It bothers me when a coworker who is talking with me at my desk reaches out and stabs a finger into the screen, leaving fingerprints/skin oil (sometimes repeatedly and lingeringly rolling that finger around for emphasis). You can't see the marks, maybe, but later, as the sun moves into the right position, what seemed invisible becomes a slew of very visible scattered smudges making my monitor look all dirty and hard to read.

I've said up to at least two times each to different people who were touching my screen something like (trying to be mild in tone and phrasing), "I'd rather you not touch the screen" or "please don't touch the screen", and the person always says "oh, sorry". But the next week, there comes someone doing it again.

I thought about having screen cleaning materials out and very obviously cleaning the screen where they've been touching immediately after they do it, but I'm worried that is too passive-aggressive an approach.

I thought about trying to sit in my chair in a way that blocks the person from reaching the screen, but that's not workable the way I have a straight desk open on the sides.

I considered just consistently asking the person each and every time to not touch the screen, but I don't want to be offensive. I also tend to come across about 2 or 3 notches more upset or angry than I really am, and people tend to notice this and react unless I really make an effort to be mild—but this leaves me usually saying nothing. I'm concerned people will go tell stories to others about me freaking out about my screen. (Whether or not I do freak out or my reaction is more than they think it should be, it seems a simple problem that is solvable, I just don't know how. I think it's reasonable to want people to avoid dirtying/marring, even if temporarily, the work tools assigned for my use.)

Besides not having these conversations at my desk (we could go to a conference room or to the other person's desk where I for sure will not be touching their screen), or putting up some kind of physical blockade, what are some strategies I can use to be tactful, mild, yet effective?

Note: I shouldn't have asked this question at work because someone came by, saw what I was posting before I could switch to another tab, and deliberately dragged his finger across my screen to bait me. Sigh. Anyway, here's the question.

I just thought of getting a small pointing device, something like the stylus for a tablet. I could attach it to the monitor with a small piece of adhesive Velcro. What do you think about, when someone starts touching the screen, to hand this to them and ask them to point with it?

Photos added for reference.

A neighboring screen covered in smudges My screen, where smudges normally can't be seen The sun stabbing into this high-rise

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 11:47
  • @Lilienthal Why did you remove the photos? What's the problem with them?
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 0:13
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    Check the log entry on my edit. They add no value and just clutter an already clear question. We don't need photo evidence that your screen is smudged.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 9:16
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    @MawgsaysreinstateMonica Yeah, not a good idea.
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 19:54
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    I've been drilled very early not touching other people's monitor in my first job, by 1 colleague specifically, who was always telling me and handing a simple pen to touch the screen with. It took him a bit of repeating to me, but then it became an habit. Since then I never ever touch other people's screen with my fingers, and more than often I'm thanked for that by people appreciating the gesture. 1) You are not alone 2) Please keep educating your current colleagues
    – Laurent S.
    Commented Aug 18, 2020 at 6:53

13 Answers 13


Hand them a laser pen.

I had this issue.

I started handing a laser pen to anyone who wanted to show me something on my screen. People would readily grab it and use it to show me things they wanted to show—laser pens are fancy, and you rarely have any legit use for them in offices apart from presentations. After a while, I just left the pen by my side. When people came around they quickly reached for the pen to show me what they wanted to show, without even needing instructions.

  • 10
    That's a cool idea!
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 15:57
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    Neat idea. I'm sure many people just have fun using a laser pointer, too!
    – leokhorn
    Commented Aug 17, 2016 at 6:53
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    I usually point out something out first, and use the writing tip end of a BIC ball point pen, they tend to follow suit, not always though. Something about the screen, they just love to touch it.
    – 3kstc
    Commented Jan 22, 2017 at 5:23
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    @3kstc Conditioning users to use a pen to show you stuff on screen only works until one of them tries that with a permanent marker, tho...
    – T. Sar
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 11:07
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    @3kstc That's the last thing I'd do, pointing a metallic and pointy object towards the monitor. A scratch is slightly harder to remove than a oil smudge.
    – BlindSp0t
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 15:29

You have to ask yourself two questions—"what do I really want?" and "will I really get it?"

You can certainly push very hard on the "don't touch my monitor" angle, from cleaning the screen when ever someone touches it, to putting up a sign. The question is, what will you get out of that? As you've noted, it will probably come off as passive aggressive.

So then, ask yourself if having your coworkers not touch your screen is more important than having a good working relationship. I snore. It drives my wife crazy. Yet she loves me a lot and has decided putting up with my snoring is worth the great relationship we have (17 years and going strong).

I would also especially note that given we are moving more and more to a touch screen society it is very likely you're fighting a losing battle.

My advice is to keep the cleaning wipes handy and when you are alone, clean your monitor. Your relationships with your coworkers is worth the extra screen cleanings.

  • 8
    Rhetorical questions: Why does it have to be either-or? Why can't I have a hands-untouched screen and a good working relationship? Sigh again.
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 23:08
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    It doesn't have to be either/or, but coming across as passive aggressive is likely to not exactly enhance your relationships with your coworkers. A sign may prevent it, but you will undoubtedly be perceived as being somewhat obsessive compulsive :)
    – Jane S
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 23:11
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    You need to clean you monitor anyway as it continuously attracts dust. Just do it in the morning as a ritual. I recommend 3M microfiber cleaning cloth.
    – teego1967
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 10:55
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    @ErikE doing that is pretty much a textbook passive-aggressive move. Imagine if you lived with an apartment-mate who didn't like you putting a glass on the counter without using a coaster, and when you did it, just kept talking to you while wiping down the counter and taking out a coaster etc. Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 20:38
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    I accepted this answer unhappily, because of course I wanted to have my cake and eat it, too. Given all 14 upvotes, it's clear that the general opinion is in favor of my doing nothing overt, and as this is one of those rare cases where public opinion actually is the objective thing we're trying to assess (extrapolating that random people on workplace.se would be a somewhat representative or analogous sample to the actual people in my workplace), I bow to the inevitable. People would be bugged, so it would be unwise to show that I'm bugged, so I just have to deal with the smudges privately.
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Sep 16, 2015 at 16:38

If you're worried that they will be mad at your for asking them to change their ways, you have to take a big breath and either put up with the smears (which do appear to bother you more than most people) or put up with them thinking you're weird for caring.

You can try to minimize the extent to which they will be mad by apologizing and by framing it as being your oddity. For example:

Hey! Don't touch my screen!

Is an order, a demand, and is all about them (with a little ownership thrown in).

In contrast

Sorry, it makes me crazy when people touch my screen, can I ask you please just to point without touching?

Is a request, acknowledges that they couldn't have known, is about you and asking them to accommodate your difference, and offers an alternative (always better than just "don't X.")

Signs are useful only in the absence of the sign-writer. Since I doubt people are stopping by to touch your screen when you're away, you don't need them. Deep sighing and conspicuous screen cleaning will make people feel bad, but if you're distracted by a smudge someone left, go ahead and clean it the moment you notice it, even if that's the moment the person left it. And practice asking repeatedly (with the sorry from time to time, with the explanation from time to time, with the please every time) that they don't do that.

Finally, model this behaviour yourself. Don't touch other people's screens. Demonstrate that it's possible to discuss code without leaving smudges. And if your coworkers care more than you do about chairs or whiteboard markers or putting garbage in someone else's garbage can or whatever, be super cool and understanding about that. Work towards having an office that cares about each other, foibles and all, and wouldn't find it funny to deliberately upset a coworker by doing something you know they don't like.

  • I was thinking about doing the screen cleaning shortly after they stop touching it even if they're still present, but continuing the conversation meanwhile and making the action very low-key and off-hand as if I had just randomly chosen to clean my screen at that moment and it was unrelated to their actions. Do you think that could be pulled off in a way that doesn't appear passive-aggressive or is an obvious slap in the face?
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 23:35
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    you need to be matter of fact about it. Not sighing, not flourishing the cloth, not muttering, just "hm, can't quite see that, let me just - that's better" (in attitude, not actually out loud) while continuing what you were doing. The way you might do up a button that popped open, or stand up a thing that fell over - no big deal, not a message to someone, not really anything except putting your workspace back to a state you can work in. If they react to your cleaning by immediately reaching out to smear your screen again, you can ask them please not to do that, or say "that's not funny" Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 23:35
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    This is what I do, with one addition: give them something else to touch the screen with if they need to point. The eraser end of an old-fashioned pencil works well for this, as does a closed pen. Keep something within easy reach and if the person you're talking with reaches for your screen, offer that instead. Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 4:28
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    @Kate Gregory: I think this is the best answer. One has to acknowledge when one's behaviour is a bit odd. This does not make it wrong, or ridiculous, or .., just different from average behaviour. When you explain it, people understand. When they understand they remember what they should not do with your screen because now it makes sense. Being extremely sensitive to one's screen cleanliness is odd, as implied by the "extremely". But it's OK.
    – phs
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 14:47

You can't see the marks, maybe, but later, as the sun moves into the right position, what seemed invisible becomes a slew of very visible scattered smudges making my monitor look all dirty and hard to read.


I thought about having screen cleaning materials out and very obviously cleaning the screen where they've been touching immediately after they do it, but I'm worried that is too passive-aggressive an approach.

The easiest is just to have cleaning materials in your drawer and clean the glass on a daily basis. No need to tell anyone you're cleaning it. Your objective should just to get the glass clean. Period.

After all, you don't curse at the wind or the rain when your car gets dirty. You just do the best you can to keep your car clean, and once in a while your car gets dirty despite your best efforts, so you take it to the car wash. This is the same thing here.

Touching a screen is very often an unconscious gesture. Re-programming your fellow colleagues so that they no longer touch your screen 100% of the time is quite unfeasible. I know this because my own desktop screen is a touchscreen and every time my colleagues touch the screen (every time, not remembering that it's a touchscreen), their accidental touch steals the focus away from the current line and it usually messes up our ongoing conversation (and yet, they keep on doing it because it's just an automatic gesture for them).

The most you could do is place an additional shading/privacy screen on top of the existing screen, so that only the shading screen gets touched, and not the glass itself.

But any real solution would have to include some form of letting go on your part. And for that, I'd recommend you start watching youtube videos and listening to audiobooks made by Byron Katie. That's what her entire methodology is ultimately about, letting go.

  • 8
    There's a song in Frozen that might be helpful too.
    – bharal
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 12:06
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    The difference between the rain and people getting things dirty is that people are conscious agents. But I take your point. I can reprogram myself out of behaviors like this quite easily so there is some irony here where the person who is most able to change his outward actions is most bothered by others' inability to do so, and others' (supposed) ability to ignore screen smudges are or would be bothered to accommodate someone who is unable to do so. I will look up the suggested resources and maybe working on changing myself instead of others will help.
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 14:37

You can't see the marks, maybe, but later, as the sun moves into the right position, what seemed invisible becomes a slew of very visible scattered smudges making my monitor look all dirty and hard to read.

I have a different point of view here. It sounds like lighting ergonomics are a significant factor in your problem. You should never have screen glare or the sun reflecting off your screen!

I don't know what country you are from, but surely there are laws governing ergonomics in the workplace. Blinds on the windows, anti-glare screen covers, lighting requirements etc.

If you can solve the screen glare issue so that the sun doesn't reflect off the screen, then you won't care any more about people touching your monitor and you can better get on with your work. Talk to your supervisor.

  • See the photos I added. Not much can be done. Though it only happens at certain times of the year (I now know).
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Feb 10, 2017 at 17:25

You don't. Your next question would be how do keep people from throwing their trash away in my trash can. Then how can I keep pens from getting stolen on my desk. Then how can I keep people from borrowing my chair when I am not there. This is in essence like the cleaning crew at my company standing next to the glass entry door asking people to only touch the handle.

These are the dangers of going to a workplace. If these things truly bother you then be prepared to be bothered. You don't put signs on things, ask people, or anything else.

You have several pieces of advice here. Please do not say anything to anyone or proactively try to keep these things from happening. There is a good chance they will take you for something in between an OCD loon and someone who doesn't like them/people. You may feel better about saying something to John and he may never touch your screen again. But he also may never think of you the same again. It just isn't worth it.

So deal with it. Don't pull out the wipes while they are there, don't sigh, don't do passive aggressive mind games, just chill.

  • as, i was going to write just this answer, and you beat me to it.
    – bharal
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 12:04
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    I don't touch the glass of doors and display cabinets or food counters anywhere ever since I became aware of the issue. It's ironic that I can change myself this way fluidly but find it difficult to change what bothers me.
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 14:39
  • I know this answer is old, but I feel I really want to comment on its usage of the phrase "OCD Loon". As someone who has had many friends who have suffered awfully from uncontrollable and crippling anxiety to the point they were literally incapable of entering situations where certain things might happen, due to OCD this seems a cruel phrase to make fun of a real and serious disability when referring to being fussy over ones screen being touched.
    – Vality
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 4:10
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    @Vality - I am sorry I offended you. My answer was explaining how people would take the behavior. I have personally heard far worse than OCD loon at my work. While your compassion for your friends is commendable, coworkers are not necessarily friends and often when people react in a way that is way outside the norm it will greatly effect how they think of you in total. Especially if you don't come out and tell people you suffer with an OCD problem - the OP didn't say this. So it might not be PC to say things like this but this is what people think.
    – blankip
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 5:22
  • @blankip in that case. Thank you sincerely for your honesty. It's good to know you are trying to give an insight into how people can feel.
    – Vality
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 5:33

Hand them the mouse.

The mouse pointer is designed to point to things at the screen. On a regular basis I hand the mouse over to colleagues standing by my desk. Not as much to prevent them from touching the screen, but because the "now click here" leads to misinterpretation. If you do that with a smooth gesture when they start pointing to your screen, they will quickly grab the mouse.

For me it is specifically efficient because I am left-handed, use the mouse on right-handed setting, and, due to my position in the office, people will generally be on my left-hand side.



I am the OP. Since the time I asked this question almost five years ago, I have made huge strides in creating more positive interactions with other people.

Other than the considerable personal investment I've made in this area, one thing that's been truly instrumental in accelerating that growth has been the book Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss. This book simply cannot be recommended too highly—without exaggeration, it truly has been life-changing. Note that the audio book is far superior to the printed book, precisely because you can't get the tonality and feel of the "late-night FM deejay voice" from reading words on a page. The printed book has value, especially as a companion, but if you can only get one of them, get the audio book.

How I Would Handle This Today

Note that I've moved on from the company where I worked when I asked this question, and I don't really have problems any more with people touching my screen (or at least, didn't really have them before WFH for the last four months solid due to Covid-19).


  • The first thing that would be different in how I would handle this today is simply that I would approach it with a much higher confidence level, and thus a much more relaxed position. It's clear in reading my own OP that while my heart was in a good place, just how desperately I wanted to get along with people and avoid offending them made me almost paralyzingly afraid of doing so. There are good reasons behind why my life brought me to such a state, but no need to go into that. Suffice it to say that I'm discovering how higher confidence results in handling issues in a much more low-key way.

  • It is much less a concern to me now to avoid offending people—and paradoxically, this gives me much greater power to be less offensive, because I don't project the same level of anxiety, intensity, and emotional attachment that I used to. Those things were self-defeating, communicated low status, and implicitly broadcast that I was the one with a problem. Humans seem to naturally employ a heuristic that treats lack of confidence as lack of competence. This is not true, but it created much more negative results than I had ever been aware of.

  • It was my perception in the past that I was plenty assertive, but it came to my attention that in fact I was not—I had mistaken aggressiveness for assertiveness. I was afraid, then aggressive, then would fight. Those are not productive. It seems to me now that true assertiveness comes from very quietly, calmly, and confidently stating one's own truth, without fighting yet without wavering, and then accepting all consequences that arise from it. There was an important learning experience where I stood up to someone bullying me using very respectful yet limit-setting words that I had received direct coaching on from a higher-up. That person ended up getting fired (for far more than what was going on with me) and I learned that my past terror about being fired had been a large part of creating the negative dynamics I was experiencing. Being confident that I can find a great job at a hundred companies that would love to have me—or a thousand, even—makes such a difference.

Techniques From Never Split The Difference

Here are the practical ways I would handle this situation today, of a coworker touching my screen in an unwanted way.

  1. Label myself with the worst possible label. But in a very low key and non-upset way, like I almost don't care if the person responds positively.

    I'm sure I'm being rude and a total freakazoid by asking this...

  2. Ask a question where the person will say "no" to give me what I want, instead of "yes"

    ... but would you find it a huge imposition if I ask you to use this pointer to gesture to my screen, instead of touching it?

  3. Some small explanation is okay (this part is not out of the book):

    It distracts me, and bugs me for some reason, to see fingerprints on the screen.

  4. If the person reacts negatively, like my former coworker who reached out to drag his finger across my screen when he saw my post title, this can still be addressed productively. The following should be delivered very low key, with full confident acceptance of all possible consequences, knowing that the person could be offended but correctly assigning that problem as that person's responsibility. Say "it sounds," "it looks," or "it seems," and then label the person's actions somewhat negatively (just not offensively):

    It sounds like you've given up on getting along with me at work.

    Your goal is to sound puzzled, curious, like you're drawing out someone you like and trust. You aren't angry. You're skillfully and confidently stating a true observation—it is a fact that this is what it seems like to you. If the person says "no, that's not true, why would you say that?" your response is "I didn't say it was that way—it just seemed/sounded/looked like that."

These may sound strange. They may sound like they won't work. But I have been using these techniques (and others from the book!) and have been getting quite unreasonable positive results (at least, according to my past expectations for the outcomes of such conflict).


Check out the book. Whatever you think of my possibly poor representation of the author's techniques, it's at least worth taking a look further!

I'm confident that I could handle this situation much more productively than I would have five years ago. And I wouldn't be so worried, both about people's negative reactions, or about them continuing to touch my screen. I'll be okay no matter what the outcome.


Make a small, colorful sign that says "PLEASE DONT TOUCH MY SCREEN." Include some clip art of a fingerprint. Attach the sign to the frame of your monitor in a conspicuous spot. There you go.

  • 3
    Yes, while clearing your throat in an exaggerated fashion. Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 22:53
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    I think that is exactly the kind of passive aggression that I want to steer clear of.
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 22:57
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    I'd also like to point out that I very deliberately call it "the screen" and not "my screen." Possessiveness is so unattractive.
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 5:14
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    @ErnestFriedman-Hill - It appears one person has already found it hilarious to smudge the screen after seeing ErikE write this post, I can't imagine what kind of hijinks that sign might attract!
    – komodosp
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 13:32
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    I'm mystified why people are down voting this answer. This is a good answer. Grab label maker from supply closet, and make a little label that says, "please don't touch screen", and put it on edge of screen. People obey signs. It's true. Commented Mar 12, 2016 at 0:52

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the question, but I'm surprised that no one has suggested an anti-dust, anti-fingerprint screen protector?

While some are unsightly, there are plenty of good options out there.

And if you get the unsightly kind that are like a shell, you can just put them up when people come by and take them down after they have left.

This being said, I do agree to a certain extent that you should maybe also learn to let it go a little bit.

I suggest this because it is often easier to change ourselves than to change others.

Not to pass judgement on you, but to save you future headaches when and if similar things occur on future occasions.

Disclaimer: I do not work for screen protector companies of any sort nor do I have any vested interest in any of them. Just thought to bring it up.

  • Why should I learn to let go of something that is an actual nuisance? Why do you get to say that instead of saying that people should be more conscientious to not grease up someone else's screen surface? What principle are you using to decide which side of the issue is reasonable and which one unreasonable?
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 9:21
  • ? @ErikE. You do realize that prior to suggesting you let it go, I had offered a viable solution. I hadn't been judging your feelings nor had I thought you were being unreasonable, but rather, I had been hoping to help save you from further feelings of annoyance. After all, it's often just easier to change ourselves than to change others. Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 9:25
  • Please understand the attitude of my comment. I really just want to know the answer to my questions. It wasn't an attack, I'm not angry, I'm just tired of people in my life suggesting how I ought or ought not be. How do YOU think we should decide what things people "should maybe learn to let go a little bit" and which not? I'm asking for some real philosophy. Bodily autonomy? Something else?
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 9:30
  • @ErikE. I did link you to some real philosophy in my comment.... Did you click it? I have a lot of pet peeves, too, but I know that these pet peeves are mine and not others', meaning that I should be responsible for managing them. And so, in the interest of producing the best solution, I might employ multiple strategies: posting a (humorous) sign as others have said, getting a stylus, using a screen protector, continuing to be assertive about it (as you have done in the past), etc. (Cont'd.) Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 9:34
  • (Cont'd.) And then, to save myself future feelings of annoyance and maintain my own emotional well-being, I might employ my most important strategy in learning to focus on the things I can control. I implore you again to click the link in my comment, which I am now also adding to my post. Commented Feb 20, 2017 at 9:38

Keep a cloth by your screen and wipe their fingerprints off when they are finished. They will see you doing it and realize that they are creating extra work for you.

It's a little passive-aggressive but also a nice way to gently make people aware of what they are doing.


Install a surge protector with a large, silent switch underneath your desk with only your monitor plugged into it. When your co-worker touches your screen, stealthily turn off the monitor with your foot. Now pretend that your monitor always breaks when it is touched, but it can be easily fixed if they'll just wait a moment. Now spend a few minutes wiggling it around to "try" to fix it. Don't act frustrated, but silently focus on resolving this new problem while ignoring their presence. Draw this act out for as long as is necessary until the co-worker becomes uncomfortable or impatient. When they seem ready to leave, sneakily switch your monitor back on with your foot.

Do this as many times as is needed until this person decides to alter their behavior. Most will remember the problem they caused and will not want to see that happen a second time. If someone keeps doing it, you can safely assume that they are a sociopath, in which case you may want to consider putting a thin layer of petroleum jelly on your screen for the next time when they come by. If they touch the screen and ask about the slimy substance, tell them that you are sorry, but have had a hard time keeping enough tissues on hand.

If you're going to be passive aggressive, you must make an art form of it.

  • 2
    Lying is hardly ever a good solution.
    – user8036
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 20:28
  • I agree, but humor can be. Commented May 15, 2017 at 20:40

If I were you I'd be putting a "Please Wash Your Hands" sign in the bathroom or something! I've been trying to reproduce your oily fingerprint problem after reading this post, and no matter what angle I look at it relative to the sun & the lights I can't see any mark on it...

It may be seen as a bit overly sensitive to complain about people touching your screen... it risks inviting gossip. It may be a lot easier to position yourself so the sun is never glaring off your screen as Jimbo said in another post.

  • Where I sit and whether the blinds are up or down are completely beyond my control. The statement that I am too sensitive is a subjective one; if you can't see the marks thne of course why would they bother you? But I assure you that I can. Perhaps I'll post a picture later. In any case how would you feel about people touching your glasses? Those smudges interfere with vision. What would you tell someone who saw you bothered about this and said you were too sensitive?
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 14:38
  • 2
    This is not an answer.
    – jmorc
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 18:52
  • @ErikE I wasn't suggesting you are too sensitive (more that your co-workers' hands are a bit dirty! ;) ) but that it may be seen as such. Your beef is totally understandable.
    – komodosp
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 22:44
  • I see your distinction. You stated how you think the world is (that people will see me as being too sensitive), not necessarily your personal belief so. I appreciate that!
    – CodeSeeker
    Commented Sep 14, 2015 at 22:52

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