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We have cubicles at work with low walls to help with collaboration. However, this also invites other behavior from nosy people too.

For some reason, someone likes to listen to me when I ask questions, read things from my screen behind or beside me, etc. and I'm trying to figure out what I can do before escalating. I don't know if they do this with others but I notice it with myself.

Case 1: A couple times I asked someone else for help and to come to my cube to see what I'm doing/talking about. The nosy person would roll over by my cube to watch and listen in, sometimes ridiculing me for my question and the solution I was proposing to the other co-worker, sometimes proposing a possible viable solution.

Case 2: A few times I was asking for help from someone else at their cube on a project that doesn't involve the nosy person but for some reason, they stopped what they are doing and roll over to the cube I'm at to listen in.

Case 3: Several times I've caught them walking by and staring at my screen (I have 2 monitors). I would ask them if they needed something, to which they would say no, and keep walking. I'm sure there are other times they were staring at my screen without me being aware of it.

Maybe I'm being overly sensitive but for case 1 and 2, I don't want them to know about details of my work projects and either take credit for them or use them against me if I do things "wrong". I know this is what collaboration can look like, but sometimes they are giving input on issues that don't concern them or laughing at possible ideas being bounced off the wall that don't concern them.

For case 3 if I'm looking at something personal that requires attention during work hours, I don't want to be looking over my shoulder for someone nosy to protect my privacy.

Short of being a snitch and escalating above, what other measures can I do to minimize my annoyance / exposure to them?

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    Have you talked to this coworker yet and asked them to stop? What steps have you taken so far? – DarkCygnus Nov 25 '19 at 17:23
  • Is that person of the same gender as you? – Stephan Branczyk Nov 26 '19 at 4:48
  • Seems like a question for interpersonal.se – SZCZERZO KŁY Nov 26 '19 at 8:54
  • @StephanBranczyk, yes, this person is the same gender as me – Classified Nov 26 '19 at 18:31
  • next time said co-worker rolls over.. just say "and who rattled your cage mate?" before turning your back on them - they should get the message then. – deanoj Nov 28 '19 at 12:46
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Short of being a snitch and escalating above, what other measures can I do to minimize my annoyance / exposure to them?

The easiest is to ask that person directly to stop doing what they are doing.

People can't guess that this sort of behavior bothers or distracts you. Only if you express it, and politely and professionally ask them to stop, will they know this is something you don't like.

Regarding Case 1 and 2, it seems a bit invasive and intrusive for my taste what this person is doing. If this happens again (after you asking them to stop) and they interrupt or join without invitation, feel free to politely ask them to give you a moment, as you are discussing important work-related stuff.

If these sort of behavior continues after you have asked them to stop, and if this is really something that is affecting your productivity, then it will be time to escalate. But remember to talk to this person first to try reach a peaceful solution.

  • Yeah, I guess I'm passive aggressive. I haven't directly asked them to stop; I just asked if they needed anything or give them the evil eye and kind of ignore them but continue my question/conversation with the person who's helping me. I'll try to work up the courage to ask them directly to stop. – Classified Nov 26 '19 at 12:19
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You already have good answers on how to communicate with that colleague.

However, before talking to them, I would like to suggest you separate the destructive behavior that should be stopped, and destructive behavior that could be transformed to the good.

All of the following points are clearly destructive and unacceptable:

  1. read things from my screen behind or beside me
  2. staring at my screen
  3. ridiculing me for my question and the solution
  4. take credit for them
  5. use them against me if I do things "wrong"
  6. laughing at possible ideas being bounced off the wall

Rational reasons to put an immediate end to such behavior are that it discourages you from seeking the best solution for your project, discourages you from learning, and makes you feel uncomfortable distracting your attention from the tasks at hand. So it's clearly bad for you and for the company alike, and these reasons could be taken to the manager, if it comes to the escalation.

However, the following points might go well with your company culture (*), on the basis that one of the goals of having an open workplace setting with low walls is to promote and facilitate knowledge sharing:

  1. roll over by my cube to watch and listen in
  2. they stopped what they are doing and roll over to the cube I'm at to listen in

*) Provided, of course, all of them stay within reasonable limits: not crossing any privacy borders, not pushy, not annoying, not offensive, not disruptive.

I think the best way would be to ask that colleague to change their attitude (rather than stop completely): to listen with an intent to learn, joining in an open and unintrusive way, never interfering with your question, in no way discouraging you from asking, and staying within reasonable limits. Just like they would join a university lecture. After all, the whole SE network is about people learning from other people' questions :- )

I don't want them to know about details of my work projects

This could be the root of the problem if the management holds a different view. Because from the company perspective cross-project knowledge sharing might be a good thing (bus factor, resource flexibility, etc.). Perhaps you should find a way to check this with your manager before making a complain.

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  • Talk to the person in question privately. Impose some personal boundaries.

  • Prepare a bunch of ready-made phrases to tell that person when his help is not wanted.

  • Install a convex mirror (to know when that person is looking at your screens)

  • Install screen privacy guards (that you can remove, or adjust when a coworker looks at your screen, but adjust back when the person in question looks at your screens).

  • Ask that your cubicle be moved away from that person. You don't need to fully explain yourself. You can just say that you find that person distracting.

  • When asking for help from a co-worker and that other person is budding in, don't be afraid to snub him and suggest a more private space like a conference room for the other person and you to talk.

  • Thanks for your advice. You've re-enforced some of the things that I thought of doing too. I just need to work up the courage to do them since they can probably figure out these things are blatantly for them. – Classified Nov 26 '19 at 12:28
  • @Classified, Yes, you need to do that. You can't be subtle about something like that. Be upfront. There is really no other way. – Stephan Branczyk Nov 27 '19 at 7:33
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First - Don't make it personal. Make it Business. Reading data from your screen is kind of serious security problem. What if you have some data "For your Eyes only" and they stand behind you? What if the problem is to be shared only beetwen you and the person YOU CHOOSE to share it with.

Ask, or buy yourself, privacy filters and set your monitors the way that someone standing outside would not see them.

Loudly (so to them and anyone next to you) notice that it's nice that they have nothing to do that they can waste time on problems that don't affect them. Without really helping.

If they ridicule your problem ask them to take it over. They clearly have A)free time B) know how to do it.

In general, make people aware that this person is wasting company money. Either they are paid and do nothing or they do what they're supposed to in less time so there is no need to employ them full time.

  • Thanks for your advice. I like the idea of dumping/assigning my task to them if they think they can do it better :) I thought about announcing them having nothing to do but I don't think I have the courage to do so in the office :( – Classified Nov 26 '19 at 12:37

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