When a supervisor’s flirtation goes too far

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in Your Office Coach

Question:  My supervisor, “Jake,” is infatuated with me. He vies for my attention and pouts when I insist on keeping our relationship strictly professional. He has even hinted to his buddies that we’re having an affair, which is totally untrue. Before his behavior became obsessive, I used to be friendly with both Jake and his wife. I keep telling him that I’m not interested, but he still continues this sad, pathetic fantasy. Short of filing charges, how can I put a stop to this? — Not Interested

Marie’s Answer: You may be inadvertently perpetuating this infatuation just by talking about it.  Given his lovesick state of mind, Jake will find any personal discussion rewarding, even if the topic is your complete lack of interest in him. To cool him off, try this approach:

•    Start by firmly declaring an end to this one-sided flirtation. For example: “Jake, I’ve repeatedly said that I don’t want a romantic relationship, so I’m not going to talk about it anymore. If you continue to make advances or spread rumors, then I’ll have to take formal action. However, my hope is that we can work together professionally.”

•    After that, you must never refer to his obsession again. If he brings it up, say, “As I told you, I’m not going to discuss that.”  Then quickly change the subject or leave. 

•    If Jake continues to pursue you, contact the appropriate person in management or human resources. Although you’re reluctant to file a complaint, his behavior clearly constitutes sexual harassment. 

Lustful longing can sometimes escalate into bullying or stalking, so you’re wise to nip this fixation in the bud. For advice on avoiding romantic disasters at work, see Dangerous Workplace Romances.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mohan M Prasad November 5, 2009 at 3:25 am

The easiest thing to do is to file a formal complaint with the CEO/HR about his advances and the rest goes by the procedure.

However that should be the last thing we should do in the greater interest.

I think you need to talk to him direct and in definite no ambiguous terms .It’s one thing to say “I am not interested’ and another to warn that you will be constrained to exercise your right and also the privilege of talking to his wife (whom you know personally).

And finally of course the recourse to direct action with the organization and when you do it, he will have no excuse to offer and you are also not guilty of precipitating a matter.

There is a need to shake and wake him up before sending him to the corporate guillotine.

Mohan M Prasad

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Janey November 4, 2009 at 1:27 pm

You need to also keep documentation as to when these events happen. Jason is right you do need to tread carefully when someone has a position of authority but if you have your documentation its alot easier to if you do have to take it up the chain.

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Jason November 4, 2009 at 12:35 pm

It happens both ways. I’ve had a much older woman talk about hating me and then making suggestive comments after she got a divorce. One minute she was a fill in the blank the next minute she beyond cordial. And she was in a position of authority. You had to tread on this stuff carefully because filing charges can ruin your life even if you’re in the right.

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