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Oct 31

Social Awkwardness

Posted on Monday, October 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

Last week I was on a school campus. I was meeting a friend.  While waiting I looked for a seat in the commons area.  I saw many students laughing, talking, playfully interacting, and studying.

I scanned the area. There are two seating arrangements.  There were a few tables for four, but most of the seats were pairs of adjoined chairs with pivoting desktops.  The pairs faced other pairs of adjoined chairs with a common table between the four seats.  Thus providing a clear social setting.

As a stranger I had a dilemma, face my fear of rejection or find a seat elsewhere.

While there were no seats at the tables, I presumed the unofficial rule was that you did not sit at a table with others unless you knew them and were with them.

I looked for a seat among the paired chairs. There were many open seats, but they were always next to someone else. It may not have been intentional, but it appeared that students chose seats away from one another. They left space between themselves and others.

Let me clarify. The paired seats had a small common table designed to serve as a divider; to seat two people near, but not next to one another.

Again, there were many open seats, but the open seats were always next to another student. While people seemed to choose not to do so, I assumed that it was “okay” to sit near a stranger in the paired seats.

I targeted an open seat that faced the direction my friend would likely see me when approaching.

I approached the seat and decided to ask the student, a young woman, if I could sit down. Frankly, if she would have had headphones on I probably wouldn’t have asked assuming that she didn’t care and didn’t want to be disturbed.

“Hi”, I said, “I don’t know the cultural rules, and I don’t want to be rude. Do you mind of I sit here?”

I must admit, she might have been put off by my “I don’t know the cultural rules” frankness, but expression on her face exposed that she immediately looked for a reason to say “Yes, I do mind.”

I understood her dilemma: she may have hoped a friend, a good looking upperclassman or almost anyone else would eventually sit by her.

She motioned at the seat and stammered something unintelligible. I wanted the seat. I asked again, with brevity, “Can I sit here?”  She couldn’t immediately think of an excuse to say “NO!”, so she mumbled something under her breath and returned to her books.

Like families, marriages, schools, and workplaces all have unique social structures filled with spoken and unspoken, official rules and unofficial rules, social norms and cultural expectations.

This week we’ll look at bold love ways to negotiate conflicts.

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