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Horrible social situation at the lab

  1. Apr 25, 2016 #1
    I have recently been visiting a lab in the US as a visiting scholar and I am facing a tense social situation that spoils my ability to do decent work. The situation is so shameful that talking about it makes me feel like a child and feels humiliating...

    Basically, an other student a little younger than me arrived at the same time as me in the lab. It happens that this student is from the same country as me, even though we did not knew each other. It turns out that this person does not like to speak English and bounded with me.

    At first I found him a little annoying: cherry-picking ideas from me and then pretending it was his own when the prof was present, constantly interrupting me to talk about his facebook newsfeed or telling me how great his solution (which was usually mine) to simple problem was great etc. This was completely manageable and I didn't care too much about him "stealing" my ideas considering these were not important things and I was still happy to help. I worked with people like this before and I found that it was best to ignore them as much as possible and give them "their" answer as fast as possible to get rid of them.

    However that person also has the habit of insulting people in our native language... He did this at numerous occasions, sometimes in front of the said people with extreme language thinking that no one would understand. These insults always came out of nowhere and for no good reasons. He would literally storm out of his office and insult someone from the lab who asked him to do a mandatory safety course...
    On multiple occasions I gently told him to stop since some people could probably understand us. On some other occasions I simply ignored him or "tamed" him.


    As it turns out, I learned (by reading bios after a paranoid sleepless night) that some people at the lab DO speak our native language...

    I don't care much for him, but this puts me in a terrible situation: I feel like I am being identified to this person which would make a lot of sense since he is constantly talking to me and avoids english as much as possible, and since we arrived approximately at the same time. I have entered this state of massive paranoia and I feel like people hate me... What began as a wonderful experience morphed into a living nightmare and I can't work nor socialize with people anymore.

    I told him the situation, and he told me he would stop doing it. He realized how stupid his behavior was and told me he would stop (but he also came up with a lot a stupid plans to manipulate people and "make up" for it...). However this does not solve the problem: he hurt some of the group's members. I feel like I am assimilated to a bully by extension. It is also my mistake for having been to gentle with him, I should probably have told him to stop immediately, but I am not this kid father and it did not seemed appropriate at the time.

    Talking to the prof would make me look like a kid snitching on a fellow student and would probably annoy him to death, apologizing to the lab would definitely ruin both of our relationship with everybody, not doing anything haunts me... Never have I been in this sorts of situation and I would very much like to have some help and advises from people who encountered this problem...

    Thank you for reading, best
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 25, 2016 #2

    berkeman

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    Does the lab have a Human Resources department? If so, I would talk to HR about the situation first.

    Depending on the HR resources, I would definitely approach the professor or an assistant professor about this. Were you assigned an adviser?
     
  4. Apr 25, 2016 #3
    I'd talk to someone about it. Is there somebody you trust? It could be your professor, it could be some other one, it could be a graduate student. Somebody who is socially adept.

    Doing nothing seems like the worst option.
     
  5. Apr 25, 2016 #4
    The lab has all these resources indeed. But I feel really bad about going through this:

    1) This could get him fired, and I do not wish him that even if I do not like him.
    2) This would feel weird to complain only after learning that some people speak our language and might have understood what he said. I feel guilty because only now that I feel I am in the reticle I have the urge to save myselft from this student... It never occurred to me to complain officially before I realized my own situation.

    Being in the country for only a few weeks I only know my professor (we both have a different professor working in the same lab) who is travelling all the time, leading a huge group and probably does not want to be bothered with such stupidity. The postdoc in charge of me probably wants nothing to do with it too.
     
  6. Apr 25, 2016 #5

    berkeman

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    No, that is what HR is for. They have procedures for handling things like this, and will tune their response to your statements and the responses from the other individual.

    HR departments really are set up for diffusing situations like this, at least in the US. That is one of their main jobs, and they do a good job at it in my experience. They will treat everybody fairly, and will work to resolve the situation and keep all employees safe and informed about the laws and rules of the workplace. The HR department at my workplace is a wonderful resource, IMO. If you make a small mistake, you will get a gentle warning and reminder. If you persist and harass others or bully or do other bad things, HR will show you the door, legally.

    Please talk to your HR department.
     
  7. Apr 25, 2016 #6

    dlgoff

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    Indeed. Companies are willing to spend money to educate their employs. I think I've gotten a few CEUs from conflict resolution courses.
     
  8. Apr 25, 2016 #7
    I will try to contact a pro confidentially to get direction, I do not want to start a HR procedure but they may be able to tell me what to do in the future. Considering what I told him he will probably not reiterate his behavior and the problem should solve by itself. And if he does reiterate: too bad for him.
    However this will not change what the group members might think of me, and I clearly do not want an intervention to take place as this would be even more humiliating and ruin their days too. All I can do now is stop talking to this guy and be nice with everybody I guess... Considering I am not the best at socializing and how awful I feel in the lab this will not be cakewalk.

    I learned my lesson: run away from people like him.
    Thanks for you advises
     
  9. Apr 26, 2016 #8

    micromass

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    In my experience, people are capable of differentiating situations like this. They will probably think "This Mishra person seems nice, but it's confusing that this person is always with that insulting douchebag".

    In any case, he sounds like bad news. Tell him you do not wish to talk to him anymore. And just completely ignore him from now on.
     
  10. Apr 26, 2016 #9

    Borg

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    This sounds like a perfect opportunity to let him hang himself. I wouldn't go out of my way to create this situation but I wouldn't go out of my way to avoid it either. If he can't learn to behave properly even when he thinks people can't understand him, he deserves a lesson or three.
    My wife and I had a situation like this once. We were waiting for a NY fireworks show and had a great spot because we got there several hours in advance. About 20 minutes before the show, some people worked their way right up behind us and started complaining in Russian about the spot that my wife and I had - clearly, they wanted it. After a few minutes of sniping in Russian, the woman said something politely in English to my wife about something or other. My wife responded just as politely - in Russian. Funny how the complaining ended after that. :oldtongue:
     
  11. Apr 26, 2016 #10
    Well the situation is exactly like that but nobody confronted him and it has been a few weeks like this now. So I think we look like two bully at the back of the class trashing and insulting people.
    My best chance is to stop talking to him and socialize with the lab. I'm also working at home one or two days a week to avoid him. In the meantime I have contacted HR to get some advises.

    I am pretty sure he will stop this behavior since we had a very long talk and I explained him how bad I felt. To be honest he felt extremely bad too, I think he was just trying to look "cool" in front of me and that for some reason he though I would respect him for being a bully.
     
  12. Apr 28, 2016 #11
    If you are losing sleep over this. Then yes. You need to contact management/professor.:nb)

    Life is about growing up. Odd/awkward situations make people grow up. o0)
     
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