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A close coworker of mine has developed an obsession with morse code and has decided to use it constantly with me. Whilst I find it pretty cool, it's really distracting and I'm finding it hard to concentrate because of it.

This has been happening during meetings, via sms and even in person by tapping on the desk using a pen or fingernail.

I'd like to find a way to deal with this whilst still being respectful, what would be a good way to politely tell him and make him understand, without making him sad/mad/embarrassed or damaging our relationship?

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5 Answers 5

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I'd say,

"This has been a fun exercise, but we need to get back to business. It's your choice if you want to play Morse code with someone else, but I'm going to stick strictly to communicating with you in plain old English from here on out."

You're not insulting your colleague, but simply setting a boundary, and in a roundabout fashion saying that you don't come to work to do playground stuff.

If it persists past this point, it's unfortunate but you may need to get your manager involved -- most especially, if there is work-related communication that needs to take place in a direct manner.

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    Not exactly how I would say it, but this is the right idea. Be forthright and direct that you would like this to stop and won't be participating any longer.
    – tomjedrz
    Sep 18, 2023 at 16:40
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    I'd add that after telling the co-worker this, the OP should stop responding to any messages and to completely ignore the messages, even to the point where the OP doesn't even acknowledge they are being sent. Sep 18, 2023 at 22:34
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    Old English conversation may be problematic...
    – Trang Oul
    Sep 19, 2023 at 9:18
  • Tell him you are SK. Morse code for Silent Key-in other words Dead.
    – Old_Fossil
    Sep 22, 2023 at 7:16
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Here's the thing. If it's a game, extended games at work are frowned on. If it's a secret back channel (eg tapping out "what a moron" during a meeting) then it's insanely risky if someone else catches on. If it's a slower way of saying things that are normal to say at work, it's slower for no reason.

That said, I don't recommend reacting to the entire series of communications nor to the habit. When it's distracting (you're trying to type some tricky code and he's tapping out "want to get a coffee?") you can say "no distractions right now please, if it's important talk otherwise I'm focused, sorry". When it's a risky (rude, disrespectful) comment in front of people who he presumes can't understand, pointedly look away and don't reply, then afterwards ask him not to use Morse to you in front of people who don't know it. When he sends an SMS or other coded message and you don't feel like translating, tell him so.

If that means that every single time he does it you ask him not to, he'll catch on. If there is room for it to be fun for you still, this will lead you to find that zone together.

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    Also you could tell him you need to pay attention in meetings and you can’t listen to the Morse Code and pay attention at the same time, and that you also don’t want to look like you’re not paying attention.
    – bob
    Sep 17, 2023 at 19:18
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    you could, but I don't recommend long explanations in these cases, and especially ones that aren't strictly true. If he just taps out "BS" it won't be long and distracting but I wouldn't want to be any part of that, right? Sep 17, 2023 at 19:58
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Stop acknowledging the messages.

If you play dumb and be like all the others in the meetings who don't understand Morse code and don't reply, this will get pretty boring for your colleague who thrives on your replies.

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    Re the suggested edit - "understanding" seems okay here rather than "decoding" I don't know morse, but having spent time around radio hams in my youth, they will start decoding messages that they hear. Same goes for sailors and signal lamps; its instinctive. So @DDuck is saying to stop engaging with the decoded message.
    – Criggie
    Sep 17, 2023 at 22:41
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    This is a "passive" (ie, non-confronting) way of dropping out of the behaviour you've both set up. If you go this route (instead of the direct way of asking to stop) and they still keep doing it, make them want to stop by actively "misunderstanding" their messages - so the method stops working for them. Sep 18, 2023 at 2:28
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    actively "misunderstanding" their messages will segway greatly into a conversation about how it's difficult to decode and work or be present in meetings.
    – Nick
    Sep 18, 2023 at 17:26
  • Not so happy with "acknowledging" messages as this seems like replying "roger" in Morse rather than just pretending you don't understand
    – D Duck
    Sep 18, 2023 at 18:21
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    Unfortunately, lots of people don't or won't take this kind of hint. They need it spelled out to them in plain language (not Morse, in this instance). While this would match well with XavierJ's answer, this isn't a stand alone solution. I'll call it a good, yet incomplete answer. Sep 18, 2023 at 22:39
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Morse code is your colleague’s strange way to maintain a friendship with you. Since you care about not upsetting him, you could express your wishes in his playful language, in morse code. Something like “ I am having a hard time focusing, can you give it a break today please? ”. Use one of those online morse code translators. It goes like this:

.. / .- -- / .... .- ...- .. -. --. / .- / .... .- .-. -.. / - .. -- . / ..-. --- -.-. ..- ... .. -. --. --..-- / -.-. .- -. / -.-- --- ..- / --. .. ...- . / .. - / .- / -... .-. . .- -.- / - --- -.. .- -.-- / .--. .-.. . .- ... . ..--..

Little by little (subsequent days), you may try shifting to more direct morse code messages, like “please tell me in plain english”, “enough for today”, “not today”, or “you will get us in trouble” or “let’s move on to another type of game” or “this is getting old” and even maybe “please stop being weird, [name]”. Obviously not all of them on the same day. The strategy does not require actually learning morse code nor decoding further messages. You cared enough to ask here, maybe it is worth practicing some quick answers in morse code. You will gain his respect and admiration. It might come in handy in the future. Good luck!

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    This is called "enabling" the behavior -- and not in a good way. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enabling
    – Xavier J
    Sep 17, 2023 at 14:44
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    @XavierJ So long as any follow-up "please stop" is not in Morse code, it's probably okay – but the second paragraph is not that.
    – wizzwizz4
    Sep 17, 2023 at 15:22
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    Colleague does not need action on the part of OP to send morse code messages, and OP certainly expressed a disinterested attitude toward his behavior before posting. OP alao expressed to us his desire to avoid sending a straightforward “knock it off” response — hence my suggestion that is in between. Nevertheless I added a clarification about my last paragraph. Thanks for raising those points. Sep 17, 2023 at 15:45
  • @XavierJ the premise of the answer -- which I find very plausible -- is that this started as a friendly thing at work and OP is now tired of it, and wants a way out without making their coworker feel bad. Certainly it must have begun as mutual; if somebody started tapping away on their desk near me, I would think "that tapping is annoying" not "they're tapping a secret code!" Advice on how to get a friendly coworker to quit a previously-fun activity without offending them is useful, although I don't know that I would go the specific route in this answer. Sep 18, 2023 at 17:30
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    This was my first thought too, but on second thought, this is taking it in the wrong direction. Better to disengage in the behavior and say "stop" in plain English.
    – Raydot
    Sep 18, 2023 at 19:08
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It seems that people are making this too complicated. Just politely tell him almost exactly what you put in the question--something like:

Fred (assuming his name is Fred), I've enjoyed sending and receiving our Morse Code messages, but it's gotten to the point where the fun is wearing off and it's getting really distracting. I'm finding it hard to concentrate because of it. Could we please take a break?

It doesn't have to be complicated, and you don't need a grand strategy of how to disengage if he wants to continue. Let him know how you feel, and stop responding to the messages if he persists.

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