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I have a colleague of mine at work. He's just my peer, not my boss or a higher rank, I do not report to him in any way.

When I'm late for work (for different, sometimes very personal reasons), he asks questions "why are you late to work? what's your reason?"

How to dismiss intrusive questions from a colleague with whom I don't work? I gave him a clear answer many times, that I don't want this question to be asked, and that it's not his business anyway.

But he still does so, sometimes in a very provocative and sarcastic manner.

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    How did the conversation go when you "gave him a clear answer" and told him you "don't want this question to be asked?" How did he respond to that? – scohe001 Aug 19 at 14:38
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    When you say a colleague with whom you don't work, it seems like a bit of an oxymoron. Do you mean for whom you don't work? Or do you mean that they're an employee at your company but you don't interact at all for professional tasks? – spacetyper Aug 20 at 0:49
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    Hello network visitors! Please note that IPS is fairly strict about using comments as intended. Comments are only for clarifying and improving the question. Partial answers or general thoughts about the situation may be deleted without notice. If you'd like to write an answer, make sure to check out our posts on How do I write a good answer? and citation expectations first. Thanks! – Em C Aug 20 at 16:16
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As a woman who used to tend bar, I've dealt with a lot of intrusive questions at work, mostly from customers. A lot of men want to take home the bartender and many of them can be quite pushy about it. Off the clock, I could just walk away from guys like this, but at work I had to be polite in rejecting these advances and it was sometimes pretty difficult. If I said I had a boyfriend, they wanted to know if I loved him, if he was good to me, if he was there that night. If I plainly said I wasn't interested, they wanted to know why not, did I dislike all guys who were (insert characteristic here), maybe I just needed to get to know him better. It was exhausting and it took up a ton of time. I finally hit upon the solution with a simple phrase,

No thank you.

It's simple, polite, and it offers no in-roads for follow-up questions. If a guy did want to ask follow-up questions, I would just keep repeating "No thank you," until he gave up. It was extremely effective.

You have to offer a little more, because you see this guy every day, but the point is to give him nothing to latch on to. He's on an information starvation diet from now on. Next time this colleague asks why you were late, you can simply answer,

I discussed it with (supervisor). It's nothing for you to concern yourself with.

Obviously you can modify the first sentence (or drop it entirely) to suit the realities of how lateness is handled in your office. But the second one is crucial.

This guy will no doubt have follow up questions. Here's the tricky part: don't offer anything else. Just keep repeating the above two sentences. Build a stone wall out of them. You can make variations ("You don't need to worry about it." "Thanks for your concern, but everything's ok.") But don't expand on anything. Don't offer more information.

You might feel like you are being rude or behaving strangely while doing this; remind yourself that it is, in fact, your coworker who is being rude. Repeat this any time he takes an intrusive interest in you. After getting frustrated a few times, he should stop asking.

26

Obviously, he isn't asking because he cares about the answer. He is trying to put you at a disadvantage. You don't owe him an answer, and when you do answer him or try to defend yourself it will probably just encourage him. If I had a guess, I'd say he feels threatened by you for some reason. It may be you specifically, and it may just be his personality. There are people who are paranoid and feel threatened by everyone around them, and they often try to assert superiority by putting others on the defensive or making them lose their tempers.

Nothing says "I'm not playing your game" like a smile and a shrug. Maybe "nothing serious, thanks for asking" or, some other non-committal answer. If he is persistently pushy, you might try "I'm sure my boss appreciates your desire to look out for the company's interests. I'll be sure to mention it at our next meeting.", always with a pleasant smile.

Once he realizes that he can't dominate or get a rise out of you, he should back off. If he doesn't, it may be time to let your manager deal with him. The sarcastic and provocative behavior is harassment, and offices take it more seriously these days.

OP's colleague sounds a lot like a co-worker that I once had. When I first joined the company, I thought he was a manager. He wanted to know what I was doing, what project I was working on, when I was going to be in the next morning. If I left before he did at the end of the day he would occasionally say, with a surprised tone "Leaving already?" He took it upon himself to let me know when I had violated the rules. It didn't take more than a couple of weeks for me to realize that he was just a guy who had worked in the same position "like, forever", who had no authority at all and who was desperate to get people to see him as important.

So, being young and idealistic, I tried to be nice and do the things I had been taught were how you got along with someone like that. I asked his advice, answered him politely and tried to show that I was taking his advice. That backfired when he started hitting on me in a really creepy way. I was too intimidated and embarrassed at my lack of judgement to bring it to the manager's attention so I just found another job.

I've had a couple of other co-workers who were similar in habit; trying to assert authority when they had none. I told my manager about the first one and he told me, basically, ignore him. So I did. After a while the guy stopped bothering me so much, so I guess it worked. The second one was at a six month contract job so by the time I left he was still playing the game. He even tried to give me an impromptu exit interview. Sheesh.

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    Not everyone can do that, though. If hurtful/aggressive comments do get to you, it's extremely hard to hide completely — and once a bully smells blood, they won't give up.  (When I was young, everyone told me to ignore bullies — but in hindsight I wish I'd ignored them and fought back much sooner than I did.) – gidds Aug 20 at 1:02
  • @gidds Just like everything else, it is something that can be learned, and thus gets easier every time you try. This strategy is much like what the ex-bartender reported, but in addition, I think it's important to frame the offender's behaviour for yourself, just like the first paragraph says. Not knowing why someone is offensive was usually the biggest trigger for me, so I try to remember that there is always a reason for someone to behave like that. By now, it works well. – Sir Jane Aug 20 at 11:12
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    Hey there! We require answers here to be backed up by personal experience or external sources. So, could you edit to tell us about a similar situation you were in the past? Who was involved, what did you say and how did the other person react? – Ælis Aug 21 at 19:23
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But he still does so, sometines in very provocative and sarcastic manner.

I've been through this too. I hated it (and still do) and it annoyed me to the point I was rude. Instantly rude, "[ self-censored ]" (won't write the words here, of course, but you get the idea...). Far above what was certainly needed at that time. And I have never heard of him anymore, but I had an enemy at the workplace. No more problem with him, but bad reputation for "having an attitude, can't take a joke, and so on...". No need to tell you that what I had done was too much, like "killing a fly with a sledghammer". Bad idea. I needed to find a better way...

Second time (years later, another company, but same kind of know-it-all-and-above-all-funny-jerk), I wanted another approach, and used a similar technic: provocative and sarcastic.

When the guy asked his question, I first ignored him and walked by. Second time, I stopped right away, stood up in front of him, hands in my back (like you do in the Army, when you report to someone), my gaze fixed in front of me, and said: "My name is PaulD - Front-end developer at Company X - SSN 772-00-1324" (1). Repeat as needed anytime they say something or ask a question. They'll give up and move on. At one point, they will, believe me. The best is when some people are listening / watching. End with a smile, a wink, turn back and walk... :)

You act like a POW and won't answer any question, just calling The Geneva Convention. With creativity, you can also invoke Miranda warning or The Fifth Amendment or any other private/legal/human right from your country. And use it in a funny way to dismiss their questions. Your message is really clear here! No matter what you ask, the only thing you'll get is that answer.

I did that the second time, and it was much better, as I was seen at the funniest guy (of the two 2) by other staff members, who laughed. Some of them even said they never dared to answer, but considered his behavior like bullying. Anyway, for me, the result was the same, the "smart guy" left me alone, but it was not because I used a nuclear option. Much better ;)

I've never found another way, but have to warn you that you won't make friends that way. You need to set boundaries in one way or another, I (sadly) never achieved that the smooth way, because they usually don't take "no" as an answer. But you can stop them by returning the gun against them.


1: stands for "Social Security Number" (772 is an unused sequence - 00 is never used therefore this number can't by anyone's) 2: no need to say that I was indeed the funniest of the whole team, of course :D

  • Or combine this approach with the phrase used by the waitress in the top voted answer with bar customers. Just repeat "No, thank you.". – Shufflepants Aug 22 at 18:59
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I was going to add this as a comment on IAntoniazzi's answer since it's very similar, but apparently that takes some reputation I don't have.

A possible alternative to the phrasing offered in that answer that offers even less information but maintains professionalism and courtesy on your part:

"Good morning, Bob!"

Then you continue on your way or engage your work, and offer no more. Eventually he'll get bored of badgering you if this is all he'll ever get from you.

I've used this response in many scenarios where I get any sort of question or comment upon first interaction that crosses a line, and almost always it results in the person getting the message: you're not interested in answering that question. On the rare occasion the person followed me or continued to attempt to engage, a simple repetition (possibly with slight inflection of sarcasm) worked wonders. This process looks professional and deflects the issue entirely onto them. If, on the off chance you get a super stubborn person that continues to badger, then you have a different problem all together.

3

Real-world based answer that works for me - despite the downvotes.
I have not had this specific experience but I've experienced similar real-world situations along the way (I'm 68) - in similar situations "Over The Top" humour* can work.

The aim, while being non-combative and non-confrontational, is to provide a non-answer-answer that is manifestly ludicrous and which tells them that you can handle their style, that you are not going to tell them anything useful and that they are liable to look silly if they persist.

  • Sorry, I had to sign an NDA*

  • I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.

Or, if that may sound too like a real threat, then

  • I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill myself.

  • Have you any idea how hard it is to find a phonebooth to change out of your [superhero of choice] costume at this time of day?

  • "Do YOU KNOW where I've been?" (loud, stage whisper).
    'No.' (what else can he say?)
    "Good." Smile. Walk off.

  • ...

You may want to find a drop-back repeat answer if they DO persist.
"I had to sign an NDA" may be useful in that role.

*NDA - Non Disclosure Agreement.

Related:

To the "Why the [expletives deleted] did you do that" query when what you did is reasonable, fully defensible and/or none of their business: A concise explanation - followed by - "Please don't mistake an explanation for an apology". This can probably be used, at most, once per person, doesn't make you any friends, and is best left for extreme cases where you wish to make the point badly enough that the fallout is "worthwhile". I have used that on a very very dew occasions - and from memory I may seek to soften it with a smile and relaxed style - it's been so long since I've used it that memory dims. [I left 'corporate life' after 23 years for self employment, 25+ years ago, and have not used it in that time]. To someone attempting to put you in your place, with no right to be acting as they are, it can be devastating. But may not be :-).


Added:

I have used the "then I'd have to kill you" / me lines and the NDA line on a number of occasions. The NDA line is sometimes even true :-).

Specific examples are not overly relevant (and I'd have to actually dredge some up**) BUT these are genuinely answers that I've used.

My aim is to convert the situation to one of flippancy.
If the inquirer has no right to ask, and/or no genuine concern and/or is clearly just attempting to play alpha-male/dominance/ ... games then the flippant answer largely removes their traction. They can try again - but they are building on a foundation of 'stupidity'. I'm not suggesting that this is appropriate where the query has a legitimate basis.


*Antipodean humour = humor.

** And then, if I told you, I'd have to kill you.


[[I once made $US15,000 from an idea I had based on clearing rotting carpet from a pile in my driveway - I'd love to tell you how but I had to sign an NDA]][A genuine case :-) ].

2

What kind of situation is this? Do you work in the same room or otherwise near each other or are you just walking past him and he starts asking questions? Or does he come to you? If it is a passing moment you are better off making it as short as possible and avoid making it an exchange. Avoid responding question with a question or giving him an answer he can hang on to. If your workplaces are near simply walking past with minimal interaction is not possible so you need to make a comment and not answer his questions.

In the first case I'd just respond with good morning jeff or something else like it. You can adjust this answer with your voice. If you say it with annoyed voice you get a different effect than if you use normal voice. If he wants to keep going you can also say things like I don't have time for chitchat now. If he asks questions with nasty voice you can also ask is he ok or ask him to repeat it. Then ask why he is making the sarcastic voices.

Make him aware of what he is doing and don't let him get away with it. Don't make it argument but make it an inquiry. After all you are interested why is he asking these questions and making them is sarcastic voices. His motives could be teasing and bullying and if you give him easy answers he gets off of you being an easy target. If you start asking leading questions (why are you asking, who made you the boss) you get him on the defensive which won't work either. If you respond to loaded question with why do you care you put yourself to defensive which is not useful either.

Being professional and avoiding dropping down to his level is your best strategy. He has no business asking you those questions but you have valid reasons to ask him why is he making those remarks. If he is bully make yourself a hard target and if he is nosy be professional so he gets nothing out of it and that he knows he is not going to get anything either.

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There's a couple things that could be going on here.

This person might be on the Autism spectrum and doesn't realize this line of questioning is rude or uncomfortable for you. It may be their way of being interested in you. Whether that's as a friend or more is only to be determined after getting to know this person. I'm not exactly neuro-typical, but I've been questioned by genuinely autistic people and they can ask some very direct and personal question simply by being curious, without knowing what boundaries are.

Yes, nero-typicals could just be nosy, too, and trying to see what "excuse" you have "today". I've dealt with some of these people by putting a question back on them, "why do you want to know?". If you ask this as if you really want an answer, and not just a brush off, you can put them in a corner where they have to make something up on the fly that sounds good, which it most likely won't. Unless someone has asked them this question before, anything they answer will sound hollow or creepy as they stumble over their words. This alone will probably keep them from asking you again in the future.

If they are ready for your question, you can still answer something generic like "I had personal stuff to take care of" or "traffic was particularly thick today", then immediately getting to work and ignoring them until they go away. A white lie like this is so boring they aren't likely to keep asking.

A truly nosy busybody will keep asking, though. I've dealt with these people by getting to my desk before they can intercept me and putting headphones on, then pretending that I'm engrossed in my work and can't hear them. If they still try to get answers, say that you're trying to get some work done and can't talk right then. You can also go with a bit more pressing question of "why does it matter to you?" Whatever their answer is, you can say that you've already talked to your boss and they're either fine with it or have already scolded you for it. At this point, being a little bit rude to them might put them off asking further questions.

As always, at any time you can talk to your boss/manager/team lead with how annoying this person is. They might not be able to do anything about it right away, but you at least have it on the record. This way, if they do report you to your boss for being rude to them, your report will be recorded first. Your boss might also be ready for their report and be able to scold them for pestering you.

This all depends on office policies, politics, and general culture. You might not have headphones, so that might not work. You might also have an open floor plan, so ignoring someone isn't as easy. You boss might already know about Nosy Nancy, so bringing it up might be all it takes to get them scolded. Or the boss knows there's nothing they can do about it, due to this happening in the past and nothing changing.

There's a minimal chance they are genuinely interested in your health and want to make sure you are OK. This could be someone who actually cares about people or someone interested in you for a romantic relationship. Both are unfortunately unlikely, but there's a greater than zero chance it could happen, while also less than maybe a 5% chance of either being true.

Good luck. I hope you figure out something that works.

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    I'm uncomfortable with the idea that only autistic people could not be aware of where to draw the line between what is private information and what is not. As the adage says, "if you know one autistic person, you don't know autism, you just know one autistic person". Autism expresses itself in very different ways and no autistic person will have the same symptoms as another one. I find it offensive to assume that all autistic people are blunt & don't understand privacy, and only autistic people do so. Could you please edit this part of your answer to make it more general? – avazula Aug 21 at 8:31
  • Not that I don't agree with the need for citations, but I'm uncomfortable with making generalities for a whole population based on one or even a few people you identified as belonging to it. I'm not saying you should remove it from your answer, but as an autistic person (who doesn't have this trait, and neither does any of my friends on the spectrum), I'd appreciate if you could rephrase it for what it is- an experience you had with one or a few people with ASD. – avazula Aug 21 at 19:11
  • @avazula, I don't see how this is a generalization. I did say "I've been questioned", I didn't say "every Autistic". Do I also have to say that not every neruo-typical is nosy? I understand that Autism often gets a bad reputation from the severe cases, but people should understand it's not the same for everyone. I was tested for ADD as a kid, and I evidently hid my symptoms of Aspergers well enough that I was never diagnosed as either. I probably should get retested, but that's beside the point. – computercarguy Aug 21 at 19:25
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    Your opening statement of "This person might be on the Autism spectrum and doesn't realize this line of questioning is rude or uncomfortable for you." is a pretty strong insinuation that autism = inability to recognize rudeness. You may not have explicitly stated it, but the logical structure of your statement reads as if autism then can't tell rude – Rainbacon Aug 22 at 12:21
  • @Rainbacon, that's a logical fallacy. The English language doesn't require that type of rigid analysis. I thought about replacing "doesn't" with "may not", but then it loses all meaning so you can replace "Autism" with literally anything else and it's still correct, but not what I intended to say. – computercarguy Aug 22 at 15:57

protected by Ælis Aug 21 at 14:33

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