Thursday, June 11, 2009

The timer trick

At every institution, there exists a person with too much time on their hands and a complete inability to read social cues. Like a mascot to a sports team, there is at least one located at every place of employment. 
They corner you at the vending machines, in the bathroom, on the elevator, in the hallway and talk your damn ear off. Not for two or three minutes, but for 10-15 minutes or even longer. You try your best to get away. You might move toward the door, stop making eye contact or just walk away, but it doesn't work because they tend to follow in order to continue the conversation. You might try verbal clues, including the yes or no answer only approach (don't engage further), add some slight irritation to your voice or even flat out say you must go, but all attempts fail because there is always just one more thing they need to say or ask. The worst part is that these are typically very nice and well-meaning people and you don't want to hurt their feelings. If they were jerks, the problem would solve itself. 
My solution is to use my timer in a preemptive strike. When ever I see these people or know that I must visit them for whatever reason, I set my timer for anywhere from 2-10 minutes. Two minutes for a random run-in, longer for a work-related visit (i.e. getting something signed). Once the timer goes off, I stop it and inform the other person that I must stop a gel or incubation or whatever. Then I scurry off, looking every bit determined and busy. It works like a charm. No feelings are hurt and my productivity is not impaired.
This does require that my timer is always on my person, but I am always timing something so for me this is no big deal. It also requires you to set your timer without looking at it, as is the case for the unplanned run-ins. Alternatively, you can preset your timer for 2 min every time you venture to the vending machine so that you must only hit the start button when you spot the chatter box.

23 comments:

Toaster Sunshine said...

OK, so let it be noted that there are also those of us who lack any and all utility in reading social cues, but who are also largely quiet. I think the rest of you call us "creepy", "loners", or just "odd".

Hermitage said...

I did this...for lab meetings. I would set up gels precisely so they would go off 3hrs into lab meeting so I could escape the marathon 5-6hr sessions that killed half the day every week.

microbiologist xx said...

I heart largely quiet people, irrespective of their social skills. :)
Even if these people could understand social cues, I'd be willing to bet they would still be very, very chatty, but I think the incidents would be shorter.

microbiologist xx said...

Hermitage - First of all...5-6 hr lab meetings?!?! That is freaking insanity. You pretty much have to find a way to make an escape, even if it is temporary.
In my old lab, our lab meetings were only about 2 hrs. If I knew a particularly bad meeting was coming up I would plan a growth curve for that day so that I would have to leave at least once, if not twice.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Yep. The timer trick. I learned it early out of necessity. The Talky in my department would even unwittingly follow me into the ladies' room to continue our conversation. He really didn't belong there and I had to point this out to him.

Thomas Joseph said...

You are going to eventually lose access to your timer ... like when you become a PI and start flying a desk more than just part-time. I am afraid that you're going to have to develop the necessary skills to tell people to buzz off.

microbiologist xx said...

AA - Both of the ones I've encountered were women, so the bathroom offered no refuge.
Did he make it all the way into the women's bathroom?

TJ - Yes, the timer is just a temporary solution. BUT...maybe I'll come up with something totally new. :)

tideliar said...

He was my postdoc mentor LMFAO. I did exactly that. It never worked, because he would follow you back to the bench talking and talking and talking.

tideliar said...

ATJ: I learned this when I left the bench. I am now much colder and I guess "brutal", it's now easy for me to say, "Look, I'm busy and I don't have time to chat. Do you have something you need, or can I get on with my day?"

It's cathartic!

Ambivalent Academic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ambivalent Academic said...

Well no, not exactly, but he did stand at the threshold propping the door open as if to continue our conversation while I was in the stall peeing.

Dude. No. BH and don't even do that at home. We might have a brief exchange through the bathroom door, but never a full on conversation (privacy please!) and never loitering in the threshold while the other person takes care of business. Too weird.

Thomas Joseph said...

... never loitering in the threshold while the other person takes care of business ...

I'd say it depends on the type of business being conducted. #1 or #2? In our household, if we don't keep the door open, one of our dogs is just going to whine and whimper, or attempt to push the door open anyways. Yah, maybe I didn't train them well enough, but that pack mentality runs strong through their veins! After awhile, you get used to it.

Ambivalent Academic said...

The dog is another matter altogether TJ. Actually, so are the cats. They collectively have zero respect for a person's privacy while in the loo. But then the poor dog only ever gets to go while I'm watching him (so I can pick it up). Perhaps there's a double standard.

It wouldn't bother me per se (at home, with a single particular person) yet I find I can wait. Random people at work though? Absolutely not.

microbiologist xx said...

tideliar - yeah, it doesn't really work on the advisor. In fact it could back fire if they follow you back to your bench and find you doing less than expected.

AA & TJ- LOL! I certainly don't think any woman would want to prop open the door to a men's bathroom, let alone prop open the door thanks to the smell of urine that often permeates the surrounding area. :)
As far as at home, I will have a conversation while peeing and don't care if the door is open or not, but anything else needs strict privacy.
This guy I used to work with said his wife would come in the bathroom while he was taking a dump. First of all, I don't think I could do that with someone watching. Second, I don't want to watch anyone take a crap. There reply was that they had been together since HS. For me, time does not make that OK.
The cats do NOT respect any rules. In fact one of them loves to get attention when you are in there. I guess she knows you aren't going to stay there for a minute or so. We call it pee pee love.

microbiologist xx said...

Sorry for the atrocious grammar in that last comment, but I'm too lazy to re-type it. :)

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I used to set my timer for 15 minutes when going into my PhD supervisor's office to ask a simple question. A simple yes-no would often turn into an in-depth, one hour conversation...

Oh, yeah, my cats have boundary issues too. They think it's OK to a) poop in the litter box WHILE I'M CLEANING IT and b) follow people into the bathroom and stare at them.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Cath - what is it with cats?? Do they think there's a prize for being the first to soil the fresh litter. We have to turn the box entrance to the wall while cleaning it, otherwise the most ambitious cat would probably go in the empty tray just to be FIRST!!!

They're like adolescent boys calling "shotgun!" or something. It's very weird.

EcoGeoFemme said...

I LOVE this idea. Too bad I rarely do any timed lab work. It would probably be pretty obvious that I had ulterior motives if I started carrying around a timer.

microbiologist xx said...

EGF - Yeah, you're right...people might get a little suspicious, especially if your timer were only going off when talking to certain people. :)

Samia said...

That is an awesome idea...

microbiologist xx said...

Thanks Samia!

Mad Hatter said...

Oh my god...I totally have this problem with one of my labmates and she drives me f***ing insane! The timer thing doesn't work, though, because she just follows me wherever I go. The only two tactics that do work are to just be blunt or to pretend to have a meeting somewhere else. Unfortunately, the latter tactic forces me to actually go somewhere else for a while, which is not good for getting work done.

microbiologist xx said...

MH - Yeah, there is really no easy trick for those people. :)