Co-workers: Love Them or Egg Them?

I’ve secretly wanted to egg my neighbor’s house for about three months now. I’ve even envisioned ‘decorating it’ for Halloween. I know, this is bad, like way out of alignment. But the truth is I didn’t even realize I was harbouring these toxic thoughts until my mother-in-law visited and innocently commented that the neighbor’s renovations were sure taking a long time. Right? RIGHT! Finally, someone else has noticed the grating, whining sound of the wood cutting machine, the pounding of nail after nail after nail, the constant conversation of co-workers up on the roof measuring things.

Picture of frustrated worker
It’s tough, this co-habitation that we do. And now, with many living in ‘cubicle land’ at work or in offices with paper thin walls, I can only guess that others may also be harbouring these deeply buried emotions of resentment when someone continuously interrupts their work flow, invades their space or pushes their boundaries. If we haven’t actually verbally acknowledged the issue, then we’re either going to explode, become despondent, or start a gossip pool about the supposed trouble maker. Because we assume the other people should know how annoying their behavior is.

This is how a toxic environment starts.

Take my example. Before I had verbally confessed my thoughts of egg-throwing retaliation, I wasn’t truly aware of how annoyed I was getting with my neighbor’s behavior (eg. complete disregard for those of us who work from a home office). I’m embarrassed to say that when I met him at the community post office box, all I could say through a forced smile was, “Wow, you’re renovations are taking a long time.” (That attempt would be categorized as a ‘hint’).

Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers, would call this type of watered down communication “mitigated speech”. He says that mitigated speech refers to any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said. “We mitigate when we’re being polite, or when we’re ashamed or embarrassed, or when we’re being deferential to authority.”

The problem is if we’re blaming the other person for not paying attention to our needs –whether it’s the need for quiet, or being organized, or creating a productive work space – we’re just going to create a situation that gets you exactly the opposite of what you want.

One reason why I wasn’t able to have a ‘real’ conversation on the first go ‘round with this neighbor is because we don’t yet have a trusting relationship. When I first moved to this community 15 years ago I was on the community board, we had annual family picnics, etc. I have close relationships with those neighbors and would easily be able to talk to them about any type of disruption. But in the last few years, our picnics and community board just sort of stopped. Meaning, I haven’t really met the new influx of neighbors and I haven’t made time to build those relationships.

In coaching, my clients often have ‘building relationships’ as part of their development plans. And given most of you are maxed out on time, we have to do some strategic thinking and prioritizing to identify ways to get those types of one-on-one quality conversations. Especially when companies start cutting out the ‘extras’ – like Christmas parties and staff retreats – that allow for those informal moments.

If the relationship is important to your productivity and enjoyment at work, then it’s worth the time to have a meaningful conversation about how you can co-exist in a more amicable fashion.

Wishing you full career alignment and success,

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