In my open-space office our 5-man team, "A" sits next to 8-man team "B". About 3 weeks ago, a colleague from HR came and asked team "B" to mind their behaviour because they were rather loud and tended to swear quite a bit.

In order to accommodate quickly, they decided that for each curse one has to throw some change into a jar. Their method proved effective, as they control each other strictly.

About a week later, they suggested that our team join their "jar fund" and everyone except me agreed to do so. It is not a matter of the insignificant fine amount, but rather that I do not wish to be monitored in such a manner, despite the fact that I hardly ever swear (definitely the least of them all). I explained why I wouldn't take part and deemed this issue settled.

However, one team "B" member keeps nagging me about paying the fine for my grand total of 2 curses (something silly like "damn," no less) basically every day and completely ignores the fact that I'm not taking part. I clearly let him know multiple times that he's being annoying but he doesn't seem to care. At this point, I've definitely ran out of patience and will probably get very unpleasant very soon.

Generally, I would not hold back but I don't want to perform a full-fledged rant at work.

I could notify his superior, but I would rather deal with it personally. To make it clear: I no longer care about having a good relationship with that person, but I don't want to be "that guy" who reports others for generally insignificant reasons.

What is the best way to handle this situation?


So it turns out that the problem fixed itself as the nagging coworker received a notice due to multiple complaints from the client regarding his lack of commitment and work ethic and was allowed to leave immediately.

  • 31
    What happens with the funds in the jar? I presume that you do not participate in it
    – Mawg
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 9:53
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    Please, what is your reason for not taking part in "jar fund"? If you could tell us about your motives so I could understand you more.
    – miroxlav
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 18:23
  • 45
    Not wanting to follow what everyone else is doing, just because everyone else is doing it, is not something you should ever have to justify. I sympathize as I once had a similar experience. I posted an answer about how I handled that instance. Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 21:04
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    I would probably tell jokingly him to "f*** off", and see if he gets the point. Then again that would be taken in stride at my company, rather than resulting in a visit from HR. Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 18:06
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    @EricLippert what a ridiculous statement. How is attempting to stop someone from griefing you "controlling them"?
    – Arqan
    Commented Mar 9, 2018 at 11:16

9 Answers 9


Put a jar on your desk labeled "Nag Jar 25 cents" and insist that he drop in a quarter every time he mentions the swear jar.

  • 8
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about the meaning and application of "passive-aggressive" has been moved to chat. Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 16:28
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    @Arqan Please update us in a week or so! Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 18:54

Unfortunately, not participating in this is going to get you labeled as "not a team player", which is a CLM (career limiting move) of the first order. My advice to you would be to participate, since you don't curse often, it would do little harm. Your concern in being "that guy" is indeed founded.


if you insist, here is the proper way to do so without doing major damage to your career, go to that person and say...

Look, I understand that the teams are participating in this, but I don't feel comfortable, so I am not. Please let this matter drop, the rest of the team has.

Then, if this person still persists...

Look, we've already discussed this and I am not participating. If we need to get your supervisor involved, we can, but I would prefer not to.

Then let the matter drop. If he still persists then, and only then approach his supervisor with...

Hi, I'm sorry to bother you with what might seem a petty matter, but I've had several conversations with Joe about letting the matter with the curse jar drop, and he won't. This is making me a bit uncomfortable, could you please talk to him?

Again, you don't want to make a huge issue of this, or you WILL BE "that guy"

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 18:37

My suggestion (which has worked for me in analogous situations):

  1. "I am allergic to collective coercion." [the first nag of each week]
  2. "It's still a no, I am afraid." [after that, for a few times]
  3. "It's still a no." [for the rest of the day]
  4. "No." [for the rest of the week]

Always said in even and unperturbed voice, no matter how often it is repeated.

Don't even try to convince them to stop nagging. That's the key.

  • 1
    I am wondering why this was voted for deleting? My response was intended in earnest. Just trying to find out the reason, no complaints if there is one. Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 0:07

Next time he mentions it...

Calmly, pull out your wallet, pull out a $10 or $20 bill, make a giant and flamboyant gesture of walking over to the jar. Make sure you get everyone's attention. Make sure everyone sees the denomination of the bill. Even hold the bill stretched out right up to his face. (Always smiling of course.)

When everyone is watching, slowly put the bill into the jar while announcing that you are pre-paying for every swear you will make till the end of your career.

Alternatively, as J.R. suggested, you could go about it in an understated way. You probably know what is appropriate and will work best between you and them.

Walk away and tell them to stop bothering you about it.

Get back to work.

  • 9
    I upvoted this suggestion, because I like the idea of putting yourself in the black for awhile. It's probably the approach I would use. However, I'd recommend being understated rather than using a "giant and flamboyant" gesture, and I certainly wouldn't put it anywhere near is face. Sometimes understated speaks louder than grand.
    – user42180
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 21:28
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    @J.R. very true, it's probably best to judge the approach based on the personal style, the audience and your relationship with them Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 21:33
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    Personally, I'd then go "Now will you stop !#@!#$ mentioning the #@$$ %%!#$ !@##$ swear jar?!" Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 10:08
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    This is a bad answer. The OP does not want to participate. The nagger's nagging is the problem.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 2:04
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    @TonyEnnis OP doesn't want to be monitored, so unless the nagger keeps a list and counts, the matter should be resolved.
    – Minix
    Commented Mar 4, 2018 at 18:16

Tell him you don’t carry change.

The last thing you want to do is play games - like bringing in your own “nag” jar. It only reinforces the confrontation.

Keep it professional, even if they don’t. Tell him you don’t have any change and you’re not playing his game. Then just stop responding, and get back to work.

Consider this: if you were to go to your manager over this, and asked him/her how to properly handle the issue, do you think he/she would say “Take it one step further. Bring in your own jar, label it ‘nag’, and set it on your desk.” Or would he/she say “just ignore them.”

  • 12
    Instead of some mildly passive aggressive behavior that comedically points out the issue, your solution is to lie and deflect the question? The actual professional route is to politely remind him that you aren't participating and ask him to stop bringing it up.
    – mbrig
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 19:49
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    @mbrig Where is the lie? Maybe he doesn’t have change. I can’t remember the last time I had a bunch of coins in my pocket. It’s been years. But if the OP does, and doesn’t want to “lie”, he can change it to something just as simple: “no thanks”. Still maintain professionalism, and ignore the childish games. Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 19:52
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    It is a very bad idea, because by stating that "you would but can't" you're essentially failing to express dissent towards the idea itself, and this can backfire whenever the colleague finds a way around such a poor excuse. Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 11:15
  • I am answering with respect to the question, which clearly states that the OP has already expressed dissent. I don't believe more argument is necessary, between the OP and his colleague, to further that point. Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 19:51
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    @AytAyt My intention was only to point out that there may be alternative impressions off the accepted answer. In my view, it’s not an appropriate response to take in a place of business. I don’t disparage A.I., or anyone on this site. But fair point, whether I agree with it or not. Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 22:44

Next time he nags about it, just look at him in the eyes and say all the swear words that come through your mind.

More seriously, if you've already explicitly told him you didn't take part in the jar thingy (i.e. explicitly stated "I don't do the swear jar. Please stop pestering me about it."), having a talk with his team leader could be rather harmless if done correctly and defuse the situation rather than going straight to HR.

If you go to the team leader for this issue, be sure to expose the problem while trying not to make a big issue about it or throw blame on your coworker. Something in the line :

Hey chief, you know I don't participate to the swear jar, right ? Could you have a quick word with Bob to tell him to avoid reminding me to contribute to it ?

If Bob takes it badly it could reflect on his behaviour toward you and may lead to him / the rest of the team putting you off as a negative nancy.

  • 4
    Leading with jokes about really ill-advised behavior generally lowers the quality of an answer. If you must joke, it's better at the end (although this reduces your chances to make it clear that it's a joke).
    – jpmc26
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 7:08
  • 2
    Aserre, I edited your answer to remove the code backticks and replaced it with italics. We don't use backticks to emphasize text on this site, one reason being that it can cause issues for screen readers. You can read more on the topic here.
    – David K
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 16:40

We're all being monitored whether we like it or not. You choose not to participate. That's your prerogative, but you should have anticipated some consequences.

Usually, people nag like this because the noticed that it bothers you. You showed him that this gets to you, so he keeps doing it. Taking other action could make it worse.

You decided to go this route, so I suggest you work very hard on ignoring this person and demonstrating to everyone else, in some other way, that you are a team player. Maybe you could suggest that a fine should be paid for any type of annoying behavior. Eventually, he'll look like a fool for his behavior especially in an open environment.


Agree to join the swear jar on the condition that for every day you don't swear at all, you get to take a handful out of it. And quit swearing.


you need to escalate to your manager immediately.

" To make it clear - I don't care about having a good relationship with that person anymore "

the above is a very bad sign for team work, and your manager needs to know about it. it's better to stop things quickly before they fester into something worse.

Also, as an aside, next time it might be best to join in on team activities when everyone else is party to it. Doing otherwise reduces your social capital - is hard to get someone to follow your initiative if you are seen as an outsider

  • 7
    "Also, as an aside, next time it might be best to join in on team activities when everyone else is party to it." - You were going to get a +1 from me right up until that comment. Now I have to downvote. (sigh) Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 15:56
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    is hard to get someone to follow your initiative if you are seen as an outsider - This whole 'swear jar initiative' is a trivial matter that is entirely unrelated to work. If it becomes a problem with respect to work itself, the OP should look for a new job - coworkers are a bunch of immature a-holes. I'm with @WesleyLong here.
    – Vector
    Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 18:40
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    Because it sets a horrible precedent. You don't coerce someone like this. Especially by taking their money, no matter how trivial the amount. It's demeaning, and to suffer that for the sake of "engaging the team" makes it a dozen times worse. I, personally, would have taken the jar, dumped the money out on the counter, and thrown it into the trash forcefully enough to break it if someone had tried that with me. Commented Feb 28, 2018 at 20:01
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    @bharal - I don't care - I don't look at ratings. I read answers and upvote or downvote and/or comment. This answer emphasizes certain points.... escalate to your manager immediately ?!? Great way to make yourself look like a complete A-hole to everybody, from the manager on down. (BTW the leading answer says exactly opposite. ) what's the problem with telling someone to engage with the team? - this has nothing to do with "engaging with the team" - it has nothing to do with work at all - nothing but imposed social conformity.
    – Vector
    Commented Mar 1, 2018 at 19:08
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    You get promoted by doing good work, showing you can do more, and displaying the required qualities to be a leader. A good leader can and should say no if they don't believe in something. If you are a leader that just does things to "fit in", you are a yes-man, not a leader. A real leader can disagree (horizontally OR vertically in their hierarchy) and still be respected. It's all about how you challenge or how you stand out.
    – Patrice
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 19:14

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