The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 7, 2014

Watercooler: Is he shy, or is he staring?

Q: On Day 1 at my new job, a finicky co-worker complained to my supervisor that I was chomping my gum and talking too loudly in my cubicle. I am reasonable; if she had told me directly, I would have apologized. I have tried to avoid repeating the behavior, and told my supervisor so.

Then I found myself accused of staring at female workers' chests, and the pipeline says this co-worker started the rumor. Honestly, I am a shy guy and never would overtly look there or consider doing so. I respect all co-workers and never have been accused of doing something like this. While my direct supervisor, being female herself, sided with my co-worker, the manager above her — after knowing me and hearing every small complaint by this co-worker — realized this was being blown out of proportion. I got a verbal warning for "appearances' sake" (his words).

The third strike was when the co-worker and I had a disagreement about office procedure, and she went to my supervisor, who overruled me without hearing my side. Should I tell the manager about this? I think I got through to my co-worker by telling her we need to communicate professionally and can't go running to "mom" each time, or the bosses will get sick of the tattling and fire us both.

A: I see two possibilities here:

1. Your co-worker falsely accused you of ogling because she has it in for you. That's serious business. Abusing anti-harassment policies renders them useless to real victims — as does your manager's apparent warning-with-a-wink.

2. Being shy, you may tend to drop your gaze below chin level to avoid prolonged eye contact — which could be misread by anyone familiar with the sensation of eyes burning holes in her bodice. (Whether it's done overtly or covertly — we always know.) If so, that's a habit, like loud gum-chewing, you'll have to overcome. Learn to study noses, ears or your notepad instead.

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