I rarely close my office door, but when I do, it is usually for a reason (I am busy or stressed or need to focus, and closed off environment helps me do just that).

There is a coworker who consistently (2nd time so far) completely ignores what I thought was a universal sign for do not disturb (my closed door) and either knocks on it to wave "Hello", or just plain opens it and starts talking BS and chit chat asking me what I am doing/working on. To add insult to injury later he props it open with a door stopper and continues on chit chatting...

I suppose I am (have been) willing to allow this to happen rather than saying "Ya know, kind sir, I am in the middle of something, let me get back to you later", but not really as it bugged me enough to write this post. Perhaps next time I can find a way to deal with it better than come here to effectively complain.

Being an extra nice person (to my detriment) I ... allowed it to happen so far. Not sure why or what I was thinking, but I much prefer that if my door is opened by someone else, that it is my direct boss or any higher boss, or that it is a production emergency, or building is on fire but alarm didn't go off.

There are of course also levels of DND signal. I can be in "omg totally do not bother me" mode, where I will forcefully eject unwelcome intruders into my office quite forcefully, if I have to, but I can be more so in "I want some peace and quiet with no specific burning reason", to where some interruption may be more tolerable, but still undesirable.

I do have a lock on my door that I have not used so far.

The coworker in question is Japanese, so maybe there are some culture differences, but I am located in United States.

How do I deal with this while being business-appropriate? I want my closed door to mean "do not disturb me, period, unless something is on fire, or you are my direct boss (whom I'll forgive such interruption)".

If I am wrong to expect such privacy, please let me know as well.

  • 47
    By what authority do you presume that a closed door is a universal "Do Not Disturb" sign? If you don't want to be disturbed, SAY SO! Don't go around assuming that people can read your mind. Commented Jan 23, 2015 at 23:55
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    This seems completely normal (I'm in the UK so the "cultural differences" apply less). A closed door means, "please knock". If you then said that you were busy and would your colleague mind coming back later that'd be the end of it. By accepting the conversation you're accepting it; just (politely) say no.
    – Ben
    Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 1:23
  • 5
    @VietnhiPhuvan is right on the money. I often close my office door in order to keep the noise going on in the hallway or tech areas out so I can have some quiet when I work. I don't intend to keep people out. When I need to do that, I put a (rather silly) sign on the mail hook on the outside of my door so that it's clear. Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 16:00
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    "Do not disturb" sign is a "do not disturb sign". Closed door is a "knock then wait for answer" sign. Sometimes its an "I forgot to open the door" sign.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 18:07
  • 3
    @VietnhiPhuvan In the US at least, its extremely rude to open the door to someone's office and just walk in. The norm is to leave the door open, unless you need quiet, are on the phone, etc. and when closed to knock and wait to be told to enter.
    – Andy
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 16:50

3 Answers 3


A closed door can mean different things for different people/cultures.

Consider attaching an actual sign to your door saying "please do not disturb unless the building is on fire" (a little humor can't hurt) rather than relying on people reading your mind.

This should avoid misunderstandings and will also greatly improve your argument should someone still not respect your wish.

  • 6
    This has the additional benefit that you only have to do it once. Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 17:01
  • 7
    A Do Not Disturb sign on an office door is ridiculous. Commented Nov 9, 2016 at 16:42
  • Additionally, or instead of, if your company uses chat software where you can set your status, make sure that that is updated to "Do not disturb" when you close your door. Your coworker may see an "Available" status and think you are available for a chat. In my company, when we are sharing our screen, on the phone, or in some sort of meeting, our status is made to "On Phone", "Busy". "Away". People usually check that before walking to an office. Over time, people will associate the Do Not Disturb status with a closed door. It's a bit indirect, but maybe you want that? Commented Nov 10, 2016 at 1:53
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    @HannoverFist: Why is that ridiculous? Some (mabe even most) types of work require concentration, so asking not to be disturbed may make sense.
    – sleske
    Commented Jan 11, 2017 at 10:26
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    @sleske I believe he is saying that a closed office door is itself a do not disturb sign; having to hang an actual sign is ridiculous.
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 15:44

I feel like communication is key in all work places. Just tell them to please not bother you when your door is closed. People don't tend to read minds or know what you think is appropriate without telling them explicitly. If they don't respect your request, then they are the ones being unprofessional.

  • 4
    Amen for simple communication. Why people so often fail to do this is beyond me. Commented Jan 24, 2015 at 16:57
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    This is what I'd do as well. I'd like to add that sometimes people decide that their issue is important enough to open a closed door, and sometimes it is. You can help them better gauge that decision by politely asking them if they can just send an email instead. Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 19:23

You say that the offender is Japanese which leads me to suspect that a cultural misunderstanding may be at play here, especially if he is an expat who has just recently emigrated to the United States. I can testify to this possibility as an ethnic East Asian myself. Privacy and respect for individual space tends to be a Western concept that non - Westerners may be unfamiliar with. Japanese culture is very collective, and relationships are more important. Your coworker may see his socializing actions as harmless, even expected, consistent with his own cultural biases. Check this site for more information.

Even so, your coworker not respecting your boundaries is indeed unprofessional.

Suppose I am (have been) willing to allow this to happen

This is the problem. He will not know that this behavior bothers you unless you make it known to him. I suggest you discuss with him what this signs means and what you wish to happen when you have this sign up on your door. If this does not stop his intrusions, discuss with your manager as one of your manager's responsibilities is to remove impediments interfering with you getting your work done.

  • 1
    +1, although I disagree that the importance of personal space means Westerns don't value our relationships just as much.
    – Andy
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 16:53
  • 1
    @Andy Perhaps, but in fairness to the idea expressed, we do tend to be far less "collective"-minded than other cultures. A persistent feature of the American zeitgeist has always included the prominence of individuality in its various forms, not to mention self-reliance.
    – tjbtech
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 22:50
  • @tjbtech Which doesn't seem to have any bearing on the amount of physical space Westerners like between themselves and others.
    – Andy
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 23:49
  • @Andy Well, that is your guess - not a fact and certainly not a fully accurate one, if at all. In fact, research suggests otherwise. The Lewis Model, in particular, goes quite far in explaining the correlation between various culture-specific values and preferred interpersonal space boundaries.
    – tjbtech
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 0:07
  • If you don't "believe" in social "science", you might do well to avoid making any claims germane to such topics. Or, at least, be a tad less crass in expressing your derision of them...
    – tjbtech
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 0:19

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