my new coworker’s annoying habits are driving me mad

A reader writes:

I’m afraid I’m heading into bitch-eating-crackers stage with my colleague. I need to either manage him better, or maybe change my perspective/reaction to avoid that.

I have a new colleague, Niles. He’s new to working in an office environment. He went back to school for his degree and is in his early (maybe mid) 30’s. He has worked in other field(s), but they were not office jobs.

We are in a technical field where it’s common to have junior and senior level workers doing similar functions at a different level. We are in the same team, he doesn’t report to me, but I am senior to him and he does come to me for training, guidance, and advice. Our manager expects me to work with him, and provide guidance. In theory I’m happy to do that, but in practice I’m starting to find him annoying, and I need to determine which parts may be fixable. I think if I can fix a few things, the rest will annoy me less.

Niles fidgets a lot and I find it distracting. How much can I ask him to stop, and if so how? Some examples: biting his nails while sitting next to me; stretching (full body) while standing near me. Stretching upwards, stretching sideways, stretching his neck, back, arms, shoulders, bending over, popping his back, popping his fingers, popping his neck. Who knew so many joints could pop? This is not just a stand up and stretch, this is a lot of stretching. This all occurs while I am responding to a question.

He will sometimes take out his phone and (responding to text messages, reading?) when I have to take a moment to look something up. Other times, he will (presumably) get a message while I’m talking — and subsequently will check out of the conversation. Not leave my cube or excuse himself, but look at his phone, stop responding to me, or respond with “uh huh” or other perfunctory responses. This habit feels exceptionally rude to me — it feels so rude that I can’t think of any way to respond that isn’t scolding.

If he comes into my cube and I’m in the middle of typing, he will stare directly at my screen, obviously reading what I am typing. Sometimes he will comment on what I’m typing. How do I correct an adult?

I don’t expect him to sit perfectly still, but the level of fidgeting is distracting; pulling out his phone seems disrespectful; reading my screen feels invasive.

I was working remotely for the past several years until a few months ago. I suspect some of this is general annoyance on my part with the presence of other people, and the valid interruptions. Where do I start?

You can address a lot of this!

The easiest, and most urgent, to address is him checking out of conversations because he gets distracted by his phone. The next time that happens, you should say, “Can you stop looking at your phone while we’re talking?” Or even, “You seem distracted and I don’t have a lot of time — can you put your phone down so we can focus?”

I’m less concerned by him glancing at his texts while you’re taking a minute to look something up, since that sounds like a break in the conversation. But he absolutely should not be getting pulled into his phone while you’re in active discussion, and you can plainly and directly tell him to stop. You could do this even if were a peer, frankly — but you especially can do it when you’re senior to him and your boss expects you to give him guidance.

The key is to be matter-of-fact about it. You’re so frustrated that anything you envision saying probably sounds frustrated in your head — but it doesn’t need to. Your tone can simply be direct and straightforward. If he takes it as scolding, that’s his to deal with — but it’s a very, very reasonable thing for you to say.

You can also tell him to stop looking at (and commenting on!) your screen. The next time he does it, say this: “I’d rather you not watch my screen when I’m in the middle of something; sometimes it will be something confidential.” Alternate wording if more of a mentoring approach feels more comfortable: “I know you can see my screen with the way our desks are positioned, but there’s kind of a general agreement that we don’t look at people’s stuff like you’re doing right now, just for privacy.”

The fidgeting and stretching are trickier because it’s possible he has a physical need to do it. You shouldn’t bark “stop moving!” but you can certainly ask if it’s something he can rein in. For example: “It’s distracting when you move around so much. Unless you have a real physical need for it, could I ask you to stop while you’re in here?”

If you can solve those three issues — or at least the first two — you might feel less aggravated  overall. But if you address all of this and nothing changes, it’s worth mentioning to your boss that Niles might need some coaching on professional polish. Not for the stretching and fidgeting (because again, there might be a physical cause for it, and also she’s probably seeing it firsthand herself anyway), but the phone thing is really worth mentioning — including that you’ve given him direct feedback on it and it hasn’t changed, if that becomes the case. If you feel weird about raising that with her, keep in mind that there’s a good chance he’s doing it with other people too and it’s coming across as rude/disrespectful; that’s something she should know about.

Read an update to this letter

{ 381 comments… read them below }

  1. Kes*

    Yeah, the checking his phone while you’re looking things up aside, it’s pretty reasonable for you to ask that when you’re in conversation with him he focus on the conversation since it’s very distracting when he’s constantly stretching or checking his phone, etc. And if you’re expected to be mentoring him as someone more senior, it is your role and place to bring this up as something he evidently needs to learn, and it is to both of your benefits for him to learn this. Just make sure as Alison says to bring it up in a straightforward and neutral manner – leave your frustration out of it, because you want him to focus on the message, not the tone.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I think that even if you have to pause to look something up, it’s reasonable to expect that the other person not get their phone out.
      This time is a potential learning time, as you focus on what they’re looking up, and ask questions, or be available for them to explain something as they’re waiting for Google.

      1. There You Are*

        Interesting. I tend to get flustered when someone is standing over my shoulder while I look something up. (“Oh, geez, I thought it was in the Buttered Toast folder but maybe it’s in Pancakes? Shoot, not in Pancakes. It was something that could be eaten for breakfast or dinner though… oh, wait, I put it in Chicken & Waffles.”

        I’d be fine with them checking texts or playing 2 minutes of a game while I search for something.

        1. ClaireW*

          Yeah I suspect this part will be industry dependent – working in programming, usually if I’m looking something up while I’m helping someone, it’s likely to be code that we will need or a spec or something, and I would expect them to be paying attention and learning because that searching is part of how to become skilled at the job (I would likely be doing the looking-up on a screenshare if we had otherwise be screensharing so that they could follow along even). I get that in other roles though, it could be more about confirming something before you give an answer for example.

          1. Rebelx*

            Yeah I can see cases where it could be useful for the person to pay attention to *how* to find answers in the future. If that’s the case, instead of just saying something like “Let me look that up real quick”, which the other person might take as a cue for a break in the conversation, I’d try narrating what I’m doing. “Hmm, let’s look this up… I’m going to open the documentation repository here, and then we’ll go to the Llama Grooming folder and check the Hairdryer User Guide, and here we’ll find the recommendations for temperature settings…”

      2. demmzzz*

        I think if I was looking something up as part of the training/learning experience, I would imply that I want active participation by saying “let’s look that up together.”

    2. melan*

      You could say when he walks up, “Now, do you need to stretch before we start? Or bite your nails? Or check your phone? Because if you do, go do it privately, before we start talking. I want your full attention. K?”
      Cause as soon as you invite him to, he’ll stop. People are funny that way! It gets their attention.

      He’s very unprofessional and I can’t imagine an office that it’s OK in.

    3. Random Dice*

      You can also stop talking dead when he does it, and wait with your eyebrows up until he checks back in, then continue talking.

      Then try using words of he still doesn’t get it, because some ND folks don’t get hints.

  2. Goldenrod*

    As someone who is super fidgety, and has also annoyed my loved ones over the course of my entire life with my habit of frequently cracking all the bones in my body…I can confidently say that Niles doesn’t need to do this while you are talking to him!

    Yes, I have a need to crack and fidget, but I can rein it in when I’m talking to someone in a professional context. I feel like Niles is being disrespectful (whether he realizes it or not).

    1. Lacey*

      That was my thought as well. I do sometimes fidget quite a bit – but not while I’m talking to someone. I also reign it WAY in at the office because of course I know it’s annoying and distracting to those around me.

    2. Lydia*

      Well, we don’t know if he needs to, which is why it might not be the most important thing to address first. What was true for you might or might not be true for him, and while the OP can definitely say something, it might be better to wait until the first two most egregious things are addressed first.

      1. Some words*

        If I get a muscle cramp I need to stretch right now. But if that’s happening it’s also clear that I’m having an issue and need a minute to address it.

        Otherwise the stretching can wait.

        1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

          good point. Next time he is doing that OP could say “it looks like you need a minute before we continue.”

          1. Cookie Monster*

            But then he’ll probably just “Nah, I’m good, just need to stretch it out” or something like that, and continue stretching.

            1. Starbuck*

              And then you can say “oh, well it’s very distracting, if you need a minute that’s fine but otherwise please wait until we’re done speaking.”

              1. Cheshire Cat*

                And I would also suggest that he take his stretching out to a hallway, or even outside, depending on how your office is set up. The stretching is distracting enough, but the popping would drive me up a wall.

      2. Sybil Writes*

        I respect that a person might have a need to stretch and even ‘crack their joints’ fairly regularly. However, I would not expect someone to come to my office to ask a question and use that time for knuckle cracking or stretching. Rule of thumb for me, is that I prefer to not be made aware of a co-worker’s underarm or bodily functions in any work scenario. Don’t want to see it; don’t want to smell it. Certainly not within my personal space. Hey, it happens, but should be unintentional. The description in OP’s letter makes me think of ‘office manspreading’ which really should not be a thing. PLEASE!
        I think if someone felt comfortable ‘popping/cracking’ in my presences, I’d feel comfortable saying something like, “oh my goodness, that sounds terrible. you know how some people can’t stand nails on a chalkboard? that sound does the same to me.” Next time, I’d seriously say to the person: “ask your question, then go walk and stretch for 3 minutes and come back. I’ll have your answer.” With good humor, it can be relationship building; doesn’t have to be war. We are all allowed our boundaries. (also, FWIW, I’ve spent most of my career in this kind of senior/junior scenario; I like working with people from different cultures/demographics, etc. As long as you don’t humiliate someone, most people can handle being made aware of their, ahem, impact.)
        From a coaching standpoint, it might also be compassionate to tell the person that it is OK to take periodic stretch breaks (especially if they are not accustomed to office work); they just should not do them on top of someone else.

    3. Shira*

      Yes, it’s something people should try not to do when talking to others in a professional context. But OP is also complaining that it is just being done in their vicinity.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        My understanding was that the stretching is happening while OP is training Niles/when Niles is in her office space. Unless he is being trained in OP’s space, I think some of the full-body stretches and fidgets could wait.

        1. Betty*

          Right, and he does it while OP is responding to a question that he asked. I hope the stretching is not urgent and that Niles can wait until he’s not having a work conversation to do it!

        2. ferrina*

          This was my read as well- Niles comes over to ask OP a question, then while OP is responding, Niles is stretching or gets distracted by his phone.

      2. Siege*

        She also says that it’s being done while she’s responding to a question he asked. It is categorically rude to ask a question and then visibly demonstrate you don’t care what the answer is.

        1. Willow Pillow*

          That’s unnecessarily harsh, and it is discriminatory towards those of us who need that repetitive movement in order to focus.

          1. somehow*

            Then wait until the need to stretch passes before asking a question, or say “I need to stretch while we talk but I am listening.”

            It’s not complicated, let alone “discriminatory.”

            1. Rainy*

              It sounds like Willow Pillow is talking about the kind of repetitive movement often referred to as stimming, so yes, telling someone who needs to stim that they could sit still if they wanted to is pretty ableist.

              1. Willow Pillow*

                Thank you, yes. Not making eye contact is a good (general) example – it’s commonly perceived as “visibly demonstrate you don’t care what the answer is” and rude, while eye contact can range from preventing us from absorbing the answer to outright painful. Not making eye contact is the caring choice in that case! If it’s not complicated, then why is it so hard for some folks to understand?

                1. Anne Elliot*

                  I think it’s hard for some folks to understand because there are generally agreed-upon conventions for communicating with other human beings that include such things as making occasional eye contact or otherwise acting in a way that signals to the other person that you are paying attention. I think it’s completely fair for you and others to note that some people have circumstances, conditions, or disabilities that make these conventions difficult, if not impossible, to achieve. But when faced with a person who is failing to meet social norms, I’m not sure it’s the caring choice to assume that person has such a condition or disability, nor am I convinced that’s in the best interests of people who legitimately are in those communities. So while I think it’s unfortunate that any person having such a condition would feel compelled to disclose it if they did not want to, I still think that is preferable to having the hearer assume some condition or disability which may not exist in a given case.

                2. Willow Pillow*

                  @Anne, it’s not about assuming that the person has a disability. It’s about not assuming that the person knows these unspoken rules and that they are acting with malicious intent.

              2. Boof*

                I think it’s a two way street; I for one would very much appreciate if someone gave me a heads up “I am doing X but still paying attention; it helps me focus!” if they are doing something unusual/distracting while we are talking – it also I suppose gives a moment for the other person to respond if it’s way too distracting or not.

              3. amoeba*

                I am not an expert, but from my understanding it’s pretty unusual to have such noticeable stims as the behaviour Niles apparently exhibits? I mean, sure, if that’s really a necessity for him, it would be absolutely the right call to see if it’s possible to accommodate that. Or, you know, even if he just acknowledged that it might be distracting, like “I hope it’s OK to stretch, it helps me focus – I’m still listening!” would go a long way.

                1. Rogue Lurker*

                  Not necessarily too unusual but most/a lot of people who would really benefit from visible stimming have been forced to mask those behaviors.

          2. Siege*

            No, it’s actually not. If those of us who need accommodation want to get that accommodation, getting comfortable with the the vaguest of statements (“My joints get really stiff, so I’m going to stretch, but I’m listening.”) goes a long, long way to making sure that we are not imposing our need for accommodation such that other people are being required to give up what they need to make that accommodation. You do not need to march up to someone and hand them your formal diagnosis to get accommodation, but putting the burden on the person who doesn’t need accommodation to just suck it up because the person they’re talking to MIGHT need accommodation is … just reversing the direction of the discrimination.

            In a world with all kinds of people, with all kinds of needs, experiences, and backgrounds and the assumptions and motivations that go with them, learning to say something vague that gets you what you need and doesn’t take from the other person what they need is going to get you a lot further than just being all “well, I need to stretch, so suck it up, you can’t tell me what to do.” And it has the benefit of not being actively jerkish to people you work with.

            1. Willow Pillow*

              And yet LW is expecting accommodation without being comfortable with the vaguest of statements. If something is bothering you, it really is on you to communicate.

              1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                Word. Look, if Niles is coming INTO the LW’s space and doing the stretching, then I still say it would be better for Niles to initiate a convo about his needs, but if LW isn’t indicating they are becoming stressed or bothered by the stretching, Niles can’t read their mind.

              2. somehow*

                But he is choosing when to ask a question, and LW rightfully expects his full attention, unless there is an understanding that he might have to stretch while they discuss. Again, not complicated, not ablist, not discriminatory.

                1. Willow Pillow*

                  “It is categorically rude to ask a question and then visibly demonstrate you don’t care what the answer is.”

                  This comment from Siege is what I’m calling ableist and discriminatory – it assumes intent and a lack of caring from doing something that someone else doesn’t like. As for the complicated bit… if it wasn’t complicated, then why hasn’t LW figured out how to communicate it without having to write in to AAM?

                2. Look! A Squirrel!*

                  If there’s something like ADHD involved then stretching may be him giving his full attention. It’s a way of distracting the squirrel! part of the brain so focus and listening can happen. Force a person with ADHD to sit still and maintain eye contact and you’ve just upped the chances exponentially that their brain is somewhere in another galaxy without their permission. We need our fidgets to stay focused.

                  This doesn’t mean Niles isn’t distracting or that he shouldn’t try less annoying fidgets. Just want to raise awareness that one’s way to focus might not look like neurotypical brains expect.

              3. fhqwhgads*

                LW has not received even the vaguest of statements so I’m not sure why you’re saying they’re not comfortable with it?

                1. New Jack Karyn*

                  Willow Pillow is saying that OP has not yet hinted to Niles that the stretching (or anything else) is annoying or otherwise not done in an office setting. He’s supposed to somehow figure out that he’s irritating her, without her making the vaguest of statements to inform him.

              4. Siege*

                No, LW is asking what and how to communicate, which is an extremely reasonable thing when you are facing a situation where an entire commentariat has preemptively assumed she is wronggity-wrong-wrong and she would like to actually be sensitive and thoughtful to her coworker. Asking for help with how to communicate is … requesting an accommodation for an unfamiliar situation.

          3. Sybil Writes*

            I am a person whose focus benefits from repetitive movement. However, I am also a person who would not like someone to come to my space to ask me a question and then start cracking joints or stretching, or multitasking during my answer.
            It’s not rude to stop and ask for attention, or clarification on whether the person is listening if you have the sense they are not. You just don’t have to be mean about it. The key (as Alison said) is to stay matter-of-fact. If you can control it, control it. If we need to take more breaks during a training session, let’s do that. If you can’t control your movements, then at least clarify that with me and we can work from there.

        2. constant_craving*

          Fidgeting doesn’t mean you don’t care. In fact, it can mean you’re trying to focus. Individuals with ADHD have significantly improved cognition while moving.

          I don’t know if that’s the case here, but if you’re uniformly thinking people moving means they don’t care, you’re simply incorrect.

          1. No Yelling on the Bus*

            ADHD/Autism spectrum is where my mind went also. Disappointed I had to scroll this far to see it – goes to show how much distance we have to cover in normalizing neurodivergence in the workplace. In addition I have an arthritic condition that makes it really painful to be still – movement helps. Between those two conditions, I fidget a lot, especially at the end of the day when my joints and muscles are screaming at me. To me, this part of the complaint/frustration falls into the category of policing other people’s bodies/individual needs.

          2. Siege*

            I actually do have ADHD and I know the need to move to focus. If you need to do it when someone is answering a question you asked, it is professional behavior to verbally identify in some way that you are listening to them, because physically you are identifying that you are not. Whether it’s right or wrong, most people do not take “elaborate full body stretching” as a cue that you are paying attention to what they’re saying. I certainly would not, and as noted, I also focus better when moving.

            1. somehow*

              An overused phrase if there ever was one. Siege has got it right: it’s up to him to explain his behavior, particularly in a context of being on his phone as LW tries to explain something, and looking over her shoulder as she types. Since he hasn’t done anything to explain his stretching during a conversation he initiates, it’s entirely reasonable to regard that stretching as
              part of an overall ‘package’ of rudeness.

              Stretching unto itself is one thing. Doing so alongside other dismissive behaviors says something else entirely.

              Just not complicated.

            2. mreasy*

              Same. I have ADHD and I am fidgety. If I need to look away for a sec, I say, “I’m listening” so the person knows I’m paying attention. Going through an entire body stretch with knuckle popping (!!) is at the very least out of the ordinary enough that Niles should mention it if it is something he does to focus.

              1. Starbuck*

                Yes, if you are going to the point of making sounds, that needs some explanation or it’s just rudeness. As another person who has ADHD… I would probably lose my train of thought / sentence if someone was doing something so distracting right next to me!

                1. So Tired*

                  Exactly this!! I also have ADHD, so I know what it’s like to need to do small movements/fidgets/stims to keep concentration–or to even be doing them without realizing! But it’s wild to me that people are demanding that LW be ok with Niles’ movements and stretches without taking into account that it’s perfectly reasonable to be distracted by such movement. Even while I know that I have a propensity to small movements (usually bouncing my leg) and cracking my knuckles is one of my anxiety things even when there’s no audible pop, I would be EXTREMELY DISTRACTED if someone came to me to ask a question and then started doing full body stretches, especially in what sounds like a relatively small cubicle.

                  Yes, Niles could well have some medical reason for his stretches/knuckle popping. But also yes, LW can also be completely justified in finding his movements distracting/grating. Those two things can coexist!! And Allison isn’t saying LW should yell at Niles to stop, and neither are any comments I’ve seen. People are simply pointing out that LW would be within their rights to mention to him that they find it distracting/off-putting/etc and see if they can compromise on a solution. That’s not ableist or discriminatory or anything of that nature. Niles maybe possibly having a medical condition (which, btw, we’re not supposed to be speculating on in the comments anyway) doesn’t mean that he gets to ignore LW’s boundaries. He’s a person, yes, but so is LW and one is not more entitled to their human nature than the other.

                2. noooo*

                  I am autistic and need to fidget but the stretching and especially the nail biting and joint cracking would make me queasy- I can’t handle when people do those things near me. There are other ways to fidget that don’t make other people this uncomfortable. You can be ND, have stims & also be aware of other people, and find the stims that work for you and don’t bother other people.

      3. Jellyfish Catcher*

        I have chronic pain and stretching helps – but I can sure hang on for a few minutes of conversation, or hours if needed.
        I don’t deliberately extend limbs toward anyone, much less At Work.

        It’s odd that he “happens” to need this “assertive” stretching at the moment of interacting with OP. That particular behavior is beyond normal clueless behavior, and is bordering on harassment, imho.

        Add in the other behaviors, and yeah, he knows what he’s doing.

        OP, you need to discuss the entire set of behaviors with your manager, calmly and repeatedly call him out, and daily document his behaviors and your conversations. (which will also slow down the work flow, another issue to document/s).
        This needs to be resolved quickly; anything less is not supportive for the OP’s situation.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      This. I get having to stretch, but not while somebody is actively talking to me! If the LW had come up to Niles while he was doing his routine, that might be one thing (but I still consider it polite to pause while somebody is asking me a question or telling me something) but if Niles goes to LW for something and just starts doing his yoga while they’re responding? That is rude.

      1. Tori*

        I didn’t read this as yoga, more that he’s like cracking knuckles and swinging his arms etc. Although if he is whipping out a yoga mat and launching into Warrior 1 while OP talking, that is a very different conversation.

        1. Quill*

          Did we have a yoga in the office discussion at one point, or am I misremembering the guy who did “controlled” falls to show off?

    5. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      Disrespectful is such a weird leap about what a person does with their own body. Nobody’s stretching AT you. She can absolutely tell him it’s distracting, but encouraging her to take it personally is odd.

      1. Littorally*


        I have ADHD. It is managed and medicated, but I still have it. In most circumstances, it is physically painful for me to fully repress all physical motion for any period of time longer than a few seconds. The last time I tried to force it, I wound up with knotted-up muscles and crawling skin inside of 30 seconds. So categorically saying that fidgety people have the capacity to “rein it in” and choose not to exercise it is pretty ableist. As, frankly, is equating fidgeting with disinterest or disrespect!

        What has worked for me, and what may likely work for him if he’s in a similar boat (ADHD is not the only condition that involves lots of movement!) is to redirect the urge to move, rather than to repress it. I can understand why the OP finds full-body stretching in the middle of a conversation offputting, although I think it’s taking it very personally. He may be able to redirect that urge into something different — a smaller motion, or one that doesn’t overlap with OP’s read of body language in such a way.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I’ve not yet been assessed (NHS waiting lists IYKYK) but probably have ADHD and I was reading this letter like… um, this is me after a day of long meetings and trainings. I don’t even realise I’m doing it half the time. I’m fighting so hard to keep my brain stimulated enough that I don’t literally wander off that I’ve not got any bandwidth to spare for considering what it looks like to other people. If you want me to sit quietly and focus, it needs to be for no more than an hour and not more than twice a day. Otherwise you’re going to get escalating fidgets until I’m actually jumping up and down in my seat in an attempt to stay awake.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            Yeah, whenever my ADHD traits annoy someone it’s likely to be something I wasn’t even aware I was doing. Whenever someone nuerotypical is doing something annoying…. same deal a lot of the time! I don’t understand why people are so shy about being explicit. It’s respectful to give that benefit of the doubt: “I’m sure you don’t realise it, but….. “

        1. No Yelling on the Bus*

          Touching your private parts isn’t the same as the above (ADHD) suggestion. There are a lot – A LOT – of reasons that touching your private parts is an entirely different scenario from stretching.

          1. Joron Twiner*

            Adjusting parts of your body that are uncomfortable? These are the same thing. The letter indicated he wasn’t doing it as a sexual thing. Either way extreme adjustments should wait until after you’re done asking your colleague a question!

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              It seems very disingenuous to suggest that cracking one’s knuckles is the same as adjusting ones’ testicles.

              1. amoeba*

                But cracking one’s knuckles is also decidedly not the same thing as a full-body stretch, which is what Niles is doing. I don’t think the OP would have any problem whatsoever with just knuckle cracking – what they describe sounds so much more extreme!

                1. New Jack Karyn*

                  It’s still not the same as adjusting one’s testicles, which was Joron Twiner’s claim.

          2. MicroManagered*

            The comment I’m replying to made a blanket statement that “what someone does with their body” couldn’t be considered disrespectful. The ball-adjusting was a quick and easy example of how obviously untrue that is — I’m glad you picked right up on that.

            Constant/frequent knuckle cracking or full-body stretching, to the point where the person doing it seems more focused on that than the conversation, can definitely be considered disrespectful because it is.

            If it’s a true medical issue, then the medical issue needs to be dealt with, whether that’s the knuckle-cracker (or ball-adjuster as the case may be) stepping away for a moment to get their compulsion under control, adjusting medications, etc.

      2. ferrina*

        I think it is a little disrespectful for Niles to come into OP’s space, ask a question, then stretch while OP is answering. It’s not exactly stretching At OP, but he’s deliberately coming into her space before stretching (even if his intent isn’t to stretch in her space). If he were just stretching over at his desk and his joints were popping, I’d say OP needs to just deal.

        He’s not being actively disrespectful, but rather inconsiderate in not adjusting his behavior to be around other people. I’m ADHD, and I’m very Niles-esque in my fidgeting. I am constantly moving. However, I’m thoughtful about how fidgety I am in other people’s space. It takes energy and focus on my part, and sometimes I slip up, but I can usually rein it in for a quick conversation. It sounds like Niles isn’t even trying. I don’t’ know if Niles realizes that he should be reining it in. But OP is within her rights to say “Knock it off”

        1. No Yelling on the Bus*

          Also ADHD here and I think OP could say, “hey that’s distracting” and communicate how it’s affecting them, but OP does not know why Niles is stretching or moving. Yes, it would help a lot if Niles communicated what was going on, but who knows – it could be medical, or neurodivergence or something that they aren’t comfortable disclosing. I agree, it’s “best practice” to try to appear neurotypical at work (and for that matter, whatever the physical equivalent of neurotypical is, as though your body works like other peoples’ bodies), but it is not always possible and a person might not be comfortable sharing that. I have both ADHD and an arthritic condition that causes pain, especially at the end of the day. I need to move. I’ll tell people, “Hey, I’m listening, but I need to move right now” but only a few people know about my illness and nobody at work knows about my ADHD.

          This is a two-way relationship. Niles has a responsibility to do their best to “rein it in” or communicate what’s going on. OP also has a responsibility to be tolerant of divergence as long as the work is getting done.

          1. Jennie*

            “Niles has a responsibility to do their best to “rein it in” or communicate what’s going on. OP also has a responsibility to be tolerant of divergence as long as the work is getting done.”


      3. fhqwhgads*

        I think it’s pretty commonly accepted that if you walk into a room and ask someone a question and then proceed to do a bunch of other stuff – whether that stuff be stretching or looking at your phone or I donno what- it is not odd nor ablist to think “person is not actually paying attention to what I’m saying”. Why? Because they’re doing a bunch of other stuff. It’s basic courtesy to say “I’m listening” or SOMETHING. If he were stretching AT her it’d actually be clearer what to do since at least it’d be clear he was paying attention.
        The comments can come up with 8000 possible diagnoses that’d make what this guy is doing make more sense. None of it matters, because the advice for the OP is the same: say something calmly.

        1. Anne Elliot*

          Speaking only for myself (obviously), I’m also having trouble with the willingness to diagnose Niles, which I kind of thought was something we don’t do around here. “Maybe Niles is on the spectrum and is stimming!” Well heck, maybe Niles has Parkinson’s Disease, but there’s nothing in the question that indicates either condition. Taking the question at face value — which is something I thought we DID do around here — the advice is as above: Communicate what is bothering you calmly and respectfully, and ask for what you want in the same way.

          1. noooo*

            Yes! As a ND person, I also hate when these threads get focused on whether someone is ND or not. Then various scenarios fly around, saying why everyone should have the right to crack their knuckles and bite nails whenever they want. Being ND doesn’t give you a free pass to disregard common courtesy & professional behavior.

            1. Monkey Princess*

              Me too. I’m autistic and have ADHD and I know that I have weird behaviors that bug people, and I really do my best to rein them in and find other behaviors that don’t bug people.

              Being ND doesn’t give you a free pass to be a crummy citizen of the world.

              Whether he’s ND or not is irrelevant: this is a dude who has been taught that his body is allowed to take up as much time and space as he wants, and nobody has ever told him to rein it in. That’s BS.

    6. Hashtag Destigmatize Therapy*

      Just because Niles’s symptoms are very similar to yours doesn’t mean they’re the same. It’s certainly possible (maybe even likely) that he’s capable of reining in the fidgeting, but that’s not necessarily the case.

      1. the cat's pajamas*

        I read this as extreme full body fidgeting, which would be super distracting, especially in close quarters. If it was more contained like just finger twitching I think that’d be easier to deal with.

        1. Lydia*

          But whatever it is, it’s better for the OP to address the phone and screen stuff first, and then move into the fidget/stretching stuff.

      2. Divergent Platypus*

        I want to push back on the idea that it’s okay to ask people not to fidget because it’s no big deal for them to rein it in. Good for you if you do find it easy, but that’s far from universal.

        I fidget. A lot. And the reason why is because it helps me focus. It’s like there’s extra processor cycles in my brain that need to go somewhere or else they will distract me. Fidgeting occupies the part of my brain that otherwise generates lots of tangential thoughts to whatever it is we’re discussing. It’s the same reason that I focus better with music than silence, and why I doodle in meetings. I *can* rein it in, but now the majority of my attention is focused on performing attentiveness instead of actually paying attention.

        Now, *I* know that this is a neurodivergence thing, and it does qualify as a “physical need” when it comes to accomplishing whatever it is that we’re interacting about. But I didn’t know that for the vast majority of my adult life, and I’d probably still be somewhat hesitant to claim that exception if somebody asked me not to using Alison’s phrasing. Because society has a tendency to prioritize the comfort of the majority over the needs of the minority, and has taught us that a lot of our physical needs are rude. Especially for people who aren’t “normal” .

        Or, to put it a little more bluntly, if I find it distracting when someone is jiggling their leg, or tapping their pen, or doing needlepoint in a meeting, why is that a “them” problem for failing to suppress it and not a “me” problem for failing to ignore it? I assure you, they’re not doing it because they *want* to be distracting, or as some kind of intentional but stealthy show of disrespect.

        I’m happy to meet in the middle when needs conflict, but this is an area where I think the majority is used to being catered to, and that meeting in the middle involves a lot more movement on their part than on the part of those who need accommodations.

        1. No Yelling on the Bus*

          “I’m happy to meet in the middle when needs conflict, but this is an area where I think the majority is used to being catered to, and that meeting in the middle involves a lot more movement on their part than on the part of those who need accommodations.”

          Neurotypical people, and able bodied people, are used to things being a certain way. As long as the work is done, I think we all have a responsibility to be more tolerant of divergence.

        2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          I think the key is that the conversation should be about ASKING if someone is able to modify their fidgeting, not TELLING them to stop/rein it in. Because telling someone to stop DOES assume that someone COULD just stop if they wanted to. But there is so much compromise on the table (different fidget activity, the person who is getting stressed by the fidgeting taking a break at certain points, if truly any fidgeting is a major distraction for the other person phones still exist!) that can only be reached if folks say something–and do so before we get to the “This behavior is sending my anxiety over the top!” point.

        3. Zak*

          “I’m happy to meet in the middle when needs conflict, but this is an area where I think the majority is used to being catered to, and that meeting in the middle involves a lot more movement on their part than on the part of those who need accommodations.”

          — Well said.

        4. KGD*

          I really like how clearly you explained this. I have ADHD as well but was undiagnosed until my mid-thirties, and I’ve always been so embarrassed about the ways i just don’t fit in.

          I crack my knuckles and fiddle with my hair and scratch my nose and talk way too fast and too much and believe me, I KNOW it’s annoying because people have been telling me since before I started school. I work so hard to rein it in – pinching my leg in meetings so I won’t interrupt, taking crazy amounts of notes so I’ll have something acceptable to do with my hands, writing scripts in advance for phone calls to help me slow down, etc etc etc.

          And honestly, I don’t mind. It’s the work I have to do to show up in the world in a way that doesn’t hurt or offend others. I just wish that work was acknowledged by neurotypical people more often. I really don’t think most people realize how hard it can be. I feel like if we are asking the fidgeters of the world to work that hard all day to make their physical existence less annoying, it’s reasonable to ask neurotypical people to also put some work in. I will do my level best not to crack my knuckles in a meeting, and it would mean a lot to me if others could try THEIR best to give me a little grace when I slip up, rather than jumping to accusations of disrespect.

        5. Alice in Hinterland*

          The issue I see here is that many people have overlapping or conflicting triggers or needs for accommodation. I have PTSD, and someone moving around constantly — especially if their movements are unpredictable, energetic, or in my peripheral vision — puts me on edge and makes me jittery. Which need is more pressing, “valid”, or important in that case?

          I also have a pathological horror of most jewelry, especially noisy chains and bangles that jingle and tinkle as someone moves around. Despite years of therapy, the sound and sight of it (especially if the jewelry is visibly dirty or smudged) makes me nauseated and anxious. Every time I had to put on my dog tags in the military was a contest of willpower. One solider loved to pile her loose change on her desk and fidget with it constantly; she found it helpful to her own concentration (she had ADHD, I believe), but it made my skin crawl and distracted me terribly. It wasn’t an option to wear earplugs or turn my workspace to face away from her. Since we were military, I couldn’t ask for an accommodation, but even if I had, our needs for accommodation were conflicting.

          So, sure, it’s important to accommodate neurodivergence, but it’s rarely that straightforward. It’s also important not to assume that there is a neurotypical and a neurodivergent “side” to any given issue.

          1. KGD*

            You’re totally right. It isn’t at all about “sides,” just about all of us doing what we can. I think it’s Carolyn Hax who suggests trying to always interpret other people’s behaviour in the most generous possible way. So rather than assuming someone is being deliberately disrespectful on purpose, if we can start by assuming that there might be a valid reason for their behavior, we are likely to be kinder as we search for a solution that works for everyone. Approaching things this way doesn’t mean the OP just has to put up with this guy’s constant scrolling and fidgeting, just that they may be able to be a little more forgiving as they the two of them sort it out.

          2. Anon for this*

            You’re so right. I have misophonia around a few things (sniffing, open mouth chewing for example) and one of the things is joints cracking. A single knee crack when bending down I can cope with but someone systematically popping knuckles and major joints? I have the horrors just thinking about it in the abstract.

            (and that sounds awful for you Alice in H, I’m so sorry)

            1. noooo*

              Same! Those sounds literally make me queasy and I have to leave the space where a person is doing that. So there are valid reasons to not crack your knuckles around other people.

        6. It's complicated*

          You seem to be assuming it is always one neurodivergent person v one neurotypical person and the neurotypical should be accommodated. But when fully accommodating one persons needs negatively impacts others then the middle may not be the place to aim for.
          Neil may feel the need to stretch, but if this is something that is distracting or off-putting to others it is not unreasonable that he meet his stretching needs away from others.
          Or when one neurodivergent person needs to fidget so clicks their pen, but their (potentially undiagnosed) neurodivergent collogue finds that noise particularly irksome, then needing person one to find an alternative way to fidget that isn’t noise is not failing to accommodate them, it is realising that a lot of people have needs and sometimes meeting the needs of the majority may the best overall solution.

          1. Alice in Hinterland*

            Thank you — I was trying to say this, but you explained it much better!

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            I think everything you said was addressed in Platypus’s statement about meeting in the middle.

            There are myriad ways to handle this situation with compromise from both people. Expecting Neil to just stop fidgeting around others is not a compromise. We are talking about a scenario with only two people. There is no “majority” to cater to. This is not about one person’s need to stretch vs a roomful of other people’s need to be free of distractions.

    7. Koala Tea*

      Well said, thank you. Some folks “vibrate” more/differently than others and the excess movement that increases the size of one’s personal bubble can be pretty distracting and demonstrative of a lack of focus. Reminds me of the saying “Listen to understand, not to respond”.

      1. Koala Tea*

        I see some comments below from fellow humans who have personal experience with Tourette’s, chronic pain, and ADHD. I appreciate this perspective; I had not initially considered how those facets could contribute to movement expression, thanks for the insight!

        1. Zelda*

          Add restless leg syndrome to the list. *Usually* not an issue when I’m focusing on something, but if it’s already hit and then I try to focus, trying to stay still at the same time is Not Happening.

    8. Anonymous 75*

      Really, because as someone who has also fidgeted my entire life I can tell you I absolutely do need to do this because I’m almost always in pain and the “fidgeting” helps for a moment.

    9. tamarack etc.*

      I’m a big fan of telling people what they should / could do rather than what they shouldn’t do, and as someone with back-to-back meeting, one thing that seems to be working for many of us is to take breaks to move our bodies around (if wanted – or alternative make a cup of tea, check personal messages etc).

      So maybe instead of being overly on this guy’s back about popping joints and stretching one approach could be to interrupt what you’re doing when he does this, smile, and suggest that the two of you should take breaks, and relegate the stretching to the breaks.

      Some of this sounds indeed as unawareness of office norms and possibly, worse, unawareness that he’s unaware of some norms he’s breaking. Focussing on “this is how we can manage our physical needs, phone messages, and how we are physically in space” is a good topic to address in a non-judgemental manner.

    10. JSPA*

      “I don’t need to” =/= “nobody needs to.”

      Plenty of behaviors are (only) habits for most people, but are either needs or near-unsuppressible actions (tics, compulsions, stims, urges, chorea, dystonia etc etc etc) for others.

      Alison’s script is just perfect.

  3. This Old House*

    Ugh, my worst nightmare is that my colleagues/friends/everyone feels the same way about my fidgeting and joint cracking that OP feels about Niles. I know it has to be noticeable. But due to a chronic pain condition, there’s not much I can do, other than suffer more. Today’s on the worse end of the spectrum, pain-wise, so I’m probably even more conscious of it. And better, I don’t have a diagnosis and no treatments I’ve tried to date have had any effect, so there’s really not any concise, acceptable way to explain it. “Excuse me, my arthritis is acting up” might work if I had arthritis . . . but I don’t. “Don’t mind me, I’ve been in pain every day since I was 12 and doctors can’t help so I have to crack my neck a lot” is appropriate for most situations, especially at work.

    1. yikes on bikes*

      I have a loved one with Tourette’s AND chronic pain. Most people only think about the most extreme, juvenile cases of Tourette’s when they picture it and don’t realize that for many people, it becomes different & often more mild in adulthood and would be perceived as fidgeting to most. Between the tics and the chronic pain, my loved one is pretty constantly moving or adjusting some body part, and they never ever self-disclose either condition voluntarily to coworkers, they don’t like the stigma associated with either.

      Alison’s advice to tell someone to “stop moving unless you have a real medical need” makes me really, really cringe. I suppose that I might have a higher tolerance for fidgeting because of my specific exposure to it, but my goodness forcing someone to self-disclose like that for something relatively minor seems really harsh.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Flip side: I’m on the spectrum and others’ fidgeting and popping (and I’m a knuckle-popper, too, but not on a constant basis) pushes my overstimulation buttons. I’d like to not have to disclose that, either, though.

        1. yikes on bikes*

          Sure, but Tourette’s causes truly, literally, involuntary tics. They cannot be suppressed just because they’re overstimulating for someone else, even the mild one. Trying to adjust a joint that is in pain may not be literally involuntary in the same way, but if you stepped on a tack and felt the poke, you would pull your foot back without thinking.

          1. yikes on bikes*

            correcting myself before anyone else does: Tourette’s tics are classified as semi-voluntary meaning that they can sometimes be *temporarily* suppressed, but most adults with it describe it as suppressing a sneeze: difficult, extremely distracting, and leading to a more dramatic outburst of the tic once they finally “release” it

          2. Observer*

            True. But the point is that for a some people what is being described is not “minor.” So at least letting someone know that you really effectively can’t help it becomes important.

      2. Just Another Zebra*

        I also didn’t love Alison’s advice on the last bit. I have EDS, and some days my joints sound like a bowl of Rice Crispy cereal. My adjustments and stretches aren’t AT anyone. I’m just trying to get my work done without feeling like my spine is crumbling or my neck and jaw are so tight I can’t turn my head.

        I’m kind of hoping OP is just already at BEC level, and addressing the screen staring and the phone issue will mitigate her annoyance with him being human.

        1. Siege*

          Do you routinely ask a question of a trainer and then elaborately stretch while she answers the question? Because if not, you’re not doing what Niles is doing.

          1. goddessoftransitory*

            This! It’s not the stretching in and of itself (I think that’s moving into the BEC territory) but for somebody to come up, ask me a question with me reasonably assuming they did so because they wanted my answer, and then start full body stretching? It basically signals “I’m not paying attention to something I specifically requested.”

            1. Stuff*

              The problem is, for some of us with Autism or ADHD, fidgeting or doing another thing while listening could make it easier to focus than actually trying to look straight at you without doing anything. To many people, that looks like we aren’t paying attention and really pisses them off, but the truth is, it can be easier for us that way.

              1. Pippa K*

                Sure, but I wonder what the right approach is to get an outcome more workable for both people, when the situation is
                “This makes our interaction easier for me.”
                “Ok, but it makes it harder for me.”

                If we’re going to imagine that Niles has a legitimate reason for acting as he does, we should give OP the same benefit of the doubt. A lot of responses seem to suggest that OP just has to suck it up, and that doesn’t seem like a good answer.

                1. Rainy*

                  Communication about both your requirements is almost always going to lead to a solution, or at least a better understanding of the issue.

                2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

                  What Rainy said. The problem in the first instance is a communication chasm.

              2. TootsNYC*

                to that person, I would suggest finding a far less intrusive or less obvious way of getting what you need.

                1. Lydia*

                  This sounds an awful lot like, “find a way that doesn’t make me uncomfortable or have to acknowledge that you might need something different” and, well, screw that. The thing is, we don’t know why Niles is stretching and moving around, but then, neither does the OP. So either ask, or address the phone thing and reading over the shoulder thing first and then move on to the stretching thing.

              3. NaoNao*

                It sounds like fidgeting (biting nails, wiggling leg) isn’t the real issue here. Extensive just got out of bed on a Saturday morning stretches *after he came over to ask her a question* is the issue. For most of society, yawning and stretching is a very clear body-language indicator that they’re sleepy or tired or bored–so bored they’re sleepy and trying to snap their drowsy body out of it. To me that’s rude when you’re talking to someone. If someone needs to fidget, get a toy or ring and tolerate the slight discomfort from not being able to do the full Puma Stretch for the 7 minutes while you’re listening to a colleague. I have ASD and I seriously side eye that luxuriously stretching and popping knuckles and joints on purpose is “helping him concentrate”. Come on.
                I would bet that him popping every knuckle would be significantly less irritating in a group situation or if he was just at his desk doing it.

          2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            This whole thread following immediately on the last post is giving me whiplash. Did we change the whole group of commenters? We went from comments mostly understanding that people need to fidget to comments mostly calling fidgeting rude and disrespectful.

            1. Nina*

              People need to fidget, agreed. For an office setting, fidgets need to look (on a macro level) more like ‘I am sitting still and vibrating slightly’ than ‘I am at the gym’. Ideally they also need to convey the impression that you’re using different parts of your brain on the fidget and on what you’re supposed to be listening to.

              I have stim rings (multiple) and a fidget cube. A friend who does better with chewy stims has a necklace one that looks quite pretty. Some people doodle. Some people rock side to side or back and forth in their chairs. Standing up and stretching with popping joint noises and biting your nails is completely off the scale.

            2. Zelda*

              ISTM that there are two aspects to the “don’t fidget if there’s any way you can avoid it” that are blurring together. There’s the idea that it looks as if the person stretching is paying attention to the stretches and not to what someone else is saying. But there’s also the aspect that motion draws the eye, and the stretching can interfere with the concentration of the person who’s trying to formulate and deliver a good answer to the question asked. So it’s not *just* the ‘appearance of distrespect;’ there is an actual effect on the other person.

              It may be possible to frame this as being in Niles’s own interest: “You’ll get more cogent answers from me if I’m not having to follow everything that’s going on over there.”

              Or it may be time for LW and Niles to take it to voicemail!

            3. Siege*

              There is a really significant difference between needlework in a multi-person meeting that lacks interaction and visibly not paying attention when someone is answering a question you asked them one-on-one.

          3. Just Another Zebra*

            I mean… yeah, sometimes. Sometimes going from sitting to standing will cause my hips to pull out, and I have to fidget to get them back into place. Sometimes I’ll bend over to review a document and my back will seize. Sometimes (this happened just a few days ago) I’ll pick up my pen to jot down a note and my knuckles will dislocate. It’s not meant to be rude. I’m just trying to exist here.

            1. amoeba*

              Yeah, and absolutely no one would blame you for that, and it’s also not at all what Niles is doing. (Also, I assume you’d quickly pause and excuse yourself while taking care of your seized back?)

          4. This Old House*

            Personally, I might. Because whether my neck hurts or I have nerve pain or my hips are stiff is not at all affected by whether I need information from a colleague. I hurt when I hurt.

          5. Zak*

            I speculate that Niles is probably *constantly* stretching and LW only notices it when they’re actively paying attention to Niles.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              I speculate that Niles feels the need to stretch when he stands up from his office chair, which he does mostly to come over and ask OP a question. So, it might not be all the time, but it’s frequent when he’s in OP’s space.

              1. allathian*

                Yes, this. I routinely stretch a bit whenever I get up from my office chair, and roll my shoulders at least once an hour. Thankfully I mostly WFH and even when I’m at the office, people are accepting of personal quirks/needs like that. Nobody’s ever asked me why I stretch when I get up from my chair, never mind criticized me for doing so.

                The key here is to talk about the whole issue. IMO the most important thing would be for Niles to stop looking at the LW’s screen and commenting on whatever it is, and to stop looking at his phone while they’re talking.

                How to deal with the stretching depends a bit on why he’s doing it. If he’s doing it to focus on what the LW’s saying, then he IMO should be encouraged to find a less distracting fidget. If he’s doing it because he’s in pain, maybe he could stretch when he’s standing outside the LW’s office and not when she’s explaining things to him.

                Of course, I wouldn’t discount the possiblity that Niles is using the stretches to establish physical dominance over the LW by getting into her personal space. This might even be likely, given that he’s looking over her shoulder at her screen. If that’s the case, it needs to be shut down ASAP.

                For the record, I’m very glad that the office I share with my coworker has a divider and that we sit back to back. I find it very distracting when people walk behind my back, even if it doesn’t make me anxious to the point that I’d want to have a mirror to see who’s walking behind me.

              2. Random Dice*

                That was my read too. He stood up to ask a question, but realized he needed to stretch once up, and since they sit so close he is multi-tasking by stretching while asking a question and listening to the answer. (Unlike if he had to walk down the hall, they’d be separate tasks.)

        2. NerdBoss*

          I also have EDS and can’t get through an hour long meeting without standing and stretching!

          1. amoeba*

            Sure. But do you do it constantly for the whole meeting? Because that’s what Niles is doing.
            If he just, like, stood up and stretched every 10 minutes or whatever while otherwise engaged in the conversation, I doubt anybody would have a problem with that.

        3. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I also have EDS and this is not what’s being described in the question

      3. Observer*

        Alison’s advice to tell someone to “stop moving unless you have a real medical need” makes me really, really cringe. I suppose that I might have a higher tolerance for fidgeting because of my specific exposure to it, but my goodness forcing someone to self-disclose like that for something relatively minor seems really harsh.

        Except that from what the OP is describing, this sounds like a LOT. Enough that for a lot of situations this is not so minor. Also, if Niles has a medical problem they don’t need to disclose any details. They just need to indicate that they understand the problem and will do their best.

    2. Kes*

      I think stretching and joint popping in general might be somewhat annoying to be beside but OP would need to just deal with. Doing that while they’re actively in the middle of a conversation feels rude though, especially to the extent that he’s going. Accurately or not, it really creates the perception that he’s not listening to what OP is saying.

      1. mli25*

        I think it’s the middle of the conversation part. If someone really, really needed to do it (in a “I will need to pee” kinda way), they should say “Excuse me for a few minutes”, walk away, crack/fidget/move/whatever, and then come back to finish the conversation. If someone was moving/cracking while I am talking or trying to show them something, it would annoy the pants off of me. It’s more than when than the what in this case, as I read it

        1. Willow Pillow*

          I think the BEC aspect of LW’s experience here is crucial – both my spouse and I are neurodivergent and need that repetitive movement – we tend not to know we’re doing it. LW has every right to be frustrated, I likely would be too! If they haven’t directly communicated such though, then that’s on them to fix.

          1. Smithy*

            I think going back to the BEC part here is critical – very often, when we’re at the end of our rope it’s that case of so many things creating an overwhelmingly frustrating situation. If the OP were to start on the issues around checking the phone when in the middle of a conversation and reading their screen, it might be that most of the stretching and moving becomes less bothersome.

            If the OP does do all of that, I have to imagine there are movements or combinations of movements that are more irritating than others. And then, focusing on the most irritating of the bunch, and asking if a quick break to finish stretching would be helpful might again relieve some tension around the situations the OP finds the most distracting.

            I have hard contacts, and as a result will get the occasional bit of dust or whatnot in the contacts that needs to cry itself out or be washed out. Usually, I find a bit of eye rubbing can help move things along. But sometimes things are wildly irritating, my eyes get red, there’s tearing up, etc. This is not a situation I notice as something I need to remove myself from being on camera on Zoom or in person to take care of immediately and will try to cry it out before leaving to rinse the contact. But over the years, I’ve noticed some people are really bothered by this and will be more assertive with “please go and take care of yourself”. Whether it’s someone who’s grossed out or being thoughtful, it’s fine. And provided this doesn’t happen anytime I rub my eyes, it feels like an accommodation we can both make for one another.

          2. amoeba*

            I think it’s pretty unlikely to not notice you’re in the middle of a full body stretch though? I mean, maybe we’re all imagining different things here, but I’m imagining full on arms to the ceiling, stretch neck in all directions, lean left and right, Yoga-style stretching, which is… a lot.

      2. This Old House*

        Consider that the alternative might be putting up with pain he can’t relieve or even take the edge off of, and focusing so much on pain and on NOT fidgeting that in fact he can’t listen well to the conversation. Whereas stretching and cracking joints might be annoying but allow him to focus perfectly well on the matter at hand.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          I mean, he could just say “excuse me, my joints get really stiff and I have to stretch”. That doesn’t disclose anything, but allows him to do what needs to be done for him to be comfortable.

          1. ferrina*

            Exactly. I do this from time to time- I’m constantly moving for ADHD. I can usually rein it in, but if I need to fidget, I’ll usually give a quick acknowledgement to the person I’m talking to:
            “Sorry, do you mind if we walk so I can get some coffee while we talk?”

            Almost everyone is appreciates this approach, because it essentially makes it a low-stakes pseudo-conversation about accommodations:
            “Is it an undue burden for you to walk with me while we chat (since walking helps me focus)?”
            “I’m happy to do that!” or “Sorry, no (my feet really hurt and that would be painful for me).”

        2. Kella*

          I am also a person that needs to stretch and fidget a lot because of 24/7 pain. BUT if I need to do some big adjustments or stretches, I can do that *before* I initiate a conversation with someone, and limit my fidgets to smaller things while the conversation is happening. Or if OP is the one initiating, Niles could say, “Yup, just give me one second” and do his stretches first before continuing the conversation.

          I think it would be fine if OP said, “You don’t need to stop stretching and adjusting your body, but would it be possible to reduce how much you do that while we’re talking? It’s coming across as if you’re not paying attention to what I’m saying. If you need a minute to stretch, just let me know and we can resume after you’re done.”

      3. Ace*

        Yeah, I think the issue is that it seems like he’s not listening or paying attention to what OP Is saying on conversation, not that he is stretching. If OP is concerned that he is checked out of a conversation they should bring that up to him. But IDK why we would need to go into his medical conditions that seems kinda inappropriate.

    3. This Old House*

      Obviously I meant “is NOT appropriate for most situations” in the last sentence.

    4. anonaccountant*

      Yeah, this one is tough. On one hand, I get how it can be a really grating noise for people to hear, but on the other hand I have a condition that causes chronic joint pain and a lot of additional movement in my joints and I pop and crack CONSTANTLY. I try not to actively crack anything while around others, but stuff pops just shifting in my seat or from leg to leg. I feel bad walking up the stairs with people because my knees and hips audibly make noise and I know it grosses people out. I quit going to group exercise classes because of it. I’m also regularly in pain or stiff and move a lot to kind of shift that around, especially if I’m standing after sitting for a long period. And I’m sympathetic, because my husband is bothered by the noise, too.

    5. Jellyfish Catcher*

      I have chronic pain, due to an injury; it rises and falls on its own schedule, modified by exercises. It’s a challenge, and I empathize with you.

      I also do stretches. But I don’t do them right as someone (At Work or Not) needs me to pay attention to what they are saying.
      I also don’t stand too close, don’t try to read over their shoulder or check my phone, etc.
      Looking at the total scene….he’s deliberately being insubordinate.

      1. Lydia*

        You don’t know he’s deliberately doing anything and I don’t think it helps to frame it as deliberate. OP should address the phone and reading over the shoulder first; deal with the stretching if it’s still a thing that bothers her.

      2. somehow*

        Yes, THIS precisely. There is a context here that is only partly comprised of the stretching. Tally up the entirety, and the stretching here likely can wait.

        1. Boof*

          I agree… I think it will be really telling what he does if OP asks him to tone a few things down. Maybe he’s just really clueless, thinks staring at his senor partner’s screen and constantly checking thing, is what makes him look attentive, maybe he’s got some other reason, maybe he is just really disrespectful. If he’s just clueless a few pointers will go a long way. If he’s got some other issues hopefully he will disclose a little (not like full health history, just “this helps me focus” or whatever). If he’s a jerk he’ll double down and maybe insult the op in the process I suppose.

        2. amoeba*

          Checking your phone in the middle of a one-on-one conversation would probably qualify as “insubordination” in most cases! I mean, if there is a medical reason, sure, you’d need to find a solution for that (more frequent breaks or whatever). But I’m really shocked that anybody would find that tolerable behaviour.

          1. Lydia*

            The OP isn’t really Niles’ boss, so insubordination doesn’t come into it. Insubordination also implies a kind of militaristic approach to their relationship, which is kind of weird.

          2. New Jack Karyn*

            I agree that checking the phone is inappropriate and rude. “Insubordinate” is more specific, and this doesn’t qualify.

      3. Tau*

        I’m not sure about “insubordinate”, but it’s certainly unprofessional.

        And given the overall context, I’d be cautious about assuming Niles has a medical issue that cannot be mitigated any other way and this is the only way for him to be comfortable/pay attention/etc. I am ADHD fidgeter myself so usually I have a ton of sympathy for the moving person, but all the other things in the letter show someone who doesn’t seem to be particularly clued into professional norms (at best), so why should this part be an exception? We don’t know there’s a medical condition at play at all, and even if there is one, there might be a way to meet Niles’ needs without being quite so distracting to OP.

        Or not! Maybe the commenters supposing the stretches are unavoidable are right! But it’s certainly not out of line for OP to open up that discussion, IMO.

    6. Venus*

      I think there are situations where stretching and fidgeting are possible. I have a coworker who often stretches while we talk. The first time he said that it helps him concentrate and would I mind? When stated that way it was much easier to feel supportive. He also makes it clear through comments and keeping his head pointed in my general direction that he is paying attention. I have no idea if it’s medical, and it doesn’t matter. If one day I needed him to sit still then I would feel comfortable asking him to not stretch that one time.

      1. ferrina*

        Asking and acknowledging makes a big difference. It turns the habit into a conversation and gives you a chance to speak up.

        Niles may not be aware that he’s doing this. If not, it’s fair for OP to alert him and ask him to stop. If he is aware and assumes he’s okay, that might be a bit of entitlement. You still need to be considerate of others in expressing your needs. (I’m ADHD, and I definitely have my own special set of needs- sometimes I need to mask, sometimes I communicate and collaborate, and sometimes I find ways to meet my needs without inconveniencing anyone)

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          Agreed. Part of normalizing neurodivergence needs to be developing comfort with finding a way to assert your needs–not just because it will make you feel more comfortable, but also to make space for anyone else who may have a competing need to say “oh, I think we may need to figure out a compromise here.”

    7. the cat's pajamas*

      Thanks for sharing, that is helpful. If you don’t mind me asking, would it work to say something like “I just need to step out and stretch for a minute?” or do you have to stretch very frequently like every 5 minutes or something like that?

    8. Loreli*

      I become physically nauseated and dizzy when people crack their knuckles in my presence. I have no problem saying “please don’t crack your knuckles when we’re meeting”. This might sound heartless but I don’t care why they’re doing it.

      However, I avoid saying “because it makes me nauseated “ because I have actually had people (well, “bro”-type men) do it on purpose repeatedly and then laugh when I have to get up and leave the area. At one job I complained (about the deliberateness and laughing) and was told “get over it, he’s jut doing it to get your goat”.

    9. tamarack etc.*

      I think a lot of the impact of this stuff for the OP is about setting appropriate expectations. My friend with Tourette’s and my co-worker who is moving a lot because of chronic pain are much more likely to not be irritating, compared to someone who seems unaware of the impact he’s having, especially if it comes with staring at other people screens and flipping attention to his phone.

    10. CommanderBanana*

      If it’s any consolation, I LOVE the sounds of joints and bones popping. I am the person who watches those chiropractor videos, and I would be delightful if a particularly crunchy coworker showed off their joint cracking skills in my office.

      I am also an unrepentant neck/back cracker, although it is one of my great tragedies that my knuckles don’t pop.

  4. Heather*

    Th stretching and fidgeting sounds like a very anxious person. I’ve seen it so often— you’re trying to have a conversation, and they get nervous and start bending around and making “Mmnh Ah” noises. Knowing that won’t change anything, and calling his attention to it will probably make it worse. But maybe you can reframe it in your head as “Poor guy is feeling so uncomfortable/nervous right now” instead of “Gah, stop!”

    1. somehow*

      “Poor guy…”? The one who also whips out his phone whenev during a conversation and reads over LW’s shoulder as she types?


      1. No Yelling on the Bus*

        Hey, that tone is judgmental and a bit unkind and generally not in tone with the comment section here.

      2. Fnordpress*

        I won’t speculate on a diagnosis, but there are some conditions that cause you to misread social cues, and those conditions are often co-morbid with anxiety disorders. Dude sounds clueless and unprofessional, but not malicious.

        1. Siege*

          He also sounds exactly like a misogynist who doesn’t like working with women in positions of authority. It’s not like all this wild speculation about the seventeen different neurological, physiological, and emotional issues that make Niles be Niles are helpful or provable, but they certainly are likely to make it even more difficult for LW to navigate a tricky conversation.

          1. Insert Clever Name Here*

            Whoa. I did not at all get a whiff of that in this letter and we don’t even know that LW is a woman. That is quite the leap.

            1. Heather*

              It’s no more of a leap than the approximately 100 comments so far about autism and chronic pain though? It could be he’s acting dismissive on purpose to show he resents being trained by a woman. Or it could be he’s got ADHD, or something completely different.

      3. Lydia*

        You’re not required to be a total jerk to someone because they’re doing something annoying. You could just…say something.

        1. amoeba*

          Well, if somebody gets out their phone and stops listening in the middle of a conversation (replying only with “uh-huh”), I would very clearly interpret that as deliberate disrespect, not just as an annoying habit.

  5. ZSD*

    I personally think the excessive stretching is something you could bring up with him as well.
    A small stretch in the middle of a conversation won’t be taken badly, but the level of full-body stretch you’re describing, to me, is another sign that he’s checked out of the conversation, just like when he looks at his phone. I’d suggest explaining to him how this comes across and asking him to either significantly tone down the stretching or, if he really has a physical need to stretch that much, as least note that verbally as a semi-apology, the way I apologize in advance for all the sniffling on days when my allergies are bad. “I’m sorry, I threw my back out over the weekend and need to stretch a lot right now.” But I suspect the stretching is less a physical necessity and more a way of entertaining/distracting himself when he’s bored with the work discussion at hand.

    1. Shira*

      I’m gonna disagree with this. People should not have to disclose medical conditions to their colleagues in order to have permission to stretch at work.

      1. Cherries Jubilee*

        If it’s frequent and at inopportune times like Niles, maybe they shouldn’t “have to” but they absolutely should acknowledge that they know it might be annoying and are trying to keep it to a minimum. Even if the amount of stretching doesn’t change and he didn’t specify any specific symptoms that are causing it, acknowledging that he realizes it’s outside of polished norms makes a huge difference.

        He’s not exempt from any attempt to mitigate the effects of his tics on other people just because there might be a medical cause.

        1. This Old House*

          What wording would you recommend for doing this without revealing a specific medical condition? (Either because you don’t want to, or because, in my case, I do not have a diagnosis to refer to.) I actually wrote to Alison asking a similar question a while ago but she didn’t answer it (I know she can’t answer anything like all the questions she gets). Because it would be helpful and appropriate to acknowledge in many contexts, but I’ve never figured out how to without going into too much inappropriate detail or just being weird and awkward.

          1. Kella*

            If it’s smaller fidgets that can be done while still sitting down/without drastic changes in position, it’d probably be enough to say, “Don’t mind me. Muscles are a bit stiff. You were saying?” If you need to do larger adjustments I might start with, “Do you mind if I do some stretches while we’re talking? I’m taking in everything that you’re saying, I just need to move around for a minute.”

            “My muscles are a bit stiff”
            “My joints are kinda wonky”
            “I need to move around for a minute”
            “I feel/think better when I can move my body”
            “This chair isn’t great. I’m gonna stand for a minute.”

            I think those would all be low-key ways to acknowledge what you’re doing without dragging in the specifics of your medication condition. Also, immediately redirecting the conversation back to whatever was happening before will help too.

          2. the cat's pajamas*

            I was just thinking of something like “I just need to take a quick stretch break” or a screen break. I have chronic pain but also sometimes just need to stretch between meetings if I’ve been sitting a long time and nobody noticed. I’ve had colleagues say similar things, too, not a big deal in our office at least.

          3. 1LFTW*

            “I just need to stretch for a second.”

            Sometimes paired with “I’m ok” if someone expresses concern or “I’m listening” if someone stops talking. It’s usually that easy.

            On the rare occasions someone asks why, I just say something bland like “oh, it’s just that I’ve been sitting/standing/typing for awhile”. Most people get it.

        2. AngryOctopus*

          Yes, and as I said above a simple “I’m so sorry but my joints get really stiff and I have to stretch” covers a lot. I’m much less likely to BEC with you if you’ve acknowledged that 1-what you’re doing isn’t usual and 2-you have a need to do so.

        3. Tori*

          But the effect in this case is just that he is not fully tuned into the conversation with OP.

          In which case, OP’s discussion should be “Hey it seems like you aren’t really tuned into this conversation and I want to make sure you don’t miss these important llama grooming numbers. Can we make sure we’re on the same page about these?”

          It should not be “Stretching annoys me. Do you have a medical condition?” That’s just my opinion.

        4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          Why does a person have to mitigate the effects of his disability on another person but a person doesn’t have to mitigate their annoyance level? Also, I think he is exempt from having to “mitigate the effects” when no one has ever told him there are effects.

          1. the cat's pajamas*

            Good point, I read this as possibly a personal space issue, too. If that is the case maybe just ask to sit or stand a little further back. I also wouldn’t want someone accidentally hitting my face with their arm while streching or something like that. I’m clumsy myself so a little more space helps me not bump into others, too.

          2. Allonge*

            OP is already mitigating the effects from annoyance. If they were not, they would have told Niles the first (ok, second) time that this is annoying and to stop, possibly in an irritated tone.

      2. Statler von Waldorf*

        I think there’s a rather large difference between “permission to stretch at work” and stretching in the middle of a conversation with a supervisor who is answering your questions. I didn’t see anything in this letter about wanting to restrict Niles’ behavior when he is not interacting the the letter writer.

        I don’t need permission to stare off into space at work when I am solving a problem. If I did the exact same thing while my supervisor was answering my questions, the optics of the same behavior are completely different. I agree with ZSD that those optics really matter, and that Niles apparently needs to be coached about that.

      3. Shan*

        I mean, I don’t think OP is trying to ban him from stretching at work, she’s just saying it annoys her when he comes into her space and starts doing them right next to her, mid-conversation. That would also annoy me, and I’m someone who lives with chronic pain and has to do a fair bit of stretching throughout the day. I just don’t go into a colleague’s office, ask a question, and then start touching my toes. And if for some reason I really need to, I’ll acknowledge it before starting.

        1. Miss Muffet*

          Right – it’s a time and place thing. Sometimes we have to stifle things we would do naturally (or have no issues doing in the “privacy” of our own cubicle) when we are in close quarters with someone else (in their cubicle). Optics and how things are perceived are actually things in many (most?) corporate workplaces. Some behavior, no matter how needed or natural or whatever, is just not appropriate in every situation/location.

      4. ferrina*

        This isn’t just stretching at work- this is coming into OP’s space to ask a question, then doing a full-bodied stretch as she responds. OP has a reasonable expectation that Niles can wait until after the conversation to stretch. OP shouldn’t assume that Niles has a health condition when Niles hasn’t expressed anything like that. It’s Occam’s razor of social assumptions, plus ADA complications can apply when you are presuming someone has a health condition.

        Niles doesn’t need to disclose, but he shouldn’t assume that people will be fine with accommodating him. You can act however you want, but actions come with consequences. That’s true of both acting unilaterally in his assumption of accommodations, and true if he discloses.

        It’s a calculated trade off. I’m ADHD, and it would be naive for me to assume that I can express my symptoms without impunity (….and that’s how I was regularly in suspension from Kindergarten- 7th grade). I either: 1) find ways to manage my symptoms to be less disruptive for those around me, 2) collaborate with people around me to find a solution for both of us or 3) disclose my condition and ask for needed accommodations.

  6. Alanna*

    The next time he pulls out his phone, OP, stop talking and say “I’ll wait for you to finish,” and then stop talking until he puts it away. It’s a reasonably gentle cue because it makes it seem like you’re trying to be nice to him, but it also sends a signal that you’re not going to talk if he’s not paying attention.

    If he keeps doing it, I’d say “Sorry, is that an emergency? If not, do you mind letting it wait for a minute so we can finish up here?”

    1. sparkle emoji*

      These could be useful as a reminder but I do think a direct comment in line with Alison’s script would be best initially. These might be more appropriate for a one-time issue. “I’ll wait” in particular sounds like something I’ve heard from frustrated teachers and could come off passive-aggressive if OP is already frustrated.

      1. Willow Pillow*

        It might not communicate to Niles that LW wants him not to check his phone too – I could see it interpreted as tacit permission to check his phone.

    2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      This is the tactic I’d take- suggesting stopping until he is finished- and then let everything else about the stretching and popping go. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is for the stretching and popping. It’s just not a hill to die on- it’s a quirk that, though LW might find annoying, LW just needs to let go and accept that will happen as a distraction to them and not necessarily to him. We all need to exhibit some grace toward behaviors that are, ultimately, harmless, even though they annoy us.

      1. ferrina*

        This would fly right over my head. I prefer the more direct route- “Hey, can you quit stretching? It’s distracting. Okay, so as I was saying, the llama slides require a friction reduction shield to increase the speeds of the llamas…”

        In a quieter time, you can say, “Hey, I don’t know if you noticed, but you (x) a lot. It’s really distracting when I talk to you. Can you tone it down? Thanks.”

        Then “Hey, you’re doing (x) again. Can you stop? Thanks.”

        Said calmly and non-judgmentally each time.

    3. Janeric*

      This man is eating a LOT of crackers. I would also be bumping against the limits of my ability to be compassionate and supportive.

    4. NothingIsLittle*

      The fidgeting, stretching, distraction, and watching someone’s screen is all stuff I don’t notice I’m doing, which happens as a result of my ADHD and autism. I’m not saying the coworker in question is necessarily neurodivergent, but in my early career I would not have gotten the hint. (Granted, I never would have been on my phone, but a hint to stop watching someone’s typing for example would not have been understood.)

      It’s a kindness to be direct when you’re working with a young professional who may just not know better.

    1. M*

      Yeah this guy sounds like exactly the type of person that needs something to keep his hands occupied. A walk and talk would probably be ideal when possible.

      I doubt OP will be able to do much about stretching or knuckle cracking. Trying not to stretch or knuckle crack always makes me more focused on the parts of my body that need to be stretched, joints that want to be cracked.

      Perhaps OP’s work needs more time for stretch breaks where it will be more appropriate for junior to get it out of his system. Desk jobs are hard on the body, stretching is a good way to help with that.

  7. Shira*

    Oof, read this and got terrified that it was my coworker complaining about me until I got to the phone part (that I would never do). I’m a chronic nailbiter and it can be a really hard habit to break. OP, unless this person is totally oblivious, he is likely aware of what he is doing, knows how it comes, off and would stop if he could.

    I would bring up the phone thing and screen snooping and leave it at that, possibly look into switching desks. I am skeptical that any good will come of bringing up the rest except make for an uncomfortable conversation. I am honestly not sure what Allison means by the “some physical need” thing. I am not sure that anyone bites their nails for fun. If it’s being done by a grown adult, that’s probably because they can’t stop themselves.

    1. Shira*

      Oof, sorry I thought this hadn’t posted so I double posted below by accident. Sorry!

    2. mli25*

      My sister in law is a chronic nail biter. It’s gross. You can see the blood/scabs around her fingers constantly. I would never comment because its not going to change a thing. I know she washes her hands before engaging with food, especially communal food, and that’s enough for me.

    3. Chirpy*

      Yeah, nail-biting is really hard to quit. I finally managed by getting the most horrible smelling nail polish so it gave me a smell cue when it got close to my face, but it took years to get to that point. Then it was a long time to get out of the urge. Even decades later I can’t have long nails, as keeping them short lessens the the “need” to bite them off.

    4. allathian*

      Yeah, this. With teens it’s different. I bit my nails to the quick when I was a fairly anxious teenager, but somehow I just stopped doing it in my senior year of high school. In my case it was just a phase, I don’t even remember having to put a lot of effort into quitting. I guess I just grew out of it. I wanted nice nails that would look cute with polish, so I got some transparent polish that both smelled and tasted really foul. After a few months I had nice nails and could start using colored polish.

  8. Fizzy Lifting Juice*

    sharing a screen in-person is absolutely a norm in programming. pair programming is the most valuable tool for knowledge sharing between experienced and inexperienced engineers. if he’s hovering, touching you, or inside your bubble, that’s something you can address. “I’m finding it too cramped to have you next to me when you need to see my screen. for today and in future when we need to pair let’s do it over zoom so we both have enough room” this should alleviate a lot of the annoyance with his fidgeting as well by increasing the physical distance between you

    1. ecnaseener*

      There’s a difference between sharing a screen willingly and just walking over uninvited to read someone’s screen!

    2. I should really pick a name*

      If he comes into my cube and I’m in the middle of typing, he will stare directly at my screen, obviously reading what I am typing

      This isn’t pair programming.

    3. One of the Sarahs*

      you don’t initiate pair programming by hovering in someone’s cube, though – even in environments where pairing is common it would be rude to watch someone over their shoulder without an invitation. I very much doubt OP is complaining that their colleague is looking at her screen while pairing.

    4. Myrin*

      We don’t know if OP is in programming (she says “technical field” which could be a bunch of things) and we do know that she is decidedly not screen-sharing with Niles! She is writing something completely unrelated to him when he wanders over and reads what she’s writing.

  9. zinzarin*

    I can’t believe that nobody has addressed the nail-biting! That’s just unacceptable in a workplace. There’s simply no reason that any part of your body should enter your mouth while you’re at work, pretty much ever. I suppose if you’re seated in a break room in front of a plate, getting a little sauce or frosting off of your fingers *might* be acceptable–but I think even in that case a napkin is a better choice.

    “Dude, gross!”

    1. I should really pick a name*

      It’s interesting how things come across differently to different people.
      That seemed like one of the least of the issues to me.

    2. Willow Pillow*

      We’re close enough to the thick of COVID that I think think it would be a good reason for asking him not to do so (in LW’s presence, at least).

      1. Laika*

        Sadly, not even living through a pandemic was enough to get me to stop biting my nails

        1. Willow Pillow*

          I have stims that I haven’t been able to replace with something healthier either. It’s been a rough go!

    3. Michelle Smith*

      Actually someone else did, a few minutes before your post, and explained that for them it isn’t actually something they can control despite knowing how it is perceived by others. You may be jumping to an unfair conclusion here.

      1. zinzarin*

        If it’s truly a compulsion that can’t be stopped, I hope they are conspicuously using hand sanitizer each and every time. If not, that means human saliva on pens, keyboards, door handles, and other shared surfaces.

        It’s not unfair to conclude that human saliva in the workplace is gross. If there’s a medical reason that you can’t control it, you still have a duty to not be unsanitary in the workplace.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          I generally assume that all shared touchpoints in an office are covered in a fine layer gross human byproducts, and frankly saliva is not the one I’m most concerned about given the people who don’t wash their hands after using the toilet or blowing their nose. Sure, ideally people just wouldn’t be gross, but in reality I just make a point of washing my hands before eating and such, assuming that they’re dirty unless I just washed them.

    4. Elly*

      I bite my nails. I literally cannot stop it, it is not a conscious decision. I have tried to stop my entire life. I’ve tried EVERYTHING. Thank you for making me feel like I should never leave my house.

      1. zinzarin*

        I’m sorry for your medical condition. I hope you’re using hand sanitizer regularly when you’re in a shared workspace. It’s possible to both have sympathy for your condition and still require you to meet minimum standards of hygiene.

        1. Ajjjjaner*

          you may feel that you have sympathy (or even empathy) for this situation, but neither your time nor your words express that.

      2. Laika*

        From another compulsive nail biter, don’t think about it for another second. Any time it comes up in the AAM comment section you’ll see something like this. We can’t control what other people are grossed out by ‍♀️

          1. Random Dice*

            I loved that emoji, I paused and thought for a second, like, huh, maybe it IS an inappropriately gendered thing, but then thought hey waiiit.

    5. AnotherLibrarian*

      I’m so happy for you that you and no one in your life has ever suffered from any form of body-focused repetitive behavior (a type of OCD) that includes behaviors like nail biting, hair pulling, skin picking, chewing on cuticles, etc. It must be nice. Please consider that your “unacceptable in a workplace” behavior might be someone else’s medical condition, because it is often the case and those of us with health struggles already face enough stigma without this adding to it.

      1. zinzarin*

        As I stated above in answer to another similar comment, if your medical condition involves putting human saliva on your hands, I believe you have a duty to be sanitary when you’re in a common workspace.

        If you have a medical condition that means you can’t control biting your nails, you should be conspicuously using hand sanitizer to mitigate the hygiene issue that presents.

        1. slashgirl*

          You DO realize that people talking spreads small droplets of saliva into the air? Which is worse than someone’s dried saliva getting on surfaces.

          From an article from Princeton University (Oct. 2020):
          “Using high-speed imaging, the researchers showed that when our mouths open to produce speech sounds, a film of lubricating saliva initially spreads across the lips. As the lips part, the liquid film then breaks into filaments. Outward airflow from the lungs stretches and thins the filaments until they eventually rupture and disperse into the air as miniscule droplets — all within fractions of a second.

          This droplet-producing mechanism is especially pronounced for so-called stop-consonants or “plosives” like “p” and “b,” which require the lips to firmly press together when forming the vocalized sound. Other sounds known as denti-alveolar plosives, such as “t” and “d” which involve the tongue touching the upper teeth and the jaw ridge just behind the teeth, likewise produce droplets at a much greater rate than when forming vowel sounds.” (source: princeton(dot)edu–“How exactly do we spread droplets as we talk? Engineers find out” by Adam Hadhazy)

          So yeah, people who bite their finger nails probably are spreading their saliva around no more than folks talking and their saliva is not going to be airborne. So, unless you work in an office where no one talks…it would perhaps be better to take responsibility for your own health and sanitize your own hands, etc, than harp on the nail biters. I find your obsession with a sanitary work place (I do believe that’d be an oxymoron) unrealistic.

          1. Jupiter*

            fwiw I agree with you but the kind of people who are this reactive to/grossed out by nail biting can’t be logicked out of it. personally I just had to come to terms with the fact that there are people out there who will find my habit this repulsive/unsanitary that they’ll go out of their way to make the kind of comments zinzarin has (even though it’s a disproportionately strong reaction when you compare it to the other gross ways we co-exist in a space).

            it sucks but there are things other people do that I think are nasty too so I guess fair is fair?

        2. Ajjjjaner*

          How conspicuous does the application of sanitizer need to be?

          Would a loud uncapping and capping of the bottle work?

          Perhaps the nail biters could announce to the office at a large “I am now applying hand sanitizer “.

          Or how about a song??? A song of sanitizer and apology?

          1. zinzarin*

            Conspicuous enough that anyone that saw you bite your nails can see you using hand sanitizer.

            I said conspicuous, not dramatic.

            1. Laika*

              This heavily implies that my colleagues see me bite my nails, then stare at me non-stop until they’ve observed my satisfactory conclusion of the process by (~conspicuously~) sanitizing my hands?

              I…genuinely don’t know what to do with this information lol

    6. New Jack Karyn*

      ” That’s just unacceptable in a workplace.”

      No. Just no. It’s really not ‘unacceptable’.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Biting one’s nails is using up my capital? I’d find a different place to work, if that’s what people care about so much.

          1. Despachito*

            I understood that if AnotherLibrarian said “behaviors like nail biting, hair pulling, skin picking, chewing on cuticles”, they meant engaging in this activity at work in front of other people, and I think this is what comes across as weird and uses up the capital (although I suppose can be outweighed by you being brilliant work-wise, but this will hold only with people who work with you regularly. I cannot imagine a bank clerk or a teacher biting their nails in front of their clients/audience).

            If you can manage to do this only while on your own, then I think there is almost no harm. I would not be concerned about germs, I do not think they present a real risk most of the time (people are spreading droplets of saliva when they speak and nothing happens, and we touch worse things without even knowing). It is about the optics.

        2. J*

          This is why I only take work from home jobs now. My capital is used up a lot by dealing with people like you in the office.

  10. Shira*

    Read this comment and was freaked out that it might be my coworker complaining about me until I got to the phone thing (which I would never do). I am a chronic nailbiter and hate that about myself. It is a very, very hard habit for some people to break.

    I don’t see what good would come of bringing it up to him. If he’s a grown adult who is not totally oblivious to the world, I would assume that he’s aware that it’s a gross habit and embarrassed about how it comes off. If he were biting his nails instead of focusing on work that you needed him to get done, that would be one thing. But in a situation where you are just annoyed by it happening near you, I don’t see what good would come of bringing it up to him other than an uncomfortable conversation.

    I am also just not sure what is meant by “unless you have some physical need”. Generally if an adult is biting their nails they are not doing it for fun, it’s because they’re physically compelled to do it. And if he actually has some medical condition that is driving him to these behaviors, he is in no way obligated to disclose that to you just cuz you sit near him.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Eh, an astonishing number of people don’t connect one gross activity with the fact that we all share this space. I have yelled at my mother for putting her purse on the table. The same purse that I know she just had on the floor of the car and also bumping around in a gas station bathroom earlier today.

    2. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      The “physical need” bit was attached to fidgeting and stretching, not everything listed.

    3. McS*

      I have to agree specifically about the nail biting. My partner bites his nails. I have misphonia and can’t stand the nail-biting and also often put on headphones if he (or someone in my open office) is eating and I am not. He really doesn’t like to bother me and is fully bought in to not biting his nails. But he still does it all the time and I ask him to stop all the time. He doesn’t even notice when he starts. He genuinely also tries to warn me when he eats, but forgets a lot. I would never ask a coworker to enter this kind of back and forth.

      1. Keyboard Cowboy*

        Yeah, my partner and I both do the unconscious nail-biting thing. He asked me to point it out when he does it. So now we both have an unconscious nail-biting problem AND an unconscious, unacknowledged “don’t chew your nails” problem :) :) :)

        1. Heather*

          Random suggestion, feel free to ignore: for people who think they can do so and are looking for ways to realize they’re biting, there’s a clear matte polish you can put on your nails which tastes bad. It really helped me shake the habit when I was younger.

  11. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    One of the cultural things about office jobs that Nigel might not have caught on to yet is “don’t be physically demonstrative”. Things that would be totally normal in a warehouse or factory line or in the field as a utility worker, aren’t considered appropriate behavior in an office. Which includes, among other things, full-body stretching.

    At the least, Nigel can learn to be more discrete and less distracting about when and how he chooses to stretch.

    1. Stuff*

      Considering the very well documented evidence of the serious medical issues caused by sitting in an office chair for decades, maybe it’s office job culture that’s wrong, not full body stretching in an office.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        There’s lots of ways to stretch, and lots of times to stretch. Full-body stretching (with bonus joint popping sounds) while someone is answering the question you just asked can surely look like you’re not paying much attention to their answer.

        1. Stuff*

          The thing is, yea, my methods of helping me pay attention absolutely come off to others like I am not paying attention to them or don’t care about what’s being said. My methods aren’t stretching or joint popping specifically, but they still come off as inattentive. Which is legitimately a problem for me when I’m doing what I need to do to best function and process information, and I get called out publicly in a way that humiliates me and announces to everyone that I don’t care.

  12. Sloanicota*

    I just want to be absolutely real with you, OP; this does sound in part like your tolerance is low. Based on what’s come across this site, Niles’ behaviors are described are nowhere near top-tier annoying behaviors. You can ask him to refocus on you if he’s distracted by the phone, but you’ll also want to work on whatever you need (meditative breathing? taking more breaks?) to deal with the minor annoyances of coworkers in your space.

    1. ezmama*

      I think actively, obviously disengaging when op is answering a question he asked, especially when he’s redirected his focus to his phone, is certainly a top tier annoyance. I have a lot of patience, and while this is the most egregious example, taken together his behaviors would try me more than a rough day with both my toddler and teen.

    2. Allonge*

      Eh, just as some conditions don’t allow good control of body movement, some brain settings will take what this guy is doing as a very high lvel of annoyance indeed. Don’t be annoyed is just as realistic advice in a lot of cases as don’t bite your nails.

    3. Pierrot*

      Reading over someone’s shoulder without permission is objectively annoying, and I think a lot of people would agree!

    4. roboto*

      OP, an opposite take is that I do not think your tolerance is low at all, and this is a tremendous amount of motion/distraction from another person while you are actively working with them (i.e., not 2 cubicles over).

      OP, I do not think this is a “you” problem.

      1. amoeba*

        Yup. And honestly, the checking of messages *in the middle of a conversation* would make me very annoyed very fast. That’s, like, in your face rudeness. Like a sulky teenager or something. I really feel like I didn’t read the same letter as parts of the commentariat today?

  13. learnedthehardway*

    I would cut him some slack on the fidgeting – he’s coming from a more physical work environment, and I can totally believe it is a VERY difficult adjustment to be sitting still all the time. Additionally, he may have joint pain and need to move / pop joints just to be comfortable.

    The reading your screen – I would turn the screen off if he’s doing that and tell him that some of your work is confidential.

    I would also tell him that you can’t have him checking his phone while you are training him or dealing with his need for information. If he needs to deal with an emergency, then he needs to go away and come back when he can give his full attention, so that you aren’t wasting time but can get on with your own work.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I completely agree with your first paragraph and was coming here to say that. It takes a lot of time for some people to make that adjustment.

      But really, a lot of this is not really BEC stuff. Niles needs to act more professionally, and it would be a kindness to show him how.

    2. Just Another Zebra*

      I hadn’t considered your first point, that his previous work environment may have been more physical, and being sedentary is a tough adjustment for him. I work with field techs, and I occasionally need them to sit with me and go over paperwork or material lists. They’re all so squirmy and fidget, some will stand behind me and bounce on their feet. I’m used to it at this point, it hardly phases me. But if OP is more sensitive to it (like, say, working from home for quite some time and suddenly having to work with people again), I can see it being annoying.

    3. Michelle Smith*

      I really wouldn’t go with a confidentiality line, especially because that really isn’t the issue. The issues is that he’s being invasive. Doesn’t matter really if he’s reading her private emails or some draft of some document that will be ultimately shared with this person anyway.

      1. Zelda*

        Agreed. I don’t want other people to see my work in progress because it’s messy and possibly embarrasing! Nobody needs to see all the errors I haven’t fixed yet, random brainstorming, rough-drafty crap, and general inside-of-my-brain-ness. You can see it when it’s ready for prime time.

    4. Heather*

      I agree with most of this, but lying about confidentiality seems risky when you’re working together. OP should just say “do you mind not reading my screen? it’s a work in progress and I get self conscious about it when people read over my shoulder”

  14. New Senior Mgr*

    I kept thinking Rubberman while reading this.

    Seriously, I can see how this would be irritating. And a little off-putting because, in general, we don’t expect this type of office behavior from a 30-something year old. It’s true, sometimes age is a just a number.

  15. Buzzybeeworld*

    I intentionally look at my phone when someone is looking something up for me. Just standing there watching them feels super rude. I hate it when someone does it to me, I would much prefer they look at their phone than watch me query a database and find the detail they need.

    1. mlem*

      That would make total sense to me if Niles didn’t just march up and start reading the LW’s screen.

  16. HereAgain*

    I can relate! My coworker in the next cube over likes to put on his headphones and sing. There are two versions of the singing. There’s the loud whisper singing, then there’s the ‘cat with a tail in the grinder’ singing. Both very distinct.
    Then there’s the laughing. I’m not sure what he’s doing, but his laugh sounds like the canned laughter on TikTok. I’m not sure why this started as I never noticed it before the pandemic. Back then it was just clipping nails at his desk that drove me up the wall.

  17. CubeFarmer*

    I’m grateful for this question. I find joint popping/cracking to be very bothersome. I’ve never addressed it with anyone, but this is helpful for the future.

  18. Grilledcheeser*

    I am picturing the stretching etc happening next to me in any of the cubicles I have worked in, and, there’s just not room for that! I would definitely be asking them to step out of my cubicle to do it. Not stop it, just don’t do it while crammed in next to me.

  19. Properlike*

    Isn’t there a happy medium between, “Yes, you can ask your coworker not to do so much stretching in your space because it’s distracting” and “HOW DARE YOU WANT HIM TO DISCLOSE A MEDICAL CONDITION?”

    We all have to make compromises in the office world between what works for us and what works for others. LW, this guy sounds like my teenager — utterly clueless about where his body is in space, or being cognizant of what he’s doing with that body (reading screens, sounds with his tongue, moving his body to be directly in the line of sight as you’re having a conversation with someone else…)

    And yet, I expect him to be more cognizant of these in public situations, because there is no reason for your fingers to be in your mouth in an office situation. (Or in MOST situations that aren’t flossing or eating popcorn.) He should not look at other peoples’ screens, and if he gets distracted enough by his phone so that he can’t redirect his attention on a dime, then he shouldn’t be pulling out his phone “for a quick second.” On the very likely chance that stretching his body is something he’s used to doing whenever, for no reason except it never occurred to him that he shouldn’t, knowing it’s distracting can make him more aware to rein it in.

    If it’s Tourette’s, or something else, he can say, “I’m so sorry. I know it’s distracting. It’s something I need to do, but I can step out and come back.”

    So easy. So matter-of-fact. He sounds genuinely oblivious about himself as he interacts with his surroundings, and that can read like not caring in a business context, which is something to be coached on.

    1. Ace*

      I hear what you’re saying, but Allison’s advice was specifically to ask him to stop stretching *unless he has a physical need to*, which is literally asking him to disclose a medical condition.

      I don’t think anyone is saying OP needs to put up with this person snooping on her screen or staring at his phone the whole conversation. I just think OP needs to keep the complaint about how he seems like he’s not paying attention because he’s doing a thousand other things. That should nudge him to make whatever changes he can without looking like OP is digging into his conditions.

      1. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, I don’t love Alison’s language on the stretching. I do think it’s something you can ask someone to stop, but maybe make it about you, not them. “Hey. I find it super distracting when you XYZ, so can you please not do that in my cubicle?” is, while not perfect, I do think a fair thing to ask of any coworker.

    2. darsynia*

      Thank you for this. The pendulum swings in the comments (including assumptions that I thought we’re not meant to be making!) are giving me whiplash. It could be entirely confusing to someone trying to read this to figure out how to handle either situation, both in Niles’ case or the OP’s.

      1. Sassy SAAS*

        Seriously! The amount of folks diagnosing Niles with EDS, Tourette’s, arthritis, ADHD, autism… Holy moly. OP asked for a perspective check, and wants to know if their annoyances are valid or are things they need to let go. They got a bunch of keyboard doctors instead! No one is asking Niles to give OP their full medical history! Alison is only saying that Niles needs to learn the time & place to do full body stretches, and it is well within OP’s rights to say “hey this is distracting, can you please not do a whole yoga routine when I’m trying to explain something to you?”. OP is not tying to shame people with any of the above mentioned conditions into suffering in silence, and Alison is not suggesting discrimination based on medical conditions, disclosed or not.

        There’s a lot of projecting in these comments…

        1. Fnordpress*

          The reason people are doing that is because the behaviors described are so clearly in line with neurodivergence and chronic pain. Feel however you want about it, but people aren’t wrong for saying “I have ADHD and this reminds me of myself.” That’s not against the site rules.

          1. Critical Rolls*

            The site rules ask that we try to be constructive to the letter writers. An avalanche of “I’m disappointed be this obviously ableist bull, Niles’ behavior is IDENTICAL to mine due to [condition, various], why are the normies always like this???” is not remotely helpful. Alison’s advice already included the possibility that Niles may have some need for some of these behaviors. But I would argue that the *sum* of his behaviors reflect someone who is not thinking about his impact on others, including not considering that someone might find full-body stretching in *their* space while trying to answer a question disconcerting/distracting. LW is just trying to figure out how to communicate around this, something Niles has not bothered to do.

        2. Despachito*

          I think it is relevant for OP here whether Niles has a medical condition (it is not necessary to know which specific one), because it would be easier to make him stop doing the annoying things if he doesn’t.

          Some people above commented that it is impossible for them to stop engaging in such a habit, and were annoyed that someone called it unacceptable in a workplace. I can imagine that if the habit is something you are aware of and have tried everything within your reach and it didn’t work, it can be very frustrating to have people point it out constantly … but OP is supposed to be Niles’s mentor and Niles is new in this environment, and I think she should tell Niles how it comes across.

        3. ElderMillenial*

          yep! not sure why every behavior needs to be pathologized…taking everything as a whole, the person just sounds like he’s just unaware or doesn’t care that he’s being rude.

    3. Shan*

      Yes, I think some people are really getting their back up about this, and missing that OP seems to be specifically talking about Niles coming into her space, asking a question, and then doing this while she’s in the middle of answering. There’s a middle ground between “don’t move, ever” and “treat my office like your own living room.”

      1. starsaphire*

        Agreed – a lot of people are missing the point that he’s coming in to HER cube, asking her a question, and THEN starting the stretching/popping/phone flipping/checking out of the conversation.

        I re-read the letter twice to make sure, and she says it right there: this is all happening when he’s come into her cube to ask a question.

        1. Port*

          Yes, this makes me wonder if another commenter’s suggestion that it’s actually harassment might not be likely. The only difference is whether Niles is clueless or intentional.

  20. Juror No.7*

    Re the stretching. I think you could ask him to take a few minutes to do his big stretches on his own before speaking with you. That way, (hopefully,) most of the big pops are done for a bit (it takes a few minutes for most of mine to regenerate) and the movements might be less dramatic.

    It’s similar to his behavior with the phone. Ask him to please wait until after you’ve finished your conversation to check his messages. Check his phone before talking to you or after talking to you, but not while talking to you. If he continues the behavior, ask or tell him to step out of your cube, finish his other business and then come back to you when he has a clean plate.

    Ask him to wait by the entrance to your cube if he stops by in the middle of you typing. You need your space. He needs his minutes to fidget.

    1. whimbrel*

      I feel like this is the best of all possible responses, tbh – the focus is on making sure that he is, at least temporarily, done with the behaviours that are frustrating OP before he and OP interact.

      1. Former cube worker*

        I was coming here to say what Juror #7 suggested. Encouraging all the distracting behavior be dealt with prior to the conversation seems like the optimal solution.

    2. amoeba*

      How does he even realise he has a new message? Like, when I’m talking to a coworker, if I have my phone with me, it’s in my pocket and on silent. So either he has it constantly out and is looking at it or he has the ringtone on – both of which would be quite inappropriate in any office I’ve ever worked in!

      1. whimbrel*

        I’ve found that can be really office-dependent – my office is fairly chill about text message chimes or ringtones, as long as they aren’t workplace-inappropriate or obnoxiously loud. In our other office space nearby, it would be much more of an issue.

        That said, I can also be an easily distracted phone checker, even when I’m engaged in a conversation with a colleague, so I try to leave my phone at my desk as much as possible whenever I’m talking to others. This might work for LW, to just ask Nigel to leave his phone behind when he’s going to be asking questions and suggest a notebook if he needs something to refer to (which could also solve the issue of ‘he needs to do things with his hands’).

  21. nope*

    Man, as a fidgety person with a chronic pain disability and anxious tics, who also comes from a blue collar family and is the first one to ever have an office job, this post and the comments sucked to read. Not the phone stuff or reading LW’s screen, but the stretching and fidgeting thing.

    I already feel out of place and on my back foot, and now I learn that how I exist in my body is unpolished and unprofessional. I should have given up *before* getting into student loan debt and just tried to get by on SSI and part time retail work, I guess.

    1. Willow Pillow*

      Same. It’s super discouraging to see what amounts to “your natural way of existing is rude”.

    2. theletter*

      I think the general consensus from the commentariat is that people should be allowed to stretch and fidget at work. We all have to exist in our bodies and stretching isn’t a bad thing.

    3. Statler von Waldorf*

      Honestly, would you really prefer not knowing and just have people think you’re being unprofessional without understanding why?

      At least if you know that this is a thing, you can work around it to some degree. It usually doesn’t take much. If you simply acknowledge it, that’s 90% of the issue right there.

      1. Dinwar*

        You essentially just told a neurodivergent person “Have you tried, just, not being autistic?” Never actually thought I’d see that in the wild, as it were; I thought it was an exaggeration.

        Would you say that to a blind person? A deaf person? Someone with dyslexia? I don’t need to ask about anosmia; the number of people who bring things to me saying “Hey, can you smell THIS???” when they learn about it is astonishing.

        What would someone with autism prefer? I can’t speak to nope, but my autistic son prefers people make some small effort to understanding how he functions. That they acknowledge that some things he can’t control (autism is linked with Tourette’s, for example). That they accept him for who he is when his quirks don’t interfere with their lives. Something as small as us making sure he has a designated place to go when he’s overwhelmed, and us learning the signals of him being overwhelmed, mean SO MUCH to him that it’s heartbreaking sometimes. I have another son with a disorder that causes him to shake uncontrollably; he prefers that we treat it as a non-issue, beyond the immediate practical concerns (like, he’ll hand me his drink if he has an episode coming on). We just ignore that it’s happening until it stops. How would YOU like to be told “That’s unprofessional, could you please not?” when you have as much control over the convulsions as you do blinking or sneezing?

        1. A person*

          Oh man! I so agree that it means so much when someone makes even the tiniest effort to know your neurodivergent things and help, accommodate, accept where they can! My workplace accommodates some sensory issues I have very nicely.

          My colleagues know I struggle with loud noises, and the difference between anxious stims and happy stims, and while I’d never expect anyone to notice or accommodate, when then actually do it just feels very safe there (which usually means anxious stims are less).

          A newer colleague is struggling with my speech abilities a little. I know it takes some getting used to. I mix up my words, can’t read numbers out loud in order, stutter occasionally, and sometimes just lose words altogether for a minute. Most people seem to adjust pretty fast, one new one is taking longer than usual though and thinks that I just need practice. I’m almost 40… it is what it is. I don’t fault him for it, but it sometimes stings a little when he makes comments.

          I try not to bite my nails because I know many people find it annoying and I have sensory stickers and quiet fidget toys to try to keep things like leg bouncing at bay so I do also try to not be a bother. I do admit I fail at the nail biting a lot though. That one is so hard!

        2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

          No, they didn’t. I know you’re hypersensitive to this, so be aware you are reading things into this comment that do not exist. And you are being extremely insulting because of those negative assumptions you are making.

          Statler von Waldorf said to *acknowledge* the problem and figure a way to work around it, not to “not be autistic”. For example, “I need to fidget to help me focus.” Or in your son’s case, surely he tells people who have never seen him shake before that he is alright and not to be concerned? Surely he verbally communicates that he wants it to be treated as a non-issue rather than silently expecting people not to be worried? That would be “acknowledging the problem.”

          Also, you have really go to stop deciding everyone is ND. There is no reason to start from the assumption that every single person who has any type of issue with a coworker is dealing with an undisclosed ND person. We do not have any reason to think Niles is ND and yet you’ve built an entire angry fantasy around this assumption.

          1. Dinwar*

            “Also, you have really go to stop deciding everyone is ND.”

            I was going to respond with a longer post, but honestly, if you think this, I’m not sure it’s worth it. Statler directed their comment at a neurodivergent person. To dismiss this as me fantasizing about anything, or “deciding everyone is ND”, demonstrates a level of irrationality, or willful ignorance of context, such that I’m not sure any constructive conversation is possible.

            Please re-read Statler’s comments, in the context of a response to nope. This is not a hypothetical thing, or a fantasy. This is a thing that happened, and which is recorded. The consequences of such attitudes are not insignificant. There is a body count associated with such attitudes. My son is at risk because of such attitudes. Am I taking it personally? Sure. I disagree with your implied accusation that this is a bad thing. My logic is sound, and my personal stake merely serves to energize my opposition to such dangerous and deadly views.

        3. TheySayItBlindPeople*

          As someone who is legally blind I can definitively tell you that yes, people will say things that amount to just have better eyesight. Pretty regularly, as a matter of fact. Even doctors sometimes. Because people who don’t have to deal with it all the time don’t think about it and assume their normal is more or less your normal, except without the ability to drive (or insert one activity here). Even people who know better or who’ve known you for decades. And they’ll pat themselves on the back if they remember to increase the font size of a document shared over Zoom from “too minuscule for a mouse to read” to “I guess it’s slightly bigger but I still can’t read it” before I ask them get annoyed when I still have to ask them to increase the size. Or lecture me on how to make basic adjustments to my working environment that will magically fix everything on my end so they don’t have to live with my vision. And don’t get me started on the people who think that blind == having no sight at all and try to trick me into seeing something so they can believe I’m just making stuff up so they don’t have to deal with it. Or the people who automatically drop 100 pts off my IQ because apparently being blind impairs brain functioning their world.

          , back to the actual topic of the thread.

      2. nope*

        I would prefer if the culture of professionalism in the US cared more about what I can do and contribute than how much I can fake being able-bodied and neurotypical. Easily 30% of my brain power and physical energy on every work day is focused on fitting it with what working society demands of me. Now, it’ll be 32% thanks to this post. Yay.

        Imagine how much more productive and valuable I could be at your job if you had 32% more time in your day. How many more raises and promotions would you have been able to achieve? How easy would it be to find a new job if yours started treating you poorly? It snowballs.

        This is not an indictment of you, Statler von Waldorf. You didn’t create the system and I have no idea your relationship to disability or generational poverty. But how I feel is the reality for many of us, and it sucks to realize that we’ll either never be accepted in professional spaces, or we will have to work so much harder than others to even get a foot in the door.

        1. Statler von Waldorf*

          For the record, I would also prefer ” the culture of professionalism in the US cared more about what I can do and contribute than how much I can fake being able-bodied and neurotypical.” I really would.

          The cold, hard, shitty fact is that it doesn’t. Optics are king. People almost always judge the book by the cover. I say that as a disabled person who is clearly missing one leg, and as someone who has been discriminated against because of that. It sucks sometimes, but I’m not the type to lie about the reality of the world I have experienced and claim that it doesn’t.

          Despite what others are implying my motives were when asking this question, I was asking out of a sense of empathy and trying to better understand my fellow humans. Thank you for answering.

    4. Data Bear*

      Yup. There is a whooooooole lotta ablism going on in the comments here, and it’s very disappointing.

    5. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Hey, look I just consider this all part with etiquette.

      I don’t want my way of being in my body to interfere with somebody else’s way of doing the same, and vice versa. So we come up with social compromises.

      I don’t think anybody is saying that OP’s coworker needs to wear a straitjacket, but they do need to be aware of when they are intruding on OP’s personal space – and that includes staring at OP’s screen – and make good-faith efforts to minimize that.

    6. starsaphire*

      If you’re not walking into someone else’s cube and getting their attention before you *start* fidgeting and stretching, then this is kind of apples and oranges territory here.

    7. HannahS*

      They are saying that this guy’s specific action of going into someone else’s small personal space, asking them a question, and then engaging in large full-body stretches or staring at their phone is unprofessional. That behaviour would be inappropriate in retail work too. Even in construction, where stretching out is more accepted, looking at your phone when you’ve asked someone senior a question would be frowned on. This isn’t about having chronic pain and tics.

      1. Danielle*

        I think we all, including Allison agree the looking at the phone and peeking at the screen are in a different category and something OP should definitely put a stop to.

  22. Binky*

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with a chronic illness. I don’t think you need a specific diagnosis for social purposes, I’ve definitely done the “don’t mind me, I have joint issues” or “my back sucks.” People get it.

    I also think it’s likely that Niles’ movements are much more dramatic, and therefore disconcerting, than what you do. From OP’s description he’s really extending himself into her space in an uncomfortable way, especially in a small cubicle. I’ve definitely stretched in front of colleagues, but I never crowded them, or gave them the impression I was no longer listening or participating in the conversation.

  23. Bopper*

    I had an annoying colleague like that… they would talk to themselves and such.
    I mentioned it to my boss and she said “No problem! I will move your desk.”
    Much better.

    I had another colleague who wouldn’t even look up from his computer when I stopped by on a work matter. I said “maybe he doesn’t like being interrupted.” So I scheduled an appointment. At a time that would be convenient (he came in later). He arrived late. He got laid off eventually.

  24. Lorna*

    Well, paint me yellow and call me a stick of butter – your colleague sounds like me…and I have ADHD. Can’t control my fidgeting/hand fluttering/tics even if my job depended on it.
    I truly feel your pain tho as I understand how grating this behaviour can be for others. Speaking for myself: I’d rather have someone tell me they’re at their wits end and so we can try to find a solution together. I’ve moved desks plenty of times, finally ended in a 2 person office with a coworker who’s so laid back he’s almost horizontal so we’re good

    1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      Man, thank you for this. Being on the spectrum the part that bothers me most about all these posts and comments is how much someone just plainly stating the issue to the other person is downplayed. Please tell me if I am doing something that is totally anathema to your right of “quiet employment”–I probably can’t NOT do it, nor am I going to run and hide in a closet any time it happens, but we ain’t finding any solutions if we haven’t bothered to call the problem out by its name.

  25. Office Lobster DJ*

    I may very well be wrong, but when I weigh all the details against my own past experiences, I’m getting a very certain picture of Niles. He is showing LW that he isn’t giving her his full attention, and he doesn’t respect her privacy. In this take, the constant stretching and moving would be about affecting casualness and taking up physical space.

    If any of that rings true for LW, the quicker this gets addressed, the better.

    1. Willow Pillow*

      I’m an autistic person who was blamed for things I didn’t know how to address, or even understand that I was doing, until I clawed my way to a formal diagnosis well into adulthood. Weighing all the details against my own past experiences, I am getting a very different picture of Niles! He might not be aware that he comes off that way, and I don’t see any mention of LW mentioning that his actions are troublesome. Niles is not a mind reader.

      1. Office Lobster DJ*

        Absolutely fair. Commenters have floated some valid possibilities that aim to explain Niles’ behavior. Any of these things might be true for Niles, but it all amounts to it being a good thing for LW to speak up.

        1. Willow Pillow*

          This is a perfect example of the uphill battle we face – I see so many “Niles shouldn’t do these annoying things” like it’s simple… but I have to out myself (in an anonymous space, but still) in order to get some traction that it’s likely not that simple.

          1. mreasy*

            All Niles has to do is say “I’m listening, just need to stretch.” But he’s not. And it’s not 100% clear but it sounds like he’s doing the stretching after walking into OP’s space and asking a question, which is odd enough that he needs to address it.
            Niles does not need to say “I’m autistic and I’m stimming” or “I have an ADHD diagnosis and this is how I focus.” Niles just needs to be respectful.

            1. Willow Pillow*

              All LW has to do is say “can you step back”, or “can you check your phone later”, or “can you stretch after I’ve answered your question”. But she’s not. LW is entitled to decide what respect looks like for her – it’s not the same for everyone! – and she’s very reasonable frustrated by Niles’ behaviour, but getting frustrated with someone and not giving them the opportunity to address isn’t exactly respectful, either.

          2. Office Lobster DJ*

            I’m not sure what you mean by having to out yourself in order to get some traction, but if that was for me, I hope you didn’t share more than you wanted on my account. I tried to qualify my original thoughts enough (“might be wrong,” “if it rings true”) to make it clear that I was floating one possibility based on my own experience, accounting for the validity of the other possibilities already being discussed. It seems I may not have been successful with that.

  26. Recovering From Hospitality*

    two things: first, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a quick “do you need to take that?” / “is this a bad time for you?” / “can you put that down please?” when he is distracted by his phone. agree that is extremely rude; some people dont even realize they are doing it. I’ve been called out by my coworkers for multitasking during meetings/conversations and have no qualms doing the same to them.

    second, if he was previously working a non-office job where he had to be on his feet or moving all day, his body may well be still acclimating to sitting still for the bulk of his waking hours. ten(ish) years doing physical labor for work takes a huge physical toll on the body. I worked in restaurants until about five years ago and it was HARD to get used to not constantly be walking/moving/doing physical activity; I still get fidgety at my desk job. i’m not quite clear on how long he has worked with you, but it doesnt seem long. I see nothing wrong with a playful and friendly “man you sure stretch a lot!” or something along those lines if you have a casual enough environment, just to bring attention to the fact that others have noticed. He may not pick up on the nuance, but it’s a place to start.

    1. ZincMink*

      there is absolutely nothing wrong with a quick “do you need to take that?” / “is this a bad time for you?” / “can you put that down please?” when he is distracted by his phone. agree that is extremely rude; some people dont even realize they are doing it. I’ve been called out by my coworkers for multitasking during meetings/conversations and have no qualms doing the same to them.

      There are a few possibilities here. Niles could be unaware of office norms, or he may process information in a way that is different from how you or OP do.

      I’m at the point where if someone said that to me (particularly the third option), I’d respond in an equally patronising way, and say: “I’m using this phone as a tool to help me focus so I can listen to and process what you are saying. If you’d prefer I give you a performance of listening while not being able to take anything in, and then have to email you later to clarify literally everything that you said, just tell me and we can do that.”

      1. amoeba*

        The LW specifically says that Niles is replying to messages while visibly checking out of the conversation (not replying or only with “uh-huh”). I’d say this is very far from “phone as a tool to help him focus” territory.

        1. ZincMink*

          With respect, the way in which ND and NT people show they are paying attention, or respond, often looks very different, just as it does between individuals. If the person is saying “uh-huh”, or do not appear to respond, they could still very much be paying attention. It’s where communication needs to be used, rather than assumptions or patronising phrases that don’t work for children, let alone adults.

          1. amoeba*

            But she specifically writes that he *stops listening* the moment he checks his phone. So, obviously he appears differently while listening and there’s a clear change in his behaviour when he picks up the phone. Also, most people cannot concentrate on texting and having a conversation *at the same time*, neurotypical or not?

            Like, of course, there could be any kind of wild theoretical explanation – a combination of neurodiversity and an app that helps him and only looks like he’s texting plus very atypical way of showing his attention (which also changes at exactly the right time during the conversation). But – Occam’s razor? That’s very, very far from likely. And even then, he should definitely acknowledge it somehow, *because* it looks so much like rudeness and is so unusual.

            I’m honestly astonished by the amount of explanations people go to to justify his open rudeness.

      2. spaghettiohnos*

        My son is an autistic person. If something doesn’t bother him, he would never in 10 million years think that it could actually be bothering someone else.

        How could be possibly know that he’s being “disrespectful” if he doesn’t see a problem with it?

  27. McS*

    I think some of this can be addressed by pushing for scheduled meetings instead of him feeling like he can just walk into your space. That also lets you address a pattern a bit more. “When we’re side by side at my desk, it feels like you’re in my space a lot. Let’s set aside some time each week so I can answer questions in a meeting room with a screen. Please keep a list of your questions in this shared document and I will have answers ready.” If he’s pulling out his phone in a meeting, “please put your phone away” feels even more reasonable. You can even ask him to then chat and ask if you have a minute before interrupting you. Then you can control the interaction, maybe even go to his desk and close your windows first if he is coming.

    1. Twice Bitten*

      Agree. Try to reduce the in-person interactions.
      Ask Niles to email his questions wherever possible (or whatever in-office messaging system is there)
      If he starts the grand stretch, say “ Please come back later after your stretch”
      When he pulls out his phone, stop talking.

  28. theletter*

    Are the things that you need to look up for him things he could look up or google himself? Or a thing he could have asked for in a work chat? That might be part of the issue.

  29. not a hippo*

    Addressing his inattentiveness when you’re explaining things will be beneficial to you both (assuming he takes it well). You’ll be able to clear the air about a genuinely rude behavior and he’ll ideally learn from his mistake.

    No one wants to be told by the CEO to get off their god damn phone which is what happened to a recent hire at my job. He didn’t last long for many reasons but that kind of cluelessness/lack of perception definitely contributed.

  30. NeedRain47*

    People chewing their nails in public, nooooooooo, b/c you’re not going to wash your hands before you touch things! That’s a hygiene issue IMO, not a “professional finesse” issue. Otherwise I empathize with the need to move around more than many jobs allow.

  31. Chris*

    As a guy who resembles Niles in description, I have to say some of what you describe is a “you” issue I feel and you need to learn to just deal with it.

    Specifically most of the fidgeting and stretching as you describe it. I’m a 37 year old man with ADHD (and being eval’d for ASD). I fidget and stretch and pop joints. A lot. My work desk has many fidget toys. I bounce my legs. I also have back issues which present pain in muscles, limbs, and joints from my ankles to my neck. I need to stretch and pop things througout the day to reduce pain and stress on the body. I have to stand up and stretch for these same reasons.

    I’m not saying Niles has any of these conditions; I’m not here to armchair diagnose. But regardless of whether he does or doesn’t, you ARE going to meet someone like me in your career at some point. Might as well start setting yourself up mentally NOW, using Niles to help you acclimate to shrugging off this type of distraction as a type of harmless personality idiosyncracy. However if you aren’t prepared and if you DO try to ask someone who has ADHD or ASD or another medical condition because YOU find it distracting, you could (asusming you’re in the US), find yourself on the unpleasant end of an HR discussion about your insensitivity and inappropriate approach to a workplace interaction. So… use this opportunity now?

    The phone thing… IF Niles has ADHD/ASD, that could be a stimming thing and should be addressed with his boss/HR to find alternate options that are more professional and workplace appropriate; you should take it up with your boss to take it up with his boss though. If he doesn’t, well, Allison had great advice. Same with the screen reading.

    1. ZincMink*

      As an ADHDer, I agree. Not to armchair diagnose, but this reads as the always present neurotypical/neurodivergent clash of communication styles. One of many reasons that I love working from home. Just because someone is looking at your eyes or face does not mean they are paying attention to you, and ND people tend to process better when we’re stimming, including by looking at a smart phone.

      Horses for courses, but the only thing that I think is a true problem is Niles reading off OP’s screen. Everything else sounds like stimming.

      1. Bread Crimes*

        Conversely, as someone with ADHD, I find people fidgeting in my line of vision terribly distracting. Less so when my meds are on point, more so when I’m under stress. Some of this is just my issue to deal with–but I think it’s worth acknowledging that being annoyed by these things can be just as valid as needing to do them, and it’s not just a “neurotypical people insist we conform to their needs and never consider our own!” thing.

        “Neurodivergent” isn’t some big homogenous group where everything done by people inside it is perfectly comfortable to everyone else inside it, nor is “neurotypical”. Thus the whole “neurodiverse” tag that comes up at times. OP’s frustration at those distracting physical movements is just as valid as this guy’s currently entirely theoretical need to make those movements, which is why some sort of compromise on both sides may be needed.

        1. Chris*

          It is perfectly valid to find the behaviors distracting!

          That still makes it a “you” problem, not a “them” problem though. YOU find my stimming (fidgeting) behaviors distracting. However since my stims are the result of a neurodivergent condition, it’s not upon me to somehow eliminate my reasonable stims. And I don’t seem most of what was described in the story as unreasonable level stims. Even the standing and stretching. It’s definitely not common but, especially in conjunction with possible other issues (and I have had back problems since my mid-20s so definitely not out of the question), it’s easy to see it as reasonable. I have to stand and stretch to alleviate pain/stress on my back and hips, for example, every 30 or so minutes. If I don’t I get aches that can last HOURS; truly godawful aches.

          At the risk of going off-topic, it’s as inappropriate for someone to tell me that my fidgets need to stop/be reigned in because THEY find them distracting as it is to tell high school girls that they can’t wear tank tops and spaghetti strap shirts because their male peers and male teachers might find bare teenage girl shoulders “distracting”. It’s a “them” problem, not the girl’s problem. They need to find ways to eliminate the distraction for themselves that don’t place a burden on the person who has committed no REAL offense.

          There is no one true answer. It’s about balancing the varied needs of everyone involved. A mediation with HR and the managers may be necessary. If Niles does have ADHD, ASD, or some other condition, a mediated discussion may be necessary to bring to attention the stims (he might have not noticed the specific ones) and once aware may be able to may conscious directed decisions on stims to use that are less distracting… but that’s a thing that needs to be CAREFULLY discussed through layers of management and HR. With grace and tact.

      2. Random Dice*

        I really appreciate this site, I learn new ways to be thoughtful and extend the benefit of the doubt when someone’s violating a norm I’ve internalized along the way. It’s helpful up get these perspectives so I can be kinder.

  32. Choggy*

    Thankfully, I would have no problem asking someone not to fidget when I’m speaking, as it’s distracting, and if they get on their phone, ask them to come back when they are done, same with them doing anything on their phone while I’m assisting them. Especially if someone is coming to you for assistance, you should expect they will pay attention to what you are saying/doing. As for the reading your computer screen, I would ask if there was anything I could do for them and close the window. No one needs to be reading your computer screen uninvited, and making comments about what is on it.

    1. ZincMink*

      The reading of OP’s screen is an actual issue, but if someone made those comments to me, I’d have no choice but to say, “Doing this enables me to actually focus on what you are saying and actually process it and take it in. Would you prefer that I gave you the neurotypical performance of listening, or actually listen?” If the person insisted on their perspective, I’d remind them that we are both adults, and it is inappropriate to speak to people in the workplace like they are a naughty child.

      1. Ajjjjaner*

        As a fellow person with ADHD, I am incredibly distracted by someone else whipping out their phone, whether it’s a stomach or not. We would have to have a conversation about meeting both needs.

        If you spoke to me that way when I mentioned I found your phone distracting, especially with the explicit statement that you had “no choice” but to speak rudely to me and that no other type of stim was possible, I’d have no choice but to call out your shenanigans.

        There are other stims; I know this because I’ve had ADHD for all 47 of my years and I found ways to manage before cell phones were common.

        Your needs do not trump my, or anyone else’s, needs. Compromise is necessary, all the way around.

        ND people like us have so many challenges and they are exhausting, so I’m gonna assume that is what is informing your tone.

        I’m asking you to consider that you are taking an unhelpful stance, both in terms of equity and opportunity for us ND folks, as well as in terms of workplace harmony.

        1. ElderMillenial*

          This exactly. Just because one is neurodivergent, that does not trump the needs of every one else. You never know what other people around you struggle with. There needs to be a middle ground where everyone makes an effort to coexist.

    2. Dahlia*

      If you tell people not to fidget, some people are going to immediately not be able to pay attention to you.

      1. Heather*

        …and some people are going to go “ha, sorry, didn’t even realize I was doing it, that office chair really bothers me. I’ll try to be more mindful of stretching first and talking to you second”. Worth a try imo.

    3. Choggy*

      Nah, I’ve made too many concessions to others over the many years I’ve been employed, I have a right to ask for someone’s attention when speaking to me (in person). Better to talk over chat or email in that case.

  33. Eagle*

    I have RA and I fidget a lot because something starts to hurt. But that’s me changing the position of my body. I think describing stretches as fidgeting is probably off base. Could you say “ In the future, can you wait until you’re done stretching to come over and talk to me? I find it really distracting when we are trying to hold a conversation.” It doesn’t invalidate his need to stretch, and explains why you are politely making the request. I suspect if he does it in his own space it will annoy you less.

  34. I cracked my back while typing this*

    Years ago when I was making tea at the office, a friendly coworker whose desk was right next to the kettle gently said “Hey, I don’t know if you realize it, but every time you come over here you crack your back right next to me.” I had not realized! I apologized, we had a good chuckle, and after that I did my mid-afternoon stretch/back crack at my own desk away from others. A gentle comment from a coworker can solve issues like this, if you’re both generally friendly!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      I’d be delighted to have a coworker crack their back next to me! :D Hearing someone crack a joint is almost as delightful to me as cracking my own.

  35. Lisa Simpson*

    I’d personally pay attention to how this coworker behaves when he’s talking to other people. I’d bet pretty good money he’s not doing this when he’s talking to another man.

    1. Celeste*

      Really? I mean, maybe, but I guess I wouldn’t take the bet. It sounds like he’s working pretty closely with the OP – my bet would be that the familiarity is making these behaviors more likely.

    2. Random Dice*

      I’m usually sensitive to that, and I didn’t get ANY of that in this.

      I think it could be some option of or combination of:
      1) someone new to office norms after physical jobs
      2) physical issues
      3) laser focus when at his desk that means he hasn’t moved his body in too long

  36. Janeric*

    I’d be tempted to ask really mild questions.
    “Are you reading my screen?”
    “Are you texting right now?”
    “Are you cracking your fingers?”

    And then “please don’t do that at my desk/while I’m helping you.”

  37. Self Employed Employee*

    When I need to ask a question and the answer comes really slowly (or just slower then my engine is revving at at the moment), rather than the person getting straight to the point, I notice myself getting physically fidgety, and craving to check my phone because I have to change my energy, slow it down, and then I lose my work mojo. I wonder if you sped up your answer, it might solve both your issues. You get to spend less time explaining and he stops his fidgeting when he’s listening?

    I am not saying your answers are too slow, just maybe for him.

  38. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Does Mr Fidget stretch, fidget, crack his joints and look at his phone when he is working with everyone, including with managers (and men if you are a woman)?
    i.e. is he showing lack of respect specifically to you, or is he just generally oblivious of polite/professional norms?
    (Alison’s advice is great for either case)

  39. Penny*

    I really want to second the people here who have been emphasizing that OP should keep her ask work-related and focused on Niles’s obvious disengagement.

    I’m a chronic nail-biter as a byproduct of severe OCD. It’s really hard for me not to do and I usually don’t realize I’m doing it. A few weeks into my first internship right out of college, my manager pulled me aside and said something like “As I’m sure you’ve seen, in the mornings between 9 and 11am our team is often quite busy and overloaded with alpaca grooming work. I’m sure you don’t intend this, but when you’re spending so much time biting your nails during those hours, it makes it look like you’re distracted and not doing your fair share of the work. Is that something we could work on?”

    I am really glad he phrased it this way as it didn’t make me feel like I was being judged for my mental condition or couldn’t exist in this office environment. I just understood that there was a work-related need to change my behavior. I think the convo would’ve been way more uncomfortable and mortifying if he’d just been like “Ahem, could you stop that”

  40. Raida*

    For the stretching, I would *ask first* why he does it, instead of saying “unless it’s a physical need, don’t do that in the office”

    It could be physical need, it could be good body maintenance, it could be a focussing action like for ADHD.

    Once you *know* the reason, you may well find it easy to say in your head “This is him paying attention and I know this because he’s stretching” or “I’m going to rotate my wrists while he does this because it is valuable to move during an office day”

    That’s one that I think you can think your way out of being annoyed rather than having to ‘fix it’

  41. slashgirl*

    For the screen reading, I’d tell him what I tell the students at my work who try to look at my computer screen while I’m checking books out to them: “It’s rude to look at someone’s screen unless they ask you to.” It doesn’t matter if it’s confidential or not, the behaviour itself is rude.

  42. *kalypso*

    If you were working remotely and were able to support Niles then, why does all of this now have to be in person? Even if supporting Niles is new now that you just happen to be in the office, does it all have to be in person? If it can be done remotely, at least some of this training/support must be able to be done remotely too – why not take advantage of that? It may also be helpful to Niles if there’s an alternate format for all this that works better for you both – if it’s in writing Niles may be able to refer to it, or process or consume it in a way that is more of a learning style match.

    And if it’s training, it also may not be permanent, or remain as frequent.

    But I do wonder why you’re assuming Niles isn’t taking notes on a notes app and must be texting…

    1. amoeba*

      Eh, if they’re that close together, I assume LW sees what’s happening. Like, the phone makes a noise/a message pops up, he grabs it, starts typing, maybe you ever see a messenger app open.

      I mean, we’re supposed to take letter writers by their word.

  43. Pierrot*

    I am an extremely fidgety person- out of my ADHD symptoms, this is one of the hardest to manage because I am often not even aware when I am doing it. That said, I believe I have gotten better at fidgeting in a way that is less distracting over the years so that I don’t look like I’m not paying attention. LW, chances are that the fidgeting won’t completely stop, but you/his manager might be able to address the more distracting ones. I wouldn’t use the term medical or health reasons, I’d just say “Would you be able to hold off on stretching until after we’re done talking? You might not be aware you’re doing this, but it’s a little distracting.”
    The nail biting is trickier because I’m guessing he is less aware of this one. But I think that if you bring it up and acknowledge that he might not be aware of it, it won’t sound too harsh.

    This is not actionable for the LW/I’m definitely not suggesting that she say this to the coworker, but for anyone reading this in the same boat, the biggest thing that has helped me is staying busy and engaged in some sort of task and taking short breaks to walk around, go outside, etc. During group meetings, I always take notes, not because I necessarily need to, but because I can channel the restless energy that would otherwise manifest as fidgeting.

  44. nnn*

    It’s interesting that so many people in the world need to stretch and crack and pop and fidget and, at the same time, so many people in the world find it irritating when people stretch and crack and pop and fidget.

    It would make a lot more sense if either we didn’t need to do it or we didn’t find it irritating.

  45. SoFidgety*

    This made me cringe because I have ADHD and have definitely done stuff like this. On Zoom meetings, I’m so self-conscious of how much I move! I also twirl my hair when I’m concentrating and don’t even notice. I’m extremely distracted by my phone, too. I think if you can bring it up nicely, hopefully he’ll try to resolve it. He truly may not be aware. I left my phone at my desk for meetings (either formal or one-on-one chats) to avoid looking at it and really tried to curb my noticeable fidgeting at work. I still twist my rings on my fingers though. It helps me concentrate.

    1. amoeba*

      Hair twirling and ring twisting sound very, very far from what Niles is doing, though! I’m sure you’re fine!

  46. KTurtle*

    I didn’t get through all the comments about whether or not stretching like that is rude/disrespectful/whatever, so sorry if someone else already brought this up, but this stood out to me:

    “He has worked in other field(s), but they were not office jobs.”

    I’m wondering if maybe the excessive* stretching might be related to the “first office job” detail. If he’s always worked in jobs that required a lot of constant movement and suddenly he’s trying to sit at a computer 8 hours a day, I can seen where it’s an adjustment. Could you suggest he ask for a standing desk or something? There was a letter a while back about a coworker who was constantly kneeling by that op’s desk, and a standing desk helped fix that whole thing.

    *”…stretching (full body) while standing near me. Stretching upwards, stretching sideways, stretching his neck, back, arms, shoulders, bending over, popping his back, popping his fingers, popping his neck.” I understand that people need to move for all kinds of reasons, and I’m generally not bothered by stretching/tapping/shifting/whatever. I’m like that, too. But this level of movement in the op’s space is…a lot. I also wouldn’t want my coworkers coming up by me and bending down to touch their toes or whatever while I’m talking to them. I imagine it’s highly distracting and uncomfortable when suddenly your coworker’s nearest visible body part is their butt.

  47. TudorEra*

    These behaviors just absolutely scream ADHD to me. In every job I’ve ever been in, if I was bored with the work and the training I would start stretching, messing with my hair, adjusting jewelry; whatever I could do to move around and keep myself attentive so I didn’t look away or too bored. I hate to say it, but poor guy. This clearly isn’t the right field for him.

    1. Mornington Cresent*

      Honestly, I thought the same thing- as someone who is in the process of trying to get evaluated for ADHD, this sounds like it to me, too!
      And the “he’s not in the right field”- oof, felt that one! That was me before my current job. I hope Niles can find what suits him.

  48. Green beans*

    I have slightly different advice for both!

    for the phone, if someone pulls out their phone while I’m talking to them, I just stop talking. when they look up, I say, “I can wait until you’re done,” and when they say, “no I’m listening,” I respond, “I actually need your full attention for this, so just let me know.” (in varying levels of polite toneness – but it’s extremely effective.)

    For the screen reading, I actually had to deal with this recently! what worked for me was pulling the person aside and saying “hey, I noticed you were reading my screen last time you were at my desk. I often have confidential stuff up and it’s really stressful for me to worry about what’s on my screen when others walk by. I know a lot of people, myself included, tend to unintentionally read text when it’s in front of them. if that’s something you do without thinking, can I ask that you stand to the side of my screen? I know auto-reading things been be a really hard habit to break, and I like chatting with you! but I need to make sure the confidential stuff stays private.”

    it worked really well!

  49. New Jack Karyn*

    It is absolutely wild to me that people are saying that stretching means Niles isn’t paying attention. He’s probably doing it unconsciously, and has no idea how it’s coming across.

    Push back on the phone usage and the screen-reading. That’s the part that’s truly unprofessional. See how well he does as reducing those behaviors, and if it’s enough to reduce your BEC levels with him. If not, ask him to get his big stretches out before he steps into your office/cube–frame it as distracting to you, it would be a big help to you.

    1. amoeba*

      Sure, he’s unconciously ”…stretching (full body) while standing near me. Stretching upwards, stretching sideways, stretching his neck, back, arms, shoulders, bending over, popping his back, popping his fingers, popping his neck.”

      I mean, it’s not impossible, sure, but I’d say it’s far from the most likely explanation. And if his need for movement is that extreme, it would make a lot of sense for him to at least acknowledge it in advance.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        I didn’t explain very well my overall point: He doesn’t understand office norms. Much like a 23 year old fresh out of college, even though he’s like, 33.

        It would be a kindness for OP–or someone–to be explicit to him about how he’s coming off. By ‘unconscious’ I mean that he feels a need to stretch, so he’s doing it–he doesn’t realize it’s not done in offices. People saying it’s a dominance thing, well, I think those folks are the ones mistaken about which is most likely.

  50. Things That Make You Go Hmmm*

    This list of behaviors is a spot-on description of my son, who is on the spectrum. The stretching could easily be a replacement behavior for other, even more distracting things that autistic people tend to do, like flap and pace. In the case of my son, he responds very positively to extremely clear directions like “Please do not look at my screen without my explicit permission,” etc.

  51. Port*

    The issue to me seems to be that Niles does not communicate on a way that makes OP feel respected —rather, the opposite. The behavior itself would be more tolerable if he somehow communicated consideration for how it might affect her.

    Yes, some people fidget, including people with disabilities. But Niles also reads over OP’s shoulder and tunes completely out of face to face conversations with her regularly to read his phone. I’m trying to imagine behaving that way to any of my coworkers, and coming up with hurt feelings and intervention from above. In normal business behavior, you might still fidget, stretch or excuse yourself to take a text in the middle of a conversation. But you would do it with manners.

    Nile’s wouldn’t have to disclose anything if he just said, “Excuse me, gotta take this.” Or “I’m still listening.” Or here and there took his big loud stretching sessions to another space where they won’t distract. (This based on my reading that he’s kind of all up in her space.)

    Like, if he needs accommodations, he should have them without having to disclose anything to everyone. But he’s also a professional in a workplace where people are expected to communicate respectfully and he’s not doing that.

  52. Rosacoletti*

    We had an employee who did the stretching/knuckle cracking thing – addressed it by saying it was very unprofessional body language and he needed to stop. He was burping as well so that got thrown in as well.

    He did take it on board and because we’d told him about it, it was easy to remind him when he lapsed back into it.

  53. ImGladImNotAlone*

    Oh God–the knuckle (and other joint) cracking!!! This is a huge trigger for me (undiagnosed misophonia) and would leave me in an adrenaline-fueled fight-or-flight response. I would have to say something to him because I would become crazed if I did not.

  54. CLC*

    I would not comment on the moving. Some people move more than others. I understand it can be annoying to others, but you can’t control someone else’s body/neurons.

  55. Doc McCracken*

    A helpful way to combat the fidgeting might be to have a stress ball at your desk. When Niles is there annoying you, explain it’s tough for you to concentrate and offer him the stress ball when he’s at your desk. You would be helping yourself and coaching Niles on workplace norms.

  56. Pink Candyfloss*

    My partner does this and it has been ongoing since we met 10 years ago. He (and his therapist, and my therapist) have all explained in detail how it’s his ADHD* which makes him do these behaviors and he’s not being intentionally rude. But just knowing that doesn’t make me feel any less slighted by the behavior as it continues. I do my best, but, OP, I sympathize so much!

    *not trying to diagnose Niles, just commiserating that even when there’s a good reason/you know why it happens, this type of situation can very quickly reach b*tch eating crackers levels (and stay there for a long time)

  57. Rainy*

    A thing I’m pretty struck by in the letter is that the LW:

    A) does not like it when Niles looks at her screen if she needs to do something else briefly,

    but also

    B) does not like it when Niles pulls out his phone when she needs to do something else briefly.

    What is Niles supposed to do in that situation? Can’t look at his phone, can’t look at anything in her workspace… This really does just feel like BEC–it’s good that LW realizes it and is asking for scripts to communicate, but the next time LW runs into a situation like this, she needs to communicate *much, much sooner*.

    1. Former_Employee*

      Except that isn’t what the OP said. He is looking at and engaging with his phone if the OP stops for a moment to look something up and he reads her screen when he walks into her area while she is still working (before she starts working with him), per the following:

      “He will sometimes take out his phone and (responding to text messages, reading?) when I have to take a moment to look something up. Other times, he will (presumably) get a message while I’m talking — and subsequently will check out of the conversation. Not leave my cube or excuse himself, but look at his phone, stop responding to me, or respond with “uh huh” or other perfunctory responses. This habit feels exceptionally rude to me — it feels so rude that I can’t think of any way to respond that isn’t scolding.”

      “If he comes into my cube and I’m in the middle of typing, he will stare directly at my screen, obviously reading what I am typing. Sometimes he will comment on what I’m typing.”

    2. Monkey Princess*

      There’s, like, 99% of the world around Niles that’s neither OP’s screen (and then commenting on it! He thinks it’s okay to read someone else’s screen while they’re working, to the extent that he’s commenting on it like it’s NBD!) nor his phone. Examining his nails for a moment, gazing off into the distance, admiring a potted plant that he can see over the top of the cubicle walls… it’s really not hard to find something to pretend to focus on while you’re waiting. Then, when OP is ready, he can snap to attention and the dead time is forgotten. This is how waiting for people works.

  58. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

    Neither Allison nor OP seem to address the thing that matters most, which is, is Niles retaining the information he’s asking for? If so, it really doesn’t signify what it looks like/feels like he’s doing, or why he’s doing it: he’s paying attention and the system is working. If not, coaching on the matter should focus on how to get him to retain the information, which may include focusing more and engaging in less fidgeting, or it may not. Either way, it becomes self-correcting once Niles needs to ask fewer questions and is therefore in OP’s space less often.

    The “reading my screen” thing is a potentially separate issue, especially if there’s confidential information in play, but that by itself is a smaller ask than changing three things at once.

  59. km85*

    OP, you listed a few examples, but you probably wouldn’t have written if there wasn’t more.

    I just had a knucklehead co-worker like that—first job out of college and no knowledge of professional norms. He would, for example, sing along to songs on the radio in a truck full of people who were trying to have a conversation, or read in the back seat, or basically do anything but be subjected to impromptu solo sing-a-longs.

    While there are lots of times we’d want to change others, you can’t fuss about too many little things, or else you’re going to look like a short-fused ass. I was coming up against this.

    So, I made an effort to change myself, because I was so often aggravated, and I wanted to return to my normal, positive attitude. In the end, I wound up appreciating the wonderful voice Knucklehead had and what an excellent memory for detail his knowledge of lyrics represented! It made my time working with him not just tolerable, but enjoyable.

    In the particular examples you gave, I don’t see a parallel, but maybe you can find a silver lining in some of his other traits. Or maybe this could hopefully help other readers…? Good luck!

  60. ElderMillenial*

    I have a condition that causes pain and sometimes when I’m standing I need to shift my weight from hip to hip… I will absolutely excuse myself and say something like “sorry! just a little stiff today but I’m listening”. No need to go into my medical history, but it seems respectful to the other person.

    We all have needs, and one person’s need is not more important than another. Seeing someone fidgeting so much would absolutely cause my anxiety and cause me to lose my concentration… Hearing someone pop their joints causes me to feel physically nauseous. I think the onus is on the person who is doing something outside of generally agreed upon norms to minimize the distraction.

    1. Random Dice*

      I find that sound nauseating too, on a physical level. My brother used to do it compulsively (yes he likely has ASD) and the sound of it just made me feel ill. When two ND folks collide…

    2. Rainy*

      Popping joints has never bothered me, and I don’t mind loud chewing and stuff like that (although people who smack when they chew are…a special challenge). But people who breathe loudly drive me up a wall. I have never said a single thing to anyone about it, but if I spend even half an hour with a loud breather, I have to go have a little time to myself to shake out all the screaming I didn’t do while they were around me.

  61. Former_Employee*

    I didn’t read all of the comments but given that this person is named “Niles” and all the pronouns are he/him, it is obvious that the OP is talking about a male co-worker.

    Assuming the OP is female, her co-worker’s behavior could be a manifestation of the disrespect he has for a female colleague especially one who is clearly senior to him and who he is required go to for training and information.

  62. Monkey Princess*

    Boys are socialized that their bodies can take up as much time and space as they want, with absolutely no regard for anyone else.

    Girls are taught to keep themselves as tiny and inconspicuous as possible and to constantly think about how their bodies are affecting other people.

    Reality needs a happy medium that involves respecting your own needs as well as the space and needs of other people. The OP may need to put up with more than what they (and honestly, I don’t see Niles behaving like this around a dude, so I’m guessing OP is a she) are currently comfortable with, but Niels ABSOLUTELY needs to learn to rein it in.

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