my coworker is a talker and whines when I ask him to stop

A reader writes:

I’m a mid-20’s woman and I share a tiny office with two coworkers who each have multiple grandchildren. My male coworker, Bob, is a talker. I have tried everything — the staring at my screen, typing furiously as he starts a conversation, the distracted “mhmm, ok”’s as he rambles, and straight up asking him to stop talking by saying “I can’t talk right now, I need to focus.”

He does several things that I find absolutely infuriating.

1) If I am giving off body language that shows I’m trying to focus but he has something he really wants to share, he overrides all my subtle cues. He has in the past shoved his mobile phone right in front of my face to show me a photo of his grandkid, the latest funny/inspiring video clip he needs to share, etc. He has poked me in the arm to get my attention when I have headphones on.

2) When I explicitly say that I can’t talk right now, he does a suuuper strange, whiny, childish voice mocking my request (e.g. “ooh nooo, Sansa has to focus, she’s put her boundaries up”). He usually does this for 5-15 seconds, which I ignore, then leaves me alone.

I feel like I need to put up with his ridiculous whiny whinging about not being able to talk for 5-15 seconds as a down payment for an hour’s silence. Maybe this is just what I need to do, but it is so incredibly draining and frustrating and I honestly tense up every time he opens his mouth.

He is otherwise a really friendly, extroverted person and I don’t mind chatting over lunch, but he often starts chats just as I really need to focus. His desk is literally right next to mine (our chairs are probably about half a meter apart), so this is starting to really grate on me. He also regularly talks to himself and chuckles out loud at things on his screen, but that is honestly a smaller problem compared to everything else. Help!

What the hell?

It would be one thing if Bob were just bad at picking up on social cues — in which case you’d just need to be more direct — but he knows you’re trying to focus because you’ve told him and he  chooses to whine and mock you for that? As if you’re there to meet his social needs whenever he feels like it, as opposed to .. working.

And I know how exhausting it is to always have to talk about sexism, but it is no coincidence that you’re a woman. The Bobs of the world rarely use these specific behaviors with men. On some level, he resents that you’re not serving his needs in the way he wants — or he at least feels entitled to insist on it in a way that he probably doesn’t do with men. (Can you imagine him poking and whining at, say, a 50-year-old dude?)

Bob might be friendly in other contexts, but he’s acting like a self-absorbed child and a jerk.

You’ve tried all my usual advice — say explicitly that you can’t talk at the moment, use body language that reinforces that, ignore the person and keep typing — and it’s not working. If anything, it sounds like Bob takes all of that as encouragement to be more obnoxious.

So at this point you have two choices:

1. You can continue you’re doing now: tell him you can’t talk and accept that he’s gong to whine for 15 seconds but then will leave you alone.

2. You can push back much more aggressively — and I do mean aggressively, because he has created a situation where handling him politely isn’t working. For example:
* When he shoves your phone in front of your face, say in an openly pissed off tone, “Take that out of my face. You can see that I am am working.”
* If he pokes you (!), say in an even more pissed off tone, “STOP TOUCHING ME.” Follow it up with, “I am working right now. If you need me, please email me and I’ll see it when I’m free.”
* Most importantly, every time he interrupts you while you’re working, say, “I cannot talk right now, I’m busy.” If he starts whining, look him straight in the eye and say, “Why are you talking like a child?” Or, “You must not realize how off-putting that sounds from a grown man.” Or, “You are being rude. Stop.” Or, “That makes me never want to talk to you, and it’s really getting old.”

He’s not going to like that. At all. And that’s fine. He is the one who has created a situation where you’re forced to be this blunt. If these exchanges feel bad to him, that’s on him.

You probably won’t like it either, because that’s a much more aggressive way of speaking to colleagues than people normally have to use and it won’t feel polite. But all of these responses are warranted. You won’t be the one crossing lines; you’ll be the one responding to someone else’s line-crossing. It’s okay if he feels stung or embarrassed; he should feel embarrassed, and it may be what it takes to get him to stop. Or he might just stop liking you, which is also okay — unless that could cause political problems for you at work, in which case move to the next step.

If this doesn’t work — or if you can’t bring yourself to be as direct as I’m recommending — two other options are to have a big-picture conversation with him or with your boss.

If it’s with him, you could say something like, “I want to talk to you about how you respond when I’m busy and can’t speak to you. You insist on getting my attention anyway and complain if I won’t give it to you. It’s getting in the way of my ability to focus, so if I say I can’t talk, I need you to let me work.” Who knows, maybe he’ll back off. Or maybe he’ll find that hilarious and it’ll egg him on further.

If that’s the case, then at that point you’ll have plenty of standing to go to your boss because this is something that’s interfering in your ability to work. You’ll have tried to address it on your own, Bob will have openly refused to leave you alone, and you’ll have exhausted your options for handling it yourself.

(If that doesn’t work, consider digging a large pit right under Bob’s chair for him to fall into one day. You can send down food and water.)

{ 476 comments… read them below }

    1. Archaeopteryx*

      Bob: (at bottom of pit) (whiny voice) “Oooh, Sansa dig a pittt, I’m sooo low down, I might die of starvaaaation…”

    2. Tabby*

      THIS PART. These are the guys I reserve my most nasty, most malicious behavior for. As in, I do not engage them at all; I will bludgeon them with my most direct, unpleasant one liners: “I don’t care about your grandkid. Shove off.” “I don’t care about that.” “I’m not interested in conversing with you.” “Go straight to hell in whatever vehicle you choose to drive.” (Maybe don’t use that one at work, it’s a bit much)

      Also, maybe don’t be THIS next-level vicious, at work, though… I can be a bit out there with people because they tend to think, “Cute, young-looking Black woman! She’ll have time!” plot twist, I’m 45, I’m tired, and do not, in fact, have time. Or cares.

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*


    Any chance you can enlist your other office-mate to help? Is Bob equally obnoxious with her?

    1. BethRA*

      I’m curious where the 3rd office-mate is as well – although I suspect it might be “leaning away lest Bob decide to focus on her.”

    2. Your Local Password Resetter*

      Even if she doesn’t want to help directly, she can still serve as a witness when you take this to management (because I doubt Bob is going to stop this unless his boss sends him to the time-out corner)

      1. Ashley*

        And they may provide an indication about the ageism / sexism behavior Bob is displaying towards the LW.

        1. Joan Rivers*

          This is the perfect thing to capture on your cellphone camera, video AND audio. Because him whining is not a good look. And there’s no way he can claim he’s working.
          That’s the issue, and I’d go straight to management. He doesn’t work and he tries to prevent you from working.

            1. BatManDan*

              Recording someone when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy is illegal in some states. In public provides ZERO cover for “reasonable expectation.” She’s fine to record him.

              1. Lizzo*

                You’re saying a private office at a private place of business = being “in public”, and therefore no reasonable expectation of privacy?

                1. parsley*

                  I think if you’re recording it for the purposes of taking it to that place of business’ HR team as evidence of misbehaviour, then it’s reasonable. If you’re recording it to put it on the internet for public mockery or some other personal use, that’s a different situation.

                2. Harper the Other One*

                  Replying to parsley – but there’s no need to record it. Just go to supervisor/HR and tell them what’s happening. Video evidence should not be required, especially with other office mates who have probably overheard this, and the laws around recording people are complex enough that it’s not worth it.

                3. BatManDan*

                  One workaround is just to record yourself, in this case. The guy is entering her space, and touching her. That would show up even if she just has her webcam focused on her. And, more to the point about “private business,” yes, in most states, once you leave your house, your in public. Restrooms are an example of a public space where you WOULD have a reasonable expectation of privacy, but not much else fits the bill.

      2. Hey Nonnie*

        Honestly, even if OP opts to handle this herself first with the more aggressive shut-downs, I would loop her boss in before she starts, e.g. “Just wanted to let you know about the problem I’m having with Bob. Here’s how I plan to handle it, but with the way he’s been behaving, it wouldn’t surprise me if he then tried to complain to management about me. I just wanted you to know the full story before that happened.”

        Because I can TOTALLY see Bob bringing a very skewed version of this story to management to get her in trouble. He’s the kind of guy who feels entitled to her attention, and he is probably accustomed to having the system he operates in backing him up. (Thanks, sexism!)

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          THIS– This is what I was coming in to say. You’re just giving a heads-up in case he takes his pouting to the complaints stage.

        2. Littorally*

          Yep. I’ve seen other people saying that they think going to the boss is overkill, but your script is exactly what I would say to my boss in that case.

        3. AnonEMoose*

          Thirding this. A short conversation with the boss now can save you headaches later. I’m a big fan of getting my story in there first when possible.

        4. myswtghst*

          This is unfortunately where my mind went as well. As long as they’re clear they’re just giving the boss a heads up (and not asking for anything other than their awareness), I think it’s worth OP mentioning just to cover their ass in case Bob reacts poorly.

        5. F as in Frank*

          100% agree about looping in the boss before you take more aggressive action. I have had this person complain to the boss about me in this situation and because he got there first the boss did nothing but agree with me that the situation was intenable, tell me that I was still wrong and gave me less of a raise that year as a result.

    3. Medusa*

      I was wondering that same thing. Maybe Bob doesn’t bother her because she’s around his age, which is a nice mix of ageism and sexism, but hopefully she can be an ally to OP in this situation.

      1. Letter Writer*

        I do often feel like he targets me because I’m younger. Other factors are also at play though, which is the fact that the 3rd co-worker works part time, so isn’t always there, and that Bob and I need to work a lot closer together than the 3rd co-worker due to the nature of our roles.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        I loved that show and one of the best things it changed from the original movies is Colin and Evie (energy and emotional vampires respectively). I’ve definitely met those.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Dealt with one of those before and yeah, it’s incredibly tiring. This one person just seemed to demand emotional labour and attention from me alllll the time and subtlety didn’t work, outright ‘I got work to do’ didn’t work…

      Ashamed to say I lost my temper at him. I was trying to figure out a really complex code error and he kept poking me to show me…something (could have been a funny video of his kids, a cat picture, dunno) and I held up my walking stick and said ‘if you don’t stop hassling me, this thing is going up your-‘ and you can guess the rest of the sentence.

      Alison’s suggestions are a lot better.

      1. Threeve*

        Hell, don’t be ashamed of that. There are no rules when it comes to getting someone to stop touching you when they know you don’t want them to.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          He called me a ‘grumpy effing *female dog*’ the rest of the time I was there – I do wonder if I could have avoided that.

          1. Your Local Password Resetter*

            Probably not while also getting him to stop acting like a petulant child.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              True, and I didn’t correct him. 20 years in IT has made me a fairly grumpy person at times!

              1. AnonEMoose*

                I’d say…wear it as a badge of honor! I’m still a little sad I didn’t buy a sign I once saw that said:

                “I am not A B*tch.
                I am THE B*tch.
                And, to you, I am MS. B*tch.”

                Honestly, don’t most of us learn “keep your hands to yourself” in Kindergarten? (Ok, given sexual harassment and assault statistics, clearly not, but I remember that lesson being a thing in elementary school.)

                1. Harried HR*

                  B – Babe
                  I – In
                  T – Total
                  C – Control
                  H – (of) Herself

                  When being called HR Bitch in the past I’ve have responded with Thank You :-P

      2. High Score!*

        I think your reaction was fine. Alison is right he would not have done that to a man. I’ve said worse, much worse to male colleagues who acted like this. I punched one dude who thought it was ok to grab my butt. I’ve found if you think to yourself what would a man do in this situation and then do that, your life gets far easier.

        1. Sally*

          Couldn’t agree more. Being polite by asking someone’s annoying behaviour to stop, doesn’t always work. I used to work with one guy who didn’t know what boundaries were and was a complete jerk, sexist and condescending. Needless to say, I eventually began to push back heavily until he did tone it down but not completely. It did change our working relationship, but at least I felt in control and that was brilliant as far as I was concerned.

      3. Talkers*

        I don’t know why you feel ashamed, losing your temper is the only thing that works with people who violate your boundaries.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          It’s kinda weird but I really don’t want people to think I’m a physical threat to them (granted, am female and disabled but am a VERY tall and big lass) and I always fear losing my temper will make them extremely scared of me.

          (I’ve never made an angry gesture for this exact reason)

      4. On Fire*

        Meh, my reaction while reading this letter was, “I’d be SO tempted to knock that phone out of his hand when he shoved it in my face, or slap his hand away from me when he poked me.” So yeah, no criticism from me.

          1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

            Oh my goodness I love this comment. Too bad one can’t quote Lady Catherine de Burgh about the health benefits of lots of time spent outdoors to Bob.

          2. UKDancer*

            Charlotte Lucas had her life sufficiently well organised that she and her husband spent very little time together during the day. Also she knew when they inherited Longbourn she’d have an even bigger place so could see less of him. She was altogether a very sensible woman in my view.

            1. Julia*

              Sensible enough to stay away from Bob, I’m sure! If only OP could rearrange her office…

            2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              She was indeed a sensible woman! 8-D

              And I must say, all the Austen references in this thread are making my night!

            3. Salymander*

              And Longbourn would have lots more room for that pit, if Mr. Collins should need to be dealt with in a Bob-like way. You know, just in case.

            1. 30 Years in the Biz*

              Another Austen lover here! Can LW she set up an outdoor garden at her office so Bob can putter around all day? Talk to his plants. etc.??? By the way, why does Bob have so much time to chat and interrupt? Not enough work to keep him occupied? That might need to be questioned subtly and indirectly with LWs manager.

    2. No Name Today*

      Yes! He’s weaponized a few things he’s bern forced to learn about in corporate training:
      “Oooh, boundaries.” mocking OP for pushing back
      I will suggest that OP flip the flip..
      “Yes. You are correct. I do have boundaries. I also have work to do. If you don’t respect that I don’t want you poking me or sticking your phone in my face because I am a person at least respect that I have a coworker. I am working and you are interrupting that.”
      I would honestly, (maybe cuz I’m old and sick this shit) say, “please let me know what (insert male coworker’s name) did to get you to stop because I’ve never seen you do it to him.”

      1. F as in Frank*

        In addition to No Name Today’s suggestions I would dial up any startle reflex you have. For myself, I’ve generally trained myself not to startle/jump/yelp/swing arms when startled. That said in some situations, I’ve also strategically removed the controls I have in place so that I will jump and exclaimed loudly or elbow someone hard when they sneak up and touch me.

    3. Artemesia*

      This. And I would raise the sexism issue. When forced to be super direct, I’d edit ‘why are you talking to me like a child? Would you behave this way to a male colleague? whining and begging for attention?’

      And if you have to take it to the boss note that you can’t imagine he would act like a whiny toddler who needs attention with male colleagues.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        I cannot tell you how much I hate to say this. Do not bring up the sexism. If you bring up the sexism BOB WILL INSIST ON DEBATING THE SEXISM. And then he will be Extremely Upset that you Brought Up The Sexism. At length. In every conversation for possibly the next several years. In the form of “But I explained that I’m NOT sexist and you were just being a silly lady-person when you said that so Your Request Was Invalid.”

        In short, Bob will ABSOLUTELY say, with a completely straight face, that of COURSE he treats his male colleagues exactly the same way. It won’t be true, but he will absolutely say it.

        The problem with bringing up the sexism is, alas, the sexism.

        It sucks a lot, but if there’s an option for making the sexism unpleasant or impossible without actually discussing it, that’s always going to be less wear and tear on the nerves.

        1. Ellie*

          I have had that approach work though, on several occasions. You’re right that they often get indignant and insist on debating the existence of sexism, but once they’ve gotten the outrage out of their system, they often do, quietly back down. The initial reaction might be defensiveness, but something inside does click a little bit. Either that or they’re frightened of getting an HR complaint, I’m not sure, but either way, you don’t have to deal with it anymore.

  2. No Tribble At All*

    He shoves his phone in your face?? Just take it. Take his phone, and lock it in a cabinet, and tell him he gets it back after on hour of not bothering you.

    Either that, or sneeze/cough on him whenever he gets in your face.

    Or get a spray bottle and spritz him when he starts whining.

      1. Emma*

        I think faking a coughing fit every time he invades your personal space is an especially fantastic idea in the time of Covid. I wouldn’t deliberately cough *on* him, just close enough that he’ll take his hand away from your face.

    1. Unkempt Flatware*

      Yeah I think I’d knock the phone out of my face and thus out of his hands. Pair it with a well placed, “What the pfffttt…?!”. This is wildly unacceptable and I would go with Alison’s, “grown man” line.

      1. Threeve*

        There aren’t many situations that totally bypass my internal filter, but an icy “oh my God, you’re an adult” is truly just a reflex for me sometimes, and it’s very effective.

        And I’ve occasionally followed it up with “oh, sorry, that was mean. But also [pleasant smile, sweet and slightly condescending tone] oh my God, you’re an adult.”

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Take phone, accidentally drop into coffee/tea/large bins of magnetic metal shavings…

      3. Le Sigh*

        It would be so hard to just not take his phone and throw it in the trash can.

        I once had a coworker in college like this. No matter what I said, they kept pestering me for attention and shoving their phone in my face. I finally lost it and the next time they did it just said, “Don’t!” really sternly, like I was scolding a dog getting into a trash can. I didn’t mean to, just kind of slipped out. Coworker looked really startled and just stayed quiet the rest of the day.

    2. Sharrbe*

      Or, if she can’t take his phone, she should just start scrolling through his pictures the next time he shoves it in her face. I’m pretty sure this whiny guy with zero boundaries has some doozies in there that he wants to hide

    3. Home Away from Work*

      Yeah, I think I would grab the phone and say, “what’s wrong with you? are you six?” And, “Would you be doing this stuff to Joaquin? I’m not your entertainment or your mother. Please do not interrupt me when I’m obviously involved in work!” All sorts of things come to mind.

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yes, “Bob, if you’re going to act like a poorly-parented brat, you lose your phone privileges for 20 minutes.”

      Also, I would address the sexism directly, “Bob, would you be this obnoxious if I were a 50-year-old man? Would you really talk in a baby voice to another man? Your behavior is gross and sexist and needs to stop immediately.”

    5. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      Add some vinegar to the spray bottle too. That’s what they recommend for training puppies!

    6. Marillenbaum*

      I have a bit of an outsized startle reflex. My coworkers know this, and generally roll with it. In a case like this, might that startle reflex mysteriously knock his phone away? Maybe. Who’s to say?

      1. Them Boots*

        Hah! I ‘developed’ an outsized startle reflex for one coworker who was always invading personal space. As in bending down to look at my screen so close that if I turned my head, my lips might make contact with a cheek. Ewww! So first I asked if glasses prescription needed to be updated (I wear specs too), because what other reason to be so close? Answer: no, rx recent. So I said, then step back! Please respect my personal space. Those words. Twice. The third time I ‘startled’ while grabbing a heavy binder and it got launched at offender. FOURTH!!! time, I was ‘startled’ and my elbow came within a couple inches of offender’s nose. I ‘caught’ it right before I make contact then apologized profusely because “offender startled me and we had been practicing elbow hits in my karate practice the night before!” (I do have a mid rank in two disciplines, and we did practice elbows a lot….just many many years worth of nights before). After that, my personal space boundaries were respected. Hated to do it that way and get that rep, but so what? My office mates were all focusing on their screens SO HARD until offender left and the could close the door, then the snickers broke out and continued throughout the day….

  3. Clorinda*

    Water spritzer. Such as you would use to keep cats off the kitchen counter.
    “No, Bob! Down!” {spray in face}

      1. Cat Tree*

        Keep a juice box and animal crackers to offer him when he’s cranky. Or find a place where he can take a nap.

    1. Worked in IT forever*

      One of the pet store chains used to sell a can of compressed air with a motion detector. If the cat gets too close to it, it gets a spritz of air in the face. My husband used to have a can in the floor next to his office chair, so when the cat would scratch the back of the chair to get his attention, she’d get a spritz of air. Which she really didn’t like. (But this cat freaks out if a single drop of water touches her fur, too. She’s a little princess.)

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        It’s called Scat! And it’s amazing. But one of our cats did not care, and of course it was the most cantankerous cat you’ve ever met. Lordy.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Oooh! Forgot about compressed air. Which is weird since we in IT have loads of the stuff…

        1. hlyssande*

          You have to be careful about the canned stuff used for IT, though. I still have a faint scar of a ‘burn’ I got when someone sprayed my arm with one from a few inches away.

      1. Frally*

        Sorry my response was some laughing emojis that aren’t showing up. I’m cracking up at these suggestions!

  4. Ms. Ann Thropy*

    “The Bobs of the world rarely use these specific behaviors with men. On some level, he resents that you’re not serving his needs in the way he wants.”
    ^^All of this.^^

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*


      I appreciate that Alison doesn’t hesitate to call these types of things out so specifically and bluntly.

    2. Bubbeleh*

      I’m willing to accept this as a generality…but there really are Bobs in this world whose need for attention goes beyond young women. My husband is in his late 40s and pretty much has this situation with one of his coworkers. He’s a big, strong, silent alpha maley type, too, so most people wouldn’t dream of interrupting him when he looks intensely focused…but Joe pokes and waves his phone and shoulders him. No singsongs (yet) but still…annoying. (I’ll be sharing the link to this letter with him so he can get some ideas!)

      1. Archie Goodwin*

        Yes – this reminds me of someone I worked with at my first office job. Young guy – about my age. He was really a nice guy, but could be incredibly immature sometimes. Nothing really awful, just stuff that he needed to grow out of.

        I remember he once got it into his head that it would be funny to walk into my cube and get my attention by putting his hand in front of my face. That lasted about three days until I blew up at him – I don’t do that, as a rule, but he’d caught me at a bad moment on a bad day, and I just yelled at him to stop. Worked like a charm – he never pulled the trick again.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I’ve found that letting out a shriek when someone does something obnoxious that violates boundaries can work well to discourage the behavior. Obviously you don’t want to do that all the time, but if you have that 1 co-worker who deliberately sneaks up and surprises you while you’re trying to work, a good “ahhhhh!” kind of shriek can work.

      2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        I had a female coworker like this too — HAD to be the center of attention always and would get progressively more childish to get it. Oddly, the more I acted “adult” and set professional boundaries, the more she seemed to revert to “child” and tried to push them, and we are both female.

      3. JSPA*

        I’ve met them too, and have a vague sense that they can end up being over-represented among people who languish in (or near) entry-level positions into their grandparental years (where they’re a distraction and millstone for anyone hoping to pass them up).

        Regardless, the best answers are still the same.

        Either the formally-name-not-only-the-problem-but-the-process route:

        “I hate to have to be so blunt, but [x behavior] is not OK. Mocking or teasing me for asking you to knock it off is also not OK. And broadly, interfering with me doing my job is not OK. Knowing how unwelcome it is, can you commit to stopping [x behavior] from here on out–no matter how much you feel like doing it?”

        Or, the increasing incredulity and dismissiveness route.

        “Bob, get a clue. I’m on the clock.”
        “Oh, it’s a phone. In my face. Please remove it.”
        “Stop shoving that germy phone in my face.”
        “If you wait until lunchtime, I’ll pretend to be interested then.”
        “On what planet is what you’re doing OK?”
        “Bob, I can’t even, with you and your interruptions.”
        [sing-song] “soooo not interested”
        “what part of your brain isn’t processing ‘no’?”
        “Geez, Bob, stuff it, won’t you?”
        “I mean, REALLY????”

        Nothing that’s potentially construed as threat of violence or harassment (no matter where you’d like to tell him to stick it, and no matter how much you’d like to take it and hurl it.) Total lack of politeness ≠ rudeness, when it’s a response to repeated rudeness.

        You might give your boss a heads-up that you’re going to be very direct with Bob when he interrupts you (in case he goes whining to them about you).

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I really like what you’re getting at here, and I can see a variation working: “If you ask me at lunchtime I could enjoy this. Right now I’m on deadline, so no.”

        2. AnonEMoose*

          I just keep thinking (but would never say or suggest that anyone else do so): Stick that phone in my face one more time, and you’ll wish it came with lube.”

      4. Librarian1*

        There are people who do it regardless of gender, but it’s much more likely to be directed at women than at men.

      5. Kella*

        I think Alison’s point is not that a Bob is someone who interrupts all the time but that if the person is a “Bob” they are highly motivated by sexism, ergo, an obnoxious person who interrupts everyone and whose behavior does not change at all based on gender, is not a Bob.

      6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yeah it’s when he starts whining that he’s treating OP like his Mummy or Big Sis.

    3. Elizabeth Bennet*

      I didn’t even consider the sexism part until Alison nailed it. She’s right, as usual.

    4. ArtsyGirl*

      Yup, 100% this. Bobs look to women, especially younger women who have less institutional power, to make them feel good and act as a receptive audience. He is telling you that your time is best spent listening to him and focusing on him than doing your actual work because honestly he does not see you as an equal or a colleague. He feels entitled to your time and energy because he has a lot of internalized misogynic. When a woman does not behave in the way he wants or expects he acts out and belittles her.

    5. WoolAnon*

      It could be sexism of course (particularly if Bob isn’t doing anything like this to men around the office). But my dad (an engineer working with other engineers) experienced this not infrequently, from men (never women, oddly enough). For reference, he’s a white male, and this sort of Bob-behavior came from men of all ages and various different races.

      1. JSPA*

        Men get rather less of this for two reasons. One is that some of it is purely a gender-based power move / assumption of the right to monopolize time.

        The other is that when guys do it to guys, the recipients are generally not self-conscious about naming it, cutting it off, or walking out on it. That’s also a question of gender-based socialization, gender-based or gender-limited expectations, and the unequal risk that someone’s going to get actively unpleasant, if shut down.

        Call it systemic sexism, as opposed to (or in addition to, or in synergy with) individual sexism.

        Basically, this is something that small children do, almost universally. Life drums it out of us differentially; and we also have differential awareness of life’s lessons.

        1. Yorick*

          Yes. They may do this to men initially, but when a man asks them to stop they’re more likely to listen. Plus men are probably more likely to bluntly tell them to stop right away, for the reasons you mentioned.

        2. Batgirl*

          Yeah I’m always gob smacked when men’s response to this will literally be something like “fuck off” and no one calls them bitchy. They completely get away with it. Then the boundary pusher realises that “the nice lady” appreciates him and then that’s his target.

      2. Generic Name*

        Doesn’t this prove the point that it is sexist behavior though? Only men do it (to either gender). Not women.

        1. edddddz*

          I have absolutely seen this kind of thing from women. more, actually, but that’s just personal, I don’t have statistics

        2. The New Wanderer*

          Not really. The sexist part is that it happens more often TO women, but is committed by both men and women, and the reasoning is roughly the same – women are expected to be “nicer” about it, play along, be more socially engaging, etc.

          If you ask one of these Bobs why they don’t do it to Carl or Mike, they’ll say “oh because you (the woman) are so much *nicer* than they are.” This has been said to me and it is 100% because I would usually give up some of my time to this stuff while Carl or Mike would enforce their boundaries.

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          I suspect that when the same behavior originates with a woman, it’s described as excessive gossip.

    6. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Bobbee needs his mommee!

      I’ve been faced with this. The one thing that actually worked was when I looked him in the face and firmly said, “Bob, I’m not your mom. I’m your coworker, just like Josh and Mike and Steve. How about you go share your news with them?” gentle smile.

      I had to do it a few times, but it worked.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        I had a coworker like this. I actually was forced to go and tell my boss because my Bob wouldn’t stop staring at me (and I am chubby and average looking, not beautiful in the least.)

        My Bob was a huge reason why I eventually left that job. Not the only one, but in the top 3.

    7. tamarack and fireweed*

      …. and THIS is about 75% of what makes this so infuriating.

      Because one the one hand, if Bob is *otherwise* entertaining and a good conversationalist (WHEN APPROPRIATE) then it would be sad to loose the bits that are nice. But on the other, aspects like this one are sooo infuriating.

      Being German (and therefore having been brought up to be somewhat blunter than the norm in many parts of the Anglosphere) I’d be tempted to sit the guy down and say in not so many ways that this is an asshole thing to do, that you doubt that he’d be doing the same to people he really respects, and that you really like to banter at lunch, BUT NOT WHILE YOU’RE BLOODY BUSY. I mean, you risk the work friendship anyway, so why not be direct?

  5. Kittens&Ponies*

    If he starts whining, look him straight in the eye and say, “Why are you talking like a child?” Or, “You must not realize how off-putting that sounds from a grown man.”

    I love that, wish I could be there to witness his reaction if you say that, OP!

    1. irene adler*

      Didn’t know companies hired kindergarteners.
      Doesn’t he have work that he should be attending to?

      This would annoy me so much!

      1. Just an autistic redhead*

        Wasn’t there a letter back quite some time where someone’s coworkers were, in fact, throwing tantrums on the floor?… I’ll see whether I can find it. This guy would probably have fit right in there…

    2. KaciHall*

      I vote that OP sets up a permanent Webcam until this galena so she can share the reaction with us.

    3. MistOrMister*

      I would like to be sitting in the room with a bowl of popcorn to hear OP say that and then watch Bob’s response!

    4. turquoisecow*

      Yeah I would just stare at him with a confused look and say something like “are you five? What are you doing?

    5. SoloKid*

      In my experience, these never work out as satisfying as one expects.

      OP: “Why are you talking like a child?”
      Bob: *repeats but in a mocking childish tone*

      OP: “That’s offputting from a grown man”
      Bob: “It’s offputting to be ignored.”

      Professionally, people like that need to be dealt repercussions from someone they respect, which sadly doesn’t sound like OP.

      Tangentially, my own dad can act like this and I’ve had to tell him people don’t think he’s as funny as he sounds in his own head. (And yes, ignoring for that “5-15 seconds” is exactly what I have to do to deal with him. I’ve heard other parents say this is how you deal with kids, and if that’s what parenting is like, I’ll pass on that having to parent my own parent.)

      1. JSPA*

        “Excellent–I am trying to put you off when you [do that problem behavior]. Unless you want to argue to the boss that ‘doing work at work’ is problem behavior, you need to listen to what you just said, buy a clue, stop your problem behavior, and let me do my work.”

        1. Neptune*

          I don’t know. As satisfying as it is to come up with scripts like this, if the guy is at the point of straight-up mocking her when she tries to set boundaries then the problem isn’t that she hasn’t come up with a sufficiently withering comeback, it’s that he doesn’t respect her. At all. He isn’t going to let her get halfway through a paragraph like that and he definitely isn’t going to be impressed by it. I think she’s best sticking to very short statements that avoid getting drawn into further interaction – “I’m busy”, “please don’t do that”, “not now”, “stop doing that”. Then grey rock.

          1. AKchic*

            Yep. Unless the short statement is: “Take it up with the boss, she is aware of the situation”, Bob is going to play the victim.

          2. LTL*

            This. I understand the idea behind all these scripts but unreasonable people will always, always find a way to put it back on you.

            Like, not always. But it depends largely on how they perceive you. I’ve seen people shutdown when my mom gives them comebacks, but when I do it, I guarantee they’ll keep going. Often it’s related to age, how feminine you look, how quiet you seem. Basically, all the sexism and ageism issues that they have.

            I love Alison but I’m skeptical about the effectiveness of these scripts. Though I do think they’re useful if OP loops boss in beforehand because if they don’t work, it paints a pretty clear picture as Bob as the bad guy to management.

      2. Talkers*

        In my experience being aggressive is the only thing that works. Embarrass them enough and they’ve lost control.

      3. Autumnheart*

        I’d mock him back in the same whiny voice.

        “Ooh, I need attention right now! Oh, look, I’m the only person in the whole world who has grandkids! Waah, nobody will look at me! They’re being weird for wanting to spend their work time doing their job! I have to touch people because I have no idea how to be a professional! I’m a trip to HR waiting to happen!”

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          What just popped into my head: “Quit the boundaries baloney*. I’m working and you are interrupting me.”
          *not my original B word

      4. DyneinWalking*

        In that case, LW should roll her eyes, say something like “Stop it”, “Go away”, “Knock it off” in a VERY stern and pissed-off voice, and (try to) ignore hm. No engaging with him, no further explanation, not trying to solve this somehow with Bob (with the boss is a different matter, at that point the boss HAS to be looped in), jut short, stern, command-like versions of “stop it” .

        Some people will take “interesting reactions” in lieu of true attention. Might be best to give him as little as possible to feed on.

      5. Avi*

        ‘Bob: “It’s offputting to be ignored.”’

        ‘Then try acting in a manner that’s worth my attention.’

    6. Batgirl*

      OP is directly telling him to stop talking before prompting this reaction, so I wonder why she doesn’t just continue doing this? I mean, the first time you might be gobsmacked he hasn’t actually shut up yet, or inclined to allow him a one off grumble without interruption. After that though I’d move straight to cutting off the kid voice: “I said stop talking”, “stop, please”, “well that’s still distracting isn’t it”, “that’s deliberately distracting and I don’t appreciate the joke”.

    7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah, or if you need to be more polite, the Alison classic “Why are you talking like that? It’s just so weird”.

  6. I'm just here for the cats*

    I would be very tempted to scream if he poked me while I was wearing headphones. “BOB! what is the matter with you! You scared the daylights out of me!”

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I wouldn’t say “you scared me” because Bobs often find that amusing and will deliberately try to scare you more.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        Yup. I worked with a Bob who thought it was HILARIOUS to sneak up on literally all of the women in the office (except maybe some of the older ones who were just invisible to him). The nervous laughter of the women who knew they didn’t have the standing to call him out was “proof” that it was funny. I asked him once if he ever did this crap to men. He went on a long schpiel about how, of course he did, it wasn’t sexism, it was equal-opportunity “fun,” yada yada.

        I asked the men in the office if he ever did this crap to them. Not one. Not a single one.

        He ultimately got fired because, surprise, he was just as tone-deaf about his ability to perform the basic functions of his job.

        1. Ashley*

          It is sad that he didn’t get fired for repeatedly violating people’s personal boundaries. We still have so far to go in workplace equality.

          1. Former Young Lady*

            I agree. I made mention of that in my exit interview a few months later.

            The thing about these guys who don’t respect female colleagues’ personal space (or the headspace we need to accomplish actual, uh, WORK) is that they often don’t respect norms around productivity, policy, or procedure either. The women are trying to get the work done, done correctly, and under deadline; the Bobs are doing everything they can not to work, and not to let anyone else work either. But we’re all afraid of hurting the Bobs’ feelings, because we know they also don’t respect norms around taking criticism.

            Bobs destroy morale, stoke attrition, and they suck for the bottom line. Managers reluctant to discipline the Bobs of the world should remember that.

        2. Cat Tree*

          I know this was just a side note in your comment, but your point about invisible women rang true. One of the great things about getting older (and fatter) is that I’m now mostly invisible. Pre-covid, I just go out in public and get on with my daily business without having to get interrupted by some guy hitting on me and having to navigate the delicate tap dance of rejecting a complete stranger in a way that is firm enough to get my point across, but also doesn’t end with him insulting me, harassing me, or otherwise just making my life miserable. Oh, or threaten to commit suicide because of my rejection. It’s amazing how often that one comes up.

          Anyway, invisible = good.

          1. Artemesia*

            I am old and so true — but I can also remember the time when this started to be true. I was a rare young woman at professional events for my early career and was constantly hit on and then some time in my 40s it sort of stopped. I didn’t become fat or grey or any uglier — I was an attractive young woman but not a gorgeous one — but at a certain age it shifts. And it helped that there were many more young women coming into the profession.

          2. Chilipepper*

            It can be good. Or it can mean that at the height of your professional skills/development in your 40s and 50s, people stop asking you or listening to you in favor of younger, prettier, etc people.

            1. Tobias Funke*

              One of the reasons I am now self employed is because as a weird, fat, ugly woman in a large office mostly run by men (who were continually shuffled around to “address” sexual harassment complaints) I was struggling to get training, feedback, and opportunities. I realized it was a lose-lose. I could go out in the field with them and learn and get trained and be harassed and groped. Or I could get left behind in the office and learn nothing and not get harassed or groped. Nobody won except the men in charge. And I was in my 20s when this was happening. I used to blame myself for not being “worthy” of harassment, but that’s a race to the bottom. I like it better opting out entirely.

    2. KHB*

      Based on the Bobs I know, I’d worry that he’d find a way to turn this around against you (e.g., by making it about how “Sansa’s so sensitive, so delicate, etc.”)

      I like Alison’s suggestion of keeping the focus on “Stop touching me,” (or “Keep your hands to yourself,” etc.) He may find a way to make that about you too, but I think it would be harder.

      1. Reba*

        Embracing the negative moniker can interrupt this little dance.

        “Yep, I am sensitive about this! The point is you need to stop.”

        “No, you’re right, I’m no fun” + blank look while you wait for him to go away.

    3. JustaTech*

      As someone with a very strong startle reflex, I’ve used it to my advantage to make sure that it’s not fun for anyone in the vicinity when someone deliberately startles me (it’s not fun when it happens by accident, but then I apologize for shrieking in someone’s face).

      The first time it’s a loud, high-pitch shriek, followed by “don’t do that!”.
      The second time the scream is the same, but the “Don’t Do That” is louder, firmer, and very cold. I then follow up a bit later with “Please do not deliberately startle me. It is not funny.”
      I’ve never had to go farther than that, probably because while my words are polite my face says “I will cut you”.

      1. Nessun*

        My startle reflect to this kind of behavior is (unfortunately) a swift right hook. Doesn’t matter who it is, if you surprise me, it will end badly – for you. I once punched a boyfriend in the mouth when he tried to tickle me from behind – he’d been warned not to do it, but didn’t take it seriously, until I loosened a tooth. I’m sorry it happened, but a) warning, b) hello – personal space?, c) deal with the consequences of your actions.

        I would *not* feel sorry for punching Bob. It’s never deliberate, and his actions are.

        1. Watry*

          I once reflex headbutted a coworker in the chin and nose, backwards, for startling me by grabbing my shoulders from behind. Fortunately, I didn’t really hurt her, and she acknowledged it hadn’t been her best idea ever.

          1. F as in Frank*

            I once flipped a 6’2″ classmate over his desk by grabbing and twisting his arm when he was repeated tickling me from behind after being told to stop.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I found out that I have the same reflex when my boss started fondling me! Then I thought, damn I just slapped my boss in the face, then I just said “OK I think I can finish this by myself now” and he got up and left, and nothing more was ever said.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        Same! I have found that people who do it on purpose tend not to do it again, because they get the “Let me be clear: that is not going to happen again” with the voice I reserve for catcallers or people who want to talk about my car’s extended warranty. One person did it (genuinely accidentally), and I flailed, and their nice new expensive coffee drink from Starbucks ended up all over their shirt. No burns or anything, but they had to go home and change. It became an unofficial office rule that “Marillenbaum startles easily, announce your presence”.

      3. Bagpuss*


        I once threw a full pint of beet + glass on someone who assumed it was funny to startle me. (and other women)

        He was pissed about it, but happily the rest of our group told him in no uncertain terms that
        (a) he owed me a beer; and
        (b) he should have listened when others had told him to knock it off; and
        (c) since we’d now all learned that telling him to stop didn’t work, but throwing cold liquids all over him did, we’d all revert to that technique in future.

        Surprise surprise, he managed to break himself of the habit. I imagine that the walk home in his wet shirt and jeans may have helped drive the lesson home.

        I absolutely did not do it on purpose, but I hadn’t seen him coming and I do have a strong startle reflex.

        (Thus was at the start of his first year of university and he was very immature. He was a lot more civilized by the time he graduated!)

  7. MsClaw*

    I would also advise informing your supervisor about the constant interruptions, perhaps putting it an email as documentation. Specify that Bob interrupts you frequently, ignores your cues and even direct requests to let you work in peace, and include the details about the poking and the whining. Indicate that you are, because of his behavior, going to have to start pushing back much more firmly on his intrusions.

    I would particularly recommend you document this before escalating your response level with Bob. Because otherwise there’s a real possibility *Bob* will instead go complaining to management about how you’re being rude and aggressive with him.

    1. Littorally*

      Agreed. You can be explicit that you aren’t asking your boss to handle it on your behalf (if in fact you aren’t) but just keeping them looped in.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I wouldn’t suggest going to the supervisor until AFTER they’ve tried shutting this guy down with Alison’s suggestions. Additionally, documenting this isn’t really required here (unless OP wants to do it for their own records) – presenting that kind of information to a manager would come across as a bit petty.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        (that’s just my opinion though, not fact. I’d be a bit taken aback by one of my staff giving me a list of dates, times etc. that someone tried to show them pictures o their grandkids.)

        1. MsClaw*

          I think this is very dependent on her relationship with her manager. Like Littorally indicated above, I indeed meant to imply you should make clear you’re not currently asking the Supe to take action, you are merely informing that there is a situation and that you have exhausted polite means of addressing it and are going to have to be much more abrupt.

          In my experience as a woman working in a male-dominated field, if I so much as raise my voice to be heard over background noise or looked slightly cross with someone, people can react as though I am just being an insufferable bitch. That’s my concern for OP being more firm with Bob without first warning her manager so that Bob doesn’t go crying about how OP is being angry/mean/ageist/whatever.

          I’m not saying to give an itemized list. I’m saying you report that it’s an issue, that your attempts to shut it down politely haven’t worked, and that you are going to have to be more forceful. That fact that it’s pictures of his grandkids isn’t material. The fact that he’s disturbing her, poking her, and mocking her is.

          1. Guacamole Bob*

            I agree that it’s pretty dependent on the manager. Pre-pandemic we were short on office space so my direct report was sharing with someone else in close quarters. If she was having issues like this, I would have been happy for her to say something to me like “Bob is very chatty, and I’ve been having a bit of trouble getting him to leave me alone so I can focus on work. I’m going to try being a bit firmer about it and see if that fixes the issue, so I don’t need you to do anything on it right now, but I wanted to give you a heads up.”

            An email in language that sounds really formal with a lot of CYA language would be odd, but a heads up in a weekly checkin meeting wouldn’t be, in my office at least. I want to know what’s going on with the people who work for me! If something like this is impacting an employee’s day-to-day workflow and job satisfaction the way it sounds like this is, I’d rather not have the employee let frustration build for a long time while trying to deal with it herself and then raise the problem to me for the first time once tensions are already super high.

          2. PT*

            My experience is that a woman who pushes back on a man misbehaving and makes him unhappy, is the one held responsible for the behavior (you reacted badly, you should have accommodated him better.)

            I like Alison’s answer, but it’s probably going to get LW in trouble.

          3. Amethystmoon*

            Yeah, I will agree with that. We women get tone-policed for an e-mail, I don’t want to see how we’d get treated for outright being rude (even if the Bob in the situation was being ruder). In my case, I did have to go to the manager because addressing it directly with my Bob did not work.

        1. LBAI*

          While I don’t disagree that it’s overkill, I do think that it depends on the office culture as to whether or not you need to give your supervisor a heads up. I’ve worked in a culture where “he who tells it first tells it best”, and especially as a woman, upping the aggressiveness could lead to an unjustified performance issue. Its stupid and it sucks, but that was the reality of that office culture. It’s something that only the OP could know if this escalation might have a bigger impact on her reputation as opposed to just the relationship with Bob.

            1. MsClaw*

              I think maybe we’re using documenting to mean different things. I mean documenting as ‘I’m giving you a head’s up that this is happening’ so Bob can’t claim she started kicking up a fuss suddenly and for no reason. *Not* ’10:30 am Bob shows me picture of Bobby’s soccer game’, 10:52 am Bob tells story about Bobby’s soccer game.

        2. JSPA*

          I’ve known Bobs to get so anxious about the (spurious) risk of being blamed for nonexistent sexual harassment when they know they’ve been violating general boundaries (rather than sexual ones) that they get preemptively vicious. Or to find a lack of politeness to equate to outright hostility or “instability” or “brittleness.”

          For that reason alone, a brief informal heads-up before the “change in tone campaign” isn’t a half bad idea, IMO.

        3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          I have to disagree. I think email documentation could be skipped, but a private conversation with the boss giving a heads up and possibly asking advice, depending on OP’s relationship with boss, seems a better idea than just going ahead with responses that, taken out of context, appear rude and unprofessional.

      2. Artemesia*

        I’d give the boss a heads up before becoming more firm in response. If the well is going to be poisoned, you want to be the one who does it. Let the boss know that Bob is behaving like a whiny attention seeking child and constantly interrupting your work to get attention — YOU have been clear but he isn’t stopping so you are going to be a lot more direct. You want the boss to know in case that upsets Bob. You are going to try to handle it so you don’t want him to intervene yet.

      3. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        I disagree. I’d do it in a conversation with the boss actually, and memorialize the conversation afterwards with an email. I’d make it a heads up kind of discussion , alerting the boss to the issue and advising that I plan to talk to Bob more directly about it at a time when it’s not “in the moment,” but that I wanted to give Boss a heads up about the situation. It gets the information and context out there before Bob can try to complain and turn the tables, especially with regards to the escalated responses in the moment.

      4. Talkers*

        How is someone poking you, smothering your face with the mobile and openly mocking you a petty thing? And documenting is key so you’re not presenting it as one problem but an ongoing one that won’t end without intervention

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I never said the actions were petty. They’d piss me off as well! Merely that giving me something like ‘03/04/2021 08:33 Bob thrusts phone in my face’ listings or similar list of interactions would seem petty to me *at this stage*

    3. Voodoo Priestess*

      I see all the comments saying that going to your manager is too much, but I agree with MsClaw. I would bring it up more as “I want to keep you in the loop, I’ve been having this issue with Bob. I’m going to try to address it one more time myself, but I may need your help if I can’t resolve the situation on my own.” Any good manager will want to know the background. Or another great way to bring it up is “I need your advice on how to handle a sticky issue with Bob. *Insert background* then “I thought my next approach would be X, but maybe there’s something else I haven’t thought of?” Now they’re aware and you may get some genuinely good advice but you’re not just whining and you still get the first chance to deal with it. And if Bob complains, they will already have heard your side.

      Because I can tell you from firsthand experience, and as Alison said, Bob will not like this. And there is a very good chance he will complain about you. And being a woman in a male-dominated field, you are just as likely to be labeled “difficult” or “too-direct” due to setting and enforcing boundaries. Whereas if your manager already knows the background, they will be more likely to mediate if Bob complains rather than assign blame to you. It’s political CYA that women have to think about that men don’t – pre-emptively justifying enforcing boundaries when men are acting like children. Good luck.

      A Too-Direct and Difficult Woman

      1. KELLS*

        I agree with you, working with men like this and in some offices where excessive chit chat was the norm – going to your boss before escalating with your coworker will be like insurance in case you come off as hostile and difficult. For OP, if Bob complains first, OP will be branded as the problem and have that as the narrative for future discussions, possibly negatively impacting her career.

        And there is the chance too that the manager knows about Bob’s behaviour but is unaware he’s been doing this to OP… depending on their relationship a quick word from the boss to cut the crap could be all that Bob needs to save it for lunch.

        1. H2*

          Yeah, the fact that Bob is mocking attempts at boundary setting in this way tells me that someone has told him to knock it off before. It’s likely that the boss knows about this issue!

      2. H2*

        I agree. I see that documenting would be too much (although quite frankly, the first time I was poked like that I would take some kind of action). But I think that I would pre-emptively tell my boss about this.

        I had a similar situation where our building was undergoing some renovations and I was stuck in an office with two other professors and a lab instructor (all male; I am female). The lab instructor was dating a student (yes, really! but he wasn’t faculty so there was technically no rule) and he would let her come in and hang out. One of the other professors is a lovely person who is sooooo chatty and is poor at taking cues. The other was a d-bag who would regularly advise students and talk to them about their grades while we were all in there. Two of those three things are more or less illegal, so my footing in bringing it to my boss was a bit firmer. I just went to her and told her that I was really struggling to get things done in the office and explained the situation. Part of the issue for me is that our work is super task-driven, so basically when I’m finished with my list for the day, I leave. I was the only one with a family and kids, so I had time constraints that the others did not. They immediately found another space for me to work–she knew how they were and she understood why it was an issue. I could have spoken to each of them, but it would have caused a lot of drama that would have made working in that space a mess for all of us. Interestingly, the other three stayed in that office until the renovations were finished (she did ban students from the office). I don’t know if what I did was right or wrong, or if what my boss did was right or wrong, but I guarantee that she was glad that I took it up with her and not with them so that she could handle it discreetly with a minimum of drama (academia is weird because department chairs are kind of peer managers so I think they tend to like solutions that avoid conflict).

        1. H2*

          My point about taking it to your boss first is that she may know how he is, so she may be ready for the situation. She may also have a solution that can help you to avoid messy conflict.

    4. kay bee*

      Exactly what I was thinking. If his unchecked sexism is a symptom of the larger company culture, the LW escalating responses to unwanted behavior very well could lead Bob to filing complaints. I’d want to do an FYI to my manager ahead of time along with notes on how I’ve tried to address it just to have something to go back to if/when Bob complains about me being mean to him.

  8. Seashells*

    Sorry, but if he stuck his phone in my face, I would swat it away, hard. If it gets broken, too bad. No one gets to stick things in my face, not even my family. And if he poked me, I would very loudly yell “Stop that! You are hurting me!”.

    OP, please try all of Alison’s advice. It’s completely unacceptable to be poking you, sticking his phone in your face, mocking you and demanding your time. When does he do his work? Perhaps he should retire and volunteer to babysit if he can’t go a few hours without reporting his grandchild’s every move. To be clear, his grandchild is not a problem, it’s his constant need to report every single thing the child does and demand attention from OP. Alison’s right- he would not do that to a man but because she’s a woman, she automatically is interested, right? /s

    1. Worldwalker*

      When I was 20-ish, my mother tried that with a magazine while I was reading the newspaper: I said I’d look at whatever article she wanted me to see when I was done, but that wasn’t good enough, so she stuck it in my face.
      I grabbed the magazine and tore it in half.
      She never did it again.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Not with family, but yeah I had a housemate who loved shoving magazine/newspaper articles in my face regardless of what I was doing. Given I was a 30 a day smoker at the time she ran a huge risk of burning things!

            (And yeah, 1998 it was and I did rip up one article)

        1. Worldwalker*

          The backstory is that my parents had *no* sense of boundaries. Absolutely none. At least, not my boundaries. After that, at least that particular boundary violation stopped.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        Too bad Bob doesn’t use an old clamshell/flipphone. Sudden failure by unscheduled separation would be an equally effective end to the intrusions.

      2. Campfire Raccoon*

        I’ve done this too. Sticking things in my face is incredibly triggering for me. I had a hard time working through it when I had kids because MOMMA LOOK AT THIS!

        1. JustaTech*

          I had a professor I was working for do it once with a (very large) spider in a jar. He wasn’t being malicious, he was just sharing the really cool thing he caught before he fed it to the lizards, and he didn’t know that I have a pretty strong startle reaction to spiders. (Like, conceptually I’m OK with spiders, it’s not a phobia, but if I see one close to me unexpectedly I’m going to jump).
          So I shrieked loudly and shoved my chair back away from the spider, nearly rolling over the prof’s feet.

          And then he apologized for starling me, and never ever did it again, and warned me whenever he was going to bring in spiders to feed to the lizards.

    2. Threeve*

      And I don’t know how you can stand continuing to chat and eat lunch with this guy, but I would try to stop, at least for a while. It absolutely feeds the delusion.

      “She doesn’t need boundaries, she obviously likes me, she likes my stories, she likes seeing pictures of my grandkid…she’s just focuses too much on her work and gets grumpy sometimes and needs to be cheered up.”

      1. Ashley*

        To me the willingness to eat lunch is a balancing point. If you give them a time to share the grand kid photos a reasonable co-worker would back off other times. It can help with the she is an ***hole mentality people get when some asserts boundaries. But this is assuming Bob doesn’t move into creepy territory.

        1. Talkers*

          No this has gone WAAAAAAYYYY beyond the stage of allocating him time at lunch. Any attention is re-enforcement.

      2. Xenia*

        Yup. Stop feeding the attention at all. Do not give him positive feedback until he knocks it off. In fact, don’t give him any reaction beyond variations of ‘knock it off’, and keep those as neutral as possible. He’s acting like a bratty kid who wants attention.

      3. allathian*

        I’m glad you posted this so I didn’t have to. It did surprise me that Alison didn’t suggest that LW stop going to lunch with him. In some cases, just moving to a different table than usual, if they usually go to lunch at the same time, could send a message.

    3. cncx*

      i have a bad fight or flight response and i’m scared that i would literally punch someone if they poked me. I’m 99% sure my response to poking would be violence.

  9. many bells down*

    It’s REALLY uncomfortable (and I’ve never had to try it at work), but I’ve found making sustained, direct, silent eye contact gets rid of people in a hurry. It’s very aggressive. Best if you can keep no expression while doing it.

    1. Miss Cranky Pants*

      This is alpha predator behavior, absolutely. It works with the big cats, canines, and, yes, primates. With bears, er, not so much. :)
      There’s just no comeback from Bob to use this technique. What’s he gonna say? She’s staring at me while I’m bothering the shit out of her?
      Heh heh heh.

      1. Nea*

        Considering that Bob is already pulling several dominance plays, returning it with alpha predator behavior would be good.

        Unfortunately, it sounds like Bob would just interpret it as “See! She does want to look at things when I insist on showing them to her!”

        1. Ariaflame*

          Not at the things. At him. Directly. Not looking at anywhere but straight at his face/eyes. Not saying anything. No expression. It rapidly gets really really uncomfortable.

          1. Speaker to Students*

            In college I worked in a computer lab, and we had rules about how long a student could reserve a machine, and what they could do with their time. My manager had a stare she’d use on students that were trying to talk us into making exceptions. We’d send them to talk to her (at her instruction – she said if someone gives us a problem, it’s her job to deal with them).

            She’d ask “Did employee give you the rules handout? Didn’t you sign it before they let use a computer?” and then unleash the stare. I think the longest I ever saw one of them last before wilting was about a minute.

            I eventually asked her how she did the look and she told me “I look at them and try to visualize just how small a hole it’ll take to hide the body. If they’re really annoying, I imagine how long I’d have to spend digging.”

            She had a wicked sense of humor, but I’m pretty sure she wasn’t joking.

      2. Black Horse Dancing*

        Just a point, doing that can absolutely drive a canine or other to attack. Animal behaviorists do a very delicate dance working with gazes. Dr, Patricia McConnell was demonstrating techniques and looked a dog in the eyes accidently (caught the dog’s gaze). He immediately lunged. She didn’t get hurt but explained clearly afterwards what she did.

        1. Miss Cranky Pants*

          Agreed. Thought I suspect Bob isn’t going to lunge at the LW. :) We can certainly hope not. But it will sure make him uncomfortable.

    2. Never Nicky*

      Ah yes. The Paddington Bear Hard Stare.

      Effective even with a slight smile/pleasantly neutral expression. Repeat offenders get an elevation to stern frown. Doesn’t usually need escalating past that …

      I think some of its effectiveness comes from the fact I’m normally chatty, friendly and conciliatory. Or maybe my natural state really is that scary and the chatty me is cover!

      1. pope suburban*

        Not that I approve of what Tony Soprano specifically does, but I have found channeling him to be remarkably effective with troublesome people at work. That thing he does where he’s genial in tone and expression, but his words are blunt, throws people off. One time I had a very toxic job where people had me at the end of my tether, and I was rewatching the show, and I decided to spend a week basically pretending to be him. It took a lot of work for me, but man, did people ever step off! At no point, I feel the need to clarify, was I ever threatening or overtly rude, I just adopted a resolute tone of, “I’m in charge of my stuff here, you are on my turf, behave accordingly,” and it worked. It’s not something I can personally sustain for very long (My natural communication style is more collaborative, and I lack James Gandolfini’s gravitas), but it’s surprisingly effective when you really, really need someone to step off.

    3. nonegiven*

      I’ve done that a couple of times and had people take a step back and they were 6+ feet away to start.

  10. MishenNikara*

    The other commenters has pretty much covered my thoughts, but one thing is massively bugging me:

    ….Why are yall’s chairs only half a meter apart during a pandemic?

    1. MistOrMister*

      I am finding myself wishing OP would either shout out STRANGER DANGER!!! at the top of her lungs when Bob pokes her or interrupts her, or else repeatedly blowing the loudest whistle she can find until he backs off. I bet that would only happen a time or two before Bob found someone else to bother. Still, Alison’s suggestions (especially digging a pit under his chair!) are probably a better way to go.

    2. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

      Yes, I was wondering if this might be an old letter that Alison has revisited.

      If this behaviour is going on during the pandemic, that makes it a thousand times worse.

    3. Ama*

      I tried to post this earlier but I think it didn’t go through — I was actually wondering if there was any way to rearrange the office so Bob would have to get up from his desk to bother OP if she didn’t respond to him trying to verbally engage her. It wouldn’t stop everything but he might lower his frequency (and hopefully stop with the poking and phone shoving) if she wasn’t literally within arm’s reach.

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I just assume that different places around the world have different rules and different levels of infection where they are. The fact that the OP uses meter indicates this isn’t the U.S. Half a meter (1.5 feet?) would be uncomfortably close for me even in the before times. Personal space is very cultural.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Yep, we are in Australia, where there is still some virus going around but much, much lower than most other countries. I started sharing a office with Bob at the beginning of 2020, and to my relief we moved to a combination of split offices/working from home when the pandemic kicked in. However at the beginning of 2021, we got put back in the same office (the three of us work in the same team, and do often need to discuss work-related things). The office itself is very small and really only has enough room for our three desks, no way of moving things.

        1. Quandong*

          I’m in Australia too and most places I go have signage about social distancing and covid-safe practices. I wonder if you may be able to get some support from your boss by requesting more attention on maintaining safe practices (especially given the delays to vaccinations for people under 50).

          I would also be really tempted to tell Bob to save the grandkid photos for blokes at the Men’s Shed who would no doubt love to see them & hear every thrilling detail.

          Good luck!

    5. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yes, that made me have a visceral reaction also! Unless OP is in New Zealand that seems awful health-wise, as does Bob getting close enough to shove his phone in OP’s face. My coworkers and I are all fully vaccinated now (teachers), but we still stay farther apart than that! (If they are in NZ then it’s still awful but at least not for covid reasons…)

    6. JSPA*

      I was assuming a) New Zealand, or b) everyone’s been vaccinated because the job’s essential / service. But otherwise–absolutely.

  11. NotAnotherManager!*

    Wow, OP, I am so sorry you’re dealing with this! That would drive me insane. (The drive-bys and constant interruptions do some days, and those are well-meaning people who don’t mock me if I say I’m on a a deadline and need to catch up with them later.) If your boss is a reasonable person, I might speak to them just as a heads up to say, look, this has been going on for some time, and I’m going to have a chat with Bob about it directly – if that doesn’t help the situation, I need you to intervene or to move one of us to another location since this clearly cannot go on if I’m to get my work completed.

  12. MistOrMister*

    I am finding myself wishing OP would either shout out STRANGER DANGER!!! at the top of her lungs when Bob pokes her or interrupts her, or else repeatedly blowing the loudest whistle she can find until he backs off. I bet that would only happen a time or two before Bob found someone else to bother. Still, Alison’s suggestions (especially digging a pit under his chair!) are probably a better way to go.

  13. Lacey*

    Please take all of the righteous anger you are feeling when he talks to you that way and putting it into the steeliest voice and eyes you can when you use whichever of Alison’s lines you choose.

    I personally find that it doesn’t much matter what I say, as long as my eyes and tone convince people that I might actually be able to kill them with a look.

    You may hesitate to be that way to a “nice” person at work, but most nice people would hesitate to mock their coworker in a whiny child’s voice, so you know, the line has already been crossed.

    1. Elbe*

      Agreed. Mocking someone’s boundaries (and he clearly recognizes them as boundaries, too!) is one of the most disrespectful things a person can do. She’s communicated exactly what she needs from him and he’s mocking her for not acquiescing to him.

      It would be so tempting to return the baby voice and say, “ooh nooo! Bob feels entitled to my attention and whines when he doesn’t get what he wants!” And I think the LW doing that would put an end to the friendship. He expects her to put up with his demands and mockery, but I sure he’d take major offense to being treated the same way.

  14. Forgot My Last Username*

    It’s not clear whether you need to maintain a working relationship with Bob, or whether he merely shares an office with you.

    If the former, you might want to try having a big picture conversation, where you calmly describe the behaviors and their impact on you, and come up with ground rules that work for both of you. Bob may or may not cooperate, but if he does it can preserve that working relationship.

  15. cwhf*

    Sadly Bob I suspect will only recognize and respond to being completely blunt and rude and he’s asked for it and deserves it. He has zero respect for you (and I agree completely the dynamic that you are not catering to his every need and batting your eyelashes and hanging on his every word whenever he demands it is definitely rooted in some nasty sexism) so make it mutual. And if he pokes you, scream “OUCH, WHY ARE YOU TOUCHING ME, BOB?” so everyone on the floor can hear you. He will stop quickly I suspect. I’d also be real tempted to lock that phone thrust at me up and tell him he’ll get it back at the end of the day if he behaves—if he wants to act like a child, treat him like one. Ugh.

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Remove the please. With the Bob’s of the world you need to state and not ask.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          Adding that after the first time, you amend it to “I HAVE TOLD YOU MORE THAN ONCE THAT YOU DO NOT HAVE PERMISSION TO TOUCH ME. STOP IT. NOW.”

          My own version of Bob finally quit it when I called him out, not quietly, in front of d@mn near the entire department, including people from out of the main office. Yes, he did try to make it about me, but I’d managed to throw that reaction in a room where I had plenty of people who knew I *wasn’t* overly sensitive, and if I was raising utter and complete hell, there was a capital I italicized “issue”. Should I have had to do that? No, but it was helpful in overriding his (and my) petty child boss who was very quick to dismiss my complaints of his being “handsy”.

    1. Cat Tree*

      If he’s gonna whine like a child, I’d be tempted to talk to him like one. “Now Bob, we all keep our hands to ourselves here” in a very condescending tone. And if he moves his hand away, a cheery “good job!”

  16. Ama*

    I don’t suppose there’s any way to rearrange the office so that Bob’s desk isn’t so close to OP’s? I do wonder if he’d be as annoying if he had to actually get up from his chair and walk over to OP so it would be far more blatant an intrusion. (I don’t think it would entirely stop him from trying to get her attention but maybe if he had to work a little harder to get it it would cut down on how much he was doing.)

    If he doesn’t do this to the third officemate, any chance she would be willing to switch desks? (Although I do wonder if she grabbed that desk to be further away from Bob at the first chance, if they are both longer tenured than the OP.)

    1. Properlike*

      I was thinking cubicle divider. Just one. Between her and Bob. Then it’s more obvious how he’s violating her space because he’s literally crossing a line. I guess it would be passive aggressive to cc your boss on your requisition order, and when she asks, say, “Because Bob…” And then, to save money, they’d be more aggressive in shutting him down?

    2. twocents*

      I was thinking the same! Why is his chair 1-2 ft from hers. Even in the Before Times, that’s really close!

      1. JustaTech*

        When I first started my current job we were so short on space that there were 3 of us in a cube, to the point you had to be carefully about rolling out your chair. For a while one of my cube-mates was a very talkative woman who’d had two years of endless bad luck, which I got to hear all about as the new person. Then she got moved to a different spot and we got a new guy.

        Thankfully we were all on the same team so knew when the others were swamped with work, but it was still awkward when someone’s boss came in to give feedback on a report, or someone had to make a personal call during the day. We learned the fine art of not listening to things you can hear (and ignoring a few tears).

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I started thinking this way too. But then I decided that I would be really salty about having to adjust MY surroundings when he’s the problem.

      I like a combination of the Please Stop language and the steely stare. I have a scowl that I have perfected for this purpose.

  17. KathyW*

    I had a roommate who was similar about picking up “cues”. Fortunately she didn’t do a lot of the rude things that Bob is doing, but she seemed to think anytime was a good time to talk. Several times I opened the door to leave the apartment and she would strike up a conversation – with my hand on the doorknob and the door open! It used to drive me crazy.

  18. Jules the 3rd*

    Other possible and maybe softer scripts if you want to preserve something of a relationship, using his innate sexism against him (ie, refer to requirements from another man):
    “[male exec name] is paying me to work, not socialize, so I need to get back to it now.”
    “[male boss] is looking for this stuff, I need to focus on it. Show me that stuff at 5, though!”
    Bigger picture conversation:
    “[someone male, in authority over Bob] pays me to do my job. To get all my work done, I can’t socialize with you all the time. Show me pics at lunch or as we’re getting ready to leave, I’d like to see what’s funny then, but I need you to stop showing them to me outside of those times. I don’t want to get fired.”
    (9 times out of 10, he won’t remember to show you at 5, he’s going to want to get home too)

    Normally, I’d be seconding Alison’s recommendations, but your descriptions from the times he’s not bugging you imply that maybe you’d want to keep a little social interaction going. He will *not* respect *you* setting the limits , but he may respect you complying with limits that you say some [male exec] sets.

    However: make sure you NEVER EVER break those limits yourself. Quick hello in the morning, and NO other interactions until lunch or EOD. Never. He does not exist.

    And if you can get any additional distance (moving to the other side of the desk?), that will help too.

  19. Introverted Type-A Employee*

    I having nightmare sweats just *thinking* about having to work with Bob. OP is a saint for not losing her cool to date. Great advice, as always, Alison!

  20. Not A Manager*

    Bob is a horrible creep, but this advice really is zero-to-sixty. Alison’s usual advice, I think, is to have a big-picture conversation with the person first. I understand that the LW has tried body language/telling Bob you are busy at the moment, but how about telling Bob, upfront, that when you’re working you can’t be disturbed, that it’s disruptive for him to stick things in your face and poke you, and that you need him to limit your conversation to lunch time and breaks?

    I’d actually take a bland tone of “for your information” as opposed to bringing a lot of heat to it. Speak as if he really doesn’t know that work is for working and he needs to keep his poking to himself. If he starts the sarcastic whining about how “Sansa has her boundaries up,” I’d take it at face value. “That’s right, they pay us to work and I need to do my work. Thanks for understanding!”

    Then when Bob starts in, you have that background to say “Bob, this is what we talked about. I need to focus on my work.” I do think that him invading your personal space with his phone and the poking(!) can get a more heated response, but again I’d do it in the context of having explicitly told him to cut it out.

    You can also loop your manager in beforehand. Describe the situation, tell her that you’re going to have a conversation with Bob about it, and say that it’s possible he will get his feathers ruffled and you want her to have the context.

      1. Reba*

        Right, it’s not “0 to 60” here because OP is already doing the polite deflections (the… 25 mph options?)

        Often people who are as pushy as Bob really won’t react until something drastic happens to really impress upon them that the target won’t take it anymore. Thinking about it, Bob is probably like this with some other people in his life, so he is used to pushing through others’ discomfort as the normal level of static in his interactions. You might need to be “louder” than that static to get through.

      2. Myrin*

        She said it in the moment it happened, though, not as a general big picture talk during a calm moment unrelated to his annoyingness – depending on the circumstances, this can really make a different and is something Alison often recommends (including in this post).
        But OP needs to gauge how likely she thinks Bob is going to react well to a more general talk – from what she’s written, he seems insufferable and like someone who would just as well whine about this instead, but I might well be wrong and OP feels like he might be receptive.

    1. Anononon*

      I think the big-picture advice is generally for managers to their direct reports. It’s really not OP’s problem to have to manage this behavior fully out of him. She explicitly tells him she can’t talk, and he whines about it. That’s really all the directness he’s owed from a coworker.

      1. boop the first*

        Heh, when I read this, my “big picture” advice would be to move desks. Bob isn’t going to respond to embarrassment, because embarrassment is the trigger that sets off the 15-minute whines. The more challenging it is to pass an embarrassment onto another person successfully, the louder these people get. He won’t change!

    2. Worldwalker*

      He *knows* it’s disruptive. That’s why he does it. In his mind, what he wants at the moment is more important than anything she’s doing.

      He doesn’t need to be told it’s disruptive. He needs to be told to stop doing things that are disruptive.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m not sure how I’d react to one of my staff coming to tell me ‘I have to tell Bob to stop interrupting me with non work stuff and he might whine after’.

      At best my first thought would be ‘just go tell him, you don’t need to run everything past me’.

      Now if she implemented Alison’s suggestions (and other great ones here) and he was still being a prick I’d appreciate a ‘look, Bob is making it impossible for me to get my work done with his interruptions and poking me. I’ve told him to stop but he’s refusing. Is there anything that can be done?’

      (To which my first response would be to go to Bob and tell him to wind his neck in)

      1. Artemesia*

        The first person to mention it to the boss frames the issue. You want the whiny Bob seeks attention like a toddler and disrupts frame. not the OP is difficult to work with and over sensitive frame.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I think it depends on the boss. If the boss knows both of the co-workers, the boss probably already has formed opinions about them and their truthfulness.

      2. Lana Kane*

        I see what you mean, but I see this particular situation a bit differently. It’s not that the staff member is telling you they need to stop him, it’s that the staff member has tried the usual routes and is now going to have to go more hardcore than you’d usually see in an office. I’d warn my manager too.

      3. Kevin Sours*

        I think you are being overly harsh here. She has told him to stop and he’s mocked her for it. I think a reasonable person would conclude that Bob is not going to react well *any* attempts to set boundaries. Frankly from the facts laid out it’s going to take a very aggressive approach to deal with Bob. Some people would prefer to have an manager intervene instead of going full flamethrower.

        But I would recommend focusing on the “ooh nooo, Sansa has to focus, she’s put her boundaries up” aspect. Boundaries — particular those focused on getting work done — should be respected.

      4. Littorally*

        That is not an accurate way to put it. She has already been nice, and he has already whined. There is no “might” about it.

        So, your direct report comes to you, and says “I have an issue with Bob repeatedly interrupting my work. When I have asked him courteously to stop, he whines and makes fun of me for needing to work. I am going to have to escalate to being very blunt, possibly harsh with him, and I want to make sure that you’re aware ahead of time that I have already tried to be nice and it hasn’t worked.”

        Are you telling me that you as a manager don’t want to hear about it until the LW is ready to go to HR about a coworker repeatedly touching her? Cause every boss I’ve ever had has wanted to be in the loop long before that point.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I think I’m being misunderstood here, which is my fault as I’m not the clearest writer!

          I absolutely want to know if someone is impeding someone else’s work and they can’t stop them. 100%. Same as if they’re experiencing harassment, racism, homophobia etc.etc.

          What I don’t need is ‘I’m going to talk to person X’ unless they feel that conversation is going to get dangerous or they want me there – in which case I’ll suggest I should come along for it. Admittedly I’d have a really hard time believing Bob if he came to me to say ‘X is being mean and won’t let me interrupt her to talk about my grandchildren’.

          But, I understand not all companies run like this and not all managers are like me (thank god)

    4. Observer*

      Alison’s usual advice, I think, is to have a big-picture conversation with the person first

      Which works for someone who just doesn’t realize their pattern. But that’s not the issue here – what he is doing is a problem even if it were not a patter. You NEVER poke someone to get their attention for anything less that a TRUE “get our of the building” level emergency. You do NOT whine and make fun of someone who tells you, POLITELY, “I’m sorry I need to work now.”

      This a sudden escalation. It’s the logical next step to deal with someone who has left normal boundaries in another galaxy.

    5. Elbe*

      How is this 0 to 60 when she’s repeatedly told him to stop… and he’s been a jerk about it? He’s literally mocking her for telling him no, so it’s not like he’s “clueless” or lack info about what she wants.

      If someone rudely plows through gentle boundary setting, they should be prepared for some firmer boundary setting, which is what this is.

      The LW should be as polite and professional as she can muster (and I think she’s doing great so far!) but, in general, I think it would good for people like Bob to get put in their place when they act like this. Experiencing the frustration, annoyance, and indignation that your behavior causes is healthy – it’s how people calibrate their behavior socially. Seeing people’s annoyance is how a person understands that their behavior is annoying. And the Bobs of the world take advantage of situations where people are expected to rein in their emotions to “get away with” this type of thing. It’s not what is best for the LW to do right now, but I hope that someone tells him off one day.

  21. ElizabethBennet*

    Ugh, how exhausting. I honestly would ask him how old he is when he starts whining. Maybe ask him if he needs to take a nap. But that’s just me.

  22. AnonInCanada*

    (If that doesn’t work, consider digging a large pit right under Bob’s chair for him to fall into one day. You can send down food and water.)

    If Bob fell into that hole, if I were OP, I’d start taking the dirt she excavated to dig that hole and start filling it back in!

      1. AnonInCanada*

        “Hey Sansa, you seen Bob lately?”
        “Oh, haven’t you heard? He always told me he wanted to visit Australia, so he took a trip ‘down under.'” :-D (unless OP’s already in Australia, then obviously this joke won’t fly.)

    1. Mockingdragon*

      Tell him you have some really good amontillado sherry over here in this mysterious hole in the wall.

  23. anon4this*

    Yikes, can you request a desk move or something? Isn’t there a second coworker in this space this is not happening to? What are they doing during all of this? Maybe recruiting them to help you, or see how they get out of Bob’s nonsense.
    I liked most of AAM’s response, but maybe not so much the blunt or “openly pissed tone” stuff. Honey gets more flies and all that jazz.
    “And I know how exhausting it is to always have to talk about sexism, but it is no coincidence that you’re a woman.” Wasn’t the OP saying the close proximity is the reason this is happening? It seems weird to gravitate to this “annoying man coworker + victim woman coworker = no coincidence sexism”.

    1. Observer*

      Wasn’t the OP saying the close proximity is the reason this is happening? It seems weird to gravitate to this “annoying man coworker + victim woman coworker = no coincidence sexism”.

      I find it weirder that you are pushing back on the idea. Do you really think that if Bob were sitting in close proximity to a guy he would be doing the same thing? Highly unlikely.

      but maybe not so much the blunt or “openly pissed tone” stuff. Honey gets more flies and all that jazz.

      What exactly do you suggest? The OP has already TRIED the “honey” route. And it has not helped – all she;s gotten is mockery and BEING POKED by this jerk.

      1. Anon4this*

        I thought the OP said they used cold body language and explicitly told Bob to stop.
        While she may be approachable in the workplace, it doesn’t sound like the OP ever said “Bob, your grandchildren are beautiful, but please, save this for lunch. I need to work right now.”
        The body language seems passive aggressive and explicitly telling him “no more” doesn’t seem to work, so I’m trying for other alternatives for the OP.

        1. Talkers*

          Then you didn’t read the letter. OP says when she explicitly tries to get him to stop he starts mocking her in a really whiny voice.

        2. Observer*

          explicitly telling him “no more” doesn’t seem to work, so I’m trying for other alternatives for the OP.

          Yes. And Alison provided a PERFECT alternative.

          What makes you think that someone who POKES people who turn away from him and whines when someone politely says “I need to get back to work”, is going to react reasonably to her being even sweeter?

          And in what universe does it make sense that someone needs to spend this kind of time and energy to end a conversation they don’t have time for?

          This is a grown, presumably functional adult we’re talking about here. He’s not a toddler and the OP is not the toddler’s Mommy. Expecting her to make this kind of effort to placate a boundary stomping creep is beyond inappropriate.

    2. Pippa K*

      “You should keep talking sweetly to the man who won’t stop hassling you. Also I have trouble seeing the sexism here.” AHEM.

      1. Anon4this*

        I really wasn’t trying to say that.
        And being kind to someone who doesn’t deserve it may seem impossible to you, if all you’re trying to do is be empowering for all women, rather than solving a individual problem that may have nothing to do with gender.

        1. Observer*

          I really wasn’t trying to say that.

          Really? Then you need to explain what you were trying to say. Because that is EXACTLY what you said. And what you doubled down on.

          The OP is not being unkind. They are being direct. It’s waaaaaaay past time to stop expecting women to exhaust themselves to kind the the right magic words the perfectly explains the BASIC expectations of minimal politeness they have while coddling the hypersensitive feelings of and entitled brat.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Once again I’m reminded that what would be ‘assertive’ coming from a man is seen as ‘being cruel/unfriendly/not nice’ coming from a woman.

        2. NaN*

          I think you need to invest some time in learning about how women are socialized to be polite and punished for not being polite in ways that men are not. This comment reads as very out of touch with that reality, and you would do the women in your life a service if you would listen to their perspectives.

          Being kind is not mutually exclusive with enforcing boundaries. Empowering women is not mutually exclusive with solving individual problems.

          Identifying and weighing the effect of gender-based expectations on politeness in this situation can help the OP decide on the right approach for resolving the individual problem. Naming that effect can help the OP overcome her own discomfort at being more direct.

      2. Talkers*

        The co-worker who is of the same/similar age has grandchildren yet despite their ‘shared interest’ he ignores a woman his age. The woman in her 20s is much more attractive to hassle.

    3. Sondheim Geek*

      Honey gets more flies and all that jazz.

      But she doesn’t want to get more flies, she wants to get rid of the one that keeps buzzing around her. That’s why a fly swatter is the best option. Or just spray him with raid. Either one will do.

    4. hbc*

      You’re trying to keep away flies here.

      You know, part of the not-overtly-sexist reason Bob might be doing this to Sansa is that we tell women that being nicer is how you keep someone away, but we’d be wondering why a guy hadn’t already told him “Geez, back off, Bob.”

    5. Former Young Lady*

      The second coworker is a woman with grandchildren. The Bobs of this world tend to sort women into two categories: “my own personal captive audience/petting zoo” and “invisible.”

      Please really rethink your worldview that disruptive, entitled, emotionally-stunted men just need more love and care from the women they harass. You’re illustrating the very sexism whose existence you downplay.

      1. Anon4this*

        Well, my thinking was that if the two coworkers are women, and Bob is only choosing the younger one to talk to, that is gross, but not sexist? Because…they’re both women?
        If the other coworker with grandkids was a dude, it would be sexist, right? Because then Bob is obviously picking on the OP.
        I don’t know. I feel too confused on this as to what even my point was and wish I could just erase my original comment, which is starting to feel like it isn’t helpful to the OP. :(

        1. Talkers*

          o9It’s because he is a pervert. He doesn’t want to bother a woman his own age (who also has grandchildren)! Perverts like Bob harass women half their age. They seem to think what happens in porn is ‘owed’ to them in the real world.

        2. NaN*

          I personally don’t find it useful to speculate whether Bob would change his behavior if the other coworker were a man, a younger woman, or something else. Individuals are still individuals. Recognizing sexism in one aspect of a situation doesn’t negate that. Bob may have a different type of professional relationship with the other coworker, a different history with that coworker, or some other factor that gives him a different perspective of the other coworker. Or he might not. His interactions with the OP could still be rooted in sexism – the subtle, unconscious, pervasive kind that is hard to pinpoint and easy for others to excuse or rationalize away.

          It’s helpful for the OP to recognize that gender-based expectations might/likely play a role in Bob’s persistence in bothering her. It’s also helpful for the OP to recognize how gender-based expectations might/likely shape her response to Bob. By naming that in her response, Alison is giving the OP additional tools to combat it.

          1. Talkers*

            Bob doesn’t do it with men. Bob does not do it with the co-worker in the same age band as him. The co-worker who is of a similar age and has grandchildren is not given this treatment. Perverts want women half their age, they don’t hassle women in their 60s…..

            I hope you don’t have a wife or children who are female because every single woman in existence has been harassed

        3. Miss Kate*

          “Well, my thinking was that if the two coworkers are women, and Bob is only choosing the younger one to talk to, that is gross, but not sexist? Because…they’re both women?”

          That does seem like it would make sense, but sadly he’s just being sexist to both of them, in two different ways. “Not worth hassling” and “fun to hassle” are two sides of the same coin. Hopefully he manages to calm down enough to see them both as just coworkers and be both friendly AND respectful of their time.

        4. Blue*

          Men like Bob tend to feel especially entitled to the attention of *younger* women, specifically. He wants a nice pretty young woman to pay attention to him, not a grandmother his own age. This is pretty standard.

    6. Tisiphone*

      Seconded. Talk to your manager about moving to a different desk away from Bob. You’ve already done a reasonable amount to dealing with it. The fact that he’s a huge distraction that won’t quit is a point in your favor.

  24. Observer*

    I think that going the aggressive route is the way to go. In any case, please loop your boss in, in a factual “FYI, this is what’s happening, this is the work effect, and this is what I’m planning to do” way. You don’t (yet) need your boss to do anything, but given Bob’s behavior, I suspect that he’s going to start complaining about you. So you want to forestall that by making sure that your boss has the context they need if it comes to that.

  25. Headphones means I'm Busy*

    I’ve had many Bobs (one really annoying Bob in particular) that knock on my desk to get my attention when I’m wearing headphones, clearly working hard and “in the zone”, just to have a chat about nothing (so Bob can avoid doing his own work) or to ask a question that could have been an email. Why?!?!

    1. No Sleep Till Hippo*

      OMG I had my own Bob that did that!! Whyyyyyy?!

      Mine also did the whole bit about laughing to himself or talking out loud to no one in particular at his desk… or loudly proclaiming issues he was having with Word/Excel/whatever, with a strong undercurrent of “GEE THIS IS SO FUNNY, IF ONLY I HAD SOMEONE TO SHARE IT WITH” or “THIS IS JUST SO HARD, IF ONLY SOMEONE WOULD HELP ME, LOOKING AT YOU HERE No Sleep Till Hippo” -_-

      I had to develop a strong inner monologue of “If Bob wants me, specifically, to pay attention to him, he can come ask me, specifically, to pay attention to him (and I will tell him I can’t). Until then he is just making noises that will wash over me. Like waves on a beach. Whiny manbaby waves.”

      It was exhausting nonetheless.

  26. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    While these options won’t work for everyone, they have worked for me in the past: (And how sad is it that this is such a regular occurrence that I have a go-to playbook for how to deal with this crap.)

    1.) If Bob touches you, slap his hand away. And when he inevitably gets pissy about it you can just say ” It’s a reflex when men are in my space and touching me without permission.”
    2.) When Bob whines at you. “Yes. I DO need to concentrate. Because we are at work, where they pay me to work. I’m not sure what they pay YOU to do…”
    3.)When Bob pokes or touches you, massively overreact to it. Like if you have your headphones in and he pokes your arm, jump up and be really startled and say “WHY would you do that?”
    4.) Whine right back at him. “Yes, Sansa IS busy because she’s at work” and then say in a regular voice “See how obnoxious that is?”
    5.) Keep track of how many times he touches you without permission in time period. At the end of the week look him straight in the eye (preferably with your supervisor in the room) and say “Bob, this week alone you have touched me X amount of times without my permission. This will stop here and now. “

    1. JustaTech*

      Why oh why do people think it’s a good idea to poke their coworkers?

      Just a couple of weeks ago a coworker poked me with her gloved hand while we were in the lab and I was handling human blood. Like, you extra especially don’t touch people in the lab; it’s a safety risk.

      And I know exactly how the conversation will go if it happens again:
      Betty pokes me.
      “Betty! Don’t touch me in the lab! That’s so gross!”
      “Oh chill out JustaTech, my gloves are clean.”
      “No, seriously, Betty, don’t touch me in the lab. Do you want to have to take ‘No Horseplay in the Lab’ training again?”
      “God, JustaTech, you’re so uptight! I’m always having to walk on eggshells around you.”

  27. Nea*

    Bob is not “friendly and extroverted.” Bob is making a blatant dominance display over you – your time is his to take, your body is his to touch (!!!!!!!!), and your boundaries are to be mocked.

    OP, you’re halfway there – you shut him down and deal with the whining already. Now it’s time to follow the rest of Alison’s advice and make his power play too painful/embarrassing/costly for him to continue. Be LOUD. Be CONSISTENT – someone who only gives you an hour’s silence when you establish a boundary is going to keep testing the new boundaries.

    Especially the one about touching you. This is where I depart from Alison’s advice: he gets one (1) single “Don’t Touch Me!” ONE. ONCE. The next time launch straight into “GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME” and never go back.

    Repeat until second nature:

    Return every bit of the awkward to sender, loudly, in a way that makes it inescapable for anyone to miss that he is the one not doing the work he’s paid for, he has the creeptastic nerve to lay hands on a woman working with him (I’m never getting over that, never, ever) and he is misbehaving.

    Don’t be too ready to talk to him in the lunch room either. If he talks to himself he’s already got a conversational partner.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Bob is not ‘extroverted’, ‘friendly’ or before anyone says it ‘bad at reading social cues’ – he’s a selfish ‘everything about ME is important to ALL’ type. Definitely agree.

      1. Cat Tree*

        Exactly. The vast majority of extroverts do not behave this way, and would be just as annoyed to be on the receiving end of it.

    2. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      I have PTSD from my childhood. Touching me, pushing something close to my face is a good way to trigger an automatic hand reaction that will violate the company non violence clause. I have a firm policy of warning once. If you do it after I warn you that you might get punched, that’s on you.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        PTSD here too, I don’t react well to people coming up behind me. I warn new coworkers once never to do it.

        1. Tisiphone*

          I don’t either. There’s a bunch of cubes at my workplace that have aisles in both directions for the bonus of being able to approach people from behind in two directions and make it easy for people to turn the corner through those cubes. I asked my manager never to assign me a seat in any of those cubes last time we had to shuffle the seating arrangement. My manager listens.

          Perhaps the letter writer can get permission to change desks.

          1. Nessun*

            Same. The manager in our office who does all the desk assignments has a note in my file that says “Nessun is always to be seated at a desk with her back to a wall.” I can’t work in a space where someone *might* come up behind me, and if they did, it would be very bad for everyone, not to mention disruptive for those around about. She knows I have to have my back against a wall or window, and she’s supportive of that. I also mentioned it once to our lovely HR rep and she said she’d back me up on the issue if I ever required it.

  28. SheLooksFamiliar*

    A family friend thought it was funny as hell to poke and tickle people in the ribs. I told him to never, ever do that to me and if he did, I could not be held accountable for my involuntary reaction during his physical assault. He laughed it off, saying I was uptight, he was just playing, people loved getting tickled because they laughed, he was known as The Rib Tickler, etc. You know the drill. I repeated my warning, and asked him again to leave me alone.

    At the next gathering, he tickled me in the ribs. I bloodied his nose. I’m not saying I practiced flinging my arms in surprise to ensure my hand would connect with his nose – and I’m not saying I didn’t – but connect I did. Of course, I was the humorless bitch who couldn’t take a joke, but he left me alone.

    1. Former Young Lady*

      You’re my new hero. I have little cartoon hearts and stars in my eyes from reading this.

    2. cwhf*

      You are the real MVP. Why is it so hard to respect folks physical spaces and boundaries? As I child I was forced to have mine violated repeatedly and I do not tolerate it anymore.

    3. ImOnlyHereForTheWorstBossThread*

      I did this once with my step father in law who thinks its amusing to grab people really hard on the knees and apply all his pressure. Sounds small but can really hurt as he has particularly big strong hands. After telling him to stop multiple times over a long period, I lost it one day and shouted What the &&&& do you think you are doing whilst at the dinner table and threw one hand up in the air which connected with his face. Accidentally of course. I have also been known to tell him that his behavior is worse than the average 2 year old and he should be embarrassed for himself.

    4. Cat Tree*

      I’m weirdly ticklish in certain places, like so sensitive that certain types of normal touches are enough to bother me. This is most likely to become an issue when being intimate with a man. So I usually just explain it to the guy, ask him to touch me in a certain way or to avoid certain areas. For the most part, this isn’t a problem. But there have been a few guys who think it’s funny to try to do exactly what I just told them not to do. In those cases, I get up and leave immediately or insist that they leave if we’re at my place, and I never go on another date with them. I have no patience with men who think it’s funny to intentionally violate my boundaries.

      It’s not quite as satisfying as giving someone a bloody nose though. I’ll have to keep that idea in my pocket for the future.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        cwhf, same here and I’m so sorry you did. To this day, I feel the effects and think that factored into my behavior. I hope you have peace and loving, respectful people in your life now.

        IOHFTWBT and Cat Tree, my ex is an ex in part because he refused to respect similar requests. I wasn’t ticklish or sensitive, I was trying to control him and he would not submit to a controlling shrew. Glad you both did what you did, YOU ROCK!

        1. cwhf*

          Thankfully I do have peace and loving people in my life now but those relatives still exist too but I don’t have to live with them, submit to them or go along with things any longer. I was a really submissive obdient kid who would have never thought to challenge and just thought that was how life had to be. I am so glad (thanks therapy) that I learned otherwise. I really don’t care if they think I’m a shrew or a bitch or I have issues, but you will not violate my boundaries. period. And I try to share that message with every child and person I know and love and support them in getting the respect they deserve.

    5. aebhel*

      I had an uncle who did that all through my childhood. He tried it exactly once when I was in my mid-twenties (it had been several years since I’d seen him) and I took a step back and told him flatly that if he tickled me I was going to break his fingers. He wasn’t happy, but he never did it again.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Good for you – his happiness isn’t important when he’s physically assaulting you.

    6. Talkers*

      My ex thought it was funny to tickle me even after I explained I am so tickly it is torture and I can’t control myself when it happens. He did it again and I kneed him in his private parts by accident. It never happened again.

      1. 'Tis Me*

        My skin is ticklish but I have fibro and have lots of very sensitive spots on my ribs. Tickling my ribs hurts me. Yes, I will laugh as an involuntary response, but I will also ask the tickler to stop…

        The following exchange gets tedious and annoying VERY fast:
        “Please stop tickling me – it hurts.”
        “But you were laughing – you were clearly enjoying it! I don’t know why you’re asking me to stop, and won’t.”

    7. Nessun*

      I’ve been in a similar situation! I mentioned further upthread, but I had a boyfriend (who’d been warned, both by me and others) not to tickle me. He came up behind me, I whirled around and punched him in the jaw – loosened a tooth, in fact. He never did it again – and of course he rapidly became an ex, because not respecting me by doing something I’ve asked you not to do is a dealbreaker.

      It’s sad that sometimes violence is the only answer these individuals understand, but I’m not going to apologize for defending my personal space. Good for you for doing the same.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        A right hook to the jaw? THAT is impressive!

        Because I grew up in an abusive home I never want to put my hands on anyone in anger, even if they deserve it. It’s not who I am nor do I want to be that person and, 99.99999% of the time I don’t worry about it. But I think you’re right: when people don’t respect or even acknowledge clear, direct requests, ‘using your words’ probably won’t stop them from assaulting you.

  29. Sami*

    One note to add to Alison’s aggressive ideas. Speak a bit slowly than normal.
    A bit more forceful. Even-tone.
    – signed, a middle school teacher

    1. Myrin*

      Excellent advice!

      OP, one thing I wanted to add: It might sound a bit silly at first but if you feel like you might have trouble implementing the harsher/more aggressive reactions in the moment, practice them at home/in front of a mirror/with someone you trust. You want the words to come out smoothly but you also want them to come out at all and in my experience, it helps with really learning some phrases by heart so that you have them at your disposal automatically and to make it so your body recognises them as something that is good and easy to say, and practice, even when alone in an empty room, really, really helps with that.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Or my mother’s ‘you done effed up big time’ voice – which is really calm and even but clearly enunciated and authoritarian.

      (I’m in my 40s and that voice will still make me wince!)

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      I call this the ‘mom voice’. A little slower, a little louder, even a little lower in tone than normal, but not yelling.

      1. allathian*

        Yup. And Bob is behaving like a child so it’s perfectly appropriate to respond like a mom when nothing else works.

    4. Dashed*

      Speak like you are training a dog who is proving difficult.

      1. Monosyllabic words. “Stop.” “Stay.” “Go.”

      2. If a sentence is necessary, make it as short as possible.

      3. Use “the tone.”

      4. Use “the look.” (Look them in eye, preferably from an equal or greater height. Do not blink, do not look away.)

      I have successfully used this, sadly, far too many times.

  30. BlueBelle*

    Shoving a phone under my nose or god forbid poking me is going to make lose it! I am really big on asking people to explain their behavior, “Bob! Why do you think it is ok to shove your phone under my nose when I said I was busy?” “BOB! Did you just poke me?? Why do you think it is ok to touch someone like that?” “Bob, are you mocking me? Why don’t you take what I say seriously and respect that I am busy and focused?”
    The responsibility is on them to explain their poor behavior, not for you to manage them or apologize to them. People like that are the worst! Good luck, I hope you will update us and know if anything worked.

    1. irene adler*

      I like this. Put the onus on them to explain their behavior. Probably won’t get much in the way of a satisfying response, but it should get him to feel some embarrassment at being called out. Hopefully it will prompt him not to invite a repeat of the situation.

    2. Ashley*

      Even better when someone hears you ask those kinds of questions because it should cause any outsider to do a double take.

    3. Elbe*

      I like this. I’m sure Bob’s response will be something to brush it off, “Oh, it’s just a joke” or “oh, it’s not a big deal” but at least it will force him to think about the situation and respond to it. The LW can try to see if it gets some traction.

  31. Campfire Raccoon*

    WTF? HE TOUCHES YOU? No. No. No. I very much doubt he would POKE AT A MAN.

    Sweet Wakeen, I can feel all of my energy leeching out of me just reading about it. LW, when I was younger I put up with this sort of behavior. Never, ever, again. Tell him to back off, be aggressive. He’s crossed the line, not you. You’re protecting your personal space and body autonomy.

    Shut him down in the moment, loudly if you need to, in the most obviously embarrassing way possible. If you have to talk to him again, do it in front of an audience (politely) and make sure you explain how strange and unprofessional his behaviors are.

    Side note: kudos to you for not slapping that phone out of your face. Holy moly that would trigger all my fight reflexes.

  32. Former Young Lady*

    It’s been about a year and a half since my last Bob.

    I never had the guts/foresight back then, but lately I have recurring time-travel fantasies in which he sneaks up on me and I am so “startled” that I spill my coffee all over him.

  33. Which a taw*

    When Bob does that whining, I would actually use the words, “Bob, I believe you would never behave like this to a man. So, stop it.” Call out what you see. I also second the advice to be loud and startled at the poking & phone in your personal space.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m evil, I laughed at that!

      (Wouldn’t do it but ohhh boy would love to imagine saying it!)

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I think I’m going to hell, but I can very quickly summon mock concern or cheerfulness that is actually deliberately offensive, or mock cheerfulness ditto. Think “which is before and which is after?” as a comment on someone’s progress photos. I sit on my hands so as not to post them because I’m not that mean, it’s just the devil on my shoulder.

      Nevertheless, a grimace at the photo, a glance at Bob’s face, and a snarky “huh, I guess it runs in the family” would already have been employed here.

  34. Cake or Death?*

    Good grief. I probably would have told Bob to eff right off by now if I was OP lol.

    In addition to Allison’s suggestions, also maybe try, when he interrupts you, saying “Don’t you have work to do?” or “Stop bothering me and do some of the work you get paid to do”.

  35. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    “Bob, in these uncertain times, I don’t think you want to be quite so open about not having any real work to do. It might not go over so well.”

  36. Anonomizer*

    Calling him on the whinging like Allison suggests can be really effective. I have a friend (grown male) who would pout (literally — bottom lip out, arms crossed, pout) when he didn’t get his way. Until the day he did it in front of another friend of mine and she looked at him and said, in a perky curious tone, “Does that work for you? Because I’m finding it really annoying.”
    And he was so embarrassed to be called out on acting like a baby that he actually stopped. I haven’t seen him do it since.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m actually really liking “does that response ACTUALLY work? Because from here it’s not”

    2. BatManDan*

      I tried that once, with the son of a friend of mine, who was probably 9 or 10 at the time – years past using a whine. “Does that usually work for you?” In the moment I said it, his mom gave in to his “demands,” and I left the table muttering under my breath, “why yes, yes it DOES work for you.” All 4 kids (from high school down) do it, because in that family, it works.

    3. Anonomizer*

      Yeah, I think he was doing it because his Family of Origin had let him get away with it for way too long. It took someone explicitly pointing out that that is not something that grownups do (and that it was irritating) to get him to stop. I can assure you that it had not worked for him for years.

  37. school of hard knowcs*

    I played drums in a Junior High Orchestra. A couple of the guys in the percussion section liked to come up behind me and tickly my ribs. They surprised me one day. I clamped my elbows to my sides and beaned him on the head with a drum stick. Never happened again.
    I was a young receptionist and a sales guy kept coming behind my desk while I was typing his documents. I pulled out a sticky desk drawer hard and barely missed his knee. Once again very effective. Purely plausible.
    I went to speak to my boss today, he said he was in a time crunch. No problem. All 3 choices worked.
    I have been the interruptee and the interrupted. For a long term getting along with co-worker solution I suggest the following.
    Pick regular time each day and tell him bring on the grandkids and look and listen for 5 minutes. Then any other time, I would say, oops that is the treat for x time.

    1. TiffIf*

      I accidentally whacked a guy in the nose at work–it really was an accident–we were trying to troubleshoot something and I didn’t realize he (one of my junior co-workers) was behind me so when I figured out something my hand flew up to signal our boss…and I whacked junior co-worker in the nose. I apologized and he acknowledged he shouldn’t have been standing so close over my shoulder like that.

    2. Lizy*

      Similar story for Junior high band. I was the only girl in percussion. Most of the time it was perfectly fine and we all got along great. One time, I can’t remember what happened before except that we were all joking around, after class we were walking down the hallway and one of the guys picked me up and put me upside down and an empty trashcan. I flipped out. Started basically attacking him – hitting, screaming, yelling, the whole 9 yards. Of course we both ended up in the principal’s office. I mentioned it was close to being sexual assault and the (male) principal was like “weeeeellllll I wouldn’t go that far.” Well I would.

      Don’t remember what the consequence was, but you bet your ass that kid didn’t push boundaries again with me.

  38. jcarnall*

    Oh god, Bob.

    I have met Bob. More than once.

    I admit, I’ve never met a Bob who actually whined like a child when he didn’t get the attention he wanted from his women co-workers, but oh my god, Bob.

    My strategy was to be very, very boring and bored and inattentive. This was not difficult, since generally Bob hasn’t got anything interesting to share.

    Bob “Hey, wait til you see these pics of my new grandkids in the garden…”
    Me: “Working on X right now Bob.”
    Bob: “Listen, let me just show you these pics of my grandkids”
    Me: “Working on X right now, Bob.”
    Bob: “Don’t you want to see these pics of my grandkids”
    Me; “Working on X right now, Bob.”

    If Bob waves his phone under your nose to MAKE you look, sure, take it away from him, switch it off, and put it down somewhere he can’t easily reach, then go back to work. If he demands to know “What did you do THAT for?”

    “Working on X right now, Bob. I’ll deal with your phone at lunch.”


    “Working on X right now, Bob. I’ll look at your phone when I’ve got a moment.”

    The key is to keep repeating yourself, and to keep your eyes on the screen, no eye contact, say exactly the same thing each time. If Bob claims “SHE TOOK MY PHONE” to anyone else, say, sounding startled, “Nope – Bob came over to my desk and handed me his phone. I didn’t have time to look at it right then, because I was working on X, so I switched it off and put it on my desk. I didn’t want to look at photos of his grandkids while I was working.”

    If Bob starts whining, though, I would give him eye contact. Long hard stare. “Bob, why are you whining? Most of us learn not to whine for what we want when we’re five. Are you five? No? Then stop whining, Bob.” Then eyes back to my screen.

    If Bob pokes your arm, I say you are free to scream loudly “DONT TOUCH ME!” leap to your feet, rub your arm like something stung it, and say to Bob in a horrified, loud, clear voice “Don’t TOUCH me, Bob!” Because that goes beyond boredom right into creepy.

    1. Nikki T*

      Yep, I’d just take the phone and set it aside….like it was some sort of nuisance..

      I might even swat at him like a bug.

  39. not that kind of Doctor*

    “Bob, I like you as a person and I enjoy our conversations over lunch, but the way you complain like a child every time I need to work – you know, at work – it’s making me hate you. A lot. Please stop.”

    Maybe that’s just me. ;)

  40. Spaceball One*

    Genuinely wondering – could she ask him point-blank if he would interrupt/touch/mock a man? It’s a question, not an accusation.

    1. Spaceball One*

      Especially when he mocks her boundaries! A pointed, “Do you ALWAYS get upset by people’s boundaries, Bob? Or just mine?” ideally with a witness within earshot, might shock him into cutting it out. Makes the game a lot less fun for him.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      I’ve asked men who did this if they did this to men. The answer was, “Buh, buh, buh, of course! I like to have fun with everybody!”

      When I later asked male colleagues, “Does OurBob ever sneak up on you and disrupt your work?” the answer was always no.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Yep, this is what will happen. If you try to call him out, he will Deny treating OP differently.
        Then he’ll Attack, “everyone else likes it! you’re just no fun”. And then he’ll Reverse Victim and Offender: “OP is giving me attitude when I’m just trying to be friendly!”

        DARVO, over and over. If you are not familiar with this, get to know it. Look for it in movies / tv shows, and on advice sites. Seeing this pattern for what it is helps you move to the ‘oh, I don’t really need to appease them’ phase.

        1. Lizzo*

          DARVO is a think I learned about during quarantine, and it explains so much about so many things.

    3. Mangofan*

      What’s the purpose of the question, if not to subtly imply that he’s being sexist, and prompt him to re-examine his behavior in light of that? Is she curious about his answer? Is she interested in getting to know him better?

      I’m not saying that it’s a bad idea for people to examine whether their behavior is unconsciously sexist… I’m saying that the notion that it’s a “question, not an accusation” seems a bit disingenuous to me, and it seems reallllly unlikely that this will have any kind of positive outcome she’s hoping to achieve. (Unless the positive outcome is pissing off Bob, which, I mean, fair enough, he sounds insufferable.) I (straight cis male) would like to think that I am willing and interested in examining my unconscious biases, and this kind of question from a co-worker would probably not land well for me unless it’s from someone I have a good relationship with.

  41. TWW*

    I have a friend who at times literally cannot stop talking. I’m not sure why, but she says she can’t help it and after knowing her for years I believe her. If you point out that she’s in nonstop talk mode, or directly ask her to stop, she’ll launch into an endless monolog how she’s sorry she was talking too much. If you stand up to leave, she’ll say “oh just more more quick thing” and keep talking. If you go to the bathroom, she’ll still be talking when you return.

    My friend is not as aggressive or annoying as LW’s coworker, but based on my experience, I’m pessimistic that there’s anything LW can do to change her coworkers behavior. LW should request a new desk far away from Mr. Whiny

  42. Tenebrae*

    I’m so incredibly grossed out that he explicitly refers to OP as “setting boundaries” in his whining. This man knows exactly what he’s doing and why.

    1. Generic Name*

      Exactly. Well-meaning people who have a hard time reading subtle non-verbal signals (for example, some neurodivergent people) respond well when you set an explicit boundary using words. This guy isn’t well-meaning at all. I’d stop being nice to him and stick to professional politeness. No looking at pics of grandkids or chatting about weekends. Work-related topics only. And maybe give your boss a heads up as to what’s going on and how you plan to handle it. In case Bob complains about how “rude” you are to him.

      1. aebhel*

        Yeah, it’s one thing to be embarrassed at finding out you were accidentally doing something that annoyed or upset someone, but that’s not his problem–he just thinks she shouldn’t *get* to set boundaries.

    2. Lana Kane*

      Yessssssss! That was a big flag for me that he’s absolutely doing this on purpose to make a point about “the millenial” (or whatever category OP fits under).

      1. Lana Kane*

        Hit send too soon. Meant to add that I interpret it as someone who is not happy about the way the world is changing, and is acting out (and taking it out on someone he expects to be able – and allowed – to bully).

  43. Generic Name*

    Dude. Wow. Just wow. Here’s what I would do, instead of Alison’s suggested responses to Bob’s whining: when he whines at you, look at him with a taken aback and really confused and horrified look on your face and say, “I have no idea what you just said. I cannot understand you when you talk to me like that.” If he repeats the whine, tell him sorry, you still can’t understand him. He’ll either repeat his whine in a normal tone of voice, to which you can just look at him blankly or even say “excuse me?”, or he’ll just stop whining at you. Me “not understanding” what my 3-year-old was saying when he whined at me was a pretty effective technique to get him to stop whining (I of course responded normally to meet his needs when he could express them without whining).

    If you are friendly and open to talk to him on breaks and during lunch, I’d honestly stop. Obviously, still treat him politely and professionally, but only discuss work-related matters with him moving forward. I know it’s crappy, but he’s acting so out of bounds that you are well within your rights to not discuss anything personal or not work-related. He clearly doesn’t understand that chit chat during break/lunch is okay but constant chit chat while you are trying to work is not. He doesn’t get a normal boundary most adults get, so you’ll have to set and enforce a much more rigid boundary with him. I’m sorry your coworker is such a loon.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I love “treat him the age his behaviour suggests” as a strategy. Calm but firm voice and maybe a juice box.

    2. Dashed*

      Yes, we successfully used the, “I cannot hear whines” to shut that behavior down in our daughter by the age of 3.

      1. Talkers*

        It is all basic reinforcement. This should not be the reserve of psychology, everyone should be handed instructions on it, especially if they have children.

  44. Texas*

    How does the other coworker in the office react to these situations? Does Bob ever do this to them? (Dollars to donuts, if the other person’s a man Bob doesn’t do it to him, as others have noted.) Is the third person someone you could trust to back you up when Bob stops you from working like this? Like Bob starts whining when you tell him you’re focusing and P3 says, “Hey, I agree with Sansa as I also need to focus.” Maybe them being age peers would lend more credence?

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Other person’s a grandma. She’s moved into the ‘invisible’ category for Bob. Also, as another grandparent, she has picture ammo to fire back at him, and he is not interested in being an audience.

  45. Free Meerkats*

    Next time the phone appears in front of your face, grab it and start scrolling through the pictures. Find the most embarrassing one you can and loudly call out to the general office, “Hey look at this great photo Bob just showed me!” Then go around and make sure everyone gets a chance to see it.

    No, don’t do this.

    What I’d be tempted to do is tell Bob that the next time the phone appears in my face, I’m going to factory reset it. When (not if) it does, grab it, head for the bathroom, and reset it.

    1. Lizzo*

      Or maybe just discretely hold down the power button and turn it off, and make him think it’s broken.

      1. Pennyworth*

        If you hold a power button down long enough some phones will revert to factory settings. Just saying.

  46. AnonEmployee*

    Would love, love, love an update to this since it seems like this is habit and will continue occurring until OP stands their ground.

  47. lex talionis*

    Do you think Bob is capable of feeling shame? I wonder what would happen if you printed the letter and ALL the comments and left them on his desk…

    Not sure if it would be better to admit or deny culpability.

    1. But I don’t wanna*

      And scrawl across the top, “ YOU are Bob,”
      just in case he doesn’t recognize himself.

  48. CW*

    Bob reminds me a lot of my housemate. I rent a room in a house (my landlord and his wife are the owners) with 5 renters total, including myself. We each have our own room. The problem housemate (let’s call him Charlie) is very weird and once he starts talking to you, he will never shut up! And I mean over 2 hours of one-sided conversations. There are other problems with Charlie that I won’t get in to, but it got so bad that everyone else in the house, including my landlord, avoids him like he is a disease worse than COVID. It is that bad. I don’t even look him in the eye or say hello to him anymore.

    1. BatManDan*

      Had the same thing happen to me. At the time, man in my late 40s, rooming (after my divorce) with a man in his early 40s. Would talk non-stop. Would knock on my closed bedroom door: “are you on the phone with your girlfriend?” me: YES, him: “Okay, I wanted to tell you about “

  49. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    I honestly recommend that OP loop the boss in on the problem now, because I’d be worried the more forceful responses could be turned around to make OP look like the problem. It’s best to get OP’s story about what is going on out there to the manager before escalating the responses, and honestly I think even before having a sit down with Bob, so that the context is in place. It seems safer. Plus I don’t see any good coming from having a sit down with Bob without management. The whiny “ooooohhh, Sansa’s asserting her boundaries” whining leads me to believe he will just approach the conversation in the same way. And if I were the boss, I’d want to know about it (both for the comfort of OP and other employees, and because this behavior is interfering with workplace productivity).

  50. friendly neighborhood latinist*

    Alison has some great options for you here, but one thing that occurred to me—I would be cautious about using the specific phrasing “that makes me never want to talk to you.” While totally justifiable (I would feel the same way!), I’m concerned that this specific wording would be easy for Bob to misconstrue (on purpose?) and say, “Sansa just refused to ever talk to me again! So petty! How am I supposed to get my work done if I can’t even ask her a question? Dear AAM, my officemate responded to a personality clash by refusing ever to speak to me again….”

    That isn’t what you said, of course. But I think a different phrasing would make it harder for Bob to twist this and make it about you and what you said to him. Which is what Bobs love to do.

  51. Lobsterman*

    This is another situation where I think a half-hour consult with an employment attorney, even if only to get tips on how to document, would be a good idea.

    Guarantee Bob doesn’t do this with male coworkers.

  52. Cldlz*

    To be honest… I would skip step one and go directly to the boss and/or HR. Bob is 100% going to complain loudly if OP respond negatively in any way, and OP will be labeled as “difficult”, which is pretty much a death knell.

    Bob is creating a distraction which is decreasing productivity, this is the boss’s job to remediate to that.

    Alternatively – OP could ask for her desk to be moved away from Bob’s

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      Correction- ask for Bob’s desk to be moved away from hers. He is the problem here, and so she should propose solutions that treat him as such, not her.

  53. BatManDan*

    Male in my 50s here: Yesterday, I got out of my car at the gas station, started the pump, and got back in the driver’s seat with one foot on the floorboard and the other on the ground, (door still open of course) while I checked my text messaging and waited for the pump to run its course. A man 20 years older than me, on the other side of the pump, was pacing while his gas pumped. He was not in my line of site, not even peripherally, but started to talk to me about how close he was to his 10,000 steps for the day, what his normal average was, why he had to keep his health (“I’m 73 and trying to keep up with a 63-year-old at home” and on and on about things I did NOT care about. I say this as an extrovert, someone who has been described as “able to make friends with a brick wall,” but this was not the moment. And he picked up NONE of the clues I was laying down. Thankfully, the whole encounter lasted about 3 minutes, no more. I’m sure that this sort of stuff happens more often to women, but it does, apparently, happen to men, too.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      But this is happening repeatedly, and his whining about OP putting up boundaries tells us he’s perfectly aware that OP wants him to stop and he refuses to respect it. So it cannot be attributed to simple inability to recognize social cues.

    2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      So, it’s almost entirely different–you had no reason to worry about him getting upset if you ignored him, you didn’t explicitly tell him to go away, you weren’t trying to focus on something else, he didn’t mock you for setting the boundaries you hadn’t actually stated, and he kept his hands to himself.

    3. dawbs*

      I’m sure you don’t mean to do the equivalent of ‘not all men’ to this conversation, but, essentially by saying “sometimes men too!” , you are.
      (nevermind the many differences between what you describe and what women experience. If you’re not familiar with “not all men”, here you go:

      Yes, we are all aware that men also deal w/ weirdos. (women are also dealing w/ systemic sexism, infantilizing like the OP has, concerns about safety/fear of violence, good-ole-boys-ism, and the like as layers added onto the weirdo-ness.)

      But explaining that men are also oppressed isn’t really constructive and will always (ALWAYS) feel dismissive to women–because it is dismissive the layers of sexism that permeate our entire experiences.

      1. BatManDan*

        Thanks, all, for totally missing my point. I fully understand that her situation was different than mine, and that women, as a whole, experience more of this nonsense than men do. Nothing in my post contradicted that.

        1. dawbs*

          Then can you explain? Because I’m not trying to misunderstand and you’re not trying to miscommunicate

          Thus far you have multiple women who read you saying “….but it does, apparently, happen to men, to.” as you inserting the woes of men into discussion that is focused (accurately, IMO) on the sexism that women deal with.
          If that’s not what your intent, then, tell us what it is. I guess I don’t get why you’d tell the story here? What message are you attempting to communicate that we are all missing?

          (But please give some credit to the women in the room — chances are we’ve had this conversation dozens of times. With a lot of men who aren’t ill intentioned sexists–but who still don’t ‘get’ the problem with centering a discussion of the microagressions women experience on the experiences of men.)

  54. In my shell*

    I’m confused – how can a tantruming 2 year old with pathetic, aggressive social skills be a grandfather?

  55. happybat*

    So, if you have the capital, I would consider the ‘c’ word. “Bob, you are being really creepy just now.” And then whatever he comes back with can be responded to with repititions of “Super creepy”… “So creepy”… Best case scenario is he goes and complains that you called him creepy, at which point you can lay out what’s been happening. And why it’s creepy.

  56. Blue Eagle*

    Sorry to hear that you are having to put with this (particularly since he works so close to you).
    I had a male coworker like this back when I was in my 20s. What worked for me is that every time he did something like putting a photo in front of me or gratuitous talking about whatever I would say “wow, my grandpa always does that too, you remind me of my grandfather”. My experience is that men don’t like being called as old as a grandfather at work and after a couple of times calling him out like that he totally stopped bugging me.
    And regarding touching, any time someone touches you, just yell really loud “OUCH, why are you hitting me. Stop it!” It also works pretty well if a male co-worker touches you near your butt “OUCH, why are you pinching me. Stop it!”

    1. AnonInCanada*

      Except Bob already is a grandfather. He’s shoving his phone in OP’s face showing off his grandkids. That won’t fly in this case, I’m afraid.

  57. Lizy*

    Oh, Bob.

    I work with a bunch of men. Standard “jokes” abound. Most of the time, I’m fine with that, but of course there are sometimes it goes too far. For me, a blunt “that’s not OK“ typically works. Sometimes they will say “oh it’s just a joke“, at which point I respond that yes I know, but it’s still not OK.

  58. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    Gawwwwwd I hate nonstop yatterers. They come in all ages, sizes, shapes, genders, political affiliations, education levels, marital statuses, career levels, preferences for ice cream flavors, and lifestyle choices, and they have one thing in common: THEY NEVER SHUT THE HELL UP.

    That’s bad enough. Shoving the phone under your nose, affecting your productivity, is something else.

    The unwanted touching is Another Thing Altogether. He should be told in plain firm language to stop it and not do it again, and management/HR should be informed, and they should be informed if he persists.

  59. LBugging*

    Phrasing that worked for me in my personal life before is, “Honey, I don’t have time to be your audience right now.” That’s with people I love, so the tone isn’t usually too sharp.

    Maybe adapt it to Bob?

  60. Sam I Am*

    Since you “don’t mind chatting over lunch,” set an appointment with Bob, and basically read him your question and the direct parts of Alison’s response, edited so it doesn’t read as from an advice column. Put it all in your voice. Go with the big picture option.


    {You do several things that I find completely disruptive.

    1) When I am giving off body language that shows I’m trying to focus even when you have something you really want to share, you override all my subtle cues. In the past you have shoved your mobile phone right in front of my face to show me a photo or the latest funny/inspiring video clip you’ve seen, etc. You have even gone so far as to poke me in the arm to get my attention when I have headphones on.}

    And keep going like that. Point it out to him, thoroughly, one time, and tell him you expect this to be the end of it. That you are happy to chat at lunch (if you are) and let him know you want to keep a respectful, collegial atmosphere at work, but you can only do that with someone who is respectful in return. Keep it calm, to the point, and with a bit of an expression of concern in your voice. Then if it doesn’t stop, go over his head.

    I’ve had a couple of conversations in this vein with people, and it is a little chilly for a little bit- but I keep up the collegiality on my end and over time, these relationships are stronger. I don’t have any good friends from work, but that’s ok, I’ve had several terrific coworkers, which is what I prefer at work.

    Good luck!

    1. Lizzo*

      Great approach, and glad it worked for you, but I think the success of this approach assumes a certain level of maturity on the part of the coworker you’re dealing with. I’m not sure that Bob has that maturity.

  61. Robin Ellacott*

    Oh no, my sympathies to OP. I had this situation and it was immensely frustrating and stressful. In fact I didn’t realize how demoralized I was until I got a different office mate and suddenly felt more relaxed from the moment I woke up.

    I agree that there is likely a gender element, though in my case it was a woman, many years my senior. She would literally come and lean against my desk and insinuate her body between me and my monitor if I wasn’t responsive enough. She never said anything about my attempting to stop her but would go back to her desk and performatively cry, or make vague references to “always being bullied.”

    In my case I tried talking to her then finally went to my boss, who rearranged the space to separate us. That might not be viable for OP, so I can’t offer much but sympathy and commiseration.

  62. Analyst Editor*

    LW, you sound like you’re at BEC with this co-worker, so you’re writing in very charged language over things that aren’t SO terrible, just annoying.
    I also would bet that you are not as direct as you think you are. Your annoyance also probably comes across more than you think it does. There is a type of person, however inexcusable we find this conduct today, who will be provoked when you’re obviously annoyed by something that they don’t think is a big deal or annoying. It’s childish, but most people aren’t angels and we have to live with them in the world and their flaws.
    If your goal is to stop the behavior and have a co-worker leave you alone and respect your boundaries, I think your best bet is to try assertive and polite “I’m sorry, I’m busy right now”. In response to jibes about your “putting up the boundaries”, respond with a pleasantry that shows that it doesn’t bother you. If you do this, actually do it, for a week, you might find that he stops, and try that before trying the opposite of complete subtle passivity, i.e. angry aggression.

    1. Lizzo*

      I agree with you that appearing annoyed will just egg Bob on.

      I disagree that this is “[not] SO terrible, just annoying”. OP is trapped in a space with Bob, and continues to have their psychological and physical space invaded by Bob. It is making OP extremely uncomfortable, and it is interfering with OP’s ability to work. OP is entitled to a safe workplace. Period.

      Bob’s harassment may not rise to the legal definition of harassment, but it harassment. Don’t minimize it.

      1. Observer*

        Bob’s harassment may not rise to the legal definition of harassment, but it harassment.

        I wouldn’t bet on it not rising to that level. The poking is on the severe and and the rest is pervasive all right.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      1. Site rules — we take letter writers at their word.
      2. Reality rules — an outsider cannot argue with how someone FEELS.
      3. She’s already gone the polite route.

    3. Observer*

      LW, you sound like you’re at BEC with this co-worker, so you’re writing in very charged language over things that aren’t SO terrible, just annoying.

      Can we stop with minimizing really, really bad behavior?

      What Bob is doing is NOT just “annoying”. It’s constant and it obliterates boundaries. What item that the OP describes would you consider “just annoying”? Poking people? Shoving things into the OP’s face when she turns back to work? Whining and mocking her for “having her boundaries up”?

      I think your best bet is to try assertive and polite “I’m sorry, I’m busy right now”.

      Did you notice that the OP actually HAS tried that, and he still keeps whining?

    4. New Jack Karyn*

      But she has been polite. He pokes her, and then mocks her when she objects.

      She doesn’t want to show Bob that it doesn’t bother her. It does bother her, and there’s no reason to hide that.

      Bob’s being pretty darn aggressive, himself.

  63. Lizzo*

    OP, this situation sucks.

    You will need to be extremely blunt and direct while dealing with this guy. If you, like most women, are socialized to keep others happy and not make waves, I’d strongly encourage you to practice making the statements Alison suggests.

    Look in the mirror and say them until you feel comfortable saying them, with force and with confidence.

    Keep saying them so that you are unflappable and unapologetic in the face of whatever nonsense Bob throws back in response (he thinks you’re rude, he thinks you’re mean, you hurt his feelings, etc.). You are NONE of those things–you are a grownup with boundaries.

    That is going to make your words 100x more powerful, and speaking from experience, it’s going to build your confidence for dealing with any future Bobs you may encounter. [Sigh.]

    Go forth and shut this rudeness down!

  64. roseblade*

    Maybe adopt the exact same whiny tone and say, “Ooh, Bob is having a little tantrum! Bob gets awfully upset when he feels he isn’t getting enough attention! Bob throws his toys out of the pram when women don’t give him the deference he feels he’s due because he was born with a penis!” and so on.

    Or else preload your phone with pictures of things that are of interest to you but not him (your pets, friends, family, hobbies, garden, new paint job in the kitchen, whatever) and shove it under his nose when he shoves his phone under yours.

    Or. . . Let It Be Awkward. When he starts the whining thing, turn your chair and gaze towards him and ask him if he would behave this way if you were his age and / or male. Look him in the eye; hold your position. Don’t be the one to end the interaction; make him do it. If he blusters about how you’re being humourless / hysterical / a feminazi / unfriendly / rude / whatever, hold your ground and repeat the question (as many times as it takes). Do this once without wavering and you almost certainly won’t have to do it again.

    1. Raida*

      and do it politely and calmly so there’s no claims of ’emotional’ or ‘attacking’ in the interaction. Because if you want to call someone out on any -ism you either need solid evidence or make it a conversation.

      “I just asked Bob a perfectly normal question.” “I treat Bob in an entirely civil manner.” “I am never unkind to Bob.” “I allocate time every day for Bob which is so clearly needs as an extrovert, I am empathetic to my co-worker’s need for a little chat. I have taken steps to ensure this doesn’t become a drain on company resources or create an environment where Bob’s preferences are considered to be more important than his co-workers and the tasks at hand.” “I am quite surprised that Bob’s reaction to my questions was so emotionally charged with outrage that he coudln’t hold a civil conversation on the subject.”
      but then, I’m a total bastard who likes to work all the angles if I’m putting in the effort to argue

  65. IrishEm*

    In my first job (retail) the guys in operations were either oul lads or young fellas there were no middle aged people (or people of another gender *eyeroll*) and one of the young lads was a classics Dublin Messer. He’d prank EVERYONE.

    Once, I was walking with a few of the girls from ladieswear to our lockers and he did a jump scare that really scared me. I legit screamed in terror and then when I saw who it was I called him a See you next Thursday at the top of my voice. His feelings were hurt but he’d triggered a panic attack in me so I didn’t feel very charitable, but after he apologised and I apologised we actually got on well and he no longer pranked me. I was also no longer a target for the other lads in Ops who could be… Well, they could be Bob. I suspect a lot of their work was dull as hell.

    I do not recommend calling Bob a bad word for lady bits, but sometimes a strong reaction will be enough to get him to grow up. I also like the idea mentioned up above about asking what did “Dude Coworker” do to stop his behaviour because you’ve never seen him do that to him.

    1. No Sleep Till Hippo*

      I always heard that phrase as See You Next Tuesday… now I’m giggling because changing it to Thursday, in my head, ends up making the word “*unth.”

      That said, fully agree that a strong reaction can be unexpectedly helpful, as many other commenters have colorfully shared :)

  66. AS87*

    Sexism (not cool of course) aside, seems like there is always someone like this in every workplace which is bad enough. The red line is when their behavior comes at the expense of substantive work objectives being accomplished. If OP escalates this, she should have as much evidence as she can that Bob’s behavior is impeding her getting work done and maybe the work of others as well.

    Why I dislike the Bobs so much is that I’m at work to get things accomplished for the company and they’re taking away from that. There was someone at my last job who obsessed over birthday and holiday parties and every little break room indiscretion (ex: people making coffee in the afternoon to stay awake) and then got really defensive if anyone pushed back in the slightest.

  67. Ciela*

    Wow, so surprising that a grown adult hasn’t learned what I was taught about interrupting at the age of 3.

    Mom: Are you bleeding?
    Me: no
    Mom: is something on fire?
    Me: no
    Mom: then it can wait until I’m done on the phone

    Of course the few times I did respond “yes! bleeding!” she was very quick to attend to me.

  68. So tired*

    Can you imagine a man talking to a male colleague at work in a whiny voice? I mean, I would pay to see THAT, but I don’t think it’s ever happened (jk, if there’s one thing we’ve learned from AAM, it’s that you couldn’t impossibly imagine some of the crazy stuff that goes on in workplaces).

    I keep imagining the bewildered look on the face of a hypothetical male colleague upon realizing that a grown man is whining because he won’t look at photos of their kid or doesn’t like being touched, and it makes me laugh (but also want to cry). Where this guy would be ashamed he behaved that way (to another man), he acts entitled to behave the same way to a woman. It makes me want to scream, truly.

    Now that I’m done ranting, I wanted to make some wording suggestions for OP (Alison’s are solid for sure, but in case OP wants to soften it ever-so-slightly, albeit still being really direct… some may be more direct but eh):

    “DO YOU MIND?” (when he invades personal space or touches you) and then when he says no, and he absolutely will, you can follow up with “well, I do, so I really need you to stop interrupting me like this / invading my personal space / showing me photos when I’m trying to work”. Alternative opening line: “Can I help you?” (must be visibly annoyed for this one to work)

    “Shouldn’t you be working right now?” – Bonus points if you are in positions where you cover for each other, in which case you can also go “oh, are you not busy? Awesome, I could really use a hand getting X done – I’ll send it over to you”. Make sure X is an annoying task, but also something he can realistically do. And then every time he bothers you after that, ask him for an update on how things are coming along (and if he complains to your manager, which he very well might, you can be apologetic and explain that he has been hanging around trying to chit chat and interrupting you, so you thought he must be looking for something to do). Follow ups: (anytime he tries to resume chatting) Oh wow, have you finished X already? That was fast! Can you send it over to me? Oh, you haven’t done it yet? Do you think you’ll be able to get it done today? I can fit it in if I need to but I won’t be able to chat at all if I want to get everything done.

    “Why are you touching me?” (basically just so he has to awkwardly say “I want to show you a photo” – the more uncomfortable you can make it to behave this way, the better).

    “What’s going on? Is there an emergency? Oh, you have a photo – is there a reason this couldn’t wait until lunch?”

    (Whiny voice): “Oh nooooo Bob’s whining because he doesn’t want to let me work again!!” (I probably wouldn’t suggest this as a go-to, but if it fits, it should ONLY be used immediately after he whines so it’s clear you’re only doing it to give him a taste of what he’s doing to you and to make obvious how childish it is).

    1. Raida*

      God yes, this works so well! Responding with the same energy has trained so many crappy bosses I’ve had into not doing it again.

      I’d also suggest OP respond to any future mocking attempts with “nobody asked your opinion, Bob.” and continue working.
      It can be in a spritely & pleasant voice, monotone, long-suffering – whatever you feel like.
      But not angry, not outraged, not upset. All of those show he’s getting to you, all the others show you are just waiting him out because you’re in control. All of those make you ‘overreacting’ or ’emotional’ or whatever – I never give these people anything to turn back on me like that

    2. Engenuity*

      DO YOU MIND? is such an underrated option. It can be said at varying intensities but somehow always comes off as meaning business, and there’s almost no way someone can try to use it against you to claim you were being rude or insulting.

  69. Anon4ThisOne*

    I have gotten so much mileage using Alison’s variations on “you are being weird.”
    – You are being weird, what is that all about?
    – You are being weird, please stop.
    – You are being weird, knock it off.
    – You’re being weird; I have work to do.
    I’ve used this even on higher ups, and somehow it gets their attention. Especially helpful when what I want to do is scream at them.

  70. Manchmal*

    I think the OP could get some mileage out of my mother’s favorite way to address things like this, which would be to use the phrase “I don’t appreciate…”
    So when Bob pokes, “Bob, I don’t appreciate being touched like that, please don’t do it again.”
    He distracts you, “Bob, I don’t appreciate being distracted when I’m trying to focus on work. Let’s plan to chat during lunch.”
    When Bob whines, “Wow, Bob, I really don’t appreciate being spoken to that way. I’m trying to work.”

  71. Avi*

    My most immediate coworker is a Talker. He’s not quite as obnoxious as Bob, here, but the constant demands for attention and the way he outright sulks if you shut down his prattle can be exhausting enough in their own right. At the very least I can say his behavior doesn’t have sexist undertones, though, since he acts the exact same way to everyone here, man or woman. He simply can’t seem to understand that no one else is as interested in the sound of his voice as he is.

  72. cncx*

    I have an exaggerated fight or flight response from a Situation. I had a coworker, male of course, who used to like to spook me and i would scream. Once a board member heard it and the coworker stopped doing it. Once at a bus stop a man, random stranger, let out a wolf whistle behind me less than a foot from me, in touching distance, and i screamed and he got slapped. Of course he whined “it was just a whistle” yeah an eardrum busting wolf whistle right next to my ear. I’m not saying violence is the answer, I’m saying a lot of times they know EXACTLY what they are doing.

    If i were the one being poked, i would go to HR, not to tattle on Bob, but to say that i’m really worried that if he doesn’t stop poking me i’m going to punch him one day. Touching me is so beyond anything i could handle interpersonally and not get in trouble myself.

  73. ITWorkerBee*

    I was in a similar situation and the direct approach (the aggressive one) DOES work but, in my case, embarrassed the crap out of the guy and he refused to make eye contact with me or speak to me (which was a win) for the rest of his employment at the company.
    I was in my 20’s and this guy liked to make sing-song little snarky comments whenever I was speaking with someone else to be “funny” and get attention… (example:”Oh that’s ITWorkerBee, she’s talking with lots of people like she knows what she’s talking about..”)
    I finally turned on him in front of the people I was speaking to and said “Hi, I don’t find your comments useful or funny, and I need you to stop.” He literally pouted and said in a baby voice “Now you’re yelling at me!” (grown man. In an office.) Me: “No, I’m asking you to stop, but I’d be happy to yell at you if that is what you’d prefer”. He stormed off with his tail between his legs. I just apologized to the people I was speaking with and continued the conversation. They were fine with it, and very supportive of me.

  74. Jack Straw*

    “And I know how exhausting it is to always have to talk about sexism, but it is no coincidence that you’re a woman.”


  75. Nicole*

    I hope we see an update to this one! OP you have nerves of steel; by now I would have thrown Bob’s phone at the wall and told him that his grandkids are ugly.

    In addition to Alison’s advice it wouldn’t hurt to tell him that his behavior is sexist af. I’m sure it will upset him but he freaking deserves it.

  76. Gina*

    OMG The first time he shoved his phone in my face I would have slapped it away. It’s just a normal reaction from me. First time he poked me I’d have slapped his hand with a very loud “DON’T TOUCH ME!”

    I would talk to HR on top of Alison’s recommendations.

  77. Guin*

    Miss Manners (the original, Judith Martin) had fool-proof advice for women who were victims of unwanted touching: Scream, jump up, and yell OH MY GOODNESS YOU STARTLED ME WHEN YOU GRABBED MY (anatomy).

    Regarding the phone, I’d start keeping an extra-large cup of cola, like movie-theatre XXL, on my desk, and the next time Bob shoves his phone in my face, into the soda it would go. BOB! You startled me when you shoved your phone in my face! Now see what you made me do!

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