Must you say hello to your colleagues?

Why can taking computers to a meeting be dangerous? Caity Weaver, a specialist writer for The New York Times, responds to two questions from readers.

Q: I work in a high school where two teachers receive a stipend for supervising the entrance at the beginning of the day. Both teachers sit behind a table facing the entrance, by which all teachers and students must pass, but they never say hello to the students or staff. 
If I say hello, they sometimes respond, but other times they say nothing. I have stopped saying “good morning”, but find it terribly uncomfortable to walk past in silence. 
Other times of day these teachers try to engage in conversation, but I harbour resentment from the morning. Shouldn’t greeters say hello? – Anonymous

A: Yes, it would be nice if everyone trudging into school received a personal country club welcome. You are clearly passionate about this issue, so consider arriving at work early to greet crowds the way they deserve, pro bono.
You give no indication that the teachers are frequently absent or otherwise preoccupied. It sounds like they are performing their assigned task ably – “supervising the entrance”.

Here are a few possible explanations for why they might not greet you: They are scanning the perimeter for interlopers. They are not early birds. They recall past attempts to engage you in conversation that found you stand-offish, owing to your secret tendency to “harbour resentment from the morning”.
The best way to make a friend is to be a friend, and the best way to force someone to say hello to you is to make eye contact and offer a clear, bright “Hello!” every morning until you break them. Let’s be gentle with one another before 10am.

Q: Our team had a meeting with another team requiring a screen share from my laptop. As the meeting ended and everyone “hung up”, my manager, who was unable to attend, sent me a message to ask how it went. 
I was unaware that our messaging was not the private conversation I thought it was; other people were reading our messages because they hadn’t closed out their screens.

None of what we said was unprofessional or untrue, but a woman who can be difficult did a screenshot of the messages and sent it to my boss’s boss, who had been on the call. I am really upset about this invasion of privacy, lack of respect and questionable ethical judgment.
I want to address this situation, as I feel violated and wronged. This person needs to have consequences. She is a vice-president and should know better. 

I don’t know her well and will see her in person at a large-ish meeting in two weeks. I don’t really want to call her myself, but I feel like HR should do something, but all of this just furthers the friction, even though she’s bringing it on herself.
Shouldn’t this person have closed her screen and/or let me know that my screen was still open? Why forward the screenshot to my boss’s boss. What could she have hoped to achieve with that? – Anonymous

A: Yes, that is the professional, polite and kind thing to do, but not the most strategic, entertaining or delicious thing to do, which is why many people would not do it.

A good guess about what she hoped to achieve? Everything from your worst nightmares such as making you and your manager look careless, disagreeable, technologically inept, etc.
It certainly sounds like a lot of difficult people work in your office, but without my knowing your boss’s boss, it is difficult to determine how close your co-worker might have come to achieving her goal. 

That some people hate secrets and that the leaked conversation does not sound explosive are points in your favour. I am curious who alerted you to the existence of the screenshot. If it was your boss’s boss, you have a powerful ally (good) who loves drama (chaotic).

As an ever-increasing amount of office communication takes place in digital environments offering the appearance but not guarantee of privacy for participants, it is crucial to shed the presumption that these conversations are secret. At a minimum, don’t send anything over a work platform – be it instant messenger, email or chat room – you wouldn’t feel comfortable hearing read aloud by opposing counsel.
Even better, don’t transmit anything you couldn’t say at a normal volume in a restaurant across the street from your office.

From the comprehensive way you list your co-worker’s failures of judgement and the resulting negative impacts on your emotions, I suspect you are experienced in the alchemy of transforming your complaints into others’ punishment. 

It is for your own office reputation that I advise that this is not an HR issue. Your computer was not hacked.The good news is  this will never happen to you again, because you will be paranoid about it for the rest of your life.

This article first appeared in The New York Times.

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