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There is a very nice lady in my office who I've faced some problems with recently.

At first she asked me a few questions about her cell phone or fixing something in her computer which was OK. Then she started to ask me to help download (legally) rare music from Internet for her. I was OK with it because she is as old as my mother and I like to help her.

But recently she moved to my room and is bothering me by listening to her music loudly and asking me questions constantly (e.g. searching for an article about France Revolution for her daughter).

As I said I like her very much but she is interrupting my work all the time and watching her doing nothing and just playing and chatting with her cell phone is really hurting me.

I don't want to insult her and as I said I really like her but she's really interrupting my work. But this situation is really bothering me, I want her not to interrupt my work but I don't want to be rude.

How can I ask her to stop bothering me?

  • What's your question here? – Philip Kendall Nov 15 '15 at 9:57
  • @PhilipKendall I've edited my question. – Amin Vakil Nov 15 '15 at 10:00
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    Hopefully you don't do illegal downloads for her at your workplace. – JohnSomeone Nov 15 '15 at 10:15
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    @ceyed this isn't abuse – Pepone Nov 15 '15 at 15:17
  • @JohnSomeone No, Some old music from my own country. – Amin Vakil Nov 15 '15 at 17:24
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I've been in this situation a couple of times myself, and have learned first to extricate myself, and later to avoid them altogether.

You made the "mistake" of being "too nice". It's important to set boundaries in any relationship, especially professional ones. Be forewarned, that setting up these boundaries now, after you've allowed her such access into your personal schedule, will probably be hurtful to her. You may have to become a little cold in order to dissuade her overly-dependent behavior.

The reason she is bugging you constantly is because you're a push-over. She doesn't want to figure out things by herself, and you have allowed yourself to become her personal secretary by doing all these things for her.

The key here will be for these interactions to incur a cost to her, not only to yourself.

I would avoid addressing all of these concerns in a single, all-in-one, conversation because there is no universe in which this will go over well. Instead, I would address these issues one by one:

1) Listening to music / being loud

As others have suggested, try having a private conversation with this lady. Explain, very respectfully, that you are very busy, and that you cannot work in a loud environment. Ask her to use headphones when listening to music and/or to lower the volume.

It's imperative that you maintain your cool, and be very polite when doing this.

2) Constant badgering (I haven't used that word in a while :-P)

The next time this "very nice" lady approaches you with a non-work related request during work hours, kindly point out that you are busy at the moment. A simple:

My apologies, I'm in the middle of solving an issue for manager X/department Y/deadline Z. Is this work related? No? I'm sorry then, could you try asking me again during lunch, or after work?

Then, if you want to go out at lunch, simply do so. If at the end of the day you need to go, simply do so. Do not approach her to re-initiate the conversation. Let her come to you.

If she does come to you again, help her as briefly as you can politely get away with. Make it clear, although not by being rude, that you are going out of your way, and have other issues to attend to.

For example, if she asks you again for help looking up an article at lunch, or after work, get up, put on your jacket, and say that you've in a hurry, but take the time to type a query into Google for her. Better yet, tell her the query to type and disassociate yourself from the process. Try standing behind her, but not touching the keyboard. If she offers you the seat, refuse.

The goal is to stop being her immediate, on-demand problem solver.

You have to put up walls and set boundaries which you've mistakenly allowed her to trample.

Note: if the problem is work related, behave similarly. Do not immediately interrupt yourself to help her. It sends the message that your work is not important, that only helping her is. Instead, ask her to wait a few minutes. Tell her that you need to finish something and then you can help her.

3) Consequences

Most likely this "nice lady" will start thinking that you're being cold/rude. It is important that you remain as warm, friendly, and polite as possible, while firmly refusing to help her solve her personal problems, or letting her distract you from your work.

She might comment on your behavior, in which case simply avoid any confrontation.

Important: her behavior will not change over night! This situation did not develop in a single day, week, or even month, so most likely it will take just as long to remedy. Simply remain cool, and always follow your priorities. Slowly stop solving her issues, and simply offer some support instead.

4) The nuclear option

If her behavior persists after a week or two of hints, the gloves may need to come off. At that point you might speak to her a little more frankly, and say that you cannot focus on work because of her music/questions, and that your performance is being affected. As politely as possible say that you are there to work, and that you will help her with her questions if you can, but that you would like her to stop asking you during work hours.

This will definitely come across as rude, so be ready for the fallout.

If you think that she might take that sort of conversation too personally, or worse, go to HR and complain that you were rude (some very nice people become very nasty when "offended), then don't confront her.

Go to your manager and state the problem. Say that you've tried to refuse her requests, but she keeps coming back/listening to music. Your manager will then speak to her. If your manager will not handle the situation, then go to HR, but kiss your amicable relationship with you coworker goodbye.

Good luck!

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Talk to her and explain how her behaviour is interfering with your work. Politely, no accusations, no threats or anything.

Explain it to her just the way it is, without dramatizing or making it sound better. She needs to understand the issue. You shouldn't accuse her of anything. Focus on what the effect is on you and how this hurts your performance. Don't use a negative tone and be as polite as you normally are.

I don't think you should address her doing nothing if you are not her superior and don't have the whole picture.

Depending on the person, she might still feel offended and that might hurt your relationship, but it's important she understands the situation. After all, you are getting paid to do this job. Socializing is fine as long as it doesn't prevent you from doing your duties.

You should talk to her in private and face-to-face, not over email or instant messaging. This shows more respect.

Finally, if she doesn't listen and this continues or becomes worse in any way, talk to your manager or HR. You'd rather not involve them at first, simply because you like your colleague and she might be unaware she is causing you trouble.

  • I would talk with her privately as suggested, but (check with your local laws first) maybe audio-record the conversation as part of a documentation process. – randomblink Nov 16 '15 at 16:18
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As uncomfortable as you may feel about having to talk to someone older than you about work interruptions, it does happen. One question that comes up repeatedly in interviews is "tell me about a difficult situation and how you handled it." If you plan what you're going to say, and choose a moment when she's not engaged in interrupting you to talk to her about it, it will go easier than if you choose to bring it up when you're exasperated.

A good talking point is that when a person is on task and is interrupted, it can take 10 - 15 minutes to get back on task.

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Just don't do what she wants, she'll soon find someone else to ask. If you don't want to do it, or can't be bothered, just tell her you're busy. She's not your mum. I seen a lot of people get caught up in such a situation, it's great for their personal relationships with people, but it can impact on their work, and that's what you're at work for, not downloading music.

It really depends on your personality how you manage it, I'm pretty blunt, so I'd just tell them I'm busy. Another way of achieving the same result is just to put it off if you're too shy. Just say you'll do it later when you have time. Then she'll either do it herself or ask again later. After a while she'll get the picture. Especially if it's two days later and you still haven't found the time.

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