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Author Topic: understanding my colleague  (Read 17856 times)
mini75
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« on: April 17, 2012, 11:11:02 PM »

Hi everyone

I have a colleague (also an international post-doc), who I struggle to communicate with and understand, and I'm posting here in the hope of obtaining some further insights/strategies for how to deal with it. It's been quite challenging for me, and we share a small office together, so I face it on a daily basis.

The colleague comes across as reserved, and apparently knowledgeable, yet somehow quite opinionated  (e.g., on the first day I met him he was telling me that my decisions of where to publish were wrong, despite him not asking the reasons why I was choosing to publish there, and more examples of similar nature). I am also quiet, but not always, and tried to build rapport and some sort of collegiality with some small chit-chat and friendly generic comments (all the usual topics like the weather, etc), ask how his work is going and what he is working on at the moment, invite him to get coffee with me when I go (none of this in a constant manner that would be annoying, but for example when I arrive, or leave in evening), but I very rarely get anything back in return (he has only just started to occasionally ask how I am, for example). He is polite in some ways, but shows very little interest in me, never asks how my work is, or how I am, or about my background or home country (all things I ask him), and often when he answers and I try to interact, he talks over me or cuts me off mid-sentence, which gives me the impression that he really isn't interested at all in what I have to say or what I do, what I can contribute, etc. Essentially it makes me feel that I'm perceived as of very little value and consequence, I guess. There have been other things too where he has made jokes at my expense in front of other colleagues. However, he seems to be on friendly terms with others in the office, and they seem to have a good impression of him. I won't say anything to anyone about what I perceive, as I am new and it would just reflect badly on me.

I'm quite happy to leave him to it and not interact with him, but out of politeness and work ethic and very close proximity, I can't, so I wonder how others would perceive the situation and how you would handle it? I guess being superficial and cordial is the only thing to do, and probably as I am new and have had other issues integrating in to the team I am quite stressed over the whole situation (larger integration issue has been due to a language barrier, but also am again not getting much engagement from them).

Any advice/perspective/similar stories will be greatly appreciated, thank you...
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macadamia
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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2012, 6:50:15 AM »

Saying more about your respective cultures would help.

From what you have said, I think that you both have to protect yourself more and do judge less.

With "protect more" I mean that his critique of your publishing choice must have come in response to something you have said, and if you know that he is critical you should choose what you share with him.
Note that critique like this can be a try to be helpful or come from defensiveness because he decided differently than you or simply a way of communication that he is used to where everyone forcefully states the "only true" opinion.

Your expectation that he has to ask you about yourself is completely over the top from my point of view. You don't even know whether he wants to be questioned by you, he might well perceive this as impolite and intrusive.
Especially asking how the work is going is not necessarily a welcome question.

Some people have no need for more social interaction than a good silent chess game on saturday. Be happy for the silent work opportunity in your office instead of feeling unvalued.

Obviously, it is not nice if people are not interested in you at all, but you don't have to concentrate on your office-mate for social interaction.
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A drunk man will find his way home, but a drunk bird may get lost forever.  Shizuo Kakutani
bash217
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« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2012, 7:36:00 AM »

I agree what Macadamia writes. Based on what you have shared, any number of things could be going on. Sometimes silence toleration of each other is not the worst situation.

One thing you might not have considered is whether your new colleague might view you as a threat or be intimidated by you in one way or another. Often people are intimidated or threatened by each other without having any great reason for this; it can be part of ye old impostor syndrome. In cross-cultural settings small-talk and the like can also not come across smoothly in all situations. I also advise to leave your colleague be and see if a less-is-more approach might be more productive.
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mini75
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« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2012, 1:21:21 PM »

Thank you for your perspectives. I didn't think that the interaction I was attempting was anything out of the ordinary, merely trying to establish some polite interaction when I was new to the team, and I certainly don't ask him about his work all the time - more I used it a couple of times as a filler or conversation starter for when there was silence when walking to get coffee. I am also aware that I was wanting to appear friendly and open in a new team where I was worried that I was being perceived as very shy or something, and that I'm coming from a previous environment which was very supportive and interest in each other and others' work was encouraged and the norm. But you're right - I guess we have different needs and expectations, and I need to get over it, so I won't bother him any more, and try not to take it personally when there's only silence. Thanks again for offering your insights :)
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skeptical
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« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2012, 7:28:06 PM »

I may be off the wall here, but your situation with your colleague may be tied not just to cultural differences per se, but having to do with the fact that you are not of the same gender. In some cultures, men are not used to interaction with women as equals.
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oldfullprof
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Representation is not reproduction!


« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2012, 7:42:22 PM »

This is the intellectual version of "negging."
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Taste o' the Sixties
aysecik
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« Reply #6 on: April 21, 2012, 2:30:50 PM »

I understand your frustration - I feel that if I work with other people in such close proximity, a certain degree of personal interaction is natural. In fact, its absence feels rude, and makes me feel unwanted. It is in part cultural, and in part about your personality. I did learn my lesson in time, however, that some people respond and some don't. I still say hello to everyone and try to make small talk. Many respond, and some do not. I learned to not pay attention to or get offended by those who don't respond, and instead enjoy the connections I make with those who do. I also got a reputation probably for saying hello to everyone (I admit I was not in a very social campus, to say the least, and it was not the most common), but I don't mind.

So my personal suggestion would be to not worry about this person (his loss), and continue chatting and having coffee with people who do appreciate your company. As others said, it may be cultural, which can include your gender (which is a nice way to put and justify sexism if you ask me, but anyway) - but it doesn't matter. Life is too short to worry about it, and I am sure you have better people to have coffee with.
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mini75
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« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2012, 9:20:26 PM »

Thanks for your post aysecik - I think you understand a bit how I was feeling. It's really the absence of personal interaction initiation (and there really is almost *nothing* unless I instigate it) from this person that was coming across as you say: rude and led me to feeling unwanted or like I really just wasn't valued at all. It was really uncomfortable and hard to bear at some points, but as everyone suggests, I am just trying to let it go, and if he doesn't want to interact with me, fine. In fact we were walking to a seminar together today, and I held back from trying yet again to interact, and let him do the 'work' instead to see whether he was interested in initiating anything. There wasn't much. He is a well-educated person (medical practitioner), has worked in western countries for the last 7 years or so, and his wife is in the same profession, so it's been difficult for me to believe that it's such a big cultural difference and that me being female also plays such a big part as to have this effect, as he certainly seems to interact with our female and male team leaders alike, but maybe it is. It's confusing to me, but maybe I just have to live with it.
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mystictechgal
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One step at a time


« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2012, 1:31:00 AM »

Just a note about the gender/equality thing and culture: What I am observing amongst my classmates who come from some of the cultures I think are being referred to is that the lack of casual socializing does not seem to correlate with a sense or belief that the women are inferior or not equal.

In some cases, the men willingly acknowledge that the woman is superior in knowledge, and they've played together as children, so equality is not an issue. The socialization issue stems from the fact that they are now adults. They are not culturally allowed to socialize with each other now as they did when they were children. In some cases anticipated arranged marriages are accepted as the norm. Knowing that is the case they actively refuse to socialize, beyond required, with others of the opposite sex. When they need to, in social contects, I have seen their behavior revert to the Jr. High version of teasing. It's their form of inclusion, as it were. (I've seen women do it with men, as well.)

In short, don't read too much into his refusal to engage socially.

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kron3007
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« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2012, 11:25:13 AM »

Just a note about the gender/equality thing and culture: What I am observing amongst my classmates who come from some of the cultures I think are being referred to is that the lack of casual socializing does not seem to correlate with a sense or belief that the women are inferior or not equal.


Is that why in some countries a man's word is worth twice that of a woman's in the court of law?

 
« Last Edit: April 24, 2012, 11:25:52 AM by kron3007 » Logged
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