The rules on this are simple: If you are uncomfortable with it, it shouldn't happen. Talk to your boss, or your boss's boss or an HR rep.
POLL RESULTS: A Touching Situation ...: (12 comments)
POLL: A Touching Situation ...
in Reader Questions by Guigar
Friday, July 03, 2009 - 12:00 AM
A reader writes...Q: When is it appropriate for a boss or co-worker to touch you? My boss is always putting his arm on mine or my shoulder or my back when he talks to me. It doesn’t seem sexual, but I’m not real comfortable with it. I’ve also worked at places where everyone hugs everyone else for the least little thing. I’m probably in the minority on this, but that doesn’t seem appropriate either. What are the rules on this?
POLL: How do you tell your boss that you don't like being touched?
1339 people have voted in this poll. (This poll is not active.)
From: Saint Louis, MO
posted Friday, July 03, 2009 - 08:10 AM (#48407)
For some people, that's a way of attempting to feel connected, or letting the other person know it's a safe discussion or topic. That said, if you don't like it, mention it privately. Unless you're running drunkenly through the halls and pose a threat to the environment - I have a feeling that's not the issue - then anything you don't like is unnecessary.
Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente... --Pablo Neruda
posted Friday, July 03, 2009 - 04:08 PM (#48411)
There's also the psychological aspect of that means of physical contact to establish consciously or subconsciously a role of mentor/dominant/parent figure over you.
If it makes you uncomfortable, just mention it in private keeping in mind that your boss probably doesn't even realize he is doing it.
posted Saturday, July 04, 2009 - 10:43 AM (#48438)
Contrary to what others may tell you about your rights in the matter, it's not as simple as they want it to be. I'm not a hugger (or particularly a toucher) and I can tell you honestly from brutal personal experience that any attempt to alleviate the discomfort you feel with other people's unfortunate longing to connect will always be greeted with hostility.
To make it short, unless someone is touching you in an inappropriate place or way (such as placing their hand on your butt or giving you a soul kiss) you don't get to call foul, no matter what the company policy says. The simple act of saying, "I'm not a hugger," will cause all kinds of speculation as to what's wrong with you.
Take my advice: swallow it, live with it, and try not to tense up so much when your boss validates his own existence by physically confirming that you're still within range of his needy little hands.
posted Saturday, July 04, 2009 - 02:06 PM (#48441)
As has been noted, there are a lot of reasons people will do this that have nothing to do with sex or harassment. Some people are trying to form a connection to those they work with, since they spend more time with them than their families. Some are trying to assert dominance, but not in a sexual way.
Whatever the reason, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, it should stop. There are a few reasons to go to your boss in private. First, the old saw about praise in public, criticize in private applies. If you go directly to HR, you could be torpedoing the career of an otherwise good boss; allegations of harassment are often taken as proof. If your boss' motives are innocent, he'll understand and give you your space, probably with an apology for making you uncomfortable. Understand that if the behavior is a learned habit on his part, he may lapse at times specifically because he's not thinking about it. IF that's the case, a simple reminder will back him off fast.
If he doesn't stop, or if it gets worse, take it to HR. As much as I think people with good intentions but bad habits ought to be cut some slack, I think people with bad intentions who misuse the authority they're given ought to be cut off at the knees, STAT.
posted Sunday, July 05, 2009 - 02:02 PM (#48446)
As with most social situations, the time to establish the ground rules is in the beginning.
If you've been tolerating this for some time, then you've just plain missed your opportunity to speak up for yourself.
If you don't feel that there's any overt meaning behind the touching, and you just don't like it; the time has come to practice some Operant Conditioning.
Start responding in kind. Don't initiate contact. But, when it happens, reciprocate in the same (but slightly more dominant) manner. If he touches your arm, pat his shoulder. If he puts his hand on your shoulder, put your arm over his and around his shoulders (both shoulders). [Your arm has to be on top, or this is just creepy for everyone in the room.]
It sends a clear sub-conscious message that you are being friendly and receptive, but you are in control.
The best case scenario - your boss gets uncomfortable with the closeness and begins to avoid you. Update your resume and get references.
The worst case scenario - you boss gets too comfortable, and you have to go on several dates before breaking it off gently. Update your resume and get references.
posted Monday, July 06, 2009 - 02:21 AM (#48452)
I completely disagree with TheOriginalJes - it doesn't matter if you didn't speak up when it started. If it makes you uncomfortable, do something about it. Exactly what may be different depending on your employers harassment policy (most places don't call it sexual harassment anymore) but generally, you communicate to the person that you're not comfortable- if for some reason you can't talk to them directly, talk to HR, it's what they're there for, but it doesn't sound like that would be the case here.
Talk to your boss, do it privately, do it politely, but definitely do it- your boss is just acting normally, and has no way of knowing you're uncomfortable if you don't communicate that.
If you do and it doesn't stop, (again, check your company policy for specifics) talk to HR.
CasualNotice apparently had an negative experience when communicating discomfort, and that's unfortunate, but it doesn't mean that every workplace will respond like that, and you should by no means "grin and bare it" because you don't have to.
Remember, people tend to be reasonable, and respectful, as long as you approach them the same way, and give them a chance.
Sa souvraya niende missain ye; I am lost in my own mind.
posted Tuesday, July 07, 2009 - 09:02 AM (#48465)
In Response to Jorn (#48452):
@ Jorn - I was probably being a little more tongue-in-cheek than you perceived. However...
-"Remember, people tend to be reasonable, and respectful, as long as you approach them the same way, and give them a chance."-
I wish that were always true. (You're going to hate what I have to write next.)
Most people, even in an office environment, tend to behave exactly like a pack of dogs, socially.
[Alpha Dog - in charge
Beta Dog - enforcer (kiss-ass)
The Pack - scrambling for status and avoiding blame, whenever possible.
Omega Dog - the butt of every joke and never taken seriously. This one is often blamed for other people's little screw-ups.]
This is what happens to people when they find themselves among in-duh-viduals (Scott Adams) not of their choosing. It happens in schools, public gatherings, reform institutions, and work places.
When you approach someone with something you do not like about them; regardless of how respectful you are, they are going to get emotional over it. Each in-duh-vidual has a unique threshold for whether or not they can control their emotions to respond rationally. But, the feelings (hurt ones) are there, and will be for a while.
With time, two descent people can overcome such things. Hopefully, the OP's boss is a better person than most.
But, when the nature of the situation is that one person is personally rejecting the bonding attempts of another (i.e. - "I don't like you as much as you think I do"); most employer/employee relationships, I feel, would remain strained.
posted Wednesday, July 08, 2009 - 09:22 AM (#48471)
In Response to TheOriginalJes (#48465):
i hardly think that's a universal case. SOME people might see it as "you don't like me, eh?". of course some people would see rejection if you declined a cup of coffee from them. the only (logical) way they could make that argument would be if you told them "hands off", but got all huggy/touchy-feely with OTHER people in the same environment. that doesn't sound terribly likely in this case.
posted Wednesday, July 08, 2009 - 11:34 AM (#48472)
In Response to Lachesis (#48471):
-"SOME people might see it as "you don't like me, eh?". of course some people would see rejection if you declined a cup of coffee from them"-
That's all part of the in-duh-vidual's person threshold.
-"if you told them "hands off", but got all huggy/touchy-feely with OTHER people in the same environment."-
The OP doesn't go into the specifics of their own behavior. I'd wager that most people are oblivious to their own behavior in such cases.
posted Monday, July 27, 2009 - 09:56 AM (#48640)
I had a friend who handled the same situation in a clever way that offended nobody. When someone put a hand on his shoulder, he'd yelp loudly. Then when the hand was (quickly) withdrawn, he'd say "Oh, I'm so sorry. Sunburn." (Or, during the winter, he'd say "I have an allergic rash there" or something else more believable. After this happened once, people would generally never attempt to touch him again.
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