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I went to my supervisor's office the other day to update him on my task status and I started by saying:

Hello, Good Morning.

He did not reply, kept on looking at his screen and drinking his coffee. When he noticed that I stopped talking he said:

Hmmm...Yes...

This is not the first time he interacts with me in this way.

My question is: "can I stop telling him "good morning" without being rude?"

Could it be that I should just go straight to the point without any greetings or will it sound impolite?

And as a side question: why would a person purposefully not reply to a friendly greeting? (the last question could be very vague, sorry for that).

  • 1
    Hi Laymooni and welcome to IPS. Could you please edit your question and get rid of the "should I" part? Actually, this stack expects its users to set a clear goal and avoid polling questions. Thanks – OldPadawan Apr 30 '18 at 7:11
  • I've edited, hopefully to make it clear and suitable for IPS. Please let us know. You can edit too and/or rollback. – OldPadawan Apr 30 '18 at 7:41
  • Despite what all the answers suggest, I think your coworker's behavior is incredibly rude. – ell May 1 '18 at 20:22
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TL;DR

Don't skip the formalities, but after a "Good Morning!", just pause for half a second or so, then continue with your agenda.

What "Good Morning" means

When you say "Good Morning", it grabs your supervisor's attention, and under normal circumstances he will just intuitively wait for your concerns at hand (in this case, your task status update). Thus, to him, a greeting is just a formality, and is secondary to the purpose of your visit.

I have worked for a couple of companies during my Industrial Attachments during college, and I am also faced with similar situations like yours.

Me: Good Afternoon!

After a few moments,

Supervisor: Yes what do you want?

From that point on I realised that since the formalities were just a way of starting to bring up your agenda, I changed my salutations to be as follows:

Good afternoon! (pause for half a second) This is an update on my progress on the project, ...

This takes away the awkward silence that ensues when you wait for him to reply you. Don't skip the formalities though, otherwise it would feel like as if you are barging into his office.

Why superiors don't reply to greetings

They often have a busy schedule / several tasks at hand and may be in the middle of a task when you arrive at their office. Therefore, the primary purpose of your salutation is to make your presence known, and not so much of expecting a reply. If you start to talk about your agenda and he stops you by saying,

Give me a moment as I finish this up...

Then the silence is no longer awkward and you can continue to speak after he's done.

P.S. not sure if awkward is the right word to use here, but it does carry the meaning.

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I am like your supervisor in many respects, even though I am just a senior software developer and - only - local computer savvy person. When I am focused on something - i.e. thinking hard - it takes some time for me to pull my attention (seconds) away from whatever it was that I was doing. So, whenever someone says good morning to me and I am busy, you will either get an automatic 'morning' or other acknowledgement after a second or so and then I'll just continue with what I was doing unless there is some kind of followup. Just standing there expectantly will not grab my attention sufficiently because I am focused on the screen. It will take several tens of seconds for me to register that someone is apparently wanting my undivided attention.

It works much better when they follow up their good morning with an actual question. This results in one of the following:

  • I can leave my train of thought on the back burner for a bit so I turn around, smile and give them my full attention possibly including an answer to their question
  • I'll respond with a "Give me a second please while I finish my typing" when I am in the middle of a micro task requiring concentration. This can take up to a minute. I can substitute typing with another phrase if I am just thinking, because I will have to memorize where I was before giving the person my full attention.
  • I'll respond with a "Not now please, I'm dealing with a bit of a crisis. I'll get back to you later" when in fact I am dealing with a crisis and the priority of that crisis is greater than the person's question.

Much of this is related to working memory of which I only have a limited amount. Answering a question or taking in information requires me to give some of that amount up in order to process it. Drinking coffee while typing or thinking is nearly automatic, I need to give up very little working memory for that task. Acknowledging a greeting is also fairly automatic but requires verbalization so it requires a little more working memory.

To answer your question, your appeal for attention could be:

Hello, good morning [pause for one to two seconds].

You will either get an automatic response, nothing at all or full attention. Regardless of the answer, your followup could be:

I wanted to give you an update on my task status [pause for one or two seconds, unless you have full attention already]

If you did not get full attention you will either have it now or you have been told to wait by one of the other two modes of handling outlined above.

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How to interact with a senior colleague who does not reply to my greetings?

Some people are just too busy to be polite, I guess... (joke)

I would not change anything at all. You are polite. Period. Because when people act the way this senior does, mentioning their behavior will eventually attract only more rudeness. Maybe sometimes they'll show a lack of understanding too. "What?! Me? Rude?! How's that?!"

When acting in a professional environment, just act professional. That's the basic recommendation of standard behavior at a workplace.

I'd say: keep it the way it is, as you're doing nothing wrong...

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There is something missing in this interaction.

Have you got a moment? I just want to ....... Can we arrange a time to or do it now?

Obviously when you approach anyone you hope they are free and available to make this contact. You need to acknowledge this.

There is literally no obligation for someone to acknowledge ones greeting unless they are available. If you establish a relationship where they are happy to just have you raise issues instantly, you need to know what to talk about and when it is opportune. If it is just sharing, and you are wasting their time, unfortunately you will find they are not keen to initiate such an interaction.

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It’s simple really. He is your supervisor. He is at work. He may be doing something that requires deep focus on the task. He may not want to be interrupted in his work. You are interrupting, which can destroy minutes of focused thought, and he manages to ignore you.

So what do you do? You quietly disappear so you don’t disturb him any further.

  • From the OP's context, the supervisor said Hmm... Yes.. which signifies that he wants to hear what the OP is about to bring up... quietly disappearing would apparently not achieve that desired result. – enlighten_me May 2 '18 at 1:18
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I think he's telling you, "Just get to the point. I don't have time to chit chat with subordinates." That is fairly common in a workplace context. A supervisor might act that way because (s)he doesn't want to be on a personal level with subordinates.

In the past when I have had the same problem, I simply attached a Post-It with my greeting, a short description, and preferred method of contact. Then, I simply made a bit of noise and left it on the desk without saying a word. If (s)he looked at me, I simply smiled. If (s)he spoke, I responded.

I always walked away slowly, just in case (s)he wanted my immediate attention. Then I became a supervisor and it all became so clear! Everyone always wants something. There's no time to get 'my' work done! Formalities are nice for people who can afford the luxury, but I really couldn't.

Or, (s)he might be intentionally slighting you. In the case you suspect that, you might want to find out if (s)he treats everyone that way, or just you. If it's just you, you can be sure someone else knows why. You might investigate, and try to correct the problem.

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