56

I started a new job at a call center recently. The office is quite large and the company itself has about 50,000 employees. There's one guy I sit close to who is making me uncomfortable and distracting me from work. He does things such as

  • makes funny faces at people
  • stands up and jumps around the area in a very animated way, doing exercises and large stretches. He started to shadow box and throw punches at the air too.
  • one time he reached out to shake my hand and when we did he didn't let go and started to pull me along on the chair I was sitting on
  • jokingly act aggressively, for example speaking to another person he said "fight me!" or purposefully walks into people.

It seems he thinks he's being funny. He always does this with a smile on his face and laughs afterward, and at least some people smile/laugh back.

What should I do? I see my options are

  1. ignore him
  2. speak with him directly
  3. complain to the manager
  4. complain to HR
  5. act aggressively back to him (I'm not seriously considering this one)

I'm not a huge fan of 1. as each time I look at him he's trying to get a reaction out of me and where we're sitting it's hard not to make the occasional glance.

Being new I'm not very knowledgeable about the corporate structure and don't have any contacts. I know who the managers are, and I could look up on the company internal wiki for an HR contact.

What exact wording should I use in this situation? It's hard to describe exactly how he's acting but he clearly is doing it on purpose. I don't know his name but next time he locks his computer I can read what's on the screen.

Being new I don't want to cause waves. He does these things in front of everyone and they seem ok with it. On the other hand, if the company does tolerate this kind of behavior I'm not interested in staying with the company anyway. I fear if I "wait to see if he stops it by himself" I will hesitate to do anything latter, knowing myself this could happen. The guy is in his late 20s.

I'm really looking for specific phrases I could use, for example "I know you're joking but do you think you can bring it down a notch with these sorts of things?" or what I should say in an email to HR.

UPDATE: I told him off once and he didn't do it around me again.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Jul 11 '17 at 20:48
  • Is he bigger than you? :) – Yan F. Jul 14 '17 at 20:38
5

I would suggest that you talk to him, but not in the ways that have been previously suggested. Do not go to him with a whole list of his past behaviors that you didn't like and run through them all. Do not give him a whole paragraph of reasons. This is going to make him defensive and unwilling to change, or will let him think that reasons are things that can be argued against. It also proves to him that he has been bothering you, which might be his intention.

Decide which of these behaviors are the most problematic, and the next time he does something, in the moment ask him if he could not do that again. This makes the conversation less of an attack on him as a person/something you've been stewing over, and more of a "hey I just noticed right now that I didn't like this one thing, so would you mind not doing it?" situation - one that is much lower stakes for both of you. Yes we're planning this out right now, but you want it to seen unpremeditated.

If it were me, I would say that making faces and exercising vigorously are a bit odd, but within his rights to do at his own desk. I'd just work on keeping him out of my eyeline/depth of focus and make my face as bored as possible if I do see him and he sees that I've seen him. The look we're going for is complete and utter disinterest. If a shadowboxing bout was going on for a particularly long time, right in front of you and really affecting your ability to focus, that is a moment in which you might calmly ask him to exercise somewhere else this time, not making it about his entire habit, just that one instance. "Would you mind taking the boxing to the break room this time?"

Anything that involves physical contact is where I would draw a hard boundary. If he ever does something like the handshake/unwanted physical contact again, that is when to say, "please don't do that" or, "please don't touch me." Say it as calmly and seriously as possible. It should be clear that this is not a point that is up for argument. The purposely walking into people is so weird that I might ask him, "did you just purposely walk into me?" Followed by another, "please don't do that to me." Just because you did not set this boundary the first time he shook your hand/bumped into you does not mean that you aren't allowed to set it now or at any future time.

The "fight me!" talk is probably what he considers to be a joke, but can also be responded to in the moment with a very calm, disinterested response like "I don't think that would be a good idea" or "what a weird thing to say."

Hopefully, when he realizes that his actions are not having the intended result (which I imagine could be getting a rise out of you/others, rather than getting a cold "please stop") then he will change his behaviors around you. Maybe he will view you as "not fun" because you don't like his "jokes." That's fine, as long as he adjusts his behavior around you. There are worse things in the world than being considered un-fun by someone whose actions feel like bullying to you, one of which is being bullied.

However, there is a real chance that he will not change. This is why it might unfortunately also be necessary to also make a note of the times you have asked him to stop various behaviors, so that if he doesn't stop, you can take that to a manager. In this case, I would focus on requests that he not touch you or make blatantly belligerent comments. Making faces and exercising vigorously are weird but not really directly confrontational, and might seem like petty grievances to a manager. "Did not respect my request(s) to stop touching me" is something that any manager should take seriously, though.

51
  • Talk to him privately

    Hey Bob, I know you're just trying to have some fun when you {...}, but I find it really distracting and it makes it hard to get my work done. Would you be able to chill with that a bit?

    You may want to rephrase that last part a bit if you want him to cut it out completely.

    You can follow this up with long sad / disappointing looks in his direction and "I thought we talked about this"-type of conversations (but only if he agreed that he'd stop).

  • Speak to HR (or your shared manager)

    It might be best to only opt for this after you've done the above, in that it's usually better to try to resolve issues yourself before involving others (especially if you ever want to get into management).

    You might consider phrasing it from the point of view of how it affects the work of yourself and others and possible suggest simply moving to another seat in the office, if that would solve the problem.

    While I don't at all mind the more casual work environment we have here, Bob can get a bit loud, which makes it very hard for me to focus and be productive. I've spoken to him, but it hasn't really helped. I'm wondering if anything can be done about this. If this doesn't bother or affect the productivity of others, would it be possible for me to simply move to another seat?

    It would help your case if you have a specific spot in mind and there's a free seat (since then they wouldn't really have to think "where would be quiet enough for silverraft", you're taking the decision of where to move on yourself - it's just "yes, you can move there" or "no, you can't").

  • Just move seats

    You can possible also avoid the conflict entirely and just ask whether you can move to some other specific place (or just move seats if you don't have to ask), either giving some vague reason of people being a bit loud where you currently are (without giving names), or trying to find some other factor which you can mention (more sun? less sun? colder? hotter? facing the wall? not being in the aisle?).

  • Earphones or noise-cancelling headphones?

    Probably not an option if you're in a call centre, but I thought I'd just include this for completeness.

  • Confront him publicly

    Hey Bob, cut it out, we're trying to work here.

    I would not really recommend this approach, as it could very well backfire and it's highly confrontational, but it's an option.

  • 1
    2nd option is the best. Allow him to resolve this himself AND in private before escalating the case. – Leon Jul 11 '17 at 9:17
  • 26
    I wouldn't openly use "we're trying to work" unless you're certain other people are also annoyed. It might backfire. And "I'm trying to work" works just as well. – Erik Jul 11 '17 at 9:31
  • 3
    @Leon The 2nd option is now the 1st option (just to avoid confusion by future readers). – Dukeling Jul 11 '17 at 10:05
  • 3
    Strongly disagree with the "best to solve problems yourself" issue. While yes, this is generally advisable, the behavior OP describes is already overly physical to borderline violent. Complaints about this 100% should go through a third party as this person sounds potentially dangerous. – Tiercelet Jul 11 '17 at 14:24
  • 2
    I agree to suggestions. Whenever I can't deal with a person I make up a nickname for him like Bob or Dragon. At first he won't get he' s being adressed, but later he will get the crap annoyes out of him and he will conatantly avoid any interaction. The only thing you'd hear from him later is "I am not Bob" or "Stop calling me Handle, I am human and I have a name". Not the most mature way but it's hilarious and and usually effective and satisfying. – Džuris Jul 11 '17 at 17:34
19

Unless he is bothering you specifically, you should be ignoring him.

In the case of him pulling you along in your chair or other fooling around that directly involves you, ask him privately and politely to stop and tell him that you do not wish to be a part of that type of behavior.

When he is doing something that does not involve you, then you should not have a say in what happens unless you are his boss. Distractions are a part of the workplace and you are responsible for maintaining your own productivity.

I find it helpful to think about how you would want someone to respond if the situations were reversed. I personally would be perfectly fine if someone asked me to quit joking around with them but would be very annoyed if someone reported me for something that they are not a part of.

  • 18
    "When he is doing something that does not involve you then you should not have a say in what happens unless you are his boss." I'm not sure that's good general advice. There's nothing wrong with stepping in if someone is being sexist/racist/abusive to a 3rd party. It's a matter of severity. – RJFalconer Jul 11 '17 at 11:57
  • 6
    @RJFalconer I agree when in terms of abuse such as the forms you mentioned, but I do not get the impression that those are present from the original post above. – Joe S Jul 11 '17 at 12:11
  • 1
    @RJFalconer definitely, when it comes to abuse and harassment, action should always be taken. But this scenario fits a much more mundane circumstance. Whilst he may be an annoyance, they are just two people with conflicting personalities, and both should be able to act as themselves as much as the other. Therefore I think a genuine and private (though not forced) conversation is the solution here, one where they can both reach a fair agreement regarding these actions. – lewis Jul 11 '17 at 14:47
  • 1
    Other than pulling OP in chair, little seems out of line at all. The fighting references may be. Stretching and exercising is highly encouraged. Overall, it seems he's eliminating boredom in a workplace. The others' smiles may be very sincere. Be nice by going to him first, and let him know that physical contact must be avoided. Threatening gestures (fighting) may also be something you can curtail. As for the rest of the physical activity, this sounds entirely good; if you don't like it, then most of Dukeling's answer sounds good, but don't rope in HR before trying to resolve in friendly way – TOOGAM Jul 12 '17 at 4:57
  • 2
    "Unless he is bothering you..." I'm not sure you've understood the tone of this question. It's very clearly bothering the original poster, to the extent that they have joined Workplace Stack Overflow for advice about how to address it. It sounds like you perhaps relate to the 'jokester' in this scenario? I'd like to gently advise that you consider the effect this kind of behaviour may be having on your neighbours, who may well be too polite/shy/scared to address it with you directly, which is when HR eventually gets involved. – AJFaraday Jul 12 '17 at 10:11
14

Talk to your manager and say that you have a problem. Don't say that the guy is being a problem.

Reasoning: if you tell your manager that you are having a problem, there is little the manager can say against that. He cannot say "no, you are not having a problem", but ideally only "what can I do to solve your problem" or, best case, "I know what you mean, don't do anything, I will solve your problem".

If, instead, you describe the guy as a problem, people can easily argue. "That guy is around for years and doing his fun stuff, and nobody ever had a problem with it."

So:

  • "Hello Manager, can I have a private word. I have trouble concentrating here; whenever colleague X does his antics, I get thrown out of my flow. Also, as I'm still new, I don't think it would be wise for me to talk to him about that. Has he always been like that? Do you have a solution for me?"

Or:

  • "Hello HR, I appreciate that X has been around a long, but I get very uncomfortable whenever he touches me. I feel bad talking to him about it, as everybody else seems to be OK with him, and I'm still new. Do you have advice for me?" (Note that the word "touching" will hopefully be a big red flag for any HR guy that's paying attention... - you should only go this route if the touching is really an issue (and not a one-off-thing); this is really an escalation compared to going to your manager.)

And so on.

The goal here is not to have the manager storm off and "do something", but he and you can and should have a private talk about the issue. Maybe he has something to say about the other guy. Maybe he has some tips for you. Maybe he will encourage you to talk to the other guy because he knows that person and knows from experience that he just doesn't know his impact on others. Maybe he has a good communication channel with that guy and genially lets him know that he should give you a break. We can't know.

Likely, after the first chat with your boss, nothing much will change, but you will know how to proceed for the next few days, and if whatever you agree to does not work, you can talk again and "escalate", in baby steps.

EDIT: integrated some thoughts from the comments.

  • If the incident where you shook his hand and he pulled you along in your chair was the only incident in which he touched you, you may want to be explicit in describing it; it doesn't sound like he grabbed you. You reciprocated the handshake; what followed was unwanted, but would probably fall short of being some sort of sexual advance. On the other hand, if it did feel threatening, mention that too. It may be reasonable to ask the manager or HR to watch how the guy behaves, and to talk to you after as to what you should be doing. – RDFozz Jul 11 '17 at 17:43
  • I must say I'm not a fan of going to management/HR over this, without an attempt to communicate with the guy himself. Imagine the reverse situation, where someone else has a problem with something you do and goes straight to management/HR without trying to talk about it with you. – marcelm Jul 11 '17 at 21:54
  • Sure, @marcelm, I don't go to management/HR for things like this either, myself. The way I interpreted the question, though, is that that was exactly what he was asking, and my advice is made as to handle the issue like any other obstacle to work (i.e., not make it personal against the other guy). At the end of the day, it's his manager's job to get obstacles out of his way that he cannot handle himself. I believe the example I gave for talking to his manager is open enough so that they can have a little chat about the guy, without it being like a huge escalation immediately. – AnoE Jul 11 '17 at 22:12
  • Also, @marcelm, I had such issues in my own team, and people absolutely did come to me for advice - in my role as their manager. We always found a way to solve the issue right there in the private session between the offended person and myself, without involving anyone else. I.e., I was (relatively easily) able to give first hand advice to the colleague on how to handle the difficult person - because I knew the offender. Or we would work out something acceptable (between us two) right there. – AnoE Jul 11 '17 at 22:17
  • @AnoE Don't get me wrong, if talking with the guy doesn't produce the desired result, I'm all for involving the direct manager in an appropriate way. I just feel a direct approach is probably the best first step. But it probably depends heavily on the situation and the exact personalities and behaviour involved; it's hard to tell such details even from a well-written question. Also, your approach assumes competent management, which is sometimes... optimistic ;) – marcelm Jul 11 '17 at 22:25
3

martin said in a comment:

If you want to know his name, you could just ask him. He seems outgoing enough.

I suggest you start out with that, try to know the coworker a bit better. It seems that he is not malicious, just too extrovert and not enough caring. By knowing each other better and becoming better acquintances there is a chance that:

  1. You might be able to without hasitation tell him "c'mon, stop this, you're dumb" or "get back to work, will you?"
  2. He might understand your borders and respect them.
  3. You might understand his jokes and start to enjoy them or at least not view them as annoying.

I've had similar experiences - one of the fellow students was really loud, annoying, stupid etc. Sometime later in the year I got to know him better and saw the fun in what he was doing. The fact that other coworkers are seemingly not objecting might mean that this is a similar case of that actually being fine or even funny if you get it a bit better.

If that doesn't help and it turns out he is just an idiot, you can still quit or try to get him fired later. Maybe it will turn out that others hate his actions, they just don't want to show that.

  • +1 for everything but the last paragraph. Trying to get to know him better is a good idea, but quitting or getting him fired seem like overreactions (hard to say just how bothered the OP gets from this, we're all a little bothered by our coworkers though) – Tas Jul 11 '17 at 21:45
  • @Tas I mentioned the extremes because I understood from the question that the asker wouldn't want to keep working there if these actions are deemed acceptable. – Džuris Jul 12 '17 at 10:17
2

If you want to do something (you could try to ignore it), I would suggest first talking to him directly before talking to a manager.

  • Maybe you can resolve the issue yourself
  • When it comes to contacting the manager, it gives a better impression when you have tried talking to your collegue.
  • Maybe he does not know you don't like it, and just telling him will be enough.

When contacting your collegue, make sure to be direct and polite.

I would suggest waiting it out, since you probably don't want to be the guy in the office which makes an issue out of it if everyone else is ok with it.

  • What exact words would you use? – silverraft Jul 11 '17 at 7:53
2

I fear if I "wait to see if he stops it by himself" I will hesitate to do anything later

This is the key phrase in your description for me, and is a big point to note in all relationships, not just the workplace. What is happening here is that you feel some sort of personal line has been crossed. While some things "should be obvious", the reality is that everyone has their own definition of "personal lines", and to your coworker it may just be an attempt to break the ice. Worse, he may be doing it as a response to something he thinks you did, crossing one of his personal lines.

So these things are best dealt with by politely and kindly stating the fact that

"hey, I don't want to make a big deal about this, and I appreciate that this is an attempt to be a friendly coworker rather than something bad, but I did want to point out that this does interrupt my focus when it happens and therefore reduces my productivity and increases my stress when it happens. I'm not saying this to you in order to complain as such, and please don't take this as me having something against you; I appreciate you're doing this kind of gesture with good intention, but I'm telling you that it makes me distracted and uncomfortable so that you know it crosses a certain line for me, and to therefore ask you to please not do it. I'm stressing the point that I'm not pointing this out now because it's gotten out of hand or something, but more because I believe such small misunderstandings need to be dealt with early-on and while they're unimportant, rather than wait for them to escalate, because this is my idea of how to establish good communication and build trust with my coworkers, and it's in this spirit that I'm asking you".

And assuming polite (obviously a bit butthurt from the shock, but otherwise polite) dialogue ensues, end with

"Thanks for being understanding. I appreciate it."

If you wait instead, and only implode a couple of months later, this person will have every right to label you the one to be at fault (and he'll be right), because not constructively communicating something that they should have known was bothering you was not really their fault, and now they know that you've been secretly seething inside for months. So such issues need to be dealt with as soon as the line has been crossed, and while they're small (and encourage the same from them in the spirit of trust and creative conflict).

Also, with respect to other answers here, I disagree with passive-aggressive displays like "we're trying to work here", and I disagree with going to HR to resolve this (unless the response to the above approach is clear that this person is now both aware they're crossing a line and doing it on purpose in order to be disruptive); if anything, if there is a line you crossed which you are unaware of possibly triggering this behaviour, and you go to HR, it might backfire.

It's worth noting, btw, since we're only human, he may engage in this kind of behaviour again after this, but in a manner that is clear to you it's more out of habit or weakness rather than intentional malice. If this happens, maybe have that chat a couple more times, but after that, yeah just go for the headphones solution (though not in a flashy demonstrative "Oh look I'll just have to wear my headphones now because Tom is being a dick again"). And if it really bothers you even despite that, then fine, go to HR. He's been amply warned by then, such that you're not being the bad guy here and such that they need to realise it's a problem.

1

Request a meeting with your manager and take up this discussion with him.

Talking to this person directly is simply outside of your responsibilities and it can cause unnecessary awkwardness or outcomes that are not going to help anyone, if anything they can cause harm. No need to take that risk. It's also too obvious that you were the one that went to the manager to report this if it gets to that when talking to him directly doesn't go through. I would let that be enough for a simpler task than this, but this sounds like a bigger issue on paper.

Moving seats is usually not an option and while headphones are nice neither option actually does anything about the problem at hand, he's causing trouble for more people than you so it can be considered selfish to simply ignore the problem.

Some things are none of your business, this is not one of them, however that doesn't mean you should have to take the fight. You have a manager for a reason, and the reasons are more than to simply manage you, he/she should be your go-to guy/woman for problems that arise in the workplace.

If your manager does not want to do anything about the situation then approach HR. If nothing changes after that you can go into desperate measures depending on what suits you, ranging from ignoring the problem, talking to him directly in person, or find a new job. It's up to you at that point.

protected by enderland Jul 11 '17 at 20:47

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.