I have a senior colleague at work with whom I do not wish to talk. He makes it a point to come over and talk to me despite me giving him a very clear cold shoulder. He stands there even when I have ignored him and waits to talk to me. It makes me feel quite uneasy and irritated. He is older than me, I think he is about 50 yrs old.

Earlier I used to listen to him but he never has talked about work. He always talks about himself, how varied his interests are and how we can never do what he does. He is almost rude but I don't think he ever has realized that. It looks like he wants to throw his weight around and impress.

Even after telling him things like "I'm busy", "Don't have time (which is true)" etc. and giving him clear indications that I don't want to talk, he recoils for a while, but then again comes back to talk after a few days. I used to be sympathetic earlier but now it has become awkward and uneasy.

  1. How can I tell him to not bother me because I am being very very clear to him that I am not interested in talking to him? I have not been verbal about it, but I literally avoid talking to him even look away when he walks by.

  2. I would also like to know if it is a common behavior among people of that age and I am misunderstanding him?

  • 2
    You should clearly write about what he wants to talk. Does he want to talk about work or anything private? And you might want to add where in the world this is happening.
    – user8838
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 6:28
  • I believe he just wants to talk any random thing and nothing specific. just tries to strike a conversation.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 7:36
  • I suggest you edit your question and put this additional information in your question. This will improve your question and you will get (better) answers.
    – user8838
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 8:32
  • 1
    "senior colleague" as in he is in a position above yours or as in you feel 50 is old? Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 0:45
  • 1
    Welcome to Interpersonal Skills! Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Mar 8, 2018 at 19:24

5 Answers 5


I'm going to start with an assumption. I don't read it here, but I'm guessing you're female. (I'd invite you to correct me if I am wrong).

If that assumption is correct, what you have going on is the start of a workplace harassment issue. It's pretty simple - if someone creates an environment that is threatening, intimidating, or uncomfortable and doesn't change it when told to, then it's harassment.

But let's stay away from Workplace SE and go to Interpersonal SE. You are giving signals to him that you are not interested - signals that you feel are clear. Yet obviously they don't seem to be clear to him.

First of all, social ineptitude occurs in all ages; it's not just in people who are middle-aged. So this is not something that guys in their 50s do - guys in their 20s do it as well. And guys that don't generally have a lot of female presence in their lives sometimes tend to fill that gap at work by talking to their female co-workers. It's an old situation and one that probably won't change, unfortunately.

How to stop this type of attention? The post says that the conversations aren't work-related. The first thing I'd suggest is to approach this with confidence. If you act like you expect that this conversation will work and are more forceful, the odds of your success will be higher. Also, do NOT allow wiggle room. Do not use the word "maybe". Do not take any responsibility yourself. It's his behavior that you want changed, and you want it changed today.

Let's assume that this person is socially inept and not just a jerk. I'd suggest saying something like, "I see you come over a lot; I'm sorry but I am too busy to engage in a lot of small talk here at the office. If you have something work-related I'm happy to help but don't have a lot of time for other conversations." Or "I appreciate your wanting to share your interests with me; but we don't share that interest. Now if you'll excuse me..."

The point is to be gracious and direct without being mean. If he has some kind of condition that causes him to be socially inept, being mean is just, well, mean. You can be direct without being a jerk about it. Also, since he's a senior colleague, you don't want to burn that bridge - senior staff tend to not move a lot and that will make your time there all that more uncomfortable.

  • 1
    How does the gender of the person on the receiving end of a behaviour X determine if the behaviour is (the start of) a harassment issue? I taught that if somebody is bothering a person Y with a behaviour X, the behaviour determines if it constitutes harassment, not the target.
    – penelope
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 14:08

I have this problem constantly at work. I work in a poker room. People always want to tell you "bad beat" stories. How they lost this hand, or how they lost this sports bet. Or they want to talk about sports and whom they are betting.

For me I don't bet sports and have no interest whatsoever in sports. As for bad beat stories, they are just people venting about loosing, and are boring to listen too.

For the most part I just take it all with a grain of salt. But occasionally there will be a person that just keeps talking and keeps coming back to just keep talking about nothing that I care about in the least and to the determent of my time and need to attend to other duties.

This is generally a problem for a lot of people in my particular industry. Overtime I have discovered, or became aware, that these kinds of people are talking to me because they feel we have a general frame of reference, an interest in the subject, in my case sports and/or poker.

Overtime I have become a little skilled at handling these people so they mostly go away unoffended. Hopefully some of this may help you.

I have never really had a problem with those whom want to talk about sports. They start talking and I just shrug the subject off with comment like I know nothing about sports. They get it and go away, realizing we simply had no common frame of reference for the conversation.

With bad beat stories about poker it is tougher. I play poker, my job is in poker, so I can't get away with the no common frame of reference plea.

Often I can get away with not engaging by finding something else that needs doing, and after doing that a few times they fade away. Something the OP is trying to do now with no real success.

One upping them with dull stuff that has happened to you sometimes works. They really want to tell you a story and get your empathy, but if you have a similar yet more extreme story it often will take the wind out of their sails. When they tell my how they lost with a full house, I tell them how I once lost with four of a kind. When this happens they will not be getting what they came over for and will stop after awhile. Your just turning their story on its head and making it about you instead of them. They wont like that and will stop coming to you.

Turning the subject into a joke. Often my response to them is humorous. When someone wants to talk about football or horse betting, a stock reply of mine is "I never bet football or horses because I was told you should never bet on things with brains the size of walnuts". They go away with a chuckle. With poker I have enough context to point out some irony or the other about the story that they are telling me. Humor works because your not giving them the ear they want and its a good way to convey the message that you are really not interested in what they are saying without coming off as offensive.

I guess what I actually convey to these people whom are intrusive like this, is that yeah we all have problems what makes you so special. I think that is the point they get without being offended by whatever metaphor I use to make the point.

Since almost all of these people are also my customers I have never had the convenience of just being haughty or plain with them about what I feel about what bores they are at times. The things that I do to handle these situations have never been 100% effective, some people are doomed to never getting it when it comes to social skills. With some people the talking about this and that and whatever is a compulsive behavior they can't help or stop, I have no clue what to do with some of them, short of just walking away.


I had a colleague who reminds me of that person; not that I didn't want to talk to him, but most of the time I was too busy to engage in a conversation with him. He was autistic. An autistic person may not understand non-verbal cues like those you describe. He may also just be very lonely and want to start a conversation no matter what. The only think I know for sure is that it's not a behavioral pattern of 'people at that age'. Anyway, you could just make it clear to him by saying something like:

I'm sorry but I am usually too busy to join conversations.

If you are not at your desk, you can add:

I must get back to work as soon as possible.

And maybe you could be even more firm by also saying:

I'm sure you will appreciate my time and won't distract me in the future.

I understand that he only does this when you are at work (e.g. there are not such encounters in the parking lot or elsewhere), so this will do. You can repeat yourself as many times as you want. He will get the message eventually.

  • Such encounters have happened outside work (though not very often) as we live on campus and happen to cross paths sometimes.
    – Anonymous
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 7:38
  • I have used all three suggestions given by you.. He recoils for a few days and then again tries to talk..
    – Anonymous
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 7:46
  • 2
    i agree, he sounds like he has some ASD traits and such people (I'm one also) can struggle to fit in to regular patterns and behaviours. Perhaps he is talking himself up as he lacks the empathy to talk about you. As an aside, you don't mention if there is a sexual pressure at all; it certainly crossed my mind when i was reading. You probably should clarify Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 9:07
  • The first thing I thought was this person may have Aspberger's which is on the autism spectrum. Aspberger's folks are highly intelligent but don't do well with hints at all. In fact, I have an Aspie in my life who has not responded well to blunt, sharp communication. If it is a condition like this, I don't see how you can get around this problem because it's work-related.
    – Laura
    Commented Mar 6, 2018 at 20:39

The following might seem a bit mean, but the answer to this kind of problem is peer pressure.

People who tend to throw around this kind of egocentric off-topic in large quantities are doing it because someone is listening. And while you might be giving him a clear "cold shoulder", try to find out how your other colleagues react to his behavior when he does that to them or publicly (I assume he does, based on your description of the character).

Now, I don't suggest you go and say bad things about him behind his back, but it wouldn't hurt to find out (even directly if necessary) whether your other colleagues find his behavior annoying or distracting. Which it actually is, personal feelings aside, these kind of people can "generate" quite a serious downtime for their entire team or department.

So since you've tried to discourage him from talking to you in any way you could, it is possible that he has other audience which gives him confidence that if he would just keep talking at you, you would join that audience. And the main idea is that if his talks are really excessive, unproductive, not really interesting and even unpleasant AND he does that to everyone and not just you, the only way to effectively discourage him is to do it collectively.


How can I tell him to not bother me because I am being very very clear to him that I am not interested in talking to him. I have not been verbal about it, but I literally avoid talking to him even look away when he walks by.

  • You need to ask that he not continue to 'follow you around like a lost puppy' - I understand that is not really what he is doing but it's non-threatening, and cutely insulting.

  • You should explain that he can't continue interrupting what you are doing - don't explain exactly what you are doing, going for a coffee, break, smoke, washroom, or work related - it doesn't matter what he thinks you're doing, how busy you are, or that you need his help, do not!

  • Don't make excuses or reasons for him - don't say you are "busy now", "need to get this done", or that you're going to be OK with him coming over for work related issues (though you probably need to allow that reason, don't tell him - if he brings up that excuse tell him to "run your ideas by the management first", then either he bugs them constantly or does an end run, of which you can complain about).

  • don't provide him a list of reasons or times that it's OK to bug you, as he's certain to think it's an invitation.

  • Most importantly: explain that if it continues you will make a complaint.

If the management ever asks if everything is OK, or why your work is slow or not as good you need to decide if it's under the bus for him.

I would also like to know if it is a common behavior among people of that age and ...

It's common equally at all ages, not particularly common. If your question isn't gender, race, orientation, or age related there's no reason to play the card.

It's a problem if the one or two who do it take up 50% of your time; with useful and normal interaction taking up the remainder of the time you spend interacting with others.

If it's a significantly smaller proportion than that then you are either oversensitive or simply don't like spending any time with him (a point you need to make clear).

I'm not sure why you think this is related to being older, should we ask if young people always have these problems?

... am misunderstanding him?

We have to take your explanation as truthful and an accurate account of both sides (unless we can see some reason to question your honesty).

He wants to prove something, to validate himself and let you know of his importance. I meet people whom have nothing on the table and do that quite frequently, elderly men are by far are the minority.

This being a workplace issue and not 100% IPS be aware that you might need to rely on him for something (or he might have things set up that way) or might be assigned to work with him. You need to use good judgment and put each layer on somewhat gently, and less so if it's clear he's not absorbing the information.

Don't dump on him or rip a strip off of him, deserving or not, you'll have to answer to someone (in person or behind your back) after insisting he get lost. Continue long and hard enough that it's clear to him that he understands or has an issue understanding - either way he knows not to return.

Document your actions, even in front of him. Be prepared to speak to the management or HR.

I've been nicer than what is described above to the undeserving and less nice to people whom had seniority - but this forum has rules about 'be nice' and helpful answers so I tried to keep it middle of the road. YMMV, adjust measurements to taste.

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