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Hello? How to deal with coworkers who stare

Another day at work, another day of dealing with the coworker who knows you're there, but never acknowledges you. Sometimes, you catch this coworker staring at you. Let's stare down this uncomfortable workplace problem together!

Before we go any further, let's clarify that this stare isn't a sexual stare. No, this stare feel downright competitive. It is a winner-takes-all stare. A lion in the grass stare.

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You feel like this coworker is studying you from a safe distance. It's like he or she is quietly sizing you up, and competing with you on some imaginary plane to which you haven't been given the exact coordinates. Are you X, or are you Y, and where do your two lines intersect? In reality, you two are located in separate quadrants and your lines run parallel to each other.

The fact that this coworker won't engage you in conversation only makes the whole thing feel weirder. You've tried to smile and say "hi", but this coworker either doesn't respond or looks right past you as if you're not there. It keeps you slightly off balance, and wondering what will happen next.

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You've given up saying "good morning", since it is never reciprocated. You've gotten the message loud and clear. You can't think of anything you've said or done that would cause the employee to act this way. You've been nothing but kind and helpful at work, a real team player. So it doesn't make sense why this is happening. The pettiness feels like eighth grade again.

I See What You Did There
This is a very subtle, tricky workplace issue, because you're working on gut instinct here. You don't have any real conversations to go on; all you have to work with is this coworker's confusing treatment of you and how it makes you feel. This coworker will stare at you, but will never acknowledge you.

This behavior is a highly passive-aggressive move, a power play. Most likely, this coworker sees something in you they feel compelled to compete with on the job. The root of the problem could be jealously, narcissism or immaturity, because full-fledged grown-ups acknowledge each other. Polite people don't stare, either. What is going on here, and what, if anything, can you do about it?

Staring Down A Coworker's Staring
If you approach management about it, then you have a few options. You might say how you don't seem to "be able to connect" with this coworker, and you're not sure why. Keep it positive in tone and don't go into much detail. Edit your overall message down to this: I wish we could work better together. Taking this step can feel risky, however, and as rude as this coworker has been, you don't want to feel like you're getting both of you into trouble.

Some experts suggest staring down this coworker in return. Remember when we were talking about lions in the grass? In the animal kingdom, unbroken eye contact is a primal, dominant behavior. Like two cats staring each other down, the first one to look away is deemed the less dominant one. Here, watch this video.


If primal stare downs aren't your thing, then you might indicate your interest in collaborating on a small project with this coworker. Think of it as a test run for a better working relationship, even if it's just walking down the street together to pick up the sub sandwiches for today's office lunch. In fact, I would start small. Togetherness in a common cause would most definitely force a conversation -- we'll need seven hammies, six turkeys, and one veggie! -- that might lead to a thaw in the silent ice.

However, it is understandable if you feel risk averse after being rejected so many times by this coworker. Whether it's worth trying depends on your work situation. As long as you feel safe on the job and see this as a relatively minor coworker annoyance, then proceed as usual.

This is one of those strange undercurrents at work that nobody likes to talk about, but this blog is willing to stare it down. The most important thing to remember is that this is your coworker's issue, not yours. You do you, boo, and keep doing it well. Here's looking at you, kid. Don't stop being awesome, okay?

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