Author Topic: Annoying Coworkers don't go away, they just get replaced!- the fat lady sings,p4  (Read 16321 times)

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artk2002

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I am the PhD student who has been in the lab longest.  I take this to mean you have no authority over him?

This morning I told Barney I needed to talk to him, and in a calm, quiet voice told him the following:
"Please take your things and move to other bench. This sounds like an order? Is there a rule that he's breaking? Or just your preference? I'm asking you to do this for two reasons: one, the bench is becoming very crowded and two, I am not at ease working next to you.
I am still angry about what happened last week. This is good Your behaviour was unprofessional, irresponsible and frankly, rude..." I think you went a bit far here. You're scolding him. That's something that should be left for his superiors.

At this point Barney interjected with "But I apologized for that!"

I continued, in the same calm, quiet voice:
"Actually, no you didn't and please let me finish what I have to say. I don't know what you were thinking when you decided to work in Apparatus when you knew perfectly well I was in the middle of working there.Good That kind of behaviour is not acceptable in our lab, and cannot repeat itself. Again, this is acceptable if you are in a position of authority in the lab/over him. If not, I think you went too farYou endangered me, yourself and the rest of the people in the lab by not following regulations. If you are unsure of how to work with something, ask someone to help you or to supervise you as you work. Now, please take your things and move to the other bench you will be more comfortable there."

He kept nodding and saying "OK, OK, OK." I normally doubt people actually understand when they reply like that, but here's hoping.

He has been avoiding me all day since. Maddie thinks he is afraid to come near our part of the lab.

There's "authority" and then there's "authority."  Shopaholic may not be in a line management position above Barney on an org chart, but that doesn't mean that she doesn't have authority. As the senior PhD in the lab she's got plenty of authority over a new Master's student (i.e. someone with an undergrad degree and no real experience.)  A formal, documented hierarchy is not the only way that authority works.

In a lot of situations, it was the OP's right and responsibility to do the scolding. I know that if I were the lab manager or PI I would expect my senior PhD to put the guy in his place and not bring issues like that to me.

I don't have direct-line authority over the developers on my project. I report directly to the Director of Engineering and they report up through someone else who reports to the DoE. I can guarantee you that none of them would ever get away with refusing to do what I told them, based on "you're not the boss of meeeeeee." Both officially and unofficially, the DoE and the development manager have delegated their authority to me in certain matters. Even more importantly, they do what I ask because I'm the senior, most experienced person there. My authority comes more from who I am and less where I show up in an org chart. I've worked in many places where there were people who had no titular authority, but nevertheless had tremendous influence. Ignoring them would be extremely foolish.

Barney's making the classic blunder of someone new to the workforce: He's failing to assess the whole workplace. Assuming that someone doesn't have authority simply because they lack a title is a very, very bad mistake. Witness the PI telling Shopaholic that she can tell Barney what to do and where to go and the PI will back her up. The last thing a newbie should do is annoy someone and then find out that they've got the bosses ear. Trying to dominate someone without understanding the whole environment can lead to much worse than the "bad dog" he got. Again, from my own experience, I get asked frequently to assess people who don't report directly to me. Annoying me could result in a bad review, failure to renew a contract or a lukewarm recommendation. Even if I don't have the final say, if I said "fire them," I know that would be given a lot of weight.

I realize that lots of people work in very structured, hierarchical environments, where if someone isn't explicitly higher than them on the food chain then they have no authority. There are many people who prefer that kind of environment. The rest of us work in messier places where lines of authority aren't so clearly drawn.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

bloo

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He has been avoiding me all day since. Maddie thinks he is afraid to come near our part of the lab.

Good. You have taught him what should be obvious. There are people that you value the opinion of and care about. This person is not someone that you want to "like" you (a little like elephantchild's neighbour actually) as the only way they will "like" you is if you are a complete doormat.

Respect tinged with fear is what you want.

When I used to teach, for the first few classess I was very strict and a bit "mean". It worked much better because I am naturally superhelpful. But if I started off "mean" the students were grateful for my help instead of taking it for granted.

Totally agree with artk2002 (great breakdown, btw!) but also PODing DeeTee because this is EXACTLY what I was thinking when reading the end of your post, Shopaholic.

I'd be whistling and purring in contentment that he's avoiding you. You'll have to keep it up to ensure he knows he a 'beta' dog and not the 'alpha'.

DavidH

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I think this was a great solution, it has been clearly laid out and there was no way to misunderstand.  With any luck, the lesson will stick. 

NyaChan

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I think you did a good job of speaking your mind.  And really, it is almost impossible to perfectly express everything, so if a few things were a little much or not quite on, I don't think it is a huge deal.  You were clear as to what you you were thinking and what you expected.

Mental Magpie

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I think you did very well and echo artk2002's sentiment.  My only advice is to take this step from the start in the future, especially now that you know you can do it!  :D
The problem with choosing the lesser of two evils is that you're still choosing evil.

Shopaholic

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Thank you, artk2002! That was an excellent explanation.

JoyinVirginia

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Hooray for shopaholic! Continue to be very direct and abrasive with new guy. He sounds like a friend of mine from college, nice guy but thought he knew everything when he got to grad school. I tried to give him advice to tone it down. We are in different fields but were at same university for different programs. His tales of work included some faux paus that were obvious to me but not him. He needed to get smacked down by coworkers several times before it started to sink in. he was in a program that sounds similar to yours.

Shopaholic

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So, Barney decided to quit.
He told PI this week, citing "social reasons". He may have said something about "bad interpersonal relationships" in the lab.

PI asked me what happened. I told him in a nutshell that I calmly spoke to him about moving benches and about what had happened. PI said he backed me up, will always back me up but to please try to be more attentive to people's sensitivities in the future. (This is the second time this has happened recently - see here: http://www.etiquettehell.com/smf/index.php?topic=119439.0)

Anyway, I said I'm sorry it worked out that way, and promised PI I wouldn't talk to Master's students any more.

From what I gather, he isn't too upset about Barney leaving. PI believes that the science should come first, before all social aspects of lab work and that people who are genuinely focused and driven would not quit the first time they are faced with some criticism from their peers. I think he's somewhat relieved this came out sooner rather than later.
(Other than an "excuse me" I did not speak to Barney for better or for worse since asking him to move benches.)

Lesson learned: it is probably better to yell and scream at a person when he messes up than quietly and calmly explain why you are upset a week later.

Amusingly, PI talked to me about this when we were walking through campus, when a bird decided to poop all over me. I guess the universe agrees I have poor people skills.
Considering what's been falling out of the sky in Israel this week, I think I got off pretty cheap...


figee

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As this is the second time this has happened, I think you need to think VERY carefully about how you relate to others and particularly students.  As you work in an environment which relies on teamwork and you will be attempting to get a job in a competitive context, being seen to not possess the necessary people skills to manage students and others within the lab.  To butcher Oscar Wilde 'To lose one student is unfortunate; to lose too is careless.'

Keep in mind that I speak as someone who is an academic and who regularly deals with large numbers of 'special' students.  It is easier to support people who don't seem to have a repeating pattern of behaviour (such as students leaving the lab) over and over again around them.

SoCalVal

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PI asked me what happened. I told him in a nutshell that I calmly spoke to him about moving benches and about what had happened. PI said he backed me up, will always back me up but to please try to be more attentive to people's sensitivities in the future. (This is the second time this has happened recently - see here: http://www.etiquettehell.com/smf/index.php?topic=119439.0)

After reading your most recent post and reviewing the other thread, I guess I'd be in the same boat as you because I don't see what you did wrong.  To me, the other two individuals are being overly sensitive because they are bumbleheads who, likely, have been enabled in the past.  Actually, I don't see it as them being "sensitive."  I see it as their "defense mechanisms" kicking in because someone (you) won't let them get away with their SS behavior.  To me, I see them leaving as good riddance.  However, I don't have the experience of figee so I'd have to defer to her response to you as the correct one for your particular setting (in my dept, refusing to follow proper procedures could compromise patient care so addressing that wins out any day over someone's "sensitivities"; in fact, earlier this year, a new hire was let go after just a few months because she a) refused to correct what she was doing wrong which resulted in her continuing to make med errors and b) kept ruffling the feathers of her coworkers and wouldn't correct those actions either).



figee

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Allow me to clarify. What the op said or did isn't wrong per se but if her supervisor has had that chat, I'd be treading carefully. Because two students leaving the lab indicates that they weren't cut out BUT if their leaving was connected with interactions with the same person, then it also speaks to her ability to manage different personalities and situations in the lab. And as her supervisor is be assessing that as well as her work in relation to positions of authority and leadership, opportunities to work with others or references.

O'Dell

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So, Barney decided to quit.
He told PI this week, citing "social reasons". He may have said something about "bad interpersonal relationships" in the lab.

PI asked me what happened. I told him in a nutshell that I calmly spoke to him about moving benches and about what had happened. PI said he backed me up, will always back me up but to please try to be more attentive to people's sensitivities in the future. (This is the second time this has happened recently - see here: http://www.etiquettehell.com/smf/index.php?topic=119439.0)

Anyway, I said I'm sorry it worked out that way, and promised PI I wouldn't talk to Master's students any more.

From what I gather, he isn't too upset about Barney leaving. PI believes that the science should come first, before all social aspects of lab work and that people who are genuinely focused and driven would not quit the first time they are faced with some criticism from their peers. I think he's somewhat relieved this came out sooner rather than later.
(Other than an "excuse me" I did not speak to Barney for better or for worse since asking him to move benches.)

Lesson learned: it is probably better to yell and scream at a person when he messes up than quietly and calmly explain why you are upset a week later.

Amusingly, PI talked to me about this when we were walking through campus, when a bird decided to poop all over me. I guess the universe agrees I have poor people skills.
Considering what's been falling out of the sky in Israel this week, I think I got off pretty cheap...

Perhaps the lesson is to speak up "in the moment" but do so in a calm manner. It doesn't have to be a choice between 2 extremes.
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
Walt Whitman

MyFamily

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I was agreeing with the advice here until I remembered something and I double checked to make sure I'm right - the OP is in Israel.  These college students are most likely coming to university after a few years serving in the military.  They didn't get their hands held in the military, they were told to jump and they didn't ask how high, they just jumped.  I think the OP would be correct in being more forceful in her interactions with these students and while she doesn't have to yell, she does need to say 'no, you are not using this machine' or 'no, you are not sitting at this bench, your assigned bench is over there' and be specific and forceful in what she says. These students should know how to follow directions and they shouldn't need their hands held.


"The test of good manners is to be patient with bad ones" - Solomon ibn Gabirol

TootsNYC

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Whatever, I told him to get his stuff out NOW because Apparatus needed to be sterilized and I needed to use it in 10 minutes. He said OK, but continued working for another 10 minutes.

How much more explicit does the OP need to be?  ???

Well, at 9 minutes to go, she needed to say, "Pick up your stuff now or I'll do it for you. Now."

And if she needed to sterilize it, did she move immediately to do so, or did she wait for him to get out of the way? She's going to need to treat this guy the way you do a telemarketer. You just issue orders, and you do not wait for him to agree and acquiesce. (You don't wait for a telemarketer's permission to hang up, right? So you don't wait for this guy to agree.)


anonymousmac

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I hate to suggest this, but are you female, and were both of these "sensitive" students male?  Is it possible that they had a problem accepting your authority, and expected you to coddle and support them instead of acting like a fellow scientist?

From what you posted I think you were fine, and that they were behaving completely unprofessionally.  Unfortunately, the way they behaved feels familiar to me from situations I've sometimes observed, of men who expected all women to be support staff, or mother hens, and couldn't handle treating them as professional equals or superiors.

I may be completely wrong, and I hope that's not the case.  But if these "sensitive" men were getting upset because you didn't behave according to their gender/cultural/etc. expectations, then that's really their problem, and the in my opinion best thing you could do would be to continue behaving completely professionally, as you are, rather than doing anything to bend over backwards to accommodate their incorrect expectations.  Especially if your boss supports you.