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I know this theme has already been discussed, but I would like to ask for exact advice for my exact situation.

Outline

I am an Eastern-European lady living in Germany and working as a software consultant. My client is a Chinese man, let's call him Chen. We have been working for half a year together and will probably continue working for quite a while.

Problem

He touches me - not in a sexual way, but just touches different body parts with his hands in a non-offensive way, like patting me on the shoulder. I have very specific feelings about touching in general and will only allow specific people to touch me. I find this behaviour very unprofessional and I honestly just HATE being touched by him. I don't want his hands anywhere near me. But this person has absolutely no feeling of tact (with words as well), and no matter how far I push myself from him (physically), he still comes up to me and touches me.

Question

I do understand that probably the only solution is going to be telling him directly. My problem is, how and when do I tell him that in order for him to actually understand it and not get offended? We have had multiple talks about our communication so far, and from them I can tell I have to be very clear and also very careful. So the wording and the concrete moment/situation when to say it is what I am looking for.

Updates

  1. One detail I forgot to mention. I am not the only one working on this project from my company, but I am the main contact for this particular person, Chen. And there are several of my colleagues that I do allow to touch me. Normally there is no situation where Chen will see this, but it is possible that that might happen.
  2. Answers to questions:

a. About consequences. Well, my point is that I am trying to avoid them;) The consequences that I see possible is him getting sour and making my work with him even less enjoyable. At the very worst it might end our cooperation, which I would like to avoid, because I like the project in general, but I very much doubt it might get there in this case.

b. I got it about the workplace.SE. Thank you. I guess you are right. I'm sorry, I just haven't used it before.

UPDATE: I told him! He seemed to be OK with it =) Phew!!!

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    A detail about your situation, would you actually be able to follow through with consequences (e.g fire him as client) if he refuses to acquiesce to your making clear to him that you dislike being touched? because whether or not you are has a huge bearing on what kind of answers you'll get will be applicable here. – Magisch Nov 13 '18 at 13:08
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    People could answer you of the most polite way of doing it, however, if we consider that it may not comply whatever way you put it. This would become more a "workplace.SE" problem. Note that cross-duplicate are frowned upon except if they don't ask for the same aspect of the question. So you could ask here, the best possible IPS way, and ask in the workplace, what step of escalation you could take professionnally to handle the problem, the 1st step would be obvisouly the IPS way with the client, the next, probably your manager. – Walfrat Nov 13 '18 at 13:12
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This is what happens when you let things slide and hope people will get hints.

If, the first time he ever touched you, you had pulled back as though you had been burned, and then said

Oh! Sorry, no offense, I don't want anyone touching me ever. It's just my thing.

He would have learned this about you and known it wasn't him - because you just met. But now he's been doing this for 6 months and from his point of view, you have never objected, and suddenly you're going to tell him he's wrong and he's been wrong all this time? That's going to be hard for him.

Here's what I suggest. Next time he touches you, pull back and say "Please don't." He will probably be puzzled and say "please don't what?" Then you can say

Oh, sorry, I have a really hard time with being touched in a business context. Normally I can put up with it because I know people mean well, but I am having a rough day today and that slipped out. But now that we're talking about it, yeah, I actually can't stand being touched in the office at all. I'm sorry, this is about me, not you, but that's how it is.

Now he may or may not lower the rate at which he touches you. But you haven't said "I have hated this for 6 months and you should have known from my responses" or the like, which should minimize the upset to him, yet at the same time you have very clearly given him the information you want him to have.

If he touches you again later, you can remind him "remember what we talked about? That's actually really hard for me" and he should eventually learn not to.

  • Well, thank you for assessing my abilities in communication, that is definitely what I'm here for. But as to your suggestions - thank you, I have to dwell on them. – A random lady Nov 13 '18 at 13:30
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    @Arandomlady I'm not quite sure what you meant in your comment to Kate, but in case it helps, although people ask questions and we aim to answer them, answers aren't just for the original asker, they're for anyone who reads them. As such, including a caveat that an ounce of prevention may be better than a pound of cure is good advice for the general reader rather than necessarily an assessment of your abilities. – Spagirl Nov 13 '18 at 14:33
  • I do realise answers are for everyone, but this particular form of wording it felt to me to be more of an assessment, and things can be worded differently (and that is why I am posting this here). I am a person who will try to avoid conflicts in any situation, so I was always hoping this will solve itself with my apparent discomfort in the described situations, but it does not seem like it. – A random lady Nov 13 '18 at 14:52
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    I, too, avoid conflicts, and hope people will notice my discomfort. And this has caused problems for me in the past because things have gone on too long to be able to say something quick and simple anymore. That's why I pointed out the pattern to you. You are a consultant, you will have another client after this one (and another and another) and for important things like this, you will now know that it's best to mention it as soon as possible rather than letting it build up. That aside, I did give you a suggestion to deal with this client now without making him feel he's been wrong all along. – Kate Gregory Nov 13 '18 at 15:19

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