is it worth mentioning to my boss how irritating my coworker is?

A reader writes:

So I’ve got this coworker. He’s a perfectly nice guy, basically, but he’s also driving me out of my entire damn mind, and I’m not alone in that. The basics:

– He always wants to chat and can’t seem to walk past some people’s desks without thinking of something (neither work-related nor time-sensitive) to start a conversation about, even when we’re very clearly occupied.
– He has a tendency to tell everyone how to do their jobs, very much including jobs in which he has no experience or expertise.
– He inserts himself into other people’s conversations and business to the point that multiple people have started actively avoiding talking about plans out loud, because he will invite himself along.

You get the picture. No single behavior is itself impossible to deal with, but you’ll just have to trust that the frequency and intensity are such that multiple people are altering their routines just to avoid him. He’s also a contractor. (I hate that system and have made this known, but it’s way above my pay grade.) I don’t know if his role is eligible for conversion to FTE, but it’s possible.

Is there any way for I, or anyone, to essentially say “this guy bugs the living hell out of me and I’ll go crazy if he’s here forever” in a professional way? Short of outright harassment or abuse, is there a level of interpersonal behavior bothersome enough that it should be taken into consideration for someone’s long-term prospects?

As I write this, I think I know the answer. We’re adults, he’s not actually doing anything wrong, and this is simply one of those uncomfortable-but-survivable things you have to deal with in the workplace. But is this the kind of thing you can ever bring to someone’s manager? Does annoying the hell out of your coworkers ever rise to the level of professional failure?

If it’s relevant, he reports to our team’s director, though our positions are roughly equivalent in seniority. My direct supervisor also reports to said director. The director and I have a pretty good relationship (I used to report directly to her as well, and she’s very much a “screw formalities, let’s get things done” kind of leader). But I also can’t come up with a way to bring it up to her that doesn’t just sound petty and make me seem like the problem!

As is so often the case when someone is annoying the crap out of their coworkers, some of the complaints on your list are legitimate things you could flag for someone and others aren’t. When you’re really annoyed by someone, it can be hard to separate that out, but it’s worth doing.

Frequently interrupting people to socialize while they’re clearly focused on work is a problem. It’s ideally one you should try to address with him directly before you think about escalating it. The next time he does it, you could say, “I’m usually focusing on work and prefer you don’t interrupt me when you walk by unless it’s time-sensitive.” That said, once it becomes a pattern that’s affecting multiple people on your team, it’s also something your manager would probably want to be aware of too, so I’m not taking that one off your list.

Telling other people how to do their jobs, especially in areas where he has no expertise, is a legitimate problem. I’m curious how you and your coworkers have been responding to that and whether anyone has told him to cut it out. If you haven’t, you should. But again, it’s a legit problem your manager would probably be interested in.

Inserting himself into other people’s conversations … here’s where it might break down. It depends on exactly how he’s doing it, but in most cases people are allowed to join their colleagues’ social conversations. That doesn’t mean it’s not annoying to have someone do that repeatedly and in a socially oblivious way, especially when they already bug you for other reasons, but this one falls more under the umbrella of “sometimes coworkers will be annoying” rather than “legitimate issue for his manager.”

Now, if I were this guy’s manager and I were thinking about converting him from a contractor to an employee, I’d want to know that he’s driving a bunch of people up the wall. Team dynamics matter, and I’d want to at least be aware of those dynamics before I solidified them by making him permanent.

That’s not to say you should approach your boss in every case where you don’t like working with someone. If the issues were pettier — for example, if you just didn’t like his sense of humor (but it wasn’t offensive) or if he talked about sports more than you’d like — well, that’s just the two of you not clicking. But regularly interrupting busy people for chit-chat, not reading cues, and telling people how to do their jobs are all more concerning.

So, if you have a decent relationship with your manager, one option is to frame it as, “I’m not sure if Cecil might be made permanent at some point, but I’d appreciate the chance to give some feedback if that’s something you’re considering.” Or, “I’m not sure if Cecil might be made permanent at some point, but if that’s in the cards, I’m hoping you might be able to get him some coaching on some interpersonal stuff that’s been frustrating to work around.”

And again, leave out the part about inserting himself into conversations around him. But the rest of it’s legit to discreetly mention.

{ 150 comments… read them below }

  1. The Tin Man*

    This is a tricky one. What about how to handle things with him when he invites himself along to plans that he was never invited to? At least that’s how I read the “multiple people have started actively avoiding talking about plans out loud, because he will invite himself along”.

    I’m guessing this is something like lunch plans. I don’t think this rises to manager-level but how would you address it in the moment?

    1. Mid*

      And also, should you exclude someone from those plans? I’m not saying you should have to socialize with someone you dislike, but making lunch plans at work and intentionally excluding one person seems hurtful and rather cliquish.

      1. Jennifer*

        I didn’t assume it was lunch plans but either way I don’t think inviting a friend to do something outside of work is rude, as long as it’s not done in a Mean Girls you can’t sit with us kind of way. Cecil isn’t entitled to an invitation.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Yep. People spend 8 hours a day with their coworkers — why on earth should they have to spend even more time, unpaid, with someone they don’t like? Team events and outings are one thing, but your own personal time is just that.

          1. TechWorker*

            It’s also fairly basic social ettiquette to not go on about something at length in front of people who would like to be invited but aren’t – so I don’t really see that people modifying their behaviour in this way is that annoying/unusual

            1. A*

              Exactly. No one is obligated to include everyone in off the clock events etc., but there are etiquette guidelines for situations like this for a reason. I left my first employer after college for many reasons, but one of which was constantly being left out of social situations. I was the only one in the department that wasn’t invited, and they’d spend all day talking about their plans to get drinks after work (yes, almost every day. These were miserable people with minimal home lives, and their ‘work friends’ were everything to them). I didn’t care that much about not going out with them – but I did care deeply about the purposeful exclusion. The fact that they couldn’t be bothered to have those conversations in private was just adding salt to the wound.

              Doesn’t sound like the case here… but you never know.

              1. HopefulLegallyBrunettte*

                As someone who was on the other side of your experience – bonded with my coworkers from my first job and have stayed friends with many of them even after leaving the industry – your comments seem incredibly judgmental of people who make friends at work. Many of the coworkers at my first real office job had a lot in common (mid-to-late-twenties, recently moved into the area, and not yet settled into long-term relationships, etc.) and socialized regularly after work and outside of work. Being excluded hurts, but it’s not necessarily something that is directed and intentional. Our department had (unofficial) happy hours regularly that everyone was invited to, and it was the people who enthusiastically socialized that became the most friendly. Humans are social, even at work, and assuming that people who are friends with other people at work necessaily must have miserable lives outside of work is the kind of negativity and harsh judgment that makes other people exclude you, intentionally or not.

                1. FairPayFullBenefits*

                  I think it depends on what’s happening. If it’s the entire team going out to lunch without him, that’s not okay. But if it’s 2-3 co-workers who are also friends getting lunch together, they shouldn’t be expected to invite him.

                2. Romina*

                  I’ve been on both sides of this situation–strangely, within the same job–and I’ve known the types of people who the other commenter was talking about. It’s great to have work friends, and I’m still close with some of mine from that job now that I’ve left. But there was a certain group there for whom work was clearly the center of their social lives, and even though I didn’t want to go out with those people (we had very different interests and personalities) and was content with my friends, it was still awkward when they would come around and invite some of the other people around me. And it might sound like I’m just being judgmental when I say that work was the center of their social lives, but I knew a LOT about their lives because they talked literally all day long and I learned more than I ever wanted to know.

                  In my case, I don’t think their work-centered social lives were miserable, but it did create a pretty disruptive work environment for those of us who weren’t in their circle. They would openly complain about people they thought were “boring” or “unfriendly” and gossiped constantly, in addition to all of the talking and laughing and throwing random work parties just being plain distracting. They were all mostly in their 30s-40s, but that place felt more like high school than my actual high school experience did.

            2. Jennifer*

              I don’t think quietly asking someone to dinner is going on and on about plans. If someone’s feelings are hurt by something that normal, that’s a them problem.

            3. Irritable LW*

              TechWorker, I agree on that point. You’ll just have to trust me that that’s not what I’m describing. It’s the difference between several people talking at their desks about a big group plan, pointedly excluding one person, and two people talking quietly in the corner, a polite distance from anyone’s desk. The culture here is, in my experience, quite friendly and inclusive, and that’s coming from a socially anxious person who’s really prone to imagining that everyone hates me.

            4. yala*

              Yeah, I remember at my old job how my coworkers would all talk about their plans to go bowling that evening or play basketball that afternoon. If it was just a couple, sure, but it was basically all of them, talking about their fun social plans together, right in front of me (or, well, behind me–I’d be on the computer doing check-ins while they’d be sorting the books).

              It felt pretty crappy.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        The way it looks to me, the entire group going out together and leaving one person out is cliquish, but 2-3 people out of a 20-30 people group are allowed to go out together without having to take Greg with them any old time they want to go out. Not super clear on which of these two situations OP is talking about, but it sounds like the latter.

        As to how to handle it – I’ve seen it happen a few times, and the scenario I’ve seen is, if Greg invites himself along, Greg comes along. What will happen next time, I guess, depends on how Greg acts when he does come along. If Greg spends the entire hour telling everyone how to do their jobs, they’ll probably sneak out a back door without him next time. If he acts fine and fits in, he’ll be included again.

        1. A*

          As someone who left an employer due to being the sole individual consistently excluded in social activities, in a department that was extremely active in each other’s lives’ outside of work….. this is a hurtful comment. It *can* be ‘very elementary school’, but it not automatically. OI spent three years listening all day, every day to my entire department discuss that evening’s activity (they all had no lives outside of work/each other) and go out of their way to exclude me. I was in my early twenties, and it was devastating. The impact was lasting. I hope you never have to go through that, and realize first hand how misguided your comment is.

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      If it’s something like going out for lunch, you can always say “Oh, sorry Greg, we’ve already made reservations for four.” If it’s just eating together in the lunch room, I have no idea how to react that without sounding rather rude. (FWIW, I like eating with a lot of people, so one more person wouldn’t put my nose out of joint.) I actually kind of feel a little sorry for Greg. It seems he’s trying really hard to fit in.

    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      It IS tricky, but when someone invites themselves they need to know they sometimes just aren’t going to be included. It’s not easy to say ‘no’, but it’s easier than the awkwardness of having lunch or coffee with someone you didn’t invite.

      I’ve seen this tactic before, and have used it successfully: Tell the person, ‘Oh, I’m sorry but this isn’t an office get-together! We’ll let you know if we plan one so you can come, too!’ Say it nicely and with a touch of regret, but offer no details. If they invite themselves another time, repeat.

    4. Llellayena*

      If it’s a department of 10 people and 9 are planning lunch and leaving one out, then yes no one should be annoyed at him jumping in and inviting himself along. But if it’s 3 of 10 people planning to get lunch, there’s no reason he needs to be invited along and he should not be inviting himself. At that point it’s fine to say “I’m sorry, it’s just me, X and Y this time.”

      1. Witchy Human*

        After “just me, X and Y this time” you can also add a pleasant “see you in an hour or so!” It helps to drive the point home.

    5. Irritable LW*

      Hey, LW here! I could obviously have been clearer in how I phrased the “inviting himself along” thing, because I wasn’t referring to “coworker lunch plans”-type things. It’s a friendly office, and he’s always invited to any lunch outings. I’m talking about two people who are good friends outside of work talking quietly about plans to go to dinner that weekend, and him butting in and asking for details(!) as though it were implicit that he’d be invited.

      Part of the issue is that this, like a lot of his behaviors, is the kind of thing I wouldn’t hesitate to politely but firmly talk to a friend or acquaintance about in any other context, but because it’s work, the politics feel way more delicate.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        A dinner over the weekend! What ever the heck! Yeah I see nothing wrong with a firm, “Sorry, it’s just X and Y” and no further details. He’s invited to any lunch outings, that is more than enough.

      2. beanie gee*

        Just because it’s work doesn’t mean you can’t still have a polite but direct conversation with him about it!

        Maybe he’s unchangeable, but I’d work on shutting down the behavior before I’d work on the “prevent him from getting full-time hired” angle. It’ll have more weight with your boss if you can say that you’ve asked him to stop interrupting you and his behavior continues.

      3. Jennifer*

        Yikes. Yeah I think planning things like that over text going forward is the best policy. Not that they are doing anything wrong. It just avoids the drama.

      4. ijbouv*

        I’m not trying to be doubtful? dense? (something) here, but I don’t see how asking for details is the same as expecting to be invited. It could be just joining a conversation, or idle curiosity. “Oh, really? I’ve hear that a really good place” or “I’ve been there and didn’t really like it” or “Haven’t heard of it”, or a launching point to talk about favorite foods, or anything else. And even if they think he is fishing for a invite, that doesn’t mean he gets one.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I guess depends what details. Is it “Oh have you had Peruvian before? what dishes would you recommend ?” or “What time are you meeting there?” and “do you have a reservation I would need to add myself to?”

          And even if they think he is fishing for a invite, that doesn’t mean he gets one.

          Very true.

        2. Avasarala*

          I pictured details like “I Wrote” mentioned, like “What time are you going,” “Is there parking nearby” or “Do they have vegetarian options because I hate pork” or stuff like that. If it was just talking about the restaurant I don’t think OP would have flagged this as a problem.

      5. A*

        Yikes, that’s awkward. I can’t imagine inserting myself in someone so…obviously social / limited to two people with a non-work related relationship. Eek!

  2. Myrin*

    I love this question, mostly because it’s something most people can relate to and yet very few probably know how to react to.

  3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Oh, lords above spare me from ever encountering a “nice person, but…” and I promise to do my chores, visit the sick and feed stray puppies.

    1. Budgie Buddy*

      And lord spare us all from having an acquaintance who describes us to a third party as “They’re a nice person, but…”

      This phrase has a level of shade I deeply respect.

    2. Irritable LW*

      YEP. And I do feel bad, which is why I felt compelled to include that weak line about him being a “nice person,” because the fact is, there are so many ways he could be a worse person! Like, he’s not mean to people, he’s not a bigot, he’s just a person who repels me with the power of several suns on an interpersonal level.

      1. Hobbit*

        LW you are not required to like everyone. I have a coworker who is very similar to yours. Our “Fergus” is not a bad person, but that doesn’t make him a good coworker. He doesn’t handle social interaction very well. He’s very awkward, but the worst part is that he doesn’t realize how awkward he is. I’ve worked with other people who I like as individuals but didn’t like them as co-workers for one reason or another.

    3. Fikly*

      Also, the person this phrase is inevitably not a nice person.

      Or “They’re a great employee, but…” Also not a great employee!

  4. Jedi Squirrel*

    Yep, keep it focused on the work interruptions. That’s the key. It’s hard to work with annoying coworkers, but as long as the work is getting done, that’s what management’s focus will be on. And you may eventually learn to tune out the annoying behaviors, and annoying coworker may eventually temper those on their own. (And this very much does sound like someone who is hoping to go FTE with your company by proving how much he knows and how well he gets along with everybody. I think his intentions may be good, but his technique is off.)

    But you should bring this up. We have hired contract workers at my company particularly because we have small teams and we need to make sure the personalities and dynamics are a good fit. If something isn’t working out right, we’re not on the hook for anything, and the contract worker knows that going in. I can’t imagine spending the rest of my working days with someone like this.

    1. TootsNYC*

      you can also ask your manager to help you give him the message that he shouldn’t interrupt people who are working.

  5. Herding Butterflies*

    Her are some scripts I have used in the past. They may or may not be of use. I would translate “bugs the hell out” of me / us / team into he “really does not understand the team dynamic”. “His inability to police his social time at work is causing the rest of us to be unproductive and resentful. As a result we do not want to include him professionally on our projects, which is overall not a good thing. We do not feel he is a good fit for our environment. Can we discuss finding someone else when his contract comes up for renewal?”

    1. Herding Butterflies*

      BTW, OP, be prepared to cite specific examples of the “not a good fit” for the environment. I think the things you have listed in your letter work for that. (If you have more specific, go for it. Your management will want facts not impressions). This shows that it is the cumulative effect that make this a problem worth addressing by management.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I worked with a guy who could be flat-out rude; slam things on people’s desks if he thought they weren’t working hard enough.

      We had a potluck on a busy day,a nd several of us were eating at our desks, etc. He was pissed because he was in charge of the deadline. But we had gaps, then work, then gaps.

      he’d bring the work, but toss it on the desk in this aggressive manner, and sigh, etc.
      People complained he was rude.

      But I was the one who said tot he boss, “It’s not just that he’s rude. It’s that when he IS rude, people end up spending some time soothing themselves–venting to one another, fuming, whatever. And so they aren’t as productive as they could be, or would want to be, because they’re dealing with what was essentially an etiquette “aggression” and an insult. It’s not really like hitting someone, but it’s the interpersonal equivalent. It’s counterproductive; it hurts our productivity. It’s not just about people’s feelings. There’s an impact on the business.”

      He said, “You are the first person who has ever framed it like that for me.”

      1. MeMeMe*

        Excellent insight — thanks for sharing.

        At my workplace we’ve got a really difficult person (Chris) who’s been here for years, and in the past any complaints about them have been brushed off with, “That’s just how they are. They do good work that no one else can do, so you just have to deal with them.”

        Now in recent years we’ve had some staff turnover, and now have people who are good at figuring out ways to work around Chris and do Chris’ allegedly unique tasks and skills themselves, so once again Management is brushing off complaints about Chris with, “See, you don’t even have to deal with them anymore! What’s the problem? Keep up the good work!”

        But if we kept track of how many hours a week we spend on our Chris-Workarounds and presented Management with a solidly factual, well-documented Total Hours a Week Wasted tally with Total Hourly Wages Wasted calculation….maybe that would be the kick in the pants Management needs.

        I’m on it! :)

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Love love love both this and TootsNYC’s comment!

          I’ve come close to this level of insight, I think, once, when one Sunday most of the department at an OldJob got called into work at 1PM, to look into something big that had broken. (Turned out to be low-quality offshore-produced software that had been rammed into production several months before, so not even something that we could fix immediately. – I cannot even recall what all 30-40 of us were doing that Sunday to “fix” it.) Come midnight, everyone was still there, and we had to be at work the next morning too. So as someone with more seniority than most people in the room, I walked up to the manager who’d organized all this, and said “isn’t it time to let everyone go home?” He was “oh you can go if you are tired” and I was, “this isn’t about me. People have been here for close to twelve hours now, it’s midnight, no one is doing anything productive here at this point. They might *break* something if they stay. But they sure enough aren’t going to fix anything. Not tonight.” Don’t know if it had any effect, I admit I went home right after that conversation.

          At the same job, we once got an offshore contract canceled (this is something that almost never happens…) in the same way – our mid-level managers asked us to do timesheets for a few months, and specifically to track all the time that we spent on Offshore-Workarounds. Their work was extremely low quality and apparently a lot of time was spent on our end reviewing it, getting them to rework it for the 683682th time, reviewing the rework, and so on. It had not dawned on the leadership what a drain it was on the entire business until they saw the timesheets.

          PS. Can other people do Chris-work, or does Chris really do something no one else can do? I’m kind of reading it that you now have other people who can do it too.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            I’m reading it as more, ‘we’ve found ways to get results without going through Chris’, as if Chris is the Llama Hairdryer, but they’ve figured out how to Airdry their llamas.

        2. richard*

          MMM – if you present the data you HAVE to update this. post, heck send the update to Alison with your initial comment separately so it doesn’t get buried.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        This is a great point! Disruption goes a lot further than only the moment in which it happens.

      3. londonedit*

        We did the same when we brought some concerns about a colleague to a former boss of mine. This colleague was routinely doing things that made our jobs more difficult, and we’d had a bit of ‘Oh, that’s just how they work, I know it’s a pain but it’s just their quirky way of doing things’. So we explained that this ‘quirky way of doing things’ had actual real consequences for the way we were able (or not) to do our jobs, because of the amount of time we had to spend dealing with this colleague’s ‘quirks’ that we didn’t have to spend on projects from anyone else. We explained that dealing with the quirks meant spending a disproportionate amount of time doing that and therefore not doing other things, and the impact that had on our ability to manage our workloads and the quality of the work we were able to do. It worked really well laying it all out like that!

      4. ragazza*

        Brilliant. Perfectly captures the way one person can ruin a whole department’s productivity and morale.

      5. Irritable LW*

        Thank you, TootsNYC, that’s such a helpful framing for it! If I do bring this up, this is exactly the kind of approach I want to use–making sure to focus on the actual work impact rather than anyone’s feelings.

      6. NW Mossy*

        I’ve employed this strategy too, and can endorse that it really helps. It’s really powerful to show someone “here’s what really happens in response to X behavior,” and it’s useful in a lot of different contexts. I’ve used it for coaching on not sending rude emails, being overly frosty, pestering for status updates, and more.

        Another key phrase that helps: “this behavior isn’t effective.” This frame avoids the blame-and-shame tones that can come from value judgments like “rude” or “annoying” and puts the focus squarely on the fact that the behavior gets in the way of getting good results and having good relationships. It also reinforces that the thing that needs to change is the behavior, not the individual’s personality.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I like that.

          The “rude”, “annoying”, “aggressive” label gets applied disproportionately to women and minorities. Pointing out that a “behavior isn’t effective” sidesteps the emotional minefield and puts the person more into problem solving mode.

      7. MOAS*

        Wow..that’s an amazing way to frame it.
        Knock on wood, I don’t have anyone like this now as a new manager, but have come across these types before.

        Thank you for the wonderful insight!

    3. Batgirl*

      I agree. The whole thing about social cues, general irritation could however still be sneakily mentioned before the but. As in:
      “We know Cecil is a nice person who doesn’t mean to be socially oblivious/monologue/overbearing/. We work around that, but when it affects the workflow I feel I need to bring it up. Cecil’s habit of talking at people affected Stacy’s y deadline and my ability to concentrate on x project this week alone. I don’t know if he will ever be taken on as a FT employee but his understanding of our workflow/people’s job roles isn’t on point right now.

      1. Parenthetically*

        “his understanding of our workflow/people’s job roles”

        Yes! This is SUCH a helpful way to frame this, and gives a manager a really clear path forward — especially since so many managers are reluctant to coach on things they see as a little less black-and-white.

  6. ouchie*

    The #1 way to avoid work interruptions from interrupty people is to remove any and all extra chairs from your immediate office space.

    The #2 way (which always works) is to begin talking about yourself. It’s amazing how quickly the interrupty people suddenly have something very urgent to do elsewhere…

    1. EmbracesTrees*

      Yes, this can help. I have to have chairs in my office for discussions with some people — AND I purposefully keep stuff on them (my work bag, books, papers). These things can easily and quickly be scooped up to make space when needed but definitely discourage coworkers who slide in and plop their butts down. WHY do people do this? Even the people you really, truly like can be annoying when you have to get something done!

  7. Jamie*

    For these types of issues being comfortable with an awkward silence goes a long way.

    The drive by socializing, telling you how to do your job, etc. You can politely and professionally set a boundary but a lot of very nice people feel the need to keep engaging as to not hurt the feelings of the other person.

    I’m not that nice. I’m relatively friendly with most people, but with these types I let my reserved nature do the heavy lifting and the uncomfortable silence after polite dismissal do the rest.

    1. ellex42*

      *Fergus* (for example) stops by my desk and starts talking: “So, Ellex42, yadayada blahblahblah (nothing relevant to work) yadayadayada!”

      I turn slowly to face Fergus and look him straight in the eyes with as blank a face as I can manage. “I’m sorry, Fergus, I’m working right now and can’t chat.” I don’t wait for Fergus to reply (it’s a trap!), but turn back to my desk and my work.

      Any further response from Fergus that is not some version of “Oh, okay, I’ll stop bothering you” is met with the same response. The exact same response. Every single time.

      Fergus may complain that I’m rude, but he’s going to sound pretty dumb when he describes my response.

      This is pulled from a real life situation, and my Fergus did complain that I was rude, and did sound petty and ridiculous when I asked – in front of our boss – for Fergus to enlighten me about my supposed rudeness.

      I’m just over here trying to get my work done, after all.

      My current Fergus is trying to bypass this by making up work-related questions and segueing into chitchat, but I’ve started going with a cheery “I know you can figure this out for yourself, you’re smarter than you give yourself credit for!” Fergus is torn between insisting they don’t know what they’re doing or being thrilled by the compliment, and it’s honestly hilarious to watch.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        “The exact same response. Every single time.”

        This is key. Often, when people were hoping for a different response, they will simply try again. So give them the same response, down to facial expression and vocal intonation. Eventually even the slowest learners figure out that this is all they are going to get.

        1. ellex42*

          This is also called “gray-rocking”. Basically, you are as interesting as a gray rock. You don’t have to explain, you don’t have to elaborate, you don’t have to come up with excuses. You’ve given your answer and it’s the only answer you have to give.

          Some obnoxious people will interpret this as a challenge (as does my present “Fergus”), but most Ferguses will eventually go in search of easier prey.

      2. pentamom*

        “he’s going to sound pretty dumb when he describes my response.”

        Yes, it’s hard to go complaining to the boss that you repeatedly give him a polite but firm answer when he continues to bug you while you’re working.

    2. Batgirl*

      I agree with your first sentence and it’s usually my first move.
      But I recently discovered the genus of interrupter I call endlessoxygenuser where they don’t stop long enough to give you a response opportunity anyway.

      1. Veronica*

        I knew someone socially who did that. I gave him my number for hobby-related reasons, and he took to calling me every couple of days during the most busy time of my life. I would pick up the phone and he would talk for more than 1/2 hour without pausing to hear from me.
        I stopped picking up his calls because it was the only way to stop him.

  8. LGC*

    He’s a perfectly nice guy, basically, but

    …somehow I knew exactly where this was going. (I need to stop reading advice columns.)

    So, anyway, LW. I feel like you’re really worried about hurting this guy’s feelings and have been a bit evasive – he’s acting like a jerk, but he doesn’t seem like he means harm, right? I’m glad you’re concerned, but it might do you well to show less regard for them (especially since he acts like he doesn’t care about yours). It’s going to be a bit uncomfortable to be more direct, but you (as the team) can explain to him that Bob can’t always talk with him about the Giants and you can brush him off by saying that you’d really want to hear Lucinda’s opinion on how the teapots should be glazed. (Or a simple, “thanks, but I’ve got this.”) I think that you’d probably mind him inviting himself along to lunch less if he weren’t so…dominating of conversation, but honestly I’m not too concerned about people not openly arranging lunch plans here.

    I don’t know. Part of it is I’m jaded, but in my dotage I’ve gotten more comfortable with setting boundaries. And I think ideally, someone would tell him that he’s kind of acting like a jerk and that he needs to tone himself down a bit. I can definitely see Fergus writing in about how he’s excited to be at work, but his coworkers seem dismissive of his ideas.

    (Huge disclaimer: I’m specifically talking about his actions, not his actual thoughts. He could just be oblivious! But I’m afraid LW’s office is tiptoeing around his feelings, and that is not working out.)

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I definitely agree that directness is the key here. As I’ve said often in this space, just because someone’s intentions are good or not meant to be harmful, that doesn’t make their behavior okay. It seems everyone is trying to provide hints for him when he interrupts their work or tells them how to do their job. Some people just don’t get hints and others choose to ignore them because they have no boundaries. And it’s not up to OP or anyone else in the office to manage his feelings. Being direct is not rude – his behavior is rude.

      1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

        And a polite but completely clear communication of boundaries is going to distinguish between assholes and oblivious people. A person who is just oblivious/awkward will be probably embarrassed, maybe disappointed but also glad they understand what they should or shouldn’t be doing. An asshole will either get angry or ignore the boundary.

    2. Elenna*

      Yep. Anything that starts with “they’re X, but” where X is a vague compliment? The person in question is never X.

  9. Narise*

    I worked with someone similar and she could not/would not pick up on social cues. She inserted herself in other people’s conversations and when they told her she didn’t know what they were talking about she tried to make it a joke and still wouldn’t step out. She left for a different company and tried to return to our company. By this time I had been promoted. I shared my experience with her as well as how she impacted the team and spoke about leadership and she was not rehired. This was not just because of what I shared but I know it played a part.

    I would approach your manger and ask for guidance of ‘How do I get Cecil to understand that he is disrupting the team by doing xyz?” How would manager prefer you handle it? In my experience I have had managers who wanted to have all conversations with contractors and others who wanted us to address at least once ourselves so that we could see how they reacted and responded. Start with asking for advice/help before lodging a complaint or frustration and I think your boss will help. If not you will have to address it directly with the contractor and see if that resolves the issue.

  10. Goldfinch*

    If a contractor has time to drive everyone nuts by waltzing around holding their ears hostage, then there is no reason to make him a permanent employee. He either doesn’t have enough to do (and should be let go), or is shirking his duties (and should be let go).

    1. Ben Marcus Consulting*

      He’s a contractor. He’s contracted to submit deliverables by certain deadlines. As long as he’s doing that, he can spend his time how he pleases.

      I think that’s a possible reason why LW dislikes contractor positions. They see it as someone who has time to lean has time to clean. However, a contractor typically has a narrowly defined scope of work. Unlike FTEs, there’s no filler work to keep them busy.

      Personally, I dislike having everything handled by FTEs. I find that the filler work turns into regular duties and eventually another position gets created because Pam and Cheryl (Carol?) just HAVE to color code the schedule everyday based on what people are wearing and what the weather is like, and thus don’t have time to preplan for meetings.

      1. Irritable LW*

        Whoa, I hope that’s not how I came across. I don’t dislike *contractors*, I dislike the *contractor system*, which many companies (including my own, even though I like a lot of things about it) abuse to keep head count numbers artificially low. I started as a contractor here, and it can be a really uncomfortable position to be in, where you’re treated like an employee in most ways but glaringly not in others.

        I brought up him being a contractor because (A) he’s not a permanent fixture here yet, and I wanted to know if his behavior could/should factor into that; and (B) I want to be really, really sure I’m not just being a jerk if I do say something that could impact his job security.

        Hope that clears it up. I definitely wouldn’t want to come across as though I have any dislike or disdain for people in those positions!

        1. Desperately seeking cute kitty*

          FWIW I read it as you thinking the contractor system was unfair to contractors. I think the reason BMC read it that way had far more to do with what Goldfinch said than what you said.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I read it the same way – probably because I’ve seen people getting hired into C2H positions and then being given the runaround like their contract being endlessly renewed/they always being promised a FT position “in three months”/etc.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              Yep. I was in contractor positions like that, a couple of times. It sucked, especially at the job where they were using an all-contractor workforce rather than create any FTE positions at all and would lay us off at a moment’s notice and call us back a couple of months later and act like nothing ever happened. The other one signed us up for a year at a time, which was a bit better, but we were doing the same work as the people who were regular staff. So there was absolutely no incentive for them to add “headcount” (a term I learned to heartily detest).

              I’m sure there are legitimate reasons to use contractors. Having an excuse to treat human beings like a disposable commodity isn’t one of them, imnsho. (Bitter? Why, what gave you that idea? Hell, yes, I’m bitter as yesterday’s coffee that got left in the bottom of the pot till it scorched!)

          2. Ben Marcus Consulting*

            Exactly. Goldfinch’s comment highlights what a lot of people fail to realize about contractors within their organization.

            1. Goldfinch*

              Nothing you said has been my experience with contracting. I’ve never seen a contractor, or been a contractor, that did only X and Y and sat back while the FTE scrambled because I was “done”. I’m in tech, in my 40s.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          I also read it as ‘the system is unfair to contractors’, but I work in tech and it’s one of The Big Issues.

        3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yeah, I automatically read it as “the system is unfair” as well.

          But I’m the same way as you, I hate that system and how it gets people taken advantage of, so that could be why I got your point and others who are contractors who have been treated like crap by FTE over the years may read it the other way!

        4. Ben Marcus Consulting*

          I’m glad to hear that!

          I agree that many companies abuse the concept of contractors. I’ve witnessed really bad companies that use it was a way to push the burden of employing onto the employee, while also removing access to all benefits. They substantially change the scope of work and try to alter the compensation structure (I always on both the timeline and success of deliverables). I always have clause in my contract to end these arrangements within a month.

          However, I’ve had really great experiences where the arrangement has allowed me to substantially build my resume, with many different companies and service types, while also establishing that I am able to hold a position for an extended length of time (via my consulting company).

          From either viewpoint, I’ve also dealt with a lot of FTEs that didn’t really understand how a contractor worked, even FTEs that had started out as a contractor. They saw the flexibility of my arrangement as an abuse of their system.

          1. Observer*

            Because you have primarily been a contractor in the manner that contracting is SUPPOSED to work, while these people have been contractors in the more abusive format.

        5. uuulg labor*

          Suggested reading (just finished it) on this topic for USA-ian employment: “Temp : how American work, American business, and the American dream became temporary” by Louis Hyman. There’s a LOT too unpack about how we got corporate “temp” labor.

  11. YoungTen*

    When he starts telling people how to do their jobs, say ” I’ve already gone over the details of this with the director”. As for inviting himself along, I’m not going to judge what you do one way or another. Just keep the plans to yourselves. Best of luck and know that you’re not alone. We all have at least someone like that in our offices.

  12. WorkIsADarkComedy*

    This contractor lacks boundaries. It’s so pervasive that he will continue to be obnoxious as long as he is around.

    I hope your comments to the boss about the work-related aspects strike a nerve, and that the boss understands the interpersonal dynamics. Plus, if there’s a way for the boss to observe this behavior personally it would be great (though many misbehaviors suddenly disappear when the boss is around).

  13. Pieska Boryska*

    What about this guy is nice? You say he’s not doing anything wrong, but he actually is in ways Alison lays out well. Being a good colleague is an important part of the job.

    1. Batgirl*

      I think that often when people say ‘they’re nice but’ they are just combining the idea of the person being oblivious/benign, with the underlying message “I’m not being a jerk and trash talking someone here”.

      I’m with you. It is not very nice being around a Cecil regardless of Cecil’s intent.

      1. boo bot*

        Yeah, and I think it can also just be a catch-all for “not the actual, worst possible human being I can imagine,” which is an area with a lot of wiggle room.

        1. Irritable LW*

          You are… not wrong. I do want to give the guy credit for not being a bigot or a bully or something, but that’s about it.

    2. Irritable LW*

      Ha, I know I’ve gone full advice-column-stereotype with that line, but I get why people say it! In this case, I do genuinely think he’s at least *trying* to be nice and friendly a lot of the time. Like I said in another comment, he’s not mean or bigoted or anything, and I do want to give him some modest credit for that, because there are a lot of ways he could be worse. It’s why I was conflicted enough to write to Alison in the first place!

  14. Dust Bunny*

    If there’s a chance this guy might be considered for a move from contractor to employee, somebody above you (y’all) needs to address this.

    We had an intern who had some legitimate problems (loose understanding of timeliness, which matters in our department; sometimes pinched food or bottled water not intended for employees; socially clueless to the point of casually using terms that are definitely no longer socially acceptable) and some issues that were merely annoying (talked too much; inserted self into other people’s conversations; made a lot of very weird generalizations about things about which Intern clearly knew nothing, etc.).

    Intern applied for an open position in another department and we got a flood of emails and phone calls from departments that don’t even work closely with mine, begging us not to hire this person. My supervisor wished they had said something sooner because he’d been addressing Intern’s obnoxious habits as they related to Intern’s work in our department, but he didn’t know that Intern had managed to annoy almost everyone else in the organization, too. It might not have helped–Intern was pretty intractable–but he’d have liked the chance to try.

  15. ragazza*

    Oh man. We had one of these at my former job. She had a lot of the same behaviors–interrupting people to talk (which always ended up being a monologue about HER) and thinking she knew better than everyone. I often saw people avoiding her in the hallway or if she was in the lunchroom. In addition to that, she would tell our boss she was going to do things her way and ignore his (and clients’!) preferences because she thought she knew best. As others have said, it’s the things that impact the business that managers should address. Unfortunately no one ever reined her in, which I can’t figure out. She just told a coworker who is still there that she always ignores clients’ guidelines because she’s only focused on the end results.

  16. misspiggy*

    Is anyone else thinking of Colin Robinson, the ‘energy vampire’ from What We Do In The Shadows?

    In such cases Jamie’s awkward silences seem like an excellent strategy.

    1. ellex42*

      That character resonated with me in the same way the film “Office Space” felt like only a slight exaggeration of real life.

    2. pony tailed wonder*

      That is a good comparison. I work with someone similar to this. He is single and loves to chat with other people. He does have a few friends outside of work but he doesn’t get to see them as often as he would like. I just try to put myself in his shoes and talk to him for a bit when it is convenient to me. I have to have an exit strategy because he doesn’t read the signals that you have talked enough and need to get back to work. I find if I pick the time to talk, it doesn’t irritate me as much as when I get interrupted when I am trying to get something done. He is a nice guy but he does have a quart container worth of talk when I can only take a pint full of listening.

      1. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

        “a quart container worth of talk when I can only take a pint full of listening.”

        Ha, great turn of phrase!

    3. Arts Akimbo*

      It’s such a brilliant character, because nearly everyone has worked with at least one Colin Robinson! (Or an Evie. Powerful, powerful drains.)

  17. Oranges*

    I have/had a co-worker like this. Thankfully they did understand cold shouldering (nothing about work, always about social/things they thought they understood).

    They’ve settled down and are no longer clingy and I’ve begun to be distantly lukewarm to them. They will never be my work BFF or even a person I’ll start a convo with. But I no longer am at BEC with them. So win?

    Why this worked out: their clinginess was due to them feeling “left out” because everyone on the team already had history with each other and instead of letting time fix that dynamic, they thought they could just strong arm it. They could realize that I was NOT up for chatting and backed off.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Unrelated topic…what does BEC mean? I see it in here sometimes and for the life of me can’t figure it out.

      1. Irritable LW*

        TCMMGFM, I believe it originated with the excellent Captain Awkard, and it stands for “b**** eating crackers,” a phrase for when you’re so fed up with a person that literally anything they do, even silently eating crackers, can feels like more evidence that they’re a jerk. “Look at that b**** just eating crackers over there, like she OWNS the place!”

        I fully recognize that I’m at least close to that point with this person, if not there already, hence my desire for some outside input.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          The good captain did not invent this. There was an online graphic. Maybe one of those eCards? Now I’ll look around for the link and post as a reply to this reply.

      2. GT*

        B1tch Eating Crackers – someone who annoys you so much that they annoy you even when they’re not actually doing something annoying. “Look at that B1tch over there eating crackers”

        1. CastIrony*

          I have a couple of those in my life! My value is that if someone is mean to my family or me, they are automatically BECs.

          Nice phrase for how I feel these days, GT!

      3. ellex42*

        The other replies are correct, but personally I like to read it as “b**** emitting crumbs”, as in “that annoying person is sitting over there eating crackers and spitting crumbs all over the place, spreading their trash all over my nice clean personal space”, due to the mental image “b**** eating crackers” creates.

    2. Close Bracket*

      them feeling “left out” because everyone on the team already had history with each other and instead of letting time fix that dynamic

      “Time” does not fix this. People fix it. Old timers should be proactively including newcomers in anything that happens during work hours, including the work social interactions. In the absence of proactive old timers, newcomers can proactively make connections with the old timers, which is what your newcomer did. You did the right thing by setting your boundaries where you want them with this person. Your entire framing of the interaction is off, however. Calling them “clingy” and cold shouldering them is not a constructive way of setting boundaries. “This person wants a close relationship with me, and I want a distant relationship with them. Therefore, I will engage on work related things and kindly disengage on social things” is a framing that is much more likely to give you long term peace of mind with that person.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I dunno, maybe my work experience is not a typical one, but every place I have worked with, as a new hire, I first developed a good working relationship with people by working together and getting things done, and then we could talk about getting included in social things. Not the other way around. This is not a meetup group where everyone is on a social outing together and a new member has to be included in the social outing, because that’s the only reason we’re here. Like, it’s work? we are not being paid to be a new hire’s circle of friends for them. We are being paid to get things done. This also goes for me whenever I’m the new hire. Then again, it probably made things easy for me in that capacity that I had gotten burned on workplace socializing very early in my career, and showed little to no interest in it in the following years. I always end up with close friend at work, and have dated/am dating former coworkers, but that level of closeness came after years of working together. Not the moment I walked through the door and introduced myself as their new teammate. Which is exactly the way I wanted it.

        I can also say that, again in my experience, people who dumped their work on others, didn’t pull their weight, didn’t let other people do their work, and so on, ended up with no or few work friends and were not included in any work activities that were not mandatory for all to be included in; no matter how nice they acted otherwise. If you get a call from work in the middle of the night and the tier 1 person tells you “I’m sorry, I know Greg is on call this week but he’s not answering the phone” and it happens again and again and again, then forgive me if I’m not up for drinks with Greg after work.

      2. Oranges*

        I’ve been on the other side of this. It took me awhile to understand that when I enter a close knit team, they all have history with each other and I can’t just insert myself like I’ve always been there. It takes time for new bonds to form. Yes, we did include them on social things but they wanted to be too close too soon (MN here, which does make a difference). Unlike collage where most everyone is on an even footing and everyone is new to everyone else.

        They also wanted to be seen as knowledgeable and yeah, they had the dunning-kuger effect which happens. But then they talked about how they could do insanely complex projects easily (which I was doing) when I needed to constantly coach them on simple things (that they really already should have known).

        So both of those things colored my perception of them. To be kind they seemed to be new to the work world and didn’t understand norms. To be unkind, this drove me absolutely batty and I constantly wanted them to be faaaaar away from me.

        1. Oranges*

          Clarification: “too close too soon”. When a work friend asks you to dog sit/do something on the weekend/gently kid you about a sore spot it comes off very differently when a newcomer tries to do the same thing.

  18. Mannheim Steamroller*

    “He has a tendency to tell everyone how to do their jobs….”

    …while REFUSING to do his own job. Unfortunately, almost every workplace has such a person.

    Don’t worry about “being rude” or hurting his feelings. He “started it” by interrupting you and invading your conversations, so you have every right to shut him down immediately and directly. (For example, “We know our jobs. Please do yours.” “If we need your assistance/participation, we will ask you.”)

    1. J.B.*

      I’m also wondering how many of the people he’s lecturing are female. I’ve seen it clearly gendered and someone who was a jerk like that regardless. And said jerk is now a nightmare boss.

      1. Else*

        Those are the ones who self describe as “nice guys” and feel aggrieved when this does not get them the social and dating life that they feel that they thereby deserve. This guy may be one of those, but I betya this LW would have said.

      2. Mannheim Steamroller*

        Maybe, maybe not. It wasn’t stated and isn’t really relevant. He’s still totally out of line, regardless of the coworkers’ genders, ethnicities, or other “splaining” characteristics.

  19. Anon for this*

    We have an intern with autism who has difficulties with knowing when to join a conversation. He listens to the people around him and will speak up and join any conversation he has an opinion on. Our team understands his inability to read social cues, but other teams do not and have either found him to be rude or have said rude things to him.

    Our supervisor has had detailed conversations to help him with this, and it’s gotten better. We’ve told him that it’s okay to join work conversations with our team but NOT with other teams, which was the biggest factor, but we’re still working on social ones (it’s okay to join when people are talking about TV shows but not making private weekend plans, for example).

    Your contractor may or may not have autism, but with people who can’t read social cues, it would be worth it if a manager had a conversation with him about specific things that are and are not okay. The work override thing is NOT okay, inviting himself to people’s weekend plans is NOT okay, but general awkwardness in joining social conversations is something that is just a bit awkward.

    1. Anon for this*

      To add: cold shoulder is not a good strategy for people who can’t read social cues. A direct “I am working right now and have to focus on that” is more effective.

      (If they still insist on talking after being directly told that you cannot, ignoring is fine! But say something directly first. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s necessary.

      1. What the What*

        Anon for this, Your post is really kind and empathetic. A lot of people struggle with things we can’t see: they may be autistic, painfully shy, or may have never been taught social cues or manners. Speaking as a person who is introverted, grew up without healthy role models and didn’t receive guidance on navigating social cues and relationships, it is REALLY difficult and painful to learn this stuff as an adult. It can help to approach others with kindness and compassion. It doesn’t make the person less annoying but it might give someone a little helpful perspective when dealing with the person. I’m wondering if—from an interpersonal skills perspective—whether the OP would feel comfortable taking the offender aside and offer some encouragement and lay out some boundaries?

    2. No name for this one*

      While I don’t have autism, I think, I do have ADHD. My first years at work (as in decades) were full of awkward, and it was still better than high school. I usually felt like a fish out of water regarding workplace socialization. Even in my 50s, I still get awkward.

      Social cues? Went right over my head. I had to make it a point to observe and analyze them. It took years. The biggest help was observing foreign students and coworkers and how they navigated it.

      I was extremely smart, extremely introverted, had the social graces of a gawky teenaged nerd, at best. This did not make me popular in the workplace. Fortunately, I had managers and senior coworkers who were willing to coach me, to tell me directly what the problem was. Even now, if I have an awkward interaction, I’ll run it by someone I trust to see if I screwed up, or if my perceptions are right.

      But in new, cliqueish jobsites? The awkward still comes out, and I hate it. It’s not deliberate.

  20. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    He’s really not a nice person though. It’s not your job to manage his feelings and regardless of his intention what he’s doing is rude. If you’re currently trying to drop hints to get him to change his behavior, that’s not working and will likely never work. Boundary pushers only understand directness. If you want to meet after work or go to lunch together, start using email or IM to discuss it. Just make sure you all haven’t formed a clique and he’s the only one on the outside.

  21. Some Windex for my Glass Ceiling please*

    I kinda wonder if he thinks this is how to ingratiate himself with the employees to facilitate getting hired on as permanent. Maybe he thinks, “Hey, I’m giving out tips on how to do the work better and I’m involved socially with the employees. No doubt they will recognize my value and hire me on.”

    And yes, he’s not recognizing social cues as to when to engage and when to dummy up. Maybe he just a jerk or maybe there’s some undisclosed autism at play here.

    Did I miss something? Nothing was said -either way- about the quality of the guy’s work. It is a shame that someone can’t issue a “course correct” to this guy. Who knows, maybe if he can adjust to company norms, he can be a good employee.

    1. LW's & Cecil's Coworker*

      LW’s and Cecil’s coworker here:

      Cecil’s work is fine, not amazing but certainly not sub-par. He definitely thinks he’s being helpful when he offers unsolicited opinions on others’ work, and you’re almost certainly right that he thinks inserting himself into enough areas will further his chances of being converted to FTE. I’m a contractor, too, and I understand the strain he’s under, the uncertainty is very difficult.

      Also I think people would feel differently if his approach were that of enthusiastic puppy as opposed to angry bee. He often starts conversations with negative comments or is disdainful in demeanor, so it’s draining to listen to him… it’s not just “Oh boy let’s talk about this!!” it’s much more “Ugh I can’t believe you like that thing. Let me tell you why you’re wrong.” Obviously that falls under the “sometimes coworkers are annoying” and not “interrupting workflow.”

      Unfortunately all he’s managed to do is make everyone dread working with him. Or near him.

      1. Some Windex for my Glass Ceiling please*

        “angry bee”?
        That’s a whole ‘nother thing. And not a good thing either.

        I’m battling the negativity stuff myself. It is dreadful. So sorry you and your co-workers have to put up with this.

        Well, this entirely on him then. You and co-workers are doing what you can to preserve a pleasant work place -which this guy is not respecting.

        He does need to go.

      2. Else*

        Oh, my. That’s so much worse than I assumed. Yeah, this needs escalating in the form of, “dear manager, here’s a situation I need help navigating…”. Angry bees are NOT nice, dear Irritable LW – I would not presume good intentions there.

  22. formerly old username*

    oh my god I am cringing so hard. I used to be that person when I first started. In my first 2 months, everyone was wonderful and I went to team lunches etc.

    Suddenly I felt a cold freeze, even from my boss. I had a friend here at the time, who was friends with everyone else, and I asked her what did I do that I’m being cold shouldered? She said people complained that I was inserting myself into things too much…. fair enough, I know now that’s annoying. But in my view, it was a small office at the time, and everyone always sat around and talked to each other, so I didn’t think it was a huge gaffe for me to join people in conversations happening at the lunch table, or desk nexxt to me, or in the elevator going down (conversations only , not events). I was wrapped up in being a good worker myself so I don’t think I butt myself in to people’s work issues.

    It’s been over 4 years and things are better now (and truth be told, I’m still paranoid sometimes that I’m not “allowed” to talk when literally everyone else is). I’d focus on the work issues alone (him telling ppl how to do their job) because to me, that’s a legit annoyance/concern to bring to a manager. The social stuff…I’ll be honest and say they are so hard to navigate. Anyone who can discuss these being compassionate and productive…is magical and major kudos.

  23. Phoenix Programmer*

    I can speak some from the opposite side of this lw. I don’t pick up on social ques easily, especially at work. I have a hard time “fitting in” at work and it can be terrifying because, well my livlihood is tied to work!

    I’m a nice person, and once I am made aware of a boundary I respect it, but it is sooo frustrating how many people would rather sit and stew, getting more and more irritated, then simply speak up and have a quick honest conversation.

    I’ll also add that all those indirect attempts to dodge and passive ways you and your team have tried to deflect op are possibly making it worse.

    I know when I sense my coworkers are irritated, and i can’t identify the issue, I usually give them a week to cool off but then I am deliberate about ramping up contact again to smooth it over with more casual positive social interactions. This is usually really successful for me.

    So if your annoyance is the social interactions i would be doubling down and have no clue that is why you are upset all in the hopes that our social interactions will smooth over whatever mysterious thing I did that upset you in the first place.

    Just some perspective from the other side. You are literally talking about getting this guy to lose out on a full time role. Before it’s escalated to that level – dont you think following Alison’s script and setting some boundaries is the kindest approach for someone who is basically a nice person as you say?

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      “once I am made aware of a boundary I respect it, but it is sooo frustrating how many people would rather sit and stew, getting more and more irritated, then simply speak up and have a quick honest conversation.”

      I agree completely, just tell people! But I think it is fair to say that telling people some version of, “you are not interacting with me in a way I like,” or “you are crossing a social boundary,” are both considered rude! That, to me, is why so many people write to AAM to figure out how to say those things without heing rude.

  24. animaniactoo*

    I would probably raise it now with manager, not as a question of “if he becomes a full time employee” but rather as “Here’s a thing I’m having an issue managing and I’m not sure how much of it is me and how much of these are legitimate issues. I’m pretty sure a few of them are legitimate issues that you might be able to address or give advice about addressing, but I’m also pretty sure that some of them are petty “I’m already annoyed with this person!” stuff. Can you help me sort out which is which?”

    Some of this stuff might be behavior that he’s already been told to knock off, or should be told post-haste to knock off, and it isn’t being addressed by anyone because they don’t want to be hurtful. The problem is that when you look at it from the standpoint of not being hurtful to him – you’re assuming that it would be hurtful to him. And you might have good basis for that assumption. But the flip side of is two-part. A) You’re just taking the harm yourself to avoid giving it to him and that’s not a constructive thing to do to yourself and B) Sometimes, hurtful stuff is immeasurably useful stuff and they will not get that usefulness if you’re tiptoeing around the hurtful aspect of it.

    As long as you – from your side of it – deliver the message with the most room for it to be taken well, you have held down your side of the issue. Whether they are hurt by it is then up to them to absorb, take in, sort through, and choose how to respond. Including whether they take the useful portion on board and act on that. Your job is to give them the option – not in those words, but presenting the opportunity in the form of being clear about the things that are problematic in general, to the point that people are starting to avoid him. You can’t talk to him about everyone. You can talk to him about you “It really bothers me when you do this. Would you mind holding back on that?” and talking to your boss about some of the big picture stuff that s/he might want to know.

  25. AlmondMilkLatte*

    Hmm, what a strange problem. I hope you’re able to address it!

    Me, I’m very introverted and may be on the autism spectrum (but am AFAB so no help/diagnosis as a kid). When I was a child I was like this coworker, and struggled to pick up the “go away, you’re not included” signals, which led to bullying.

    Then in the span of two years I lost some people I considered my surrogate sister and mom (they moved cross country), my mentor (we had a falling out and she ghosted), and both grandparents (became very sick and could no longer be a part of my daily life). I did manage to get married in that time, but other than that, I haven’t made any new friends/social connections/attachments- they’re going to leave! Even when I had the chance recently, I was SO SURPRISED that some people in a class for prospective parents I attended considered us all friends. Seems safer for me not to have them right now.

    I guess what I’m saying is that irritating guy is the opposite of me. But he’s probably really lonely too. You’re not obligated to take him everywhere with you, just have some perspective.

  26. Irritable LW*

    Hey everyone, letter writer here! I’ve been trying to respond where I can, but I wanted to clarify a couple of things here that I glossed over in my effort to be succinct.

    – One thing I really should have mentioned, which a coworker of mine actually mentioned above, is that “Cecil’s” attitude is also quite off-putting. He is SO negative, including about the (pretty damn cool!) stuff we work on, and it’s very much not helped by the weird angry smiling and laughing he does _while_ being negative. I’m kicking myself for not mentioning it in my letter, because it’s a big part of why I’ve been reluctant to address this with him.

    – The “inviting himself on other people’s plans” thing is very much not referring to things like a few coworkers going to lunch together. It’s a friendly office, and he’s never been left out of stuff like informal coworker lunches. We’re talking coming up to two people who are friends outside of work, who are making dinner plans for that weekend, and asking “oh sweet, what time should I meet you guys?” or something, as though it’s utterly obvious he’d be invited.

    – From what I can tell, his job performance is… pretty much exactly fine. He’s stumbled a fair amount, but I think it’s within the normal range of “still learning the job,” and he’s produced some good work as well. He is, however, driving folks who do work directly with him bananas as well.

    1. PX*

      Thanks for all your clarifications along the way. With the additional comment about angry bee vs enthusiastic puppy…yikes. Not into this situation at all.

      Some of the wording about how to frame this in terms of work impact above was really good, but for me personally – I would absolutely be all about setting firmer boundaries with him. Try and get other colleagues on board, but really – casual interruption? Sorry Cecil, I’m busy – and then repeat as required. Telling people how to do their job? Thanks Cecil, but I think I know how to handle this. Point it out politely, but clearly and obviously at the time. Basically all the ways you can think of to politely, but extremely firmly return the awkward to sender are what I’d be doing in this situation.

      And if some brave soul (or functional manager) wants to do the real work of having a big picture conversation with him about how getting along with colleagues is an important part of being a good co-worker, that would be the icing on the cake!

    2. Product Person*

      Irritable LW,

      I’d be extremely irritated too — and very invested in preventing the contractor from becoming a full time!

      However, it’s not clear to me that you’ve already used the direct path, which you should be able to use even if he’s negative and has a weird angry smile / laugh.

      Here is the approach I’ve used with a similar coworker who was driving me crazy and causing people to change the time they went to have lunch at the break room just to avoid her:

      I scheduled lunch at the break room with her alone, and diplomatically told her how she probably didn’t mean it, but her behavior of interrupting people at random times, joining chats uninvited, and holding a negative attitude toward our projects was causing issues with me and other coworkers. I had told my coworkers I’d have the talk myself, and everybody was very relieved because everybody else wanted to avoid the “conflict”. Turns out the coworker took things very well and her behavior improved a lot after that conversation!

      In your place would try to have a conversation about the overall pattern and what the person could do to fit better with the team before deciding to talk to our manager. It’s in our best interest to learn how to handle those situations on our own, and if it doesn’t work at least we’re able to say to our manager something like, “I tried to address those things with Cecil but things didn’t improve, so I wanted to ask if you have any suggestions to minimize the impact this has on my and the team’s productivity”. And if your manager is smart, he/she will take the problem seriously, immediately and when it’s time to renew the contract or hire the contractor as a full time employee, without the need for you to spell it out for them that you’d rather see him/her replaced ;-).

    3. Kat*

      For Irritable LW: I haven’t seen anyone address the inviting himself to private, out of work, on weekend, dinners. I think the best way to handle that would be to pause, give him a really incredulous look (trying to convey omg I can’t believe you said that!) and then steer the conversation back to work by saying “is there something work related you needed help with?”

      Any reasonable person should understand they just intruded in a personal conversation and you’re only going to engage in a work related conversation.

      Now we know Cecil is not reasonable. But I would try that first with someone like Cecil.

      If he did it a second time, or if he doubled down and said something like “I don’t need anything for work, I wanted to know when to meet you at the restaurant” then I would directly tell him “Our plans are not work related/this is not an office function. If there is a work related function you of course would be invited.” Then walk away! Don’t give him an opportunity to argue or needle you. By walking away and breaking up the conversation you also signal the topic is closed. You and your coworker then try to discuss plans privately some other time or electronically.

      If after this Cecil STILL tries to invite himself then you just bluntly tell him “it’s really weird that you’re trying to force yourself into my personal plans outside of work. Please stop.” If he says anything else, you say “I’ve asked you to stop and I’m not talking about this anymore”. Then ignore him and anything else he says.

      If you were going to bring up his inviting himself along to your manager, then I think you should only do that AFTER trying the above. Because that way you could frame it to your manager as “here’s what he’s done which is super weird and I’ve directly asked him to stop but he continues to harass me even when I am trying to do my work, etc etc. I now feel like I cannot have normal conversations with coworkers about anything in our personal life because of how he continues to insert himself and this is affecting the team dynamic, low morales, etc. Do you have any suggestions for how I can handle this moving forward?”

      I think this would communicate to your manager 1) you tried to handle it like a mature adult, 2) Cecil is creating an awkward environment and continuing to do things he’s been told to stop, 3) it’s affecting team dynamics and lowering morale, etc.

      Good luck and please send Allison an update!

  27. Jedi Squirrel*

    Because his work is good, it’s worth trying to coach him to deal with these other behaviors. But I very definitely think the attitude issue needs to be addressed by somebody above him—whoever his manager is. That’s just not tolerable in the workplace. And hopefully they will let him know that this is something that would prevent him from becoming an FTE.

    The boundaries issue is very much an issue that his coworkers can address, though.

    1. Mr. Tyzik*

      There are plenty of good talented people available in this market. Irritable LW doesn’t have to settle for Fergus as if she can’t find another person.

  28. Anon Here*

    A lot of people I’ve known who seemed to be trying to be nice but being annoying were . . . actually not that nice after getting to know them better. Yeah, some people don’t pick up on social cues. Other times, the “annoying” stuff is because they actually don’t respect people’s space, time, etc.

    It’s really helpful to break it down like Allison did here – identify the issues and decide what you’re going to say or do about it.

  29. AnonForThis*

    Just wanted to add, if you’ll still see it, that I have sort of been this coworker and it was because I was the only woman on a team of all men and when I first started, they made sexist comments to me, even my boss made some sexist comments to me. Which made it hard to tell if I was being annoying or being discriminated against when they did then leave me out of conversations (which made me feel that I had to “break” into conversations, especially if they were relevant to my work) and talked down to me (which made me feel like I had to show off my knowledge or more stridently push back when they told me I was wrong about something I knew I was right about). It made being left out more painful, because I already felt like an outsider. If the coworker already feels like an outsider in some way, you really really need to make sure they’re not being left out or talked down to (and of course that people have not made prejudiced comments to them!) and talk to them about the issues in a straightforward way – ignoring them will just come across as discrimination!

  30. Amethystmoon*

    The only time I’ve complained to a boss about an irritating co-worker was when he had egregiously boundary-violating behaviors like standing up and staring down at me for minutes at a time without saying anything and trying to ask him directly not to do that caused him to become belligerent and literally ask me how dare I tell him that made me uncomfortable. For context, I’m middle-aged, very plain, overweight, dorky-looking, and I wear things like polo shirts to work (during normal weather) or sweaters during fall, and I’ve always made an effort never to wear revealing things. Coworker was twenty years younger than me.

    His outrageous behavior did stop after boss was told, but he continued to be very annoying and sometimes had red flag sort-of-behaviors to the point where he was a huge reason why I left that job. That and he made tons of typos (in a data entry job), and I was always being told to fix them. Even though he was an adult, apparently he couldn’t be expected to fix them himself. I went to the boss about the typos when I had to request overtime to fix some of them. I didn’t go to the boss all the time on them. Nothing ever happened with that co-worker, although I did hear he left on his own several months after I started my new job.

  31. Mr. Tyzik*

    My comment is around the “but”. He’s a great employee BUT… He’s a nice person BUT…
    When the BUT comes out it negates the previous points. A great employee can’t pick and choose projects and whine about getting more and cry when getting feedback. That employee is a liability.
    A nice guy can’t be a nice guy when he ignores nice etiquette. That employee is a boor.

    It’s like saying He’s not racist BUT…

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