How to handle an odd social phenomenon
June 23, 2016 3:11 PM   Subscribe

Let's say I travel with my coworkers - let's call them Anne, Bryan, and Casey - to an offsite event near our office. How should I handle the awkward situation that sometimes plays out? Snowflakes inside.

(Bryan is my boss, by the way.)

While we're at the event, we encounter someone else - let's call him Dean - whom all of my coworkers know well but whom I have never met. Anne, Bryan, Casey, and Dean immediately form a little circle. They're all standing basically shoulder-to-shoulder - a couple of them have their backs to me - and talking quietly amongst themselves.

No one introduces me to Dean and they all appear to forget, for 10-15 minutes, that I'm there. I hover awkwardly on the outside of the group, hoping that one of my coworkers will remember that I'm there and introduce me. This never happens.

I should clarify that even though I have tendencies toward shyness, I'm generally not a shrinking violet in other similar situations. For example, if I see Anne, Bryan, and Casey talking together at an event, I'll approach them and join the group. Or if Anne is talking to Dean one-on-one, I know how to approach politely. But when I'm being physically frozen out and I don't know Dean, I'm reluctant to butt in lest I'm seen as rude.

How should I be responding to this? It happened today and I had no idea what to do. I tried to make eye contact with my coworkers, but they didn't bring me into the group. Most everyone had trickled out of the event room so there weren't other groups for me to approach instead (and anyway, I needed to leave with Bryan so it was important I stuck close).

In this particular case, when Bryan and I were leaving together, I made a point to ask who Dean was. He apologized for not introducing us and seemed to realize that it was a very uncool thing to do. But was there something I could/should have done in the moment?

Difficulty level: This is a new job; I'm just finishing my third week here. I don't want to be pushy but I also want to be seen as part of the team. I came home feeling like shit today and don't want to repeat that.
posted by schroedingersgirl to Human Relations (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Break into the circle, hold out your hand and say, "Hello Dean, I'm schroedingersgirl, nice to meet you. I'm with A, B, and C". And stand in the circle. Not rude at all, everyone will appreciate it. A, B and C need some manners.
posted by the webmistress at 3:16 PM on June 23, 2016 [49 favorites]

Hey, you'll meet him. Probation periods are fraught with controversy. You have to accept that some problems will not be solved at this moment, but may improve as time passes. It's great you're connecting with the group as a group but you obviously respect the hierarchy, so I would use that principle here until you are introduced. It sounds medieval because it is. You could try to search for a more open company but that's a fool's bargain. Use your time to research who they are talking to. It is clear that people in your industry communicate regardless of affiliation, so your odds of being accepted as a co-producer is high if you have a valid, compelling reason to contact them. Otherwise, wait it out and assess your options in six to nine months.
posted by parmanparman at 3:19 PM on June 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

I don't think there was anything else you should have done. It was a very uncool thing for them to have done, and you definitely did the right thing in calling Bryan out (gently).

Is it possible that they may have been talking about something specific to the four of them that would not have involved you even in the best of circumstances? Though 10-15 minutes is a lot of time to freeze you out even for something delicate or personal!

Some groups of people are just bad at social stuff like this, also. If they are a long-standing team and you are the new person, shit like this sometimes happens. It sucks and people should be better about this. But if this is the case then over time it will get better.
posted by wemayfreeze at 3:30 PM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

the webmistress is 100% right. Shit happens, but that doesn't mean you have to put up with it. Even if you're the new kid at work. That kind of unconscious rudeness can take on its own momentum, with certain people, if you don't actively stop it.

I came home feeling like shit today

Understandably - just make sure you don't carry it forward, don't let them see you sweat tomorrow. Be bright and sunny etc.
posted by cotton dress sock at 3:46 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

Isn't this where you immediately walk off - get a drink, get an appetizer, start a conversation with someone new??

Barging in and introducing yourself might be fine, YMMV with these people. Depends. Sometimes folks will bury their face in their phones in a situation like this. Don't do this at a work event, but it might work in other social situations.

Also a fine moment to visit the loo and wash you hands or whatever!
posted by jbenben at 3:46 PM on June 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

Since this is in a work context, assertiveness is a virtue. Volunteer your introduction as the webmistress noted.

I've mentioned before in other questions that I'm a scientist who has transitioned into science policy--an area that requires a steely willingness to interrupt (politely) and talk (politely) and hold an audience (politely) against others competing for a person's limited attention. I also work with a lot of scientists who have not transitioned into this atmosphere, and these are people who are used to being introduced, acknowledged, and accepted as a matter of course (professors, people who run labs, etc.) or are used to disappearing against the wallpaper until granted permission to speak (students, bench scientists, etc.). I now take individuals from both ends of that spectrum through "assertiveness training," which dually instructs people on how to not be offended by perceived hierarchical sleights and to act, when necessary, against all instincts that tell you speaking up will be perceived as a hierarchical sleight. It works surprisingly well!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:49 PM on June 23, 2016 [13 favorites]

You were not the rude person here, and you still wouldn't have been if you'd butted in and said, "Oh hi Dean! I'm new, nice to meet you!" I bet maybe they are not used to having you around since you're new to the crew, but even so, UGH. I'm sorry, I would have been hurt, too. Anyway, next time when everyone is all, "Hey Dean, long time no see!" introduce yourself with good humor and a smile. If it seems like there's awkwardness because they want to discuss mutual friends or something, that's your queue to tell Bryan "Hey I'm running over there for a second. Leave here in 10 minutes?" Congrats on the new job!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 4:00 PM on June 23, 2016 [4 favorites]

I can understand the issue. It's not that you wouldn't say "Hi, I work with these guys, where do you know them from?" if you could actually walk up to them and shake hands, but you've got the physical blocking issue. They're standing in a huddle, they're not looking up, they're neither talking to you nor allowing you to talk to them. So how do you interrupt? It's hard. Steel yourself and just do it.

Walk away for 2 minutes, take a sip of water. Walk back. You are now not "hovering", you have re-arrived.
Address someone: Choose whoever is on the side of the group facing the direction you're walking from, so you can cheerfully wave your arm at them. Or choose the person you can make up the best excuse to talk to. "Casey, hey!" (you can do this, because you have just arrived)
Ask that person a question. This is a made-up question with some immediacy. "What time is the next seminar talk?" "Are you going to the Jones seminar, or to see Smith?" "We're still carpooling, right?" "How did you like the (last talk)?" ... and hopefully conversation will regroup to include you.
Or better yet, be direct. "Casey, hey! Is this one of your old coworkers? Hi, I'm Emma. You're Dean? Awesome. Anna, Bryan and Casey are great, aren't they?"
posted by aimedwander at 4:07 PM on June 23, 2016 [16 favorites]

Yeah, relax and introduce yourself.
posted by vrakatar at 4:56 PM on June 23, 2016

Put your hand on Anne's upper arm and say 'I'll let you all catch up - I'll be over at the refreshments table.'

Watch everybody scramble to introduce you.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:53 PM on June 23, 2016 [16 favorites]

Sometimes people want to have a private conversation, and that's okay. Don't take it personally. They might have something to talk about with Dean that doesn't involve you, and that needs to be okay, because it's going to happen to you all the time. People have relationships that don't include you and they will continue to do so until forever. Make the choice not to take it personally.

Next time this happens, take the hint and give them some space. Walk off and introduce yourself to someone else, or go sit in the lobby, and give them some privacy.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:07 PM on June 23, 2016

Like, put yourself in their shoes---unless you legitimately need to talk to one of them (instead of just leaving with them) it is actually unnecessary for you to interrupt them. Let them talk! Taking hints given to you with body language (instead of butting in) will pay dividends because people will not be annoyed by you.

People will, however, be annoyed if you make every instance of them non-verbally requesting privacy into a personal affront. Maybe Dean's mom just died or something. Maybe Dean had some industry gossip to tell them that Dean wouldn't trust you with because you're new. People have all kinds of normal, non-offensive reasons to have relatively private conversations. Just let them talk and be chill. It's not a big deal.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:12 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I consider it beyond rude that they didn't include you as a new colleague or at the very least clueless. I hope that now that you have planted the seed in your bosses head he won't make that mistake again.

This was an obvious work event, right? Excluding someone is always rude, especially a new addition to the team which is usually an awkward position to be in. Even if poor Dean had had a death in the family that is no excuse to ice out the OP. This is a work event. If it really was a very personal moment with Dean her boss should have said to OP, "give me a moment, I haven't seen Dean since his wife passed and I'd like to express my condolences. I'll be right back."

Everything OP has described is bad manners. OP should continue to assert herself. She did recognize the body language for what it was. Even if there was some big important secret communication the way it was handled was extremely unprofessional. How is OP to know if the conversation was personal or top secret work talk? She was iced out plain and simple. Women often find themselves in this situation whereas their male colleagues are rewarded for there assertiveness. How often is the advice to male to sit back and evaluate body language and to basically suggest to her that she should know her place?

Best wishes schroedingersgirl!
posted by futz at 8:08 PM on June 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

I'd do what the webmistress suggested. But then, I'm assertive like that.
posted by Kwadeng at 12:33 AM on June 24, 2016

whyyyyyy would you "assert yourself" if they are being nice 99% of the time

I swear sometimes the advice here gets very internet tough guy when the vast majority of time the answer to this kind of thing is to chill out and go get a soda or something before you get a reputation as that asshole. (a far bigger worry for women than for men, while we're on that particular gendered road.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:48 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

whyyyyyy would you "assert yourself" if they are being nice 99% of the time

I don't plan on just butting in next time. However, what obiwanwasabi suggested would have been easy for me to do and certainly polite.

FWIW, lest this turn into more ranting about how I was the rude one for hovering near Dean while he grieved his grandma - let me clarify that while they were talking quietly I could still hear, and the conversation was all shop talk.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 10:15 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

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