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Someone appears to drink water as a defence mechanism when in trouble in the office. As a point is being raised or feedback given, the person always brings their glass to their mouth and will drink (or at least seem to drink) from it constantly until the conversation is over.

Is this a normal thing? Could it mean anything?

EDIT: Seeing as this question is being misunderstood and misinterpreted I will clarify the following:

I have noticed when delivering constructive feedback/criticism of a member of staffs work, as is done with other members of staff, they seem to defend their self by holding a glass to their mouth and drinking/pretending to drink

I am trying to establish if anyone else has experienced something similar in this position, and if I should be concerned the person only every performs this action when being presented with something one could deem as negative

If this person is struggling and panicking when issues/feedback is raised this needs to be handled separately to allow the person to feel more comfortable and understand I can help improve their knowledge/skill set or what ever may improve their confidence and I am trying to establish if others think this may be an approproiate course of action

closed as primarily opinion-based by David K, ChrisF, Philipp, Adam V, alroc Jul 30 '15 at 15:20

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Well, you've identified it as a defence mechanism... what more do you want? Trying to diagnose it as unusual or as any particular condition is inappropriate. What about picking up on it, and maybe approaching the person from a less confrontational angle to avoid making them defensive? – Hazel Jul 30 '15 at 13:33
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    So how would this matter to you in any event? Are you somehow harmed by a nervous gesture someone else makes? – HLGEM Jul 30 '15 at 13:35
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    The better way to find that out may be to just ask, rather than trying to interpret nervous gestures? – LindaJeanne Jul 30 '15 at 13:42
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    Is the way someone reacts to stress any of your business? As long as no one gets hurt, they choose however they react so far as I am concerned. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 30 '15 at 13:52
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    There is nothing here for you to "look into". Just ignore it, the way you'd ignore other kinds of fidgeting. – keshlam Jul 30 '15 at 14:49
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You are reading way too much into this.

I do this sometimes when I am thinking. I sometimes have to fidget or otherwise "use my hands" when I am thinking, I don't like blindly staring. I have a "thinking face" that happens.

If I have a glass of water I will often take a drink to avoid the, "enderland is just staring and not responding" problem.

Also, some people have things they do when they are uncomfortable/nervous that are similarly unconscious.

  • I think this is similar to, but not the same as, the "going to the bathroom until unpleasant discussion is over" tactic... ;) – yochannah Jul 30 '15 at 14:04
  • Right. And other people look away, and others bite their nails, and others start drummng with their fingers on their desk, and others start moving in their chairs, or fidgeting with their pen or papers, and still others . .. ... – Jan Doggen Jul 30 '15 at 14:13
  • It was only noticed as it only happens when the tone of the conversation is slightly negative. During normal day to day work conversations, or when passing on details of a task etc the drinking doesn't occur It is probably just a "nervous tick" when the tone of the conversation is negative and the person is feeling "told off" by what is being said to them – TomK89 Jul 30 '15 at 14:21
  • When I'm nervous, or stressed, or sometimes listening intently -- or even just bored -- I may fidget with an object or doodle on the corner of a piece of paper. We all have habits of that sort. If this person's keep-the-hands-busy object is a cup of water, why does that matter to you? – keshlam Jul 30 '15 at 14:52
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    Don't try to psychoanalyze them. Just talk to them. – keshlam Jul 30 '15 at 15:29
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Is this a normal thing? Could it mean anything?

There is no real definition of normal seeing as everyone is different. Normal is relative. Your colleague's compulsive water consumption is likely nothing more than a vice/coping mechanism like nail biting and other similar stress responses. Granted your colleague could be setting themselves up for major medical problems from compulsive water drinking as a stress response if the volume of water and frequency are high enough. If you're concerned, look at what may be causing this response in them. Ask if you can be of assistance and see if your willingness to help them with work aides in reducing the response (if you're available to assist them).

You can just make a comment to them in passing such as "I notice you drink a lot of water. Do you get dehydrated easily?" Such a question is non threatening, non prying and you may even be helping them realize they are doing something they're not consciously aware of. Many people have stress responses they aren't aware of until after the fact when the stressful event has passed.

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    I would avoid even making a comment about dehydration since it would likely have little positive effect and does risk making the other person uncomfortable. Excessive thirst can be benign, have a medical origin (it's common in diabetics) or be due to medication and you don't want to risk invading on someone's privacy as a coworker. Concerned colleagues should probably ask HR or a manager to bring it up with the individual privately. Sustained fluid consumption of 0.8-1 liter per hour is problematic. – Lilienthal Jul 30 '15 at 14:04
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    @Lilienthal Indeed. If you wanted to make a helpful comment you could talk about how they felt about the situation. From that, depending on the relationship you have, you could even bring up the water. But as I said, very much depends on the relationship you already have - you cannot 'coach' people without their consent. – Jan Doggen Jul 30 '15 at 14:16

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