Q: “I work with a woman who is extremely nosy. ‘Shelly’ has read my email messages and looked at my cellphone to see who I am calling and texting. She has also tried to find out about medications that I am taking. I have previously mentioned this problem to my boss.
“Yesterday, I received roses at the office for my birthday, and Shelly actually opened the card to see who they were from. I want to do something about this invasion of privacy, but I don’t want to sound childish. What do you suggest?” Violated
A: I suggest telling Shelly to stay out of your business. People who show no respect for personal boundaries must be explicitly educated about where those lines are drawn.
For example: “Shelly, I think we need to set some clear guidelines about privacy in the office. Your reading the card on my flowers was completely inappropriate. From now on, I don’t want you to look at my email, handle my belongings, or pick up my cellphone. I promise to show you the same consideration.”
In case Shelly decides to complain about this directive, you should also give your boss a heads-up: “I wanted to let you know that I had a frank conversation with Shelly today. I’ve asked her to stop prying into my email and my personal possessions. If she continues, I may need you to talk with her as well.”
Finally, you would be wise to lock your desk and password-protect your computer, because chronic boundary violators frequently have difficulty with impulse control.
Do you sometimes feel that you need to be more assertive? If so, here's some helpful advice: Quick Quiz: Are You a Workplace Wimp?