103

About my eating habits: I usually go to a nearby restaurant to eat. Sometimes I bring away the food and eat it in the company kitchen, but sometimes I go with a group of random people there.

Background: I am female, my colleague is male. Cultural info: In Hungary lunch is the major meal of the day, not dinner.

A new colleague has come to our company. My company has a kitchen where most of the people eat (there are huge tables, micros, fridge, etc). Those who don't want to eat in the kitchen, can choose to sit in some restaurants around, or eat at their tables. So there are quite a lot of possibilities. The new colleague of mine, instead of eating in the kitchen, connect to an eating group or whatever, continuously writes me on a private chat and asks me to eat with him in one of the nearby restaurants.

The first time it happened, he didn't ask me on chat, but when he got to know that I am holding a lunch break in a nearby restaurant, he stated that he is going with me. I got afraid and quickly called another colleague to come with us so that I am not alone with him. The new colleague was surprised and remained quite quiet during the lunch.

Afterwards, it got worse. He continued asking me in a private chat window to eat together, instead of asking me in the presence of others. I got afraid and said no with some poor excuse. This continued almost every day.

I don't want to be rude to him, but for me it would be very uncomfortable to always eat with a colleague privately in a restaurant. I wanted first to introduce him to other restaurant visitors or something, but since he is very stubborn and continues asking me every day in a private chat, I started to be afraid of the possibility of eating with him - even in others' presence - and couldn't do that. Maybe I am too sensitive and shy, but it always freaks me out if somebody is too pushy. Every normal person would understand after 3-4 'no' and there are plenty other colleagues he can ask to eat with in restaurants, and the kitchen is always an option to meet many. He is not that 'helpless'.

I asked my family for advice and they said to go with him eating and bring others as well. I feel that maybe this would be a solution, but just the thought itself makes me nervous after the daily ping I receive from him. I would not mind if he would eat in the kitchen and I would be there also among others. But to go out to a restaurant with the possibility that I cannot find every day some volunteers to eat with us is not an acceptable option for me. I don't want to hunt people every day to play the 'bodyguard' for me.

My question, how can I effectively avoid eating with him in a restaurant and not make him turn to be an enemy?


Update: I got a new invitation today, quite lately. This time I was prepared, and tried with a polite but clear answer, without extra excuses:
"Thank you for asking me out for lunch again, but I really don't want to."
He just answered with an "I see" and an "Ok". I expected the question "why" but it didn't come. If there will be following cases, I will honestly say to not ask me again.


Update 2.

So, I decided to keep many of the advices ready to fire and wait a couple of days to see the result.

Summary:

  • Following @Mr Positive's suggestion, I try to eat with other colleagues, friends of mine every day.
  • Since the last chat interaction I didn't get any new chat message.
  • The colleague in question developed a new habit a day after: he walked up to my table and hold a long (one-way) speech about work/workplace related stuff. He repeated this action later as well. From my part, I remained passive, and the second time I cut him down telling that I have to concentrate to my work (which is the truth).
  • On Friday while I was about to depart to eat he came to speak again, and - as if suddenly realizing the time - he asked "oh, sorry, I take your lunch time. [Restaurant Name]?" I took @Kate Gregory's answer to say to stop it. It was just extra lucky that other colleagues heard it too. To his upcoming question "But you frequently go to that restaurant, don't you?" I didn't answer but repeated what I said like a parrot.
  • Today is Monday. Lunch time he stopped nearby my table and asked the "air" if anyone is going to eat and left since there was no answer. Then 2 mins later he came back, so he was not eating. I didn't see him going to eat but I went out after a while so I don't know. He didn't tried to walk up to my table till now either. I think this is a progress.
    I was refusing to take the advice to talk to any manager first, but then the occasion today at lunch time made me finally do this step also. One of our main boss was in the group I ate with. I asked to speak with him after lunch and I told the whole story as it is, and added that I see the progress today and hope this is a good sign that he will leave me in peace from now on. We agreed that I should report if he doesn't change permanently and in this case the boss will make steps.

Thank you for all the advices and that you cared to reply. With your help it seems I managed to avoid to lunch with him at all. Since I made myself clear and reported the issue as well I think I don't have to worry about any improper actions from his part now on.

  • Honestly, any book about abuse will tell you that this is abusive behaviour. As you said "every normal person would understand after 3-4 'no' " and so this person must be either abusive or disabled, and it is not the second. Now, sometimes abusers even want you to think they are disabled or have some childhood trauma, but any book about abuse will tell you that it is just justification for what they do, and not the cause. If at any point he says to you you made him into an enemy due to you saying no, that's abusive in itself, as this is mentally stearing you to lose confidence in yourself. – Eskey Eski May 17 at 9:40

11 Answers 11

104

My question, how can I effectively avoid eating with him in a restaurant and not make him turn to be an enemy?

This is going to be a challenge. My suggestion to you is to let him know that you appreciate the offer, but you have other lunch plans. Rinse and repeat, continue telling him the same thing and eventually he will get the hint. It may be more comfortable for you to ask a friend to be your lunch buddy so you can always say you have other plans.

As far as private chats are concerned, ignore those communications with him all together or repeat the same message as above. The key to this strategy being effective is the consistent delivery of the message ( NO ).

If this behavior continues, then it is time to ask your manager how to get this guy to stop harassing you. If your manager is unable to resolve this issue, then in your case I would speak to your HR representative about what your options are.

Summary: Repeatedly state you are not interested, if that fails after some consistently with no mixed signals. If that doesn't work ask your manager for help. If your manager cannot help you, speak to HR.

Bottom line is you don't have to eat lunch with anyone.

140

The next time he messages you, go a little meta.

No thank you. I am not going to agree to go to lunch just you and me. I would like you to stop inviting me for that.

No more. Don't say why. Don't say that "you really like him but" or that are flattered or you appreciate his interest. Do not give him some sort of compliment to feel better after being rejected, and do not explain your lunch preferences to him.

An acceptable response from him is "oh, sorry, I didn't realize." Or silence. Of course, he may give you an unacceptable response. Any kind of questions or demands like "Who will you go to lunch with them?" or "but I saw you go to lunch with X last week" or any sort of argument etc you should shut down:

This is not a topic I am going to discuss in private chat.

You do not owe this person your company. You do not owe this person an explanation of your lunch preferences. You do not owe this person some sort of ego stroking to make him feel better after you say no.

If the person responds angrily, you might want to screenshot the chat and show it to your manager. If, in the future, you are on a project together and the person is being unpleasant, you might want to go to a manager and say "X is being unpleasant to me on our shared project. I think it's because I didn't go on a private lunch date with him back in May even though he asked me dozens of times on private chat." A good manager will know how to handle that.

  • 14
    Thank you for the answer, I was wondering also how to go with others and react to the "but I saw you go to lunch with X last week" possible statement which you mentioned. – user86800 May 7 '18 at 14:26
  • 48
    I don't like it but this is the right answer. This person did not see the soft signs, so a harsh and solid response is what's required. – Mr Me May 7 '18 at 14:26
  • 16
    @user86800 You don't need to explain yourself, just like Kate mentioned. You tried being nice, and it didn't work. – Mr Me May 7 '18 at 14:27
  • 8
    AND take some screen shots if you don't have them already! (Assumes that private chat isn't archived - if it is, pull all of the previous logs before they roll off and are deleted. Keep them. It probably won't, but if this goes bad, having 20+ lunch invitations recorded would be very convenient.) Hope that helps, don't know much about Hungary - but it doesn't seem like something you should have to put up with. – J. Chris Compton May 7 '18 at 15:01
  • 17
    Now two people have called this harsh. If I asked you for $100 every day, at some point you would say "I am not going to give you $100. Please stop asking." I do not see any harshness in that. – Kate Gregory May 8 '18 at 11:14
28

He is asking you out. You don't want to, so say "No". You don't owe any sort of explanation, but for your sake and his, you need to clearly indicate that you have noticed his interest and you do not share it. Something along the lines of:

"I am not interested in going out to lunch with you now or in the future."

This might sound harsh to you, but think of it instead as being straightforward and clear. Men need that sometimes. We can be surprisingly oblivious to subtlety.

Edit: I guess I'll be clear about the sexual harassment angle since a lot of people are hinting at it. Once you clearly say no and ask not to be asked again, any future invitations will be classified as sexual harassment. If he persists it's a problem for HR. They will warn him that his behavior is sexual harassment. If he still can't hear that he will be fired. The clear rejection is important though.

  • 1
    This. There's even a textbook: When I say no, I feel guilty – mcalex May 8 '18 at 5:41
  • @Fattie If you read the update to the question, you will notice how absolutely ridiculously wrong you have been. She said no, he said Ok. All that drama for nothing. – gnasher729 May 8 '18 at 13:42
  • @gnasher729 I wish that I will not receive any other invitation in the future also.( I think this was one of my strongest answer to him.) But he was replying similarly shortly to all my other 'no's as well. – user86800 May 8 '18 at 14:44
  • 4
    hi @gnasher729, am happy to bet you 100 points he comes back and asks yet again – Fattie May 8 '18 at 17:04
  • @user86800 Did you expect any longer answer, or an argument, when you came up with excuses? "Hey, would you like to join me for lunch?" "No, I'll be meeting an old friend for lunch today". The obvious answer would be "Ok". Nothing else. – gnasher729 May 8 '18 at 18:27
14

There should be a lesson learned from this: What you say, and what another person hears, are not the same thing. Being obsessed with "politeness" can create more problems than it solved.

A asks B if they want to join A for lunch. Case 1 how to get it wrong: B is really, really busy and says "Sorry, I'd love to join you, but I'm really busy". A hears "Go away, I don't want to have lunch with you, and I'm sure you will see through my silly excuse and not bother me again". A thinks "You stupid b (followed by some *** depending on gender), I'll pay you back for that".

Case 2 how to get it wrong: B really doesn't want lunch with A, tries to be polite and says "Sorry, I'd love to join you, but I'm really busy". A hears "I would love to join you for lunch, but unfortunately I have so much work to do, I can't. Please ask me again tomorrow". A thinks "I feel so sorry for that poor xxx (depending on gender), I will ask her tomorrow again to make them feel better".

Assumptions about what other people mean when they say things can create bad situations. Especially when the assumptions are wrong. As a rule, men will tend to take things that are said more literally then women, and they tend to mean what they say more literally. So if you are a woman talking to a man, and you think that what you say is ignored, then examine carefully what the words are that you said, and what it was that you meant to convey, and if these are not the same, then use the exact words that express what you mean. (If you are a man talking to a woman, and you have the impression she thinks you are rude, you might want to change what you say in the opposite direction).

As in this case: The poster didn't want to go to lunch with some man (and of course she is perfectly entitled to that). What she meant to say was "I do not want to go to lunch with you". What she said was "Sorry, I cannot go to lunch because... " in order to be polite.

The result of the attempt to be polite was that the man turned into a harrasser, almost a sex fiend, in her eyes, that she was afraid that he might become her enemy, that she went out of her way to keep a distance from him, and she was ready to report him to HR. Finally, at last, she used words that matched what she meant, and the problem instantly disappeared in thin air.

Put yourself into the shoes of the other person, think how their brain works (it doesn't work like yours), and pick words that are appropriate for that person. In this case, a lot of upset could have been avoided. In the future, someone's career could take off or be cut short, depending on whether other people understand the meaning of what this person says.

  • 1
    I understand your point, but the conversations you used here as example are incorrect. I did never ever said that "I'd love to join you.." or similar. And I strongly doubt he felt "sorry" for me and was calling me almost every day for lunch privately just because he is so kind. – user86800 May 8 '18 at 13:41
  • 5
    @user86800 I may have exagerrated, but that doesn't change the fact that you never, ever said what you actually meant, and when you finally did, it worked and gave you the result you wanted, without any problems. And it doesn't change the fact that what you said and what he heard were different things, that this whole situation put a lot of stress on you and could have had dire consequences for everyone involved, and that you could have avoided that from the very start by just saying "No, I don't want to go to lunch with you". – gnasher729 May 8 '18 at 13:46
  • @user86800 Just to make this clear: If I (male, and not George Clooney) started with your company and asked you to join me for lunch, what would your answer be? Which answer will avoid all kinds of trouble, both for you and me? – gnasher729 May 8 '18 at 13:54
  • Re-reading this: I never claimed you said "I'd love to join you". I said he heard "I'd love to join you". First sentence of the answer "What you say, and what another person hears, are not the same thing". What I wrote, and what you read, are not the same thing. There were other things that you complained about, that I didn't actually write. That should demonstrate how difficult communication can be. – gnasher729 May 9 '18 at 22:48
4

I don't see what's wrong or rude with simply telling him why you don't want to go to lunch with him alone. As far as I understand you feel it's inappropriate since you don't know each other very closely. It looks too much like a date and you don't think that's appropriate for a work relationship.

It's a perfectly good reason and hard to argue with. He might not agree and tell you it's not like a date at all, but if you insist you still think it looks that way and is inappropriate there is not much he can do.

If he instead says he wants it to be a date (or something like that), you can tell him that you don't (you're not looking for a romantic relationship at the moment or want to keep work and private life separate or you feel romantic relationships at work a generally not appropriate). You then have an even stronger case to not got to lunch with him: It wouldn't just look like a date, it would basically be one.

If he later asks you to go to lunch again you can simply say "no" without any excuses or new reasons and he'll know you haven't changed you mind.

4

The simple fact is at this point you should just tell HR, or your Manager.

You're already said "No" endlessly.

It's plain harassment and there's no reason you have to put up with this.

Simply tell your boss, or HR.

"X is endlessly asking me to (private) lunch. I tell him No every single time and he continues to ask, over and over. Fix the problem"

Couldn't be simpler.

3

It is not rude to be direct

A simple "no, thank you" is sufficient for the first time. After two or three times, "please stop asking". It is direct, and moreover, it is professional to be direct.

Excuses or apologies need not be made, and may be misinterpreted as something to be overcome.

I'm fairly sure this doesn't fit your case, but another tack may be to ask if this is a working lunch, particularly if you are both working on the same project. If it is not, "then no thank you". If that was what he was planning, then it is still professional to respond with something along the lines of "no thank you, I was not planning to work on my own time".

  • 2
    The 2nd paragraph, avoiding excuses, especially dishonest excuses, is important. You (OP) don't have to explain anything, other than "I don't want to" and "it's private" while looking annoyed, if really pressed. – hyde May 10 '18 at 13:34
2

You could also try to give it a funny side. Save a text somewhere which mimicks an out-of-office or other automated reply. For example:

"This is the out-to-lunch assistant of <your name>. I'm currently not available for lunch. You'll receive a notification as soon as I'm available again. In urgent cases you can contact my supervisor, <name/title, email>."

Whenever you get an invitation in text form, copy and paste this answer. Besides the direct rejection (which I find entirely appropriate, given his — as I assume — insensitivity) it also conveys that you find his attempts repetitive; so repetitive in fact that a reply can be "automated". The reference to the supervisor is a hint that his behavior is borderlining (the way I perceive it) on being inappropriate at the workplace.

  • 5
    This appears to have roughly the same problem as the responses OP used thus far - it still leaves some room for interpretation (whether that interpretation is assuming it is actually an automated response, it's meant as a light-hearted joke, which usually means you're not too bothered by what's happened and might not mind having it continue, or something else). The supervisor hint might be lost on most - it's a fairly standard clause for an out-of-office-like reply. – Dukeling May 8 '18 at 9:14
  • 1
    I'm not sure he would not take it as a challenge bcs this is funny and playful, but the idea cheered me up for sure :) – user86800 May 8 '18 at 9:24
  • This could be a witty way to talk to established friends who you might dine with in the future, but it does not seem helpful/appropriate for the problem at hand. – Lightness Races with Monica May 8 '18 at 11:33
  • This would be absolutely identical to saying to the man in question "I want to have intercourse with you." Jokes == no. – Fattie May 8 '18 at 12:44
  • @Fattie Yes, I would not use a joke since I don't want to lunch in the future nor a friendship. I updated my question with the results from today about what I tried. I am prepared with more strict answers if needed in the following days. – user86800 May 8 '18 at 13:11
2

So this question is answered and accepted. But most of the answers tell OP to deny the request in quite harsh, almost aggressive words; even involving HR or managers.

I find things like this are a good exercise in general interpersonal skills. In this case, saying plainly what you want, without being roundabout, but also without being harsh and offensive. As far as we know, that guy is not just a psychopath who has to be shut down.

OP already edited the question with her own answer,

"Thank you for asking me out for lunch again, but I really don't want to."

That is fine with me (and obviously for OP) and much less offensive than what some of the other answers suggested. Really also quite courageous, in my opinion, and quite the correct tone to also shut up any amorous thoughts the guy might or might not be having.

In general, I would have suggested a plain but friendly answer somewhat similar to this one:

You are asking me to lunch all the time, but I use this time to be either alone, or to meet random groups of colleagues. I don't really like to have one-on-one lunches in general, and prefer not to "manage" my lunches by setting them up like meetings beforehand. I'd prefer if you not ask me again.

This shows respect for the colleague because OP would have went out of her way to communicate her message to him; while having the usual hallmark of being "I"-centered and factual. It is also pretty definite. If the guy singles out any of those statements for a counterattack, or ignores the message, then the "but I really don't want to" line can still be delivered as the next escalation.

2

His actions are completely unacceptable. If this was someone on my team, as a manager, I would want to know about it so I could talk to them. Maybe they did not realize how they were making you feel, so a third party stepping in to explain could help out, especially when reminded of disciplinary actions if they continue.

While I disagree about "politely thank them" for inviting you to lunch, I also realize that being too confrontational could escalate the situation and make you feel uncomfortable. I would say that someone like that person needs to get a clear NO. But it might have to be in front of another person to alert attention for safety reasons.

At this point I would inform HR about the situation so they can keep an eye on him as he might do this to other employees.

Sorry about what you went through, you have a right to be respected at work and no one should make you feel unsafe.

2

I know this has already been answered but just wanted to add my 2 cents to this...

Taking into account what you have done already and the fact that you have involved your boss I think this approach might be sensible.

Any behavior coming from him that makes you feel uncomfortable from now on, just let him know either through message or talk to him directly and tell him honestly something along the lines of: "I am sorry if you misunderstood anything but the reality is that both your attitudes and your invitations make me feel uncomfortable. I am not interested in going for lunch with you neither on any non-work related interaction. I have discussed this with our Manager and I would appreciate you could respect this else I will have to ask him to step in"

Just remember that sometimes "playing hard" can be seen as a flirting tactic from his side. This doesn't justify his behavior at all, but clarifying what your intentions are should either stop this or you pass on the responsibility to your supervisor.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.