Chapter 8 — Taking the "Woe" out of Co-Workers
Just Because You Sit Together Doesn't Make You Besties
My name is James. I introduce myself as James and sign my name as James. But my co-workers always refer to me as "Jimmy." I think the nickname conveys an image of immaturity, and is inappropriate with clients and other professionals. How do I get my colleagues to change the way they refer to me?
— James, Long Island, NY
Have you thought about wearing long pants to the office, and maybe leaving that little red wagon at home?
People who christen us with nicknames, on their own steam, think they're being "regular," and respond poorly to statements like "Please call me by my full name." They see their nicknaming as a hearty gesture of friendliness, and take our correction as stuck-up.
Here's what you do: Simply repeat your name (in full) as often as possible. If your boss introduces you to a new client, "This is Jimmy," you'll say, "It's James" when you shake her hand. Answer your telephone: "This is James." Repetition is the key. That way, you're not correcting anyone or acting snooty, just reinforcing your desired result.
If that doesn't work, choose a new nickname that conveys the professionalism you're after. (People love to get in on a new nickname.) How would you feel about Spike?
Despite what your mother may have told you and your siblings, everyone has favorites — even her. I know I do. There's full-fat chocolate ice cream; those Acne jeans I got on sale at Barneys; and my best friend, Chiccio. They're my top draft picks, simple as that.
Of course, there are many other things in this world that I'm perfectly fond of, especially when my favorites aren't readily available. Weight Watchers fudgesicles, for instance, if we're out of Ben & Jerry's, the jeans I wore before the Acne jeans (if my favorites are in the laundry hamper), and the pals I call when my besties are busy or out of town. These other things are perfectly fine, just not my faves.
Like versus love: not a hard concept, right?
So keep it in mind, because this distinction is going to come in handy when we consider the conflicts that tend to arise between co-workers. The most common troubles in the workplace (or the ones that most commonly find their way to Social Q's anyway) come from the failure to distinguish between co-workers (whom we like perfectly well) and bona fide friends (whom we actually love).
Think about it: Just because we sit next to someone for eight hours a day — a person, by the way, who was assigned to sit there by our employer — does that make him or her an intimate? Of course not!
It makes them someone we should treat respectfully, but not necessarily someone with whom we should share our marital troubles — or worse, someone whose marital troubles we should take it upon ourselves to diagnose, dispensing unbidden advice as we would with family members or close friends.
I don't think your boyfriend is good enough for you, for example.
Step back! Before you weigh in on your co-worker's love life, tell me this: Is she someone you actually care about, or are you just passing the time with her because your real pals are sitting in their own offices across town?
Like versus love, remember?
It's an understandable error. We're often bored at work, and we're social animals at heart, so we delude ourselves occasionally into thinking that we're "close" with that woman in the next cubicle. We confuse physical proximity with emotional intimacy. And sometimes, if our favorite people aren't around, we can actually convince ourselves that we're crazy about folks we barely like. (I can't be the only one who's wolfed down an entire box of Mallomars — mostly because they were there — only to realize that I didn't even like them, can I?)
Well, it's the same with work pals. Do we really like them, or do we just like them because they're there? And if it's the latter, better to back off and not become too embroiled in their lives (or they in ours).
Because here's the thing: Work friendships are largely geographical in nature. If we didn't have adjoining cubicles, we'd never know most of our co-workers. And the proof of this is once we leave the company, we rarely speak with them again. Or if we do, it's strained and uncomfortable, and we wonder how we were ever so close. So try to keep this in mind — she's the friendly gal at work, not your best friend — and watch your troubles melt away.
Let's start with an easy one:
A guy that I work with — who seems very nice, but whom I don't really know — has a habit of keeping his shirt unbuttoned down to, um, there. His ample chest fluff is the first thing that greets anyone who sees him at any point during the day. How can I get him to button up?
Your company doesn't have a "manscaping" department, by any chance, does it? (Too bad.)
So, what kind of person is this Tom Selleck at the next desk over? Let me give you a clue: He seems nice, but we don't really know. We're pretty much strangers who happen to work at the same place. So why in the name of Harry Larry would we tell this fellow how to tend his garden? Are you in the habit of approaching strangers on the street to critique their wardrobes? Just because you receive a paycheck signed by the same guy doesn't make you any better acquainted.
Don't get me wrong: It's better not to be distracting at the office — in what we wear or, more precisely, what we don't wear. And shirts unbuttoned to the navel, whether on men or women (of the smooth or hirsute variety), do exactly that. Still, this man, who missed a button (or three) is none of our concern. Better to stay out of it.
From Social Q's: How to Survive the Quirks, Quandaries and Quagmires of Today by Philip Galanes. Copyright 2011 by Philip Galanes. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster.