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Me and colleague X communicate in English, but we're both non-native English speakers from very different countries. X's English is not very great and we sometimes have trouble understanding each other. My company uses Slack and Skype to send messages between coworkers and we all have a phone on our desk.

I have certain deliverables to give to Person X and there's a clear time frame I always stay in. Sometimes X has questions about my deliverables and he can ask them to me.

Using Slack or Skype is encouraged because with meetings, other deadlines etc we are not always able to immediately pick up the phone. However, X expects me to respond directly and will keep pinging me for several minutes.

Even though I have my status set to offline or busy because of a meeting, this is what the conversation will look like:

  • Hello!
  • I have a question about A.
  • Jane? I have a question about A.
  • What does B on A mean?
  • Jane?
  • Do you have a minute?
  • I need to ask a question to you.
  • Do you have a minute so I can come by?

All these messages will be sent within about 10-15 minutes, after which X will show up at my desk when either I'm too busy/in a conversation or not even at my desk.

I have already tried to say:

If you need me, call me, if I don't answer I'm unavailable to help you.

He does it a little less aggressive now but he keeps spamming and pinging.

  • 1
    Have you already asked the co-worker why they are doing this? Do you have any idea of their motivation for not calling but pinging? – Tinkeringbell Nov 27 '17 at 10:31
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    @Tinkeringbell X will also call, multiple times. And then send more messages, even asking why I won't pick up the phone or saying he will come to my desk. Only after he's been at my desk and found out I'm not physically there he will stop. If I am physically there but having a short meeting at ie my desk, he will simply stand next to us and wait until we are done, even if I tell him he can wait at his own desk and I will come to him once I'm done. – Summer Nov 27 '17 at 10:34
  • One "Please STOP!" goes a long way. – OldBunny2800 Nov 28 '17 at 0:03
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    My Skype-Times are somewhat long ago, but I remember there was a possibility to set a status message, right? So, when turning to "offline" or "away" have you tried to set the message to something like "probably back by 10:45 AM" or something? – Fildor Nov 28 '17 at 8:19
  • @Fildor I think Slack can do that as well, I like that idea. Thanks! – Summer Nov 30 '17 at 9:15
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So, I'm guessing from your comments you have no idea why your co-worker is showing this behavior. This means you might want to ask them, to get a conversation about the behavior going. Not in a confrontational way though!

Include in your 'conversation starter':

  • One or two examples of his behavior, and how this bothers you. Describe the behaviour factually and make it about you, not their behavior (e.g. that X is distracting you by hovering around your desk meeting, or how it's very counterproductive to leave 10 messages all stating the same since you have to read/listen to all of them before you can go and help him and maybe others).
  • A request as to why X thinks it necessary to do so anyway.
  • A promise that things will go better/smoother if they just call once and maybe leave a chat message so they won't forget what exactly the problem was. Also you might include that a promise that it will only take one message for you to go and help him as soon as possible, but only if you can keep that.

I can think of many reasons why a co-worker would do this, maybe it's a habit formed over the years, maybe he once worked with somebody that didn't take chat/calls serious and he feels he needs to make sure you understand the seriousness of the business, maybe he's just a little awkward... etcetera.

Find out why he is doing it. The most common problem with all of the above boils down to 'it's a habit', so I'll be working from that.


He does it a little less aggressive now but he keeps spamming and pinging.

I'm seeing a positive sign here. This may mean that his behavior is most likely just a habit/coming from ignorance, but he is willing to try to break it after you asked them the first time. Now they might just need a reminder now and again. (Mind you, this is my interpretation of the situation, you'll only know once you've asked).

I've had to be patient with several people because of this. My parents had a habit of texting me for important stuff and expecting an immediate reply, and calling repeatedly for not so important stuff and when I called back they said 'Oh, it's no longer necessary'. I asked them why, and they confirmed in their case it was ignorance and not understanding that I'm not always able to reply and that a call has a higher priority than a text message. I explained to them that calling is for emergencies, texting for those things that can wait. But I've had to remind them a lot.

So, the 'best' way to get your co-worker to stop might, in this case, be to sound like a broken record. If he hovers near your desk, remind him that he's distracting you, and then ask him to go so you can focus on the business at hand and be with him sooner. If he sends you a lot of messages, remind him that you had to work through all of them before you could come over and that they weren't necessary because you're here now and you will also come when there's only one message.

Hopefully, with more repetition, your co-worker will keep improving. You might want to add in the occasional compliment when he's doing 'good', or use that to sandwich your feedback when he's not doing so good:

Hey, remember, last week you did well and it worked fine for the both of us. No need to send me 20 messages now.

But apart from complaining to HR or a manager about this co-workers behaviour, this is about the best you can do.

  • This is exactly what I do in this situation... after the 3rd time I say it though, I stop being nice and make it obvious that I'm ignoring them (I'm totally fine with people thinking I'm an ass for doing this) – Taegost Nov 28 '17 at 14:07
15

People (especially co-workers) who behave like that are just willing to do more. They just don't want to stop working, and don't want to waste time waiting for an answer. They're on their way, and nothing/nobody must slow them down. +1, on one side. -1, on the other side.

From my experience, and that how I handled them, it's important to show them the side of the coin they haven't looked at yet: yours. Too much "harassment" and the reverse occurs...

Anytime I had to deal with this kind-of help-vampire (they're not really one, but close, in the way it's annoying on a long-term and daily basis), I would tell them:

You know, when I don't answer, it's because I'm busy: meeting, own work... When I'll get a chance, I'll go back to you ASAP. BUT, when you keep sending messages like that, they end up at the bottom of the message thread. And it's all messed up, and unclear, we miss a lot of important stuff. YOU AND ME are then wasting time.

I understand that you want to keep on track and work hard, but I'm not always available. When this happens, switch tasks. Work on B, and wait for my answer so you can go back to A (1).

If you send too many messages, the most important ones will be lost. And I'm sure you don't want that. Do you mind trying and send only one request to me ? Sending multiple ones, or reminders, will only lead to both of us wasting time and energy.

From there, a little reminder once in a while will help. Usually, it takes time, as they have to change their behaviour. But don't quit. You work with them, NOT for them...


(1) is a way to deflect, and help them focus on a task. This way, they don't feel like unuseful or wasting time.

8

Nip this in the bud.

At the first message simply reply:

I am sorry, I am busy right now. I will be free at X:XX time.

and not a word more.

If he continues to ping you, ignore it until that time, and address it then:

I told you that I was busy until this time, why did you continue to interrupt me?

If he shows up at your desk.

I'm sorry, you're distracting me, please come back later.

DON'T IGNORE THE BEHAVIOR, ADDRESS IT

If he doesn't leave, say it again like this.

Please go back to your desk, you are distracting me.

Then stare at him and don't say a word until he leaves. If he still persists, then just point to his desk and say

GO

if this becomes a pattern, then you may have to escalate to management.

  • 1
    hmm, "rough love" ... the only thing I would have a problem with is: If I can answer with "I'll be free in 30 mins" , I am already interrupting my work and stream of thoughts and could as well answer the actual question. If that can be automated like an "auto-respond" then I totally agree. I do agree with the points in this answer about him showing up at the desk. – Fildor Nov 28 '17 at 8:16
2

Your question states you want to tell your colleague that chat isn't the best way of a direct response, but the fact is even when they come directly TO your desk, they still don't get a direct response.

I'd instead be telling them directly, "Sorry I can't help you right now."

I'm guessing you are not this persons lead or something like that, in which case they'd be expected to look to you for guidance and it's possible that their workload is too high, or skilled for them currently.

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