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I have this colleague that I am close to at work although we work in different floors. He has been very supportive when I was having a difficult time with my colleagues in my department when I was still new to the company.

Lately he is having some problems at home and it has gotten to the point his performance at work is affected. Talking to him is not helping. It's becoming a drag to hear him complain about everything that went wrong in his life and blaming the entire world for his misery instead of working on a situation to make things better.

The real problem is that he is a little perverted and he has a nasty habit of looking at certain types of girls that pass by his desk. At first, I just acknowledge he just have a peculiar habit. Now, it's starting to creep me out as he keeps telling me about the girls that he likes to watch and I know he fantasize about them.

I have told him on many occasions that I do not want to hear the details of his pastimes. He keeps telling me that it's normal for guys to look at girls and I am overreacting. There are times I feel he's doing it on purpose to provoke some kind of reaction from me because somehow it excites him. Is this something normal for guys or I really am being sensitive?

How do I deal with this colleague of mine because I am getting tired of his the-whole-world-owes-me attitude and his perverted pastimes. I still hope we can be friends but now I am starting to understand why people just shy away from him. He's a good guy overall with just very bad habits and gloomy outlook about life.

Any advice?

Edit: Just to make things clear, I am a woman working in an country where sexual harassment isn't well supported by the law. I have told him on countless occasions that I do not want to hear about his hobby and ignore him if he continues on. We used to chat a lot through Skype but not so much lately. I still try to reply as normally as I could when he chat with me on Skype to avoid any complications.

Although we do not have to work on the same project, I guess I am finding it difficult to even have a normal conversation with him whenever I think of his disgusting behavior. I do not know how to act normal around him anymore as I feel creeped out and just want to get away from him whenever I saw him in the same room.

I do no wish to involve HR in all of this because it won't end well for me. He actually made me feel dirty by just being present in the same room with me. Why do I feel so guilty turning my back on a colleague I called friend who was supportive when I had some problems before?

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It's normal for guys to look at girls. It's completely unprofessional, anti-social and obnoxious (if not outright sexist/harassing) to talk about it the way he is talking about it. –  DA. Mar 10 at 5:20
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Regardless if it is normal for guys to talk about attractive girls among themselves at work it is absolutely common. The fact however that you are a woman changes the dynamic of this question entirely because this could be considered sexual harassment if it is unwanted sexual conversations that you have told him you are uncomfortable discussing. –  maple_shaft Mar 11 at 17:24
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Can't you just tell him to go away and leave you alone ? Most of the time, we guys don't understand something unless you're beeing painfully direct and clear about it. –  Radu Murzea Mar 12 at 15:52
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"There are times I feel he's doing it on purpose to provoke some kind of reaction from me because somehow it excites him. Is this something normal for guys or I really am being sensitive?" By normal I suppose you mean common. The answer in this case is NO, most guys are not like that. –  Radu Murzea Mar 18 at 9:41

7 Answers 7

up vote 23 down vote accepted

This man is your colleague, he is not your friend, and he is not your brother. While it is natural and often healthy for colleagues that work closely together to discuss non-work issues, you are never required to engage with him on that level.

Since your colleague has taken advantage of your willingness to act as a friend, you need to stop being a friend. You should adopt an all-business persona when working with him. If he starts with a gloomy monologue, cut him off politely with "I'm sorry, but we really need to make progress with the X project." If he takes a break for his leering at a passerby, say, "If you aren't able to focus on our work here, perhaps we should move this meeting to a conference room."

In short, minimize personal contact with him, while clearly communicating that you expect professionalism from him.

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The trouble with this approach is that if the colleague had taken it, then he wouldn't have been "very supportive when I was having a difficult time with my colleagues" but just have left the OP to struggle on his own. One good turn deserves at least the attempt of another. –  DJClayworth Mar 10 at 6:35
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@DJClaywort I don't think my answer implies that. First of all, this man was apparently supportive in a work-related matter. Secondly, I was not advocating that this is the approach that should always be taken with all colleagues, but that this is the way to interact with the colleague that is abusing the professional relationship. I'll edit my answer to clarify this. –  Eric Wilson Mar 10 at 9:30
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@DJClayworth I am a she in this case here. –  Cryssie Mar 10 at 23:56
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@Cryssie Sorry Cryssie, I should have noticed the name. That was my fault. And that does make a difference. Creepy comments about girls you like to watch is bad to another guy, and a whole different level of bad to a woman. I withdraw all criticisms of this answer. –  DJClayworth Mar 11 at 1:56

Eric Wilson's answer is pretty good, and definitely a valid approach.

However, you said he had been supportive for you when you had issues in the past, and you want to repay the favor, so I'm going to give you "Phase 1" and I strongly suggest you use Eric Wilson's approach as "Phase 2."

First, you need to understand that you are enabling this behavior by tolerating it. You may think it's not a big deal, but without negative feedback, he won't understand that his actions are not appropriate.

Second, you need to give him this statement, and stand behind it:

"John, I appreciate how supportive you've been to me in the past. I want to repay the favor. Please hear me out.

First, I think you need to see a professional counselor about your unhappiness with your circumstances. I'm not here to judge you, but I can't help with these issues. You need someone much more qualified than I.

Second, I find your gawking and comments at female colleagues to be inappropriate, and I don't feel comfortable around you when you exhibit that behavior. As a friend, I am giving you a warning: People are much more observant than you give them credit for, and I wouldn't be surprised if you have already had complaints about your sexual harassment of the women who work here. You need to stop, now. You need to stop talking about it, now. You need to talk to a professional counselor about this issue, now.

Finally, I don't want you to think I am abandoning you as a friend, but until you get some counselling and address these behaviors, I'd rather not deal with you on a personal level. Please see a professional counselor as soon as possible, and I look forward to engaging with you again on a personal level once you have these issues under control. Until then, I'd like to keep our interactions business-only, and I thank you for respecting that."

Whether or not he seeks help or whether or not treatment is effective is not your concern, but you absolutely MUST stop enabling him.

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@smci - Thank you. Can you tell us what EAP means? I assume you mean Employee Assistance Program, but I don't know that for a fact. –  Wesley Long Jul 30 at 3:26

I agree completely with Eric Wilson, but would take it a step further if that does not stop his actions. If you are in the US (probably Canada and the UK too), explain that comments like those are unwanted. Explain that further comments or looking at another person in a disrespectful manner warrants a sexual harassment complaint.

When you do have a meeting with him, always make certain that there is a door open, or window that can be seen through. Do your best to not be alone with him. Stay absolutely professional. Don't talk about your or his personal lives.

If his behavior still does not improve, consult with your manager. If at any time you don't feel safe around him, remember a meeting that you should have been in and get out immediately. Report your concerns to your manager or HR as soon as you can get safely away.

Unfortunately, I have seen when things can get bad at work. Don't take any chances with yours (or others) safety.

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"Explain that further comments or looking at another person in a disrespectful manner warrants a sexual harassment complaint." This is also my answer. "It makes me feel very uncomfortable when you discuss such personal and intimate topics with me. This is unacceptable, and I don't want you to share these things with me anymore. If you do it again I will make a formal complaint to HR." Don't sugar coat it. Tell him straight that he must stop, or you will report it. Then if he ever, once, broaches the subject again, report it. Do not let him continue his behavior - it hurts both of you. –  Adam Davis Mar 11 at 15:12

I am a woman. I have had to deal with these types of people repeatedly especially when I was young (the workplace was much worse in those days about harrassing behavior being acceptable). I have seen a lot of other women put in the postion of dealing with these types of people.

First, you have to stand up and look out for yourself. You describe him as perverted. Follow your own instincts that are telling you to stay away from this person as much as possible. Try never to be alone with him. Never be in a room with a closed door. Protect yourself. Always trust your instincts when someone makes you feel uncomfortable. And if other people shy away from him as well, trust their judgement as well and do the same. This person is NOT your friend. He has bullied and harrassed you. Spend as little time with him as your jobs allow. If you can get away from him without having to make a complaint, you personally will be better off.

Now as to dealing with it. There are several approaches but it is incumbent on you to make sure that you first directly tell this person not to leer at women in front of you and not to talk about it when you are present. You do not have to put up with this behavior. Be crystal clear, if he says this is normal behavior, challenge that and tell him in no uncertain terms that the behavior is not acceptable to you and not acceptable in the work place.

Some others have suggested possible ways to word it, think carefully about what you want to say. Women tend to say these things in a more indirect manner, this is a case where you have to be direct. If he does this in public, tell him in public that you don't appreciate it. If you need to escalate to HR, it is preferable that others have seen you actually tell this person that the behavior was unacceptable to you. Do this calmly without getting angry or upset.

Talk to some other women in your office about how they would handle such a thing. You need to know what the organizational norm is for this. Some places will be accepting of harrassing behavior and will think you are in the wrong no matter what you do. You need to know this before you choose to do something beyond asking him to stop. (This would of course be a good reason to look for a better place to work!) You will also need allies if this thing goes further.

The next step after you ask him to stop if he doesn't stop is usually to talk to your boss and ask him to ask the guy to stop the unprofessional behavior because it makes you feel uncomforatble. Most bosses are much more aware of how harrassment is unacceptable in the workplace, so many of them will try to fix it before it becomes an HR issue that embarrasses them and hurts their own career. (Incidentally, you want to work for the supportive bosses for many reasons beyond protection from harrassment, so make sure to evaluate the personality of the boss when you look for jobs in the future.)

If at all possible do not go to HR with this unless you are in fear or the behavior increases in frequency or esclates after you ask him to stop. Do not go to HR unless you have actual proof of the behavior, otherwise it is a useless exercise of he said/she said. Document the day you tell him not to do this anymore and document every incident after that day. If possible get witnesses (many people won't want to get involved, don't be shocked at this.). If you have a personnel manual, check out what it says about how to handle harrassment.

You may also need to to make sure that other men in your group know that you are not one to complain at any slight thing. It can make your work relationships very awkward if you put in a harrassment complaint. People will be afraid of you.

So you need to think of how to make sure that other people understand that this was way beyond the bounds, not ordinary office joking around. One way to do this is to be relaxed around other males in the office and to laugh at jokes. You do not want to be perceived as a humorless B*#ch out to get any man. You need to have developed good relationships with your other co-workers before doing this.

And it is hard to put into words, but you want to make sure you are not expecting one standard from this guy and allowing other guys you like more to have more latitude. So being friendly with the other co-workers is fine line to define, be friendly and laugh at jokes, but not ones the same or worse than what you are complaining about. In other words, don't give out a mixed message.

And do not put yourself in a position where people will think it is all your fault. So no flirting, no sexy clothes. Never at work. Yeah I know that is unfair, but life is unfair.

I have seen that it is easier for people to accept where you draw the line, if you are consistent about it. I have seen very religious women who are offended by even the mildest profanity treated far better for speaking up than women who are perceived as inconsistent (people don't know when they might suddenly find themselves defending against a complaint) or sexy (you will be perceived as at fault) who complain about far more serious behavior. Above all, never make the complaint to HR the first step. No one will ever trust you.

You want to have a track record of being good at your job as well. Yes I know that no one should be harrassed, but in all honestly, if he is perceived as good at his job and you are perceived as not so good, the he said/she said thing will come down in his favor. In the long run if the situation does not change, one of you could be leaving, so make sure the company wants you to be the one they keep.

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If you get tired of the behavior, simply stay away.

My experience with two or three of these individuals was that one was fired, one developed alcohol problems which eventually triggered a divorce, and another would go off on weird power trips and alienate everyone within reach. It's probably safe to say that all these people are lacking any capacity for empathy - they are unable to see another person's perspective, or sense and respond to their emotions.

It would appear that your co-worker is on a path to being discharged. In that sense nothing you will do will help - if you could teach him or anyone else 'emotional intelligence' you could help. Failing that, he'll have to learn it the hard way.

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This is the avoidant solution; Wesley Long's is the assertive one. >It's not probably safe to say that all these people are lacking any capacity for empathy. Not excusing his totally unacceptable behavior in the least, but you're not in any position to pass diagnoses since you have no idea of his personal situation. But you can set firm boundaries and encourage them to take constructive responsibility for their state of mind and actions. Beyond that is purely up to them. –  smci Jul 30 at 2:50

I suggest that you do the following:

  1. Ask him in Stack overflow style What have you tried to solve the problem? If he has done nothing, then suggest something. If he complains about it again without even trying, then tell him that its getting old and tiring. Complaining does nothing to solve a problem.

  2. Regarding fantasies, please tell him that he can think whatever he wants to, but you don't need to hear about it. Tell him "Please keep such thoughts to yourself." If he does not follow, then tell him "I find it very unpleasant talking to you. Please don't talk to me again (about anything except work)."

  3. If all of this fails, inform your HR by e-mail. As one person suggested, avoid having any private interactions with this person.

As an aside, let me speak for the majority of the male population of age. Yes, we like checking women out because it is in our nature to do so. Its not something we choose. We can only coerce ourselves into suppressing the urge. Some of us do it subtly, without offending women and some don't. So, don't worry too much about this aspect as long as men are doing it subtly.

Chenqui.

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Regardless of previous support he's given you, he's not being your friend if he's doing something that makes you uncomfortable, and is ignoring your preferences when you've expressed that you don't want to hear about sexual commentary. Certainly he is entitled to whatever thoughts are going through his head, but when the thoughts leave his mouth and reverberate through your ears - you get a vote too!

In all honesty, I have trouble finding a perfect analogue, as I work in a place that is fairly supportive of women in the workplace and sexual harassment - so I respect your desire to proceed with caution. But I think that giving him any indication that his behavior is OK is not going to be useful in the long run as it simply reinforces that his actions are "not a big deal", when in fact they are.

In terms of communication with him:

  • You've said the behavior is not acceptable. If you haven't, also mentioned that you had respected his friendship and had tried to be a friend in return, but you doubt that a real friend would continue to disrespect your wishes in terms of sexual conversation, and if he wishes to continue to act this way, you'll have no choice but to discontinue the friendship.
  • When he crosses the line again, discontinue contact. If you've had social connections electronically, block him from the connection - pretty much every social networking tool these days has a block list. Block him, unfriend him, disconnect, etc. Don't wait for him to make contact so that you are forced to decide how to act, don't give the opportunity.
  • In the office, it may be hard to simply ignore him, if you are concerned with attitudes in the office, but no one should object to you being extremely focused on work when he's around. If you feel you must, greet him politely but with extreme business efficiency. If he's hanging out near you, ignore him. If he is continously talking in your presence, ask him politely to stop talking so you can focus. If at some point, he poses an impediment to you getting your job done, ask those around you - preferably your boss, but other coworkers if necessary, for help in making sure you can complete your duties as efficiently as possible. Don't make it about the sexual comments, make it about getting the job done. It's hard to disagree that doing good work is important.

  • Make other friends. Find good colleagues in the office who respect boundaries that you are comfortable with. Keep company with them and exclude the problem maker from those relationships. Let the social pressure of a good group of coworkers push the norm for polite conversation in the right direction. It's a lot harder to be crass to a group of people.

I can say from experience in the past, that it can be very hard to risk hurting people's feelings, particularly when they've been kind in the past. But you have to figure out at what point their unwillingness to consider your feelings means that they are not longer entitled to consideration from you.

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