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I moved to Norway for work just under 2 months ago. The work is in the IT sector. My immediate supervisor is in the main IT department of the company where I work, and I was dispatched to another department for dedicated IT work there. Besides myself there are a few other people, one of which was quite friendly and helpful, and so my response was also friendliness and helpfulness, but something strange has begun to happen recently. The first occurrence, a week ago, seemed to be a verbal insult, but it was so unexpected and out of thin air that I thought (and continue to admit) that I had misheard something.

But the second occurrence was the following event: he went into my office to say goodbye, saw a restaurant brochure on my desk and started to "friendly" attack my shoulder with his knuckles, making sounds with his mouth, all seemingly in a "friendly" manner envying that I was going to order something tasty from the restaurant, or something along those lines. And the attack was quite painful (still feeling the effect). I was quite shocked, so I didn't know how to react and simply ignored it. Now I'm thinking how I should actually react to it. I realize that it would have been best to discuss this matter immediately, but I simply didn't know how to react, so unexpected and out of the ordinary it was.

That person is about 25 years older than I, has been working for the organization for over 10 years, and I'm still in a probationary period. I'm a member of a trade union.

What is most appropriate to do or not to do in my situation?

I'm not a confrontational person at all, I prefer to avoid conflicts, but it seems it's not always easy, especially when a colleague's office is located just a few meters away.

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    Question: From which Country/Culture did you move from? Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 3:10

2 Answers 2

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Ignore it for now, but prepare for recurrence. If it happens again say immediately "sorry, I really don't like being touched, please don't do this" or something to that effect. Practice it upfront so you get it out quickly without thinking or stumbling.

In 99% of all cases this should take care of it. It'll be awkward for a bit but the quicker and more decisive you tell him "stop this", the quicker it will fade.

In the unlikely case that this isn't enough, ask another questions.

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    +1 but I'd cut the "sorry". Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 8:52
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    @gnasher729: don't escalate until you are VERY sure that the person is actually aware that they doing it and that it's wrong. Ideally you just want the behavior to stop and don't do permanent damage to this work relationship. People do all kinds of things that are subjectively wrong, but they are not fully aware of it since it's automatic and grounded in culture and upbringing. And yes, I had a guy punch me in he arm and no, he wasn't aware that we was doing it to a colleague and not to a buddy in the locker room.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 0:00
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    @Hilmar It is interesting to note that after 40 years of living in Norway, and however many years of working here as well, he doesn't seem to have ingrained certain cultural traits, which, in my book, are most definitely unacceptable. Not to mention that this person is over 60 years old.
    – sequence
    Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 2:02
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    "Ignore it for now". What if the OP gets punched again, and it really hurts as it did the last time ? Isn't prevention a better strategy ? Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 4:49
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    “Are you out of your f***ing mind punching me?” isn't a wording I would associate with deescalation.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 8:39
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You should professionally set the boundary now so that he won't punch you again in the future.

If you don't set the boundary now, the next punch might physically hurt even more.

I don't believe that keep taking blows in the shoulder is a good strategy because your potential injury may require you to see a doctor and take time off from work to recover.

the second occurrence... attack my shoulder with his knuckles... And the attack was quite painful (still feeling the effect)

In the next few days, you could casually stop by his office or cubicle when he is not busy, and casually tell him that your shoulder was still hurt from his punch last week. You can say something like "BTW, man, did you know that my shoulder was still hurt from the last time you punched it ? Seriously, please don't do that again as I don't like it. Thanks."

That conversation won't be a confrontation, and will only be a firm, calm, friendly, and professional reminder about the boundary.


Let me tell you a real event that happened former company:

I was chatting with a coworker (A), then another coworker (B) walked by and punched coworker (A) in the shoulder as a way to say "Hello".

The coworker (A) said loudly right away "Hey, that really hurt. I am not joking." Then, the coworker (B) replied "Oh, I am sorry. I did not know that. I won't do that again". And, that truly never happened again.

It is that simple. End of the story.

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    “ I hope that you have some martial art or boxing skills to catch his next punch right in the act.” Sounds like the start of a fight. Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 1:36
  • @GeorgeWhite, To catch a punch does NOT mean to punch back and start a fight. To catch a punch means you prevent the other person's hands from hitting your body. It means you hold or deflect the other person's fists before their fists hit your body. Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 3:57
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    My view is that touching them before they touch you is not de-escalation. Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 6:17
  • It's nice that the other person reacted immediately and said that. In my case it was so out of the ordinary, unjustified and absurd, that I didn't know how to react, I had to reflect on it. But it would've been much better if I had reacted right away.
    – sequence
    Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 20:38
  • @GeorgeWhite, I don't believe in escalation either. Let me explain. In the OP's case, we know that the coworker did punch him once, and it painfully hurt. Thus, there is already an established incident of the coworker's punching the OP. Therefore, if the next time the coworker proceeds to punch the OP, it is within the OP's right to simply protect himself and deflect the punch. It is called Self-Defense. I am not saying the OP should punch back or attack the coworker. I am saying the OP can simply stop the hand/fist of that coworker from hitting him. Commented Feb 12, 2023 at 22:14

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