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I work in a big science lab as student worker since a couple of weeks. There occurred several situations where I have been ignored when I tried to talk to people and I want your advice on how I should have handled the situations described below in a way that I make clear that I cannot tolerate bad communication habits around myself but on the other hand not endanger the relationship with my coworkers.

Before we start you should know about me that I talk loud and clear, I keep eye contact and I am the kind of person who (normally) "fills the room" when I talk, I never made the experience of being not listened to or anything. I mention this to avoid speculations about my voice being too quiet.

1) Two of the leading scientists talk to each other in an empty isle. I walk by and say 'Hello Mr. X, hello Mr. Y' as I walk by. Both ignore it and talk to each other as if nothing has happened

2) Two guys at the table next to me are trying to solve some computer problem, I tell them 'Excuse me, the problem is that you did not mount your drive, doing XYZ will solve the problem'. Both keep on discussing the issue as if they did not hear the thing, although they clearly heard my because they both made very short eye contact with me when I started to talk. They did not even let me finish the sentence, after half of it they already went on discussing their own solutions (which I knew would not work).

3) I go to the chill out room and I say to engineer who sat there (he was the only person) whether or not he is going to do XYZ this day. Looks at me and keeps on reading his paper.

Now, normally when someone does a thing like that I say "Excuse me, don't you talk to me or what's the matter?" with a loud and clear voice that makes it impossible to overhear for everyone nearby, but I think as student worker I'm not in the position to confront the engineers and scientists in the lab in such a dominant way. Instead, I just pretended as if I hadn't said anything at all and minded my own business.

What would you do to make yourself clear but still remain professional?

  • did you have some kind of problem in the past with these people? also does this happen to other people like it happens to you? – Homerothompson Dec 2 '17 at 22:05
  • Nope, I have a very good relationship with these people. They approve my work, the give me positive feedback and they help me out often. I do not know whether or not this happens to other people because I am kind of afraid of asking someone "yo dawg do these people ignore you when you talk to them or is it just me ?" because I do not want to gossip or imply that some people are ignorant. Keep in mind that I am very very much lower in rank than the people who pulled this ignorance on me. Would you ignore someone low-rank if you have other things in mind? – Alon Dec 2 '17 at 22:12
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    Might they be annoyed by you being somebody who "fills the room" and interrupts their discussions? Even when you know the right answer, a "hey guys, may I interrupt" goes a long way. Also it's easy to tell you're German, it says so in your profile ;) – janh Dec 2 '17 at 23:51
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    @JoschKraus your profile says your location is Germany :-) probably Joe saw the same – DarkCygnus Dec 3 '17 at 7:39
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    @cgTag: but do you leave the monkey at home? – NotMe Dec 5 '17 at 22:03
15

What would you do to make yourself clear but still remain professional?

Seems that you are already acting in a professional way, or at least you are not disrespectful with what you say.

Two things come to mind about why you may be experiencing this:

  1. You are the new guy. Sometimes people do not "accept" new recruits so easily, for whatever reason they may have. You could be experiencing some sort of newcomer initiation, or some rejection from older coworkers there. This is not cool, but is something that may happen. With time people there will come to respect and know you more, and this sort of rejection you are facing should disappear.

  2. You are a student worker. You say you are in a big lab, one that is surely filled with several Engineers, Scientists, people with PhD's, etc.. Thus, it is more likely that they still don't have such a high regard or esteem about your skills and knowledge. This also may worsen such "newcomer treatment", as not only are you the new guy, but you are also "just a student worker" (don't take me wrong, there is nothing bad with that, but people with degrees and stuff tend to have a high Pride, and sometimes see people like you as "less important").


Another thing that I feel important to mention is about your willingness to "help" these two engineers (and the way you attempted such thing). To be honest, I suspect that the way you said it may have sounded a bit cocky or patronizing. They probably spent a lot of time trying to find the cause of the problem, and you dropping by (without they even asking for your help or opinion) and saying that may have been taken not so positively.

Giving suggestions and feedback is an art. Even more if no one asked you for such. For future situations, I recommend you rephrase your feedback or comments in a way that does not sound too absolute, or that debunks the opinions others may have.

For example, a better way to phrase what you said could be:

Hey there, sorry to interrupt, but I happened to hear what you are doing. I suspect that this may have to do with mounting the drive. Have you tried XYZ?

This way you are not imposing your opinion as the only and absolute way of doing this. You are also giving them the chance to clarify to you if they have actually tried that what you suggest (chances are they may have already tried before). You are also excusing yourself for interrupting their conversation and train of thought. And most importantly, you do not sound as some patronizing, just-hired, student worker (again, don't take me wrong, but one has to handle this things with more tact when one is way down on the food chain of that lab).

Another possibility with the Mr. X and Y situation you faced, is that they actually didn't noticed your greetings. They probably were deep in some interesting or complex conversation, and it is a possibility that they didn't mean to ignore you on purpose.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I mostly agree with what you are saying. To accept your answer there is missing a part on what I should have done once these incidents occurred – Alon Dec 3 '17 at 11:25
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    @JoschKraus what you should have done is up to you, we can't tell you what to do. However, you can just ignore these incidents and don't take them personally, you gain nothing by insisting on them replying to you (except perhaps being more of a PITA in their eyes). Just bear in mind the way you offer suggestions for next time, and you will surely get a better treatment :) that and maybe consider stop giving help and suggestions to those kind of people. Some folks are just not so receptive, save your good intentions for someone that appreciates them. Good luck, glad this helped :) – DarkCygnus Dec 3 '17 at 17:59
14

Develop a thicker skin.

Two of the leading scientists talk to each other in an empty isle. I walk by and say 'Hello Mr. X, hello Mr. Y' as I walk by. Both ignore it and talk to each other as if nothing has happened

In a busy lab folks will be having conversations all day. You want really to interrupt each time you pass to say hello? If they look at you when you pass, just nodding would work in the USA. If they stop their conversation to say hi then of course respond. Otherwise just let them talk uninterrupted.

Two guys at the table next to me are trying to solve some computer problem, ...

You're the new guy with no credibility yet. Say "Sorry, but I overheard your problem and I have some experience with that. Can I help?" If they say yes then offer your opinion.

I go to the chill out room and I say to engineer who sat there (he was the only person) whether or not he is going to do XYZ this day. Looks at me and keeps on reading his paper.

You're a student, he is an engineer. Why do you think that you are qualified to supervise his priorities? I'd mind my own business and keep my yap shut -- unless the XYZ task somehow impacted my work. Then I say "Sam?" After Sam acknowledged me I'd say "Sorry to talk shop on your break, but I'm stuck until XYZ gets done. Any idea if you'll be able to finish that today?"

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    Using quoteblocks iff the text isn't from the question seems rather backwards. – jwodder Dec 3 '17 at 1:01
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    I just viewed it as indentation, not quotes, but it obviously really bothered you. – MaxW Dec 3 '17 at 4:10
  • I'm not 100% certain what a chill out room is, but if it's a place someone can go to in order to relax and not be bothered I could absolutely understand the engineer completely ignoring the OP. – NotMe Dec 4 '17 at 16:54
  • @NotMe - I assumed that the OP, who is German, was using the term chill out room to mean what we would usually call a break room in the USA. – MaxW Dec 4 '17 at 17:04
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There seem to be some common threads in many of these situations.

  1. You're interrupting people who are having work conversations. It's rude. One way of dealing with rude people, is to ignore them. In one case, you're trying to give advice. As a subordinate who is interrupting to give advice is a very bad move. Excuse yourself for the interruption and ask if you can help. If they ignore you, move on. Nothing you can do about it.

  2. The emphasis on your loud voice. Many scientists are introverts and they don't care for loud anything especially voices. It's adversive to them. Stop. Talk normally. I know I don't care for people standing next to me and talking like I'm on the other side of the room.

  3. Spend more time observing how others interact. Wait for people to speak to you first. Respond calmly, pleasantly with an indoor voice.

I don't know about this specific situation. When people don't respond as you like, change what you're doing. Chances are, you're not going to change them.

8

In general, you may need to practice adjusting your volume to the room and situation. An unnecessarily loud voice can be disturbing to others and appears aggressive.

In each of the specific situations, people may be trying to discourage you from interrupting unnecessarily and inappropriately. Ignoring an interruption is one way of doing that.

For situation #1: Do not interrupt a conversation just to say hello. Smile and nod to acknowledge their presence. If they pause their conversation and look at you then greet them. If they carry on with their conversation, walk on by without interrupting.

For situation #2: Often, inexperienced people have only seen one cause of a symptom, and assume all instances must be caused by that. For all you know, they checked that the required disks were properly mounted three hours ago, and now they are considering solutions to underlying causes outside your experience.

You should have kept an eye open for a time when at least one of them was not in the middle of a discussion, and said something like "Are you sure all the disks are mounted?". If they forgot to check disk mounting that will be enough to remind them.

For situation #3: It sounds as though the chill out room is a place to relax and get away from work issues, not a place to discuss schedule. Depending on local custom, saying hello might be appropriate. It is possible that a newspaper or book in that room is a strong "Leave me completely alone" signal. You will have to see how others behave to find out.

If you really need to know whether XYZ will be completed today or not, wait until he is back as his desk, or send an e-mail. It can help to mention why you care: "Do you think XYZ will be completed today? I need to either start ABC, which will need XYZ, or work on DEF for a day or two."

  • This - and asking someone if he will be doing XYZ today may be interpreted as you are trying to tell them what to work on an put yourself above them. – Daniel Dec 4 '17 at 18:50
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Seems to me that you are missing social cues and intruding where you shouldn't.

Two of the leading scientists talk to each other in an empty isle. I walk by and say 'Hello Mr. X, hello Mr. Y' as I walk by. Both ignore it and talk to each other as if nothing has happened

Who knows how deep into their conversation they are. It's possible they are trying to negotiate around a thorny problem between them. Either way, they clearly didn't want to talk to you. It's not personal, just don't butt into a conversation you weren't invited to or expect a response from them.

If you see one just walking past, then a simple "Hi" is good enough and will likely be returned.

2) Two guys at the table next to me are trying to solve some computer problem, I tell them 'Excuse me, the problem is that you did not mount your drive, doing XYZ will solve the problem'. Both keep on discussing the issue as if they did not hear the thing, although they clearly heard my because they both made very short eye contact with me when I started to talk. They did not even let me finish the sentence, after half of it they already went on discussing their own solutions (which I knew would not work).

There is quite a bit wrong here. First, you intruded into their conversation. Second you proceeded to, without direct knowledge or involvement in their specific problem, claim to know the only solution. Third you came off as someone I wouldn't want to even talk to. I'd brush you off as well.

A better approach: "Sorry, I couldn't help but overhearing your problem. I've faced that before, could I help?" And then let them decide if they want to hear your possible solution. There might be more to this story you aren't aware of, which leads to the next thing: never ever assume you know more about a problem and it's solution than the person who is actively working it. That is condescending, rude and quite often wrong.

3) I go to the chill out room and I say to engineer who sat there (he was the only person) whether or not he is going to do XYZ this day. Looks at me and keeps on reading his paper.

Isn't the purpose of a chill out room to relax and not be bothered? If XYZ has anything at all to do with his work then you've broken one of those unwritten social rules about leaving work at the door. Consider yourself lucky he only decided to ignore you. If XYZ doesn't have to do with work then a better path to start a conversation might be: "Hi, how's your day going?" If they respond and ask you a question then you know they want to talk. If they either ignore you or use a one word reply like "fine" then move on.


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I think you just happen to work with very rude/shy/antisocial people. Based on this premise I would suggest the following: About not work related social interactions: don't engage them with these kind of people to avoid these awkward moments. It's not a big deal, you don't have to be friendly/chatty with everyone at work.

About work related interactions: if you need to interrupt other people's conversation with an "excuse me" be sure that first they got your attention before going on, that way if they didn't heard it or are ignoring you you have another chance to resolve the start of the communication, and that way you can be sure if engage in the conversation or not.

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I agree with most all of the advice in the previous answers. But I would like to add a few things.

Two weeks is a very short time. Many people take time become comfortable with newcomers and, perhaps more importantly, they follow the lead of others.

If you are alone and not part of any specific group, some personality types may choose to not interact with you because they're concerned that they might be judged negatively by the others. To be fair, this is absolutely childish behavior but it is common in many work environments where strong leaders "run the show."

The best thing you can do is to maintain your affable disposition, over time they will become more comfortable with your presence. If you can focus your attention on a small number of people by talking to them and developing a rapport, the others will follow.

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