On workplace dynamics, or How to hide in plain sight.
I’m not good at this workplace interaction thing. I don’t mean that I’m staunchly unfriendly or that creepy guy leering in the corner. Simply I just don’t often communicate harmoniously with most co-workers. I never have. Sometimes that’s been great, other times it’s been alienating and exclusionary. In the latter cases it’s meant I’ve had time and space to myself, which also translates to great. I go with the flow, like the rapper Skee-Lo. Or any other rapper who conflates verbal congruence and the movement of liquid.
It really boils down to two things: I don’t care for small talk and it’s not important for me to try to be liked. Typing it out, I sound like a grade A shark, which isn’t true. I’ve got no time for anything Machiavellian, if I’m gonna get anywhere it’ll be on my own merits, not crafty manoeuvring of people as objects. What this means is that, like our erstwhile spinach chomping, burly brawler sailor chum Popeye, I am what I am and that’s all that I am. If people like me, excellent. If people don’t, I’m not gonna shove myself down their throats. If they don’t, it doesn’t inhibit my ability to perform my role.
Wow, I’m not doing myself any favours here. I’m happy chatting with people, but it’s probably a lack of flexibility on my behalf than a fault of anyone else. I have enough social competence to see how I could communicate on the same wavelength, I just choose not to. Oftentimes at a job this will translate to lunchtimes spent reading or internetting while others talk around me. When something relevant to my interest comes up, I’ll comment on it and happily join in the conversation, then when it moves on to pastures that don’t stimulate me I’ll just go back to what I was doing. I’ll engage with people when I see them in the hallway or kitchen, have conversations about upcoming events or refer back to previous conversations and potential developments, but I rarely say goodbye when I’m leaving a conversation. I’ll just kind of nod and move on.
Here’s a thing, I’m terrible with names. I guess I don’t really hold them as important. I can remember people by their subjects of interest and past interactions I’ve had with them, but names just don’t stick in my head. There are probably 20-30 people I’ll interact with on a regular basis over my work week and I might know about 4 of their names. This is outside my immediate co-workers (whose names took me about 2 weeks to learn). I feel kind of shitty that other people know who I am and use my name (why do I get the sense that this was a communicative tool taught in How to Win Friends and Influence People?), when I completely fail to do so. Is this enough to motivate me to change? Not entirely (at all). These are the breaks, right Kurtis Blow?
In terms of workplace friendships, this inevitably means that most of mine are insubstantial. Sometimes I’ll find people I connect with, sometimes I won’t.
In the former case, I remember back fondly to a time when I’d just gone through a massive breakup. I was moping around the university kitchen forlornly, when one of my post-grad friends flat out asked me what was wrong. I told her what’d happened. She listened and responded: “Love isn’t easy and losing it is hard. It’s not like it ends and disappears, those feelings will linger and stay with you forever. Time just means that your focus will blur, other people will come to the fore and in retrospect, it won’t hurt as much. It’ll hurt now. If she meant something to you, you won’t ever really “get over her”, but there’ll be other hers and she won’t seem quite as important with perspective.” It was a moment and, like the remnants of that relationship, something I’ll keep with me.
When I don’t connect, this means conversations will exist without meaningful exchange. Take my current team, for instance. They’re all smart, likeable people, but that relationship just isn’t there. Our concerns and views are different and as such, we con’t communicate in the same way. When we have big discussions about whatever ephemera enters our sphere, I get the sense that everyone wants to voice their opinion, but that opinion isn’t open to change. Nobody wants to see a new side, they just want to be heard. It’s not like this is different from most public interaction and this is fine. There’s no reason we all need to be out to change each other constantly. Consequently, once I’ve said my piece and realise that nobody is really interested (like when I suggested that it’s possible to be in a loving relationship and still want to go on trips or excursions without your partner. “Then why are you even in a relationship with that person?” was the general consensus), I just shrug, pull away and let the conversation go on without me.
This is how I somehow end up being that quiet guy who reads, hiding in plain sight.