pushy coworker won’t stop bringing me food I didn’t ask for

A reader writes:

I started a new job just over a month ago. On my first day, a coworker — Kevin — asked if I would like a doughnut from a popular bakery near our office, as he was headed there anyway. I said yes, and he brought it. (He got my order wrong, but oh well, still a free doughnut!)

I thought he was just extending a nice gesture to the new employee, and that would be the end of it. But had I known what would happen next, I never would have accepted the doughnut — because it opened the floodgates of unsolicited food items.

At least five times now Kevin has brought food I didn’t ask for. I say no to the food every time and have outright asked him to check with me first before bringing me anything, which he verbally agreed to, but he has not actually stopped bringing me things unprompted. Most recently today, he slammed a big bottle of iced tea onto my desk, and demanded to know why I didn’t want it when I turned it down.

I’ve told him I have health-related dietary restrictions (not just a deflection tactic, some foods make me pretty sick), which also hasn’t deterred him. I’m at the point where I’m not really able to be polite about it anymore, since I set the boundary and he seems to have no intention of respecting it, despite me sticking to the “no.” My work station is freely accessible to everyone, so I can’t prevent him from bringing me things by shutting an office door.

I’m so annoyed but I feel bad for him at the same time, because my impression is that he badly wants to be liked by me and our other coworkers, but he’s so clueless that his overtures just have the opposite effect.

Is this something I can take to my boss? She also manages him but I feel almost silly bringing this issue to her, especially since I’ve only been working here for a month. I’m worried she’ll think I’m being too harsh/judgmental, or that I’m trying to stir up trouble. Any advice would be much appreciated.

I wrote back and asked, “When you told him you had dietary restrictions, what did he say? And have you noticed him doing it to anyone else?”

He acted like he understood when I told him about my restrictions and asked what kinds of things he should avoid, I told him it’s kind of a long list so the safest bet is always to ask me first. He seemed to agree but then brought me a brownie without asking three days later, which I turned down.

I’m one of the first people you see when walking into the office, so when I inevitably say no to the food, he brings it straight to someone else. It seems like he wanders around until he finds someone who wants whatever random food he has. I asked another coworker about it and she somewhat sheepishly admitted she’ll usually take what he offers but then throw it away later.

As an even weirder side note, on my first day when he brought me the doughnut, he also asked my manager if she wanted one; she told him no. He proceeded to bring her one anyway.

What on earth.

I’m sure you’re right that Kevin is desperate to be liked by people — this is very much currying-favor behavior — but doing the exact opposite of what people have repeatedly asked from you is a weirdly bad strategy for that. It seems like he picked up on the idea that bring food can be a gesture of warmth (it can be!) and he cannot let it go, no matter what the people he’s aiming it at tell him.

So, you’ve got two options here:

1. You can call him out on it more assertively: “I asked you not to bring me food anymore, what’s up?” Or, “I asked you not to bring me food. Please respect that.” Neither of these would be rude, but you might feel rude saying them — it’s a level of bluntness that you normally don’t need to use with colleagues and it might feel like a lot for a work relationship. But his aggressive food pushing is a lot for a work relationship! It’s not inappropriate to tell him bluntly to stop when he’s ignored politer wording.

2. If you don’t want to do that, the other option is to just consistently say no every single time. Don’t ever give in — even if he shows up with an enticing item you very much want — because if you do, you’ll be training him that if he asks enough, sometimes you’ll say yes. Stick with “no” every time. Feel free to sound bored or even annoyed when you say no.

If he again demands to know why you’re saying no like with that iced tea (!!), you can say “because I don’t want it” or “because I asked you to stop bringing me food” or “because I asked you to stop bringing me food and it’s getting really weird that you won’t.” (That last one feels kind of mean, but you have standing to say it because it is getting weird. And after something passes a certain level of weirdness, it’s arguably kinder to just tell the person that. That level has been passed.)

I don’t think this is worth taking to your boss — not because she’ll think you’re being too harsh or trying to create trouble, as you worried about, but because ultimately it’s a pretty small interpersonal issue that most managers will want you to deal with by just telling Kevin no … and also because he’s apparently doing it to everyone and she probably already knows about it. (If the behavior were worse — like if he were leaving food items on your desk that he knew you were allergic to or if he starts throwing more of those iced tea tantrums — my answer would be different.)

If you weren’t new, there would be more room for going to your boss and asking what the F is up with Kevin’s aggressive food behavior, but as a new person I’d handle it on your own for now.

Read an update to this letter

{ 474 comments… read them below }

  1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    OP, you’re overthinking this. You can just keep saying no and rejecting these things over and over and you won’t be doing anything wrong or rude.

    “Please stop bringing me food.” *extended eye contact* *neutral / pleasant expression*

    “But-” “No, just please stop. Thanks.” Throw away or give away anything he leaves on your desk. It might not stop him, but at least you won’t have to feel pressured to take the stuff.

    1. BatManDan*

      Maybe in this case, drop it loudly into the trash can while he is still within earshot. Should put a stop to him bothering THIS employee pretty quickly.

      1. Moo*

        I mean, I might have to stop myself from leaving the ice tea there, and then visibly going and getting another, but exactly the same, ice tea and drinking it….

      1. WillowSunstar*

        I agree. In the office I worked in before COVID, I repeatedly turned down the free food/samples offered by coworkers and they still kept offering them to me. It is tiring to have to keep reminding people that no, you won’t eat their free food.

        Just the other week, they had free tacos at my current office. Some random person I don’t know went up and mentioned them to me. I said no thank you, I was still trying to lose my pandemic weight. I was told “oh, they’re keto friendly.” Not everyone does the low carb keto diets. Ugh. I wish food in offices would stop being a thing at all.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          I’ve seen a range of food sharing behavior in offices.
          Generally the “hey there’s pizza!” or “I brought Girl Scout cookies, do you want one?” where someone is offering it to everyone either by giving a general call out, or going from person to person, I’ve got no problem with (even though my default answer is “no thanks”) It’s sometimes a little annoying in a very ‘shared food’ office culture, but it’s just a general thing in that office.

          But someone who doesn’t take “no thanks” for an answer, and doubles down with ANY “but …” “it’s okay because…” or “why not?” THAT person is being rude, presuming they know better or get a say in what another, completely different from them, grown up chooses to put in their body. The first time or two they might get a breezy, repetitive “Again, no thanks” But if after that? Depending on my mood, my response might be “what’s it to you?” or “why are you asking/demanding?” or “Asked and answered my dude”

          I get people can be weird around food, I get it’s some people’s ‘love language’ or way of bonding or being nice. But trying to steamroll over other people’s preferences or choices or boundaries is NOT loving, or bonding, or nice.

          1. JustaTech*

            Before I started reading AAM I hadn’t realized that food-pushing was a thing at some offices. Maybe it’s because I work in a science-based industry, where a lot of people have weird habits held over from their time in academia, including this Pavlovian response to free food. (You want people to show up to something? Have food. We never went full “piranhas skeletonize a cow” on leftovers, but it could be close.)

            At my work you’ll get an email or Teams post “JustaTech brought cookies, 5th floor lunchroom” or “Big Boss brought bagels”. The closest we’ve ever come to food pushing was the time we ordered twice as much food as we needed for a BBQ (first after people started coming back to the office and shockingly many people didn’t attend). That was more of a case of “please, take this stuff or it will go bad, take it home, please!” (We got lucky and someone worked with a youth shelter that was capable and happy to take our trays and trays of BBQ.)

            Long ago we also had a guy who would sell his extra eggs from his chickens, but either he ran out of chickens (he had a hawk problem) or he got told off for selling things at work.

            1. LilPinkSock*

              Re: egg guy, probably the latter, unfortunately. Companies can be liable if shenanigans arise so some just outright ban it.

              (Also, are you me? Our workplace food experiences are almost identical!)

            2. Faith the twilight slayer*

              Sweet Goddess, yes! My company has had cakes, cookies, cupcakes, Mexican food, so close together in such a short time. They leave everything out on the table *right outside the office of a diabetic*. The other day the guy who sets these things up asked “what would be a good alternative to putting out all this stuff if people can’t eat it?”, and I straight up told him just give us the money. Needless to say, I just got laughter and maybe a dirty look.

              1. JustaTech*

                Just to be clear, all the food except the BBQ was stuff people made or bought with their own money and brought in, not company food.
                And it’s always set up in the designated food areas, away (as much as possible) from anyone’s desk/office.

                In fact we recently asked about the possibility of getting in company-provided snacks (that we don’t have to pay for individually). This probably won’t happen, but we might as well ask.

        2. Critical Rolls*

          The flip side of this (on an office level, not a Kevin level) is that many people would find it deeply rude to offer food to everyone *except* one person. If they’re reasonable, they won’t have any issue with hearing a “no, thanks.” Personally, because I don’t keep track of all my large group of coworkers’ dietary restrictions, I would rather let individuals decline than assume I know what they can/ want to eat.

          1. Zweisatz*

            Yeah, if five different people mention food once to me because they don’t want me to miss it, I think that’s a nice thought and just decline if I want to decline. If nobody’s haranguing anyone, it’s all good.

        3. Anonymous Office-bot*

          Super agree about wishing it would stop being a thing. Before Covid, it was “a thing” in our office to bring a birthday cake on/near someone’s birthday.

          Some people would get a home baked cake from someone. Some would get whatever I could find last minute (and buy out of my own pocket) at the nearest bakery when no one bothered to make them a cake. Some would volunteer to provide one, then show up with half a dozen of the cheapest cupcakes the local supermarket had. All of it consistently left out the vegan/vegetarian, gluten free or dairy free folks. And of course, every time a cake showed up, the afternoon break turned into an hour long impromptu birthday party.

          A few days ago, someone said “Why don’t we do birthday cakes any more?” and I wanted to scream. Since it hadn’t been mentioned in so long, I had hoped it died a quiet death during the Covid restrictions last year.

        4. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

          I hope I’d have the nerve to say the following to keto friendly person,

          “Stop. Right. There. I said ‘no, thank you.’ Please stop pushing food on me. It’s rude of you to keep doing that.”

          1. Jess*

            I don’t think that reply is necessary *yet* – I think that the person offering isn’t in the wrong to let someone know that the tacos are keto-friendly if they said they’re on a diet. Sure, they don’t know the diet isn’t keto, but it might be useful information and as long as it’s said in a “just in case, FYI!” kind of way I don’t see there’s any need to push back. I think it’s helpful information!

            If they continued to try to push after that, *then* yes – it’s fine to be a bit blunter.

            1. WillowSunstar*

              Yeah, it wasn’t necessary at the time, she thank goodness took my second no thank you. But people make a lot of assumptions in general regarding food and dieting, and it’s exhausting. At least there aren’t many in the office yet. I wonder what will happen if/when people start to come back.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        It’s not even the bringing of food for me, it’s the “demanding to know why I don’t want it” thing. In what world has this guy never encountered “no thank you” before. I might just start ignoring the part where it’s supposed to be for me and just announce “Kevin has a spare iced tea if anyone wants it!” If there’s no takers: “Sorry Kevin, maybe you shouldn’t have bought it unless you wanted it”.

        1. Linda*

          I’m here to work, not spend company time deflecting forced food consumption. Kevin needs to learn office etiquette: “no” is a complete sentence, and “no” needs to be respected; and not listening to co-workers leads to a hostile/cringey environment. It may be a minor issue, but since it’s ongoing it needs to be addressed. Speak up.

        2. WillowSunstar*

          Well and food has so many issues for so many people, given that our society in general has weird ways of making people with certain body types feel bad. You just really never know and people should not assume everyone wants the food.

    2. Ann Ominous*

      I commented elsewhere about this – I think his behavior is a pretty big flag.

      I’m with you, I would confront him very directly and ask him what he is doing. However, the fact that he slammed the tea and then demanded to know why she was refusing him is evidence of a safety concern, which does rise to the level of escalating to the manager.

      This dude has been used to getting his way the whole time and really didn’t appreciate being told no, to the point where he reacted with a physical act just shy of violence and a demand for explanation.

      I simply cannot imagine someone slamming (!!) anything down on my desk and demanding anything. That person would have a bad day.

      1. Ellen N.*

        I completely agree with you. His aggression over the tea indicates an alarming need for control.

      2. MurpMaureep*

        Agree 100%. Not taking no for an answer, asking for explanations of refusals, and doing anything that could read as remotely physical are all big warning signs.

        Personally I’d want to know if someone on my team were doing this because it feels like it’s about way more than food.

      3. Miette*

        I have to agree. Other than the boss’s doughnut on Day 1, OP says he’ll offer the food to others until someone takes it, but is it only items that OP rejected, or like a bag or whatever? Because I’d be concerned that’s he’s fixated on only bringing OP things for some reason. This isn’t just odd to me, it is alarming.

      4. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        I agree, slamming the tea down is time to involve a manager. Escalating force is not a thing to joke around with.

    3. Momma Bear*

      Feels like this is well beyond “No, thanks.” That said if he doesn’t stop or keeps brining food that OP can’t eat knowing they can’t eat it, couldn’t OP escalate? If I had say a peanut allergy and a coworker kept bringing me questionable food, that could be a medical emergency. I realize first line of defense is turning it down, but at some point it becomes obsessive, right?

      At my office you only get those “doughnuts in x floor kitchen” emails. Maybe OP’s coworker could shift to that, unless that would be worse. “Extra iced tea in the x floor fridge if someone wants it.”

    4. Starbuck*

      I know my go-to would be a redirect to whatever break room or lunch room you have. “No thanks, but if you leave it on the table in the kitchen I bet someone will grab it!” Repeat as needed.

    5. Tussy*

      But if you read the letter, OP *HAS* been doing that, and it continues. They aren’t overthinking it, they’ve used the conventional wisdom about what should work and it does not stop it. OP WANTS them to stop because it’s disruptive so telling them to do what they are already doing and then saying “it might not stop him” doesn’t help at all.

      It’s not fair to tell OP they are overthinking it when you haven’t actually read the letter carefully.

    6. Sana*

      In addition to the above, I’d try adding, “You’re making it weird by not listening to me when I say no.”
      It gives them a little of the reason why the behaviour needs to change, which can be enough to get over the “but I’m doing a *nice* thing” that he seems stuck on

  2. ThatGirl*

    I am someone who likes to be well-liked, likes to bake, and believes that food is love. I regularly bring in treats to share with my coworkers.

    BUT….. I don’t force it on anyone, I don’t harass people who have told me they can’t eat x, y or z, and I definitely don’t buy food and force it on people who didn’t ask for it. Sheesh, Kevin, get a clue.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Same! You either leave it in the established place for shared food or leave it at your desk & let people know it’s there.

      I have occasionally let the people I’m closest to (especially the germaphobes) know first, but that’s one benefit they get from befriending me. (Hopefully not the only one!)

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I am, too, but my department isn’t food-oriented so I just don’t. We were previously but the current makeup just doesn’t go in for snacks. I’ll have to find another outlet for baking.

    3. ACL*

      I enjoy baking and sharing also. I either leave the goodies in the pantry next to the coffee and tea, or on my desk ledge where people can take some as they pass by (my desk is close to an entrance to our floor). Would never dream of pushing anything on anyone.

    4. CoveredinBees*

      Same. Honestly, it would kinda bum me out if I felt like the only way people would take what I was offering was by repeated badgering. I know people eating or not eating my baking is not a referendum on me or the baked good. People have a variety of preferences and restrictions in addition to they might have just eaten something else. If I felt like I had to *force* anyone to partake, that would suck the joy out of it. I guess this is a long way of saying that part of my enjoyment is providing something that is actually wanted and doubt I’m the only one. Hence, no badgering. Just a general announcement.

    5. FrenchCusser*

      I’ve brought in food but I’ve let coworkers know if it suits their diets – ‘This is vegetarian but not vegan’ or ‘It does/does not have gluten’.

      I wouldn’t in a million years even dream of getting upset because someone didn’t want whatever I’d brought.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Oh yeah I always specify “this has dairy, eggs and peanuts in it” or whatever – and I have had enough coworkers on diets or fasting or allergic or whatever that I would never take offense.

    6. Antilla the Hon*

      Ditto. Food is my love language, too.

      This post actually makes me really sad. Kevin sounds very lonely to me and seems to want to make a connection with other people. He probably sees food as a common ground thing. He also sounds like a people pleaser and is hoping to gain friendships through gifting. He’s probably so desperate for a connection that he’s blind to the fact that it’s annoying. (I’m not judging—I tend to be a people pleaser and like to give gifts, too. It’s something I’ve had to break myself of as an adult. You just end up lonely and exhausted if you get on that merry go round in my opinion.)

      1. Appletini*

        I love to give people little gifts and to cook for my coworkers, so I do hear you. That said, I lost sympathy for Kevin when he had the Iced Tea Tantrum. I think with that piece of intimidating behavior added in, the calculus changes from “desperate for a connection” to “deliberately trying to demolish boundaries.”

        1. allathian*

          Yes, everything until the Iced Tea Tantrum was just annoying, but the tantrum was scary, and I don’t even have a history of violence-related trauma…

  3. Anon, anon*

    I wonder if Kevin grew up hungry. I did, and had a pathological need to feed people for decades afterward.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t really change the fact that Kevin shouldn’t be doing it. Reasons aren’t excuses, and having trauma or mental illness (or ADHD, or autism, etc.) doesn’t give you license to harass your coworkers.

      1. Julia*

        But nobody appears to be saying this should excuse Kevin’s behavior. When someone offers a potential reason for someone’s unacceptable behavior, I wonder why so many people often rush in to say that an explanation is not an excuse. Of course it isn’t; it’s a (potential) explanation, which is more interesting anyway. It’s as though we are worried that seeing people as multifaceted human beings will cause us to be unable to set boundaries with them.

        1. Siege*

          It’s because, as someone with both ADD and autism, y’all use that as a way of not seeing us as multifaceted people. I’m just skimming the thread and already people with my diagnoses are just not able to understand or obey boundaries, and are constitutionally not able to avoid harassing our coworkers because of that. Im sure there will be more. A whole lot of us have no problem with understanding stated boundaries! My problem, to take one example, is largely with subtext. If you tell me you don’t want me to do X but you actually do, good luck with that – I’ll only catch that after activating all of the anxiety and rejection based responses I have and agonizing over it. If you tell me what you want, I can do that till the cows come home.

          1. Clobberin' Time*

            Thank you. It is so tiresome to see this ableist nonsense spewed over and over again in the service of excusing the behavior of entitled men. Being neurodivergent means having a hard time picking up subtext or soft statements – it has nothing to do with ignoring direct, clear statements. THAT is how entitled jerks act.

            1. Antilla the Hon*

              I used to really enjoy reading AAM and the commentary. For the most part, there are a lot of thoughtful commentaries that help me navigate the working world and relationships. And some posts and commenters are just plain hilarious and make my day! Lately, though, it seems like I have to wade through A LOT of nasty, judgmental, intolerant spew. Clobberin’ Time’s comment is the straw that breaks the camel’s back for me. I’m sick of the sneering posts vilifying men, dismissals of rich people, mocking relgion(s), etc. I have enough trouble keeping my Eeyore head above water without adding more nasty on top of it. I’ll miss the funny out-there letters, but I just can’t hack all the negativity any more.

              1. Just Me*

                If it’s the treatment of men and the rich that you have a problem with – and not what women and minorities face every day – you’re on the wrong side. The AAM community is largely a progressive and thoughtful one that recognizes systemic issues and supports social justice, and I’m grateful for it.

          2. WantonSeedStitch*

            Yeah, it sounds like OP has been abundantly clear about not wanting Kevin to bring things in. I don’t know a single autistic person who would have trouble with a boundary like that, which has been clearly and directly stated.

          3. Hobbit*

            I blame the media on that one, case in point, Sheldon Cooper, Sherlock Home (Cumberbatch), etc. They portray characters implied to be neurodivergent as rude,(insert eye roll emoji)

            It’s like ppl don’t realize that those are two separate things. Yes, you can be neurodivergent AND a jerk, but being a jerk doesn’t mean someone is neurodivergent.

          4. Birb*

            Agreed. Almost every autistic person I know, including me, is hyper aware of their own deficiencies and mortified when they make a mistake. They’ve received harsh criticism their whole lives for not being able to cosplay as normal well enough.

            It sounds like this guy wants a work wife (or a a real wife) and just… doesn’t handle rejection well. That feels WAY more likely to be a reflection of American culture / the current Tate-ian attitudes towards women that many men are being sold at the moment than just “Oh he must be autistica and harmless!”

            I’m also just tired of this behavior always being given the benefit of the doubt, it MUST be a mental illness or trauma or autism! There must be an explanation that makes him also a victim! It is so upsetting seeing harassment blamed on anything but a reflection of the values of the harasser and his entitlement to the victim of his affections.

          5. The LW*

            LW here –

            Thank you for this. I also have the autism/ADHD combo platter. There is a wide variety in neurodivergent individuals’ tendency to pick up on unspoken neurotypical social conventions, some of which are very subtle or incredibly stupid or both. But that’s not what we’re talking about here; Kevin is ignoring clearly spoken boundaries like “please ask before you bring me anything” and “no, I do not want a doughnut”, which is not okay no matter what neurodivergencies one may or may not have.

            1. Clobberin' Time*

              And isn’t it interesting how nobody ever asks if the person on the RECEIVING end of this behavior is neurotypical? No, as the lady in this scenario, it is your responsibility to have social skills for two, and above all to handle him with kid gloves. *barf*

            2. Siege*

              Even the “most” autistic person I know (I have had to end conversations with him by walking away physically because he wants to keep discussing something I don’t care about) will understand that boundary if reinforced enough. It’s really frustrating people are asking you to give Kevin grace because he might have trauma or be non-neurotypical or whatever other explanation is real, because it doesn’t matter. And, as Clobberin’ Time said, isn’t it interesting it’s your job to have social skills for two. Couldn’t possibly be connected to you being a lady-shaped person!

              Honestly, we should have a neurodiverse thread in a Saturday open thread, and talk about all the things NTs assume about us and why our behavior is pathologized rather than the underlying causes understood. Because I’m tired of hearing about how every rude person must be autistic, online and in real life both.

              1. Felis alwayshungryis*

                I’d be interested on that! I always find it weird that every annoying behaviour is followed up with ‘oh but maybe they’re neurodivergent’. Some people are just jerks (and there must be quite a lot of jerks who also happen to be autistic, but correlation doesn’t always equal causality).

              2. allathian*

                Maybe you could start that thread, if Alison doesn’t object? As a neurotypical person, I’d love to read it, if only to learn to be a better ally to ND people without bugging the NDs in my life. I know that NDs are just as unique individuals as NTs are, and what works for you may not work for someone else, but that could still be a way to learn something, maybe.

                I guess I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve never met an adult neurodivergent person who’d blame their jerky behavior on their diagnosis. But I did cut a playdate short when the other kid deliberately bit my son out of the blue when both kids were 6 and most biters have long grown out of it, and his mom just said “he’s neurodivergent, he can’t help it.” Sorry lady, it’s your job to teach him that he isn’t allowed to do that if he wants to play with other kids, or you want him to play with other kids, regardless of any diagnosis. I strongly suspect, though, that it was simply his reaction to being put in an uncomfortable situation, and given the choice, that kid would never interact with other kids at all.

          6. Julia*

            I’m not sure who “y’all” is, but I assure you it doesn’t include me, the person to whom you were replying. I assume this comment is more of a general PSA to others than a contribution to this thread, which was about food insecurity.

          7. Splendid Colors*

            I agree. Also, these stereotypes are a BIG reason why employers don’t want to hire Autistic people. If what “autism awareness” and the internet have taught them about folks like us is that we will behave disruptively and they can’t do anything about it because of the ADA, of course they’re going to find a plausible reason to hire someone else.

            Are there Autistic people who have bad social skills and a big case of entitlement? Yeah, I’ve met some at support groups. I’ve also met a lot of non-Autistic people who are rude and entitled, and Autistic people who are kind and work very hard at following even the most illogical social rules.

        2. ThatGirl*

          Meanwhile, I get annoyed at so many possible hypothetical explanations for bad behavior. Truly, I promise you I am a compassionate person. But if someone keeps stepping on my foot, I don’t care if they have terrible balance or a foot-stepping fetish, I don’t care if it’s purposeful or accidental, I just want it to stop.

          In the same vein, the LW is not asking “what might be causing this?” they are asking “how do I make this stop?”

          1. Calliope*

            I mean, fair enough, but I do care in basically all these instances because it’s usually the difference between someone being threatening or manipulative or something much more benign. It doesn’t necessarily matter here but it could – if the LW thought Kevin was sexually harassing them or trying to manipulate them into something, that calls for escalation much quicker than if it’s something more akin to stepping on someone’s foot due to balance issues.

            The issue is of course that we have literally no idea because we don’t know the guy. But I don’t think it’s irrelevant information in general.

            1. Phoenix Wright*

              There’s nothing benign about trampling over someone else’s boundaries. Kevin has been told several times to stop and he keeps refusing. No amount of hypothetical mental illnesses would make it any less worse.

              1. jasmine*

                It’s not about making it less worse. It’s about reframing a situation mentally which can be helpful for some folks.

                It’s fine if that’s not useful for you, but there’s no reason to assume that someone who’s offering an explanation is trying to invalidate the situation or make it sound like less of an issue unless they’ve indicated so.

                1. Jennifer Strange*

                  But it’s not giving the OP actionable advice and it’s completely theoretical, not actually founded within anything known to us.

                2. Siege*

                  How much more grace and kindness would you like OP to extend to Kevin so that he can keep boundary-stomping with impunity? Can you quantify that? Is your goal to have OP “reframe” the problem so that she no longer sees it as a problem because Kevin, an adult with a job, can’t help himself from boundary stomping? Because it sure sounds like that’s what you want.

                3. Phoenix Wright*

                  This is no explanation though, it’s just fanfiction. And even if it was true, it still wouldn’t change a thing. Kevin is deliberately ignoring OP’s boundaries, and that’s what matters here. Whether the root cause of his actions is a mental illness doesn’t change the fact that his behavior is aggressive and unacceptable.

                  I really see no point in doing this exercise, and it’s something that’s sadly been done in many posts. Best case scenario, he truly is neurodivergent and, while unfortunate that he feels the compulsion to act this way, he needs to stop. Worst case scenario, he is neurotypical and a jerk, in which case he would still need to stop; only this time we’ve also thrown neurodivergent people under the bus by equating mental illness with bad behavior and boundary stomping. There’s nothing to be gained about speculating about this.

                4. Appletini*

                  but there’s no reason to assume that someone who’s offering an explanation is trying to invalidate the situation

                  Here’s a reason: decades of experience in seeing these patterns arise again and again and again.

                5. jasmine*

                  @Siege Literally none. What from my comment made it seem like I want OP to extend any grace?

                  @Appletini If you assume everyone who’s offering an explanation is invalidating by default, then it’s s self fulfilling prophecy. Some people do use an explanation to invalidate but that’s far from universal.

          2. tessa*

            “I get annoyed at so many possible hypothetical explanations for bad behavior.”

            Well put, and same!

        3. ecnaseener*

          It’s about context. This is an advice blog, the comments are supposed to be focused on actionable advice for the letter-writer. I’m not saying there’s no value in trying to understand what might make Kevin act this way, but ultimately the LW didn’t ask “how can I feel less annoyed toward him” they asked “how can I get him to back off.”

          1. Julia*

            That’s true. The person who originally brought up food insecurity was not really answering the “how can I get him to back off” question. Unfortunately, the people jumping on them to say “that’s no excuse!” are also not answering that question. I’d argue the former person is at least a little closer to being helpful than the latter people.

            People love to identify “who’s the asshole” in a situation – that’s why AITA is such a popular subreddit. This community can also sometimes degenerate into that, such that when someone brings up something completely unrelated to “who’s the asshole”, people interpret it as a pronouncement on who the asshole is, and all we discuss is where blame lies. I’m always sad to see that happen, because I enjoy this excellent community otherwise.

            1. Anon for This*

              Unfortunately, the people jumping on them to say “that’s no excuse!” are also not answering that question.

              But they’re not trying to answer the question, they’re trying to stop folks from bending over backwards with hypothetical scenarios as a way of explaining away bad behavior.

        4. Annie j*

          I think because you can come up with all sorts of what if scenarios, maybe he saw a close friend starve to death and decided that that would never happen again under his watch, maybe he visited a foreign country where he saw children without food, possibly he grew up in a very large family where sharing food was expected and those who didn’t were considered rude.
          The point is, there are all kinds of explanations but ultimately the OP just wants the behaviour to stop.

          1. Lime green Pacer*

            I once met a guy at a weekend camping event who declared that he would not allow kids to go hungry. He didn’t chase kids down with food. He just made it known that he had apples for any kid who wanted one.

          2. Bee*

            If that is the case you would buy proper food. Not an iced tea. How weird. You certainly wouldn’t escalate to aggression if the person said no. If Kevin responded with aggression after a No I would be straight off to management. There’s no room in my life for manipulative and controlling men!

        5. Myrin*

          I wonder why so many people often rush in to say that an explanation is not an excuse.

          Because extremely often, it’s being used that way. If people only ever offered explanations for certain kinds of behaviour to spark an interesting philosophical debate about likelihoods and whatnot, I’d be all for it; however, that’s commonly not the case.

          And secondly, because like ecna already said above, it’s about context. When someone is behaving annoyingly towards me, by the time I seek out advice on how to deal with it, I’ll already in my head have come up with ten possible reasons for why they might be behaving that way. If the person I ask advice from then goes on to list all kinds of possible reasons themselves, that’s 1. not particularly helpful for me and 2. annoying all by itself.

          If my main goal is to get someone to stop a certain behaviour, their reasons for that behaviour are, to me, secondary. That doesn’t mean that I’m ignoring the existence of those reasons but getting them to stop doing the thing is much more important to me in that instance.

          1. Siege*

            I often have a discussion with my boss about how we communicate and how we strategize around organizational needs/goals, and it is because she is neurotypical, and I am not, and we think very differently. That’s kind of the only place I think the reason for a behavior is relevant, when it’s genuinely building communication between two people who have different styles and needs.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        Replying to someone talking about their childhood food insecurity with “that’s no excuse” seems like fundamental attribution error run amok. You also do things that annoy people and have blind spots, which I know because you’re human and the people you interact with is human. Kevin should stop, but having some compassion is actually way more likely to be effective at reducing irritation than waiting for humans to become perfect.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Of course I do things that annoy people. And I am sorry that anon, anon had childhood food trauma. But if someone says “hey, this thing you do is annoying and borders on harassment” I should apologize and stop doing it and work on my own issues, right?

            1. Jennifer Strange*

              But the advice that’s being directed to the OP isn’t actionable or helpful to them.

        2. CoveredinBees*

          But OP doesn’t have enough information about Kevin to make any use of this hypothetical reason. This is why Alison asks us to refrain from armchair diagnoses.

        3. Birb*

          A “blind spot” isn’t actively ignoring multiple requests to stop doing something, though. That’s an active choice to disregard a boundary, and hostility / slamming things is unacceptable work behavior, period.

          Framing the expectation that a plainly spoken boundary be respected as “awiting for humans to become perfect” is gross. Suggesting that the victim of this unwanted attention and aggression should have compassion and REDUCE THEIR OWN IRRITATION is victim blaming.

          I hope they don’t sacrifice any more of their own comfort for his.

    2. BatManDan*

      Interesting perspective. Never thought of it from this angle. Much sympathy for your upbringing.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        There could be a thousand very sympathetic reasons for this kind of behavior. Doesn’t make it okay.

        1. Sabine the Very Mean*

          No it doesn’t but it would change the way I thought about him as a person and would help me separate my anger toward his actions from my feelings about him as a person, for example.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Honestly, after a point, I would not give a flying flip if he grew up hungry: He’s been asked firmly to check before giving the LW food. Refusal to respect this suggests it’s more about him soothing his own anxieties than it is about being generous, and soothing him is not the LW’s responsibility.

            Also, it fails to respect that the LW is an adult who can make her own food choices, which is just insulting.

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              I agree. We all have trauma, I can be sympathetic of that to a point, but he left that point in the rearview mirror sometime around the ice tea slam. At some point your trauma, your mental illness, your ND, whatever it is just isn’t my problem – you can’t behave that way towards me and you need to work that out for yourself.

          2. Anonym*

            Yes, seeing an annoying behavior (presuming there is no more tea slamming or explanation demanding) as coming from something deeper and perhaps hard for the person can help relieve some of the irritation. OP should set whatever boundary they feel comfortable with, and can also maybe feel a little less annoyed by whatever Kevin does in response with this point of view. I find a lot of personal benefit from this approach to aggravating people when I remember to do it. Although sometimes it’s a little less compassion and more “Wow, it must suck to be you… there but for the grace…” which isn’t the nicest, but still helps.

            1. Riot Grrrl*

              I’ll admit to the same habit. I’ve had years and years (and years) of therapy. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like I can spot people’s childhood traumas and destructive coping mechanisms from a mile away. Most people truly do not realize how obvious their neuroses are. I’m like: “Oh sweetie, if you had like 6 months of therapy, you’d stop hurling yourself in front of trains like that…”

            2. Just Another Zebra*

              The problem is that OP is setting a boundary, and then Kevin is slamming iced tea all over it. I would not feel less annoyed by someone intentionally and repeatedly ignoring my clear boundaries, regardless of their motives.

              1. Me ... Just Me*

                But, I would. And, maybe the OP would be, too. I think there’s value in saying, “yes, this thing is annoying and inappropriate and you’re perfectly right to be annoyed, but that this person may be doing this because of XXX trauma, and so maybe he’s not “that super annoying guy with no issues” but “that annoying guy who does have issues that I’m not going to actively judge him on”, all with the caveat that he stop doing the annoying thing. It’s called grace and I hope to extend it far more than I’m in the need of receiving it.

                1. Just Another Zebra*

                  Maybe it’s a blind spot for me, but acts of aggression don’t warrant any grace.

                  And yes, slamming items on coworker’s desks hard enough to startle them is an act of aggression, and probably pretty triggering for some people.

                2. Calliope*

                  I don’t understand who said the OP doesn’t deserve grace. Of course they don’t have to and shouldn’t take foodnthey don’t want and they shouldn’t be harassed about it.

                3. Jennifer Strange*

                  Calliope, I think the point is that some people are putting in more effort to explain away Kevin’s behavior (based on nothing actually said in the letter) than they are to giving the OP actionable advice.

                4. Calliope*

                  I mean, Alison have the OP actionable advice. I always think it’s weird that comments are supposed to come up with totally new (?) actionable advice. One sentence saying “oh I struggled with that due to X” seems like a totally reasonable thing to say to me as possible context that may or may not apply. It doesn’t need to be the be all and end all. And honestly, if anyone deserves grace and isn’t getting it I’d say it’s the commenter who shared what was probably a painful part of their personal history.

                5. Jennifer Strange*

                  Yes, Alison gave actionable advice, but it doesn’t really help anyone if the comments section just becomes a den of hypotheticals. By that logic any letter posted on AAM can have multiple theories to explain away the bad behavior. And I don’t see how the original poster of this thread isn’t getting grace? No one attacked them, they just explained that theoreticals aren’t helpful, which is true.

              2. Currently Bill*

                I just want to say this is my favorite sentence today:

                “The problem is that OP is setting a boundary, and then Kevin is slamming iced tea all over it.”

                And I hope this grows to become a cliched office aphorism in years to come.

        2. Hannah Lee*

          There could be a thousand very sympathetic reasons for this kind of behavior. Doesn’t make it okay.

          Exactly! And consider the person they are expressing their trauma driven behavior at may, themselves, have unresolved childhood trauma around food pushing, or “food is love” or any number of other things involving abusers steamrolling over their bodily autonomy. So is it okay for person one’s trauma triggered behavior to trigger old traumas in someone else?

          Especially since “you must eat the food I’m offering you that you didn’t ask for, don’t want, have politely declined and if you REFUSE to I will take it as a personal affront and harass/verbally attack you” is not a reasonable, acceptable behavior in life, much less to inflict on your co-workers.

          1. tessa*

            Yep. I am trying to lose weight but am a consummate foodie. The LAST thing I need is a brownie in my face, especially when I have made it clear ad nauseum that I’m not interested. It would be like Kevin insisting on giving a lit cigarette to someone trying to quit smoking, or a bottle of scotch to someone in the 12 steps.

            Just stop!

    3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      This is a very generous response to this post.

      However, it’s not the feeding that’s the question here, but the refusing to accept a no.

      In your case, did you feel anxious or frustrated if people declined your offers?

      My ungenerous immediate response to this scenario was — In how many other situations is Kevin unwilling to accept a “no”? Will this just be the first in a series of interactions with LW and colleagues in which Kevin refuses to accept boundaries? Perhaps Kevin is on the spectrum and is still working out how to connect, or perhaps Kevin is gearing up for an all-out sexual harrassment suit.

      I think the answer to any of these possibilities is to put up non-negotiable boundaries and to clue management in on how he responds.

      1. Siege*

        Okay, a) I’m on the spectrum and I understand boundaries, as do most of us (reading implied social cues is not the same as a boundary), so maybe don’t generalize about us? But b), your larger point is accurate. If Kevin has been this aggressive about ignoring OP’s no, and has another colleague who feels the only way to manage his boundary-stomping is to accept his offers, at what point is he going to demand more and expect to get it? I don’t think sexual harassment is the next step necessarily, but I do think any kind of boundary-crossing like this, where it is a frequent, repeated pattern, is a problem because it’s setting Kevin up as the arbiter of the department’s social interactions, and he can’t be trusted with them.

      2. The LW*

        Hi, LW here.

        Yes, the main issue is very much the boundary-pushing/crossing. Our office is mainly female-presenting people, including myself, so it’s hard to get a read on whether his behavior is skewed based on gender. I will say that his behavior towards women seems overly solicitous, even a bit condescending sometimes, but I haven’t known him long enough to judge whether it’s “nice guy”-ish or not.

        I think my strategy here has to be to continue saying no if he continues to bring me things (which I expect will happen), ask him bluntly to stop bringing me anything at all, and bring it up with my boss if more time goes by and he’s still doing it. I do want to be able to handle it on my own, but if he doesn’t hear even the clearest “no,” then I want my boss to know about the weirdness it’s creating in the work environment, especially if he continues to get annoyed/upset when I refuse things he offers. (After I turned down the iced tea, I heard him bring it to someone else, who yelped when he did the same thing and also slammed it onto her desk, which startled her.)

        Point is, I’m not the only person in the office he does this to, and I wouldn’t find it at all surprising to know it makes my coworkers uncomfortable too.

        1. MurpMaureep*

          Hi OP! I think the fact that he’s actually doing something that could read as physical/violent with you and others raises this to the point of something to bring to your boss.

          As a manager myself, I’d definitely want to know if an employee were exhibiting this behavior with his coworkers. I’d find it concerning on a couple of levels and would not judge the person bringing it to me. While it might be possible that your manager is aware, she might not be aware how disruptive and unsettling it is (or that he’s actually startling people and slamming things on their desks!).

          1. Somebody Call a Lawyer*

            Agree, and I also wonder if LW can ask the other colleague who yelped if she’s up for taking this to the boss together with LW or separately.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          See I find it to be a pretty big red flag when men ignore a woman’s out loud stated no (it’s actually pretty rare and no, it can’t be explained by nuerodivergency. Nuerodivergent people frickin love a direct answer). If there’s an extra sign like overly solicitous and condescending (ye gods) then I definitely have “notes on Kevin” as an open file in my mind, and usually you will get more signs and flags that he’s not as clueless as you think.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Let’s put this on a big motivational poster: “Nuerodivergent people frickin love a direct answer.”

        3. Kella*

          OP, a lot of folks are saying “You don’t have to be polite or avoid making him feel bad, just keep saying no” and that’s absolutely an option here.

          But I also want to emphasize that if his constant boundary-violating behavior is upsetting to you, you don’t have to wait to see if it gets better. You can just confront him now or go to your boss about it and explain that you’ve stated your boundaries loud and clear, repeatedly, and he’s still ignoring them. It’s true that you don’t need to worry about managing his emotions in your responses to him, but you *do* get to prioritize your own emotional well being in your responses.

          I say this because I have a big sensitivity to feeling like people aren’t listening when I state something clearly, and that my safety will be at risk with this person since they may not listen to me about something that *is* really important. Having someone ignore my boundaries like this day after day would be super triggering to me. I’m not going to assume that you feel the same way, cause that’s my own personal baggage. But I wanted to allow for that possibility and encourage you to honor your feelings if you have anything similar come up.

          1. The LW*

            Thank you Kella, and yes I am the same way. The inability to respect/accept a “no” is alarming to me whatever the context – cue my icky feeling on my first day when he brought my boss a doughnut even though she told him not to bring her one.

            And yes, this has been triggering to me specifically due to my own personal history with not having boundaries respected. You’re absolutely correct that people who don’t respect “small” boundaries aren’t likely to respect “big” ones either. And in this case I’m starting to understand that this is an issue that looks like a small matter on its surface, but when I look closer, it’s actually a pretty significant and problematic pattern: Kevin is a man who on many occasions has not taken women seriously when they say “no” to things.

            I will 100% go to my boss the very next time he tries to pull this BS on me, and I’ll make sure she knows it’s only superficially about the food, the deeper issue is his refusal to respect a “no.”

            1. Kella*

              I really hope your boss listens! My hope is that the reason your boss hasn’t acted thus far is she’s only been considering how it impacts her individually and decided she could handle it, but hasn’t yet realized the degree to which this is impacted other employees or how uncomfortable it’s making some of you. Kevin needs to learn how to hear “no” regardless of whether it’s about a doughnut or something much more serious like physical safety. That’s a non-negotiable aspect of working with other humans.

            2. Zweisatz*

              That sounds like a great strategy, though I hope you won’t need it. (Chances are … you will.)

              Please update us in the future, if you feel comfortable!

            3. ShinyPenny*

              LW, I am honestly so relieved that you are on top of this whole aspect of the situation. People who demonstrate disregard for other peoples’ boundaries are not safe people to be around. They are showing you who they are, and you should believe them. I’m so glad you are not naive about this.
              This guy actually sounds pretty far along on the Creep Scale: the gender breakdown (all targets are women), the fact that it’s actually a bodily-autonomy topic (wanting women to eat the food he’s randomly decided to bring them), the escalation of hostility when he doesn’t get compliance, the frequent repetition… That’s a lot of smoke, and I’d be ready for a fire at this point.
              I’m dismayed on your behalf that your manager hasn’t shut this guy down. I’m sorry she hasn’t responded to the (very smokey) big picture here, but I’m glad *you* are seeing this situation clearly.

        4. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

          Thanks for the additional context. It does change my initial impression of what’s going on. You definitely need to talk to your manager; ultimately this shouldn’t be your problem no matter what Kevin’s motivations are.

    4. What a way to make a living*

      But he is wasting so much food! He sees people put it in the bin. He is giving people food they don’t want. Why doesn’t he give food to the many people who need it through food banks or donating to shelters or whatever?

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Agreed with your general point, though I suspect people are secretly throwing it away so that he doesn’t see it.

        1. The LW*

          LW here –

          Correct, people throw it away when he leaves.

          Not many people are in our office on a daily basis – anything that he placed in the kitchen area would likely just go to waste. I handle the mail so I’m in almost every day, but everyone else comes in less often, maybe three times a week, max.

          I’d love to assume a good motivation here, and say that he’s just trying unsuccessfully to recreate an aspect of pre-pandemic office life that he liked (bonding with coworkers by communing over food), but even if that is the case, he’s creating awkward situations by bringing it directly to me and my coworkers and putting us in the position of having to say no a lot of the time. (Or all of the time, in my case.) But I don’t know enough about him to feel confident in that.

          In light of the bottle-slamming, I’ll definitely be keeping a closer eye on him. It could be a lack of awareness on his part that actions like that can really startle people, but it could also be something worse.

      2. Zweisatz*

        Because giving food to food banks won’t get you laid. (Being sarcastic, but not necessarily joking.)

    5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think this is something to consider – because our childhoods do impact how we behave as adults. But, and I say this as kindly as possible, if this is the case this is something that Kevin should be working on privately and it is not on his coworkers to make him feel better by taking food that they don’t want/can’t eat.

    6. XF1013*

      I wondered about childhood hunger too. I grew up harshly punished for wasting food, and now decades later, it still gives me anxiety to throw away edible food or to allow edible food to rot. This causes me to act strangely about food sometimes in ways that baffle other people, even my spouse of many years. No amount of therapy has undone it.

      This doesn’t excuse Kevin’s behavior — he needs to respect boundaries, especially in a professional environment — and it shouldn’t affect OP’s actions going forward. But it may make possible some sympathy for him, since his odd behavior might not be his choice or his fault.

      Another possibility: Kevin was raised in a culture where sharing food was customary and expected, and he’s struggling to adapt to other societal expectations.

      1. tessa*

        Ignoring “no” is a choice.

        As for cultures where sharing food is an expectation, that’s different from ignoring an explicit “no.” Whether coming from a woman or a man, ignoring “no” is unkind, disrespectful, and condescending.

        It just is.

    7. Clobberin' Time*

      Why does it matter? Do we have to play Shame The OP Bingo every time someone writes in about a co-worker being an unmitigated jerk?

    8. turquoisecow*

      I don’t think it matters to OP. It’s not like “Kevin grew up hungry” means “X phrase” will magically work to get through to him and make hims stop bringing OP food where all other phrases will not. The advice doesn’t change regardless of Kevin’s reasoning.

      1. Boof*

        If it’s a small stakes issue (like, kevin takes no and feedback fine about everything except offering food, and pretty readily move on after offering, just won’t stop offering) it’s possible op could find ways to accept this as annoying but ultimately harmless quirk territory
        Boundaries are good, but also, pick your battles? Cant tell by the letter what Kevin’s tone is, this could make a big difference between annoying and intimidating behavior.

        1. Just Me*

          Feels like slamming the iced tea down and demanding an answer tell us what Kevin’s tone is.

        2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Sure, picking your battles is healthful, but when the same battle comes up again and again, then it’s a pattern and patterns are often large enough to be worth addressing.

    9. Ellis Bell*

      Wanting to feed people out of concern and slamming drink bottles onto desks don’t really sound like coexisting traits to be honest.

  4. BatManDan*

    I’ve often asked (and even more often, WANTED to ask) two distinct questions around unexpected behavior, such as we have as an example here.
    1. What response did you want to see me give to ?
    2. What response did you think you were most likely to get by ?

    For what it’s worth, my experience is that most people cannot separate the two questions as distinct from each other. Meaning, they answer the second question the same as the first, even when they have no reason to think that the odds of getting what they want are very high. I don’t know if that points out a problem in the way I’m phrasing the questions, or if it is a by-product of the sort of thinking that creates the weirdness to start with. (Meaning, if people think that what they WANT is also the MOST LIKELY outcome of their action, then of course, they are likely to indulge in it.) Would love some commentary on this, if y’all are up for it.

    1. Ann Ominous*

      I would also consider asking “what other potential outcomes might x action bring? How likely are they? What leads you to draw that conclusion?” to kind of guide them through thinking about what evidence they’re using to conclude whatever they’re concluding, and how much weight they’re putting on that evidence (for example, “I really, really want the outcome to be x” can feel like convincing evidence).

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I’ve experienced a variation of this. When my last partner asked me a question, I said no and they rephrase.
      Example: “Do you think X a valid substitute for Y?” *
      I’m looking at an article, it says they are different, so I don’t think so.
      “No I mean, “can Y be used in place of X?”
      Me: Are you still asking if X can substitute Y or did I misunderstand?
      “No, that’s what I’m asking.”
      That’s what I answered. I said no.
      “Yes, but if X has in place of it, Y do you think Y would work as X?”
      I am going to try your method, because we are still friendly. I still google. I still tell him rephrasing his question does not change my answer. I am going to use your method to see what the hell he is really asking me.

      1. Julia*

        I have a sibling who does a variation of this. I may really be projecting here, but my own opinion is that this is nothing more than an oblique technique to push past a “no”. Disrespect for boundaries comes in all sorts of packages, and some of the packages can look like confusion or miscommunication. Some people have gotten really good at continuing to push after they’re told no without making it look like that’s what they are doing. They may not even realize that’s what they are doing; they may just be responding the way they usually do to the momentary discomfort of hearing no.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I wonder if they keep rephrasing because they’re so attached to their answer, they think that if the other person “really understood”, that would be their answer, too. So they keep rephrasing and re-asking until the other person “understands” (i.e. agrees with) them.

          1. BatManDan*

            Betting this is a large part of it? Also, surprise / or a request for clarification. (common interaction for me, both in my first marriage and second marriage).
            Them: Do you want to ?
            Me: no
            Them: really?
            Me: well, in the last 1/2 second, I have completely revised my answer, so ‘yes’ /s

          2. Olivia*

            Yes! I call this “Office Space logic”. Every once in a while I experience this and then I have to laugh, because it makes me think of a great scene in Office Space.

            Usually what I experience is someone I know is either saying that they think X is good/bad or that they think X is basically the same as Y, and I say I disagree. And they try to explain it again and I’m like “Right, I got it, but I don’t agree.” Often it’s a situation where I find myself telling them, “You know, it’s okay if we don’t agree on this,” because I don’t want to spend the next hour going around in circles. At some point they say something to the effect of “I must not be explaining it right” or “let me try to explain it a different way”. And that, my friends, is Office Space logic.

            It’s been a long time since I saw the movie, but basically: the 3 protagonists are are white-collar workers at some tech or finance company. They realize that they can tinker with the code of a program so that when financial transactions are done where the math makes the exact amount of something be a fraction of a cent, they can have that fraction dumped into a separate account they make. So if someone is owed $561.723, that gets rounded down to $561.72 and then they get the .3 cents. It adds up to a lot. The main character is explaining this scheme to his girlfriend and she says that it’s stealing. He keeps going over it trying to get her to agree that it’s not stealing. “So you’re getting the money.” “Yes. But it’s less than a penny each time.” “And you’re not supposed to be getting it?” “Yes.” “So then it’s stealing.” “No wait, I must not be explaining it right.” Yeah, it was definitely stealing.

            It’s quite amusing when you realize that you’re in the middle of a scene form Office Space. But it gets annoying quickly if the other person doesn’t drop it.

          3. CPegasus*

            I often get accused of doing this when from my POV the other person’s responses really don’t indicate an understanding of my point or position and I really am trying to explain myself better and I wish I knew how to tell the difference =(

        2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          100 percent. I have also seen this in my brother. He wants to argue/debate to a win. Like there is glory in my changing my mind/giving in because he “phrased it better.”
          Dude. I know you want X. I don’t want to give you X. Why is wearing me down equal to me wanting to give X?

          1. Ann Ominous*

            “ Dude. I know you want X. I don’t want to give you X. Why is wearing me down equal to me wanting to give X?”

            If you’re willing to share: Have you ever responded this way and if so, I’m curious what his response was.

            1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

              I’m going to ask that next time. I know there will be one.
              I’ve gone as far as, “I don’t know how many times you are willing to rephrase the question, but I’m not going to change my answer. Can we stop now?”
              And then he starts with, “no, but, I just meant…” and I shut it down. Because it’s been decades and I’m old. I’m going straight up ask him next time.

        3. Splendid Colors*

          Yeah, I had this problem with my BFF’s kid brother. He was sure the reason the reason that his sister, his BIL, and I kept answering him with “nope, nobody’s going to do the work on that project for free” was that we just didn’t understand the project. Each of us ended up telling him “please stop asking” and his response was to suggest we all start following a Logic 101 podcast so we could learn how to understand him. It never occurred to him that maybe three other people are giving him the same answer because we are all reasonable adults who know how things work and we’re being honest instead of lying and then ghosting him on the project.

      2. Ann Ominous*

        Omg what in the world. I’d be like “I don’t know what this game is about but I’m not playing it any more”

        1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

          See the comment about my partner (if you want) the king of rephrasing. I finally said, “you can switch the word order all you want, but you are asking the same question and I’m going to give the same answer.”

      3. Lizy*

        My 9-year-old kid does that. A while back I started responding “ya know, just because you changed how you phrased the question doesn’t mean my answer has changed” and while he still does it, at least he stops for that question/topic

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        It sounds like conversations between teachers & children who have not yet learned the difference between “can I” and “may I”– let alone the importance of “what if I?”
        “No you may not eat the soap. I mean … you CAN put it in your mouth and bite it but you won’t like the results. Soap tastes terrible, and if you swallow it, it gives you diarrhea.”

      5. JSPA*

        I speak this language.

        Translation 1:

        “I really want to use Y, which I have here, and not have to go buy X. How bad will the outcome be? Bad enough to justify the time, money, delay, loss of momentary inspiration, resources used and effort?”

        Translation 2:

        “I really want to use Y, which is getting old and turning into waste and clutter, and was in fact the inspiration to do [whatever the thing is]. How bad will the outcome be?

        Translation 3:

        “my fingers and eyes and limited understanding of physics and chemistry all tell me that X and Y are the same, except for packaging and marketing. I trust myself more than I trust the information being put out there, unless someone can explain, at exactly the right level of complexity, how they are different.”

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I think this is probably an offshoot of a general principle in social psychology that we all think people agree with us on things at a much higher rate than they actually do.

      Here is one way it’s studied: in a large group of people, I ask them to answer questions on their preferences and opinions about issues (e.g., cake vs. pie, whether you agree that marijuana should be legal for recreational use) AND I ask them to estimate what percent of the group would agree with them on the question. So I have the actual percent of the group that agrees with whatever position and I have their estimates of what the group’s percent agreement will be.

      Very consistently, the results are that people overestimate the percent of the group that agrees with them. Like if the cake vs. pie split is 50/50, but the cake people and the pie people both believe overall that 75% of the group would agree with their preference. (E.g., I like pie and I figure 75% of the people would also choose pie, but it turns out that it’s only 50%).

      This even works as a demonstration in lectures, when the people can see all the other members of the group.

      Applied to this situation, Kevin’s belief is that receiving food treats is good and he overestimates the number of his coworkers who also appreciate it. If people accept the food (even if grudgingly or secretly throwing it out later), this confirms his belief in his mind.

      1. Blisskrieg*

        Aha! Cake vs. pie people always get me riled up :) I like pie, I respect pie, but I will never understand family members who want pie for birthdays. The answer is always CAKE!

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I feel the same way, but in reverse. I will certainly eat and enjoy cake, but when I get to choose, it’s pie all the way, baybeeee.

    4. Boop*

      I love these questions, and they are quite a good exercise. In my head, Kevin’s truthful answer to #1 might be “I wanted you to reject my offering of food so I can indulge in feeling unappreciated and hard done by”. But who is going to admit THAT out loud?

    5. Irish Teacher*

      I don’t think you are phrasing the question poorly or anything. I think a lot of people DO equate those two things. If you say you think a particular person will win an election, people will often assume you support that person and WANT them to win the election. Um, no, the party I support has like 4% support. I am pretty sure they are NOT going to get an overall majority (though they ARE a minor coalition partner in our current government). Similarly with a match: people tend to treat “who are you supporting?” and “who do you think will win?” as the same question. It seems like a lot of people work on the premise that “I think x should happen and everybody thinks like me, therefore x will happen.”

    6. hbc*

      I think a more leading version of your questions is reasonable here. “Kevin, I’ve told you that I’ll reject all food offerings unless I’m asked first. We both know that I’m not taking it, right?”

      Chances are good that he’ll either agree (in which case any future responses can be even more curt*), or that he’ll share his logic about why today might be different and maaaaybe there’s a more productive conversation.

      *”Same as usual, Kevin.” “Always no.” “See previous twenty responses.”
      **Kevin: “But I feel bad going past you without offering you the food.” OP: “Seriously, I feel bad having to turn you down every time. It would be a kindness not to make me reject you so often.”

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’d make a slight edit to that final comment: “It would be a kindness to make me stop having to reject YOUR OFFER so often.’
        Because it is a problem when people see those two as the same. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a family member who believes food is love to the point their feelings are hurt when a diabetic turns down their cookie/cake/etc.

        1. Appletini*

          This is a VERY important detail. Good catch.

          I’m sure I’m not the only one with a family member who believes food is love to the point their feelings are hurt when a diabetic turns down their cookie/cake/etc.

          Centuries ago in my youth I was that family member, and had to learn to get over it, and I did. And I still had more couth than to argue with someone for turning down the food — I just Felt Sad until I stopped wasting energy Feeling Sad.

  5. Someone Else's Boss*

    How odd! I’m trying to imagine how I would react if someone came to me to complain that one of my employees brought them unsolicited food. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine but given how much complaining I deal with regularly, I would probably put this in the bucket of “non-problem” since he’s not forcing you to eat the food or acting upset when you decline. I would still talk to him about it, but I wouldn’t be especially concerned.

    Allison’s advice is great, and I don’t want to be a backseat driver, but if you wanted to say something softer I think you could tell him that you appreciate the gesture, but since there are so many things you can’t eat, you’d rather he stop bringing you food since it makes you feel bad to say no so often. A reasonable person would have already stopped bugging you in this way, but even a people pleaser should stop if you explicitly tell them the thing they think is helpful is actually a pain.

    1. jane's nemesis*

      She’s tried the softer messaging already. And he IS acting upset when she declines – at least once, he was badgering her about why she said no, indicating it bothered him that she wouldn’t take the unwanted iced tea.

      1. Anonym*

        I think OP could also try some variant of No + “it’s always going to be a no from me, so you can just skip me in the future”. Sort of in between a million simple Nos and a firmer line.

        It’s tempting to tell him that the most effective way to get people to like you is to respect their wishes, but Kevin sounds like a can of worms since he’s not taking on more basic information.

      2. yala*

        Honestly, THAT’S the thing that makes me kinda feel like maybe she should talk to her boss? Not necessarily to Do Something About It, but because this is giving some “Weird, may escalate” vibes to me, and in that case wouldn’t it be better to make sure that the boss is aware of the issue? (Not just that he brings food people don’t want etc, but that he’s specifically badgering OP over it, and getting upset over a rejection)

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think I’d have some followup questions. “What about this is making you uncomfortable?” “Have you tried telling him to stop?” “What motivated you to come to me about this?”

      Because yeah I don’t want to get involved in interpersonal issues – but if an employee feels like they’re boundaries are being pushed or ignored I can coach them through how to handle that. Getting involved myself would feel like a big overstep (hence the final question) but if I can help give language or strategies to deal with odd social dynamics I think that’s still a form of professional development I can help people with. Work relationships are part of work after all.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Honestly I think at this point it’s time to bring it to the boss. You’ve told him no, he’s getting upset at people (and visibly upset too) who tell him no, and he’s doing it to the boss as well.

        Most people would hear a NO and stop – for whatever reason this guy isn’t willing to hear NO. At a certain point if you’ve tried and can’t get the guy to listen to you and respect your boundaries, it’s okay to ask the manager for help.

        1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

          Exactly. The background is the unsolicited food, but the complaint to the boss is (and this is how I would start out the discussion) “When I politely said no to Kevin after he offered me some food, he blew up…”

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        To be clear at a certain point if THAT didn’t work I’d step in myself but my first instinct with this kind of thing is to give people tools to handle it themselves.

        1. Managing to get by*

          If someone told me another employee kept bringing them food they didn’t want, then I’d advise them to refuse the food and explain they don’t want unsolicited food offers.

          If that same person then told me that they have been telling this person no, several times, then I would have a conversation with the food bringer and tell them that not taking no for an answer is VERY concerning, regardless of intent and subject.

          I think not respecting another employee giving a very specific “no” to a very specific situation is concerning and a management problem.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            This is also where I land. Were I the manager, I’d care about this not because snacks are a big deal, but because dude got told no repeatedly and hasn’t stopped. That’s bizarre, unreasonable of him, and at this point, disruptive.

      3. Ann Ominous*

        Are you saying you’d ask those things now, at this point? It seems strangely invalidating. Is his aggressive response to being told no not enough on its face?

        “What about this is making you uncomfortable?”

        – the fact that he got aggressive when I told him no.

        “Have you tried telling him to stop?”

        – yes, many times and so have others

        “What motivated you to come to me about this?”

        – the fact that he slammed an unwanted tea on my desk and demanded I explain my refusal.

      4. Ceiswyn*

        I would regard it as a red flag about *you* if I told you that someone was repeatedly ignoring my clearly saying ‘no’, and you needed to ask why that’s a problem.

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          I would definitely hear “What motivated you to come to me about this?” as a passive aggressive way of saying “You should be able to handle this yourself” and it wouldn’t inspire me to ever bring anything to my boss ever.

          1. ceiswyn*

            I can just imagine the conversation about sexual harassment.

            “Joe keeps touching me after I’ve told him not to!”
            “And why does that bother you?”

    3. Two Chairs, One to Go*

      I don’t think OP should say they feel bad about saying no so often. She shouldn’t have to manage his feelings.

      And he did act upset when she declined the iced tea.

      1. Triplestep*

        I don’t see how saying she feels bad saying no is managing *his* feelings. If the message is “you think you’re being nice bringing me food, but your actions are causing me to feel bad because I keep having to say no”, then she’s clearly telling him that his actions are having the opposite effect than he intended. It’s up to him to decide what to do with that information, but since he presumably thinks his actions make him “nice”, learning they make him “not nice” should make an impression.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          It’s not managing his feelings but it’s definitely overemphasizing his feelings. OP he doesn’t care how he’s making you feel, you don’t owe him worry over hurt feelings. Just have a bored, rote, “no” prepared whenever he offers. Not even no thank you, just no. Full sentence. Go back to what you were doing and ignore him.

        2. A More Brilliant Orange*

          “Nice guys” are often passive-aggressive men. They use niceness as a tool to manipulate others.

          I warned my daughter to watch out for guys that were overly nice.

        3. Ellis Bell*

          Okay but we don’t know what his intentions are! Maybe his intentions are to be a nice guy and listen to what people want and he just keeps getting amnesia about what OP has directly said she wants, and that he agreed to! Or maybe his intentions are to be a “NiceGuy TM” and all he wants is performative smiling and a feeling of obligation from OP to be outwardly polite and grateful. There are plenty of guys out there who won’t give a crap about OP’s genuine feelings, or right to say nope! They think it’s a given that she should follow their lead, and expect that she behaves a certain way towards them. There’s a very good chance that if she says “it makes me feel bad to say no” he’ll just respond with “yeah, that’s because you shouldn’t say no to me, it’s rude”.

          1. A More Brilliant Orange*

            Regardless if he is forgetful or doing it on purpose, when a woman tells him no that should be the end of it.

            It’s not the end of it with Kevin. Combine that with his aggressive behavior of slamming the bottle on the table, and I’m less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt of being a nice guy with a poor memory.

          2. Triplestep*

            You’re right, we don’t know what his intentions are. He could totally trying to be “NiceGuy TM”, or he could be one of those people who weilds power by repeating an unwanted behavior that – on the surface – seems so nice that the recipient would have to be unreasonable to complain about it.

            I keep coming back to the LW not wanting to get off on the wrong foot at this new workplace. She’s getting a lot of advice that she doesn’t need to take care of his feelings, don’t need to be nice about after the first few times etc. And she doesn’t. But the person who is wielding power as I described above has more to gain when the target of his unwanted “niceness” comes across as overreacting.

    4. Siege*

      I mean, I would not describe “slamming a big bottle of iced tea down and demanding to know why OP doesn’t want this food” as “not acting upset”, personally. That’s aggressive, and it should be treated like any other aggression in the workplace: it should not be allowed. Worse, it’s unreasonably aggressive. This isn’t a heated comment in a high-stress situation, it is Kevin angry that OP is rejecting whatever overture he thinks he’s making. It is also a situation where at least one other person feels she has to accept the overture and cannot verbally turn him down.

      You SHOULD, if you were Kevin’s manager, consider those things problems. They are. Your staff cannot terrorize their coworkers with doughnuts any more than they can with fists.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Maybe he needs some coaching, but you are absolutely correct. I would definitely want my manager to step in if she knew about this. And if I were a manager who knew about this, I would have a word with Kevin.

        Also, I wonder how his work is getting done if he’s out getting food and then running around offering it to everyone.

        1. Boundaries, people*

          I mean, plenty of people do lunch runs and maintain their productivity. The issue isn’t that he’s bringing the letter writer food, it’s that he’s ignoring her when she says she doesn’t want him to.

      2. Hannah Lee*

        I once had a co-worker get aggressively angry at me over shared food in the office. He’d brought in a giant jar of half sour pickles from his favorite NY deli. I didn’t work closely with him, but we’d exchange hellos if we passed in the hall. He passed by my department when I was the only on there, and offered me one. I declined first, saying I’d never had them and wasn’t sure if I’d like them, but he insisted, then went on his way.
        Turned out I really didn’t like it (I’d tried a small slice) and offered it to my two co-workers when they came back to their desks and they were very happy. He came by to see how I liked it, saw them enjoying pieces and got really really angry at me. “I gave that TO YOU!! It wasn’t for you to share!!!” It was kind of scary, I had no idea what his problem was and how to handle it, so I just gave him a wide berth from then on, dealt with him only if there was a work-specific thing that needed doing.

        I was a 20-something female clerical worker, he was a 50 something engineer who was respected technically, but a combative know-it-all mansplainer, one-up-er in his interactions with other engineers and very dismissive of people he thought were beneath him intellectually. I think his take on the power dynamic (age, gender, position) made him imagine he had some dominion over me (he did not) and a couple of friends could not let go of the symbolism of him being furious that I didn’t want his pickle.

        If he had pulled stuff with me more than once, I’m not sure how I would have handled it … at the time I was very insecure about asserting myself, was a very go-along-to-get along person (hence taking food I didn’t want in the first place) And even knowing he was being an unreasonable jerk, I might not have raised the issue and instead just avoided him. But my insecurity did not excuse his glassbowlery.

    5. Office Lobster DJ*

      I don’t know, it does sound like he’s getting upset. The iced tea slamming and request/demand for further explanation sounds like it came AFTER the OP already told him not to bring anything else unsolicited.

      Not that I think it would help OP to go to the manager, but for a different reason – the manager (and other co-workers) seem to be in the same situation! Either they can’t stop him or don’t see it as a problem.

      OP, keep saying “no thanks” and let go of any feelings of rudeness or guilt that you’re turning down a nice gesture….because it’s not particularly nice of him to override your no. If you think it would help and he does seem well-meaning, I really like Alison’s last script.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yeah, Kevin’s behavior with the iced tea reminds me strongly of the guys on online dating sites who, when I politely turned them down after they expressed interest in a date, demanded to know why not, and if I gave them a reason, threw tantrums and started verbally abusing me.

    6. Triplestep*

      This is good advice. I have a very restricted diet due to health reasons and I just don’t like to talk about it. Mentioning it will typically elicit a response that is well-meant but sounds a lot like pity. Lots of people can’t imagine giving up their favorite foods, and at one time I could not either, but I am used to it now. So I’d really rather not have to decline so much, and if someone keeps bringing me things I can’t eat that’s exactly what happens.

      Presumably people who give food think they are doing this to be nice, so discovering it’s causing the recipient to feel bad by having to repeatedly decline *should* have some impact.

    7. ABCYaBye*

      If an employee came to me as a manager and complained that Kevin got them the wrong donut or that he said two sugars instead of three in my coffee order, that’s not something I want to engage in. But in this case, it is a persistent issue AND the LW has asked him (both kindly and very directly) to stop AND the LW has a medical issue that requires more strict diet adherence. This is a problem that needs to be addressed.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed – to me this is a boundary issue more than a food issue. And it sounds like he’s doing this to the boss as well – so boss should be aware of it (at least superficially) as it’s happening to them as well.

        1. nonegiven*

          I think him bringing the wrong doughnut the first time, was a boundary thing, too. He’ll bring her something, but something he wants her to have not what she asked for.

    8. Sparkles McFadden*

      Nope, you can’t soften things up for people like this. They ignore the “no” part and read something into everything around the word no. If LW softens the “no” with an explanation, the guy will think “She said she appreciated it when I offered her a brownie but not the iced tea, so I will get her another brownie.” LW should just stick with a polite “no” and go back to working even if he’s still talking.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        There’s a piece of me that would make one of those signs on a stick, that says “No thanks, Kevin” and on the other side says “I said No” and if she sees him heading her way with food/beverages just hold it up without looking at him and flip it to the other side if he persists. Every objection he has, just flip it to one side, then the other.

        Because for me, having to speak up and repeatedly say “no” to someone like this actually takes a little bit out of me each time. The physical and emotional process of speaking the words is hard for me. And leaves me feeling drained and distressed. Having a sign I could just dispassionately display instead of summoning the energy to keep declining him might make it easier.

        (I’m thinking something like 2 paper plates or index cards taped to a pencil … nothing fancy just… one and done)

        1. The LW*

          LW here –

          Thanks for that image of flipping the sign at him, it made me laugh! It would likely come across too harsh and maybe even escalate the situation, but even just thinking about it is pretty cathartic.

          I get what you mean though. Knowing that he doesn’t respect/accept the “no” is pretty distressing to me, no matter the reason he’s doing it, and having had to say no so many times definitely compounds that feeling.

          1. Just Me*

            The lack of respect for your boundaries and wishes (especially about something personal like food) are what you should bring up to your boss. This isn’t really about the doughnut or the tea, it’s about respecting your colleagues.

    9. So Tired*

      OK, but why do you think OP should give a softer response? She has told him repeatedly that she does not want the food he is bringing, and has explicitly asked him to stop bringing things without asking her first. OP has no obligation to soften her response and does not need to manage Kevin’s feelings for him. She has told him repeatedly to stop and he refuses, the time for soft messaging has passed.

      Also, you said he’s not acting upset when she declines, but OP referenced a time when she did not accept an iced tea he brought her, and he slammed the bottle down loudly and demanded to know why she’d rejected it. That’s definitely not in line with “not acting upset” and actually seems like a very aggressive reaction to a minor rejection.

    10. ACL*

      I don’t think the real issue is that he’s bringing her food.

      It’s that she has asked him to stop doing a certain behavior, and not only has he not stopped, he’s gotten upset with her for asking him to stop (the iced tea incident).

      So take out the fact that this particular situation involves food and just look at it as Kevin is doing something that LW has asked him not to do, and it is something that has nothing to do with their jobs.

      1. Adultier adult*

        This is it- I am a manager- If this were brought to me, I would not be discussing food; rather, I would be discussing a co worker who is bothering another coworker. It has already moved beyond food

    11. Clobberin' Time*

      If one of your employees was slamming down a ‘gift’ on another employee’s desk and demanding to know why they wouldn’t accept it, you would see that as a “non-problem” and tell them to just ask in a softer way?


      1. Appletini*

        Yeah, I was also pretty shocked by that estimation. Is such a deliberate use of anger being treated as a “non-problem” because the person taking it is male and men are allowed/expected to get angry? If a coworker acted so aggressive towards me, especially a coworker with a physical advantage in strength and the historical backing of society to invoke violence in ways I’m not allowed to, and my boss dismissed it as a “non-problem”, I’d be pretty dismayed as well as worried.

    12. Me ... Just Me*

      Maybe I’m 1. too blunt 2. too “helpful” — but if I saw a co-worker awkwardly doing something that annoyed me in an effort to be liked, I’d likely just let him know that it wasn’t something that was going to work for me. Along the lines, “I don’t like when people bring me food unsolicited, so I’m always going to say “No” to you. You seem like a really nice person, and I think it will be great for us to work together on work projects, but some people just don’t like these kinds of treats. If you’re into watching super-hero movies, I’m always up for a discussion about the next Marvel movie coming out, though.”

      1. Princesss Sparklepony*

        Considering that Kevin can’t take no for an answer, giving this much verbiage is just encouraging different harassment. He’ll just switch to different gifts or constantly bombarding her with superhero memes. Or something equally annoying. Best course of action is to shut it down with a No, thanks that morphs into a flat No if it continues.

        It’s sort of a If You Give a Mouse Cookie type of situation. Maybe if Kevin takes the No and stops with the food gifts you can go back to chit chat but until he starts respecting boundaries, you got to make and keep those boundaries tight.

    13. Ellis Bell*

      He is forcing the food on her though and being really unacceptable about her declining it. That’s what the issue is, not generally unsolicited food. There’s always extra food in offices, usually people get to decide for themselves if they want it!

    14. Splendid Colors*

      OK, there’s a fair amount of plausible deniability in merely “offering unsolicited food” although once it gets to “brings food after specifically being asked not to” we’re getting into “does not respect boundaries” territory. Still on the subtle side for most people.

      But did you overlook the part about Kevin slamming a drink bottle on her desk and demanding to know why she didn’t want it? And then doing the same thing to another employee? That is past “upset when you decline” and into “hostile and alarming when you decline.”

      If you were my boss and you thought it was fine for my coworkers to slam stuff on my desk I would go to HR and/or start looking for a new job.

  6. Just another queer reader*

    I recently learned that a boundary is not asking someone else to do something; it’s your own actions in a certain situation.

    In any case, Alison’s wording is great, and your boundary will be saying no to every single food item Kevin brings you.

    Best of luck. This person sounds exhausting, and I hope he learns soon that this is not how to interact with people.

    1. C in the Hood*

      Or, just saying to Kevin: “The next time you bring me food without asking me first, it’s going right in the garbage.” Then do it.
      This may *sound* mean, but he is not respecting your “no”.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I hate throwing away food, so if he left something on my desk I’d probably just move it to his desk (if that’s an option).

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          This is what I’m wondering about. How would Kevin react if everything got moved to his desk?

      2. Lils*

        I agree, just put it in the garbage. I might say to Kevin: “Please stop leaving food in my cubicle/on my desk” as you are throwing it away.

        One thing to consider is how much emotional energy you’re putting into these interactions. If you can think of this as the most boring, slight annoyance in your day, it will be easier. Similar to, say, pushing in a chair in the breakroom or picking up a piece of trash someone dropped in the office.

  7. Two Chairs, One to Go*

    OP, please do not blame yourself for his weird behavior! You didn’t open the floodgates. He’s the type of person who would have brought you a donut anyway on your first day – you even said he brought his boss a donut when she said no. This is legitimately bizarre that he does it to multiple people in the office. Use Alison’s scripts and give us an update on how it goes!

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This. OP thinks she is asking, “someone is acting rudely toward me. How can I respond without being rude?” but it is really asking, “how do I get someone to do something they don’t want to do and make them happy about it?”
      Because, “no thank you” is not rude.
      It is just not effective in this case.
      OP does not have to be rude in return for rudeness.
      OP has to to blunt. “No. Stop.” If recipient of bluntness is offended, OP has to live with that.
      Which sucks, but it’s better to rip the band-off than peel it a bit each day:
      “here’s a donut” “here’s an iced tea”

  8. Sassenach*

    I think I would start setting everything he brings me in the kitchen for anyone to take. I would probably also just say “Thanks! I will set this in the kitchen to see if anyone would like to have it or you can take it there.”

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        The hope would probably be that he’d cut it out because LW isn’t actually accepting any of the food, so he’s not getting what he wants from the situation.

        1. tessa*

          But he is doing the same thing to other people.

          How is only the LW refusing going to speak for them?

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            I don’t think LW should speak for the coworkers unless there is some sort of discussion. It’s not really her responsibility to fix this for everyone. Getting Kevin to stop bugging her is a win.

          2. Zweisatz*

            If there’s somebody who should be worried about stopping it for everyone it’s management, not OP.

    1. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Interesting idea, but I would just tell Kevin no, but to take it to the kitchen himself. If the OP states they will do so, Kevin will continue to bring food to them and then they would have to be responsible for moving it or disposing of it. It shouldn’t have to be the OP doing this for Kevin, plus it opens up Kevin to think it’s okay to keep bringing OP food.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        This is beyond what OP can do alone, but I wonder how Kevin might respond to having a designated communal spot for food to share, backed up by a chorus of voices telling him “No thanks, but why don’t you leave it in the kitchen for whoever wants it.”

    2. MicroManagered*

      I like this idea except for thanking him.

      Change it to: “You know I asked you not to do this anymore. I will set this in the kitchen to see if anyone would like to have it or you can take it there.”

      1. ENFP in Texas*

        “You know I asked you not to do this anymore. You should set this in the kitchen to see if anyone would like to have it.”

        Don’t participate – he needs to stop.

  9. Velomont*

    Could this, if it went on long enough, be seen as some form of harassments, regardless of how many others are recipients of the behaviour?

    1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

      Continuing an unnecessary behavior toward someone after they have asked you multiple times to stop is unequivocally harassment. Whether it’s legally actionable, or meets a threshold for the employer to intervene, is another question.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In the colloquial sense, definitely. In the legal sense, no — it would need to be based on a protected characteristic like race, gender, religion, etc. If he were doing this to someone who he believed had an eating disorder, for example, that could be legally harassment (disability is a protected class) but otherwise he seems to be an equally opportunity offender and thus is not harassment in the legal sense.

        1. Ann Ominous*

          Does him doing this to a person who he knows has a food-exacerbated medical condition also qualify? Or would he have to be doing something specifically targeted at what he believed her condition to be, like bringing gluten to a person with celiac disease or milk to a lactose-intolerant person?

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          If he does this only with/to women and not men does that change the response?

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Legal harassment is defined as: Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy), national origin, older age (beginning at age 40), disability, or genetic information (including family medical history).

      If you can’t point to any of those reasons then it’s not harassment in the legal sense.

      * Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA).

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I’m trying not to go down the rabbit hole of “is he directing his largesse toward women only?” because maybe the office, or his team IS all women, and that changes things. He’s harrassing (is that not a word?) each coworker equally, they happen to be women. He maybe be basing his actions on a demented syllogism, like: “women like snacks! my coworkers are women! therefore, I will give them snacks!”
        It’s not a gender thing, it’s an annoying coworker thing.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          One r that’s probably why harassing was getting red lined for you (I assume from your comment).

          I agree that even if this is targeted at women it probably doesn’t meet the bar for legal harassment. It’s annoying as hell though and he needs to knock it off.

          1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

            Thank you. My autocorrect suggested adding apostrophe S at the end. I was staring at that, like, thanks for the help. I’ll try real people!

        2. RVA Cat*

          There is a gendered element in that Kevin is ignoring boundaries many women have about accepting drinks etc. from men for safety reasons.

            1. Just Me*

              I once had a male co-worker (in an office) hand me a drink at lunch and say “I made you the Cosby special”. So please tell me more about how men and drinks being a safety issue only happens in bars and clubs?

  10. Falling Diphthong*

    He’s so clueless that his overtures just have the opposite effect.
    This is sad, and not the first time the column has addressed the dynamic. (I remember someone who filled in at a pub quiz one night and went off on “Only nerds know that! Nerd!” for every. single. answer. They had discovered a thing and now it would be deployed at level 11 in every context; they were puzzled that the regular team never asked them back.) Because the person is bad at understanding other people, trying to explain how they are off-kilter is really only going to work from a close friend they’re ready to listen to, or a therapist. There’s not enough trust and vulnerability with the hapless bystanders they are trying to connect to, and failing.

    I appreciate that Alison drew out details about the context (he’s pushing food on the whole office; the boss knows; OP is new) that color the appropriate response.

    1. MistOrMister*

      I have a coworker who was apparently so tickled by a humorous comment I made once, that it stuck in his head as something to repeat all the time. Especially if he joined a conversayion with someone new. He would say, I remember one day you said X. And he was just tickled pink every time. The first time it was amusing. But my goodness did it get old!!! He is a very nice guy so I just smiled and let it go and would move the converation along but I alwats wondered how he could bring it up constantly and not realize it wasn’t really amusing any more.

      1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        Sigh. I was that annoying person when I was younger – I just couldn’t read the room and know when I was thoroughly annoying people with a joke that was long dead.

        I outgrew it. Mostly.

      2. AbruptPenguin*

        Oh that is painful! Reminds me of the scene from Parks & Rec where Ben says “Calcu-later!” at the end of an interview at an accounting firm, and the boss thinks it’s so hilarious, he makes him go around to a bunch of different offices and repeat it.

    2. Nesprin*

      That was how I was reading it- “Why doesn’t anyone appreciate how nice I am?!?”

      It might be worth considering redirecting his frustrating efforts- “Hey Kevin, I know how you’re trying to be nice with the food, could you instead handle task A for me?” or “Hey Kevin, it’s so nice of you to bring food- why don’t you put it in the kitchen and everyone can grab when they have a minute?”

      1. Hannah Lee*

        “Why doesn’t anyone appreciate how nice I am?!?”

        Because the answer to that question is “because you are not being nice. Stop doing that”

        This is well beyond “Kevin is awkward with people-ing because of ‘reasons’ ” and far into “Kevin is annoying people and gets upset when he can’t control them”

  11. Moo*

    ugh… so annoying
    I hate having to explain stuff like food intolerances – it’s never enough! I usually find if they won’t except ‘no’, then they don’t except any explanation either.

    Not that you should have to, but I wonder would suggesting a different course of action work with him – like “No thanks – maybe leave it in the breakroom and someone else might take it”

  12. ABCYaBye*

    This is very odd behavior. I wonder if talking to some other coworkers and getting everyone else on board might help reinforce the message, too. It also might be worth letting Kevin know that you do really like him and appreciate him and bringing food isn’t at all necessary. Going out of your way to show kindness in a different way might help him feel less inclined to feel like he has to “buy” that.

      1. Maggie*

        But he’s behaving in a totally unacceptable way. And does OP “like” him? I certainly wouldn’t… and I wouldn’t tell someone who was being inappropriate and annoying that I like them and they’re accepted

        1. ABCYaBye*

          Not trying to read too far into this, but it really reminds me of a classmate I had way back when. He didn’t have understanding of how to interact socially the same way we all did. I don’t know if it was upbringing or there was something else going on. But we tried to include him where we could, acknowledge that we were “friends” (just on a very surface level like, yeah we’re buddies…) and generally acknowledge his existence.

          Could it be that Kevin is just inappropriate? Sure. But it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that there’s something that is preventing Kevin from getting the message and simply letting him know that he’s part of the team and doesn’t need to bring people food for that to be true might be a kindness that could be extended. And it could be a message communicated directly through the manager, too, and not by the individual coworkers.

      2. Office Lobster DJ*

        “Just make the guy feel he’s accepted” comes too close to putting the responsibility for Kevin’s inappropriate behavior on OP for me.

        1. Hannah Lee*


          This is the workplace. It is not OP’s job, responsibility to bridge fundamental emotional maturity, EQ gaps in her co-workers’ behavior.

          OP has tried to “help” Kevin see the light that he needs to stop, and tried a soft, friendly approach and an explain-y approach and Kevin is still doing the exact dnm thing, and escalating a bit by slamming food down when she failed to consume it as he wished. What would be considered over-the-line for Kevin to do before he’s responsible for his own actions and ability to do his job without annoying and harassing his co-workers about things that have nothing to do with work?

          “oh, LW, you and your colleagues should just do the work to make him feel he’s accepted and that you like him” a form of victim blaming, because a logical take away from that line of thinking is that *if only* LW had previously said “No thank you Kevin, please stop” in just the right, perfect way, all will be well and Kevin would have stopped already, so it’s LW’s fault that he hasn’t and that it’s just a matter of saying no the right way and LW has to keep trying to find the magic key to Kevin’s super special heart. Meanwhile, Kevin just goes on as Kevin pleases.

          1. jasmine*

            I feel like the comments section is interpreting things pretty harshly today.

            ABC said that communicating that Kevin is appreciated might stop him from doing something that is bothering OP. Clearly the motivation behind this suggestion is to address a problem OP is dealing with. It does not follow “well if you don’t do that then his behavior is your fault.” I don’t think the suggestion itself is a good idea because I doubt it’ll work (and I’m also a bit more skeptical of Kevin’s intentions) but this is not victim blaming.

            1. Just Me*

              It is victim blaming to suggest the victim pretend to have positive feelings for the perpetrator as a solution to the problem the perpetrator created.

              Kevin’s feelings are not LW’s responsibility, and LW does not need to ignore her discomfort to make Kevin more comfortable.

          2. The LW*

            All of this, thank you.

            I do not, in fact, like Kevin at all. I am civil and respectful because we work together; I quickly complete his work-related requests and politely answer work-related questions. I don’t know how it is where everyone else works, but I have never felt “accepted” at a job. But as far as I know, I’ve never made that anyone else’s problem, because to me, work is not the place to seek out that kind of emotional validation, and I’ve made my peace with that. I get my real emotional fulfillment elsewhere. Pleasant interactions at work with work friends? Absolutely. Letting them vent a little bit every so often about their terrible weekend? Sure. But it is not my responsibility to do emotional labor to make Kevin feel “accepted,” or to therapize him by trying to get to the bottom of this food-pushing behavior. I already have a job, and I don’t need another one, especially one I wouldn’t get paid to do.

            After a few bad experiences in the past, I now keep my work life and my personal life almost 100% separate. And Kevin is not someone I would ever *choose* to have in my life. If the way that I act with him, including saying no to food he offers, reflects that emotional distance and he doesn’t like that, it’s not my problem.

            1. TransmascJourno*

              LW, you shouldn’t have had to explain this in the first place, but you are a total BAMF.

            2. allathian*

              Yes, exactly.

              I don’t think you should have to do any more emotional labor related to Kevin, and I really hope you can get him to stop bugging you with the food gifts and all the other inappropriate behavior, but given your manager’s behavior, I’m afraid that it seems unlikely.

              Frankly, the Ice Tea Tantrum was scary, and I hope that even your coworkers and manager, who seem to be okay with him bringing food to them regardless of whether they want it or not, realize that his behavior crossed a line there. But their response could just as easily be “accept what he brings and he won’t be aggressive,” which is just blaming the victim.

              That said, maybe the simplest solution to all of it would be to do as everyone else in your office is doing, that is just accept whatever he brings and then simply throw it away. The important thing is to be as deadpan, even cold when you accept his offering, and never look him in the eye or thank him as you do so. “Oh sure, just leave it there on my desk.” He’s looking for gestures of appreciation from you, and if you can manage to avoid giving him that, it’ll be less rewarding for him.

              I hate the idea of wasting food like that, but if he won’t take no for an answer, I rather doubt you can win this fight, given that your manager refuses to deal with him.

            3. Princesss Sparklepony*

              LW – absolutely agree. Wish there was a like button, but then I’d want to push that button more than once.

    1. Colette*

      I wouldn’t want to tell someone I like them after they have acted violently around me (slamming the iced tea down) – and I don’t think anyone should do that.

      1. Colette*

        And to add to this – it is not the job of coworkers to make someone feel liked, and no one is entitled to get friendship/romance from coworkers. You need to be civil with your coworkers, nothing more. (It’s nice when you are friendly or friends with coworkers, of course! But no one is owed that, especially when it’s someone who ignores boundaries.)

        1. Maggie*

          Especially since he’s acting particularly unlikeable! I wouldn’t like this person. Maybe he needs to learn to stop this inappropriate behavior rather than effusively accepted when he’s the one in the wrong

        2. ABCYaBye*

          I’m not at all suggesting that anyone is entitled to anything specifically and that the LW should befriend Kevin. More just thinking in general that there are people out there who work really hard to get some sort of outward sign of acceptance. Kevin may be one of those people who doesn’t have the same social understanding as most do and feels like this is the way to make friends or build bonds. Naming the issue may help his understanding. And doing something as simple as walking past his cubicle, smiling and saying good morning would be helpful in him understanding that he’s accepted as part of the team.

          1. Colette*

            It might be helpful for Kevin, but … why is Kevin (and his acceptance) your concern, instead of the OP? How likely is that telling Kevin you like him and accept him will result in him backing off rather than escalating to a new level of harassment?

            1. ABCYaBye*

              My concern is for the OP and I’m not tying to blame them at all. They’ve replied upthread and it sounds like it is more than just Kevin not knowing societal norms and trying awkwardly to fit in. I just wondered if Kevin’s lack of tact and understanding was more than him being a jerk… there’s sometimes more than meets the eye.

              1. Colette*

                It’s entirely possible that he’s not trying to be a jerk and that he’s trying to be friendly, but … it doesn’t matter why he’s doing it, it matters that he has been asked to stop and he hasn’t stopped. He’s not a jerk because he’s bringing her food, he’s a jerk because he’s not respecting her boundaries. And that’s true no matter why he’s doing it.

                1. jasmine*

                  I think you’re misunderstanding what ABC is trying to say. This isn’t about Kevin. They’re saying that based on their interpretation of events and Kevin’s motivation, if OP does X then Kevin will stop the behavior that OP finds upsetting. Their suggestion is given with *OP’s best interest” in mind. The fact that it’s nice for Kevin is a side effect, not the primary motivation.

                  Correct me if I’m wrong here ABC, but the reason ABC is talking about Kevin’s motivation is because you asked why we should believe being nice will de-escalate his behavior. Kevin’s motivations matter very much when we’re considering whether that’s an effective plan for OP.

                  I don’t agree that being nicer to Kevin is an effective approach. But I think y’all are really misreading intent (not Kevin’s intent, but the intent of some of the commentators).

                2. Colette*

                  @Jasmine – I understand what ABC is trying to say, and that many people default to placating people who are acting inappropriately – but that reinforces the behaviour, and puts the burden on stopping the behaviour on the wrong person. It’s the wrong approach.

              2. tessa*

                It doesn’t matter why Kevin is motivated to ignore “no.”

                What does matter is that he is willfully ignoring “no,” and, worse, showing anger when OP declines the food he brings her. It needs to stop, yesterday, no matter the cause. It is not his coworkers’ responsibility to make mental room for “why.”

                I really don’t understand why that is so difficult to grasp.

          2. Ellis Bell*

            There is sometimes some benefit in extra warmth and kindness when you first set a boundary someone might find disappointing. But I would say you should reserve that kind of treatment for people who understand the word no (which is almost everyone). As in, the first time you say “Hey, I don’t take lunch with colleagues because I love reading instead”, there’s some value in assuming they aren’t going to be a jerk about it. This is not that.

          3. nonegiven*

            I’m pretty sure this guy knows he tramples people’s boundaries. He’s doing it on purpose and it seems carefully crafted so on the surface it looks like he is just a nice guy, unless it’s your boundaries. LW, his first act was making you eat the wrong doughnut.

      2. Miss Muffet*

        Yep, and I am not sure we know for sure the gender of the OP but I think it seems we are mostly assuming it’s Female, and I wonder to what extent we would be advising men to just make him feel accepted so he stops acting this way. The hard boundaries Alison suggests are straight out of “The Gift of Fear” and if y’all haven’t read it yet, get on it.

    2. c-*

      I’m afraid in this case Kevin would read LW’s niceness as a reward for his bad behaviour. The LW already tried being nice about rejecting the food and it didn’t work. Plus, it’s not the LW’s job to coddle a grown man’s feelings about his inability to stop harassing coworkers. I’d go with polite distance and scrupulously professional behaviour, not increased closeness.

      1. Siege*

        Strong shades of “if you didn’t aggravate him he wouldn’t hit you.”

        And, of course, OP has clarified that she doesn’t like him.

    3. Yes*

      I like this. Kindness is never misplaced, and can generate really unexpected (and welcome) outcomes. It’s good to keep saying no to the food, and not tolerating ice tea being slammed on your desk, but general kindness might help.

      1. Appletini*

        I have seen some pretty awful examples of people’s kindness being rewarded with terrible behavior, up to assault of various sorts.

        LW does not need to add coddling Kevin to her job duties (and I think people wouldn’t ask her to if she were explicitly a he), and “being nice” after objecting to having a bottle slammed on one’s desk is going to look like taking back the objection. If I were LW I would be professionally polite but not friendly. Kevin has not earned friendship by his behavior, but the opposite.

      2. allathian*

        Not with people like Kevin. I’m not saying that the LW should be downright nasty to Kevin, but there’s no need to be extra friendly to him.

  13. WellRed*

    When Kevin asked what he should avoid bringing you might have been a good time to just say no. He probably wouldn’t have listened still…

    1. What a way to make a living*

      It sounds like LW did say no then? If I’m reading the letter right, they said it is a long list so best not to bring stuff without asking.

    2. WellRed*

      I guess I’m just thinking to someone like Kevin, anything other than NO invites room to assume if only he brings the right thing it’s ok.

      1. Appletini*

        That’s true, but this situation is unfortunately how LW learned Kevin is like this — she didn’t know back then.

  14. to varying degrees*

    OMG, I had a Kevin. She would continually bring me food, unsolicited and unwanted ($7 – $10 range, never asked for money though). I told her very nicely, not so nicely and then very direct to stop. I got our supervisor involved so she started bringing the food with a “Don’t tell supervisor :)” . One day, after bringing yet another unwanted, uneaten lunch, I lost it and my tone made her cry. Not my finest moment but I was done. We’re talking weeks of this happening.

    Good luck and you have my utmost understanding.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is so much why I was like, stop, Not Tom, not a gender thing (see above). Just an awkward human thing. I have a coworker to a lesser degree who will, “I’m going to X, do you want something?” I stopped accepting because she would not take money. Same with catalogs/online shopping. “there is a great deal at Macy’s we can all order this sweater for $X!” Ok.
      then, I’ll just pay for them all.
      So I just say no to anything.

    2. tessa*

      I so hear this. It gets to the point that the people who should manage people pleasers refuse and you just lose your cool because there is nowhere else to go. Same happened to me and I didn’t get into trouble but none of the bosses reigned her in. So, so, so glad to be out of that place.

  15. c-*

    I’m sensing a gender pattern here: in the letter, the people Kevin brings food to all appear to be women (boss & coworker, and I think the LW sounds female as well); or, at least, the first unwanted offers go to women.

    If that’s true, he’s pushing women’s boundaries constantly and gets angry or annoyed when they say no. Seems like PUA/Nice Guy TM behaviour to me, or something along those lines.

    My advice, LW: be on your guard with this dude. Tell him in no uncertain terms to stop with the food and document that you told him. Keep rejecting any and all gifts, but leave some documentation of the situation (like a written log with dates and a description of the interactions, especially when you tell him no). Just in case he escalates sometime, it’s a good idea to start keeping a record.

    My guess is that he will try to make you feel guilty and rude and like he’s an innocent woodland creature who’s just trying to be nice. Don’t fall for that, he’s the one being a jerk.

    Also keep an eye out for other sexist behaviour coming from this dude, just in case. I.e.: taking credit for your work, dismissing your contributions, undermining you in meetings…

    He’s the problem, not you.

    1. Shhhh*

      I was wondering that too, but without knowing for sure that the LW is a woman, we don’t really know if there’s a gender dynamic at play. Your advice isn’t bad, we just don’t know.

      1. c-*

        I may be wrong, it’s just, my sexist-BS senses are tingling HARD. I hope the LW will take what’s useful advice for them and disregard what doesn’t apply (and in my experience, documentation never goes amiss when plain talking it out won’t fix a problem).

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      I hate that this is where my mind was going, but there you are.

      I would have very specific and unbreachable boundaries around anything that was not work related, and all of my guard hairs would be raised even then.

      Maybe I’d be able to do a hard “No thanks. Please don’t offer me food.” and pair it with a social pleasantry a couple of times, but if it kept happening, I’d be documenting.

      Sometimes it sucks being a woman.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        And part of the documenting might need to be, the next time he brings unasked for food, beverages, to put the “As we’ve discussed before, do not bring food or beverages to me again. I do not want them. I will not accept them.” and cc Kevin’s supervisor and your supervisor, with a comment “I’m cc’ing Sansa and Arya as an FYI”

        So it’s clear you’re not asking the supervisors to take action, but you want them to know this is an ongoing issue that is easily (and potentially already) resolved simply by Kevin not bringing food or beverages to LW again.

        1. tessa*

          I love this. Written documentation, with bosses copied so that they’re aware.

          Good comment, Hannah Lee.

      2. MurpMaureep*

        I’ve said this elsewhere but as a manager I would find this behavior concerning and would absolutely want to know it was happening…and I’d find it especially so given the potential gender dynamics dynamics involved. The guy is pushing women into awkward situations, steamrolling over the boundaries they have tried to set, and escalating to aggressive, physical actions. Above the LW indicated that this was happening with multiple women, including the slamming of the bottle (!?!?).

    3. E*

      I’m glad someone brought this up! Without knowing the gender of LW I definitely got the vibes of a man who doesn’t understand the word NO and I found that a bit scary. He can’t even accept a no on something so small as rejecting a good offer I’d shudder to think what else he doesn’t listen to.

      1. c-*

        Yeah, the tea-slamming has my hackles way up. That’s not okay, and IMHO it should be brought to the boss’ attention. I understand LW’s caution, what with being new, but…

          1. Appletini*

            Truth. And it feels like a cheese grater to see so many commenters defending his behavior, because men who act this way always find defenders. The same old awful pattern once again.

    4. PotsPansTeapots*

      Yeah, this is where my brain went, too. I think (contra Alison) that going to the boss should potentially be on the table since this kind of boundary crossing usually escalates and rarely ends well.

      1. c-*

        You’re right! But it’s worrying that Kevin is also doing this to the boss and she doesn’t appear to be putting a stop to it.

    5. Foley*

      OMG I had exactly the same thought as dating apps are full of these guys (pushing unwanted things on women and being upset when their ‘Nice Guy TM’ gestures aren’t accepted). I’ve never experienced this behavior in any other context, but see how it could be some bigger patriarchal/sexist pattern.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah. ‘But you have to be nice to me, I’ve done all these [“nice” things that you neither asked for or wanted] for you!’ Ugh.

  16. Traveling Nerd*

    As a manager, since this has happened a ton, I would want to know! This is something that I would want to coach Kevin on

    1. Ann Ominous*

      Same here! If one of my folks was being this weirdly pushy, I would want to know – this isn’t normal interpersonal weirdness. This is boundary-pushing weirdness, and that doesn’t belong on my team.

    2. KRM*

      Yes! OP has ALREADY said no multiple times, so I think this rises to a “take to your manager” level. If it were me I would say to my manager “Kevin keeps offering me food, even when I have repeatedly said no and asked him to stop bringing me food I didn’t ask for. He’s even gotten angry at me for refusing things he’s brought (which is why I’m taking this to you). I am very uncomfortable with Kevin and this situation and I need you to bring it up with him because he’s not taking my “no” seriously”.

    3. PotsPansTeapots*

      Yeah, if it’s a pervasive problem, I think it does rise to talking to your manager. This man is ignoring people’s boundaries and occasionally throws tantrums when he hears no.

    4. Betty*

      I actually think the fact that LW has seen it happen to her manager is a good opening to bring it up — “By the way, this is sort of an awkward question, but can I ask how you respond when Kevin tries to push food on you that you don’t want? I’ve told him not to bring me things without asking first, but that hasn’t seemed to resolve it.” (Ideally this could be at the end of some other one on one, and fairly near to when it’s occurred– “he brought me a donut yesterday and seemed a bit upset that I didn’t take it”)

      1. Just a thought*

        I like this idea of acknowledging that the supervisor has dealt with this as well and asking her how she handles it. It tells you how much of and issue it is for the boss and allows you to express your frustration/concern without it being an outright complaint.

      2. Ann Ominous*

        “He slammed a tea on my desk and demanded I explain why I was saying no” would work also.

  17. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I never eat in front of others (there’s a long history there). At one place there was a coworker who got it into her head that I had to be forced to eat regularly for my own good and would buy food, put it on my desk and tell me I had to take it. She’d get upset when I said no.

    Eventually I had a little quiet word with her after a day at work to say ‘look, I know you think you’re being helpful but this HAS to stop. Now’. There were a few ‘I’m being nice!’ comments but I basically said I expected to find my desk free of food or drink in the morning.

    There was some grumbling and our boss did have to step in and also tell her to stop bothering me every day and that ‘no’ is the end of a discussion. But she complied and we got on quite well for several years after.

  18. I should really pick a name*

    I was actually kind of relieved when the letter writer said Kevin brings the food to other people too.
    It’s a case of “coworker is ridiculous” as opposed to “coworker is weirdly focused on me” which, while not great, is better.

  19. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    This doesn’t sound to me like a need to be liked, this sounds to me like a power play. I’ve worked with the person who does unsolicited favors, the kind that you didn’t want but it seems rude to turn down once they have already done it.

    It almost always ends eventually with some sort of “you owe me” situation blatant or implied. This is a person who is racking up “points” in his mind to use later if he needs/wants it.

  20. BlackBellamy*

    Ask him to eat it. Say “That brownie you just brought, can you eat it?” “No, no, no don’t give it to Susan, just eat it right here.” That’s probably not great advice for the OP but my strategy has always been to put the weird right back on them.

    1. Ann Ominous*

      Can you say more about what you mean? Are you suggesting ‘be randomly weird around food right back to him’ as a tactic?

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        If I’m reading this correctly, Black Bellamy’s suggestion is that when Kevin brings some food stuff, OP should say “oh, no thanks, you should have it.” Basically anything Kevin says after that would get a similar response, that he should be the one to eat whatever it is he brought.

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        I get the impression BlackBellamy is saying that OP should try to show Kevin how it feels to have someone push unwanted food on him. Taste of his own brownie/medicine.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        The vibe I got sort of implies there’s something unsafe about eating it? Like making sure he’d be willing to eat the thing he’s pushing on others? But I’m not sure if that’s what the person who wrote it meant.

      4. Caramel & Cheddar*

        I think this is the Captain Awkward concept of “return awkward to sender,” which I can’t find a precise definition for on her blog but saw her describe in a tweet as making it “more embarrassing to BE an asshole than to challenge [the person being weird and sucking out all your energy]. To make the assholes bear at least some the costs of what they do.”

        So in this case, Kevin is being super weird in continually asking LW if they want random food, and LW can return awkward to sender by suggesting Kevin eat all his random food himself. Let him sit with the weird feelings of someone trying to force unwanted food on you.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Yup! Right now, LW is the one feeling awkward about all of this. And we often try to handle those situations without making the other person feel awkward or hurt their feelings. But there’s really nothing wrong with letting Kevin feel the awkwardness.

  21. LiberryPie*

    I think being new actually makes it easier to talk to your boss. You don’t need to ask her to get involved, just ask her advice. She may say “He’s been told to stop, let me know if he does it again.” or she may say “Yeah, I’ve let that slide but feel free to try being firmer with him.” or “I’ve learned he will react ok to something really firm and direct.” You’re still learning the dynamics of the department, and it really takes time to do that, so I would not feel bad asking her! She may have useful advice on how to handle him. Or her answer might show that she’s ineffectual as a boss. Regardless it will help you get the lay of the land.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This is a good point. A new employee can’t be expected to know all the Kevins and Ferguses right off the bat.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. OP should just ask her boss about it. There’s no reason not to. Even though she says Kevin did the same thing to her manager with the donut, that doesn’t mean the manager knows it’s a problem throughout the office. If I were the manager, I’d want to know this is going on so I can address with the person. I wouldn’t want people to feel like they have to constantly be confronted with food they don’t want.

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I really like this point. Asking for advice on the team’s social dynamics isn’t the same thing as trying to get the boss to solve the problem for you.

    4. Lizzo*

      Also, it wouldn’t hurt to loop your boss in now about a) the fact that this is happening, and b) what you’ve done thus far to try and get it to stop. If Kevin has ulterior motives that aren’t just “wanting to be liked”, you bringing it up now, OP, gives you the opportunity to set the narrative here.

      I had a similar situation within my first month at a new job, and didn’t tell my boss because the person who was bothering me was someone she was close friends with. Ultimately, instead of him getting scolded for being inappropriate (e.g. trying to talk to me about p*rn (?!?!) over company chat), I was fired because I was “rude” to other colleagues (for setting boundaries). I have no doubt it was the p*rn guy who told my boss I was rude.

      Get ahead of the issue so that you have a chance to present yourself as the more mature person here, OP.

    5. Eyes Kiwami*

      Yeah I was really surprised to see the opposite suggested. OP has tried to handle this on their own and it hasn’t worked. Doesn’t it make more sense that a new worker would bring lots of questions to their boss, and an experienced worker would be able to handle more things on their own?

    1. PollyQ*

      He sure as hell isn’t slamming bottles of iced tea down on their desks, I guaran-fricken-tee.

  22. Ness*

    Once a coworker brought sodas to me and a few other coworkers while we were working outside on a hot day, which was appreciated. He asked me what my favorite soda was, and I told him (Dr. Pepper).

    Several times after that, he would leave a Dr. Pepper on my desk while I was away. He worked a few cubicles away from me, and I think he must have intentionally timed it to get me a soda while I was gone, which I found kinda creepy.

  23. intrawebz*

    Maybe I’ve been on the internet too long but my first thought was that it could be some type of fetish.

      1. The LW*

        LW here –

        Unfortunately, my brain works in a similar way and this has occurred to me, despite never having read the Reddit thread in question. Thankfully I know this explanation is very very unlikely, even if Kevin does have some vibes like that. (No shame to those who are into feedism, so long as you’re not involving anyone else w/o their knowledge or consent.)

        Most of the foods he brings in are very sweet/fattening but I think that may have more to do with his own flavor preferences. It’s definitely weird that he can’t take the “no’s” that he’s gotten but I know from experience no good can come of letting my imagination run wild, lol.

  24. Over It*

    No additional advice, but I once went through something kind of similar! I worked somewhere where a volunteer group met once a week in the common space right outside my office. They always had chocolate, which I like, but one volunteer was so pushy about making sure I always took some. If I left the office getting chocolate, he’d yell “EXCUSE ME, WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!?” and point to the bowl. Sometimes I had to explain I was going to the bathroom and would get some when I returned to my office, but he’d never forget to remind me on my way back. Other times he’d chastise me for not taking enough in his opinion. I never thought to say anything because I do like chocolate, but his pushiness was very strange and uncomfortable. Didn’t stop until I left the job. Don’t miss that.

    1. Anonym*

      That is so strange. Was it one of those where a person decides “this is our thing, haha” and does it a million miles past where it’s cute? It sounds a bit more sinister than that, honestly.

      1. Over It*

        Your assessment is spot-on! He also mentioned he loved sweets but could no longer eat them for health reasons (I think he said he was diabetic, I don’t remember), so he wanted others to eat chocolate so he could enjoy it vicariously. Which doesn’t seem enjoyable to me. And it was just so over the top. Luckily the rest of the volunteers were more ambivalent about my chocolate consumption habits.

        1. JustaTech*

          Oh man, we had a security guard at my old job like that; he was always pushing the Jolly Ranchers on folks, to the point that he would come up into the offices (he sat at the front desk) and leave candy on the lunch table.
          He gave me the serious creeps (in a “would you like some candy little girl?” kind of way) but I thought I was overreacting until my boss noticed the candy and sort of joked that maybe it was poisoned. I figured if the security guy was creeping out my dude boss then it wasn’t just me and the guy was fully creepy.
          None of us felt like we had standing to say anything to building management, but we were all thrilled when he got moved to another building and his replacement was a very reasonable person.

  25. Ann Ominous*

    Alison, I think the slamming the tea on the desk and demanding to know why she doesn’t want it justifies it being brought up to the boss.

    It sounds like an escalation in response to being told no, when apparently at least one other person just takes the path of least resistance, accepts the food, and later pitches it. This makes me think there’s a risk Kevin will escalate if LW continues with the refusals or goes toward professionally confronting him.

    Makes me worry about safety.

    1. Ann Ominous*

      Following up to expand on a point – it sounds like the other folks in the office perhaps just accept Kevin’s offers even though they don’t want them. He is a missing stair that they all work around!

      LW would be disrupting that dynamic by pushing back (continuing to say no, asking why he’s continuing to push unwanted food items despite multiple requests not to, plus alluding to a medical condition). It is very appropriate for her to push back and I would do the same; just expanding on why I think she should tell her boss.

      My impression is that:

      – he is used to getting his way

      – he doesn’t like not getting his way

      – he is willing to escalate to physical violence (not quite violence … what’s one step down from violence?) as evidenced by slamming the tea on LW’s desk.

      – he feels entitled to know why someone is refusing him as evidenced by his demands for LW to explain her refusal. This is scarier given that it comes right on the heels of his slamming the tea on her desk.

      It’s not that the slamming the tea is so big and scary on its own (I’m in the military, violence doesn’t scare me in and of itself) – it’s that this is a decent sized step outside cultural office norms. When boundary-pushing is combined with violence, that’s when it is very appropriate to get someone else involved.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this–slamming stuff is . . . not OK. It’s a really weird and inappropriately vehement response to a very reasonable request.

      1. irene adler*

        Yeah, that would be the line crossed that sends me straight to the boss to insist on an intervention. Because the “food pushers” trigger a lot of buttons in me. So I might overreact. And I know that won’t help office relations one bit.

        I will manage my food needs. No outside assistance is needed. Or wanted. I flat-out don’t understand this need to feed others and the offense folks take when their offerings are refused.

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Agreed Ann Ominous. The slamming down the iced tea and demanding to know what LW doesn’t want it takes this from “annoying, but probably harmless” to something more concerning. Especially when LW has made it clear there is a medical concern involved, so he’s pressuring LW to reveal more information about their health than they might want to.

      I am not as blase as you about physical aggression like slamming down a bottle. (To be clear, not saying that either of us is right or wrong about this!). That kind of behaviour from someone I’m required to be in the same general space in would make me very uncomfortable.

      1. Ann Ominous*

        I think we are on the same page when it comes to violence. Regardless of one’s own personal comfort level with aggression, it has zero place in the workplace.

        1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          Absolutely. Whether it causes specific distress to someone or not, just don’t do it.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        The evil sysadmin part of me wants to pour the drinks on his shoes when he gets that insistent.

        But the part of me that respects our cleaning staff know sticky floors are not a fun cleanup job.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I am at that stage where I feel uncomfortable- maybe nothing will happen but I am seeing caution flags.

      To add to AO’s list, OP, you have told him five times. How many more times are you supposed to tell him? It appears to me there are no magic words that will seal the deal.

      I think your plan of one more time and you get a cohort and approach the boss is right on target. Be sure to mention the slamming. Be sure to say that you have told him what to-do, such as ask you first also. I think you have done enough to try to get a handle on the situation and it’s time to involve the boss. No need to allow this to go on and on.

  26. Dr. Rebecca*

    Seeing as how I have some foods where I have to handle them with gloves and clean/disinfect any surface they’ve touched before I can touch it, I would escalate, because unwanted/un-vetted food is a very real safety risk for me. I hope the LW’s food restrictions aren’t as severe.

  27. Not A Manager*

    I think you can soften the perceived harshness of Alison’s scripts by adding a few more words and making it sound more conversational. “Hey, Kevin, I explained to you that I literally can’t eat a lot of different foods and that’s why you shouldn’t bring them to me. But you keep doing it. What’s going on?”

    He will probably say that he hopes to guess correctly, or that “obviously” certain things like iced tea are completely innocuous. Then I think you can restate your position more firmly. “Thanks, Kevin. I need to be clear with you that my food requirements are very particular, I don’t want to discuss them at work, and I don’t want you to keep guessing what I might be able to eat. I know you mean it kindly, but will you please stop bringing me food? No exceptions.”

    1. Lils*

      I like this, but don’t phrase it as a question. Say “I know you mean it kindly, but stop bringing me food.”

    2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      I see where you’re coming from, asking Kevin to reflect on why he’s behaving this way. It could work or it could totally backfire by turning this into a conversation/problem-solving session/debate, when what the LW really wants is for him to just stop.

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      “If you really mean to be kind, you will listen to what I am saying and quit bringing me food items.”

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Being kind is about how the other person feels. If what you’re doing is not making the other person feel good about it, then it’s not nice.

    4. cosmicgorilla*

      His behavior has gone beyond the need for kindness. Sometimes “perceived” harshness and bluntness is needed because someone consistently ignores conversational and softened words.

      Softening the message in this way reads as a very cis-female, “please like me! Don’t hate l’il ol me for setting these eensie-weensie barriers!”

      Softening is good for the first or maaaybe the second time the message is delivered, but at this point, there is no need for soft.

  28. onyxzinnia*

    It sounds like his love language is gifts but he definitely should be respecting your boundaries. That really sucks that you keep having to tell him no.

    I wonder if it’s possible to redirect this gifting energy towards the general office instead of one particular person. So instead of getting an unasked for donut for a single person, he can get a box and leave it in the breakroom for whoever wants one.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m not a huge fan of this strategy. I think he needs to be completely shut down, not given another avenue to let this ‘energy’ out. He’s not respecting his coworkers and he’s being aggressive about it. He needs to learn self-control, not be accommodated.

    2. Dr. Rebecca*

      Fair point, but I don’t think anyone should be bringing love languages in to work. I mean, imagine if it were touch. ewwwwww.

  29. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    Kevin’s behaviour has crossed the line from weird to disturbing (slamming the bottle back on your desk and demanding to know why you didn’t want it? excuse me?). I would personally bring this up to your boss during your next scheduled meeting/1-2-1. You can say you have done your best to push back and have kept saying “no” but it’s still happening and it’s not just you. It might also help if you talk to your other coworkers about Kevin (since he’s doing this to other people, not just you) and get a group together to address this with your boss.

    1. Long winded and fed up*

      I agree. He’s making coworkers uncomfortable with his actions and demands. I’m surprised that it’s being suggested that the letter writer should not talk to her boss. Other posters above commented that now is the right time to ask her manager about it since she’s new to the group, and I agree.

      1. Kella*

        I think alison’s logic behind not talking to the boss was that the boss knows about the problem already and apparently hasn’t done anything about it. But I do think it’s possible that the boss may have made the mistake of deciding that *she* was okay with dealing with it on her own, and would act differently if she knew Kevin was actively making so many other people uncomfortable. So I’m also in favor of talking to the boss.

  30. Nora*

    I’ve had this same problem, a coworker once saw me eating a bagel at my desk and proceeded to leave a bagel on my desk every single morning for more than a month. He got into the office earlier than me and so it would just be sitting on my desk when I got in with no opportunity for me to say no. I would pick up the bagel with a napkin and put it on his desk and tell him I did not want it but that never stopped him.

    I did eventually have to go to our manager to ask her to ask him to stop, and apparently he was doing the same thing to her as well. Thankfully (?!?!?!?!?) he was also making casual inappropriate comments about race and politics and religion as well so she talked to him about his behavior in general

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Why am I not surprised.
      I bet there are other problems with OP’s cohort also. This type of thing doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

  31. Justhadtoshare*

    This reminds me of a situation we had with a customer several years ago at a former job. An older male customer would always bring food treats when visiting our location (and other businesses as well). It’s notable that in the majority of cases the treat recipients were female, generally younger than him. The treats were things like store bought cupcakes, etc. which were generally clearly not fresh. At first our boss would say thank you and quietly dispose of them after he left, but eventually she started saying no thanks as she was concerned that he was spending money on what was essentially trash. We all told him no, which frustrated him to no end. It made him angry-he was just trying to be nice! This made my boss feel bad for him, until I pointed out that if was truly trying to be nice he wouldn’t continue to try to force food on us that we hadn’t asked for. It made me feel icky, and I couldn’t quite define why, but it felt aggressive.

    Later the customer began to display signs of dementia. I think his last food gift was a loaf of moldy bread. Unfortunately, this led to a placement into a lock-down unit. Seemed extreme until we learned that he had a very disturbing history. He had years before abused and murdered his wife, in front of his children. He had a history of aggressive behavior with women. He had been living in hoarder conditions, making the food he brought us unsafe.

    Am I saying that the coworker in this case is abusive? Not at all. This was an extreme example. But someone just trying to be nice doesn’t trample all over boundaries and get butt-hurt when you (politely) say no. Do not back down. Not wanting an unsolicited gift is not impolite. Trust your gut.

    1. Miss Muffet*

      “just being nice” “why don’t girls ever like nice guys” “can’t you take a compliment” –> all things that are used to just push right through women’s boundaries, to negate their “nos”, to make them feel like they have to tell the guy, no no – it’s not that, i’m so sorry I offended you, please don’t take it that way….
      “No” is a complete sentence.

    2. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

      Yes! It’s very important to trust your gut.

      And wow, that’s terrifying! I’m glad you were all okay.

    3. Kella*

      Holy moly, that’s terrifying.

      But yes, when this kind of boundary-violating behavior happens on a “small” scale, it’s important not to dismiss it out of hand because such behavior can easily be part of a larger pattern of boundary violations in contexts that “matter” more or have more lasting impact on the recipient. These behaviors rarely exist purely in isolation.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Truly nice people don’t manipulate/force you into accepting a gift you do not want, OP. Truly nice people try to figure out what you do want OR they just treat you pleasantly and in a helpful matter when asked. That’s what nice people do.

  32. MistOrMister*

    I feel sorry for Kevin. It must be awful to be so desperate for people to like you that your actions to make them like you actually end up driving them away. That being said, what he is doing is ridiculous. It would still be a bit annoying if he was just good naturedly offering things and not getting offended when he’s turned down. But demanding to know why people won’t take things from him AND getting an attitude about it is where he loses me. That’s not acceptable.

  33. Optimistic Prime*

    I am petty enough to make a sign that says, “Do NOT bring me any food” and then hold it up every time he asks or have it on the wall and point to it. But that’s just me :)

  34. AceyAceyAcey*

    What about just asking where he’s coming from on this? Yeah it’s more work LW shouldn’t have to do, but maybe it will get to the root of it. Example script: “Hey I’ve asked you a few times to stop offering me food, but you keep doing it. What’s up with that?” If he does admit to wanting to be liked, LW could reassure him that they like other aspects of his personality. Someone else mentioned this might be due to a past food insecurity issue, and if so then getting it out into the open might help LW to be more accepting of this annoying quirk, or might help him see it’s not needed here. And even just asking might get him to stop.

    1. Appletini*

      This would make sense to do if they were friends, but LW does not need to invest this amount of energy into a coworker’s psyche. Especially not as a woman dealing with a man in the workplace.

    2. Siege*

      If asking him to stop hasn’t gotten him to stop, why do you think asking to understand why he wants to do this will? And why do you think that OP should be more accepting of this boundary-stomping behavior?

    3. Lizzo*

      It’s a nice thought, but I don’t think Kevin is capable of this level of self-awareness and self-assessment, based on his inability to take “no” for an answer from OP.

  35. Bucky Barnes*

    Alison, I always appreciate when you say something will probably feel rude but isn’t. Thank you for this!

  36. A More Brilliant Orange*

    This is passive-aggressive behavior.

    Being “nice” and then becoming angry when their niceness isn’t reciprocated a trademark “nice guy” passive-aggressive move. He portrays himself as the wronged victim who is only trying to be nice.

    The person wondering what else he might become angry about in the future when someone tells him no is on the right track.

    I’ve read several books on this subject (“No More Mr. Nice Guy” by Robert Glover, “Why Men Are the Way They Are” by Warren Farrell, “Living With the Passive-Aggressive Man” by Scott Wetzler, “Passive-Aggressiveness: Theory and Practice” edited by Richard Parsons & Robert Wicks). No, I’m not an expert, but I have taken some time to read up on the subject. Kevin is described in all these books.

    Nice guys are not nice. They are largely passive-aggressive men who use the nice-guy persona to manipulate people. They sneak around the edges instead of asking what they want.

    1. Olivia*

      This is so well said. A gift given with expectation isn’t a gift, and if people are going to get angry with you about it, then it was always about them and trying to get something they wanted to begin with. And as something done to curry favor, that’s exactly what it is.

  37. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Reminded me of something that I experienced this weekend. Was sitting with two neighbours who had bought three dessert things. I accepted their kind offer of half of two of the desserts. The neighbour with whom I was splitting things kept trying to get me to eat one of her halves. I said no politely a couple of times, no, I don’t want to have 1 1/2 desserts, no thank you. But she kept pushing until I just let out an irritated, moderately loud, forceful “NO.” And she stopped.

    I was a little shocked by my behaviour, I almost never raise my voice to anyone and try to diffuse things with humour. But I was so annoyed that it just came out. And you know what? I regret nothing. It got her to stop and, surprisingly, there was no lingering awkwardness.

    Have also had some recent success with “you’re making it weird.”

    1. allathian*

      Could this be cultural? In some cultures, it’s considered rude to accept the first offer of anything no matter how hungry or thirsty you are, accepting the second time is okay only if you really want it, and accepting the third offer is the polite thing to do. Members of cultures like that won’t take no for an answer until you’ve said it three times, which people who expect their refusals to be taken seriously the first time often find very annoying. Similarly, people who expect to be offered something three times will feel a bit out of sorts when their first refusal is taken seriously and they don’t get a second or third offer.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        That is a fair point, though I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. The neighbour and I are both from the country where we live (Canada), though have different cultural heritage. She’s generally a bit pushy. I also refused politely more than three times.

        But you are absolutely right that we all bring different cultural expectations into interactions like this.

      2. Bubba*

        My husband’s culture is like that. When he first moved to the US he would get offered coffee or something at someone’s home and say no, then wonder why he wasn’t asked again because he really wanted coffee!

  38. Kevin is scary*

    Slamming down the iced tea is very aggressive, hostile and way outside of workplace norms and I would bring in the manager based on that. You don’t want to normalize this. At. All. No softening and thinking Kevin just wants to be liked. This is over the top.

    1. PollyQ*

      Yes, once angry demands with a side of violence (yes, I know, it’s not like he actually hit anyone, but slamming objects is a red flag) come into play, it looks a lot more like an attempt to control than an attempt to please.

  39. aona*

    I have a relative who does this. I also have food sensitivities which I have explained to this relative. They have also witnessed what happens to me when I eat something I shouldn’t – they know I could end up in the emergency room. It has not stopped them from pushing food on me or getting offended when I say no.

    Recognizing that there is absolutely no logic behind my relative’s actions and seeing this as an emotional need has helped me deal with my annoyance with them. It doesn’t stop the behavior from being annoying but it prevents me from snapping at them even though I really want to.

    This is a personal relationship so my approach is different. I just take the food and throw it away later. I think Allison’s advice is good for the professional relationship.

  40. LawBee*

    Honestly. How annoying. Next time, take the whatever, look him in the eye and say “I didn’t ask for this and I do not want it, stop wasting your money on buying me food that I will just throw out” and throw it away in front of him.

    Repeat ad infinitum.

  41. thelettermegan*

    I have a rather bleak view of people who push food on others in the office – they are doing it to hide their own incompetence on the job, and when I encounter a food pusher I tell them so immediately. I’m a stress eater and consistent offers of sugary treats is damaging to my health and happiness.

    I will indulge in food stuffs on special occasions, and I’ve brought in homemade or special treats myself, but I’ve always announced it in a single chat announcement to the general group. I appreciate the ability to anonymously decline food and expect others appreciate it as well.

    1. LawBee*

      I don’t see the connection between food pushing and being bad at their job. Is that what you tell them? How does that generally go?

      1. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

        Yeah, same. I’ve offered homemade goodies to other people in person, I understand and try to remember if they’re allergic/don’t do sweets, I’ve been a consistent top performer in every job I’ve held. There’s no correlation; it’s just a pet aggravation.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “I know I won’t do well based on my own merits. So I must do something to make sure everyone likes me and overlooks my lousy work. Oh! I know. I will bring them all food. They will think of me as that nice guy who brings food and then they will like me and I don’t have to worry about my lousy work effort.”

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Or something along the lines of, the thing that makes them a food pusher is the same thing that makes them bad at their job. Unwillingness to read social cues, perserverating on side issues, thinking more about food/gifts than about work, etc.

  42. Aphra*

    I’ve recently read a book about the Teacup Poisoner, a teenage murderer here in the UK in the 1960’s and 1970’s which may be influencing my view of Kevin in this situation but anyone insisting I eat or drink something they’ve brought me despite repeated refusals wouldn’t qualify for sensitive handling from me. Like other posters, I have life-threatening allergy and I’m not prepared to risk my health to pacify a weird colleague’s failure to take ‘no’ for an answer.

  43. PollyQ*

    I wonder if naming the larger issue would be helpful, e.g., “Kevin, could you do me the courtesy of hearing my ‘No?’ I feel very disrespected when I ask you to stop bringing me food but you keep doing it anyway.”

    Yes, it sounds a little brusque, but it seems like this is the fundamental point Kevin isn’t getting.

    1. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

      I think that would actually be helpful, assuming that Kevin’s behavior is a severe lack of social skills and not him being unbalanced.

  44. JSPA*

    “Ask me first” is “maybe yes.” Start by canceling that out, clearly in one way or another. And name the pattern, and that it’s bad.

    “I was being polite the first day when I said yes to a donut, and being polite when I said ‘please ask first,’ but the real answer is “no.” We know each other well enough now for me to say “no” clearly, and for you to hear and belive my “no,” and for you to override whatever mother bird reaction makes you try to drop food into your coworkers, even when they clearly refuse it.”

    “Listen, I know there are some cultures where people are polite about food by saying no a few times, even when they mean yes. But my no means no. No matter how well-meaning, it’s a bad boundary-pushing move to treat a person’s no as a yes. Please stop being that guy.”

    “If you take food and then have second thoughts, don’t fob it off on us. Put it in the trash yourself, or save it for later.”

    “Insistent feeding behavior is not endearing, it’s icky. Please stop.”

  45. noncommittal pseudonym*

    Iced Tea Tantrum would make a good band name. We need a list of AAM band names.

  46. Hey now*

    The slamming of the iced tea bottle is a red flag. Be firm and say no to any food he picked up. I also think that OP should tell her manager about the slam.

  47. Lizy*

    I’ve only been brave enough to try Allison’s blunt tactic a few times but oh my gosh it was satisfying. I honestly can’t remember the situation or what was said, but I basically was like “wow. that was inappropriate/rude/whatever.” And the other person just… stopped. Because a) who just says that to people and b) if someone just said that to me, there’s probably a really good reason behind it. There was no “but I didn’t mEaN iT” or anything. It was fantastic. Highly recommend.

    *slams bottle of iced tea*
    “Wow. That’s rude.” *goes on with life*

  48. Delta Delta*

    I think repeatedly saying no is the way to go, and then also to loop in the manager. I wouldn’t soften it; that leaves too much wiggle room for Kevin to keep at it. And you don’t have to be rude, just direct and say no.

  49. Warrant Officer Georgiana Breakspear-Goldfinch*

    If you weren’t new, there would be more room for going to your boss and asking what the F is up with Kevin’s aggressive food behavior, but as a new person I’d handle it on your own for now.

    This is interesting to me, because I would actually say that as a new person, you do have latitude to go to your boss and get their take — is this normal for your office? how do they want you to handle interpersonal conflict? is there something specific going on with Kevin that you should be aware of?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      That’s really good framing and a good way to get a sense of how your manager handles things/sees things.

  50. Pyjamas*

    Puts a new spin on the song Code Monkey

    Code Monkey offer buy you soda
    Bring you cup, bring you ice

    You say no thank you for the soda ’cause
    Soda make you fat
    Anyway you busy with the telephone
    No time for chat

    1. yala*

      I always thought that was exactly the vibe of Code Monkey to begin with. Kinda creepy dude with bad boundaries, who thinks he’s a romantic underdog.

  51. LaDiDa*

    Office people are weird. It is just the way of the working world. He doesn’t know how to talk to people or strike up a conversation, so he does this. Just say “no thanks” and he moves on to the next person. It is annoying, but *shrugs*

    1. Ann Ominous*

      I would agree except for the part at the end where he got aggressive in response (slamming a tea on LW’s desk and demanding she justify her refusal). That’s not weird office behavior, that’s aggressive.

  52. Tara*

    I wonder if he’s like my husband (used to be) in that he believes that women always say they don’t want something when they secretly do. It’s just plain old misogyny that men learned from watching stupid tv shows and movies that portray women as being indecisive and using a secret code or whatever. It took years and a huge blow up fight before my husband got the message that I mean what I say, and no really means no.

    Of course you can’t have a huge blow up fight with a coworker, but you might want to lean more to the kinda mean comment about him making it weird. You might try asking him why he’s so dismissive about your clearly stated desire to NOT have him bring you food.

  53. Birb*

    Is he bringing food to other coworkers? I’d be really suspicious if a male coworker was bringing homemade (the brownie) or unsealed (the donut) food to JUST me, and EXTREMELY suspicious if he was blowing up when I didn’t eat it.

    When I worked in retail management, we had a blanket rule that employees were not to accept unsealed food items from customers. It was exclusively single men who targeted specific women. They also got annoyed and pushy when we declined. At least with the blanket rule they were mad at me and not the employee.

  54. anti social socialite*

    Y I K E S. This dude’s behavior goes beyond forgivably clueless. Give him an ultimatum and if he does it again, approach your manager. Get receipts if he doesn’t stop. Ask your coworkers to back you up (with receipts!) if the pattern of behavior continues.

  55. StitchIsMySpiritAnimal*

    This is a job for the manager, new person or not. I remember a grade school classmate who had some sort of invisible disability that impaired her social skills. She’d give stickers to everyone, even put them on people, and get frustrated when we refused them or asked her not to. This was one way she’d learned to make friends, and “I don’t want a sticker” = “I don’t like you” in her mind. It wasn’t up to us as kids to explain nuances we couldn’t articulate; the explanation needed to come from an authority figure.

  56. Retired (but not really)*

    Keep firmly telling him NO! Encourage your coworkers to do the same. The time for trying to be polite has passed. He’s obviously not getting the message when it’s delivered politely.

  57. LMs 2 cents*

    It just occurred to me, when he brings food to OP, OP’s probably sitting and he’s standing. Would it be helpful if OP stands when responding to him?
    Ordinarily if someone stops by to talk, they’re standing, I’m sitting, no problem. No weird power dynamic. But if someone slams a drink onto my desk, it’s reasonable to be startled. And a reasonable reaction to being startled is standing up.

  58. Cass*

    Is it possible that Kevin is aggresively offering food in an attempt to bank favors from you in order attempt to get his arch nemesis fired? Othern than that I am stumped as to why someone would behave this way.

  59. Frustration Nation*

    Oh, man. I had a similar thing happen to me several years ago. I worked at a company where we frequently had different freelancers in and out all the time. I’d just wrapped a project with one freelancer, and was starting a new one with another, and New Guy was just plain weird. I mentioned to him in an early convo that Last Freelancer would sometimes give me a heads up about how she thought the day was going to be by just walking by my desk and dropping off a Coke without saying anything, and I think he saw that as his call to action. He first brought me coffee. “Thanks, but I don’t drink coffee!” I said as pleasantly as possible. Then a couple weeks later he brought me sugar free gum. He got mad when he spotted it unopened in my desk drawer a week or so later. “Yep, sorry, I can’t eat sugar substitutes. They make me queasy.” So then he called a meeting with me and brought me more sugar free candies. I told him I still couldn’t eat sugar substitutes, and he was a little outraged, as though I wasn’t eating sugar substitutes at him. He did a number of other things as well, but fortunately, I just had to wait out his brief contract, and then he was gone. It was SO WEIRD, though! I mean, I gave him the keys to the kingdom up front. “She brought me a Coke!” But he picked up on the wrong part of that sentence, and never recovered.

  60. deb*

    Out of patience with Kevin’s . . . everything. “I’d prefer dough(cash) instead of donuts, do you understand this Kevin ? Every time you think of coming by with something, just leave a twenty and go back to your desk.”

  61. Metal Librarian*

    Does your workplace have a staff room/common area? If so, would there be any possibility of encouraging Kevin to leave the food there so whoever wants it can take it? That way he still gets to do something nice for his colleagues but it’s on more relaxed terms and people aren’t stuck with food that they don’t like or can’t stomach.

  62. Bébé Chat*

    OMG that makes me think of… my boyfriend. He is not as obnoxious about it, but he is the biggest people pleaser in the world and he keeps on doing things that are annoying because he thinks he is being nice. For example, he always wants to pay when we are out for a drink with friends, and I had to tell him that people got offended that he always refused to let them pay for his drinks sometimes as well. People were actually coming to me to tell me that he needed to stop to buy their drinks against their will, because he just could not hear it when they said it. I often tell him “you are not being nice when you do this, even if I know you think you are”. It’s exhausting sometimes, but he is getting better with time. Food was a huge thing too, even when I would say I was not hungry he would serve me an enormous plate of food, because he said it made him feel bad to only serve a small portion. I had to tell him that when he didn’t respect what I asked for, I was the one feeling bad and it wasn’t fair to make me feel like this only because he wanted to feel good about himself, because the purpose of serving food is not supposed to be to feel good about oneself.

  63. Calamity Janine*

    i am a cynical binch supreme but mostly what i can think of is

    so does he bring in food for the guys, too, or is it primarily for the girls?

    if he doesn’t offer it to guys at all, that makes things really obvious. if he goes for the women working there as the primary recipients of offered food, that is a little more cloudy, but still points to some lurking misogynist Nice Guy ™ obnoxiousness that needs to be nuked from orbit (it’s the only way to be sure).

    to test this? see if there’s a dude in the office that you can speak to about this to be a potential ally. “Kevin is getting really obnoxious about pushing food on me that i can’t eat, even though i’ve told him to stop several times. can you do me a solid and start intercepting it when i turn it down? otherwise he just gets so pushy…” this works extraordinarily well if it’s a younger guy with a high metabolism and/or stomach possibly replaced with a black hole. if this person is attempting to flirt with you, LW, having your new pal Bobert sweep into be all OH IS THAT AN EXTRA BAGEL? SWEET DUDE, THANKS! *GNOMFNOMNOM* will drive him up the wall, and in a way that he will likely promptly tell on himself when he gets pissy and has to explain why he is pissed. if Kevin really is supremely clueless and just hoping to buy friendship, well… you now have somebody taking that aggro, and possibly a person who finds being annoyed by Kevin in return for food to be an equitable trade.

  64. Amy*

    The mistake you keep repeating is ‘please ask me first’ then adding more to it by supposed food you shouldn’t eat. Don’t tell him to ask you first. Say to him:

    Stop bringing me food full stop. Please donate all the food you buy to the homeless. Anything you give me will be binned.
    Then bin the food right in front of him and keep doing it. Your colleague who
    takes the food and bins it is just as bad. Soon he will stop when he sees it going into the bin over and over again.

  65. staceyizme*

    If you’re tired of litigating the issue with “yes…”/ “no…”/ “but why…” communication, just put the item in the fridge and label it Kevin’s treat. (IF you’re comfortable with that.) No discussion needed. It’s not aggressive or even particularly assertive. But it gets it out of your way and you can move on.

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