Stay calm when cooling off office Romeo

September 05, 1993|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

In some ways it would be easier if this co-worker were overtly sexually harassing you; you could, at least, know what to do. But what he's doing instead is spending what seems like 37 hours out of every 40-hour week trying to get you to date him.

Luncheon invitations. Flowery compliments. Sappy notes. Dinner invitations. Theater tickets. Chatty phone calls. More notes. Flowers. You're beginning to feel like a plump bunny with a wolf on its trail.

If this male colleague were making persistent and unwelcome sexual advances toward you, you'd know what to do -- rebuff, record and, if necessary, report them.

But how do you rebuff more subtle advances without (a) hurting his feelings unnecessarily and (b) paying -- and paying! -- for bruising his ego?

If you respond in an angry or hostile fashion to his 51st dinner invitation, you run the risk of being labeled "hysterical," and if you put him down (even inadvertently) while putting him off, you'll feel guilty and sound like a real you-know-what.

If you attempt to avoid the unpleasantness altogether by putting him off with lame excuses, on the other hand, you're not only being dishonest, but also risking the accusation that you led him on.

So how do you turn an office Romeo off without turning him into your eternal enemy?

First, by making sure that you're absolutely clear in your own mind about your own feelings. If your feelings about dating this person are ambivalent, you may indeed be sending mixed messages -- never an effective or fair way to handle this sort of situation.

If you're absolutely clear that you do not want a personal relationship with this man -- or perhaps any co-worker of the opposite sex -- you'll need to insist that his pursuit stop immediately.

Do so in private and in a calm, cool, matter-of-fact manner. Emphasize that your turn-down has nothing to do with him (even if it does), but with your own situation and beliefs. Don't say, "I don't want to go out with you." Say: "I don't date men with whom I work -- ever."

Don't say, "We have nothing in common." Say: "My job is too important to me to complicate it with a personal relationship with any co-worker."

If he argues, listen patiently, then simply repeat whatever you just said. "I understand that you still want to take me out, but I don't date men with whom I work -- ever.

"I believe you when you say you're great fun on a date (or a perfect gentleman, or a nice guy -- whatever), but my job is too important to me to complicate it with a personal relationship with any co-worker."

Once you've been clear about where you stand, don't allow this meeting to degenerate into an argument. End it on a pleasant (but firm) note instead. Then get on with your work and assume he'll do the same.

If he doesn't -- if he continues to make it difficult for you to do your job by continuing his clearly unwelcome advances -- you'll need to be even more adamant:

"I will not allow you to interfere with my work or damage my professional reputation in this manner. For the last time: Stop annoying me. If you don't, I will report your harassment to our superiors."

You'll need to start keeping a written record of everything he says and does, too, and if his unwelcome attentions continue, to file a formal complaint within your company.

And if you feel unsafe in any way -- at home or at work -- you'll need to file a complaint with local law enforcement officials as well, because no one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable in this manner.

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