The Quiet Man and Knocky Guy at My Office
July 8, 2014 6:17 AM   Subscribe

Short version: new coworker stands in my doorway not saying a word while I am at my computer until I notice him and another coworker bangs on doorway while barging in. Can I do anything about these two?

A new coworker, different department than me, regularly comes to my office and stands in the doorway. With the way my monitor and computer is set up, looking away so the doorway is at my 7 oclock, he may stand there for a second or it may be a minute or two before I notice him - actually I usually have no idea how long he's there until I get that tingly sense something is not right. It's feels creepy and rude to me. If he's waiting for me to finish what I'm doing and not interrupt, how would he ever know when I'm finished (I have to spend a lot of time looking at the screen). Why not say "Hey, if you're not busy I have a question.", knock, or cough or do something? Do I need to tell him to knock it off or rearrange my office furniture?...

Another coworker does the opposite. He raps the door loudly without saying hello while walking in and rummaging through shelves or drawers getting a tool or CD. He does this throughout the day and I know he's just checking to see what I am doing. It's (perhaps) more aggravating than Quiet Guy but for some reason I am so used to it now I tend to ignore him, but it still gets to me. He doesn't walk into other coworkers offices this way. He will occasionally walk by the office without stopping in so I know he's checking on me (I'm at the dead-end of a hallway - there is nowhere else to go).

I of course have a door I can close but it's a heavy, solid wood door, that's very noisy when it's closed, and 99% of the staff here don't shut their doors, so I don't really want to go that route. The rest of the staff, even my boss, knock and wait outside (or some variation), until I greet them. These two though...they are something else.

I know that no office environment is perfect but this stuff gets old and is distracting for me when I'm trying to focus on my job. Any suggestions!? (I have no idea what category to put this question in)...
posted by bellastarr to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'd say "Hey Quiet Guy, I sometimes get startled when you're standing there quietly. I know you just don't want to interrupt my thinking if I'm busy, but it's better for my train of thought if you quietly knock to let me know you're there. Thanks so much. I appreciate it. "

"Hey Noisy Guy, I sometimes get startled and lose my train of thought when you come in to the office when I'm thinking. I'd really appreciate it if you knocked quietly and waited for me so I don't lose valuable trains of thought any more. Thanks so much, I appreciate it. "
posted by taff at 6:24 AM on July 8, 2014 [17 favorites]

A note or sign of some kind that says "please knock" and enforcement/reminders when contravened would solve both issues.
posted by Sternmeyer at 6:25 AM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have a door stander in my office too. I just ignore him. I've seen him stand there for more than five minutes, just waiting for I don't know what. I just figure that if he wants something, he can ask for it, if not, I'll keep working.
posted by sanka at 6:25 AM on July 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hang a sign that says:

Please Knock First, then Wait Here.

If it fits your style, put a handwritten smiley face on the sign. The idea being that you're not making a huge deal about this, but you are putting these two on notice in a friendly way that this is how you will handle office traffic.

Then, when they ignore the sign, don't make a big deal out of it, but say in a teasing way, with a little smile in your eyes, "did you see the sign?" Don't be afraid to interrupt whatever they are saying. It will take a couple of times before they learn to anticipate being interrupted and get that they can forestall the interruption by knocking first and waiting. Be patient and don't make a huge thing out of it, but do give them a small amount of friction.
posted by gauche at 6:25 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

For this reason I hate having my back to the door. Wherever my office or cubicle, the first think I do is rearrange the office so I am facing the door. Eliminates all the above issues.
posted by wile e at 6:27 AM on July 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

I feel your pain! My office doorway is also at 7 o'clock and I am extremely easily startled. In my experience, sneaky silent doorway standers will be deterred by your shiny new monitor rear view mirror.
posted by divined by radio at 6:28 AM on July 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yelp every time they do their thing as to show you are easily startled because you are
so focused. I have both of those guys too and they learned themselves how to approach without scaring the bajeezus out of me.

ETA: with the obnoxious knocker I make it a bit more of a show. Hand on chest, "Argg, you scared me". Subtle guy picked up on a more subtle reaction.
posted by Snackpants at 6:41 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think taff has it right. Just explain to them that what they're doing is annoying and distracting - they probably don't even realize that they're being obnoxious (some people are a little oblivious). You'll be doing everyone involved a favor: you'll be able to work in more peace, they'll learn a valuable new social skill, and everyone they work with in the future will benefit as well.

If you're looking for a more casual script than taff's, you might use:

"Hi there! [genuine smile] When you stop by, could you please not [barge right in/hover creepily]? It's a little distracting. It'd be great if you could knock and wait for me to say "hi." Thanks! Now, what can I do for ya?"
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:43 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

We have a similar setup here at my employer. We have corner desks, therefore it's impossible to put the computer anywhere on the desk and be able to face the door while working.

Fortunately, people either knock or say something before entering my office.

I've seen some people put little mirrors on the top corner of their screens. I have no idea where they buy these mirrors, but I think in a polite office environment one shouldn't have to use a mirror.

Since there seem to only be two offenders, it's easy to address both of them individually, as taff says above. Only put up a sign if the behavior persists after this.

Do you share your office with someone else? (At my employer, offices are typically shared by two people, though this is not always the case.) Possibly, you can have your officemate inform you of Quiet Guy's presence if you miss him.
posted by tckma at 6:43 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, another vote for a mirror. Although depending on your office, you could be more subtle about it. I personally have framed pictures hung in my office -- I don't think a framed mirror would look that unusual as office decor, assuming that you're allowed to hang things on the wall. Mirrors are generally cheap at any thrift store, too.
posted by pie ninja at 6:43 AM on July 8, 2014

Having been so painfully shy in the past that I was terrified of interrupting someone I have probably been the Stander. A friendly "Listen, don't worry, just knock when you want my attention as I'm often so engrossed I won't even see you there!" might be enough to resolve that one.

For Bargey McBargerson a couple of firm "I'm just in the middle of something, I'll give you a shout when I'm free"s should hopefully be enough to reinforce your space.
posted by billiebee at 6:57 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Quiet Guy is exactly why monitor mirrors were invented. The issues with Knocky Guy should definitely be discussed with your boss.
posted by 0 at 7:03 AM on July 8, 2014

Best answer: Phrase it like you're trying to be helpful to them:

For the Stander (per billiebee above): "I appreciate your trying not to interrupt, but no need to wait for me to see you, just knock."

For the Barger: "Hey, just knock when you need something, I'm happy to grab it for you."

Given the Barger has a different ulterior motive (checking up on you) I suspect he's the harder problem to solve. I wonder if you can give him less of an excuse to come in by storing right outside your office the supplies that he always seems to be coming to fetch.
posted by Dragonness at 7:10 AM on July 8, 2014 [10 favorites]

Rearrange the office so the shelves are less accessible to Barger. That behavior is just rude.
posted by theora55 at 8:19 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Lots of useful suggestions in this other thread, including getting a partition set up upon which you can add your knock sign.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 8:37 AM on July 8, 2014

Stander is probably socially awkward / unsure of new office protocol / unwilling to interrupt, so give him the benefit of the doubt. He can probably be solved in a friendly way. Next time it happens, try "I didn't see you there. You can knock when you need me." Unless he's weird, he'll probably be relieved to have you establish some procedures.

Barger is a problem. If he legitimately needs to fetch things from your office, then place those things near the doorway (or outside the doorway!), so he can access them without bothering you. If the fetching is just a bogus pretext, you absolutely need to push back. Start polite, get firm if it continues, escalate to his boss if necessary. Calling him on the random walk-bys-- "Can I help you with something, {Barger}?-- will also make it clear that he's not as sneaky as he thinks.

This sort of thing would drive me nuts, and I wouldn't be comfortable until I rearranged my desk to prevent surprises.
posted by ejbenjamin at 8:41 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Why is Barger keeping an eye on you? He's not your supervisor, right?

I agree with ejbenjamin -- that behavior needs to be confronted directly. I get a whiff of bully from this guy. Walk-bys are a grey area, and not something you can really control; but his intrusive behavior in your immediate space is something you can set boundaries on.

I think a good first step would be to remove his incentives/excuses to come barging into your space. If the tools and CDs are company property that he or anyone else needs access to on a regular basis, they should be moved to a less disruptive location. If the tools/CDs are in your office because they are your primary tools of the trade -- say if you are in IT, and are the official keeper of software and screwdrivers and stuff -- then he should be requesting those tools in advance via email or something, since you yourself might need them at the same time.
posted by nacho fries at 9:38 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it sounds to me that Barger's problem is not lack of manners/understanding social conventions, but bullying. Are you one of the only/a few women in your office? From what you've said it has the feeling of dude pushing around a female coworker because he can. I think you'll need to be more assertive with him, rather than soft-pedaling. Quiet Guy sounds more awkward or like he has a habit that just doesn't work for you, especially given your office setup, so could be approached with a polite request (backed up by a rearview mirror) that he not do that.
posted by katemonster at 10:16 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

My Dad had a door code at his office:

Open-Come right on in!

Ajar-Knock first


Perhaps you can hang up a sign and leave your door ajar. Everyone should get it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:19 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Per katemonster's comment, I was wondering if there is some sort of gender-based monkey business going on with Barger as well. I've known a few Bargers in my day, and they were operating under a false sense of entitlement: thinking they were either entitled to intrude or do obvious walk-bys in order to get an ogle in (so gross, but not uncommon), or that THEIR work was more important than whatever little missy here (me) happened to be doing, so OF COURSE they should just barge right in and grab what they felt was their due. Gross attitude, and even me getting my back up and confronting it directly wasn't sufficient -- it eventually required my manager putting the tools in his (my manager's) office so the barger would have to think twice before being obnoxious. If you have an even vaguely sympathetic supervisor, you could run the situation by him/her, couching it as you wanting to be more productive by reducing interruptions, and see what solution he/she comes up with.
posted by nacho fries at 11:32 AM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been Quiet Man (well, Quiet Woman in my case).

The reason I do it is that, in most cases, it works as intended. Our office layout is such that, when I stand in someone's doorway, I'm either at 2:30 o'clock from someone sitting at their desk or at 9:30. This places me in most people's peripheral vision, and what usually happens is that they finish the sentence they're typing at their computer, look up, notice me and talk to me. Which is what I'm trying to achieve - getting their attention without startling them or compelling them to drop everything they're doing.

(The one person who this doesn't work with is my boss - I genuinely believe he's oblivious to me standing there. I've given up on showing up in his office unannounced - if it's Something That Needs To Be Dealt With Right Now I'll phone him, and for everything else I just e-mail. He usually replies to his e-mail within minutes.)

If Quiet Man is like me in any way he'd be mortified to find out that his behaviour bothers you, and he'd be very grateful if you told him what you'd prefer him to do.
posted by rjs at 11:52 AM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

If he's waiting for me to finish what I'm doing and not interrupt, how would he ever know when I'm finished

Hi! I'm a frequent door stander! I know when you're finished because you finish and then ask me what's up. I wait because some people I work with are doing things that require concentration and don't like their train of thought being broken in the middle of it by people interrupting. It's not always clear who needs to concentrate, when, so I defer that to you.

It sounds like the problem is he's not aware that you're not able to see him very well. so, communication! Perhaps "I often don't see you waiting there - you should knock so I don't inadvertently ignore you."
I prefer to know your preferences than have to guess.

I just ignore him. I've seen him stand there for more than five minutes, just waiting for I don't know what. I just figure that if he wants something, he can ask for it, if not, I'll keep working.

This is a passive aggressive approach, and passive aggression makes the workplace worse for everyone. Communication clears up miscommunication. Passive aggressive game-playing lets things go toxic. We spend too much of our lives at work to shit in the pool that we have to swim in all day. Communicate.
posted by anonymisc at 4:27 PM on July 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

When my Dad was in the Navy, he had a remote toggle switch by his desk that switched on either a red light or a green light outside his stateroom/office. The label on the red light said "Knock, then wait for permission to enter." Green light said "Knock, then enter." Disobeying the light without prior authorization could result in harm to your career, though, because orders from the boss have substantial force of law.

Every once in a while I think I should build a replica of this light (not least because it was in a fantastic brass fixture with big huge lights installed in the 1960s) because I too have a mix of timid and temerarious coworkers, both of whom are just different reactions to the fact that, since I wear my headset all day, they just don't know if i'm on the phone or not (and therefore they should go elsewhere. My desk is far enough away that I can't just manage the door all day.

My advice is this: put up a sign, and enforce the sign with an iron fist for your peers and juniors, and with a velvet glove for your seniors. The sign should tell people what you expect at your door. Start out nice: "I'm getting interrupted too often so I need people/you to knock, then enter" (or whatever is the right policy for you). To everyone who asks, you can say something that amounts to "This isn't about you, this policy was brought because other people can't respect my time... but I know you can."
posted by Sunburnt at 5:55 PM on July 8, 2014

A subtle way to have a mirror on your computer: make part of your desktop background black.

A former cubicle-dweller
posted by limeonaire at 7:28 PM on July 8, 2014

nerf gun

ok more seriously - the mirror idea is a great idea to know when quiet guy is there. For the bargy guy, I would clean out my office as much as possible - any cd or tool you don't need all the time gets stored in another part of the office, and stuff you do need all the time goes into a drawer. The next time he comes in to look for stuff, tell him that you moved it so that he won't have to interrupt you all the time. Don't be shy about telling him directly that he is interrupting you - he's taking advantage of the fact that you have (so far) been too polite to call him on it.

and if he still does it it's nerf gun time.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 8:11 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

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