I work with a gentleman at the bookstore who is as kind as can be. Picture him: Well-dressed in a sweater vest and slacks. Well-groomed, shaved. 6’3″. Pattern-baldness, white/gray hair, mid-60s. He always has a twinkle in his eyes, and a smile for customers and co-workers alike. He hands out Halls cough-drops like candy to his co-workers because, as he puts it, “in this line of work, having a clear throat is a good thing”.
That last sentence is a bit odd, isn’t it? Well, that John in a nutshell: He’s just a little odd. Somehow, his social mannerisms are slightly skewed. I’d never really given it much thought – I just assume he’s getting a little senile, or that there’s some combination of generational and “how he was raised” gap between him and us. I assume he’s putting up a wall between his professional and personal life, because conversation is always kept to the smallest, most surface nicities. In fact, he only has a short list of nicities that he pulls out at work:
I’m glad to be working with you.
I really enjoy working with you. And I’m not just saying that…I’m too old to say things I don’t mean. I really do enjoy working with you.
How is your day going? (Response will be some variation of either: “I’m glad to hear it“, or “Well, I’m sure the situation will rectify itself.”
Today has been character-building (this is in response to “how are things going today”. If he’s managed to sell a couple of memberships, then things are going “very well”. If no one’s buying, the day has been “character-building”).
I hope you enjoyed your time in the bookstore. (He repeats this line two-three times during a transaction).
May I tell you about our discount savings membership?
Goodbye. Thanks for coming in today, and I do hope you had a good time at the bookstore.
In my opinion, this is all fine and dandy. Dude’s polite, if a little annoying and impersonal. But I don’t need to have personal connections with all of my co-workers. For myself, I believe that my work takes up a fair amount of my life, and therefore I should enjoy what I do and with whom I interact, but if I manage to make a few friends I’m fine. With everyone else, all I need is a work connection – professional, able to get the job done without any unpleasantness or drama.
But my manager has another theory. You see, there is a darker side to John – oh yes, readers! – prepare yourself for this horrific tale:
That’s it. But really, John apologizes a lot.
I never noticed this until I became a head cashier (HC). As an HC, I have to write up people when their drawer is more than $5 off of target. Well, one day I had to write up John, and he was devastated! He tried to offer me money for the difference, and I had to tell him, no, unfortunately that’s what we call “fraud”. For a week afterwards he hounded me, asking if his drawer was correct, offering to pay the bookstore back for the missing money, pulling me aside at random times during a work shift to assure me that he was sorry and he wasn’t here to “cost the company money”.
I spoke with my boss about this behavior and he went into a rant! He thinks that John’s over-the-top politeness is false and insincere. He thinks that John is purposely overly apologetic when he does something wrong, as a means of negatively reinforcing the idea that “disciplining John is a pain in the ass, I’d rather just ignore the transgression than try to address it”. In fact, he’s trying to think of a way to sit down and discuss this with John, because he (my manager) thinks the customers and coworkers are bothered by John’s behavior.
I’d never considered John’s mannerisms a problem, but apparently some people do. I googled “overly apologetic”, and there appears to be support for the idea that over-apologizing is a sign of a deeper insecurity or self-esteem issues, and a symptom of general social ineptitude. But still, I just think John’s a sweet guy who has a problem with short-term memory.
If any of you wanderers who have found yourself at this post care to contribute: Do you have any opinions, or experience dealing with overly-apologetic people?