This post is behind a cut due to intense discussion of sexual violence and stalking behavior.
I could really use your help with a situation I’ve been dealing with at work. My job is at a small marketing firm, and I have a lot of daily contact with our customers, both over the phone and by email (not in person). One of our customers, whom I’ll call Jim, has always been a bit of a weirdo. He has a tendency to get hung up on small details that are really unimportant, so he’s much “needier” than most of the people we serve, and everyone in my office suspects he has some sort of neurological or mental health issue, based on the way he communicates. For instance, on the phone, he’ll say one thing in a very friendly, “normal” way, and the next time he speaks, his voice will sound completely different and curt, almost as though somebody else has picked up the phone.
Anyway, my co-worker “Lindsay” and I have worked with him on a couple of projects since I started working here this spring. Recently it became apparent that he was getting us confused, probably because we have similar job functions and will trade off on work, and because we are both female and might not sound that different over the phone. At this point, Jim went and found pictures of both of us on the company website and saved them onto his computer, so he could “tell us apart” (which makes no sense, since we’ve never met). He also sent me an email individually telling me I was pretty, and he should have guessed, because I “sound so pretty over the phone.” He also emailed Lindsay and I jointly to comment on our appearances, and included winky faces and LOLs and the like which were not the norm for the professional tone we like to take in our emails. My (male) boss initially offered to speak to him about it, then changed his mind and said he’d let us decide how to handle it. We both ignored his emails and hoped that would be the end of it.
He called me earlier this week and immediately told me he was smiling because he had my picture up in his email and was looking at my pretty face. I completely ignored this comment and asked him a business-related question in a very serious tone, but he kept up the flirty comments throughout the call. Because I was flustered that he did not seem to understand professional boundaries, I could not think of anything to say to change the tone of our conversation, and giggled nervously a few times, which probably did not help his apparent impression of my willingness to participate in his flirtation. Now, every email that does not CC anyone within his own company is filled with the LOLs and declarations of how he “lives for working with [name of my firm].” I feel that each passing incident makes it that much harder for me to speak up and put him in his place. I dread talking to him.
My company is tiny, tiny, tiny, and we do not have HR. I have documented each of these exchanges, and have joked around about it with Lindsay and my boss. Now I don’t feel so jokey about it, I want it to stop. I think my boss could still address this for me, but I would much rather try to take care of it myself first. At this point, I’m at a bit of a loss, especially since the guy can be so Jekyll and Hyde, and was already weird to work with before he started with the creepy comments. Any ideas for me, that would minimize any damage to the business relationship? I’m not sure he’ll stop even if asked to directly, so I’d love some follow-up lines to reinforce my boundaries after the line is drawn.
Thank you so much for your advice. I wouldn’t normally be this shy about telling someone to STFU, but I’ve never had a customer get creepy with me before, and it’s obviously different than a random creeper encounter on my personal time.
Sign me —
My Appearance is Irrelevant
Hey Captain Awkward,
I am the LW of the “how do I break up with my mean ex who scares me?” Recently I have received harassing emails and blog comments from his new girlfriend telling me I am a liar and a bunch of other such things. Also telling me to stop “making up stories of my abuse.”
I emailed her back and said, “Sorry you do not believe me, but I am not lying. I am blocking your email so you cannot email me again.” Is there a script I can use that is better in case she tries to contact me again.
I am really upset about this. Not so much because she doesn’t believe me/he is lying about what he did but because it is dragging up things I want to forget.
Not Making It Up
Hello again, Not Making It Up. I am so glad that you are out of that relationship, and so sorry that he has spun his girlfriend up to harass you by proxy. She’ll probably find out soon enough that you were not making things up, and the thought of that is just so sad to me. I can’t wish that on her, not for anything, even if she is being a jerk to you.
I think what you said to her was just fine. Going forward, my advice is to block her from leaving comments on your blog, and if she contacts you again, just don’t respond at all. Every time you respond, your ex-boyfriend gets the satisfaction of knowing that he’s got your attention again. He’s using her to try to manipulate you, and stories of you to try to manipulate her, so that both of you have to think about him and each other and feel crappy, because he is an abusive lying shitmitten.
If you leave it totally alone, eventually they’ll leave you alone when they figure out that they can’t capture your attention. Someday you’ll probably get a message that says “Sorry, you were right about everything.” Hopefully this will all be so far in your past that your first thought will be “Wait a second, who?”
In the meantime, they’ll probably find ways to ping you now and again. Each time, delete/block whatever it is to the extent you can, do something really nice to yourself, and congratulate yourself for getting out from under the thumb of this guy. Your life is so much better now, right? And so much better than this lady’s is. You are brave and smart, and you can definitely handle and outlast this.
Dear Captain Awkward:
Dear Captain Awkward,
I have a dilemma that I suspect is quite common, but I’m still running into mental roadblocks as to how to properly approach it. Background: I’m a lesbian and a big-eff Feminist working in a male-dominated field, in a male-dominated company. I’ve worked marketing, event planning and PR for rape crisis centres, and volunteer on rape crisis support lines. I know a lot about anti-oppression and actively work on acknowledging my privilege and on calling people out when they’re being oppressive asshats. Except that’s not what I want to do at work. At work, I wanna focus on my interesting tech stuff and not feel I have to educate my boss and coworkers on racism and why and how they’re being fucking offensive.
My boss is a young-ish, laid-back, former hippy who’s travelled all over the world and loves to talk and thinks he knows everything about everything. A nice enough guy, but these topics he brings up at work are raising my blood pressure. And it doesn’t help I have 3 male coworkers who fall easily into the conservative end of the spectrum, so I’ve got no backup there. The lot of them could talk until they run out of breath, not really caring if they have a lick of knowledge about the subject. I mostly keep my mouth shut when he brings up touchy subjects, because I cannot be bothered to try to get into convos with people who won’t change their minds, have no investment in the topic, and will keep talking until I give up bc I’ve got other shit to do and my face is red and I just want them to STFU.
So, the question in all this, is how do I draft a nice, calm email to my boss about work-appropriate conversations and how his oft-racist verbal meanderings are contributing to a hostile workplace for me? I don’t wanna quit my job, I don’t want to go over his head to HR if I don’t have to, and I don’t want to be “the one who caused a scene” b.c., oh yeah, he’s also a huge gossip. Help?
Damsel in de tech
Hello there, Entire Internet! Thank you for stopping by.
Edited to Add: As of Monday, 8/13 I’ve locked commenting on this post. The moderation demands are overwhelming. Thanks for your constructive contributions! We’ll pick this discussion back up another time.</EDIT>
Right now I’m fielding a lot of emails and comments from guys who are worried they might be creepy or outraged at having been unfairly called creepy and wanting everyone to stop using that unfair word because it is mean and unfair.
I’ve been wanting to write a follow-up post to #322 & #323 (The Case of the Creepy Dudes) about what people can do to be less creepy, but John Scalzi beat me to it, adding to the excellent work of Dr. Nerdlove and Cliff Pervocracy on this subject. If you wrote to me (or commented at length) looking for steps on how not to be creepy or unsure what creepy means, go read all of those links in their entirety and hopefully you’ll figure something out.
I’m noticing some interesting common assumptions and patterns among the responses I’m seeing, and I’d like to write about them here.
First, if you’ve been called creepy, I have no absolution for you. Maybe you were creepy. Maybe you weren’t and the person just didn’t like you for some reason. We have no magic wand to remove the stain of creepiness from you. Arguing that because you are not creepy or because you had good intentions when you did the possibly creepy things, NO ONE is creepy or should ever be called creepy? Not helping your case.
As a single woman working in a male dominated field, I do run into some weird situations. But I’ve never been confronted by a jealous wife before.
A year ago I relocated to a city about an hour’s drive from home so that I could be closer to my new job. A few days ago I was in a bad car crash. I survived it unharmed but my car was totalled. As the wreck was being towed, I called a few people, who I knew lived in the neighborhood, asking for a ride. I was very shaken up after the accident and was too scared to take a cab.
The first person to respond was a coworker who is a good work place friend of mine. He was close by and came to give me a ride. He had his two kids with him and they all dropped me off at my place. The next morning he texted to ask me if I needed to get a ride to work. My insurance company was going to give me a rental later that day, and I did need a ride to the office till then. He picked me up from my apt and dropped me at the office and I thanked him and that was it.