I began a new job this past spring with a small company. I am one of 11 employees, and I like it. I am a copy editor of a small, weekly, hometown newspaper.
Now, I am a friendly person and I like to think I can get along with most people. However, this time I am the oldest female that works there and after the owner, I am the oldest person there by at least 10 years, if not more. Most of the women are single; I am not. But I repeat: I get along with most people.
But there is one young man that I really have no direct work relationship with. I am to write “horoscope” on a piece of paper, drop that into his “in” box and make sure the horoscope for the following week is in the appropriate folder. Handing him that piece of paper once a week is all the interaction I have with him.
But I always say hello when I walk into his office in the production area. And he keeps working. He doesn’t say hello back, doesn’t lift his head to make eye contact, doesn’t acknowledge my presence at all.
I am perplexed. I see him laugh with the others and even have a conversation with them. But not me.
I try again. And again. With simple “hello’s” when I walk in or walk by. No response. Never got to “how was your weekend” or any other niceties.
One day I forgot to add the horoscope to the appropriate folder and The Quiet One stopped by my desk to let me know, calling me “queenie” in the process.
Queenie? That hadn’t sounded like a compliment. What had I done to deserve that, I wondered.
I say hello, with no response for another week or two. I finally decide to give up. If he can ignore me, I can ignore him. I just drop off my weekly “horoscope” note on his desk.
And so it goes for the next month or so.
Until one day I am sitting in the production area and am part of a brainstorming session. We are coming up with ideas right and left and suddenly, a young man who shares the production area with The Quiet One stops and turns to the him and says, “Hey, man, what do you think?”
The Quiet One continues working. He doesn’t lift his head, make eye contact, or acknowledge he’s been spoken to. I watch with fascination.
With this no-response, another young woman in the room says, “Oh, he’s got his ear buds in! He can’t hear a thing!”
The young man walks up to The Quiet One and says loudly, “Take out those earbuds! What do you think of these ideas?”
The Quiet One removes his earbuds, looks over the ideas and responds.
I sit there stunned. Ear buds? He had his music on so loud he can’t hear me when I say hello? I have earbuds, but I could always here what was going on around me. It had never occurred to me that The Quiet One would have his music so loud he didn’t even know if I entered the room!
This changed everything!
The next week was the Quiet One’s birthday. Of course I signed the card and the day after his birthday I made a point of beginning a conversation with him – without earbuds! – about his birthday celebrations with his girlfriend and family. Other than the perfunctory “It was great!” answer, I didn’t have much to say. But I went back to saying hello when I noticed the earbuds not in use.
I still don’t know much about The Quiet One, but I have worked to make sure I get to know him little by little and break down the barriers that silence may have built between us initially. Kind of crazy how the younger generation works!
Recently, we ended up calling the fire department to come to our 116 year old building. Many of the women thought they smelled gas and the exasperated owner called in the claim and the fire trucks and their lights all came out to the building. We had been told to evacuate. The “gas smell” turned out to be the Golden Girl’s (top sales woman’s) lunch – tuna salad with onion.
However, while we were waiting for the ok to re-enter the building I made a point of talking to The Quiet One and found out that he has an amazing interest in art and music. Later that week I made a point of asking to see photos of some of the art he told me he had been working on.
I have been working there for over 7 months now and I think The Quiet One and I certainly respect one another, if nothing else. If he continues calling me Queenie, although I have not heard the term since, I will assume it is only with the best of intentions.
Guess you can say this old dog is still learning a few new tricks. Or at least learning that not every earbud is set to the same volume.