Yes, I had a good weekend thanks

Dear Manners@Work, 

There’s a woman who works in the same pod as me. Every Monday morning, I say hello and I ask her how her weekend was. (Because that’s polite and friendly, right?). And every Monday morning, she replies and gives me a detailed answer about what she got up to. But she never, ever asks me about my weekend in return. What does this mean? Does she not like me? Should I stop asking? I’m starting to get annoyed by the one-sided conversation—although she’s mostly nice and friendly at other times and we seem to work together fine. 

Regards,
Yes-I-had-a-good-weekend-thanks 

Dear Yes-I-had-a-good-weekend-thanks,

Indeed, it is polite and friendly to ask co-workers how their weekends were. Although, I will say that this tends to be most critical in Australia. In other countries, the “how was your weekend” Monday morning ritual is less important. I know people from overseas working in Australia who have told me that they actually practice their “what I did on the weekend” speech on Sunday evenings so they have something to say when the question inevitably arises. So that might be one hint about what’s going on. If she’s from another culture, being able to give you a solid answer to the question might be a big enough achievement for her. In which case, I advise being grateful and patient—she could well have practiced an answer, just for you! How lovely is that?   

If that’s not the case, then there are a few other options to explore. 

Cutting to what I think is at the heart of your question—does she just not like you? I doubt it. If she gave a polite, clipped “Good, thanks” then I would be tempted to give that some consideration and my advice would be quite different. But no, you say she gives you a detailed answer and you say she’s “mostly” nice and friendly at other times and it seems you have a good working relationship. 

So, here’s what I think is really going on: social ineptness. She is simply not aware that by not participating further in this conversation she is coming across as rude. 

What if she genuinely doesn’t realise that good social interaction involves give-and-take in conversational interactions? Maybe she doesn’t realise that taking 60 additional seconds in her conversation with you would, over time, build vital rapport and trust between you (and possibly other co-workers around her).  You know it’s kinda rude to behave the way she does, but she might never have thought about how she looks from your perspective.

My very favourite philosophical principle applies here: Hanlon’s Razor. “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” Let’s replace “stupidity” with “poor interpersonal communication skills” and call that Manners@Work’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by poor interpersonal communication skills.” 

But what can you do about it? I have two options for you. 

1. Self-reflection. Take your power back: by recognising ways in which you can change to improve a situation, you take control of how you emotionally respond. Why does her behaviour bother you so much? Is it really so important to your Monday morning wellbeing to tell her that you watched The Greatest Showman for the sixth time and went to a barbeque at your brother’s house where the sausages were overcooked? Maybe she’s never going to ever ask you about your weekend. Maybe this is your relationship—you listen to her tell you about her weekend, you give her the appropriate recognition and response, and that’s how you’ll build your relationship. If you work together well enough, then you know what? Perhaps there’s nothing that needs fixing here except your need for attention. In which case, find another co-worker to share your thoughts about overcooked sausages with instead. Then you can accept the kind of interaction she’s able to offer and you no longer have to feel annoyed.  

2. If, after self-reflection, you still believe that this has to change (and that’s a big if) you could try some conversational manoeuvrings. After she’s gone through her weekend description, try something like, “Oh, that sounds so great! I had a busy weekend too. My brother had a barbeque and …” Don’t leave a pause between “Oh that sounds great” and going on to talk about your weekend—keep talking without taking a breath so she knows that the conversation is continuing. And keep eye-contact too, to let her know you want to maintain the interaction. You can try this for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference— see if she starts to recognise that you’d like to talk about your weekend too. But, if after a few weeks of inevitably awkward moments you find that questions are still not forthcoming unless you force it, return to option 1. Remember, you don’t need your co-worker to be your best friend—you can’t force friendship to happen—but you can create a harmonious work environment that doesn’t leave you feeling crappy every Monday. 

TL;DR: Apply kindness (she’s a bit socially awkward) and consider your own need for recognition (there’s undoubtedly someone else in the office who shares your Hugh Jackman obsession!).

Kindly yours,

Manners@Work  

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