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I work at a pharmaceutical company for animals and all our interactions with colleagues are on site. There is this particular colleague who carefully observes my pattern and constantly gives me lecturing. I am a very simple person in general. I eat often the same thing (toasts or something made fast) at work and drink mostly cola zero at our lunch break.

This particular colleague constantly whines about it or gets even toxic, for instance how unhealthy I live, how bad cola zero is etc. It doesn’t stop there tho, he will gladly criticise my hair looks, or my clothes or if my car is not washed etc. It stretches to quite personal stuff sometimes.

However I have reached a point where I constantly think what he will say to me and it eats me up even outside of work.

I am a very quiet guy generally and want to avoid any form of conflict. How can I deal with him?

Thank you!

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    Obvious: Go to HR, why haven't you done that?
    – Aida Paul
    Commented May 1 at 17:02
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    Does he do this to other colleagues? If so, is there any element that touches on gender or ethnicity? Does he go out of his way to observe you or are you two naturally nearby? Commented May 1 at 17:29
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    @AidaPaul I am from a similar cultural region as OP and going to HR is pretty much the last rung on the escalation ladder meaning either OP will leave the company or the other colleague. They handle these situations heavy handed.
    – Cromon
    Commented May 1 at 19:06
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    @AidaPaul They have a location tag in their profile
    – Cromon
    Commented May 1 at 19:21
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    You are entitled to your opinion, however I do think it is wrong both based on what OP mentioned and the place they are. Going to HR is one level below going to the police. There are several other less confronting options before that.
    – Cromon
    Commented May 1 at 20:19

8 Answers 8

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You mentioned you would like to avoid any conflict. I was in a similar situation once funnily also with a colleague constantly being obsessed how coke zero causes all sort of health issues. He kept making comments about it, at first I tried to explain to him that its really not that much and how there have been studies about it and what not. I dont mind conflict but it seemed like such small thing I just didnt really think about it much.

Eventually I got tired of it and I simply stopped entertaining him.

  • Him: "Man, yesterday I read another study on 'quack website' how it causes your testicles to shrink"
  • Me: "Huh, is that so."
  • Him: "Yea, makes you really think right, how can they do this?"
  • Me: "I guess"
  • Him: "Imagine if it happens to you as well you drink so much of it"
  • Me: "If it happens it happens"
  • Him: "What do you mean?"
  • Me: "Dunno, what do you mean?"

Eventually I guess he just got bored about it too much and I haven't heard a comment in 5 years or so.

This might be a non-confrontational way to deal with it that also does not require much of an escalation.

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    That sounds very promising, I did try being apathetic to him but he runts even more. I really don’t know how to stop entertaining him as you said :/
    – Sidius
    Commented May 1 at 18:54
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    Thats sad to hear. I am a manager myself and someone in my team mentioned feeling uncomfortable by some other team mates comments. He as well did not want any conflict from that. I asked him if he is ok with me trying to slowly walk the other colleague towards seeing himself that some of his comments are causing discomfort and he agreed. I found a good time with the other colleague and tried to set the mood correctly and then slowly shifted towards the comments eventually making him realize the issue. At that point I asked both of them to have a coffee together and talk about it, after I as a
    – Cromon
    Commented May 1 at 18:58
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    third party was able to bring everyone to the same level. Now they work great together. What I am trying to say is, probably the last non-confrontational option you have left is talking to your manager and asking them to bring the topic to attention in a careful manner, provided you think your manager is capable of doing so.
    – Cromon
    Commented May 1 at 18:59
  • @Sidius Did you try your or his manager, and if so, did that help? Commented May 1 at 19:08
  • I was hoping to avoid this but maybe I’ll try my manager in the end. Thank you very much! For all your help.
    – Sidius
    Commented May 2 at 7:07
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If he is your just colleague express clearly that you do not like his/her nosy behavior.
You know its human habit to pick a fight with someone where chance of winning is high. I mean the person know you may not fight back. Ignore as much as you can but not to the point where you have to break your mental peace.

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    If OP has already tried both responding politely and ignoring it, without success, then this is certainly an approach worth trying — however far it takes them out of their comfort zone.  Just ask the colleague to stop, as clearly and firmly as possible.  Don't leave any room for doubt.  There's no need to be rude, though that's certainly an option if they respond that way.  Even if it's awkward or embarrassing at that moment, it can have good results in the longer term.  Going to HR can be a later option, but there's little point if OP hasn't already made it very clear to the colleague.
    – gidds
    Commented May 2 at 17:07
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The original post says:

I am a very quiet guy generally and want to avoid any form of conflict. How can I deal with him?

And in a comment OP says:

I did try being apathetic to him but he runts even more.

None of this is surprising -- it's exactly how bullies have operated as long as they've existed. The "ignore them and they'll leave you alone" theory is entirely apocryphal. I've never seen it work. No bully or petty tyrant have ever been convinced to back off from appeasement.

Before I even got to the comments above, my response would be that you need to stand up to the bully. The fact that the OP is "a very quiet guy generally and want[s] to avoid any form of conflict" makes it much more critical that they do so.

In a case of repeated aggressions like this, the best course of action is to not play the same game, but to take a strictly asymmetric response. In the game of poker, as an analog, one speaks of "going over the top". So this definitely argues for taking the matter to HR. OP in comments is concerned that, "To go immediately to HR would be like dropping napalm on a forest just to kill one bug." This is a good thing and it's exactly what you want.

If all else has failed, take it to HR, that's precisely what they're present for. Document every instance with time, place, and details. If the bully gets in serious trouble from it, they should have been prepared for the consequences from their actions.

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    Another comment is also: "yes he does that to many other colleagues. ". This is not typical bullying. Without going into too many details, I am aware of multiple instances in several large companies where superiors or coworkers did completely unacceptable things and then the victims went to HR and learned that all HR wanted was to keep things low and just trying to keep everyone below the boiling point. You cant just fire people around here, this significantly makes things more complicated also for HR.
    – Cromon
    Commented May 4 at 21:42
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    HR is overkill. They're not playground monitors. The purpose of an HR department is for business continuity. And the first thing any HR person should be asking is what reasonable approaches OP has tried to mitigate the situation already.
    – Xavier J
    Commented May 7 at 11:37
  • "I've never seen it work." - it actually works very well in my experience. The issue is just that most people are not very good at "ignoring" someone or "being apathetic". Commented May 14 at 21:32
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This is so easy.

Ask your colleague if his name is signed on your paychecks.

When he says no, then ask him if you work for him.

When he says no, then ask him how your personal habits are any concern of his if he doesn't pay your salary and you don't report to him. He may try to justify. Be firm, and you may need to repeat yourself. This is not being confrontational, but simply establishing boundaries.

Don't bother HR with this.

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    Whilst that is a viable route, I would still argue that even the employer is not entitled to make judgements about personal matters if they are unrelated to employment. At least in Germany.
    – Jan_B
    Commented May 7 at 7:55
  • @Jan_B I would say that unkempt hair or clothing (including any dress code) would be fair to reprimand a subordinate employee about. Commenting on the other stuff is way out of bounds.
    – Xavier J
    Commented May 7 at 11:32
  • I agree, thats what I meant by 'if they are unrelated to employment'. If there is a dresscode and the feedback comes from a superior in a professional manner then it is acceptable.
    – Jan_B
    Commented May 7 at 11:46
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Do you know whether other people affected by his comments find it as disturbing as you do, or are you just assuming? This question is in no way intended to devalue your experience, rather I am interested in whether a statement like ‘we find this very unpleasant!’ would find support.

In my opinion, the best way to keep the conflict as small as possible without ignoring the situation is to seek a personal dialogue. I would make sure to emphasise your own and your colleagues' perception of the situation instead of using the wording to imply intent:

“Some of your statements make us feel very uncomfortable, for example when you ...“ instead of “You are harassing us with your unprofessional tips”

The latter may be just as true, but in the first conversation you should first feel out whether your colleague is aware of their impact.

At the end of the conversation, you can clarify the professional areas in which you would like to receive suggestions and how these could be formulated constructively. You should also make it clear in which areas you don't want to hear their opinion.

If you then feel that he has not yet grasped the point you are trying to make or does not accept your request, make it unmistakably clear that you will escalate the matter if there is no improvement and that you have the support of several colleagues.

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I'm with Cromon here, I would just use a more humorous approach but I also love absurdities.
When your colleague comments on something, I'd point out the window at a shop or office building outside, asking:
-"Do you own that shop over there?"
The answer will obviously be "no".
Next question: "Then, why are you not over there?"
He will probably ask why he should be there or something similar.
Final sentence: "Because you obviously love to walk around in something that's none of your business!"

I'd also parry his talk about consequences of sugar-free drinks or unwashed car by saying something like (I personally love this one):
-"You say it like it is a bad thing?"
("It's because it IS a bad thing!" - "Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man...")

These suggestions are of course more effective if you like the battle (and your question imply you do not), but you could maybe turn it into a fun sport figuring out what to say next time... :-)

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    love it - +1 for the humorous/absurd approach to handle this sort of unwanted comments..
    – iLuvLogix
    Commented May 2 at 13:23
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    Humor is a good thing generally. But one should be careful when it's about facts. If they mention how bad something is, which is proven to be not the best choice, saying "it's your opinion" could make you quickly appear stupid to them and also others who overhear that. Don't create another point to attack you.
    – puck
    Commented May 3 at 16:22
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    Btw. you got an upvote (see first comment) but are at zero in the moment. I wrote an improvement in my comment, but the downvoter wasn't me.
    – puck
    Commented May 3 at 16:26
  • @puck But the whole point of what the offensive colleague is doing is not to help you, it's not even to be right, it's just plain to annoy OP. So you can come back with any nonsense. If he complains, you say "prove it".
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 7 at 0:29
  • I don't think this kind of humor is going to land with some people, and if you have to explain it it's a waste of breath
    – Xavier J
    Commented May 7 at 11:34
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REDIRECT: Establishing trusted relationships and soliciting feedback is one of the best things you can do for your career, so leverage his attention to redirect it to a relevant, professional, timely topic.
Him: "Your car is really dirty, why don't you wash it." You: "Hey, speaking of dirty, I noticed the lab equipment looks a bit shabby, and might compromise our test results. What do you think is the best way for all of us to keep it clean?"

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Having worked with such a person, my advice is leave it be and let it wash over you. People like these like to criticize others but can not take any criticism themselves.

It is a form of bullying. There are three choices

  1. Just ignore it and one day he will find another victim.
  2. Show a response or make a remark every so often. This is just going to escalate it. Even going to HR or your manager will escalate it.
  3. Bully him back. Take the lead, don't reply to the attack. Be the first one to criticize him. Bullies are cowards. He will stop right away.

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