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I have a coworker (call him Tim) who says disgusting things and tells disturbing stories. I'm trying to think of a non-confrontational way to get him to stop. Often times he's not talking to me, but I have to hear it because he's talking to the coworker beside me.

My old job let me go because of the economic situation from COVID. I started working at this store a couple months ago. I didn't know it when I was hired, but the chain of stores also owns night clubs. So when the nightclubs closed due to COVID, they transferred the security to the stores. That's how Tim got here. He used to work at a gay club and keeps telling stories like how he had to fight off men and cross dressers from hitting on him. Often times his stories involve violence, so he's probably trying to make himself look tough. Management asked to try to resolve conflicts between coworkers without involving them.

I could try to physically distance myself when he's talking like this, but sometimes I have to be close due to work reasons. I'm surprised Tim's security but spends so much time talking to the clerks, but management seems ok with it. To be clear, he talks like this very often.

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    I don't really get the offense in your example. Do other co-workers also share your point of view? ' – Arthur Hv Sep 1 '20 at 6:51
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    Hi Yuftre111! Welcome to Interpersonal Skills, a site for questions/answers about the behaviors people use to interact well. While we can help you with your behavior while interacting with this coworker, we can't really change Tim or make Tim do things. Could you add some details to your question that make it cleared which part of your behavior we'd be helping you with? We're always especially looking for what you've tried or considered trying and why that didn't work or why you haven't yet, to avoid answers giving help that won't work. – Tinkeringbell Sep 1 '20 at 11:25
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    Did you already try to make it known to Tim that you don't like his stories? If not, why not? Like Arthur asked, what do your other coworkers think of the stories? Has management provided you with any guidance on how to resolve this yourself, and if so, what was their guidance and have you tried that? – Tinkeringbell Sep 1 '20 at 11:27
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    Being hit on by gay men and crossdressers as a security guy for a gay club honestly doesn't sound shocking, disgusting or disturbing to me. It's part of their job to be in contact with gay people and they cannot control how people act, just as you cannot control how he acts. If the way he tells those stories or the details he tells disturb you, you need to make him aware of that. You should also clarify in your question if it's the context of homosexuality that makes you uncomfortable or the disrespect of Tim, because that affects possible answers. – Elmy Sep 2 '20 at 6:59
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At the workplace, you have 2 kind of conversation : allowed/not allowed and inappropriate/offensive or not. When coworkers are talking, you may dislike the content, but it doesn't mean their small talk are tagged NSFW (Not Suited For Work).

So, sometimes, you just have to suck it up, because their right to chit-chat equals yours not to like it. That doesn't mean there's nothing you can do ;)

I faced that exact same situation when open-space became the norm years ago. Sometimes, in front of your computer, or talking to a client on the phone, you focus on something really important, and some folks are having this annoying small talk about holidays/kids/movie/anything you don't like... And they talk too much, too loud, laugh... and so on! In this case, as always, you should keep it simple and professional:

[ Using neutral & low tone ] : please folks, I'm working on something really important, could you please tune down just a bit or move a little away from my desk? Thanks a lot. (Note: keeping yourself calm with a low volume is a key to being listened to. A little smile is often a plus.)

This way, you're not asking them to stop, just to share space and volume. Don't judge, don't mention the content, as if you didn't hear it. Put the emphasis on the volume or the proximity.

Using this, I almost always got excellent results, even with some "sorry mate", a thumb up, and people lowering tone and moving a few feet away.

If the content is NSFW, then you should tell them, still with calm and a low tone. But point out that, in your opinion, this kind of small talk isn't appropriate. Depending on Tim's answer/behavior, you may have to bring this to your manager or HR. But keep in mind that it may be annoying to you, still, allowed. What's offensive to you is just normal stuff for some people. Works both ways. Of course, racism or sexism are quite easy to point out, but many offensive words/chat are offensive only to some persons, and won't be labeled as forbidden in a workplace environment.

You're walking on eggs here, so you'd better start with a friendly call. I got my best results this way.

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  • Vulgar chitchat is labeled a ‘hostile work environment’. It not carry an inherent right. It does not relate to your perfectly valid right not to like it. It’s illegal in the US. Does not even matter that they’re just joking, didn’t know anyone objected, speaking the truth – Yosef Baskin Sep 4 '20 at 3:45
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    @yosef : right, and we don't know what Tim said, and if it's vulgar or not. Of course, racism or sexism are quite easy to point out, but many offensive words/chat are offensive only to some persons, and won't be labeled as forbidden. That's why I'm warning OP to be very careful – OldPadawan Sep 4 '20 at 5:27
  • Disgusting but not vulgar? – Yosef Baskin Sep 4 '20 at 13:19
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    @YosefBaskin : sorry but I can't understand what you mean and (if any) the difference between disgusting and vulgar. You can't use vulgar words (like the F-word) because it's ‘hostile work environment’? Many times I did hear it from colleagues, and it didn't annoy me, and I wouldn't complain about them. They "dropped the bomb" while chitchatting, no big deal (to me at least) ie: 'That f*** coffee machine is out of order again!'. If meant while talking about someone, that would be different though – OldPadawan Sep 4 '20 at 13:29
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    When I say that my lunch today had mold but I ate it anyway, that is disgusting, but not vulgar. – kscherrer Sep 18 '20 at 14:49

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