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To be clear, I have young children, I have pictures of my children, and I enjoy sharing same when asked about their health/welfare. Rarely do I spontaneously share unless they have done something spectacularly amusing. (Even then, I limit it to a couple of my coworkers that have also shared similar stories)

However, I have a co-worker who also has kids, and makes it a point to come by and share pictures of all the things her kids have done over the past couple of days. While I do like the occasional updates, the frequency of these visits can be disruptive, especially if I am on a phone meeting or similar.

I've used "I can't chat now, I'm busy" as well as "I'm sorry but I have a meeting", etc. Her response is usually to say "Oh, ok, I will come back" or just to show up again later. I am trying to find a way to let her know that I am just not interested to the level that she apparently wants me to be.

How can I politely let her know that the frequency of her sharing is more than I would like?

This is in a US based corporation.

8

I've had coworkers like that. I'm not a parent and am not "into" kids; apparently I was elsewhere when they were handing out the gene that helps fuel the "aw, cute!" reaction to kids.

But you still want to maintain a positive working relationship; even if you're not friends, you have to spend a lot of time with this person and in your shared environment. So you have to put up with some amount of stuff you're not interested; it's social lubricant.

I've been able to reduce the amount in two ways:

  1. As others have said, control the timing. "Sorry, busy now" while staring intently at your monitor, or "hey, catch me at lunch, ok?" often works.

  2. Reduce the time you spend looking. If somebody hands you a picture and you look closely and engage with it ("oh, cute", asking questions, etc), the person will conclude that you're interested. Instead, reduce the time -- look briefly, say "uh huh", and hand it back (or redirect your eyes). A perceptive person will pick up on this and conclude that you're not as interested as you first appeared to be. Because the two of you have already established a pattern, you'll likely need several repetitions of this before it "takes".

I said that a perceptive person would pick up on this. If, instead, you are dealing with somebody who is more oblivious, one of those "I'm interested in this so obviously you are too" sorts, then you'll need to be more direct. If the approaches I've described don't work, then you might need to reach for:

Sorry, I'm happy for you but I'm not really into kids.

"I'm happy for you" makes it less of a dismissal, and the the second part makes it about your issues rather than the other person. Even if that's a lie, it's usually helpful to go with it for the sake of the working relationship.

(This assumes you don't work in a child-oriented field like an elementary school, daycare, or similar. If not being into kids would bring your job qualifications into question, stick with the timing approach.)

  • My only problem with "sorry, A, but B" is that it mostly turns out as insincere. I don't really have a solution to this, and I do it as well, but I actually consider it wrong. – yo' Jan 12 '18 at 10:20
3

There is no good way to get your co-worker to simply stop sharing these photos. But here are a few options:

If you do want to see the photos, tell your co-worker that you would like to focus on your work, but you'd love to see all of the photos in the break room in about an hour. Or over coffee at lunch.

If you are not interested, again, tell your co-worker that you'd prefer not to use company time on personal photos, but if they could email you the pictures, or give you a link to their Facebook, you'd love to look at them during your own free time, as they light up your day.

You can also tell your co-worker that you are in the middle of something, and that you will stop by their desk when you have a few minutes free to come see the pictures.

All of these options allow you to see these photos at your own leisure. And if you never meet up for lunch, or never open the emails or stop by the desk, your co-worker will surely get the hint, and hopefully will not be offended.

  • 3
    Hinting rarely works. Flat out lying that you would love to do something you don't want to do, and saying you will come and do something you won't come and do, is bad for relationships. – Kate Gregory Dec 18 '17 at 21:36
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    I don't see that it is helpful for office relations to lie, deliberately build up expectations and then intentionally disappoint someone as some sort of 'teaching tool'. The co-worker will almost certainly be not only offended but hurt and conclude that the OP is quite unpleasant. It may achieve being left alone, but not in the tactful way the OP is seeking. – Spagirl Dec 19 '17 at 11:16
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I think others have covered the idea of being direct and controlling the schedule yourself.

I would supplement these approaches with some behavioral feedback to let the coworker know that you're still on friendly terms but that this subject is one not relevant to your work. In his book 'The Like Switch' Jack Schafer highlights the 'big three' friend signals:

  • The eyebrow flash: a quick up-and-down of eyebrows that signals recognition.
  • Genuine smile: acknowledgement of the other person via smile
  • Eye Contact: acknowledgement of the other person via eye contact (1-2 seconds)
  • Greet by name (optional)

When you decide to directly discuss this issue with your coworker, open with all of these behavioral signals. This communicates to the other person that you are a friend who respects and acknowledges them, meaning they are more likely to listen to your explanation.

Smile and communicate kindly and firmly why you cannot view the pictures/chat (e.g. 'I'll stop by your cubicle when I have time', 'I prefer to keep my home life and work life separate.', 'Let's talk at the end of the work day', 'I really need to concentrate on my work this month because of XYZ"). Smile genuinely again, make eye contact and thank them for stopping by. Break eye contact and usher them out/turn back to your work.

A genuine smile is important. People are very good at detecting false smiles, eye rolls etc. (Schafer); I try to think of something I genuinely like about the person and keep that in mind. An additional behavioral trick is standing-up when someone enters your cube/office and you don't have time for them. This usually does not allow them to sit down and puts you at equal height/eye level with the individual allowing you better communication and control of the office space. This does not need to be aggressive; it's the same signal we give when we stand at the end of a meeting to signal it's over.

If the coworker returns to share later, smile and refer her back to this conversation (e.g. 'Thanks for sharing Carol...remember when I said I need to concentrate on XYZ this month/remember when I said I like to keep my home and work life separate/remember when I said I'd come by later...I've got to get back to finishing this right now.') Repeat this every time she comes by for the child's photo purpose while also smiling/acknowledging her. This gently puts the social faux pas on her for returning as she did not remember your conversation from earlier.

I think people are mostly hurt when they feel their social effort is rejected. Try to communicate on all levels you still have a friendly interest in her and appreciate her social foray, but kindly and firmly outline this subject is not of interest to you personally. Best of luck.

1

Control the schedule yourself. Tell her something along the lines of "It's not baby time; let's do baby time at 3!" I have done this myself and got (a) cute pix to look at, at times I got to pick; and (b) some 'white collar worker time'.

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