BITE ME: the hanger-on-er

don't ask why. ask why not.

BITE ME: the hanger-on-er

Bite Me is a special 14-installment series based on an undercover  stint at a supermarket to draw out lessons on how to better relate to challenging colleagues in the workplace and how to be a better colleague.

These “profiles” are based on real people who wanted free food.

It’s cheeky and deliciously honest.

To read the others:
Introduction
The Humble
The A-Hole
The Slob
The Negative
T
he Snob
T
he Mute
The Righteous
The Culturally Insensitive
T
he Oblivious
The Frazzled

1

The Hanger-On-er
honor personal space and time

The Personality

Everyone dreads the Hanger-On-er. The Hanger-On-er comes up to me and greets me in a friendly manner. He stays. And stays. He tells me about how he lost his dog last week, only to find him standing in the yard of his neighbor two houses down with his neighbor’s poodle. You know, the neighbor with the arbor in the front and who just finished remodeling the front porch and they….

While I nod, eyes glazing, hoping he will stop, the Hanger-On-er will then lean over, way into my personal space. I literally lean backwards – any normal person would read this body language as “back off, buddy.

But not the Hanger-On-er. He leans even more forward and tells him about his herniated disc. I’m captivated, not by his charm, but because I can’t go anywhere. I’m not his therapist. I don’t want to hear about his son’s issues or his physical status. I just want him to go away. On good days, a colleague will notice and come over to rescue me, or if the store is busy, I happily turn my attention to other customers. On bad days, when it’s quiet, I’m stuck.

And it’s terrible.

It’s Not Me, It’s You….

The Hanger-On-er is the guy in the office that everyone tries to avoid. The one who stands at the water cooler who will launch into a diatribe. He doesn’t mean ill. He just seems so desperate for company that he will talk to you. For a very, very long times.

It seems that the Hanger-On-er also skipped the lesson in personal space. He likes to lean over to talk to you, like he’s sharing a secret, only it’s neither a secret nor appropriate in the office. He likes to “talk close,” and he typically doesn’t realize that the other person is leaning backwards to create some distance, even if the other person literally has backed himself up against the wall.

Everyone tries to avoid eye contact with the Hanger-On-er. He doesn’t get invited much to after work happy hours or a lunchtime run. Not being invited to these outside-the-office gatherings means that he doesn’t get clued into the office dynamics that are so important to truly understanding how an office works, and how to get ahead.

  • Set boundaries. In attempts to be nice, we sometimes just nod our heads and allow the Hanger-On-er to hand on. We then get frustrated and end up being not so nice. To avoid bad feelings all around, set boundaries. Be explicit about how much time you have, i.e. I’m sorry, but I have 5 minutes to chat. What’s up?
  • Interrupt. Sometimes, interrupting is the best way to avoid oversharing. Politely find a break in the conversation, pause, and just point out that you are not comfortable hearing too much personal information or that you have to get some work done.
  • Add humor. The Hanger-On-er isn’t a bad person – he just wants friends. Including some humor can work in the right situations to point out that you have already heard more than your share – and that you are not ready for more, i.e. boy, you’re back! Some new update about your porch? Would love to hear about all the new colors, but I really have a deadline.

It’s Me…

  • Don’t overshare. This is the office, not therapist’s office. You can share what happened over the weekend if it’s short and funny, but don’t overshare with details or something so personal that it is awkward for others to hear. If you have friends in the office, save the gossiping and sharing for lunchtime or after work.
  • Learn small talk. Small talk doesn’t come easily to everyone. But practice by making small talk when shopping or running errands. Learn to keep it apolitical, non-religious, friendly, and light. Small talk is a necessary skill in many networking events, where your first impression may be your last.
  • Keep your distance. Don’t lean too close. Please. Respect personal spaces. While this may have different meanings depending on which culture or country, default on the safe side and keep an arm’s length. You don’t need to be smelling what the other person had for breakfast that day. If the other person starts to lean backwards, you know you too far and you need to pull back.