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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

where are they now: update #2 - the coworker who sulked when our reader wouldn't date him

Remember the woman whose coworker behaved like a baby after she refused to go out with him, and even enlisted his office friends in pressuring her to date him? Here's her update.

IdiotBoy and his IdiotFriend were spoken to by our mutual manager. IdiotBoy seemed to cool down a bit and decided he would speak to me but not chat. He would not ask me what I had done at the weekend, but he would ask me if I was done with the reference materials for the Blenkinsop report, or whether I knew who was dealing with our account at the newspaper since our usual contact was on maternity, that kind of thing. Fine with me.

Sadly, his IdiotFriend could not accept this, and attempted to corner me in the ladies' toilets, where she said to me that she 'couldn't understand why you won't just date IdiotBoy'.

I, unfortunately, had been having a rather bad day and countered with, '*YOU* don't understand? I will tell you what *I* don't understand. I don't understand why you think my personal life is your business, and I don't understand why you think that nagging at me is going to get IdiotBoy into my pants. And by God, if I hear one more word about it, I am going to file a formal written complaint against the pair of you'.

Cue appearance of departmental manager from toilet cubicle in manner of pantomime Demon King, numerous meetings with HR, and termination of IdiotFriend. IdiotBoy was spared the axe as he apologised profusely to me, promised that he was not responsible for my being cornered and would have stopped Friend if he knew, so he received a final written warning about his conduct.

This was six months ago. I accepted a promotion in a new department, where my colleagues seem pleasant enough and unstalkerish.

I understand via the grapevine, though, that lessons remain to be learned by IdiotBoy's other friends. One of them apparently asked a female staff member at the Christmas party what she would do if he put his hands "there and there." She cheerfully told him that she would smack his face til his ears rang. He seems to have believed her.

36 comments:

Gene said...

Wow! Deus Ex Machina in the person of the departmental manager. Gotta love it!

Mike said...

No one should ever have to put up with this anywhere. Good for you for standing up for yourself! It wouldn't surprise me if there were others in your situation that were inspired by your story.

Anonymous said...

The other lesson to be learned here is never speak in a public place unless you have thoroughly checked and cleared the area first.

fposte said...

Deus ex cloaca?

Whatever it was, glad it worked (though it sounded like the OP had the situation pretty well in hand already with that killer answer), and it's a great followup!

Interviewer said...

I love this update so much, I want to hug it. And I hope that's not inappropriate.

Henning Makholm said...

Behaved like a baby? Sorry, but the original story gives no indication that the guy in question did anything wrong except have the bad luck to develop a crush on a coworker who didn't reciprocate.

So he asks her out. (Anything wrong yet?) She turns him down, with some general comments about keeping work and life separate. Fine.

Our guy is beaten but not broken. That was a rather vague and nonspecific rejection, after all. Perhaps he just caught her on the wrong leg, or on a bad day? So he asks a coworker that he trusts for advice on how to win over the OP's (let's call her Alice) heart, and makes a second try. This time Alice tells him explicitly that she doesn't like him
that way. And he backs down, knocks it off, and gives up.

Anything wrong yet?

Now, shock & horror, Alice finds that they guy doesn't talk to her as much as he used to and appears to avoid her. But seriously, what do you expect? Presumable the poor man has had several months where the most important thing about anything that happened to him at work was: Can I use this as a pretext to go and talk to Alice? This has to stop, so he stops it. Naturally he's talking to her less than he used to. If there's a work-related question hat, objectively, Alice and Jim are equally qualified to answer, better take it to Jim such that it doesn't look like you're still pursuing Alice. And if he's not completely sure that he can be objective about that, better err in the direction of talking to Jim first. The alternative risk would be to still hover around Alice, trying to be charming, soliciting info about her weekends, etc, which would be really creepy, objectionable, stalkerish, dont-take-no-for-an-answer behavior.

Alice also finds out that they guy has stopped beaming with joy when he meets her. Before he was eager and hopeful in her precense; now he's studiously neutral and businesslike. She interprets this as "sulking" and "scowling" because that's how humans work; we interpret the body language of people we know not according to any objective standard, but compared to how we're used to them behaving. Alice is used to the guy acting besotted with her; now he's explicitly not acting that way, because keeping that up after she explicitly rejected him would be creepy and stalkerish.

And if his "businesslike" is tinged a bit with "sad and pained", well what do you expect? Interacting with someone you're infatuated with but know you don't actually have a chance with is painful. That doesn't give him any special rights, of course, but if workspace norms allow you to furrow your brow and look pained in the workplace because you have a toothache or a family member in the hospital, then surely the same latitude should apply to heartbeak.

Behave like a baby? Or a stalker? Really. This tale sounds exactly like an ordinary guy trying honestly to do the rightest thing he possibly can in his situation.

And what this earns him is a "final written warning".

What. The. Flying. Floop.


(Note 1: I'm not defending the female coworker. It sounds rather like she was crushing on our guy and were pushed over some edge when he asked her help to win someone else. But that does not excuse her behavior).

(Note 2: In the update, the OP seems to be offended that the guy stopped asking what she had done in the weekend, and apparently considers the absence of such questions to be "stalkerish". What the double-flying froop?)

Ask a Manager said...

Hmmm, hopefully the OP will weigh in with more details, but it sounded like she originally told him very clearly that she wasn't interested in dating him and he continued to ask her out again (at least once after that, anyway). He then was "wandering the office like a huge dark cloud, sighing and glaring, and pointedly avoiding talking to me even when I am the best person to ask a question of." To me, that's unprofessional and juvenile!

Henning Makholm said...

From the original article. Rejection 1 in its entirety:

"The first time he asked, I had no interest in either him or the show, so declined and told him that I preferred to keep my social life well away from work."

That sounds open-ended enough to me that a reasonable guy could still hope that it was the show that was wrong, and making a better offer on a later occasion might earn him a reconsideration.

As for "wandering the office like a huge dark cloud, sighing and glaring," that sounds quite consistent with how the OP might experience his behavior going from "besotted" to "neutral and perhaps a bit wistful". We don't know anything about how grumpy this guy looks in his neutral mode, and neither does the OP.

"and pointedly avoiding talking to me even when I am the best person to ask a question of"

As explained above, I have trouble interpreting this as anything else than an explicit attempt not to stalk.

Seriously. He knows that he's been talking to her more than he can explain as job-releated. He knows this has to stop. He probably isn't, even with the best of intentions, able to be completely objective about whether it is a completely job-related decision to take question X to Alice rather than Jim. So, naturally, he errs on the side of caution.

This is supposed to make it clear to Alice that he accepts her rejection.

He might even think: "Huh, I thought Alice was enjoying my company as much as I enjoy hers. But I have been asking her about things that Jim could answer just as well, even some things that Jim were more likely to know. If she's not interested in me, this must be annoying her to no end. I'd better do the right thing and ask Jim instead, and make a show of it such that she can stop worrying because she sees that I have improved my behavior."

Henning Makholm said...

(Sorry for quadruple-posting. Stupid blogger.com kept showing an error message when I pressed "publish").

Anonymous said...

Um... I can weigh in on how I read it. As a woman who has been the target of the same exact behavior in the workplace before. I turned a male co-worker down and he proceeded (just as the OP mentioned in the first post) to insinuate, ask me out again, bring me gifts at work, glare at me and complain to other co-workers that I wasn't giving him the time of day. Just because you think that he was broken and beaten doesn't excuse behaving like that and making others uncomfortable in the workplace.

But, I do get some of what you're saying. Which is where I think the update shows the OP behave just fine. So, he stops really communicating beyond basic work requests. She says that's fine. She is not upset that is not doing that. It makes things awkward, believe me, but it's better than the alternative. And he apologizes, which she accepts.

This isn't the tale of some poor, broken man who has been crushed by a rejection.. and so what if he is? He, and any other person (male or female) should deal with it like a mature adult, because that is conceivably what individuals in the workforce are. Getting your friend to persist after a rejection and publicly sulking are juvenile behaviors.

I'm sorry if you don't feel the same way about that Henning, but the OP was placed in an awkward and uncomfortable place by this person's behavior.

emily-hahn said...

Am I the only reader who finds it a little sadly ironic that in posting this update, we get 3 long responses from a dude about how it couldn't possibly be sexual harassment and this woman is misrepresenting this situation? Classic Mansplaining in action.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Emily-Hahn. Classic, classic case of minimizing the man's behavior in order to blame the woman.

If you read the original post, not only did he ignore her expressed boundary of not wanting to date coworkers the first time, but the second time, he spread around the office that he was going to ask her out again. And then proceeded to pout and behave unprofessionally when she turned him down again.

And I love how the bullying behavior of the other coworker is entirely ignored so that somehow this is all the original poster's fault. I wouldn't express an opinion on a coworker's personal life unless asked directly, and even then I definitely wouldn't be pressuring anyone to date anyone. Not cool.

Henning Makholm said...

Classic, classic case of minimizing the man's behavior in order to blame the woman.
Where am I blaming the woman, and for what?

If you read the original post, not only did he ignore her expressed boundary of not wanting to date coworkers the first time,
According to what she wrote, what she expressed was a preference, not a boundary. There's a difference -- a boundary is absolute whereas a preference can conceivably be outweighed by other factors.

There is no evidence whatsoever that his second attempt was asked in any inappropriate way.

but the second time, he spread around the office that he was going to ask her out again.
No, that's not what the story says. It's completely consistent with what we know that he talked to one other person to get advice on how to proceed (and that person subsequently breached his trust and acted like an ass).

And then proceeded to pout and behave unprofessionally when she turned him down again.
Can you please explain exactly what is "unprofessional" about the described behavior. For spork's sake, what he did was to back down and stop bothering her after he found out that she was bothered! Also, and be sad. People are allowed to be sad.

And I love how the bullying behavior of the other coworker is entirely ignored so that somehow this is all the original poster's fault.
Who says anything is the original poster's fault?

Henning Makholm said...

"He, and any other person (male or female) should deal with it like a mature adult, because that is conceivably what individuals in the workforce are."
Please explain to me which behavior in this situation would be more mature and aldult the what he appears to have done. Even after several rereadings I see no indication that he did anything but carefully and deliberately stop acting like a love-struck puppy around her. That's the Right Thing to do!

"Getting your friend to persist after a rejection"
That would be shitty indeed, but we have no reason at all to think he did that. Nothing in the original story or the follow-up indicates that the "friend" acted on anything but her own initiative. She's an adult; she's presumably fully cabable of deciding to be an ass (or not) without needing direction from a man.

Ask a Manager said...

I think I would say that in the workplace these issues are more sensitive than outside of it, and so anyone who asks out a colleague needs to be prepared to back off immediately if their first overture isn't received enthusiastically; this isn't the time to push to test the boundary. And they also need to be prepared to control their emotions and not display hurt feelings in the workplace if the crush turns them down. The rules/expectations are different for this stuff at work than in the rest of life.

People who don't think they can play by those rules should accept that colleagues will be off-limits to them romantically; I think those rules are the price of entry to potentially dating coworkers!

Anonymous said...

"Who says anything is the original poster's fault?"

Henning, you are the one insinuating that it was the OP's fault. Your misogyny is astounding.

As a lady who has been through the exact same situation as the OP, I can tell you that being stalked by someone with a sour grapes attitude is very frightening.

This guy was indeed acting like a baby - so he got rejected; it happens to everyone at some point. Instead of chalking it up to experience and moving on with his life, he chose to behave in a manner that was unprofessional and childish.

Henning Makholm said...

More to anonymous:
As a woman who has been the target of the same exact behavior in the workplace before. I turned a male co-worker down and he proceeded (just as the OP mentioned in the first post) to insinuate, ask me out again, bring me gifts at work, glare at me and complain to other co-workers that I wasn't giving him the time of day.

That does go over the line, yes. If you're given gifts by someone you not only haven't dated, but explictly declined dating, then you certainly have my blessing (should you need or want it) to scream like hell and run for your life.

However, in the story we're discussing here, the parts of your experience that I've bolded do not feature. Then there's glare -- coupled with the other squicks you recite I'll readily believe that your unwanted admirer did scowl evilly and maliciously. But it doesn't quite cut it for me as the sole evidence of ill will -- too subjective.

Mind you, I'm not at all suggesting that the OP is dishonest, lying or otherwise to blame for anything. She explains that she felt the man's behavior to be hostile. In the absence of impossibly convincing evidence otherwise, that was really how she honestly, genuinely felt.

What I object to is the inference that because she felt it that way, he must have meant to make that impression.

Communication is hard. Body language is harder. Things can easily go sour between people without any of them being at fault. I submit that, for all we know, this may easily be one of those cases.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad this worked out well for you. I've been in the same situation a few times and it is never fun.

That said, I am a little uncomfortable with the two coworkers were referred to as Idiot*. If you are not happy with someone acting unprofessionally.....well, I probably would have named them that in my head, but edited it when I wrote it. It just makes on wonder what they privately refer to you as. Just saying.

Henning Makholm said...

"Henning, you are the one insinuating that it was the OP's fault."
No, I'm not. It boggles my mind how anyone might think the OP did anything wrong.

Can you please explain what I've written that makes you think I'm suggesting that the OP is at fault? Whatever my mistake in phrasing was, I would like to learn to avoid it in the future.

Japonica said...

And here, as requested, is the OP, to correct a couple of misconceptions.

My original post stated that'he told his confidants at the office what he was planning to do, in the expectation that I would be delighted with his offer. I found out this when I was asked on the Monday in a 'nudge and wink' fashion how I'd enjoyed the concert on the weekend. Further, one of his confidants attempted to reproach me for turning him down..'.
Note the use of the plural in 'confidants'. Also, though I guess this isn't explicit, the nudger/winker and the reproacher were not the same person.

As I thought was pretty clear in the first para of the update, I was fine with my unwanted admirer deciding he would talk to me about business matters only, in fact that was by far the best solution. What I was not fine with was him wandering round slamming things down, glaring at me, scowling, backing away when I was near as if I smelled bad or might bite, and most egregiously, passing a client document written in a foreign language not to me (the holder of 2 degrees in that language, and currently finishing a translation diploma) but to someone else to try and work out via Google. That alone could have got him a disciplinary warning.

Nobody ever seems to mention, in the advice articles about dating colleagues, that it is entirely possible that they will say 'no thanks', and you will have to take it like an adult.

Japonica said...

Anon at 21 Dec, 4.45pm, I did hear that his fired confidant referred to me as Ms Frostyknickers. I found that hilarious.

Anonymous said...

Henning, there may be some cultural differences at work here, you are not in the USA, correct?

My Norwegian cousins experience a far less formal workplace than we do here. I could be wrong, but I would like to throw that on the table for your consideration. A coworker originally from Serbia has remarked on this several times, so it may be a Euro vs USA thing.

Julie O'Malley said...

It sounds like Henning is a nice guy who is viewing the situation through the lens of male privilege, combined with the assumption that every man's motivations are as benign as his own would be in a similar situation.

None of the women commenters seem to have any trouble relating to how annoying and frightening it can be when faced with the kind of behavior the OP describes.

I love how the OP handled this, and I love that it worked out in her favor in the end.

Anonymous said...

Yep...male privilege by the truckload. Henning, your "mistake" is not in phrasing.

Your mistake is, as Julie so aptly said, in assuming that every guy's motivations are as pure as you assume you would be. And in not understanding (as, truthfully, most guys in my experience don't) just how frightening and upsetting it can be for a woman to be subject to unwanted attention and a reaction like the original poster describes.

The basic concept you don't understand is this: On some level, every minute of every day, every woman knows that she is potentially a target of anything from an unwanted comment or advance to full-on assault. Most of the time it's not a stranger grabbing us off the street.

Most of the time it's that coworker we thought was mostly a nice guy but a little creepy. Or that guy we went out with. Or that guy at the bar, or that party, or that guy we thought was a friend or who is a friend of a friend or even of our boyfriend, husband, or partner.

So maybe the guy in question knew that he had no intention of escalating his behavior. And to his credit, he apologized and seems to have mended his ways. But the original poster did not know that at the time. And so, from the point of view of most women, she had every reason to be angry, upset, and even a little frightened.

Because, one of the first things he did was to ignore her boundaries by not only asking her out again, but involving others (his "confidants" in the office). And ignoring a woman's expressed "no" is one of the early signs of someone who may not take "no" for an answer in bigger things.

Paranoid? Maybe - but most women have reason if so.

Henning Makholm said...

AAM:
"I think I would say that in the workplace these issues are more sensitive than outside of it, and so anyone who asks out a colleague needs to be prepared to back off immediately if their first overture isn't received enthusiastically; this isn't the time to push to test the boundary."
OK, that sounds like a workable rule. As should be obvious, it is not one I would have chosen or expect the people around me to live by (which may, as suggested by Anon 4:59, be a cultural thing; I'm in Denmark) but it could work without leading to injustice or arbitrariness.

"And they also need to be prepared to control their emotions and not display hurt feelings in the workplace if the crush turns them down."
Here I'm still not quite convinced (beyond a reasonable doubt) of the guy's guilt. It must be very difficult for anyone on the receiving end to distinguish between inappropriate pouting and appropriate, necessary "back to normal", simply because they have no experience with what "normal" is for this guy.

That being said, Japonica's later corrections do make the guy sound worse than my impression from the first story. I didn't get that there was more than one "confidant", which rather shatters my earlier theory. "Slamming things down" might conceivably be interpreted at being angry with himself for his stupidity, but "backing away when I was near as if I smelled bad or might bite" ... sorry, I got nothing there.

The defense respectfully requests a continuance in order to plan our response to this new and previously unknown testimony. We might be interested in discussing a plea bargain.

Henning Makholm said...

Anon:
"Henning, your "mistake" is not in phrasing. Your mistake is, as Julie so aptly said, in assuming that every guy's motivations are as pure as you assume you would be."

I'm sorry, but I cannot comprehend how this mistake, assuming that I made it (*), can have led you to think I was suggesting that the OP was at fault.

If you think I said the OP was at fault, then what was the mistake or error you think I said she committed?

(*) Which may be a matter of semantics. It is certainly possible, given the information in the original story, that the man is a slimy, creepy beast. My point is just that it is equally possible that he's a decent guy, and I'm not willing to condemn him before I know he is the beast.

Class factotum said...

"The first time he asked, I had no interest in either him or the show, so declined and told him that I preferred to keep my social life well away from work."

That sounds open-ended enough to me that a reasonable guy could still hope that it was the show that was wrong, and making a better offer on a later occasion might earn him a reconsideration.


No. It's not open ended. It is a completely closed statement with no ambiguity whatsoever.

I will translate it ("I preferred to keep my social life well away from work") into woman-talk:

I have no interest in dating you, now or ever. I may or may not date co-workers, but in your case, it's definitely not. I am not attracted to you. I don't want to go out with you. But I am too polite to say those exact words so I am using The Code, which dammit you should know by now.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Class Factotum. Her original statement was in no way open ended, it was polite. Suitors too self absorbed to recognize that fact and view it differently just confirm why the rejection was issued.

Class factotum said...

Yep. Polite rejecter. If it was just the show that was wrong, she would (or I would) have said, "You know, monster truck rallies are really not my thing, but I'd love to go to a movie sometime."

Or if it was the timing: "Darn it! I'm visiting my parents next weekend! How about the next Saturday?"

If she wants to date you, she will let you know. Any kind of polite demurral without asking for another chance is a rejection. Move on. Lots of fish in the non-work-world sea.

Anonymous said...

Or it could be interpreted, quite literally, as 'I don't want to socialise with my colleagues outside work stuff', with the added implication of 'And I'm not interested enough in you to make an exception'.

fposte said...

CF, I don't think it's a "womanspeak" thing, I think it's a willful failure on the aggressor's part to hear something he doesn't want to hear. She said she wasn't going to date him. She couched it in professional terms, but she said no. That's all she has to do. (If you want a common female equivalent--though not a workspace one--it's the tendency to read a man's explicit statement that he's not ready to be monogamous/not that into you/not a good boyfriend as a cover for his serious devotion. It's not the statement, it's the audience insistence that it meant what they wanted to hear.)

I'm not actually sure the OP is in the US either, so I don't know what laws are relevant to her. But it's worth remembering that in U.S. workplaces there can actually be legal consequences to a continued misreading in the form of repeating the approach. Just go back to Square One. Did she say "No?" Then it doesn't matter if you heard "No, but..." or "No, because...." The "No" is what counts in the workplace.

Jamie said...

Henning said, "Presumable the poor man has had several months where the most important thing about anything that happened to him at work was: Can I use this as a pretext to go and talk to Alice?"

There's no evidence in the original letter that this is true - but if it was? This would bother me more than anything else.

Maybe I'm the grinchiest grinch in the world - but if anything non-work related is the most important thing to someone at work they need to quit their jobs in favor of people who can get stuff done.

Overwrought co-workers affect everyone's productivity. I think people should focus their angst into their job performance - that's a win-win.

Class factotum said...

CF, I don't think it's a "womanspeak" thing, I think it's a willful failure on the aggressor's part to hear something he doesn't want to hear.

I agree the aggressor ignored what he didn't want to hear. She was perfectly clear but she was not as blunt as she could have been. I was also writing this more for Henning's sake, as he interpreted it as an open-ended statement.

Justin said...

Henning -

This used to be you eh? Seems like alot of replies to just one topic.

But seriously, if she ain't interested, she ain't interested. That's pretty clear right away. Drop it after one try. You don't have to like or be happy, but you still have to work normally.

fposte said...

CF--I think you and I are probably on the same page here. I just want to make the point that what she said was sufficiently clear that she didn't have the slightest obligation to be any blunter, and that somebody who decided that what she said wasn't a "No" would probably have heard longing in "If you ever talk to me again, I'm calling the cops, right after I mash your genitals into a bloody pulp."

In other words, for the Hennings of this world, she was clear enough to make it his obligation to deal with the rejection, and that's all she needed to be. It's not like guys are free to keep harassing co-workers until their targets have managed to make them fear for their safety; the freedom ends at the "No." Regardless of what they're creepily scheduling their day around.

Lani said...

she was not completely clear in her first rejection, she said she preferred to keep social and work life separate! Isn't it possible that he was a glass-half-full kind of guy that thought even a small chance was worth going for? Once he did get a definite no, he backed off and avoided her for a while.

except for his assumption that the man was greatly in love with the woman, I agree with everything Henning Makholm said

and for the record, I am not man trying to "minimize another man's behavior in order to blame the woman", I am a young woman who was followed around high school for three years by a love-struck teenaged boy who called me at home every night for six months (ending call by telling me he loved me), found out my home address in order to bring me a gift, and once told me he wanted to kill himself because of how much my constant rejection was hurting him. He even dated two of my friends (at different times); one to make me jealous, and the other to get over me and then broke up with them when it didn't work (he told me all this after). Every time I rejected him, he'd sulk for a week or two, and then he'd be back in to it.

My point is, at no time during this did I consider it to be sexual harassment, it was just annoying.