Saturday, March 23, 2013

Job skills 101: don't be rude

Northern Clime is in a friendly part of the country, and it's been a long time since I've encountered real rudeness at the university. I'm still trying to figure out what to make of a mild little incident that occurred the other day.

I was at a remote campus site to participate (watch, really) by videoconference in a day-long workshop. I've been at enough of these to know that the usual drill is go in, make a little polite conversation with whoever shows up in the conference room, and pay attention. Everyone there has signed up for it, so you can assume that we're all colleagues of one kind or another.

I enter the room, and, as the senior person there (judging by my being older, more professionally dressed, etc.), give a friendly greeting to the two younger women sitting there.

"Hi.  Are you all here for the workshop?"

No answer.

Undeterred, I press on:

"Are you faculty here?"--thinking I'd introduce myself after getting the conversation started.

One smirks. "No."

Without learning a lesson (not used to rudeness, remember):

"A grad student?"

Another smirk. "No." Glares at me and turns away.  The other woman looks a little unnerved and says nothing.

What I think is this: What on earth is your problem? 

What I say is this: "I was making conversation."

And that is the extent of the conversation in the room until Rude One leaves at the noon hour and Unnerved One unbends a little bit.


What I don't understand is the thought process of someone like that.  It's not about being a professor and having someone suck up to you (don't care about that) or about my being senior to both of them (though why would you go out of your way to alienate someone who might be able to help you?).

It's about being three human beings in a room for the next six hours, and why would you want to make the room tense with rudeness if you didn't have to? It's not as though we were bumping into each other on a downtown street: there was a context and purpose for what we were doing.

I don't get it. I have had students in the past who seriously wanted to Stick It To The (Wo)Man, and one who actually gave me a Nazi salute (!) to indicate that I was Hitler and she was a Brave Iconoclast.  (Yeah, that was a fun time.) Could that be it?

Or is it that she wasn't a professional like the other people I've met through these workshops and didn't understand how they operate?

Your thoughts?


delagar said...

It's puzzling, all right.

It might be she just had no home training -- she really doesn't know how to act in social situations. (The fact that she didn't answer your greeting makes me give that answer weight.) Lots of kids really are raised by wolves.

Or -- and this helps me when my students respond in hostile or strange ways -- it may have nothing at all to do with you or the situation. Maybe she was just having a horrible day; maybe something had happened just before you came into the room; maybe something traumatic is going on in her life.

People that act that rude to strangers aren't really reacting to the strangers, IOW -- it's something else.

Which, yes, that's why we have manners, so that we don't take our issues out on strangers.

Contingent Cassandra said...

I'm wondering whether someone required her to be there (perhaps even as punishment, or what she perceived as punishment), and she was, for that reason, resentful. Lack of choice will do that to a person (though it's no excuse to take it out on an innocent third party).

CarlD said...

Hm. I hate small talk, especially when it feels like a personal interrogation. But I know how to be polite about it, and I like people enough to give them a pass for a bit while I give them opportunities to do better. Unless I'm very, very tired or very, very put upon, in which case unless I can't avoid it I stay away from other human beings. So I could see an explanation for your dynamic emerging from fails in any of these conditions. Or you may just have reminded her of her mother.

undine said...

delegar--that makes it easier to take--the manners explanation.

Contingent Cassandra--That may be true; thanks.

CarlD--I was expecting what I'd heard before: "I'm from X department; how about you?" after which I'd have introduced myself. But yes, and ouch, on the mother thing: female authorities just don't sit well if those issues are there to begin with.

Historiann said...

I'm with CC on this. Rude One was pissed off to be there in the first place, and perhaps thought you were part of the surveillance apparatus to ensure her "cooperation."

But regardless: she was rude, and the Unnerved One was gutless. I hate it when I let a$$holes ruin my day--I hope you didn't give this incident too much more thought after you posted on it.

(Just curious: what was the workshop about?)

sophylou said...

I've seen a surprising amount of this where I am. In a way I'm grateful for the reminder that to others it looks like rudeness, too... it's not just me.

undine said...

Historiann--I was mildly annoyed for a couple of hours but haven't worried about it since. The workshop was about grants in the humanities, so it wasn't the usual "everybody go get educated about the mission statement" kind of thing.

sophylou--I'm glad you see it that way, too.

Historiann said...

Well then, that's just super-weird! WTF?

sophylou said...

"Booo! I don't want to learn about grants for humanities research! I want to do it for free! Out of love! No pay!" ??

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

[clicks the invisible "Like" button for sophylou's last comment]

The only way this makes sense to me - and I want it to make sense, because behavior that's just rude is utterly baffling to me - is this: it sounds like she was from off campus, and perhaps therefore felt a little defensive and out of place. (especially if she was interested in grants as an independent scholar of some kind.) Your question about being faculty would then sound like a challenge.

Still doesn't justify rude behavior, but that's my best shot at explaining it.

undine said...

H'ann--super-weird for sure. I will be ready, though, the next time I go there for anything.

sophylou--you may be right. If so, I think she is in for an awakening when she gets a job.

P/H--that's a good explanation. If she was used to an academic environment, she might have taken it for the normal question it was, but if not, defensiveness wouldn't have been a bad strategy, I guess.