by Mary Andrews
I have always felt a link with outcasts. My upbringing as the eldest of seven children, though not horrible, was not littered with warm and fuzzy feelings. Despite my mother's attempts, my father’s cruel sense of humor and manipulative child rearing techniques pretty much taught us how to survive and adapt without giving us much of a reason as to why.
Basically, we were raised in reverse. Instead of eventually jumping from a loving and secure nest out into the cruel, cruel world to learn survival skills, we came out cold and capable but lacking in humanity. As a result, I’ve always looked at human interactions from the outside, hence the outcast remark earlier.
By the age of 40, I’d say I’d accumulated some semblance of humanity but work relationship pretty well eluded me. As every good woman in the 60’s I’d warred against the status quo and, though I carried no signs or burned any bra’s, I felt determined not to succumb to becoming a stereotypical woman in the workspace. Instead, I tried on a wide and varied range of jobs; everything from electronic assembly to aircraft mechanic and collected a great deal of experience along the way. Still, even when I did well at work, I fell short of success.
There are a good many people like me out there. Someday, if my memory doesn’t deteriorate beyond retrieval, I plan to set some of these experiences to paper in my memoirs. I’ve even got a title: My Macroscopic Memoirs. But for now, I’d like to share the culmination of my research—just in case I get hit by a bus or hereditary Alzheimer’s kicks in. I think this set of instructions would be great to pass on to the young. Maybe it would help them integrate into that social miasma we call school but I’ve never looked into it.
So here’s my answer to how to survive the workplace:
1) Smile. Smile at everyone from the janitor to the suits.
It is an infectious and simple thing in itself, but it will insinuate and eventually initiate confidence, happiness, and a good attitude.
2) At every given opportunity say something nice to strangers. In the hallways, in the restrooms, in passing, compliment people.
It is amazing how hard people work to look nice or do things well and usually it will go uncommented upon. There are entire industries build upon this. Makeup, clothing, perfume, accessories are only the tip of the iceberg here yet compliments are rare.
Now I’m not talking about empty compliments. Just open your eyes and state, in passing, the truths that are out there. On your way to lunch say, “I like your shoes...nice purse...pretty eyes...great smile...” then keep on walking.
This is the important part. Keep on walking.
You see in social interactions and competitive work places there will always be a pecking order. It’s human nature—a pack behavior of sorts. So usually people perceive a compliment as an opening to negotiation. They think he/she wants something from me and the armor up.
If you say nice things in passing and move on, they may think you strange at first, but as they realize this is something you just do, it accomplishes two things. First, it removes you from their ‘enemy’ lists. And second, it makes them feel good which in turn makes the world a better place.
Strange as it may seem, most workplaces rival the school halls in pettiness and competition. It is good to be likable without fear of threat, but also, what if everyone’s efforts were to become openly appreciated? Doesn’t sound right does it? Think about it. They say that it takes seven complements to erase one complaint.
3) At lunch breaks etc, refrain from gossip and complaints. Instead, bring at least one new joke a day to work. A lot of problems and enemies can be eliminated by non participation.
4) Do your job to the best of your abilities. In some venues it is easier to gain acceptance by taking the least liked job first. It is less threatening, more appreciated by coworkers, and easier to work your way up from. And in the end, work is what we do to afford the cost of having a life.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be unique. I, letter by letter, personalized my hand written alphabet. I didn’t date until the end of high school. I remained aloof. But one day I looked up and realized I’d become so unique I was almost extinct. Though I pretty much put myself there, membership to the Outcast Club doesn’t really differentiate how it’s attained or how long one chooses to remain.
Before I ‘retired’ I eventually pieced together this game plan and successfully implemented it in the last jobs I held. I came away with true friends as well as funds earned. It solved my work interaction problems because these few simple things turned my efforts outward instead of inward.
To quote one of my younger sisters, “You can be a thermometer or a thermostat.”
It’s worth thinking about.