One of my coworkers is a super-close talker and a weird creeper. You’ll be sitting there, minding your own business, when suddenly she appears out of nowhere, whispering up in your ear. The other day, this happened, and I told her she had scared the everloving piss out of me (people have told her before that she creeps, but she just laughs it off), so she decided the best option would be to “reassure” me by putting her hand on my shoulder, which weirdly escalated into a mini neck-massage. The whole thing made me massively uncomfortable, but I didn’t really know how to deal with it—I just wanted her to leave. So what do I say now, if anything? She’s already so defensive about how often she sneaks up on people that I’m worried anything I say won’t register, anyway.
-Don’t Touch-and-Feel Me
And I thought the worst kind of painfully awkward office interaction was trying to maintain conversation with no-filter-dude as you wait for the coffee to brew…
There’s only one way out of this. You have to go into the crevasse.
Next time you see this overly-friendly acquaintance, tell her again that you’d appreciate it if she gave you a little warning when she was coming up behind you (for palatability, blame yourself: “I just sometimes get so focused in on what I’m doing that I don’t realize someone is nearby, and it startles me”), and that, along the same lines, you generally need her to give you a larger amount of personal space.
Again, blame yourself: say you know it’s a little strange, but you have kind of a large “bubble” that you need from other people, otherwise you get stressed.
Then dive down into it: tell her “that includes other people touching me casually—it’s just something I’m not comfortable with.”
If she protests, or claims that she doesn’t do that, you can back off and let her know you’re just trying to be up front. But then, next time she DOES do it, you have to speak up right away and say “sorry, this is one of those ‘personal space’ moments for me,” preferably while physically stepping away from her.
Yes, this will make things briefly more awkward. But that’s the only way to get to the other side, where she isn’t constantly creeping, touching your shoulder, and generally making your life a series of “Jesus CHRIST how long have you BEEN there?” moments.
Hopefully after one or two interactions like this, she’ll get the message (bonus: she might stop coming around so much if SHE feels a little awkward, suddenly).
If she doesn’t, get in “touch” with HR, tell them you’ve tried to talk about it directly with your co-worker, and ask their advice on how to proceed. Yes, that’s as awkward as it gets…
…except, of course, for random, unsolicited neck massaging from a coworker.