Annoyed At A Quiet One

Question:

We have a very quiet individual who has started working with us for the past year or so. He hardly says a few words throughout the day. He is not required to have much work-related communication with anyone. However, people find him a bit annoying and don’t know how to respond to him.

Signed,

Withdrawn From Us


Answer:

Dear Withdrawn From Us:

From here I can’t guess what kind of work you and your coworkers do, but apparently, this quiet one’s work doesn’t require much interaction with others. It’s also apparent that your work group doesn’t work as a team. If those in your work area functioned as a team, you would have regular, or at least occasional skull sessions and huddles to review how well you were working with one another and to confer about what you might do to work more effectively. Therefore I assume that working solo is more the rule than the exception.

Yet you for one and you say others “people find a him bit annoying and don’t know how to respond to him.” And that is understandable if this individual doesn’t converse enough for you to feel like he’s “ok”. Each of us needs to be open enough that others do not see us as a big question mark. A hello and bit of chitchat is the ticket to being accepted by others. Mr. Quiet’s silence has left you and some others annoyed because you can’t figure him out.

What are possible solutions to this annoyance and not knowing how to respond? You have some options, some that you probably have tried. 1. You can respond to him as he does to others. Just accept him as one who has a pattern of working solo. Don’t attempt anything more than he does; some people are shy and uncomfortable communicating. 2. You can be friendly but not pushy, saying a cheerful hello and adding, “How’s it going?” not expecting much more than an “ok” response. That can continue both in a greeting and goodbye at closing for months. 3. You might initiate an informal conversation at lunchtime, such as saying, “I baked these cookies last night. Here tell me if I did a good job.” 4. You might confront him privately, sharing your uneasiness in not knowing how to respond, such as, “Sam, I feel awkward around you. You’ve been working here for about a year, yet I don’t feel like I’ve done much to make you feel welcome and part of our work group. Do you feel that way too?” Wait for a response. Or be more assertive, “Some of us have the feeling that you don’t like us. I don’t want to be nosy, but we would like to have you join in a little more. For example, you’ve probably thought about ways we could make our work area more efficient and effective. Is there anything you’ve found that we might do to make your job easier?” Or to get a reaction, you could ask about specific things about your work that affect his own. 5. Get your supervisor involved by suggesting she/he schedulef weekly staff meetings and enlist the ideas from everyone to cut wasted supplies, duplicated work, time, energy and to brainstorm ways of making your jobs more effective. In short to transform your work area from working solo to team-mindedness. This kind of effort might change the culture form one that has had an isolate to one that helps all, including Sam, to feel included. Sometimes creating competition between work areas on quality improvement project generates enthusiasm.

These are suggestions that range from acceptance of Sam to assertive confrontation and creative indirect involvement. Possibly they will prompt you to think of other ways to deal with your annoyance and not knowing how to interact with him. I will await a report from you to learn what you elect to do or not do and how he responds. Don’t expect a one-time effort to change a pattern that has developed over months, and possible his lifetime of quietness. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes special efforts of communication and it makes for big WEGOS. What sense does that make to you?

William Gorden