There's a question that's bothered The Boston Globe's Peter Post so much that he wrote a column about it: Are there any instances in which staring at a co-worker is appropriate? Well, Mr. Post, yes, yes there are.
Post's piece, titled "Staring vs. Looking," highlights a very-real problem that people are facing nowadays—we can't tell if the difference between stares and looks. It isn't clear how and when humans lost the ability to differentiate between stares and looks, but I would wager that it's somewhat tied to our adoption of smart phones and digital communication like Gchat. Because humans like to bury themselves in such devices, eye-contact has waned and, therefore, any eye contact with someone whom you aren't sleeping next to becomes an awkward confrontation with the fact that we are not alone in this world.
Post mostly relates anecdotes about tattoos and yoga class to stress that you should never stare at a coworker. And though his advice should be taken somewhat seriously, there are some points he missed. So, as a public service, we hereby provide a tiny guide for anyone still wondering when it is okay to stare at his or her coworker:
- If you get to work early, and your coworker Ruth says, "Hey there. I think someone on the subway sneezed on me, could you look at the back of my shirt and see if he got me?" then it's okay to stare.
- You come into work after lunch and witness Julie spill the contents of her entire Chipotle burrito bowl on the floor on the way to the kitchen. Julie just keeps walking like it never happened and goes back to work. Chances are it's okay to stare.
- Michael is making weird sounds in his cubicle again and you can't tell if he's choking or just chewing with his mouth open—they've both happened in the three months that you've known him. In order to make that potentially life-saving decision, it would be okay to stare.
- Erin, who lives in Boise, telecommutes into work via Skype and Google Hangout. It's okay to stare at her. If she has a problem, it's on her to move.
- Darren likes to stare at you and arch his blonde eyebrows while doing so ... even when you're not doing anything funny on your computer. Darren is a creep. It's okay to stare at Darren, though that might only increase his creepiness.
- If you forgot your keys one day and had to go back to the office after hours and notice Marie rifling through your desk while muttering, "my potions, where are my potions?" It's okay to stare.
- If you are the boss, then stare at anyone you want.