Silent Treatment From The Start

Question:

I have read your reply to the lady who was getting a silent treatment in the office. I have a similar situation except that I’m subordinate and this is my new job (for the last 5 months). I work as a program assistant in a small office with two English As Second Language (ESL) teachers. I get along with one just fine but another one gives me the silent treatment. Whenever I try to strike up a conversation she just says Hi, Fine, and doesn’t talk to me for the rest of the day.

She talks with the another teacher, and when she talks she is the only one who is talking. The other teacher mainly listens.

This person is young, ambitious, witty and a peferctionist type. From my observation, she likes to give directions and to be admired and that’s why she chose to be an ESL teacher. She chats away with another teacher mainly about what she did in a class.

I tried to join the conversation and I thought I had something to offer since I myself had worked as an ESL teacher in the past. I also tried to compliment her here and there – her looks, her funny stories…. Once I asked the second teacher if it would help to bring some chocolates and bought her favorites – dark chocolate… She wasn’t thrilled and didn’t even share the treat.

Well, after 5 months of trying, I’m really upset as nothing works!!!! She doesn’t include me to any conversation, never asks how I’m doing and whenever possible tries to do things without asking me for help. My confidence and self-esteem gets dampened more and more because I’m a new employee, I’m also ESL person and sometimes stumble over the words when thinking too hard, and I feel lonely and unappreciated on this new job that I hoped to love. I have no other administrative person to relate to and that makes things even worse. Please help!!!! Regards, Unappreciated

Signed,

Feeling Alone


Answer:

DearĀ Feeling Alone:

Work can be lonely if you do not feel part of everything. That is a situation which many new employees–and some older ones–have to learn to deal with. Let me share some thoughts and see if they help. 1. First, I think you need to accept that this teacher is probably not ever going to want to talk much to you or feel closer to you. If that was going to have developed, it would have by now. It may change. But in the meantime, I think you will be happier to find enjoyment in your work in other ways.

Developing a relationship at work is like any other relationship. Sometimes the more you try to connect, the more the other person pulls away. Your basic conversations are accepted with a brief answer. But everything else is seen by this teacher as too much. So, when you compliment her, then compliment her some more, then buy her candy and do similar things to make a connection, it only irritates her and makes her wish you would stop! I think your first step to feeling better and perhaps to getting a better response, is to stop trying so hard with this teacher or any other one. Be friendly but focused on work. I’ll mention more about that in a moment.

2. Some people who are being supported by a program assistant are warm, outgoing and make the assistant feel like part of the team. Others view the assistant as only someone who is paid to help and that’s all. They expect the assistant to provide support, but they don’t see a reason to be friends.

Many jobs have an unspoken system of rank where those of one rank don’t talk much to those of another. We hear that from nurses, secretaries, factory workers, custodians, employees in police and fire departments and in sales jobs. Titles, education, tenure and status can be huge walls between people.

While I think some of that is a shame, from the viewpoint of working together, I can also see how it might develop. People who have the same job, tenure, education or experience tend to have more things in common than they do with others. That is especially true in professional settings. That doesn’t excuse discourtesy or rudeness. But it doesn’t sound as though the teacher is being rude to you. She just doesn’t want to do more than have the most basic conversations.

The teacher may not see that you have something to contribute to the team, and may only know that you are not a teacher like her–and she would prefer to spend her time talking to other teachers. She may, as you say, have some ego problems that keep her from being friendly to everyone. She obviously doesn’t realize that working closely with her program assistant can make her work better, easier and more effective. But, that is not something you will be able to convince her about on your own.

3. If you have a supervisor other than this teacher, that would be a good person to talk to about the matter. Do not complain about the actions of the teacher. Ask about how you are doing as a program assistant, or ask for advice about ways to increase your effectiveness. You could mention that you want to be an active part of the team in your support role. Clarify your role, if you have any question about it. If you supervisor asks about your relationship with the teachers, discuss the teacher you have a positive relationship with. You can say that you hope to build a stronger working relationship with the other teacher. Perhaps your supervisor will voluntarily give you some insights.

4. Let’s say the teacher never changes. Then what? How can you enrich your work environment so you feel more positive in spite of it not being what you hoped for? First, use this as a time to build your knowledge and skills so you can develop a resume for the next job–where hopefully you CAN find more enjoyment!

Keep a record of all the different learning experiences you are having. If you have learned to use a new item of office equipment, or if you have helped in some unique or challenging situation, keep a record of those things. Look for chances to add to your list. The displays you help develop, the times you work under a tight deadline, when you have needed to be able to convey information briefly and helpfully–those are all things to be proud of and to remember for next time.

At the same time, immerse yourself in your support role. You are not the servant of this teacher–you are an assistant whose job it is to help the program be more successful. However, as an assistant, you will likely find times when you help the teacher be more successful than she might be otherwise. If she is appreciative, that’s a good thing. If not, at least you did your job well.

Do not immediately transfer your friendship efforts to the other teacher. Be friendly as you are now, but remember that the other teacher may prefer to keep a working distance as well. You may find it easier to let the teachers keep their role and you focus on yours.

If the teacher you work with is doing well with her class and students are learning, the program is successful. That is much more likely to result in appreciation for you by everyone. Even if it doesn’t, it’s helped others, so keep that as your goal.

I hope this has been helpful as you look at your work and what you want to achieve there. You won’t always be working with this teacher. And, this teacher may change over time. But you can only control how you feel at this moment. You can feel better by not making the most important thing at work to be whether or not the teacher is friendly with you. Make it whether or not you can be effective in your work, no matter what.

Best wishes.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.