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We were joking - the interaction was good - I put my arm around her shoulder and she didn't say anything. However, I let my hand linger over her shoulder as we were walking down the corridor and she took off. She said something about being wanting to be someplace else and left.

I was aggressive in my interaction and I understand if she's not interested in me. I feel bad about how I overstepped boundaries.

Should I apologize or act like nothing happened?

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    Do you mean you weren't aggressive? Also when you say she 'took off' do you mean in the sense she was angry or that she took your hand off in a pointed manner? – Dustybin80 Nov 6 at 18:12
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    How your colleague reacted and the extent of your friendship will probably have a major impact on the answer. If she's your friend and she somewhat laughed it off that is different than if you barely know her and she shouted at you. – Dustybin80 Nov 6 at 18:17
  • She said something about being wanting to be someplace else and left – user111546 Nov 6 at 18:26
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    A number of aspects apply here. How well did you know each other before this? What are your respective ages and/or positions in the company? What information do you have indicating her discomfort? Those sorts of thing help significantly in refining an answer. – Ben Barden Nov 6 at 18:27
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    I would ask for a country tag. Though I have a strong opinion you should apologize ASAP, that opinion applies to moderate emotional climate (e.g. UK, Canada, most of US). – user3819867 Nov 7 at 9:44
85

Should I apologize or act like nothing happened ?

Yes, you should apologize immediately. Acknowledge that what you did was inappropriate and reassure your coworker that it will not happen again. After that, you need to actually follow through and not put your hands on your colleagues.

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    @Pormerianq Do you have her work email address? If you do or if your workplace has a known convention (like FirstName.LastName@Company.com) go that route. Keep it brief: Apologize for making her uncomfortable and state that it won't happen again. – BSMP Nov 6 at 20:24
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    RE: "If your workplace has a known convention". Seeing as this is a somewhat personal/sensitive/awkward message, guessing the email seems pretty out there. Also remember that all emails to/from work emails are often the property of the corporation and not necessarily private. – Cireo Nov 7 at 4:41
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    I wouldn't send an email to/from work email address. It's not a job related issue and it might backfire or show up unexpectedly years later. A sincere apology in person is better. – Ege Bayrak Nov 7 at 6:42
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    @BSMP Sending apologizes to work email is really bad idea. If she forwards it to HR, this guy may be in trouble. Since there is no any written evidence, don't create evidence. Just apologizes when she met. – I am the Most Stupid Person Nov 7 at 7:34
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    I agree. Do not email. Apologising in person is better anyway. It comes across as more sincere – user180146 Nov 7 at 7:36
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Yes, you should apologize to her, but also try not to make the biggest deal out of it. She should feel acknowledged and her unsafe feelings should no longer be present. At the same time don't make a huge deal out of this; that'll backfire and is not respecting boundaries.

Hi. About the other day, when I had my arm on your shoulder a bit too long, I apologize. It got awkward because of me, and that wasn't my intention. I'll try to be more aware in the future

Wait for a possible response and then just walk away. Dont keep pushing 'to make things right', as that will only make things worse. You've made a mistake, there are consequences, you can't simply undo them.

In the future, just respect personal boundaries. We all make mistakes; social interactions can be difficult. Learn, improve.

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    Don't offer her anything. – Christoffer Hammarström Nov 7 at 10:39
  • Why not? I choose "Can I offer" on purpose. Can easily be answered by a "no thanks". Get the cup of coffee, give it and walk away. I added it to add some sincerity to the statement :) – Martijn Nov 7 at 10:46
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    @Martijn OP has already shown themselves not to respect boundaries within the workplace; any offer after that is now going to be viewed as another way for OP to try to get close to that woman. Give the apology, get out of her space, don't get back in it - anything else is going to seriously undermine the apology in the first place and potentially turn this from being perceived as a one-off incident to being a pattern of behavior. – Bilkokuya Nov 7 at 10:54
  • Interesting. I'm dutch, so that might work differently here, but getting a cup of coffee is a very "within the lines" type of thing to do. – Martijn Nov 7 at 10:55
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    ":)" I'd definitely remove the smiley at the end. I would not accept an apology of someone smiling as that feels quite insincere. – FooTheBar Nov 7 at 11:16
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Should I apologize or act like nothing happened?

Apologize, definitely, and as soon as possible.

Accordingly to Merriam-Webster, that can be seen as sexual harassment:

Uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student).

For the future, in work, look at the workers as your colleagues/team, not as your friends - the interaction is different (there are additional boundaries).

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    I'd argue that arms and shoulders aren't sexual. – RobbyReindeer Nov 7 at 12:52
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    As with most legal matters, it depends on the circumstances. Anything that's prolonged becomes more of an issue. – Goncalo Peres supports Monica Nov 7 at 13:02
4

You should apologize because you are, or want us to believe you are, a reasonable and considerate human being who knows he did something wrong. Not because you're afraid of the legal consequences.

Don't make it a show, either. Don't try explaining. Don't try blame-shifting:
"Hey X, the other day, when we were walking back to the office? I'm sorry for how I behaved. I didn't think about it, I didn't think about how you feel about it and that you may become uncomfortable by it. I'm sorry and I promise you it will not happen again."

Simple.

0

I have a slightly different take on how to manage this situation: I would try to have a very good joke, at your own expense, about what you did. Now, you should still make sure that you do not touch your co-workers in a way that can be interpreted incorrectly.

Back to the joke, it gives you the opportunity to:

  1. Recognize your mistake and air it out without making a big deal out of it.
  2. Let you gauge if your co-worker actually took your action negatively.

Now, if you're not a good comedian and you don't have a good sense of humor, the joke might be difficult to pull off. If you fail to pull it off, it might look just as creepy. So in that case, just follow the advice in the answers above.

What could be a good joke? Something like this:

"I think I have left my hand hanging on your shoulder too long the other day. If I ever do that again, feel free to stick a fork in it." Allow no more than a comment or two on this and move on to a different topic. Don't let the comments lead to a direction that's pointing towards the fact that you like your co-worker.

General Advice

Work isn't just a place you spend 8 hours of your day and go home like a robot. You do end up socializing with your co-workers and some do end up developing intimate relationships. That's not a bad thing. The best way to avoid being creepy in that kind of situation is to be very good at gauging social cues. In order to become good at gauging social cues, you need to practice a lot. Try not to make your office your practice ground, since mistakes there can harm your relationships with your co-workers.

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