How to talk to co-worker about invasive behavior
September 27, 2017 6:42 AM   Subscribe

When stressed, my co-worker likes to walk around the office and blow bubbles at the rest of us. I really fuckinghate this and find it incredibly presumptuous (I'm not stressed when you are), selfish and distracting. Everyone else in the office seems to be ok with it. It's not an issue that she blows bubbles, just that she leans over our cubicle walls and blows bubbles, which get all in my face and/or computer monitor. She is not a supervisor, but works about in a different department in our open office plan. She definitely seems to view herself as helping office morale or stress. How do I talk to her about ceasing to blow bubbles into my cubicle, while still feeling free to blow them on others, without coming off as the office kill joy?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (37 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Send her an email and tell her you really don't like bubbles and to just stop blowing them on you, nothing personal.
posted by mareli at 6:48 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Will she retaliate if you ask her politely to stop, as in going around badmouthing you to coworkers for not enjoying this? Otherwise, a friendly, private "please stop" should be enough to get her to leave you alone.
posted by Crystal Fox at 6:53 AM on September 27, 2017

Hi Sara! Do you mind blowing those over here? (Point to open area that is not your cubicle). That way I can enjoy them more and they won't get on my monitor. Thanks!

How's everything going in the x department?
posted by bunderful at 6:57 AM on September 27, 2017 [16 favorites]

Why are you worried about being the office killjoy? She's the one violating the social contract, not you. Tell her nicely, "Please don't blow bubbles at me, I don't like it." Reiterate a few times if she protests, then let it go. Next time, be a little sharper, maybe "Didn't you hear me? I asked you not to do that to me anymore." If there's a third time, that's when you raise your voice and/or loop in your supervisors.

You have a reasonable request and you deserve to have it honored.
posted by disconnect at 6:58 AM on September 27, 2017 [38 favorites]

This sounds like something she does out of a completely childish and bizarre need for attention. I would not think twice about sending her an email and politely asking her to stop blowing bubbles at me.
posted by cakelite at 6:59 AM on September 27, 2017 [27 favorites]

Oh, I'm sorry, I have a soap allergy, this is a no bubble zone. Feel free to enjoy it over there.....
posted by Jubey at 7:00 AM on September 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

Since she thinks she's relieving office stress, can you appeal on those grounds, e.g., "Maureen, I know the bubbles are festive and lighthearted, but they're stressing me out because all I can think about is them making my stuff sticky when they pop. If you could skip over my cubicle when you make your bubble rounds, that would help me out alot. Thanks!"
posted by carmicha at 7:00 AM on September 27, 2017 [9 favorites]

For the record, this is classic manic pixie bullshit. You can also have your supervisor talk to her supervisor, protecting your identity, natch. I bet a lot of your coworkers merely tolerate the bubbles, not enjoy them. Once, maybe it's cute, but on the regular? No way.
posted by carmicha at 7:04 AM on September 27, 2017 [75 favorites]

Just tell her to stop. Not politely, not in a friendly way. Tell her like a dog jumping on the furniture.
posted by thelonius at 7:07 AM on September 27, 2017 [11 favorites]

I bet a lot of your coworkers merely tolerate the bubbles, not enjoy them. Once, maybe it's cute, but on the regular? No way.

This. You aren't the only one. We had a similar problem in my office, and we'd all like to buy a cake for whoever complained to HR and got it stopped.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 7:08 AM on September 27, 2017 [56 favorites]

This is bizarre, but if it's really well tolerated elsewhere in your office, I would probably just lay it out and say "I don't want to be the office killjoy, and I'm probably just weird, but would you mind not blowing bubbles in my cubicle? Thanks!"
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:15 AM on September 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

I would put a big oscillating fan on my desk, but I'm passive-aggressive that way. A flat, direct "Please don't do that" is probably a better solution.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:17 AM on September 27, 2017 [10 favorites]

If I was in this situation, I would straight-up tell her to knock it off with those annoying bubbles, but I work in cultures where that kind of directness is accepted.

You know your cultural setting better than I do, so you can roll your chosen phrasing in as much sugar as you like, but her behaviour is bizarre and unprofessional, and you should feel free to plainly tell her to quit it.
posted by nerdfish at 7:21 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm guessing murder isn't an option? This would drive me batshit.

"Vanessa, this is distracting me, please don't do it in my cube anymore."
posted by AFABulous at 7:26 AM on September 27, 2017 [12 favorites]

I doubt very much that other people are really OK with it. Carmicha is right - "manic pixie bullshit." It's only entertaining if you're living in a movie. People in the real world are not impressed. You are not a killjoy. You are a grown-up.

Probably the simplest solution would be to tell her, "Please don't do that anymore." You don't need to give her an explanation, but if she asks, just say "I don't like it." Unless she's a very difficult person, that should end it. If it doesn't, talk to your supervisor.
posted by FencingGal at 7:35 AM on September 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

If it were me I'd probably say something like "What the fuck? fucking stop it, that's really fucking annoying. Go fucking do that outside, with the other fucking six year olds. Fuck. "
posted by bondcliff at 7:49 AM on September 27, 2017 [33 favorites]

I think that probably everyone else in your office hates it too but won't allow themselves to reveal their true feelings. IMHO, you shouldn't have to talk to her at all! This is management's and HR's call. They are the ones to make/enforce workplace rules and make sure expensive equipment is being maintained properly (re: the bubble stuff getting on computers). I can't believe someone is so self-centered as this to think this is the way to help with workplace stress.
posted by DixieBaby at 8:08 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Whoa, this sounds really annoying, but that doesn't mean the best response is vicious rudeness. Definitely address this via HR/management, if you think that would be effective in your workplace. But if you think HR/management wouldn't work--maybe this woman is in HR!--then try a polite email first and escalate from there if necessary. Email is probably better, since it's both more private (and therefore less embarrassing for her) and you have a paper trail if the reaction is anything other than polite and accommodating.

"Hey Sara, I appreciate the thought but the bubbles really don't work for me. Could you please skip my cubicle next time? Thanks!"
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:21 AM on September 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

1. she's awful and deserves a sharp reproach. BUT
2. stuff like this tends to backfire on the adult in the room who speaks out
3. so try once with one of the sugar coated word tracks here like "I don't like my monitor getting sticky, please don't blow them in here kay?"
4. after that, HR if possible
5. if HR not possible then sharpen your tone and make it clear you're not on board the manic pixie bubble train.
6. god damn people are weird and awful aren't they? damn.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:36 AM on September 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

This person sounds annoying and like they desperately need attention, which is a trait I cannot stand. I sympathize with you. I would first send an email -- I have trouble saying things like this to someone's face and it will create a paper trail. If she keeps it up, then you can go to HR and say "I asked her to stop on September 27 and she won't. It's disrupting me from doing my work."

Possible email: "Hi Jane, I appreciate what you're doing with the bubbles to keep things light-hearted and relieve stress, but the disruption has the opposite effect on me if you wouldn't mind skipping my cubicle in the future. Thanks!"

I worked with a guy who used to blast classical music at his desk for the end of the work day, despite working in an office with an open floor plan layout. I found it so rude that he didn't just use headphones and distracting, so I honestly just started working at home because my boss didn't care if I worked from home. If you can work remotely, I'd recommend that too.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:42 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Do not claim allergies you don't have. It makes it harder for people with real allergies to be taken seriously when there's an example of "Maggie is allergic to soap but she was ok with bubbles in her face for six months".
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:48 AM on September 27, 2017 [19 favorites]

You have to say something to her before you do anything else! The easiest way to soft-pedal a request that someone not do something really really annoying is to pretend like *you're* the weird one for not liking it. "Oh Jane, I'm sorry but could you not blow bubbles around me? I just have a weird thing about people blowing bubbles at me during work." (Obviously this is an insane sentence to have to say and she is the one in the wrong! But who cares, the main thing is you want her to stop doing it to you.)

Start by asking her like an adult (despite the fact that she shows no evidence of being and adult), and then if she doesn't stop you can escalate. But going straight to either rudeness or management is probably going to be counterproductive.
posted by mskyle at 8:49 AM on September 27, 2017 [16 favorites]

I would let her blow bubbles in my direction one more time and then fall to the floor shrieking MY EYE!! MY EYE IS BURNING!!! WHY WOULD YOU BLOW SOAP IN MY EYE?!? while rolling around dramatically and covering my face with my hands.

I work from home and have trouble getting along in office settings so ymmv here
posted by little mouth at 8:50 AM on September 27, 2017 [19 favorites]

Yeah, please feel free to think all the angry/irritated thoughts you want toward this person while talking to them but keep it light and breezy at least initially for the sake of office harmony. Not so much for the bubble blower (because fuck them, really) but for the sake of your own officemates - like, it's not at all pleasant to have to listen to a coworker suddenly going all aggro on an annoying-but-ultimately-harmless woman even if you quietly agree with them.
posted by btfreek at 9:18 AM on September 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

So, uh... I did this. A lot. In my previous job. I wasn't a supervisor, but my role did often require that I walk the floor to answer questions, and sign off on certain things. I blew bubbles because a.) I thought they were fun, and smelled like grapes. b.) people seemed to like them, and c.) because, to me, I thought it kind of diffused the hover-y, micromanage-ish nature of what I had to do. BUT, I would never do it at somebody whom I didn't know at least sort of well.

It turns out, however, that one person whom I was acquainted with, but didn't know on a close, personal level hadn't really been enjoying it. After a few weeks, they pulled me aside just before the end of a day, and told me in a very honest and friendly way that they found it distracting and unprofessional. I apologized and stopped immediately after that. I was sad that I had been bothering them, and that they hadn't told me sooner!

I would hope that this person in your office is just clueless, and will respect your perfectly reasonable right to be able to work comfortably, and without distractions. If this isn't a conversation that goes "Could you please stop? It bothers me" "I'm so sorry! I won't do it again.", it's time to go to HER manager.
posted by Krazor at 9:29 AM on September 27, 2017 [27 favorites]

Yikes. I would throttle my kid if I caught her blowing bubbles indoors. Why isn't her supervisor shutting this junk down?

I would take a middle road between the "go outside with the other fucking six-year-olds" and "Oh, pretty please, could you skip my cubicle?" I would bet it will still drive you nuts even if she does skip it. You will still be aware and it will still be a distraction. I think the tone you want is a totally professional one. Pretend you are in late middle age and having to go next door to tell some students to turn down their party noise at 3am on a Wednesday -- you are the adult, she is the child; you are wholly in the right and she in the wrong; soft-pedalling will just suggest that it's not really a big deal, I fear. Playing at Authoritative Grown-Up seems to be the most effective way of shutting down kiddie stuff.

I would have a couple of conversations with my chummiest co-workers, discover that they too were irritated beyond belief (only the world's most chill individual and lax employee would be amused by this going on on a regular basis), and send an e-mail saying "Hi, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but, I and others in the office find the bubbles messy, and extremely distracting. They land on monitors, they make things sticky; they just don't work well in an office environment. That said, I am sure people will not object to occasional lunchtime offers to go outside with you to blow off -- ha ha! -- some stress with you and bubble liquid. Kind regards, You."

And then just escalate if that doesn't shut it down. (And if you find out others are seriously pissed, ask them to e-mail or leave a Post-It on her monitor. Polite but firm stuff.)

I almost want to tell you to glitter-bomb her cube and leave her with an enormous mess to clean up but realise that that is not a professional way of handling this.

Warning: you may need to get a boss in on it ASAP. I used to know a somewhat odd lady who was totally incapable of sending a card -- and she liked to send cards -- without filling it with glitter and confetti and shit. People posted the "ship your enemies glitter" site to her FB wall a lot when that came out, clearly as a hint. She just bubbled on about what a wonderful place the world is. We learned to carefully open her cards over the trash, quickly scan, and immediately bag them securely and pitch them. No matter what anyone told her -- hey, we appreciated the thought but I am really busy with a baby and do not want to get glitter in her eye or have to abandon everything to clean up a mess before she gets into it, sorry -- she was totally convinced she was doing a delightful thing and only the grumpiest person in the world would not enjoy a bloody mess, and the grumpy people could be made un-grumpy via...more glitter. As far as I know she still thinks it is a charming practice.
posted by kmennie at 9:34 AM on September 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

"Hey, could you please stop doing that? Thanks."

That should do it. This doesn't have to be complicated.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:01 AM on September 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


At work, it's not truly possible to be annoying yet harmless. Annoyingness (particularly of the attention-seeking variety) tolerated is harmful to everyone around you because they have to go home every day and wonder why someone else's BS is tolerated while everyone else is under continual pressure to be nothing but professional and anodyne 24/7 so that they don't put their livelihood at risk. It's exhausting to be around.

If you're my colleague and you do this kind of Manic Pixie nonsense on a regular basis, I'll be cordial to you only because I have to be, but that doesn't mean that I don't think you're entitled. If I have reason to suspect you're an entitled person, believe me, it'll be harmful to my professional respect for you.
posted by blerghamot at 10:02 AM on September 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

If she's any kind of a decent human being, she should be receptive to a request to kindly knock it off. There's no way to avoid the risk of things getting awkward, but if you want to at least try and minimize it, you might try just getting her attention one day and saying something like "hey, I know bubbles bring you joy, but it actually adds to my stress levels to have them blowing into my cubicle, so could you please not?"

If she doesn't stop after a single polite request, then, well, she's a selfish jerk. She's basically spreading out into everyone else's personal space and not caring about it. Moreover, I wouldn't say bubbles are "harmless" in an office environment anyway; they could get in people's food, smudge up monitors, possibly damage paper or other materials, etc. I frankly think her supervisors may not be doing their own job if they're unaware of this and not acting to shut it down.

FWIW, I've had experience having to confront colleagues about stuff in this general neighborhood of annoying; one guy has a habit of taking brisk exercise-walks through the building on breaks, and while he actually *isn't* doing this for attention, but rather, just for health and a change of scenery throughout the day, it was still getting on my nerves. He would jog-walk through labs and other zones that he didn't actually work in himself, and would be edging close to equipment and circling around right behind/past staff who WERE actually working in the labs. This was both distracting and a safety risk, so he and I had a conversation about it, and it actually went really well; he re-routed his walk breaks and agreed never to try and squeeze past me from behind when he had no reason to be in that room anyway. It hasn't been an issue since, and we still get along fine. So these conversations CAN go well, some people really are just oblivious to the very idea that their actions could be annoying anyone, and respond well to discussion.
posted by aecorwin at 10:13 AM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

Bubble time. Glance up I'm in the middle of something and need to focus. Did she stop? No weird comments about you being a grump? Good. Next time just say It's distracting, please skip my cube, thanks.. If there's any push back, you address it with your manager first, When A does the bubble thing, it's really distracting, I often have to clean my monitor, the office gets noisy, it's disruptive, etc. I was on a phone call with a customer and it was difficult to explain. . If you catch any grief, look hear in the eye and say I need you to respect my personal space and allow me to get work done. It's always better to start with calm politeness and save the bigger guns.
posted by theora55 at 10:25 AM on September 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

I would do a hand up in a "stop" gesture and say with a smile, "Oh, no bubbles, thanks. They make my keyboard sticky."

If she comes back with "I won't blow them on your keyboard!," lose the smile and say "I don't want them in my cube at all." End of conversation, turn back to your work.
posted by lakeroon at 12:59 PM on September 27, 2017 [6 favorites]

Wow, management should have nipped this in the bud; they dropped the ball allowing this and leaving anyone who doesn't like it to fend for themselves. You're not the only one who finds it annoying. I guess you have to be the hero.

Do be polite (not so fakey nice that you seem passive aggressive, but calm, professional, light.) Swearing or scolding backfire on you so fast you won't know what hit you-- nobody will remember the annoying disruptive unprofessional bubble thing, they'll remember you "attacking out of nowhere" or some other such bs. Give her a chance to do the right thing.
posted by kapers at 3:58 PM on September 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

"Hey, could you not? It makes my stuff all sticky."

I have been straight up SHOCKED at how well 'could you not' in a pleasant tone of voice has served me.
posted by Space Kitty at 4:43 PM on September 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

I like the "could you not?" approach above. I'd do it with a smile and a hand up, palm facing outward the first time, and with a frown and the same "stop" gesture the second time. The third time, I'd pull out the mini "anti-smoker" fan I keep in my desk drawer for use during heat waves and blow those bubbles back into her entitled face (with a smile, of course). If that didn't work, I'd go to the supervisor and tell them to do their jobs and shut this crap down.
posted by rpfields at 4:53 PM on September 27, 2017

When she gets to your cube, smile and say, "No bubbles, please. I'm just not a fan."

It's polite but direct, and it doesn't leave any room for negotiation on her part.
posted by mama casserole at 6:57 AM on September 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

In your place, I'd be able to honestly say that having stuff happening around my head or my face makes me nervous. If you can state as a fact that the bubbles are having such-and-such a negative effect on you, you don't have to sound judgmental. You don't have to act apologetic or engage in a lot of explaining. Just, this is how it's bothering you and you need it to stop.

I'd be feeling judgmental in this situation, for sure. What an irritating thing to do, getting into people's space like that. What if people wear glasses and they have to take them off and wipe soap on them?
posted by BibiRose at 8:24 AM on September 28, 2017

No bubbles please, they make me stabby. Except not the second part.
posted by zippy at 10:01 AM on October 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

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