June 30, 2012 8:12 PM   Subscribe

I am a straight man and my manager is a woman. We work in an office environment. Sometimes she wears shirts that reveal a little cleavage. I don't want to look, but sometimes my eyes drift ... convince me this is something i shouldn't worry about.

For example, we'll have a one on one meeting, both sitting down, and i'll try to look at her eyes for a few seconds, then looks somewhere else. i try to focus on what she's saying, but i'm so distracted by trying not to look at her cleavage. i'm not sure if she can tell something is strange or not. it's a problem because i'm spending so much mental energy focusing on not looking that it's hard and exhausting to focus on what she's saying.

if you are a woman: is occasional glancing like the type i'm describing something you would take offense to? is it normal?
posted by cupcake1337 to Human Relations (62 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
It's obvious, and it makes me think less of the person I'm talking to. One glance, fine - more than that, and it's just juvenile. It's a good thing that you're aware you're doing it, and I strongly suggest getting a grip on it - whether that means you have to bring a notebook and take notes, or practice looking up and to your left instead of straight ahead and down, or whatever, but control it.
posted by restless_nomad at 8:20 PM on June 30, 2012 [17 favorites]

I am a woman. First of all -- this is not specifically brought up in your question, but most women totally notice. I don't know exactly how to describe it, but it's so easy to tell when someone is looking at your rack, whether deliberately or not. So it's very likely that this is creating discomfort on both sides.

However, I've usually given someone a pass if it happens once or twice and the person seems like they're really trying not to do it (trying not to look, as you say). It doesn't sound like you're the guy who just stares regardless of discomfort or weirdness or inappropriateness and that's a good thing.

However this: it's a problem because i'm spending so much mental energy focusing on not looking that it's hard and exhausting to focus on what she's saying.

This isn't ok. I don't want to say it is or isn't "normal," but it's not sustainable or you to be spending so much mental energy not looking at her cleavage. You should find a way to channel this energy in some other way and try to desensitize yourself to whatever it is that is making this such a strong urge for you.
posted by sweetkid at 8:22 PM on June 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

convince me this is something i shouldn't worry about.

? Not sure if you want to know if we think this is okay or not, or if you just want to be convinced that it is okay? Kind of an unusual approach to a question, but I will say this it is very much not okay at all in a professional setting to be looking down people's shirts.

if you are a woman: is occasional glancing like the type i'm describing something you would take offense to? is it normal?

I have never, not even once noticed a man doing this in a professional setting. I think the amount of discomfort and distress you are experiencing are pretty far out of the range of normal for professional men. I would be extremely not okay with it if a man were "occasionally glancing" down my shirt in a professional setting, yes.
posted by cairdeas at 8:23 PM on June 30, 2012 [7 favorites]

*Just want to make it clear - when I said I have never noticed a man doing it, that is not because it's some kind of subtle thing. It is blatantly obvious when men do this, in general. Just nobody has ever done it to me in a work setting.
posted by cairdeas at 8:24 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]

If I'm already in a bad mood it can upset me, but my eyes drift sometimes to and I understand that it's a thing that happens.

We all nursed on breasts, it's hard not to be attracted to them. Boobs sweat and we like to air out our cleavage.

As said, you should actively practice making eye contact. You'll be amazed at how empowering it is.
posted by sibboleth at 8:27 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't do this. If you did it *once*, ok, probably not a big deal. If you do it once per conversation? It's juvenile and unprofessional.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:30 PM on June 30, 2012

If making eye contact isn't working, try staring at the top of her forehead, since it's imperceptible if someone is staring at your forehead or into your eyes, and it's much easier to do if you have trouble making eye contact in the first place.
posted by hellojed at 8:32 PM on June 30, 2012

Response by poster: to be clear, it's completely involuntary.

i am trying to look at her nose or forehead or whatever, look at the desk, table, then back to the nose, and this is what i have to try to focus on, while also trying to listen to what she's saying. that's the mentally exhausting part.
posted by cupcake1337 at 8:34 PM on June 30, 2012

It's super obvious and depending on the prevalence of it during our other interactions, will make me think less of a person. HOWEVER I personally have a lot of trouble with prolonged eye contact such that half the time people turn around to see what I am looking at over their shoulders (hint: not a damn thing) and I sometimes find myself staring at boobs in a wholly unconscious way. So. I guess YMMV?

Also, if you are not good at eye contact, don't pick work of all places to brush up on it, ffs. Practice it with your friends/family and in random social situations, like at Starbucks, where if you briefly cross the line between "normal friendly eye contact" and "the piercing relentless gaze of a cannibalistic serial killer" it will not come back to haunt you.
posted by elizardbits at 8:37 PM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Cleavage is not really one of my assets, but it's really obvious when I'm at work and a student or someone else is checking out my more voluptuous officemates. A little cleavage is, for most women, something that just comes with shirts, especially in the summer time. I would say that yeah, a blink or two is normal-- especially if there's eye-catching jewelry involved--but more often, not so much? I mean, does this happen in other contexts, like out on dates or when you're with groups of friends who are women and not wearing turtlenecks? It strikes me as odd that it's taking you so much mental effort to not stare at her boobs that you can't do your job.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:37 PM on June 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

Is it mentally exhausting to the point that you lose track of what has been said and your boss has to repeat herself? If not, is it getting to that point?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:38 PM on June 30, 2012

Also from your update I am going to go out on a limb and assume you have some kind of ADD solely because that is exactly how I behave in conversations.
posted by elizardbits at 8:38 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bring a pen and notepad to the meeting, and spend most of your time thoughtfully staring through the pad / at your notes / at the pen. Still make eye contact when appropriate (eg when trading off speaking roles), but much like talking while driving, the occasional speaking-trade-off glance doesn't give enough time for an opportunity to wander, which in turn will get your mind off the fear you might wander.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:40 PM on June 30, 2012 [9 favorites]

Are you also looking for suggestions on how to avoid doing this in the future? I would suggest taking notes. Bring a notebook or a laptop and focus on that. Occasionally glance up at her eyes to acknowledge something that she has said, then back to the notes.

When you're talking to her, don't glance all around – look straight in her eyes and make your point without looking away. That kind of eye contact can be difficult to maintain but it's a good thing to practice. If the rest of your signals (words, tone, body language) are properly deferential and businesslike then it will come off merely as assertive and confident, but if you can master the unblinking gaze and couple it with other assertive signals then you can really rattle someone if that's what you need to do. It's a good skill. No need to be darting all over the place with your eyes.

Notebook, eyes. Notebook, eyes. Stop thinking about where you shouldn't look, and practice thinking about where you should look.
posted by Scientist at 8:41 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I accept that, in the course of glancing around (which our eyes do unconsciously/subconsciously), someone's eyes are going to be pointed at my breasts/cleavage from time to time. For me, personally, there is a comfort level difference for me between someone looking at me (and sometimes my cleavage, sometimes my eyes, etc) and someone staring at my cleavage (but I work in a predominantly male office, so it is entirely possible that I've developed internal defense mechanisms, and other women may disagree with me).

I think it's not normative to be so obsessed with whether or not you're looking at someone's cleavage that you are losing focus on the conversation. As a boss/manager, I would find that lack of concentration to be problematic.
posted by muddgirl at 8:49 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I might suggest, what you really want your question to be is "how do I not do this?" I don't know what the answer is, but it seems clear both that this is not appropriate and that it is something you want to not do.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:50 PM on June 30, 2012 [8 favorites]

to be clear, it's completely involuntary.

This is a bad excuse.

Yes, women notice when you look at their breasts and if you are doing this at work, it's definitely something to worry about.

A man in my office had the same "involuntary" peering at breasts behavior. Several women complained to HR and he was given a very strict talking to. You'd be surprised at how quickly that involuntary behavior stopped.
posted by Sal and Richard at 8:51 PM on June 30, 2012 [27 favorites]

I am a man. I like breasts. A lot. Trust me, it is possible to not stare (or to not keep glancing, which is at least as bad) at a woman's breasts in a professional setting. I mean, can you refrain from picking your nose? Scratching your anus? Talking about your enormous schlong? If so, you can teach yourself to not stare at her breasts.

There are many other settings in life in which one can (licitly or illicitly) look at breasts. This is about maintaining a very narrow and correct workplace demeanor for a few hours every day, period. Basically, you just don't look. You can look at her face, you can look at your notebook, you can look out the window. You can't stare at her nipples. You can't stare at her cleavage, and you can't stare at her bra straps while she is turned the other way because inevitably you will be noticed and that is capital-B-bad.

to be clear, it's completely involuntary.

Nope. Or at least, not unless you have no control over your other muscle movements. Do you start jerking it in meetings just because you get a bit horny? Do you tell your client that he is an ugly motherfucker? Just like those kinds of things, you catch the thought, realize that it's a bad idea in the workplace, and move on.
posted by Forktine at 8:58 PM on June 30, 2012 [35 favorites]

Response by poster: further clarification: i'm not talking about staring, i'm talking about an occasional split second glance. also, i'm not at all turned on when it happens, or particularly attracted to her.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:04 PM on June 30, 2012

A quick sideways glance is OK in my estimation, this said as a woman with ample err assets that has had more conversations with the top of guys heads than I care to think about. I feel that peripheral vision or when she is looking away is the way to go if possible, she'll still know you are looking but at least you are trying to be subtle about it and what ever you do don't stare or keep flicking your eyes up and down, that just gets creepy & into serious breach of office behaviour. Look once, subtlety, get it over with, go yes those are boobies and they are very nice and now I must listen to what my boss says.

Scientists notebook idea is a great one.
posted by wwax at 9:05 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have to be honest with you--I do notice. Recently I had an interview with someone who did this repeatedly. It really bummed me out because I was dressed modestly and professionally, and I even liked him a lot aside from the fact that he glanced about four or five times. The glance when we shook hands was confidence-draining and made me feel really gross.

Please do your best to kick this habit. It's a good way to learn great eye contact, which will benefit you anytime you talk to people--ones with breasts AND ones without. Miraculous.
posted by araisingirl at 9:15 PM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Imagine you were wearing a t-shirt with writing, and someone glanced at it during a conversation, several times. You'd probably notice this. Primates are really good at figuring out what other primates are looking at – it's a real skill we have – so yes, if you keep glancing at a notepad, or someone's chest, or anything else, they're aware of it.
posted by zippy at 9:34 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

In my experience, it's not uncommon. Expected, accepted, or "normal" in an office setting? No. I expect you to rein that shit in.

It's creepy to have coworkers momentarily sneak a peek at my breasts, even if I'm wearing a turtleneck. And it's always obvious, believe me. Always.

It's controllable. It's not involuntary.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 9:40 PM on June 30, 2012 [10 favorites]

Please do not do this. It is absolutely not 'involuntary' and you really need to take responsibility for your actions, which are totally within the normal control range of all adults, barring those with a developmental disability.

I've had bosses and colleagues do this to me and it

a) makes me feel like shit, like they don't take me seriously, don't see me as an equal colleague and like I'm just a bit of stupid office tit - not a real contender, and

b) it makes me think you are a crass gross idiot and may lead to me discussing it with other women in the office with a view to reporting it to HR, and

c) makes me a little sadder about being a woman in an office in 2012 who still has to deal with this kind of Mad Men bullshit. My workplace becomes a little bit of a harder place to be in.

So a prop like a notepad is great, but really, if she had a hand missing would you be staring at that all the time and calling it 'involuntary'? Maybe think about how disrespectful this really is. And really, especially as this woman is your superior, you could very well end up sat in front of HR discussing this, or being passed over for opportunities because she's uncomfortable around you.
posted by everydayanewday at 9:43 PM on June 30, 2012 [21 favorites]

Do you also look at the chests of men you are talking to? By which I mean, is that the level at which your eyes tend to rest when talking or listening? Or is it just women? Because that determines whether your problem is an attraction/ogling one or just a logistics one.

If you don't want to stare in her eyes constantly, try looking into the middle distance like you're concentrating; over her shoulder, maybe with a faint frown. Here are some other places you can look; the edge of her hair, an earring, an eyebrow.

Make everything below her collarbone a no-look zone; if you're not looking at her, look to her left, her right, or the table.

If none of this works, then yes you have a problem and maybe need to talk to someone about it.
posted by emjaybee at 9:44 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just one logical interjection here - the women on this thread are saying they *always* know when a man is looking. But by definition, if a man had looked without their being aware of it, they would not know that. So saying that they always know is kind of an empty assertion, because for all they know they're getting checked out triple the amount they're aware of, and most of the time don't realize it.
posted by pdq at 9:54 PM on June 30, 2012 [9 favorites]

I'm a woman, I have large breasts, and I've worked in construction for the last 16 years. Men notice my breasts while at work all the time. When this happens, actual staring at my breasts will irritate me, the occasional quick glance does not. If you literally cannot stop looking at them while meeting with her, that is really weird and inappropriate.
posted by crankylex at 9:55 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just one logical interjection here - the women on this thread are saying they *always* know when a man is looking. But by definition, if a man had looked without their being aware of it, they would not know that. So saying that they always know is kind of an empty assertion, because for all they know they're getting checked out triple the amount they're aware of, and most of the time don't realize it.

It really is way more obvious than you think. There is pretty much no subtle way of doing this.

My male friends who talk about 'quick glances' and doing it in an 'unnoticeable' way are the most painfully, cartoonishly obvious of all. I honestly don't think the people doing this are the best judge of how it looks to others.

Plus, even if she is looking away and some guy takes the opportunity to leer at her tits, someone else might notice. So it really is lose/lose.
posted by everydayanewday at 10:12 PM on June 30, 2012 [18 favorites]

I have always found it extremely noticeable and I have always thought of guys who do it as douches.

This is always far less subtle than you think it is. Women also generally know when they're being checked out from angles other than front-on due to having greater peripheral vision than men and being more aware of our surroundings for safety reasons.

Ultimately, this will reflect extraordinarily badly on any work you do, regardless of how good it is.

The whole - her cleavage is making me stare at it(!!) - thought process you have going on could be part of the problem here. You have control over yourself, you are an adult.

I suggest you get a hold of that whole 'involuntary' thing or your life will become a level of hell you really don't want to experience (this is your manager, dude).
posted by heyjude at 10:25 PM on June 30, 2012 [4 favorites]

Look, my manager sometimes wears a "Catholic school girl" outfit to work (I kid you not). I totally ignore it and make eye contact every single time, even though I am completely a breast-oriented guy.

Try thinking of her breasts as things which suck away your power and make you look like an idiot, because in this context that is exactly what they are. I'm not going to try to convince you that this isn't a problem, because it really is, and although you may not get fired for it, don't expect her to help you get ahead in the company either.

I don't understand why you "look at her eyes for a few seconds" then feel the urge to look somewhere else. Why can't you simply maintain eye contact the whole time? Maintaining eye contact is a subconscious indicator of social status, at least in our culture - in other cultures it may be considered rude, but here it is the norm and you need to work within that paradigm.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 10:31 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

At a previous workplace, there was a woman who wore tight skirts and lowcut blouses. It really made a couple of the guys uncomfortable and two of them spoke with HR and they spoke with her about the issue. She then wore more appropriate office wear.
I'm sure if a man decided to wear super tight pants and had their asscrack showing, that wouldn't be appropriate either.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:30 PM on June 30, 2012 [6 favorites]

If maintaining consistent eye contact is weird, cultivate a "thoughtfully looking into the middle distance" pose, while she's giving instructions.

Turn your chair 45 degrees to the side, and alternate between looking at her face and looking into space/the wall directly ahead of your chair, with a thoughtful listening expression on your face to convey that you are still listening even while turned slightly away. Take notes interspersed with this. That way you have a rotation of three permissible foci of attention: face - thoughtful wall - notepad - face - notepad, etc
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:32 PM on June 30, 2012

I am a woman. I've been working in an office for a couple of weeks. One of my supervisors has a habit of wearing low-cut tops too, occasionally with attention-grabbing necklaces, and I've definitely noticed that I have to make a conscious effort not to look at her cleavage either. I was actually a bit shocked that she (or any woman, for that matter) would wear a garment that exposes any part of her breasts in an office/professional setting.

So I feel a lot more sympathy for you than the other people in the thread.

There's nothing to be done about it, though, but train yourself not to look. It sucks that it's distracting for you, but I don't really see any other solution.

And as for my personal experience, if I'm wearing a titty top out to a bar and I catch a guy looking at my cleavage, I'm not going to get upset (uh, that's what the garment is designed to do), provided that he doesn't openly stare or make crude remarks about my figure.

I would not wear a cleavage-y top in an office setting, even an office populated solely by women, because it's just not appropriate for work.

On preview, I agree with KogeLiz.
posted by duvatney at 11:37 PM on June 30, 2012 [16 favorites]

Mod note: General notes here: a) let's please keep this helpful and productive – no rants, venting, or arguing please, and b) not the place for general discussion of the topic. Stay focused... and remember, we're from the internet and we're here to help.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:38 PM on June 30, 2012

I'm surprised no one commented about this, so here I go....

As a woman blessed with cleavage, I find it SUPER annoying that most clothes available at stores feature a neckline that reveals too much. So it is likely your manager, like me, has few choices for appropriate attire. I bet she would chose different, if she easily could. I doubt this is on purpose, it's just the way fashion is these days.

I now wear tank tops under everything. This is uncomfortable, but I do it, and I understand why other women don't go this route. What I am saying is that your manager probably isn't going out of her way to show off.

Hope that helps your perspective a bit. What's fashionable right now is all about... oh, you get the picture.

I long for the fashion sense of the 40's, when it was about the silhouette and not skin, but there ya go.
posted by jbenben at 11:52 PM on June 30, 2012 [17 favorites]

Mod note: Again, really, really not the place for general discussion. Please offer your advice here and use MeFi mail for more general chatting.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:58 PM on June 30, 2012

I too empathize with you - I'm a straight woman but if someone wears a top with an interesting cut, or shows a little skin, or has a cool necklace, it's easy for me to find that I glance at it several times over the course of the conversation. So it's totally normal. But it's something that a lot of people are sensitive to, and it's good to make sure you don't do anything that could be misinterpreted and make your manager uncomfortable.

I do like the recommendation of finding something else to glance at. I have a lot of conversations that involve visualizing something, or coming up with possible scenarios, and I find that for that sort of thing eye contact is just tough. But staring off to the side (turning your head a bit can help you redirect an automatic "eyes drift downward when I'm thinking" effect), or looking at a notebook can all help you keep it under control if sustained eye contact isn't working for you.
posted by Lady Li at 12:08 AM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm a large-chested female. When I'm in a conversation with a man who is obviously trying not to glance at my breasts, it does make me uncomfortable, but not because I'm offended... instead, it makes me wonder if my attire is not as work-appropriate as I think it is, and then I spend the rest of the day feeling self-conscious and/or crappy about my body.
posted by arianell at 1:17 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

further clarification: i'm not talking about staring, i'm talking about an occasional split second glance. also, i'm not at all turned on when it happens, or particularly attracted to her.

I believe you. I think this has become a "don't think about an elephant!" problem, and scolding you about it won't help; in fact, it will probably just make it harder to stop if all you can think about is how terribly terrible this behavior is, and how she knows knows knows you're doing it.

Generally the best way to break an obsessive habit is to replace it with some other behavior. Don't focus your efforts on stopping the unwelcome habit; focus them on continuing the good/neutral habit. The suggestion about bringing a notebook and looking at it is great, because it occupies your hands and gives you somewhere appropriate to look. Glance up at her eyes now and then, and then back to the notebook.
posted by palliser at 5:37 AM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Mentally break the boob barrier. Compliment the necklace, or mention that the color looks good on her. Take the heat off, keep it innocuous, and move on.

Alternatively, think about how you will feel when you inadvertently hear that guy in the mail room talking about how good your ass looks in khakis.

Hope that helps.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:42 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you pretend you're related to her? Like she's your sister?
posted by discopolo at 5:46 AM on July 1, 2012

Just to counter those who say that it wouldn't be a big deal if you glance while she is looking away and can't see it, just think about how much worse it would be if, mid-glance, she turns back and catches you? That's much creepier because then it will seem to her that you are taking any opportunity to "get away with" looking and she might feel like you are watching her every time she can't see your eyes.

Come on, this is your boss. You have to get a is entirely on you to control yourself here.

Also, since she likely already knows that you're glancing at her breasts, I don't think complimenting her on a necklace or anything else would be a good idea.
posted by fromageball at 5:54 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ugh. The minute a guy steals a quick, split-second glance at my chest in the workplace (regardless of what I am wearing) I instantly dismiss him as a creepy lowlife with no social skills. He could be a charming genius, but this will all be lost on me once he is placed in the `BoobLooker` category.

Imagine this: You are talking to your boss, standing up, and she takes a quick, split-second glance at your penis. She does this, supposedly surreptitiously, but you notice it, nearly every time you meet. It is possible that you will find this does not enhance your work day in any way.

tl;dr. Please stop, or get a job where you only ever work with dudes.
posted by lulu68 at 6:21 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

i am trying to look at her nose or forehead or whatever, look at the desk, table, then back to the nose, and this is what i have to try to focus on, while also trying to listen to what she's saying. that's the mentally exhausting part.

Don't do these things, women and men will notice you looking at their nose/forehead/ears/etc just as much as glances at boobs.

Eye Contact.

Consider these people are making eye contact with you, so they see EXACTLY where you are looking no matter how momentarily. I know Eye Contact can be hard to sustain when you're new to it.

If maintaining consistent eye contact is weird, cultivate a "thoughtfully looking into the middle distance" pose, while she's giving instructions.

An excellent solution while you build your eye contact muscles.

Nobody is in control of your eyes but you.
posted by French Fry at 6:53 AM on July 1, 2012

The reason you shouldn't worry about it is that worrying will make it worse. The more you think about it, the more your urge will be to do it. Look at it as something similar to OCD needs. I used to have to step on cracks in the sidewalk evenly with both feet. It wasn't involuntary, but it was such a strong urge that I would gain relief by giving in to it. You do have to 'live with the discomfort' awhile until you win over your urge. Even through it feels involuntary, you will, with practice, gain control over it. Be o.k. with not processing what she is saying for as many times as you need. You can always send an email to reconfirm, get additional information.

And you should do this for many of the reasons listed above.
posted by Vaike at 6:55 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

We've been here before.
posted by aqsakal at 7:09 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a woman and I actually completely understand what you mean by "involuntary". I am heterosexual, but I have found myself looking at women's cleavages in the office/school for a split second and then quickly looked elsewhere. I have also seen girlfriends looking at my rack in a mystified way for a millisecond.

On the other hand, I have been on the receiving end this behavior, but I am able to tell when it's an creepy/objectifying look or a harmless one. If it's a harmless one, I actually don't care, but that's because nudity and showing body parts isn't such a big deal to me.

So, at the risk of losing my feminist card, if I were the woman who works with you, my suggestions would be:

1. Try not to look
2. If you look, look elsewhere as soon as you notice what you are doing and focus on your work
3. Keep perspective on your actions: you know you're not attracted to me, and the bigger of a deal you make it, the bigger it will become. Train your focus to go back to work, and relax.
3. Be extremely professional in every aspect of your interactions with me, so that I have a reference level if I catch you looking
4. If I ever bring it up, spill the beans and tell me the truth. You do not see me as anything other than a coworker, and you know it's wrong and are working on it, but you completely understand if I don't want to work with you anymore.
posted by Tarumba at 8:24 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I strongly agree with palliser that this seems like a "don't think about an elephant!" problem. I'm not great at solving that kind of problem, and I wish there was more advice in this thread geared toward constructively working out that kind of issue, but generally I think the answer is to find something to replace it with and focus on that. So, metaphorically, think about a penguin instead. More concretely, look at your notebook? Look at the computer screen? Find something, anyway, and make it a "look at" rather than "look away" situation.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:35 AM on July 1, 2012

There are two possibilities here.

A) You are trying so hard to be a good colleague and supervisee that you are feeling unwarrantedly guilty every time your eyes happen to light on your supervisor's cleavage, and your (misplaced) anxiety about OMG MUST NEVER LOOK AT JANE'S CLEAVAGE is getting in the way of your focusing on work.

B) You have some sort of issue about not being able to focus because you are compulsively checking out ladies' cleavages, and your anxiety is not misplaced at all because you might well be acting like a creeper if you didn't constantly restrain yourself.

If it's B) either implement something like "bringing a notebook to meetings with Jane" and focus on that, or if that doesn't work, get help. A few sessions with a cognitive behavioral therapist can get you through that*.

If it's A), chillax. As a bosomy lady myself, the difference between someone happening to glance at my cleavage and someone ogling it is really apparent.

*if she had a hand missing would you be staring at that all the time and calling it 'involuntary'?

From childhood, I had an inappropriate, phobic reaction to a certain physical variation that maybe 1 in 500 or 1 in 1000 people in the US have. As an adult, I started a job that brought me into contact with a much higher percentage of people who had that particular variation, and it was clear to me that I couldn't be staring inappropriately at 1 in 100 of the people I encountered through my work. So I saw a cognitive behavioral therapist and did an exposure desensitization sequence so that I wouldn't make those people uncomfortable. I know that might seem like an extreme solution in your case, but just so you know it's there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:18 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

I notice most of the time when someone is looking at my chest. It would bother me if someone was glancing at my breasts repeatedly or if they were acting super weird about it, especially in a professional environment where I am the superior.

I can't tell how big of a problem this is because your answers are inconsistent. It's involuntary (you're doing it lot without being able to stop), it's just glancing (you're doing it irregularly, which is not the same thing), it's taking up a lot of mental energy (then clearly you should stop!), I'm not attracted to her (irrelevant). I don't even know what a "little bit of cleavage" is but it doesn't sound like a low-cut top.

The fact that you asked this question and you titled it "boobies!!!" makes me think you want to be convinced this isn't a problem when it probably is or soon will be. Someone suggested that instead of thinking so much about where you shouldn't look, think more and actively look where you can and should. I think that's excellent advice.
posted by sm1tten at 9:34 AM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

They notice you're doing that.

Is what she's wearing inappropriate for the work place? If so, maybe you should bring it up that it's distracting you.

I only say that because where i work we have a person who seems to enjoy the attention, and will actually do the leaning over my desk to grab something in the most comically slutty way - its completely intentional. In the more likely case though...

I don't really have this problem even though I'm one of those difficulty-with-eye-contact people. I thought I would when I started working in mixed gender work places. I was previously on navy submarines with all guys.

I've decided I think the reason is, I don't associate work with "romantic possibility". At all. Doesn't even occur to me. When you are with your sisters and mom, do you catch yourself glancing at their tits? I don't. Work, for me, is kind of the same thing.

So maybe it isn't about a specific trick you can use to break the temptation, but a whole mind-set change.
posted by ctmf at 11:22 AM on July 1, 2012

It's weird to me that you're so focused on her. Are you never around any other women who are showing slight cleavage?

If that's true (maybe you have a pretty limited social life outside of work, and/or male-dominated hobbies, and it's a make-dominated workplace?) I'd say you need to get some more practice interacting with women in non-sexual, non-romantic settings.

If that's not the case and you manage fine with this in on other women, I guess it might be appropriate to spend some time thinking, maybe with a friend or therapist, about your (more or less subconscious) feelings about women and authority/leadership.

Because it may or may not be ok with her. She might be one of the more oblivious among us, or just not care. But, for you own sake, you will almost certainly be interacting with other women who are more observant and/or judgmental. And, for the rest of us, you could stand to do a lot more good (or at least less harm) in the world if you work through any latent subconscious issues about women and power in a productive and thoughtful way.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:22 AM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't want to look, but sometimes my eyes drift ... convince me this is something i shouldn't worry about.

i'm not sure if she can tell something is strange or not.

This should be Appropriate Behaviour 101 for young men, whether going on dates or in a meeting (it's unbelievable that this happens beyond teenage years): Do not *glance* at the chest of the woman sitting in front of you because we can tell every-single-damn-time. And, when you are thinking about it! No kidding.

it's a problem because i'm spending so much mental energy focusing on not looking that it's hard and exhausting to focus on what she's saying.

That's one of the problems, yes. Get a writing pad to take notes. Seriously. I am not sure how or why looking out of the window will make the boss think you are mentally present at the meeting.

if you are a woman: is occasional glancing like the type i'm describing something you would take offense to?

What's the alternative to taking offense? You mean the woman should start enjoying that her subordinate is gawking at her chest in a meeting? How wonderful. That's all we look forward to when we aspire to become a leader.
posted by xm at 1:13 PM on July 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mod note: Do not make this a referendum on how women are supposed to feel. Thanks.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 1:52 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just as a counterpoint, if I wear a cleavage-baring shirt to work (which I don't do purposefully, but sometimes it takes some stares to reveal the terrible truth):

1. The glancers seem broken down evenly between gender lines
2. My immediate reaction is not, "Fie, you boorish scumbag!", it's "OK, I know not to wear this shirt to work again."
3. If it's a guy who did the glancing, my later reaction is to laugh about it with my lady colleagues.

I am surprised at how harsh some of these responses are, actually. As you said, the actual problem is not that you are under the mistaken assumption that it's fine and dandy to ogle your boss's cleavage. It's quite the opposite - you're so fixated on NOT LOOKING lest you suffer dire consequences that you're unable to focus on what your boss is saying. I think you made a gamble with how you phrased your question because you were hoping to ease your mind with some vindication, but unfortunately you lost that gamble and next time this happens you'll have a whole thread of tiny voices shouting that the dire consequences are worse than you EVER IMAGINED!

If I understand CBT/exposure therapy correctly, when you're in the trap of trying so hard not to think about or do something taboo that you end up obsessing over it, the solution is not to make the taboo thought or action even MORE taboo (because that only takes you further down the rabbit hole), it's to deflate the taboo itself. It's kind of funny, actually. Laugh at the devil and he will flee, that sort of thing (I know that's not the real quote, but whatever).
posted by granted at 4:09 PM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, I can't believe the vitriol being throw at men who look at breasts. Dismissing them as utter lowlife scum pieces of shit with no social skills whatsoever? Cause if so, pretty much every heterosexual man, in that estimation, is a worthless piece of crap.

It just... happens. Yes if a guy is flat out staring, of course it's a bit weird, but I'm not going to make my co-workers (especially the ones I'm friends with) feel like total assholes because their eyes happen to quickly drift down to my boobs. I don't think it means that they think less of me, that they underestimate me, or that they're somehow now despicable cretins no longer worth oxygen.

OP, obviously I'm in the minority here, as you're getting a barrage of comments above about how if you look you're a disgusting human being, but I wanted to say that as a woman, with breasts, I don't think you're some piece of shit.
posted by dithmer at 6:20 PM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

CONTEXT. In your workplace, where your female boss has also come to work: unacceptable.

To break that down even further, let us highlight again: boss. Do you think my male boss would think it was normal or funny for me to be stealing quick glances at his crotch in meetings? How do you think that would make him think about me? What would my other colleagues think about it? Do you think it would help me advance in my job/the company, or hinder me, considering pretty much no one else at work does it?

Look, plenty - hell, most, more than 99% - men in the office can and do manage this every day. It is not something that 'just happens' and I don't expect to have to just put up with it, try to laugh it off or do the 'chalk it up to man's inherent nature' bullshit because I haven't got any other choice. Your boss isn't in a position where she has to either. Think about what that means for you and how you should deal with this, either through notepads or CBT or whatever else might help.

A 'boys will be boys!' and a friendly wink that we who aren't man-hating bitches all OK with this stuff would be a massive disservice to you. There are HR policies written around dealing with this stuff and you do not want to become embroiled in them. I hope you get a handle on this and work becomes more normal for you.
posted by everydayanewday at 9:51 PM on July 1, 2012 [5 favorites]

Mod note: Seriously, folks, dial it back or take it to MeTa.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 10:22 PM on July 1, 2012

It may seem implausible, but the difference between "looking at" and "seeing" is often really, REALLY obvious, even if both are similarly quick glances.

It's okay to see your colleagues cleavage, it's not okay to look at it. Focus on that rule and you'll probably be totally fine.
posted by desuetude at 11:32 PM on July 1, 2012

To be completely honest, I never was into that "Stare at her forehead! Stare at her nose!" kind of thing. It's equally disingenuous and to me it's awkward. To get rid of this rack-glancing problem, you need to have a different mindset. Instead of looking at her superficially, try to look deeper into her as she talks. Look into her eyes and focus on her spirit. Do this while remaining relaxed, possibly even leaning back against the chair. Use your excess mental energies on comprehending what she is saying and why she is saying it. Focus on how she may have came to her conclusions and what kind of mindset she must have in order to be saying the things that she is saying. Get lost in her eyes and the spirit of her person. Look away at times in order to indicate to her that you are genuinely taking what she is saying into reflective consideration. Looking away also helps ameliorate any tension that would be otherwise caused by constant eye contact.

I suggest looking at the eyes FAR more than looking anywhere else. It indicates to the other person that you truly care for what they have to say. That alone, will make your boss more comfortable with talking to you (so long as you remain relaxed as you do it; don't have a creepy constant stare going on). The more you practice looking into her eyes, the easier it will become to get lost in them, especially as you actively start to shift your mindset in the way that I've described above.
posted by Willpower at 12:37 PM on July 6, 2012

on second thought, leaning forward might help you a lot more than leaning back
posted by Willpower at 12:38 PM on July 6, 2012

but still remain relaxed, either way. Try both leaning postures out and choose the one that is more comfortable with you
posted by Willpower at 12:39 PM on July 6, 2012

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