’t answer any more of your questions. If you keep asking me, I’m going to ignore you. Do not touch me to get my attention.”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Many people don’t feel empowered to speak to their aggressors. So they do everything but do everything but speak up for themselves. I’ve seen it happen frequently as the HR person…you get a report of Bad Behavior and then find out the other person is being blindsided.

      Some people view it as “not their job” to speak up or that they’ll get in trouble for standing up for themselves. I’ve seen employees punished for trying to deal with a problem colleague. Suddenly you’re pegged as aggressive and not a team player. So you skip that step and get the boss/HR involved.

      1. Blue*

        Especially if answering questions and supporting others is generally expected as part of your role. I’ve been in a position where, by nature of the role and my natural inclination to remember all the things, I tended to get a lot of questions from coworkers, and it was expected that I be available to help them. Most asked good questions, but some definitely abused it. If I’d told one of them, “I need you to stop asking me so many questions,” they would’ve reacted like I was a jerk who wasn’t being a team player. So I can definitely understand why OP would want the higher ups to know that this was a real problem impeding her work and for them to give their blessing before trying to shut him down directly.

      2. Zona the Great*

        Yes indeed. I had big bully parents and I never learned how to stick up for myself. Many of us need so much help before we can even consider taking it on ourselves.

    3. Perse's Mom*

      Conflict avoidance can certainly be an issue, but I can also imagine there are some offices where setting boundaries would not go over well. Either management or HR would prefer OP continue to waste her time answering this helpless dude’s questions, or he would take it badly, or he would annoy the next nearest person in the office and that could blow-back on OP (OP’s right there, why isn’t SHE answering his questions!?).

      TL;DR – it’s not always that simple.

    4. BRR*

      I am astounded as well and I like to think of these letters as reminders of one of Alison’s core piece’s of advice, talk directly to people. I totally understand why people don’t always do it, but in my opinion people should try and handle things on their own if they can and going to a manager/HR escalates a situation.

      I have a sort of example of this with an obvious WTF part, my cubicle neighbor was having a personal conversation by screaming across the office to someone several desks over. After a long period of time, I politely asked them to stop because it was difficult to focus on my work. Turns out they reported me to the director of HR for being rude and my manager had to have a “talk” with me. Now, I have no idea what the appropriate response is when you think someone is being rude by asking you not to scream across the office but I don’t exactly love the person who reported me to HR over something like this.

      Needless to say I’m looking for a new job for a lot of reasons but two of them are: HR’s response wasn’t “don’t shout across the office and this won’t be an issue” and while my manager was basically like, “this is ridiculous,” I’m disappointed that she didn’t push back more.

    5. Jennifer*

      I am astounded by that sometimes too. To this LW’s credit, I think she has done a fairly good job of standing up for herself but maybe needs to be a bit more direct. Unless you fear the person causing the problem, the first step should always be talking to that person directly.

  43. AKchic*

    I would be very tempted to keep an open tally of his questions on a notepad where he could see them. HAP may not actually realize just *how many* questions a day he asks, but it’s time he does. Get a steno pad and start taking notes. Each sheet is a new day. Title them {Date} Question Tally and then tick marks (in groupings of five) for every time he comes and asks a question. You can track what the questions are if you’d like, but you really don’t need to (it takes up extra time), and just keep a daily log of how many times HAP actually interrupts your work. Be obvious about the tally. “This is the *peers down at log* 17th time you’ve interrupted me and it’s only 10am. You have been told numerous times where to find the information” or “This is the 39th time before lunch, and this is not work-related, I am not going to answer that. I am not your personal google”.

    It sounds to me like HAP is insecure and lonely; neither of which are *your* problem to solve. HAP wants someone to blame for HAP’s poor review, then HAP needs to be looking at a mirror. You reported issues after management questioned you. Other staff have noticed, and they are talking. They need to stop calling you Alexa, yes, but they could start putting pressure on HAP instead (or not, because I don’t think it’s going to help).

    I’m sorry this is happening. I think that you need to discuss the developments since the review. HR/management will want to know that HAP is trying to blame you/manipulate you into “confessing” that you said something to them and that he characterizes it as lying (or in some way altering the truth) to make him look bad.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I was thinking about making a tally, as well. It feels unfair to make her have to take on more responsibility for this guy who is already robbing her of her work time. On the other hand, perhaps doing a tally, showing him, and then documenting this with the supervisor/HR/department head would prompt another sit-down with him.

  44. Lisa L*

    Does anyone else think maybe this coworker has a learning/reading disability? It certainly doesn’t condone his behavior, but it may explain it. My brother is dyslexic and it was never addressed when he was younger (80s kids). We have a family business and he gets flustered and angry when he has to read or write anything. He has extreme difficulty with written communication and will blow up when someone corrects him. He refuses to learn how to properly use email and basically anything else tech related. He will waste more time finding someone else to complete the work than it would take him to just do it himself. I’m suspecting OP’s coworker might have a similar problem. If so, I hope he is able to find some help. Good luck, OP

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I wish we had more information on what HR asked him to conclude that he could use the online resources. One of my sons has a vision disorder that makes reading challenging, and my husband is a slow reader and not a very good writer. They ask me stuff all the time, and I’m an information nerd and typically rather look something up for them in 3 seconds than watch them take 10 minutes to FIO. Obviously, I’m not always around, and they do have to do it themselves often. My son is also able to make it through online college classes on his own, but for some reason, looking up the gym holiday hours is too hard. : )

      If I was the HAP and HR asked me if I was able to take care of these things myself, of course, I would say yes. I wouldn’t want to endanger my job. Maybe the guy is just irritating, but maybe they need to dig a little deeper on the cause of his question-asking.

      1. fposte*

        He’s an adult worker, though; it’s on him, not them, if he doesn’t share disabilities and limitations when asked. To paraphrase Tim Gunn, they can’t want him to succeed more than he does; they’ve already done what they need to do to see if he requires help.

        1. Jennifer*

          I agree. It’s not their job, the job of anyone here, to diagnose him. It sounds like they have done a lot to try to figure out if he needs any accommodations.

      2. Lisa L*

        Wow, AnotherAlison, I didn’t consider a vision disorder. How difficult things must be for your son! That could explain a lot of this behavior. Maybe the HAP has something similar going on, or like you said, just being irritating. I agree that maybe HR should dig a little deeper. I’m interested to see if OP will post an update and whether this will be resolved.

      3. Observer*

        I don’t think it’s on the OP’s HR to “dig deeper”. As long as they were being open to dealing with whatever the CW would tell them, that’s all he can ask.

        If your husband got called in and told that he’s asking waaaay too many questions, and that he NEEDS to start using these resources, and was asked if he needs help he really would have only 2 choices. Tell them the truth or figure out a way to change his behavior. Because just lying and continuing what he’s doing SHOULD endanger his job as much as telling them about the problem.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t want us to run too far afield with speculation about what might be causing this because ultimately it doesn’t change the advice for the OP. (Or, if you think it does, please include that in any comment speculating on cause!)

      1. Iris Eyes*

        If it is difficulty processing written information (whatever the cause may be) it might be worth pointing him toward the availability of software that reads the text out loud. Or since he is already making the Alexa connection encourage him to avail himself to Siri/Alexa/Cortana especially for things like when does the local bagel shop close. He may or may not realize that these options are pretty easy to access in the last few years.

        1. fposte*

          He’s told HR there isn’t an issue. It’s inappropriate for the OP to decide that he does and to start offering adaptations. It’s also a bad idea for the OP to become more involved in Solving Co-Worker’s Problem when the goal is for her to become less involved with him.

          I get that if he is struggling with a disability we feel for that, but however many adaptive ideas we may have for somebody with one, they’re not for the OP to suggest (or even for HR, if he’s stating he doesn’t have a disability).

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            Agree with everything here.

            I think the best strategy for the OP is a clear conversation to set boundaries: “Fergus, I’m not going to be able to help you anymore with your questions.”

            And then follow up with consistency and communication to the manager. The OP has no obligation to help the coworker and it will just blur the issue if they do.

      2. Laurelma01*

        I have ran into this issue with the college students I supervise. It’s easier to ask a question than take time to figure it out. I’ll tell them where to look and they’ll stand there and look at you.

        They are not willing to move OP (switch offices) because no one else wants to share an office with him. It’s hard to teach someone to be self sufficient, and some people have had parents that have done so much for them that they do not know how to function in the office without a crutch. OP? How old is your co-worker? First or 2nd job out of college?

      3. Close Bracket*

        So many people have suggested illiteracy/written language processing deficits at this point that maybe it’s worth a note at the top?

  45. AdAgencyChick*

    OP, make this uncomfortable for your boss if the situation doesn’t resolve when you bluntly tell him he needs to stop asking you so many questions. Your boss has said this guy isn’t getting fired and that you can’t move offices. So, if he continues to be a pain, be a pest to your boss about it. “I’ve tried X, Y, and Z and none of those things worked. How do you suggest I resolve this?”

    Basically, don’t let your boss and his boss get out of managing the problem. It’s often not enough to give someone a bad review; if the guy is resistant and/or believes he can continue the bad behavior without consequences that he cares about, he’s just going to keep doing what he’s doing. His manager needs to tell him firmly that unless he behaves differently, he will incur consequences, possibly up to and including jeopardizing his job. If his manager isn’t willing to fire him over it, she can still talk about how he won’t be eligible for raises or promotions.

  46. Me (I think)*

    75 questions a day is ten per hour, or one question EVERY SIX MINUTES.

    The mind boggles.

    The OP has the patience of a saint. Seriously. I’d have helped this guy into the elevator shaft by now.

    1. Lisa L*

      That’s what I’m thinking! I think everything OP described are telltale signs of some kind of learning disability.

    2. aebhel*

      Quite possible (although management doesn’t seem to think so), but regardless, OP is not his own personal Google.

      1. fposte*

        Yup. And even if it hadn’t been discussed with HR, OP wouldn’t be obliged to do part of his job for him. And while it’s understandable that he’s developed some stealth maneuvers if he does have a relevant disability, it’s not his employer’s obligation to get around his evasions on the subject if he’s not forthcoming when asked.

      2. Iris Eyes*

        But Google can be his personal Google. Maybe during blunt conversation something like “you know who doesn’t mind being asked as many questions as you want? Siri (or Alexa/Cortana etc), just please use headphones.”

    3. EPLawyer*

      It’s not LW’s job to figure out if he is illiterate, does better with verbal instructions or has a vision problem. It is LW’s job to do the work assigned her to at the place of employment. Incessant questioner is interfering with that duty.

      If he does have an issue that makes it difficult for him to do the job that he is assigned at his place of employment, it is on him to work out with his manager if he needs reasonable accomodation. It is not LW’s job to guess and continue to be understanding of a very irksome situation. If he won’t try to fix the problem (if there is one), why should she be more invested than he is?

      All we have is what is in the letter. Which says HR said there was no reason he can’t look stuff up himself. Therefore, LW is not his resource person and she should act accordingly, until and UNLESS new information to change that position is found.

    4. chickaletta*

      This is what I wonder. Unless there are indications that he definitely can read, I think this would be a line of discovery.

  47. LaDeeDa*

    OMG! That is a nightmare! What is wrong with him? You have done an excellent job of handling this, I am not sure if I could be that professional if I were in your shoes. I really hope they get rid of him, or at the very least move you. Good luck OP. Please update us soon!

  48. Stuff*

    I would talk with everyone anywhere near your office and also request they stop answering his questions. He needs to figure things out himself. Then every time he asked a question respond with – one – two etc and keep working nothing more. You have told him to stop. Your boss has told him to stop. You don’t need to keep reiterating.

  49. Guacamole Bob*

    OP, you have my sympathies. Normally it’s a metaphor when people say that someone sounds like a toddler, but in this case it’s spot on. I have two preschoolers, and it’s non-stop questions and attempts to shirk responsibility. They want me to find their coats for them, they gripe about having to clear their own plates from the table, they want help doing all sorts of basic tasks. They ask all sorts of random questions all day every day, and don’t understand that sometimes other people need a little peace and quiet. They don’t understand personal space. I don’t usually wear headphones around them, but if I did I’m sure they would try to pull them out.

    This is all developmentally appropriate and yet still highly irritating in small children. In an adult it would be truly maddening.

  50. Stuff*

    Oh and your boss needs to ask him to access the online tool while he is standing there. Sort of a hey can you look something up for me right now?

  51. Arctic*

    It’s easy for me to be pessimistic about the human race. But you read stuff like this and think about how often we DON’T resort to violence and it’s inspiring.

    Seriously though you should have said something very directly to him before emailing the boss and HR. Not because of any silly concept like “tattling” but because it works better. If the boss talks to someone they can either 1) pretend the boss is misinterpreting things and you don’t really mind (after all you never said anything) or 2) continue to do it out of spite for going to the boss.

  52. BlueNotGreen*

    I’ve dealt with incessant questions askers before and they irritate me to no end. I eventually figured out that it was their preferred strategy for getting information. It worked out pretty well for them, not so much for me.

    In some cases, they had valid questions but mostly, it was just the path of least resistance. So I came up with a strategy. They were allowed to ask me questions for 15 minutes twice a day (later lowered to 5 minutes) at a time decided and booked by me. I set a timer and gave them my full attention. Once the timer was up, no more questions. This helped them prioritize what was important to ask. For each question, they had to tell me what they did to figure it out themselves before I would answer. Where possible, I pointed them to a resource instead of giving a direct answer and they were required to write down my answer. I got a lot of questions at first but they soon dried up. You could propose something like this to your manager and get back up for implementing a plan like this.

    However, I’m not sure if something like this will help with this guy – he’s a pretty extreme question asker and the grabbing of the headphones shows he is no respecter of boundaries.

    1. Elspeth*

      Yeah, and since the LW and questioner have different jobs, it’s not on LW to keep on doing what he’s asking for. LW needs to do her own job, and not accomodate her co-worker’s unreasonable expectations.

    2. BeenThere OG*

      I got raked over the coals for using a similar strategy with a question asker/ non learner. It was only when I found out later that non learner team mate had children in the same school as our boss that I realized nothing I said or so could have any impact on the way they were perceived. They clearly had been bad mouthing to the boss after hours while I had been pleading for help pushing back on their constant questions.

    3. Trek*

      I thought OP should request all questions via email. That way she can ignore the ridiculous ones and coworker can use the emails as future reference materials. Finally she will have proof of the constant bombardment.

      1. Elspeth*

        Bad idea – her boss already knows the extent of the interruptions, and requesting questions via email would just mean OP doing even more work that isn’t hers. OP and coworker have different jobs, so there’s no reason for her to indulge his disruptions, especially since said questions are taking up too much of her work time.

  53. foolofgrace*

    Here’s something else not to do: Write in large letters on a blank piece of paper “Today’s 3-question limit” and underneath put three Post-It notes labeled 1, 2 and 3. Tell your office mate that he gets three questions a day, and whenever he asks something, say “Are you sure you want to spend one of your questions on that?” It probably wouldn’t fix anything, and it might get you in trouble, but it would be kind of fun, treating him like the child he is emulating.

  54. Monika from Germany*

    Sadly using duct tape on coworkers is frowned upon…
    The guy sounds seriously unhinged. Put your foot down with him, the time for politeness is long gone. Document everything for HR and for your boss, your co-irker needs to let go like yesterday.

  55. Lady Phoenix*

    A person who removes the headphones of another person for any reason not “emergency” deserves ZERO respect.

    A man who removes the headphones of woman for any reason not “emergency” deserves NEGATIVE respect.

    You are free to call him out, as coldly as possible, to not be touch you or remove your headphones because eff that guy.

  56. Observer*

    In addition to what Allison says, please make sure you tell both your manager and HR that he tried to pull your earphones out of your ear. Tell them if he does it again. And if he does it again after you tell him CLEARLY AND PLAINLY to stop, insist that something be done to protect you. You should NEVER have to worry about someone physically trying to force you to do anything at work.

    If they won’t protect from this guy, you’re working for a terrible organization, and need to start job searching immediately.

  57. Just Me*

    I work with a lot of helpless people.

    My first thought would be to have his manager check to see if he can read. Literally. Find something for him to read out loud. Don’t do it in front of other people, just in case he can’t read.

    Secondly, make sure he can read his computer. I once worked with a slacker whose eyesight was terrible and he didn’t know how to make anything bigger on screen.

    Lastly, I would make a visual. Like a notepad on the end of my desk titled “Ed’s daily question tally.” Every time he asked me a question, I would make a tally mark in front of him. Leave it in a place on my desk only him and I can see so I am not embarrassing him publicly.

    1. animaniactoo*

      I would not publicly embarrass him on purpose. I would publicly embarrass him (if he can be embarrassed… I’m not sure this guy has that capacity) by accident. And by accident I mean “refrain from trying to make it NOT happen by minimizing the effect on me of the thing he just did that my mind sent up a “Whut?” flag for and is trying to recover from seeing”.

      I agree that it sounds like there’s something in here that’s not straightforward about his ability to read or use the database – but it can’t be OP’s problem to solve when their officemate’s behavior is so out of bounds that they’re interrupting videoconferences and pulling headphones out of ears. OP needs to prioritize understanding that, whatever happens, those kinds of behaviors are not okay.

    2. Observer*

      None of this is for the OP to do. At all.

      Firstly, OP *did* bring the issue up to HR. Secondly, it’s NOT the OP’s situation to fix. At this point, it doesn’t matter if he can’t read or if fairies are magically blocking his screen. He’s dumping his issue on her, and he needs to stop, with or without HR’s help. And HR needs to make him stop whether or not he can read.

      1. fposte*

        Right. I think we run sometimes to a musical chairs approach here, wherein whoever’s nearest the problem when the music stops gets expected to solve it. All the OP is is near the guy. She’s not responsible for him, and she’s lost enough time to his dysfunction already.

  58. Squirrel*

    I don’t know how you’d feel about this OP, but I would make eye contact with the guy and say the number of the question, every time he asked me something. Only the number and nothing else, then return back to what I was doing.

    “Hey OP, do you know when Wal-Mart closes?”
    “Hey OP, do you know how long a flight to Alaska would be from here?”

    1. afiendishthingy*

      I kinda wish I’d used this approach with my old coworker who may have been OP’s coworker in disguise. She was also super humor-impaired/sarcasm-impaired and would have been SUPER befuddled. A couple times I did purposefully say something ridiculous completely deadpan to see if she’d believe it, but then when she did I felt bad – there was just no sport in it.

  59. LGC*

    I see that this year is already off to a quick start!

    Also: holy cats was this a rollercoaster of a letter! I haven’t read the comments (and frankly I’m afraid to), but…do you have the same manager? I’m just wondering what his manager is doing in all of this!

    The reason I’m asking is that it seems like he’s not getting how inappropriate he’s being (which he should). And it seems like he’s been told to develop his problem solving skills, but not that he’s willfully violating your boundaries. And if his manager isn’t telling him that he can’t invade your personal space at will, they’re not doing their job.

  60. Laurelma01*

    I had a new faculty member (day of paper phone books, he had one) that would walk down the hallway and ask me for phone numbers instead of using the phone book or pulling up the department on the internet.

    After multiple interruptions I got mad and asked if he thought I was a walking talking phone book. They ended up not renewing his contract. There were some other issues, but that is the one that drove me crazy.

  61. Rachel Green*

    I’ve had coworkers like this, but to a much lesser degree. I think his underlying belief is that he’s taking initiative and problem solving by utilizing the resources available to him, and he believes that you and those around him are “resources.” I think Alison’s advice is great, and I think being direct as you can be to this guy is the way to go.

  62. froodle*

    I am literally commenting here without reading all of the question or Alisons reply or any of the comments because I got to this bit:

    I tried wearing headphones, but he would pull them out of my ears to ask his questions,

    And screamed interenally. Oh OP, you have my sympathies, he sounds like a nightmare!

    1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      That part of the letter made me think, “And that’s why I murdered him officer.”

  63. animaniactoo*

    OP, I think you’re going to need to go way beyond the steps that Alison has outlined here. You’re dealing with somebody who is so outside the norms of behavior that you can’t count on him to operate by the norms of most people. So nothing you do can be remotely hinting. You also need to address anything that is wrong or inappropriate as soon as it happens in blunt, clear, no-misunderstandings possible language. Still politely and civilly. But completely clear.

    Because everyone seems to be reacting to the fact that he pulled your headphones out of your ears – but before that he was interrupting your video-conferences. Something that people generally understand to be sacred. With your supervisor no less.

    So this is somebody who is lacking in an internalized understanding of normal boundaries when it comes to this situation and the only possible shot you have of getting him to understand is to say it in words that may make you uncomfortable to be that clear, but are unquestionably direct about the issue.

    “Bob, I’ve been trying to work around this but it doesn’t seem to be getting better, so I think we need to be very clear with each other about our work styles. It’s incredibly distracting to me for you to ask me so many questions – that’s why I direct you to our knowledge base, because I need you to not be asking me the question in the first place and I know that if you go there, you’ll find the answer yourself and not need to ask me at all. Going forward please make sure to do that.

    Separately from that, if I’m on a video-call for any reason at all, I need you not to interrupt me unless it’s something extremely urgent like the building is on fire. It’s a problem not just for me, but for the people that I’m speaking to at that time. I’ve had it called out to me by a few people that I’ve been on calls with, so please make sure not to do that again.”

    You won’t get it all out in one shot, but it’s the gist of what you want to cover and how you want to cover it. There is zero guarantee that this will work. But it’s your best shot, and it’s what you can reinforce as the “big picture” issue going forward.

    You might also if you wish tell him bluntly that you’re fairly sure the company wants him to be accessing and using the knowledge base to find information and that you think part of the difference between your reviews is that you do and his questions to you and others seem to indicate that he doesn’t (don’t ever let him know you actually checked up on him).

    And then in the future when he does something like pull your headphones of your ears? Immediately “Please don’t pull my headphones out of my ears. If I have my headphones in, it’s because I don’t want to be disturbed unless it’s urgent.” Steals french fries from your takeout box? “Please don’t take food without asking me.” He will never get the message because he has no understanding of these social cues AS cues. You’re just going to have to tell him.

    1. FD*


      The big benefit of this too is that it works, irrespective of whether this coworker IS clueless or is a boundary-pusher trying to pretend to be clueless. If it’s the former, you have had a clear, unambiguous discussion that sets clear expectations.

      If it’s the latter, then it removes the person’s ability to pretend that he doesn’t know what’s going on.

    2. LaDeeDa*

      “You’re dealing with somebody who is so outside the norms of behavior that you can’t count on him to operate by the norms of most people. ”

      This is a great reminder… I know I often expect people to have common sense, understand basic human interactions, to know what are appropriate work behaviors, and not to be crazy. I think when we are faced with something so extreme we want to handle it as we would with someone who “gets it”, but obviously if they got it, they 1. would have never done what they did, or at the very least 2. taken the hints.

    3. VermiciousKnit*

      I’d leave off the please. Don’t touch me/don’t take my food, etc are not requests. They are hard limits.

  64. afiendishthingy*

    OMG it’s my old coworker!!! About the 700th time she asked me who was the Teapot Designer on Project X and the 695th time I told her she could just check the project assignment spreadsheet to find out, she replied “You guys always tell me that, but it’s so much easier to just ask you!!!” I said through clenched teeth “I KNOW, but it’s not easier FOR US.” She also once, after a morning in which my other coworker repeatedly told her to stop asking her questions because she needed to focus, continued talking to her/asking questions, even trying to follow her into the bathroom — “Can I talk to you while you pee?”!!!! She got fired for other reasons – she was all-around terrible – but it didn’t help that she got written up for disrupting the office.

  65. Beatrice*

    One thing I’d be looking to do is minimize shared office time as much as possible. If you have flexibility in your start/end times, can you flex to be as different from him as possible? Can you stagger your lunch time to be different from his so you have some peace and quiet while he’s out to lunch, can you take some of your work elsewhere to complete, can you access his calendar and plan work blocks during times you know he’ll be away in a meeting, etc? Not that you should have to do any of it, but just to get as much focused work time as possible.

    I had an aggravating office mate at one time, and I deliberately shifted my schedule later so I’d have some peace after she left for the day, and if I was scheduling a meeting for myself and had my pick of times, I’d choose a time when it looked like she’d be at her desk, so that was 30-60 minutes I’d normally have to deal with her that I got out of, etc. On a rough day, I’d peek at her calendar and steel myself with the idea that she’d be away for a meeting from 2-3, so I’d get a break from her then, etc. It helped me deal with it until our seating arrangement changed and she became someone else’s problem.

  66. Nicole*

    OP, just realize that he has passed the point of deserving kindness & politeness. Give him the warnings that Alison mentioned but after that, all bets are off (ESPECIALLY if he’s violating your personal boundaries)! Stay stern, firm, even unwelcoming if needed.

    I’m guessing you are a woman, OP (calling you “Alexa”) because I really don’t see a man getting into another man’s personal space so closely as to *pull out their headphones FROM THEIR EARS* and I wonder if he’s directing his questions to you because you’re a woman? Have you noticed who else on staff he badgers with questions? If there are gender issues at play here it should be noted in case he escalates.

  67. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    OP needs more than a firewall between her and this person-she needs an actual wall. The moment he put hands on her to pull out her headphones was the moment he should have (at the very least) been relocated. This is unacceptable.

  68. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

    His behavior is so egregious I would be tempted to respond in kind by purchasing an air horn and blowing it every time he asks a question. Or just screaming BOOGABOOGABOOGA each time.

    Honestly, if management wont rectify this issue I would be looking for another job. A co-worker so blatantly disrespecting at this level me would be a hill I’d die on. It is, in fact, one of two main reasons I’ve been job searching. I have a co-worker who is a bit like this (though not nearly as bad) and it’s been apparent to me that the only way to get away from her is to GTFO myself.

    1. Liet-Kinda*

      Yeah. “Google it.” “Search the knowledge base.” “Dunno.” “Figure it out yourself.”

  69. Naomi*

    IMO, Alison’s response was not quite strong enough here. This guy has gone way beyond just being annoying. People in the office are noticing. His boss has asked him to stop. It was in his performance review, for crying out loud. Yet he continues to pester LW dozens of times a day and blame her/him for it.
    Whether he is illiterate or disordered is beside the point. This guy is inappropriate and disrespectful.
    My advice to LW would be that the next time he approaches her/him, just stare. Look him dead in the eye. Let the silence hang in the air for a few moments. And then respond: “You need to leave me alone.” And then go back to what they were doing. If he touches their headphones, stand up and YELL IT. No manager on earth will think LW isn’t justified in that response.

    1. Lady Phoenix*

      I agree. I don’t like the commentariot trying to diagnose this bad cowirker, becausr of our tendencyto brush off the concerned party (and put nonneurotypical people who are not assholes these stereotypes and further ostracize them).

      If the dude had issues, he should take it up with the boss and people reaponsible for accomadations. Op still has her job to do.

      Also, unless the building is on fire or a gunman is running amok, don’t touch earphones, period.

  70. Jk*

    Good lord! He took your earphones out? I probably would have screamed WTF at that without even thinking lol! Did you tell your boss he did that? Because that to me is really crossing the line.

    Extemely concerning that he is blaming things on you now. What does your boss think of his harassment campaign against you?

    Also, does he think you’re his assistant or secretary?

    Keep documenting everything!

  71. Elizabeth West*


    He’s lucky that doesn’t get him a punch because if you scare me like that while I’m trying to concentrate, let alone put your hands on me, you’ll be curled up in a whimpering, vomiting ball on the floor of the office clutching your nether regions.

  72. Airy*

    Also under “Things it would probably not help the OP to say but it would be quite satisfying,” “Bartholomew, if you want me to do this much of your job as well as my own you’re going to have to give me a cut of your salary. Let’s talk percentages.”

    1. Airy*

      I don’t expect he’d take up the offer but I was just briefly reminded of a childcare centre I read about that tried to deal with the problem they had with parents arriving egregiously late for pick-up by announcing a $20 fine for every 30 minutes after the normal end of pick-up time and immediately got a lot of parents saying “So for $20 you’ll keep them for another half-hour? Thank you, what a great service!”

      1. Manchmal*

        Ha! At ours, the penalty is $1 per minute. Even though that’s not so different than $20/30 minutes, the by-the-minute price gets the message across that every minute you are late is a problem!

  73. Susan*

    I was wondering if every time he asked a question, you could just answer “I’m not sure – can you ask ?”. See how the manager feels being constantly interrupted and distracted.

    1. Pebbles*

      Yes, but then you can set up rules to immediately trash any emails coming from HAP. The OP has already been extremely patient with him. Or she could set up an auto-reply with “Have you Googled this or checked the online documentation?” If she wanted to actually consider answering any of his emails, she could set the rule to move them to a separate folder and look through them once per day to see if any were actually valid questions. But I would go with trashing the emails personally.

    2. Shira*

      But then the extent of the problem is documented! But also, I suspect he wouldn’t do it over email because he’s looking for an immediate response (see: him going from coworker to coworker until someone humors him) and emails are much more easily ignored.

  74. Siobhan*

    I too work with a woman who asks a *ridiculous* number of questions. On the order of 20 in a 2 hour period. One of the many, many reasons I’m ready for a new job. My boss and I have discussed all the potential causes: anxiety, low self-confidence, need for attention, etc. Has it occurred to anyone else that this guy is just bored and entertaining himself by asking questions? Particularly since he’s walking around the building repeatedly? Of course it could also be (a combination of) sexism, literacy issues, vision problems, entitlement, learning disabilities…. What a difficult situation to be in! I’m sorry that you have to deal with this, LW.

    1. Liet-Kinda*

      The list of possible reasons is oceanic to the point of meaninglessness and don’t change any actionable advice for OP.

      1. fposte*

        Yes. The problem to be solved here is not why the guy does this. The problem to be solved here is the OP’s being disrupted by the guy.

    2. Not A Manager*

      “My boss and I have discussed all the potential causes: anxiety, low self-confidence, need for attention, etc.”

      Have you and your boss discussed any potential solutions?

      I think it’s very weird for a boss to be speculating about an employee’s possible personal issues with their co-worker. Who the hell cares what her potential causes are?

  75. ssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    But, but, but: When does he get any of his own work done? How does it get it done? Surely, his performance metrics would be awful. And if he can’t read, as some are speculating, how can he write and operate a computer beyond clicking on the right pictures/icons? I’m baffled he gets anything done. And poor OP must get nothing done. OMG…

  76. paxfelis*

    I wonder if he could be successfully redirected to ask all of his questions of his supervisor, HR, or both.

  77. Liet-Kinda*

    “Bob, you ask me 75 questions a day, and 74 of them could be answered with Google, the knowledge base, or searching your emails. I’m done. Figure out another way, because I cannot answer your endless questions moving forward.”

    “Beats me.”

    “Google it.”

    “Knowledge base.”

    “I’m on a conference call, go away.”


  78. Granny K*

    I wonder if this office mate misses social cues, or perhaps is functionally illiterate. Either way, I’m looking forward to an update from the OP.

  79. Caramel Prof*

    This might be a case of social anxiety on his part. He doesn’t grasp how to handle having an office mate, so he may think he needs to make conversation BUT only knows how to do it in this problematic way.

    I have done a form of this in the past, i.e. asking questions as small talk in an attempt to alleviate social awkwardness. Not that that makes this behavior okay, but could be a factor.

    1. valentine*

      What social awkwardness is there in working in companionable silence? Did you walk around asking everyone the same question until you got a satisfactory answer? Did you interrupt your colleague’s conference call with her manager?

  80. Master Bean Counter*

    OP you have the patience of a saint.

    I’d use one of two methods to deal with this.

    1. Teach him to fish. Every single question walk him back over to his desk and make him either google the question or click through until the relevant materials are reached on the company drive. You no longer become the place to go for easy answers, which is what he is doing here. My guess is he’ll give up after 5-10 questions.
    2. Look at him and say, you’ve been trained on that. If you can’t find that answer maybe you need to talk to your boss about finding you a position where you can handle the work. Basically refuse to answer anything and push it back on him. It may only take one question for him to go away.

    Story time:
    I once had a coworker that was having trouble handling any new technology. She had 500 questions about her new computer. She asked so many questions about the new software that an outside vendor seriously questioned her ability to handle it. I finally looked at her and said, “I’m sorry you are having trouble dealing with the changes, I’ve tried my best to help you out but it doesn’t seem to be working. You need to figure this out for yourself or ask the boss for additional training.”
    I followed up with telling the boss that the coworker was having issues with the new stuff and all I had done at that point. I told him I wasn’t sure if she truly couldn’t handle all the new stuff or if this was just a weird way to object to the changes.
    Next thing I know she’s actually using reference materials and solving her own problems. It was all a ploy for attention.

    1. Nicole*

      “you’ve been trained on that. If you can’t find that answer maybe you need to talk to your boss about finding you a position where you can handle the work.”

      I adore this. It’s factual and a sick burn at the same time!

  81. Hermione Stranger*

    OP, and Alison, you are more gracious people than I, because my idea is petty as HELL:

    You get a whiteboard and a dry-erase marker. Every time he asks you a question, make a slow and deliberate tally mark on the whiteboard.

    Then don’t answer his question, as you have been doing.
    I don’t know if it’ll exactly work but it’s guaranteed to drive him crazy.

    1. Airy*

      I’d like it to have a heading at the top in bold, handsome letters, perhaps a little calligraphy, “Fergus’ Unnecessary Questions Tally.” There would be a little sidebar for the current record-holding day, e.g. “4 January 2019 – 77!” and the most irrelevant or annoying question of the previous day, e.g. “Can the Queen of England legally marry people?”

  82. Tertia*

    This may not be compatible with just not engaging with questions, but there can be value in responding with “What did it say when you looked it up in the database/checked the coffee shop’s website/ran it through Google maps?” That can be more effective than suggesting that he look it up or even asking “What did the database say?” because it spotlights his deliberate inaction. It probably won’t spur him to actually use the databases and whatnot, but it will make bothering you less rewarding.

    1. Elspeth*

      Yeah, except LW needs to be able to do her own job; she shouldn’t be hand-holding and doing all this emotional labor for the coworker.

  83. FaintlyMacabre*

    This was a different situation, but I had a coworker who would ask me a lot of questions, some of which made sense to ask me (but then coworker would go ask our boss anyway), others that were out of my scope. I started saying, “That sounds like a question for our boss.” It took a surprisingly short time for co-worker to stop asking me questions. Maybe direct all questions to your boss?

    1. GhostWriter*

      Me too! I had a new coworker who was still constantly asking me questions a year after he was hired (whereas other newer hires might ask me one or two questions a week by then). The constant interruptions and huge time investment was making it hard for me to get my own work done so I actually talked to my supervisor and asked him if I could just stop answering questions. My supervisor said to start directing questions to him. After telling my coworker to go to my supervisor a few times, the questions totally stopped.

  84. Oranges*

    Okay, am I the only person going “He’s blaming her for his bad review. This not remotely okay”

    I don’t think there’s any action the LW can take other than letting her boss know he’s retaliating, but I would let the boss know since that behaviour screams of “cannot work with others, at all.”

  85. Owler*

    All of these suggested responses are so wordy. Any further questions from him, and I would only reply with a loud, “STOP ASKING. I’M WORKING.”

    Buy a room divider or one of those folding privacy screens, and place it between you. Start playing wordless classical music at a decent volume. Basically, make the room as unfriendly to small talk as possible.

  86. Yorick*

    I see some people saying to continue documenting the number of questions he asks. I don’t think that’s a good idea, especially since you’ve done it once and can point to that one. Maybe I’m wrong, I feel that way about a lot of the suggestions to document, because unless it’s something egregious, it would seem strange to me for someone to pull out a journal of things their coworkers have done.

    When you tell the whole story like you’ve done here, I can see the problem with all this. But it might be hard to get that across, because “he asks me soo many questions” might sound like you’re being kinda precious. (I don’t think you are, but still). If you then showed me a daily tally of how many questions he asked and said “See? This is taking up too much of my time!” I might think you were the problem, and you were really losing all the work time to document.

    1. Observer*

      Wait, if someone tells you “he’s asking a bazillion” questions, you’re going to dismiss her because she sounds petty, but if she actually logs it to prove the point, you’re going to dismiss her for actually tracking the issue to document whether it’s petty or not? I honestly hope you don’t manage anyone, because that’s an impossible standard.

      Patterns of behavior are important. Punishing people who document patterns of behavior is how abuse of all sorts flourish. And dismissing someone who actually documents the problem as BEING the problem because they actually had the audacity to document a problem that sounds “precious” to you IS being punitive.

      1. Yorick*

        I think it’s more useful to explain the problem than to show dates and times. For example you see that it’s a problem when you hear that he interrupts her when working, even when she’s on calls; he asks about things that are easily looked up; and he goes to ask someone else if she doesn’t answer. Doing the tally once was useful. But some people were suggesting to CONTINUE to do the tally moving forward, and that’s what I was responding to.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      She counted the questions because her supervisor asked how big a problem it is.

      My corporate HQ ran an efficiency program where we were all supposed to count every interruption for a week — this guy would have blown OP’s group’s numbers sky high.

  87. Blue Eagle*

    Hmmmm, what about if every single time he asked you a question you sent an e-mail to his manager saying “Fergus just asked me ____________”, how do you want me to handle it. Just do that for every question he asks you for one day and after the day is over touch base with the manager and see what she has to say after understanding all of the questions that he asks and how frequently he is interrupting your work by asking them.

  88. Lady Phoenix*

    Guys, can we stop diagnosing this dude with a thing?

    Cause whether you mean it or not, you guys are saying this dude’s actions should be excused because he has a thing, and OP has nor ight to complain and should continue to be inconvenienced by this dude.

    Illiteracy/Dyslexia does not excuse this dude of interupting OP’s calls, stealing her food, blaming her for his bad performance, or RIPPING OFF HER HEADPHONES. And these conditions does not make it OP’s responsibility to hand hold this dude unless she is his boss and he is a new guy/intern.

    I have experienced stuff like this where I supposed to “give him a chance” because the dude had a thing… even though he had rape fantasies he wanted to act out on me and had sexually harassed several other girls.

    So you can I understand why I don’t like people who armchair diagnose, that and it paints everyone else who has the THING as a boundary-pushing asshole. /rant

    1. JSPA*

      We’re possibly hoping there’s a “thing” because methods for addressing a variety of “things” are better codified and often more successful than fixing behavioural / attitude problems of unknown etiology. (In that “firing” is supposedly not an option. So it would be fricking wonderful if an actual solution fell into place.)

      Not because “thing” = “excuse.”

      1. valentine*

        We speculate because the more egregious the behavior, the more we want to know how it makes sense to the perpetrator. HR/the manager(s) really dropped the ball here. The power lies with them and I can’t fathom why they think “there’s no reason” he shouldn’t be able to use sources, yet they’re happy to have him disrupting multiple colleagues (bonus if he only asks OP how far Chicago is, but restricts himself to work-related questions for everyone else). They are leaving OP twisting in the wind of this guy, so she can consider asking how HR ruled out illiteracy or visual impairment. Did they ask him to demonstrate use of the sources? If they send him for training, will there be a written quiz and, if there’s a trainer, will they tell that person not to read the Q&A aloud to him (maybe everything’s 6-point font and he claims he forgot his glasses)? They may want to offer him resources and assure him there’s no need for shame. If he only harasses women, they can move him to another man’s office or to his manager’s or to HR’s. They don’t even seem to have flat-out told him to stop the harassment and daily conscription tours.

      2. Iris Eyes*

        +1 A “thing” can be fixed with proven methods and the LW has to live with this guy somehow or another unless they want to quit. Blowing up on him may be helpful once or twice but if he is still trying to pull himself up by his bootstraps with no boots its not going to get anywhere.

        Our function is to help provide solutions not just justify someone’s feelings. Sure that can be helpful but if that anger doesn’t have some place to go its just going to create a toxic environment. If he has an actual problem then there are a ton of resources that can make everyone’s life better why wouldn’t that be an appropriate solution?

        Excuses and explanations that foster empathy with better problem solving are two different things.

  89. nnn*

    It would be entertaining but probably a terrible idea to answer every question incorrectly, in the direction of making him look bad if he acted upon your information.

    Him: “What time is the meeting?” You: [an hour later than it actually is]
    Him: “What’s person’s phone number?” You: [his boss’s phone number]
    Him: “How long is bagel place open?” You: “It closes in 15 minutes. You’d better leave now.”

    1. BeenThere OG*

      I know someone in my workplace that if someone get on their bad side (by being lazy/incompetent) will instead of teaching them to fish give them a broken fishing rod and then tell their boss he told them how to fish and gifted them a rod.

      It’s a special thing to watch in action.

  90. Kimmybear*

    I had a coworker like this. He would ask a million questions, he would take copious notes, and then type them into a Word document so they were searchable. And yet a year later he was asking the same questions and needing help solving the same problems. My sanity was that another coworker pointed me to Let Me Google that for You It creates a video demonstrating how to Google the question you entered. I curbed the urge to scream by imagining sending the video to him. (I never did as I’m not that mean but the visual of it just made me laugh.)

  91. MamaSarah*

    Sounds like you deserve a long weekend, LW! Can you cash in some PTO? Maybe that would break the pattern. Is it possible to develop an alternative work schedule so you get a couple hours to yourself in your shared office?

  92. Prince John Albert*

    The letter writer has to share an office with this person due to renovations. So, who did this person sit next to previously? The letter writer could possibly bring up this issue to that person and see if it was also a problem there. It would be pretty telling if there were not, but perhaps new strategies would emerge.

  93. cncx*

    I have PTSD and a really bad fight or flight response to unsolicited touching, up to and including punching people away or flailing (reading the comments about the bird guy letter was…difficult…) so i’m so glad this isn’t my coworker. I have had enough therapy that i usually don’t physically bug out any more, but if a coworker pulled my earphones out i still would be SHOOK even if i didn’t react physically. Like need accomodations take the afternoon shook. This can’t be done in an office.

    That said, i think OP has room to push back on the performance review stuff- this is something that needs to be escalated.

  94. Environmental Compliance*

    Good lord, OP. I think I would have accidentally smacked him at the headphone-pulling.

    My previous go-to when I was teaching and got questions on something very clearly denoted in the lab manual was a sign written on the whiteboard stating “DID YOU CHECK THE LAB MANUAL?”. I would be very, very tempted to put up a placard in my office stating “Did you check the documentation/Google/training materials?” and just point at it whenever a question got asked that should have been answered using any/all of those three sources.

  95. Essess*

    I would answer all further questions with “If you can’t find it in the reference documentation, then you need to ask your boss so that they can have it added to the documentation.”

  96. cara*

    Oh. My. All I can say is, I wouldn’t survive a day of this, and kudos to OP for their inhuman mental fortitude. And for not actually slapping his hands when he pulled the headphones out of your ears, because who DOES that???

  97. CatLady*

    This would make me so angry. I would have likely told him off already plus I have zero poker face. And touching my earphones. Helllll noooo. I’d keep a log of his annoying stuff including the touching and keep going to HR and eventually INSIST they move me whatever it took.
    Some helpful phrases I’d start on. Some are super blunt but this fool seems to need it.
    “Look it up on the internet”
    “Try Google”
    “Stop asking me asinine questions”
    “You need to stop” (over and over and I’m getting secondhand rage reading this one.)

Comments are closed.