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I am a software developer. I work in a relatively small company (30/40 people) and we are all in the same open space. I am the lead of the iOS team, and I have a problem with the lead of the Android team. It is really difficult to focus because he is always around, seeking for attention/acknowledgment. He starts working way earlier than everybody else at the office (around 6:30) and he doesn't have lunch, so he has much free time, that he can spend bothering other people.

There are times when we need really to discuss as experts of our teams, and I am fine with that, but other times he interrupts me for no real reason. Here the list of the annoying and distracting things he does:

  1. Coming to my desk and start talking and walking behind me, even if he can clearly see that I am with my headset, he continues till he gets my attention. Sometimes he even shakes my chair.
  2. After coming at my desk and winning my attention, he tells me: "check the email", and then he wants me to open it in front of him, but he doesn't even wait for me to read the just received email, but start talking about it, as if I know everything already. (most of the time stuff not immediately relevant, and that I am gonna read anyway probably when I finish the current task)
  3. A variant of point 2 is "Check Slack"...and the same story.
  4. He comes to my desk and says something like "oh, about that thing... don't forget also to do that". But there is no reason why I should forget, and also I know how to do my job. So basically he gives me information that I don't need.
  5. He is talking/explaining things to the junior developer of his team, and he distracts me says "ehi ehi, tell him...when should he use static methods"...and then he waits for my answer as in interrogation. And then from there, he can start telling some pseudo-related stories, about some developers that didn't know how to use that thing.
  6. Out of the blue start making "jokes", and he talks out loud.

Recently I started counting the interruptions, and yesterday I counted 15. If you are a developer you know how difficult is to get the focus again if you are distracted while you are working on a complex problem.

He is socially very awkward and almost everybody in the company has some kind of problem dealing with him. He is almost 50, and I think he can recognize he is mediocre, that's why he is always seeking for attention, always trying to prove he knows a lot.

Anyway, I would tell him he is bothering me, but I had a hard time trying to win his cooperation because in the past it was impossible to deal with him, always grumpy and on his position like he was always right, and completely blind for seeing other solutions. So I am afraid that if he gets offended he is gonna start again acting in that way, which is probably worse than the distraction.

What would you suggest to do?

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    You're making a lot of assumptions about the coworker – chevybow Mar 28 at 21:35
  • who is is your immediate supervisor? Is they also "coworker's" supervisor? – aaaaaa Mar 28 at 21:51
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    Point #2 and #3 implies that your coworker has tried to contact you via other communication methods before he comes to your desk, and that you have not answered within his expected time frame. So what is the period between these emails/messages and him appearing at your desk? Minutes or hours? – Peter M Mar 29 at 10:40
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    For a start I would suggest you stop with your own negative behaviour like counting how many times he interrupts you. He obviously respects your opinion and seems harmless,live and let live - interactions and interruptions in the office are normal. If you really are too busy to talk to him, just tell him you'll get back to him when you've finished what you're doing. – Old Nick Mar 29 at 11:22
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    I would be very happy to be interrupted just 15 times during a workday... – T. Sar Apr 15 at 13:38
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tl:dr; The issue needs to be re-framed, and the attitude towards your teammate probably needs to be examined before anything is going to be resolved. Let him know when he should interrupt you.

When you bring up your issues with him it's going to be especially important to remember that he's hearing this from you for the first time. It's going to require kindness, tact, and understanding that he isn't you.

I'm going to address your points one by one:

  1. Coming around your desk, walking and talking are all absolutely fine. There is no real ownership of space, and headphones aren't some kind of armor at work. They help you to filter things out, but they aren't (and should never be) an "eff off" symbol. This is one of the more toxic parts of software development culture in my opinions.

    Shaking your chair may or may not be a no-go. It's all situational. If it's important and you're ignoring/too focused, then it's fine. You can always say "It's cool to try to get my attention for super important stuff. I promise that I'll get back to you as soon as possible once I'm finished with my current task if it isn't." Gotta make sure that you follow through on that, otherwise you're just a liar.

  2. Just ask him to hold up a sec while you read the email, or ask to talk about it in X amount of time. Again, follow through.

  3. As above. Just let him know his messages are important to you, but sometimes you're locked in, and won't read them right away. Ask him to come tap you if it's urgent and important. It continues the theme of telling when to interrupt, instead of when not to.

  4. People forget things, and it might be important to him. Just ask him to slack you a reminder. #3 covers him interrupting you.

  5. He values your opinion and wants to confirm that he's not just talking on of his ass. You can always say "I trust you on this on Bob, sorry, gotta focus on this task."

  6. Yea, it's time to get over that unless they're inappropriate.

As for the additional colour, I've gotta ask why you're spending time counting the number of times he's interrupting you? What are you planning to do with that information, and what are you going to say when your supervisors asks why you were wasting time counting interruptions instead of solving the problem?

As for social awkwardness, I feel like it's pot calling the kettle black here, at best. I understand that you're upset, but the tone of the post is quite aggressive. There are so many personal attacks and judgments in this paragraph, and it's not a good look.

  • " I've gotta ask why you're spending time counting the number of times he's interrupting you? What are you planning to do with that information..." I've actually done this before and later I made a report for the upper management. I was in exactly the same boat as the OP. After keeping track of the amount of time I was disturbed for no reason, I concluded that I lost more than 3 hours a day on one person. Not including the time I need to get my focus back. The same day as I filed the report, the interrupter got a sanction, 3 days later he was fired as the behaviour did not stop. – Odyssee Mar 29 at 11:32
  • Sounds like it worked out for you, and maybe it'll work out for OP as well. It's a risky move either way. Time you need to get your focus back is entirely subjective and biased. Plus, again, they could have just fired back at you and asked why you thought it was appropriate to waste 3 hours of company time everyday due to an unwillingness to resolve conflict yourself. Many managers that I've known would simply have terminated both of you if there were appropriate replacements available. – Malisbad Apr 1 at 6:10
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    Thank you for the elaborate answer. Yes, I have to admit, I was probably a bit too aggressive, because indeed, I feel some frustration. About counting, I thought maybe I was exaggerating, and I wanted to have a concrete estimation about how much those interruptions affect my work. Nothing more than this – Michael Apr 2 at 18:53
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Noise cancelling headphones, and even IF you hear him, act like you don't. When he gets to the point where he shakes your chair, you need to just come straight out and tell him that you're busy and unless it's work related, you just don't have time.

Sometimes guys like that just need straight talk.

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    @Keith al those distraction are in his opinion work related so I don't know how well he will understand it. – GittingGud Mar 29 at 8:12
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    But his assigned duties do not include entertaining the coworker. Perhaps say "My boss wants this done...." and get back to work. – Keith Mar 29 at 11:50
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Try this construct:

When you [behavior], then [consequence].

Example:

If you don't mind me pointing something out, when you interrupt me to [whatever he did], I get less done than I want because I need 5-10 minutes to get back in flow and become focused again.

As an aside, if you were his boss you'd also add: "Can you try something different in the future?" or something to the same effect. But you're not his boss, so don't.

Don't make it personal, and stay diplomatic if he gives you pushback. Stick to his behavior, and the consequence for you.

He should get the message eventually. If not, bring it up to your manager after a few weeks. And if he's your manager, there's a saying that goes: employees join companies and leave managers.

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    I think your solution is more likely to put this person on the defensive. It should focus more on himself and less on the other person. The construct itself strikes me as making it personal from the get-go. – Malisbad Mar 29 at 7:00
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How you describe your coworker, he is acting like a child which need your attention (and also your praise?).

In case of a child one would declare strict rules. For example "I will read the next 10 Minutes my paper, so you will play for your own. Thereafter we could play together."

Naturally you can not talk to your coworker like to a child

But maybe strict rules help both of you?

It is hard to work in one space with 30-40 people. I think of a solution like "opening hours": You could communicate "core times" where you do not want to be disturbed. For example with a post-it at a good visible place of your desk. It will take its time until all coworkers are informed about it, but I think all of them have likewise issue with working in this environment so they will understand your afford.

The advantage is: you act not "direct against" your special coworker. So he could not be offended about it personally. And you have a clear point to refuse him in your "core time" (but with reference to a later time).

Another point is, how detailed the post-it will be. It could be only a reminder, if you tell anybody about your times, or it could be a written appeal to not disturb you until time XY or if you wear your headset or ...

In general it is not for all persons clear to see, if one is displeased. So it could help to say "Please do not do that, I do not like it" in a friendly but assertive way. (I think in special at the chair-shaking)

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