Intrusive Coworker


How do you suggest I tell a coworker that it makes me uncomfortable when she/he comes to my desk to use my stapler, then looks over my shoulder, reads my emails, and looks at my desk calendar and papers/documents?


No Trespassing


Dear No Trespassing:

You say, “Sally, please don’t read my e-mails and what is on my desk.” Have you tried that? Or have you thought about giving Sally a stapler as a present? Or have you a black marker? If not, why not borrow one from Sally and then print a bold sign that reads, MY EMAIL AND WHAT’S ON MY DESK IS PRIVATE!!! Or FRIENDS OR ENEMIES ARE NOT ALLOWED TO READ WHAT’S HERE, EVEN THIS SIGN!!! Get the point? You either bite your tongue or express your self. Perhaps these suggestions will prompt you will think of other better ways to answer to your “How do you suggest I tell a coworker” question, but there is no way better than kindly and firmly telling Sally that you are uncomfortable about this invasion of your space. Possibly your company handbook speaks to this matter. If so, that can add support to your desire for keeping your workstation private. Yet another way is to make it one of several items on the agenda of a staff meeting. You can suggest to your superior that she/he put the topic of Workstation Privacy on the agenda. This is an indirect way to tell Sally you don’t want her nosing into your business. But ask yourself: Is that the way you would want Sally to inform you about something she dislikes that you do or would you rather that she kindly and firmly tell you face to face?

The rules of how we should and should not communicate and act within our work group often are unwritten, and therefore transgressed. Policy about working relations usually springs from an annoyance of trespassing. But I don’t think Sally’s reading your email is a serious enough trespass to spell out a rule for your work group; however, you apparently will have to spell it out to Sally. Hopefully, you have earned enough good will of Sally by being helpful to her or at least to have applauded when she has done something well that confronting her about trespassing will not permanently cause a riff in your working relationship. Harmony is important in a work group, but so is helping one’s coworkers learn what is out of bounds.

One final thought: Don’t make this irritation into a federal case. Keep your words to Sally short and sweet. You can smile but be firm. You may have to repeat them more firmly if she repeats looking into your business. Still keep them short, sweet, and solid. Only then, might you need to have a time-out talk about how and why you feel as you do.

Even little incidents like this one can motivate you to think about the big picture; and that is what you are hired to do; to deliver quality work and help your work group deliver top quality work. And if you are really focused on the big picture, you might even invite Sally to freely look at what is in your workspace and you will feel free to look into her workspace. Why? Because everything there at your workstation is about what you as a team member are doing to enhance the performance and profit of your organization.

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. If you like, send a note to let me know what you elect to do and what works or fails to.

William Gorden