Friday, July 16, 2010

The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

Chatty Kathies, Gadflies, Chatterboxes, Klingons, Stalkers.  You know what they are.  They are those people that stop by your desk everyday, IM you, call you, email you, and just won’t leave you alone and have no legitimate reason for being there other than to shoot the shit.  It doesn’t matter what you are doing, what time of the day it is, all of a sudden this person appears.  They ask you innocuous questions, “How’s your day going?”, “How’s the family?”, etc.  They start telling you about their day, their kids/pets/house plants/bed sores, and you didn’t even ask.  If you don’t know one, then you might be one.  There is nothing harmful in that, there is nothing bad about chatting with a friend.  But when it happens every day and begins to occupy the time that you have reserved for something else (like work), then it becomes an issue.  What do you do?

I have run into this situation several times in my personal and professional life.  Sometimes if you ignore the person long enough, they will go away.  But if they don’t get the hint, you have to take more extreme measures.  I did a little research on the topic when I was confronted with a particularly bad situation a few years ago.  At the time, there was a person from a different development team at work who would come over and plop right down at my desk every day and strike up a 45 minute conversation.  In the first two weeks, I learned more about his personal life than anyone who was not his spouse, doctor or clergyman should know.  I didn’t want to ruin my work relationship with this person and I didn’t want to cause any issues, so at first I just smiled and listened.  But then it started to interfere with my work and I found out later that it was also effecting this person’s performance, and it had to be dealt with. 

I can’t find the websites that I originally referred to on the subject, but I have found plenty more that say the same thing.  I found one that has some “professional” tips for resolving the problem.  Many of the experts will tell you to be direct, but gentle.  I started out by telling the person they only had 10 minutes talk and then I had to get back to work.  When 10 minutes were up, I would end the conversation and resume working.  When that was established, I moved on to “scheduling” time to talk with the person, by saying things like “I can’t talk now, but if you come back at 2, I can give you 10 minutes.”  When that sunk in, I began giving the person things to do, like “Hey while you are here, I need you to do this.”  That pretty much took care of that.  The person eventually stopped by once every few days and only stayed for a few minutes.  We were still friends.  All of these suggestions are great and I can attest that they do work.  But what is the fun in that? 

In today’s digital, work-from-home age, the interruptions are a little different, but they still have the same impact.  People can’t come and waste your time by stopping at your desk unless they physically come to your house, which has happened.  But that doesn’t mean people can’t reach out to you through instant messengers, email or even the phone.  It’s now not a problem of physical presence, but one of the ever-flashing IM window, or the cluttered inbox, or, gods forbid, the ringing of the phone. 

A friend of mine at work, we will call her “Ren” to protect her identity, told me a few weeks ago about klingon that she currently has, we will refer to the klingon as “Stimpy”.  Everyday Stimpy IM’s Ren, asks about her family, her baby, etc. and the two have never even met in person!  Worse than that, they only had a few brief conversations a few years ago while working on a project.  What one person took for a work conversation, the other took a life-long bond of friendship.  Now Stimpy won’t stop talking.  And it’s not the daily contact that is the issue, it’s that the questions are personal, referring to Ren’s baby as “her little niece”, asking about her life, and such.  It sounds like Stimpy could show up at her front door one day and ask to spend a few days with her while she is in town!  What do you do?

The first attempts at ignoring the gadfly failed miserably.  Soon Ren was greeted with replies in IM of “Why is my friend not responding, is something wrong?”  Blocking her in IM causes Stimpy to send emails of “I see you are offline, is everything ok?”  My advice – have fun with it.  Here are my suggestions.

Reversal Method:  Start asking her about her family, her husband, etc. but don’t stop there, get really personal.  Ask her what her man looks like, respond with “yum he sounds delicious.”  Ask if he is a top performer - wink wink and go from there.

Flood Gate Method: Don’t just respond, attack!  Launch a denial of service campaign against her.  Stay up late, get up early, don’t stop chatting all day long.  When you can’t be around, ask someone to log into your IM account for you and have them carry on the campaign. 

Disturbing Method: “How’s my little niece?”  “What, oh the baby, yeah, haven’t seen her all day.  I wonder if her water bowl is full.”  Or “OMG that kid is driving me NUTZ! Sometimes I could just smother her with a pillow.  haha j/k ;(”  Stop short of a criminal investigation.

Gross Method: “BRB gotta go, got the runs today.”  And then follow it up 15 minutes later with “Phew!  You better be glad you are not around here!  That smell could gag a maggot!  I mean, can I get a courtesy flush?  Boo-ya!”

Even Grosser Method:  “Stimpy, this is weird, but do you ever get that not-so-fresh feeling?”  Feel free to elaborate in detail about your least fresh day.

Captain Oveur Method: “Have you ever been in a cockpit before?  Have you ever seen a grown man naked?  Stimpy…have you ever been in a Turkish prison?”

Grosser still method: “Eeewww, there are short hairs all over my keyboard!  I wonder how they got here, they don’t taste like nose hairs.”

Henry's Chat Method:  Respond with only obscure movie quotes and music lyrics.  “How’s your day?” Response - “Is this to be an empathy test?  Capillary dilation of the so-called blush response?  Fluctuation of the pupil.  Involuntary dilation of the iris.” (Blade Runner)  Or for “How’s my little niece?”  Response - “She's like thirteen years old, and if you even look at her funny, I'm gonna stick an umbrella up your ass and open it.” (Last Boy Scout)  Or “What’s up?”  Response - “Now is the time, for me to rise to my feet, wipe your spit from my face, wipe these tears from my eyes!” (Hatebreed – I Will Be Heard)

Institutionalized Method: “Stimpy, do you hear them?  The voices?  Some people can’t hear them, but I can.  Sometimes they ask me to do things for them.  Sometimes they ask me to do bad things.  Very bad things.  Shush, shush, don’t say anything, don’t you hear them.  They are like butterflies in my head, so soft, like wisps of smoke.  They get angry when I don’t do what they say.  They make me hurt myself. DON’T YOU HEAR THEM?”

Old Spice Method: I won’t go there, I think they covered that one enough.

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