During my company's Christmas party one colleague got extremely drunk. He then went to me, put his arm around me and his hand on my behind. I found this both annoying and highly inappropriate and pushed his hand away. He did it again later in the evening. When he did it the third time I raised my voice a bit while telling him to stop and that was enough to stop him. However from his body language I think he felt like I overreacted.

I don't know this colleague very well. I have talked to him professionally and exchanged a polite sentence or two over the coffee machine.

Since I fear that he genuinely does not understand that his behavior was inappropriate, I would like to talk to him. My goal is to make him understand that touching someone's behind without their consent is not okay. Ideally I would like to make sure he won't do it again, but I mostly don't want him to be able to say (even to himself) that he didn't know he should not do something like that.

On the other hand I would like to make as little fuss as possible. His behavior did not scar me for life, I just found it quite annoying.

Another thing that makes me think he does not understand what he did wrong is that another colleague told me that this behavior was not unusual for that guy when he gets drunk. Said colleague however also said that the groping colleague is usually a friendly guy (when he is sober). He has also always been friendly in our brief encounters at the workplace.

I am considering talking to him one on one and just telling him that he made me feel uncomfortable. I am however afraid that he might just brush it of as me being oversensitive.

I am thankful for any pointers to how I can communicate effectively in this situation.

  • 1
    I am living in Germany and I am not sure how this would be formally addressed. However I don't feel like just what I experienced would be enough reason to get him fired. If he apologizes and I believe he means it, I would be fine letting it go for the moment.
    – user23175
    Dec 14, 2018 at 17:13
  • Though I would be willing to escalate it if he actually tells me that I am overreacting while being sober.
    – user23175
    Dec 14, 2018 at 17:23

2 Answers 2


If you truly want to communicate with him about this issue and have him listen to you without detriment to your work relationship, it's vital to start the conversation in the least confrontational way as possible. If you start the conversation off too "aggressively", there's a good chance that most people in his position will "wall up" and not listen or provide any return communication to you.

My approach, when trying to start a conversation with someone I'm irritated with, is to bring it up in a way that doesn't make the person feel like they're being reprimanded or put on the spot (regardless of the wrong-ness of their actions). You could try something like:

"Hey! (small talk, as to not immediately set off any alarms) While I have you here, I wanted to talk to you about the Christmas party."

At this point, don't give him a chance to interject or try to guess what you're about to bring up. Focus in on how you feel in completion. This isn't a conversation or a debate, don't ask any questions or give him a chance to fight back on whether or not his behavior was OK.

"(cont)... about the Christmas party. I felt like I was having trouble expressing my comfort level when you kept putting your arm around me, so I wanted to clarify that while others may be okay with it, I don't really like anyone touching me like that."

When you do this, use "I feel" vs "You did _____" statements to lower the risk of alienating him, because, again, if you make it sound like you're actively angry or that the relationship has been tainted by his behavior, your odds of keeping this low-fuss will be slim to none.

Finally, don't end the conversation on this note. Stopping with the above would still be leaving him in a place where he may feel the need to respond with justification for his behavior, which you don't want. Close your overall statement by making him feel like you're still on the same team, not angry or upset, just stating this so that you both understand one another. This could be something like:

"(cont)... like that. I'd like to keep enjoying our work relationship as it is, so hopefully this helps for both of us to better understand each other."

Last but not least, tone is everything in situations like this. You can't be sure whether this person is oblivious or just kind of a butthead, so do everything in your power to speak confidently and not falter when delivering your message. While it's important not to use aggressive language/tone that may alienate him from hearing you, it is also important to not use such a passive tone that a potential butthead may see opportunity to further antagonize or take advantage of you.

Your tone should resonate that of:

"I'm not angry, upset, or otherwise emotional. These are facts. Regardless of how you feel, I felt uneasy by this, and I am telling you so you do not do again."

And avoid anything resembling:

"I'm angry, upset, or some kind of emotional. These are my feelings I'm telling you about, I want you to apologize and be understanding."

Be strong, confident, and sold on what you have to say before you say it, and this tone should come naturally.

  • 1
    I like this answer. I'd like to add: most people are aware that when having had a few drinks, they may embarass themselves. So you might consider treating it in that light, and somehow weave into the answer that you find these situations embarrassing and highly unpleasant, that you know he knows better in normal situations, and that you wish he would avoid these embarrassments from now on. That way, you present it to him as an opportunity to save face, which most people are glad to do, especially towards a person they really like. Dec 14, 2018 at 23:30
  • 3
    The "I feel" vs "You did" approach is generally great, but I'm not sure if this is the right situation for it. Especially the example doesn't really get across what OP seems to want to express. I didn't have the feeling that they had trouble expressing their comfort level (the expression was just ignored), or that they think that others would be fine with the behavior (while others may be okay with it vs My goal is to make him understand that touching someone's behind without their consent is not okay.).
    – tim
    Dec 16, 2018 at 10:34
  • Thanks for the idea, however I agree with tim's comment that this exact wording won't really get my point across. I will however do my best to try to still give him the chance to safe face by acknowledging he was drunk and probably wouldn't do it when sober.
    – user23175
    Dec 16, 2018 at 19:49
  • @user23175 "I feel" vs "You did" is my recommendation based on you not wanting to sour your working relationship. Unless you want to risk tensions with this coworker, you can't truly reprimand or scold him. I think his actions are gross, and I personally don't enjoy the idea of giving anyone a "free pass" at their behavior, BUT... If you don't want to have an escalation, your best bet is to come at him in a calm, but confident, approach and hope that his sobriety helps make the message more clear this time around. Otherwise I'd take it to HR, because it's not your place to do more.
    – Jess K.
    Dec 17, 2018 at 13:08

So this person seems to behave Ok when they are sober (according to people who know him), and misbehaved towards you while drunk, and seems to have done this on other occasions while drunk (according to a colleague who knows him). In other words, this is a person who should avoid getting drunk since they cannot handle it properly.

He may not even be aware of what he is doing. So he needs to be told by someone that he misbehaves when drunk and that it is not acceptable. That someone could be you.

If you want to avoid an argument, you can do this by sending an email, stating the facts, and leaving no room for argument. For example: "On the party yesterday, you were drunk, and you behaved inappropriately towards me not once, but three times. I expect an apology. "

What happens next depends on his answer. He can make his problem go away by apologising, which would be the wisest thing to do. And most people don't like having to apologise, so he might drink less or watch himself better when drunk in the future. So there is a good chance that you will get an apology, with possible improvent in his behaviour, and with no fuss.

He may genuinely not know what he did, since he was drunk. In that case you tell him what he did, and again this might get you an apology.

If he claims he knows he didn't do anything, or if he claims that what he did was Ok, then unfortunately you will have to escalate this. You can send another email: "I expect an apology within 24 hours, and no further inappropriate behaviour. Otherwise, I will have to escalate the matter", and then you can escalate it.

  • I agree with you. I am however afraid that, as Jess K. wrote, such a direct wording would probably hurt our work relationship, so I will probably try make the phrasing a bit less confrontational.
    – user23175
    Dec 16, 2018 at 19:58

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