Thursday, April 14, 2016

What would you have done?

I’m attending a professional conference this week—SIOP, or Society of Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Attendees generally have master’s or PhDs in the field or are candidates for one of those degrees. There are a bazillion sessions offered during the conference: research on various topics or panel discussions and even debates.

This afternoon I was in a very full session on visualizing big data. The woman next to me was a PhD candidate in I/O and had very long hair (this detail matters to the story). Since the session was full and had been anticipated to be full, the chairs were very close together—when I say close, I mean they were touching. So there wasn’t much room. The woman next to me kept running her hand through her hair and sort of flipping it or rearranging it. All fine and good except that her hair kept getting way into my personal space (what little there was) and hit me a few times. Plus she fidgeted like crazy; she crossed her legs over and over again and then kept bouncing the top leg up and down. I was nervous her heel was going to smack my right knee, the one that was so bruised from my fall last week.

I considered saying something to her, something to indicate I knew it wasn’t on purpose behavior or malicious but that I found it pretty distracting. I also thought (and think) that she’s going to need to get a handle on those behaviors or else they’ll end up being real drawbacks as she looks to launch either an academic or corporate-based career. While it’s not fair that people get judged by things like nervous fidgets or the inability to recognize and respect personal space, it happens all the time.

I wondered too what, if any, responsibility I bore toward helping a young woman with some kind, specific feedback like that. I’m still not sure about that one, to be honest.

In the end, I said nothing. I’m not her adviser or her friend and even though I disliked her hair whipping me the way it did, the potential risk of offering feedback like that outweighed any social or professional obligation I might have. But I’m curious. What would you have done?


Stacy McCollum said...

I understand what you are saying. My job as an Administrative Assistant is to be accommodating to everyone at all times, being able to recognize when someone is feeling a certain way by observing his or body language and to alter my communication style so that it is more in line with the person to whom I am communicaing. This is not easy to do, especially in situations that take over my personal space. I would be more inclined to remove myself than to talk to the offender face to face.
It is unfortunate as I believe myself to be a strong, assertive professional. Though my fear of coming off as a bitch outweighs my confidence.
The Army taught us to take deep breaths and drive on through adversity. Is it training or avoidance in those tough situations? Either way, I chalk it up to social survival.

Kent J said...

I probably wouldn't have done anything. In a situation where everyone's crammed together like that...Her right to be unintentionally annoying is as valid as my right not to be annoyed.

Elizabeth said...

I mostly wrestled with whether or not I owed her feedback that might help her professionally. Yeah in the end, the minor annoyance was just that--minor. But those habits she has will almost certainly interfere with her career goals. Not my circus ultimately but it's worth considering.

Judith said...

"Would you like some feedback?"