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A few months ago my lab had a new member. Shortly after he joined I started hearing from students in other labs that he was being very weird, hinting that they were somewhat bothered. For instance he would roam around near other people's benches, stand really close to a student doing their work, or even follow them when they move to another machine.

We are in an open-lab environment so a lot of labs share the same area. Maybe it was confusing to him and he thought it was fine to do what he did. Still, I talked to my PI and he had the situation dealt with. However, when I am working he still likes to stand on the side staring at me. Apparently my PI forgot to tell him don't do that to your colleagues either. I know he's just being curious and wants to learn. I could probably use this as a precious opportunity to train myself to focus and ignore distractions. And I have learned over the years to tolerate some social behaviors in scientists which are not accepted by the general public. But his behaviors can be REALLY disturbing sometimes.

How should I talk to him about this without making the whole thing too awkward? I am afraid if I tolerate him any longer one day I would just blow up and yell at him... I don't want things to turn out ugly.

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    Have you tried a simple "hi, can I help you with something?" If they reply "no", you can simply tell the truth: "If that's the case, then I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't stand there watching me; I find it very distracting." – tonysdg Aug 25 '17 at 18:27
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    In these cases it's probably better to talk to the offender first, then to the boss. – Blat Aug 25 '17 at 18:35
  • When I ask he would just turn away, maybe it's a pride thing. Then he repeats the next day and I wouldn't want to ask any more. – Menglan Aug 25 '17 at 18:40
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    @tonysdg this should be an answer. Actually, the answer. – henning Aug 26 '17 at 9:18
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    Assuming the stare is not sexual in nature, it could be this: "The Asperger's Stare" see wrongplanet.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=101650 It's not limited to people with Aspergers, my mom had it on some occasions before her life ended. Once she freaked out a waitress, she was really sorry she did that. It's not like she was consciously doing it. It happened when she was stressed. – Stephan Branczyk Aug 26 '17 at 12:05
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It's more of a comment, but I just want to voice that in my teaching career, I did encounter a couple people with these traits and they do have what we called Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). I am not diagnosing OP's colleague, but I'd like to suggest this possibility, and we should be mindful that it may not be fair to assume the person of question can fully function socially.

After talking to faculty and doing some homework searching for resources, what I found useful was i) talk to the person privately about your expectation, and ii) be direct, don't use social hints. In many ways it's not that different from what other users suggested you to do, but I'd just like to add another point that sometimes some people can appear to be rude because they don't know it's rude, not because they are rude.

  • I'm quite sure that he doesn't realize he's being rude. It's also almost impossible for him to take a hint. That's why I'm worried if he'll be really hurt if I'm direct with him. – Menglan Aug 28 '17 at 15:54
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    It is fine to be direct, just don't be mean. "Unless you need something, I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't stand there watching me; I find it very distracting." It will likely happen a few more times, and you can start saying, "Just a reminder, I find your watching me distracting!" It doesn't need to be a big conversation. – Dawn Aug 28 '17 at 16:42

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