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I'm an engineer, my work consists mostly of silent coding and testing.

My office is a room in a shared office space, and my room is adjacent to a meeting room of a consulting company. On most days, the meeting room is not used, at least currently. About 2-3 times per month, people from the consulting firm meet in the meeting room with people from other companies.

On such a day, a guy from the consulting firm comes to my office about every time he passes my door and apologizes for the noise and disruption this meeting is going to cause to me:

  • "I'm really sorry, but we have people from other companies here today, we will meet in the meeting room and it will disturb you"
  • "Sorry, but it's another meeting day"
  • "Sorry for the noise, I hope you are still able to work"
  • "Today we have to disrupt your peace again, I'm very sorry for that"
  • "Maybe you want to close the door today, people are coming over, and we don't want to disturb you"

Note that the "noise" he means is just some minutes of people arriving, people making coffee, people talking in the hall, until the meeting begins behind closed door. Once the meeting has started, there isn't any noise, except maybe from time to time someone going to the toilet or fetching a cup of coffee. This is in absolutely no way disrupting me, and if it was, I would just close the door.

When I write this here, his comments may sound sarcastic, as if the colleague is saying it to taunt me. However, judging by the colleagues character, this is practically impossible. He is a very quiet, earnest guy, a bit shy, many people would consider him a bit boring. IMO it's quite impossible he means it in another way than an honest apology.

I always answer the same thing: No it isn't disturbing me. Absolutely no problem, you don't have to apologize.

In a way, his apologies are annoying me more than the actual noise. How can I tell him that? How can I make him stop apologizing without being rude?

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  • 2
    "such a day is just 2-3 times per month, but on such a day, he is apologizing about every time he passes my door. I just would like to see if there's a way to communicate this more clearly." Question: Could you WFH on those 2-3 days to avoid the 'issue' alltogether? If not, maybe headphones, locked doors to your office or a 'do not disturb sign' your office-door would work.. /s
    – iLuvLogix
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 11:57
  • 21
    I’m voting to close this question because it's really an interpersonal question, not a workplace question. The same could arise with any person you see frequently, and the same answers apply.
    – keshlam
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 19:18
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    Already explained earlier in that exact same paragraph, @Job_September_2020. Bass means that they don't think the apologies are sarcastic or taunting. Commented May 9, 2023 at 21:18
  • 3
    @iLuvLogix I thought of that, but it seems to me, this would quite clearly say "you're disturbing me with your meetings". I would like to communicate the opposite.
    – Bass
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 9:03
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    Is it possible that OP is making noise / playing music, or has a messy office and the consultant would like OP to close the door so their clients aren't exposed to OP's noise or mess?
    – P.Turpie
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 23:39

15 Answers 15

151

"There is no need to apologise. The meeting room is for having meetings. I don't even notice any disruptions. Hope the meeting goes well."

You do this each time.

If they don't get the idea, then just put that down as the least-annoying personality quirk you can imagine, and you move on with your life.

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    This is the much-better version of the accepted answer.
    – fectin
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 22:36
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    @fectin The accepted answer is the worst answer on here. The only thing more rude would be to scold the guy and tell him to leave you alone, and even that is more honest.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 22:47
159

If the biggest problem you have in your work life is that a guy comes in 2-3 times per month and apologises for something he doesn't need to apologise for, count your blessings and just get on with life.

No need to even risk possibly causing an incident over this.

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    I never said it's my biggest problem. And yes, such a day is just 2-3 times per month, but on such a day, he is apologizing about every time he passes my door. I just would like to see if there's a way to communicate this more clearly.
    – Bass
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 11:17
  • 51
    Ah okay, your question reads as though the apology is happening just once at the start of the day. I'd suggest editing to make it clear he's doing this multiple times during the day. Commented May 9, 2023 at 11:18
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    Put up a sign to pre-emptively thank him for his consideration, and that the noise level is fine.
    – Nelson
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 0:29
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    Spot on. And applies to most workplace questions imho. Commented May 10, 2023 at 20:36
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    @Nelson that's an answer, not a comment.
    – fectin
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 22:36
66

This man is likely disturbing you for one of two reasons:

  1. He needs that short social interaction.

OR

  1. Because apologizing is easier for him than dealing with the guilt of not apologizing.

One tactic that addresses both likely reasons is making the apology difficult for him. When he pokes his head in to apologize, very pleasantly smile and hold up your hand in a "wait a second" gesture, and continue writing / typing / listening on the phone for a few seconds too long. Then you apologize to him for holding him up, thank him for his patience, then ask what you can do for him. After this happens a few times he might realize that the actual apology is a context-breaking interaction for you, and/or it will be just easier for him to continue on without apologizing than waiting half a minute each time.

Always be friendly.

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    Thanks, gonna try that. Seems to me the most promising solution.
    – Bass
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 9:06
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    For additional impact, wear a headset. Commented May 10, 2023 at 11:55
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    Would any of us want to be treated this way? Bite The Bullet. This answer says to play mind games and waste time on purpose. Born CEO. Tho in certain cases people melt down from the slightest confrontation; let them deal and curb any anxiety that's caused.
    – Dor1000
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 8:32
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    I'm unclear why this is Friendly. Is it like "surface Friendly but actually hostile" Friendly? It seems like the suggestion is "hit them on the nose with a newspaper when they do an action you disapprove of, but do it while pretending to be friendly". Which ... seems like a pretty toxic first resort.
    – Yakk
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 14:19
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    Agree with other comments, this is the definition of passive-aggressive behavior. Commented May 11, 2023 at 14:27
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“Hey, my bro/dude/esteemed colleague, I have noticed you are taking this disturbance very seriously. This is very kind of you and I appreciate that, but it also troubles me that you worry this much. Seriously, it's not really a bother, and it's a normal thing to have meetings in a professional environment. You know what, can you do me a favor? Just assume I am okay with the noise, as I am really more worried that you have so many things on your head. Really, no need to add myself to the pile. I would really rest better knowing that you don't have to think about that.”

What happened here:

  • the kind behavior of your colleague is acknowledged;
  • the fact that it’s not really a bother has been reiterated;
  • the request has been framed as a favor rather than disapproval of the current rejection;
  • an incentive has been presented — one that is likely to work as the colleague is a kind person and probably seeks approval, as they would hopefully believe they would be considerate to forfeit the current ritual;
  • your colleague’s ego/well-being is tickled as you show you notice his efforts.
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  • I love this answer. This is exactly how that situation should be handled! People talk so much about talking to others while at the same time they don't talk to one another.
    – red-shield
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 7:28
32

Be direct, but polite:

"Hey Bob, thanks for the apologies, but your meetings don't really bother me, I hardly notice the noise. If you could please stop apologising every time I'd appreciate it as I actually find that more distracting than the noise."

It's really that simple.

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    I agree. Always say exactly what you mean. Just make sure you are polite and respectful. Commented May 10, 2023 at 16:58
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    The offender will likely latch on to "I hardly notice the noise" and consider that as confirmation that the noise is bothersome. "I don't notice any noise at all until you make me aware of it." could suffice but in a nicer way than I've written =)
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented May 11, 2023 at 15:44
  • If you could please stop will make this backfire. There are better ways to communicate it without being harsh.
    – red-shield
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 7:31
  • @red-shield - You consider "if you could please stop" to be harsh? My dude, that's perfectly polite. Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 9:12
  • In a situtation where someone actively, maybe even deliberately, does things that need to stop yes, not here. It's setting boundaries. The situation here is just "inconvenient" so it's too strong.
    – red-shield
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 9:39
18

I think you have no choice but to get increasingly explicit about your wishes. I find that a lot of people just won't parse even slightly ambiguous or diplomatically-phrased requests. For example, Gregory Currie in another answer suggests this:

There is no need to apologise...

But in my experience (e.g., in American culture), people usually ignore this kind of statement as polite, meaningless, social boilerplate. There's not actually any request in there.

So I think you need to get more explicit. Unfortunately in my cultural experience when you do get explicit, people often will quickly take offense at it sounding rude. So what I'd try to do is gradually increase the specificity of the request in sequential interactions, in an ordering something like this:

  1. There is no need to apologize.
  2. Please do not apologize.
  3. I'd appreciate if you please refrained from apologizing.
  4. Bob, I need you to stop interrupting me with these apologies.
  5. Bob, to be honest, you interrupting me with these apologies is more distracting than the meeting itself. I need you to stop doing that. Can you do that for me? [and get verbal affirmation]

Note the last phrasing is basically the same as the OP's question here -- you may need to get that explicit. Also I find people are usually miffed or find it aggressive when I require verbal confirmation as in the last case, but sometimes that's the only way they'll remember.

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    I completely disagree with the 5 options. 1 and 2 won't work without some explanation because they come off as meaningless pleasantries. 3 and 4 are far too firm and hostile without an explanation for where they appear in the list. They should be last after an explanation as been provided by earlier responses. 5 is frankly the gentlest and most effective one simply because it provides an explanation. The only issue with 5, as presented, is that it is just a bit too formal to be presented earlier.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 16:19
  • @DKNguyen: I think our disagreement hinges on the fact that the explanation inherently includes a complaint about the other person's behavior. IME that's the top thing that triggers people and makes them get defensive and cranky (regardless of how the rest of the content is expressed). Commented May 9, 2023 at 17:10
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    I feel that a request without explanation simply will not be interpreted as a real request unless it is firm enough to be overtly hostile. Frankly, depending on tone, I don't think even 3 would not be interpreted as a real request. Also, if 5 is the way you always provide explanations, then I understand why people get defensive and cranky. But the problem isn't in the explanation itself. By being so formal, you're cranking the seriousness to a 10 even without the verbal confirmation.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 18:11
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    And you say people are usually miffed and aggressive when you require verbal confirmation and I would not be surprised if you deliver it as "can you do that for me?"That's especially patronizing; I've only heard that speaking to a child or trying to manipulate someone. If you happen to always require verbal confirmation when providing an explanation, and only explain as a last resort then you are suddenly escalating things from the other perspective. If that's what you're doing I think attributing people being upset about the presence of the explanation itself is would be a mistake.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 18:11
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    I agree with the general principle of this answer, but like @DKNguyen, I think it’s more useful to move the explanation forward in the sequence, before dialling up the insistence on the request. For my part I’d probably go more like: #1 “There’s no need to apologise — the meetings don’t bother me at all.” // #2 “Truly, the meetings never disturb me, so there’s no need to come by to apologise.” // #3 “Honestly, the meetings themselves never disturb me, but the repeated apologies get a bit distracting sometimes, so please just don’t worry about it!”
    – PLL
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 18:30
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Can you close your door? A closed door generally means that you do not wish to be disturbed and would reduce any of the noise anyway.

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    I thought of that. However, this would most likely be understood as "your meetings disturb me". I would like to communicate the opposite.
    – Bass
    Commented May 10, 2023 at 9:04
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    You could tell him just that "Yeah no problem, I will close the door if it starts to trouble me". Commented May 11, 2023 at 9:05
  • @Bass well you can combine this with one of the other answers: make it clear that all is fine and well and they do not need to apologize every time, but if they keep doing it, just lock the door as at that point you tried the nice route and they should know your mind - if they still don't respect your time it's an efficient option to make them. Commented May 24, 2023 at 3:22
  • @Bass: that's what doors are for. To be closed from time to time :-] and since you've been sitting there, it's clear that what you desire is being left alone. Otherwise you'd be sitting in the open space, wouldn't you? :P
    – red-shield
    Commented Aug 16, 2023 at 7:35
9

Tell them you'll focus on it more if they tell you about it in advance.

Hey, no need to inform me of meetings, because if you do I'll notice it more than if you don't. Thanks.

5

"Thanks James, its really no problem but your apologies really are a bit excessive, Im trying to concentrate."

Say it with a positive tone & theres really no risk of him feeling bad over it. But if he were to continue I don't think theres much you can do (beyond repeating the same sentence every time) :)

I once had this schoolmate who would apologize over literally anything, no matter how trivial. Many people told him to no avail how excessive his apologies really were. I guess he just liked apologizing (a lot).

Also see it as a sign that he likes you, otherwise he probably wouldn't bother. Maybe he is hoping that you will take him to the bar one day (maybe is of course a keyword here)?

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    "your apologies really are a bit excessive, I'm trying to concentrate." is definitely not a positive tone.
    – David
    Commented May 9, 2023 at 19:38
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    I mean if he comes bothering him several times a day saying the same thing it sounds quite adequate. Im not sure how one would put it better considering OP already said "No it isn't disturbing me. Absolutely no problem, you don't have to apologize." Commented May 14, 2023 at 22:35
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Oh, hey there! I stumbled upon this post while browsing the internet and imagine my surprise when I found out that it was about me. As the guy who apologizes for any disturbance caused by the meetings in the adjacent room, I feel the need to clarify a few things.

First of all, I want to say that I'm genuinely sorry if the noise or any other disturbance caused by our meetings has affected your work in any way. I am well aware of the importance of a quiet and peaceful work environment and I would never want to disrupt that. That's why I always make it a point to apologize and try to minimize any disturbance caused by our meetings.

However, after reading this post, I must say that I am a bit hurt by the fact that my apologies are not being taken in the right spirit. I understand that hearing apologies repeatedly can be annoying, but I can assure you that I am not doing it to taunt you in any way. I am genuinely sorry for any inconvenience caused and I will continue to apologize in the future, not because I think I'm doing anything wrong, but because it's just the right thing to do.

I would also like to apologize for any smell of food that may have distracted you or for the occasional use of the shared printer. I hope you can forgive me for all of this. It's just that I'm trying to be a responsible and polite colleague, you know? I'm not doing anything wrong by holding meetings or using the printer or bringing food to work. But I understand that sometimes these things can be a bit disruptive, so I apologize for any inconvenience caused.

I also noticed that you mentioned that we have meetings 2-3 times a month. Well, I must admit that you are right about that. I mean, come on, that does seem like a lot of meetings, doesn't it? But I can assure you that they are absolutely necessary and we try to keep them as short and non-disruptive as possible.

Anyway, I hope we can all get along and be considerate of each other in the workplace. Let's try to make it a pleasant and productive environment for everyone. Thanks for listening, and sorry again for any disturbance caused by our meetings, printer use, or food smell.

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    Wait, are you actually THAT ANNOYING GUY? Anyway, +1 for ` I am genuinely sorry for any inconvenience caused and I will continue to apologize in the future, not because I think I'm doing anything wrong, but because it's just the right thing to do`. You cannot risk creating an emotionally unhealthy environment just because of the OP's daintiness. Commented May 11, 2023 at 14:19
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    I am not sure if you are actually the guy OP mentioned, but anyway. Your post made the impression on me that you actually don't care about not disturbing others. Wouldn't you listen what really disturb them after learning it, and make an effort to mitigate it? Instead of keep doing it because that is your philosophy...
    – user86800
    Commented May 12, 2023 at 11:01
  • 1
    Lies make the baby Jesus cry Commented May 12, 2023 at 15:28
3

You can handle this situation with a little humorous reply to him:

  1. Hey buddy, No need to apologize. I will buy you your favorite drink and lunch if you don't apologize to me any more.
  2. My friend, I will buy you a ticket to your favorite concert or sport team game if you don't apologize to me any more for this consulting event. I am not bothered with the noise.

Don't try to make your reply look like a strong criticism of him when you know for sure that he honestly simply wants to apologize for the noise.

It could be that somehow, he lacks some people skills or soft skills to understand that his repetitive actions may bother some people. I don't want to use say that he is on the spectrum because there is not enough info to say that.

Anyway, it's just a good idea to reply to him in a nice and humorous way if possible because he means no harm in his apology (even though it may bother some people).

If you are consistent on your message, he will get it eventually.

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What is your need and feelings? To have him apologize once? Do you feel frustrated as he disrupts your entire day?

What is his need and feelings? He is embarrassed that he has to disturb you quiet? He needs to know that it is ok to have a meeting that disrupts you?

I believe Curries response is good for initial comment. However, after two response, you need to get colleague to open up about his need to repeatedly apologize. And to consistently assuage his concerns.

Eventually, after he is comfortable, you can request that you will be heavily involved in coding and will not be able to respond to his apologies and that you apologize for this ;)

But again, this holds only if I guessed what you need correctly!

1

This is the best formula I've found for managing workplace boundaries like this. It's probably works a little broader than your specific issue.

Communicate the boundary

At an appropriate time, communicate what is bothering you and the outcome you expect. Use imperative language that clearly states your (reasonable) expectations—there are a lot of cultures/environments where this is required to communicate effectively.

Hey Sam! It's no problem! Really! There's no need to warn me every time. If I have any concerns I'll reach out to you.

This communicates what you expect, and puts the ownership for your concern on yourself. Additionally, this can be reinforced every time it comes up.

I'm fine with it! You don't need to worry about notifying me. Remember? If I have any concerns I'll reach out to you.

Enforce the boundary

Similar to @dotancohen's answer, if the communication is clear but still fails, then enforcing the boundary could help.

Sam, before interrupt let me get to a stopping point. ... (this is where I put my work in a safe configuration) ... Okay! what's up? ... Noise you say? I still don't have any concerns, I'll let you know though.

In some extremes, when I have critical or safety related work in process

Hey Sam, sorry I can't talk right now. I'll check-in with you later.

It's also important to realize that some people will fail—intentionally or unintentionally—to respect your boundaries because they lack respect or trust in you. Regardless of if it's on purpose, enforcing boundaries is crucial in these situations so you and your time aren't taken advantage of.

In a situation where the lack of respect or trust in unintentional, calling it out can help

Hey, I would really appreciate if you will trust me when I say I will bring any concerns to you.

This doesn't criticize them for bugging you, it criticizes their lack of trust in what you communicated originally.

Be consistent and follow-up

If you have a wish to have a positive relationship with a coworker that you also need boundaries with, it's important to be consistent in your communication and also follow-through on your statements (aka be honest). The most powerful follow-up in this scenario would be if you had a real issue and communicated it.

Sam! remember when I told you I would reach out if I had a concern, well I do: < concern here >

This can be reinforced at later interactions

Hey, remember that time when I brought a concern to you? Well, I don't have any more yet!

This builds trust that you aren't blowing them off and really are taking ownership of managing your own issues.


If you clearly communicate your (reasonable) expectations, and there is a willful failure to respect your boundaries, then you are being taken advantage of.

My strategy here, has been to set firm, consistent boundaries far from my actual boundaries so it's more difficult for the person to cross my actual boundaries. Direct, imperative language is a must.

"Stop doing X, I don't want to see that."

1

Can you ask him to email/message you instead? Seems like the easiest way to avoid confrontation/offense and still avoid disruptions on someone else's schedule.

0

The first time, I'd say: thank you, but it's really fine with me, it won't really disturb me. Have a great meeting! Oh and so you know, your apology is good for the whole day. Really, please don't worry about it. Thanks.

The second time, I'd say: thank you, but to be honest, your apologies bother me more than the meeting, which doesn't really disturb me at all.

The third time, I'd just smile and shrug. People are different, and diversity is a strength.

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