Monday, December 5, 2011

Random Irritations -- Episode IV

After I have known a person for a while, I usually have a pretty good idea how they think and can predict how they will act, at least in the context in which we typically interact. With most of my long-term collaborators, for example, I have a pretty good idea of how they think (as scientists), what their priorities are, how they feel about certain aspects of our job or our field, and so on. We don't have to be close personal friends, but the knowledge of what is important to the people with whom you interact on a regular basis is really critical in long-term relationships.

However, there have been a few people in my life whose modi operandi remain a mystery to me, even though we have known each other for quite some time. These people are so guarded, at least towards me, that they may well be black holes -- no matter how I try to connect with them, I receive absolutely no information on what they genuinely think or feel. This is not a priori bad in professional relationships, one could say it helps maintain a professional distance. I could just take whatever they say at face value and act accordingly, right? That would be awesome. Except that, for a few such people, some of their intermittent actions make no sense to me and really make me wonder WTF is going on in their heads.

Here is an example. There is a Collaborator of mine who has been a topic of several of my posts, because this person completely baffles me. I have no freakin' clue what they think or feel in earnest. They present a perfect, impenetrable facade of sugarcoated niceness. One thing I have gathered about Collaborator is that control is very important to them -- it oozes from their appearance, demeanor, the way they schedule meetings and handle email correspondence, the way they advise students and edit papers. Collaborator is a good, well-regarded scientist, and overall a reasonable person.

But every so often, something bizarre happens. The other day, Collaborator and I were supposed to meet with a Third Collaborator (TC) in TC's office. I came straight from home, hauling my purse, breast pump and related paraphernalia, as well as a large coffee and a bottle of water. I went straight to TC's office in order not to be late; Collaborator was not there yet, and TC said he had to finish a couple of emails and to sit down at his conference table. The table was oval, with one end completely covered in papers. I went to the other, clear end (I suppose it would be the head of the table), placed my coffee and water bottle on the table right in front of the seat, and told TC that since he needed a few minutes and Collaborator wasn't there yet, I would just run to my office and drop my stuff off.

My absence lasted about 5 minutes. When I went back, I found Collaborator sitting in my spot! The spot which was clearly taken by virtue of having a huge coffee and bottled water in front of it. Collaborator was just sitting there, smiling, like nothing happened. I had to pick another seat, then lean over towards Collaborator to drag my drinks over to my new seat, so I don't think there could have been any ambiguity about where the drinks were supposed to be.

I didn't say anything because I was really taken aback. Shortly thereafter, Collaborator whipped out an apple and started crunching away. Not important for the story, but I found it extra noisy and annoying in my irritated state.

What do you even say when someone sits in your spot and pretends nothing happened? Why would someone do that? Do they absolutely must sit at the head of the table? Why? Weird.


inBetween said...

I have had that happen too and it was really weird. No idea about why, other than that it must be control freak stuff...

Alex said...

One morning, while staying with friends in a different time zone, we were all having breakfast. A few of us got up to do something, then I sat down in a friend's seat and started eating off of his plate.

In my defense:
1) We were in a different time zone and I had been up late the night before.
2) My friends are not coffee drinkers, so there was no coffee in their house and I had not yet been caffeinated that morning.

Namnezia said...

To me a random water bottle and paper cup of coffee mean nothing. You collaborator could have thought that they belonged to TC who was clearly sitting in his desk and may had casually put them down on the table. Or maybe he just didn't notice them. In a table full of papers and junk, more junk does not signify someone took a spot. Plus why is it important to you where on the table you sit? To me the whole things sounds ambiguous.

Alyssa said...

I don't know if the seat thing would bother me. Like Namnizia said, Collaborator could have just as easily assumed the cup and water bottle were TC. The crunching apple thing, on the other hand, would drive me INSANE. But, not because of the person, but because I'm super sensitive to eating/crunching/slurping sounds (sometimes it bothers me so much I need to leave the room).

Anonymous said...

Doesn't sound bizarre at all, it sounds consistent with wanting control. He wanted to be at the head of the table.

gc said...

I'd personally give him/her the benefit of doubt. Even if it was intentional, it'd probably be best to ignore b.s like that (mind games and such) can stay away from it all and stay happier. Atleast that's how i'll try to take it.