How to Deal With Relationships in the Workplace/Mixed messages


QUESTION: Hello Alice,
I am in my late 20s and I am puzzled by the behvaior of one of the vendors who I regularly work with. For months he waa calling me at work, calling me on my cell phone and texting me outside work hours. He never contavted me about anything that wasn't work related, but I got the strong feeling he was using work as am excuse to talk to me. Anything we have to talk about could be handled in 5 minutes or less per day over email. The phone calls are completely unnecessary, I spend as much time talking to him as all the other vendors combined.

A few months ago I decided to ask him for a date and he said that he was seeing someone, but that he would go on a date with me if he wasn't. Anyway, the pattern of calling and texting continued until 3 weeks ago when I decided we needed to switch over to email-only communication because he was becoming a distraction and my coworkers were gossiping about us. They call him my boyfriend. Also, I was fed up with waiting for him to decide what to do.

Since then I've had to have my coworkers screen his calls and take messages for me because I wanted to maintain strictly email-only contact. He came to my work today and seemed upset. For some reason I assumed this was because he was upset with my behavior. After he left I texted him to explain why I had to stop talking to him - he was becoming a distraction and my coworkers were starting to talk. He said he didn't understand what I was talking about and that he had never heard any rumors about himself and implied I was lying. Texting probably wasn't the right choice, but I didn't want to say anything personal over work email because it's monitored. I explained the situation further and he agreed that communicating by email only was ok. A little later I felt compelled to tell him the truth, which is that I knew he was interested in me and I could tell he was never going to do anything about it and for that reason I had to stop. He didn't respond to that. I feel certain I am right and I would still like to go on a date with him. Yet, I am concerned this was not wise to disclose because now we will have an awkward time trying to work together.

What would you suggest? I am not attached to the idea of dating him, but we need to be able to work together. I need to keep work at work and I need him to stop flirting with me of he has no intention of following through.

Thank you!

ANSWER: Hi Tina,

I don't think you did the right thing having co-workers screen his calls and text messages for you.  You are a grown up, and you should have handled it without involving others at work.  Involving co-workers was immature and made for unnecessary and embarrassing workplace drama, and a now awkward situation for both you and the guy.

At this point, I would advise you to back off completely.  Respond to work issues with him, be polite, smile as if there is no awkwardness and speak no more of how you feel about him, etc. If he flirts with you, smile; go about your business, and do not respond.   In other words, let it go.  It is not to be.  

He is a good boyfriend to the girl he is seeing; he chose not to engage with you and to be faithful to her.  That's what you want in a boyfriend, someone who is loyal, loving and exclusive to you.  Set your sights elsewhere and find your own boyfriend.  Next time keep personal issues personal and do not create drama at work.

Take care.  I wish you well.

Alice J. Bogert  

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I did not have my coworkers screen calls on my phone or texts, only calls he made to my work phone. I asked them to take messages so I did not have to deal with him directly and I feel it was more professional that way since he was flirting with me on my work number. I didn't tell them the reason, I just said I was busy.  I would argue that this makes him a bad boyfriend because he clearly does not respect his girlfriend enough not to hit on other girls while he's at work. I have already completely backed off and have been avoiding him for the last 3 weeks. Can you explain exactly how you think I created drama at work? He was calling me way too often and that was not going to change unless I made a decisive boundary.

ANSWER: Hi Tina,

You likely could have avoided the co-workers gossiping and referring to him as your boyfriend, him coming to your jobsite upset, simply by telling him yourself that you were limiting further contact between you two to work-related email only.  By not doing this, and having co-workers screen calls for you, etc., you created all the workplace drama referred to above.    

My sense, and I could be wrong, is that you had your co-workers start taking the calls/texts as a way of playing hard to get, perhaps a way to force him to come to you. Your words: "I was fed up waiting for him to decide."  

Within the workplace, a variety of relationships develop.  Many involve flirting.  Much of that flirting is innocent workplace banter and not intended as an invitation to take it to another level.  I think you misread this guy's flirting.  You wanted it to go further, and you asked him out.  He turned you down and let you know he was already with someone. He set a boundary which, in my opinion, you didn't accept. Accept it now, and let it go.

Think about the amount of time this situation has used; the energy of you, the guy, co-workers, etc.  Perhaps that will put into perspective how this type of drama interferes with workplace productivity/focus and how it shortchanges employers.  You're young, things happen, learn from this and move on.  Keep your personal life and work life separate.

Take care.  I wish you well.

Alice J. Bogert  

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Lol, I was so not trying to play hard to get. His excessive phone calls and texts were actually upsetting, he was calling upwards of 5 times a day. It was obvious he was flirting with me and I value my reputation enough to put a stop to it in addition to the fact that he obviously never had any intention of asking me out. I got sick of it because it was stupid, it was unproductive and it was not going anywhere. I wanted him to either ask me out or leave me alone. I didn't realize how much of a problem it was until I got fed up.

Let me clarify again what I said; I asked the person who answers our general incoming calls at work to take messages on my behalf. I simply said, "Please take a message for me if any of the vendors call." None of my coworkers ever knew about the texts or calls to my cell phone. I have no idea why he was upset the other day and it probably had nothing to do with me.

You say you feel he set a boundary when he told me he was already seeing someone else. Why did he keep talking to me incessantly afterward in that case? My impression was that he liked me but wasn't sure what to do. If he is not interested ine that's fine, I simply cannot make sense of his behavior.

Since you seem to know how to keep your personal and professional life separate how would you recommend I deal if a similar situation were to present itself again?

Hi Tina,

If a similar situation presents itself in the future, be respectful of other people's boundaries and don't hesitate to set your own with honest, direct communication.  Be careful about reading too much into workplace flirting.  Not everyone who engages in flirting means for it to be taken serious. That's a major reason for workplace drama.  People flirt; someone takes it seriously and wants more, and the other person is just in it for the banter.  It's best to look outside the workplace for romance.  Also, don't tell other employees about an attraction you might have for someone connected with work.  If an actual relationship with a work-related guy happens, limit talk to colleagues about what you two are doing so that you and yours don't end up part of office gossip.     

Once you asked this guy out and he told you he had a girlfriend, it should have ended there, at least on your part. When he persisted in calling, you should have firmly told him that him that you were committed to doing a good job at work, and his constant calls were distracting you from doing so.  Accordingly, any contact between the two of you needed to be done by email.  If he did not respect that and the excessive phone calls continued, you should have told him he left you no choice but to have all your calls screened in the future.  If it was possible to transfer his account to another employee, that should have been done and him told to direct further business to that person.

If you have difficulty meeting folks outside of work, consider signing up for one of the online dating sites or join a church, community groups, etc.

Take care.  I wish you well.    

Alice J. Bogert

How to Deal With Relationships in the Workplace

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alice bogert


I can field questions related to employee-employee relationship issues as well as employee-manager relationship issues.


I supervised staff at the county and federal level for over 25 years. I have extensive experience dealing with employee disputes, management employee disagreements, morale issues, managing change, etc. I teach a variety of leadership and conflict resolution classes.

National Association of Retired Federal Employees, Business Women of America.

I have a Masters Degree in Sociology.

Awards and Honors
Three Quality Step Merit Awards for Excellence while employed with the federal government. Numerous awards for training classes I've done.

Past/Present Clients
Private industry, Los Rio Community College District, federal, state and county government

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