Help me avoid my awkward coworker
May 10, 2011 11:47 AM   Subscribe

I started a small beer club at work with some of my coworkers. One of them invited a coworker who makes me incredibly uncomfortable. How do I get out of this?

The coworker ("Weird Coworker") in question has a habit of staring, sitting next to me when there's any opportunity, blushing, asking coworkers about my personal life, etc. At least one other coworker has noticed that he's weird around me, so I don't think I'm being overly sensitive. We don't work in the same area or department.

In any case, I organized a beer club, and one of the invitees invited Weird Coworker. He makes me uncomfortable enough so that I would just not go if he goes, but...I started this club!

Relevant information:

* I have not spoken to HR or any other coworkers about his behavior or my discomfort (other than the coworker who noticed it; I responded with something like, "Huh." when he mentioned it.)
* I'm female and youngish.
* It's a small company.
* There are seven people currently in the club.
* The club thing sounds a little weird but there are a few of them here: a running club, a dining club, a theater club, a whiskey and cigars club.
* I said it was okay to invite other people, but that we should try to keep the group small.

Should I:
- refuse without providing a reason?
- refuse and give a reason?
- allow Weird Coworker to join us, and bow out?
- allow Weird Coworker to join us, and avoid him?
- something else?
posted by punchtothehead to Human Relations (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ask weird coworker to stop staring at you/prying into your personal life. Tell weird coworker that he's sitting too close/hovering too much.
posted by headnsouth at 11:53 AM on May 10, 2011 [18 favorites]

I agree. This problem is never going to be nipped in the bud until you nip it in the bud. I'm guessing that, once confronted, he'll stop involving himself in Beer Club altogether.
posted by scarykarrey at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

- allow Weird Coworker to join us, and avoid him? would be my passive aggressive option and hope he goes a way/gets a clue. It helps if you overly say you aren't interested/you'er busy.

Love the profile name. It may be a last resort.
posted by stormpooper at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is 'weird' just another way of saying 'is socially awkward and appears to have a crush on me'? Because that's exactly what this particular 'weird' sounds like.

If so, it might be as simple as subtly letting this person know that you're in a relationship, and/or that you're not interested.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2011 [16 favorites]

I would cancel a couple of meetings for some random reason or another (family, house stuff, whatever). Then declare that, you know what, you are just too busy to be running the club, would someone else be willing to take over your responsibilities? Then you can come and go as you like. Also, if weird guy thinks that you've quit the club he might stop going.
posted by whoaali at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2011

You're asking about Problem B. (B for Beer.) Problem B is caused by much larger Problem A. Problem A is that your coworker is weirdly obsessed with you.

Problem A is the one that you can take to HR, or directly to Weird Coworker if you're comfortable doing that.
posted by supercres at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2011

What I mean is, weird coworker may not know he's being weird, or may not think his crush is obvious. Whenever you create a list of options for yourself, try to always include at least one option that says "confront this thing head-on and break its hold on me."
posted by headnsouth at 11:56 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

You should go. You presumably started the beer club because you wanted to be a part of a beer club, right?

Dealing with the Weird Guy is difficult. I usually try to be friendly, knowing that the Weird Guy has probably been weird his whole life and surely has been picked on for it. But there does come a time when the weirdness crosses a line (a line that you determine for yourself), and you should no longer have to entertain Weird Guy for politeness' sake. It's hard for me, personally, to draw this line, but it does need to happen.

When he gets too close, just say, "I'm sorry, but could you please give me some space?" And keep repeating it, just like that, every single time he gets too close. When he asks personal questions, don't answer them. Respond with, "why do you ask?"

You shouldn't let the Weird Guy dictate your behavior outside of (or even at) work. Do what you want, but keep in mind that you may have to be confrontational and direct to shut him down.
posted by phunniemee at 11:58 AM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Respond with, "why do you ask?"

I'd (not female, not adroit at putting down weird crushes) avoid this on the basis that you don't want to engage in conversation, you don't want to ask questions, and you probably don't want to ask questions that allow this person to hint about their intentions toward you.

As to the other bit of it, if you shut him down / ensure that you are able to have appropriate space when he's around, hopefully it won't be a problem. If he's in it because he has a crush on you, and you shut down the crush, he may stop coming altogether. If he's just weird, but you establish the boundaries, who cares? He can be weird at arm's length all he wants.
posted by gauche at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2011

You are way too nice and you give this guy way too much power over you. If you're physically afraid of him for some concrete reason, then you need to go to HR. If not, then just tell him to stop staring and move when he sits next to you. You're under no obligation to be polite to someone who is rude to you.
posted by desjardins at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2011 [6 favorites]

Don't let him wreck this thing for you! Use it as a learning moment or whatever you want to call it, for all the weird people you will run into in the course of your life. Simply stand up next time he sits beside you, and go sit somewhere else. If he stands up, say "Please don't follow me. You're making me uncomfortable." Maybe let one of your friends know before the next meeting so they can back you up.

It will be uncomfortable for you, but you are already uncomfortable! And eventually, maybe after another couple meetings, it will all be in the past.

(If you think that is more confrontation than you can bear, you could try asking the person who brought him to let him know you prefer he left you alone. But the more direct approach is usually best.)
posted by Glinn at 12:11 PM on May 10, 2011

Ah, crud, I'm sorry to hear this. I formed a writing group (no company affiliation) and The Weird Guy from the Internet showed up in due course, and that was that. Since I'm older and male, he didn't directly creep me out to the extent that was experienced by one of our younger, more female, and more attractive members. We tried a number of approaches, none of which really worked, and I really do think this guy pretty much busted it up or at least hastened its demise. No one wanted to come hang out with this weirdo and critique his awful writing. One of our other members described it as "gay porn as written by a 12 year old."

The difficulty is that you don't really have any standards of membership that already exist, presumably. So anything you do will be an obvious attempt at excluding him or uninviting him. Believe me, people like this typically have ESP, radar, and eyes in the back of their head for this sort of thing. There's already a stalker vibe going on - I have a suggestion about that, but stand by...

You've suggested "refusing," which makes me wonder if you have carte blanche to just exclude him, no reason given. If you can really make that stick and can deal with the fallout, that's great, but my experience is that the group will fracture along the lines of those who don't get what the fuss is about and why you shouldn't just "put up with the poor guy." I don't know what you actually do in your activities, do you make beer, talk about beer, go to bars to try microbrews, all of the above? If there's anything worse than sitting in a coffee shop with a weirdo and discussing his horrible writing, I guess it would be participating in activities that involve drinking something he made or imbibing alcohol in his presence, so trust me, I wouldn't want him in a group with me either if I were you.

I agree with the advice about dealing with him head on theoretically; my concern, which is again based on some experience, is that it may lead to some drama, others taking sides, etc.

I hate to take the cut and run approach, but as mixed up as this is in your work, I think the safest approach that involves the least drama is not to take on the confrontation and bow out. Odds are that with the double whammy of losing you as an organizer and gaining the creeper as a disruptive effect on the group's activities, it will probably fall apart. Wait a few months and then Q U I E T L Y start doing your thing with one or two of the group you're closest to. Off-hours, not on company premises, and by invitation only.

Now, as to this guy's behavior generally, if your HR department is worth anything you might want to talk to them about him, which is another reason not to engage in drama with or about him.
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:12 PM on May 10, 2011

+1 to the comments suggesting WG has too much power and that you shouldn't drop out of your beer group. A passive-aggressive approach is only going to feed WB's crush (if that's what it is) because it's too ambiguous. Politely but clearly let WG know you're not interested. You can certainly use the "I don't date co-workers" excuse if need be. Do this before the beer is served.

If WG is just socially awkward and suffering from a crush, that's not the sort of thing that HR can help with. WG isn't immune to your charms just because he's lacking in other areas. Thin-skin is not the stuff of HR reports; only report to HR if WG crosses an acknowledged line. Assuming he's not actively stalking you or touching you, you need to politely and clearly let WG know that his physical proximity is unwanted, that you're not interested, etc. After the bright line is established, report the crossings to HR.
posted by Hylas at 12:45 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Is it possible to talk to the coworker who invited WC? It's possible that that person knows about the crush and is trying to do the guy a favour by inviting him to where you, and beer, will be.

If you have a quiet word with the inviter along the lines of "I know I said it was OK to invite people, but WC's recent behaviour has made me really uncomfortable. [possibly give examples]. Is there a graceful way out of this?" Then inviter can quietly disinvite, WC will be informed that his behaviour is unwelcome, and it'll be handled.

If this isn't an option, then send out an email to current club members: "Something's come up and I can't make our next meeting. Can I ask for one or more volunteers to act as co-chair so that we'll be covered in case this happens in future?" If you find someone to act as co-chair, then you'll have the option of not attending those future meetings which WC attends, until he gets over it and stops creeping you out.
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:45 PM on May 10, 2011

I would cancel a couple of meetings for some random reason or another (family, house stuff, whatever). Then declare that, you know what, you are just too busy to be running the club, would someone else be willing to take over your responsibilities? Then you can come and go as you like. Also, if weird guy thinks that you've quit the club he might stop going.

This is terrible, passive-aggressive advice. You need to let him know that what he's doing is inappropriate. Don't let his behavior force you into not doing something you enjoy. Tell him to knock it off.
posted by kdar at 12:57 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

If the club is associated with the company (i.e. company resources, such as email or your on-clock time, help run it), it should be available to everyone in the company regardless of your opinion of them. I guess that translates to bowing out if you can't find another way to deal with his blushing around you.
posted by Dano St at 1:02 PM on May 10, 2011

As to the staring, what I'd be tempted to do is stare back and in a mildly hostile tone say "Take a picture, it would last longer."

Don't let weirdo keep you from your group. Call him on his inappropriate behavior.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:03 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

To clarify: Weird Coworker is more than twice my age (60-something to my 20-something) and married. The other attendees are all in their twenties and either single or unmarried.

The group is only work-affiliated in that everyone who goes will be from work. It's in no way endorsed or sponsored by our employer. It's pretty casual.
posted by punchtothehead at 1:08 PM on May 10, 2011

Well, that's actually better, because you can be even more blunt. He's not just some awkward geek with a crush, he's a creepy old married lecherous dude. Feel free to shun him. If he starts talking to you, walk away, or if you can't, say loudly "How's your WIFE?" until he gets the hint. Has Weirdo been working there for more than a few months? Then everyone knows he's creepy. Fuck him, let him find friends his own age if he can't interact normally.
posted by desjardins at 1:13 PM on May 10, 2011 [12 favorites]

You might not be this kind of person, but just imagine the cred you'll have with yourself and others if you just say, loudly, "OK, y'know what "Mike"? You're too close and you're making me really uncomfortable. Could you move?" He is likely using his weirdness to be intimidating which is the only attention he can get. If you're intimidating back, I imagine it will take him quite by surprise, and may give you a good dose of pride in yourself.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:26 PM on May 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yea, what Sophie1 said - just call him on his behavoiur in front of people. It also helps if you mention that you're having an issue with the guy to a close friend beforehand, so there will be someone who is ready to back you up. It sounds awkward, but you'll feel a lot better after. Not feeling that you have to be polite to people who are rude to you can be empowering.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:52 PM on May 10, 2011

Okay the thing about telling him "you're not interested" or “you don’t date coworkers” is that it assumes that this guy is making overt... overtures. And I assume that he isn't. I know the Weird Guy quite well. I don't know if it’s intentional or as a product of his awkwardness (probably the latter), but Weird Guy never makes his intentions clear and knows exactly where the line is under which he needs to stay in order to make most people go “What? Oh, he’s just being nice!”

You need to not care what he thinks of you, and focus on not creating the rift that randomkeystrike talked about. He himself is probably going to avoid making any kind of scene. I think your best bet, besides just totally scrapping the group, is to react to specific instances of behaviors in a direct but non-judgmental(-appearing) way.

If he comes and sits next to you, just get up and move without any fanfare or even acknowledgment of him or why you’re moving. But do it after maybe a count of 10—don’t wait 15 minutes and try to cover the move under some other excuse. Sure, it might appear slightly weird to other group members, but only slightly more so than his sitting next to you. And if he then gets up to follow you, he is a total freak and you are vindicated.

If he is staring at you, wave your hand in front of you and say “Helloooo, John, you’re staring! It’s weirding me out, hahahaha!” But say it exactly like you’d say it to some totally normal person that you liked and who just happened to space out for a second. If he comes back with some kind of comment like “Oh well you’re just so pretty” or something, you can say “Hahaha, well that may be so, but it doesn’t seem to bother anyone else!” and then go back to what you were doing.

As for when he gets up in your personal life, that’s tougher. I had a Weird Guy who’d go from completely normal innocuous questions to totally weird and creepy. So the best way is just totally cut it off at the beginning. If he asks you anything at all about something non-work-related, just go “Just a second, I’ll be right back” or “I was just on the way to the bathroom” or “Sorry, I have someone on hold.” Out at a bar with the group might be harder. If he tries to pull you off into a private conversation, go “Oh, I was really trying to listen to what Judy was saying” or “Huh.” and turn back to the group. But you can’t give him even one scrap of ammunition. Unfortunately there’s no way you can keep other people from telling him things about you. They either are totally clueless, don’t see those boundaries about not telling people other people’s business, or feel cornered and awkward themselves. But you can completely disallow any personal discussions between him and you.

Play his exact game—don’t do anything that could be construed as outright rude, but just maybe a little bit off, or uncommon. Anyone who gets what you’re doing will also have to get what he is doing.

You want the rest of your coworkers/club members to be aware of what is going on, to notice Weird Guy’s weird behavior, but also to see that you are completely unaffected, you have no clue that there is anything weird or awkward or possibly crushy about his behavior. Don’t bring it up with anyone else, don’t complain about him, don’t give the slightest whiff that you think his attentions might be in any way romantic.
posted by thebazilist at 2:08 PM on May 10, 2011 [4 favorites]

My suggestion in case you decide you don't want to avoid directly confronting this guy -

Cancel the next meeting b/c of a fake conflict and tell whomever invited the guy not to invite him to the meeting you re-schedule. Explain you don't want to spend your time away from work with him b/c he's made you uncomfortable in the past and leave it at that.

If that person insists on continuing to invite creepy old dude, don't invite him/her to the re-scheduled meeting and explain to the other members that s/he insisted on bringing creepy dude to the club and it made you uncomfortable.

I think if you give a minimal explanation to the people already in the club they'll be on your side, and you won't have to directly confront the weirdo.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 2:13 PM on May 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I see that people are assuming that WG is asking you personal questions, but you say he is asking other coworkers. Ask your coworkers not to tell him anything more about you. You absolutly have a right to privacy, and that stood out to me, especially since he is so much older. Thats creepy, and none of his business.
posted by annsunny at 2:20 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

On a tangential note, was Weird Guy accidentally invited? Or, I dunno, invited out of courtesy? Are you comfortable enough with Coworker that invited Weird Guy to discuss this problem? Because maybe you need to un-invite Coworker also.

Sounds like an awesome club, though.
posted by jabberjaw at 3:31 PM on May 10, 2011

I would cancel a couple of meetings for some random reason or another (family, house stuff, whatever). Then declare that, you know what, you are just too busy to be running the club, would someone else be willing to take over your responsibilities? Then you can come and go as you like. Also, if weird guy thinks that you've quit the club he might stop going.

This is terrible, passive-aggressive advice. You need to let him know that what he's doing is inappropriate. Don't let his behavior force you into not doing something you enjoy. Tell him to knock it off.

It may be passive aggressive, but I think it's realistic. This is the OP's job. A job I assume she cares about and it sounds like the weird guy is probably significantly senior to her at work. I personally wouldn't risk making an enemy at work over this. Especially with someone that creeps me out and has already demonstrated they are capable of inappropriate behavior. You just don't know what he will do. Don't get me wrong, there is a line where I would file a complaint, but this isn't it. You can't rely on HR to believe you or protect you. They might, but you can't rely on it. HR exists to protect the company, not the employee.

If this were purely a social situation, yeah I would tell him to back off, but it's not and in the real world, unfortunately, not everyone handles straight forward rejection well. Especially the creeps.
posted by whoaali at 3:47 PM on May 10, 2011

I'd get some mild pleasure in a little private freak-out on him, but then again I speak my mind to creepy, irritating people when they deserve it, but not all are so bold as I. It's so liberating though.

"(Weird Coworker), I have to talk to you. Don't think I haven't noticed your habits of staring, sitting next to me when there's any opportunity, blushing, asking coworkers about my personal life, and so on. You're making me really uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that I've been thinking about not coming to beer club anymore, the club I CREATED.
And that's just total bullshit, that I have to put up with this. You're married and old enough to be my dad, my grandpa even, and I don't know what you think you're trying to pull here. So just knock it off already. If this keeps up, you're not welcome here anymore."

and just walk away, don't even let him get a word in edgewise. Hopefully this embarasses him enough to not come back, or he stops being such a creep, or you tell the other group members if it persists and one of them can tell him to officially leave for you, he had his chance. Either way, win-win-win.

Creepy people like this are most often harmless, socially oblivious creeps, so really unless you've got an inkling your safety is at risk (in which case, go to HR), you just have to be clear and direct with them. Your discomfort would have been already read by someone who comprehends subtlety.
posted by lizbunny at 3:54 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

How about saying : "you remind me of my grandfather, in some ways." Because often a guy like this just needs to be reminded about what reality really is.
posted by uans at 5:03 PM on May 10, 2011

I should have added, and if this doesn't work the very first time, just keep it up--ask about his grandchildren, etc., etc. You can be very polite while simultaneously calling him on the behaviour making you uncomfortable: "I notice you're staring at me--do I remind you of a grand-daughter? Because you remind me of my grandfather." I'll be very surprised if this doesn't work.
posted by uans at 5:17 PM on May 10, 2011

* I said it was okay to invite other people, but that we should try to keep the group small.

Here's another passive aggressive suggestion for you. Solicit more interest, look at the 15 people who showed up, announce, "wow it looks like we need two beer clubs!" and designate WG as the leader of the other club. :)

Hmm, okay, maybe not. I'd probably just avoid WG and not do too much to hide my annoyance from him. I'd bet you can outlast him.
posted by salvia at 5:46 PM on May 10, 2011

You all have given me a lot to think about - thank you! It's clear to me now that I'm concentrating on the wrong thing. I'll start addressing his behaviors when they happen, because it's not okay. He's quasi-management, which does make it a bit trickier, but still, I can stand up for myself.

As for the beer club, I'll let the coworker who invited him know that I was thinking we should keep it to the younger folks. If that doesn't work, I'll speak to Weird Coworker directly.

So, it's options 1, 2, and 5, with 5 being the most important part. Again, thanks. Your responses were very helpful.
posted by punchtothehead at 7:39 PM on May 10, 2011

It's not clear from your post how Weird said Coworker is. A lot depends on how overt the staring is and how personal the questions are. Blushing in your presence is not harassment.

It's also not clear how you currently interact with this coworker and how you respond to his behavior. If he were some guy in a bar, being aggressive in a "I know what you're doing, you creeper," way would be fine. But this is at work; being tactful matters. I think thebazilist has the right tone. Staring can be met with a "You look intent, is there something in my hair?" and personal questions with "Oh, that's personal," and a change of subject.

Give him a chance to change his behavior without losing face - not because you care about his tender feelings, but because it'll reduce the chance of him becoming defensive/hostile and causing an even more uncomfortable work environment. It doesn't sound like his behavior is a fire-able offense, so expect that you'll be working with him indefinitely and act accordingly. And definitely go to your beer club, sounds like fun!
posted by orangejenny at 7:41 PM on May 10, 2011

just call him on his behavoiur in front of people

I'd like to encourage you to work out a solution that preserves his dignity. He may be making you uncomfortable, and in front of your peers, but shaming him in front of those peers is not a mature or even decent approach. This will apply doubly if it turns out he's not doing it intentionally, or is acting through cluelessness rather than malice.

Perhaps a careful but direct discussion with Invitee, the key points of which you know will make it back to Weird Coworker, could give you a way out that avoids direct confrontation and public humiliation.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:50 PM on May 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

In my personal experience, you will seem like a complete nutso if you ask people not to tell this guy your business. They probably think they are just gossiping harmlessly, like they would with anyone and about anyone. If there are things about you that are common knowledge (the neighborhood you live in, where you're from, the kinds of food you like, whether you're married) and these things come up in conversations that he's participating in, he is going to find out and creep on them. I mean what can you say? "Hey Mike, I know that I mentioned to you last week at lunch that I knit sometimes, but if you happen to be talking to Weird Guy and people's crafting hobbies come up, could you please not tell him?" All you can do is not allow him to use those tidbits to launch off into some kind of imagined intimacy with you in conversation.

Oh and I forgot to mention that I HATE the person who invited him for you.
posted by thebazilist at 1:02 PM on May 11, 2011

I agree with these last few posts: my guess is that if you took 35 years off Weird Coworker, you would see his behaviour as a lot less weird and scary. As a woman, I know how creepy it is when someone old enough to be your father, much less your grandfather, shows that kind of interest in you. But keep this in mind--he doesn't think he's being creepy. As far as he's concerned, he's just showing--or not hiding--his romantic interest in you. (Adulterous, yeah, but to him, evidently, that's not creepy.) Because he doesn't realize how he looks to a young woman. There is nothing to gain by calling him out on his behaviour in front of others, and there may be a lot to lose. The next time he sits down next to you, get into a conversation with him--and make it clear-- gently, nicely, that you think he is a very nice OLD man. (That's why I suggested the grandfather bit.) Get him to talk about his wife and his kids. Get that 'romantic' fantasy out of his head--and my guess is you won't have to see him at these evenings anymore, without any confrontations.
posted by uans at 1:26 PM on May 11, 2011

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