It seems so natural to confide in the people you see every day and share the same mundane existence with — after all, this is what college reinforced to you time and time again. However, what remains deceptive about the instinct to trust is not whom we decide to trust, but where we decide to practice it.
Work isn’t one of those places.
Why? Well, let’s do some brief word association before we get into the heavy lifting:
As soon as your vulnerabilities have been exposed, your co-workers will notice, they will remember — consciously or subconsciously, it doesn’t matter for you in the long term — and it will end up costing you in one way or another.
The best way to rise above and conquer at the workplace is keep all personal shit close to the chest and remember that nothing is guaranteed in this world. When, and if, the company you’re working for decides to downsize, you don’t want to be the easy target for elimination because Suzie across the hall knows that you don’t know how to file your TPS report.
Secrets hold a certain value in this world, so preserve them with the necessary precaution.
With all that said, like everything we do in life, building your workplace persona is a high-wire balancing act. You can’t just sit there like a douche day in and day out and not interact with your fellow employees — you need to be likable, otherwise you will naturally be the first to go when the company is downsizing.
Keep it light for the most part — some off-the-cuff jokes about something that has nothing to do with the office will do just fine. There’s no need to try overtly to impress them, just make sure to let your guard down from time to time so they know you’re human.
Here are some examples of how to keep the people you share your office space with at a distance while remaining accessible and likable:
What to Reveal
1. Places not pieces
Where you’re from, where you went to school and where you’ve been. These are all completely neutral subject matters that are always good for conversation at any time and any place, in particular at work. What makes places a valuable asset at work is that you can describe them at length, show you can be articulate and demonstrate that you’ve got something worth listening to, which is important. You don’t want to be the boring guy. At the same note, you don’t want to share pieces, or character traits of yourself (more on this later).
2. Crazy family personalities
This is a real good way to appear human, get some cheap laughs and not appear entirely vulnerable. Everyone can relate to having a crazy person in his or her family so this will always be a good go to no matter who you’re stuck working with. Moreover, you might even have people asking you about your whacky uncle just to get an update, which means they have completely diverted attention from you and your personal life. This is the goal — get them talking about someone or something that has at least some degree of separation from you.
3. Couch talk
Forget the water cooler. The way to make yourself totally relatable is to talk about stuff you do on the couch — eat food, watch television, read books. Again, this another possible opportunity to present yourself as someone who is educated and informed, but most important, it’s an area where you can talk for a while without giving away anything that could result in something back. In short, this is an innocent way to communicate without taking on any risk.
4. Good, positive feelings
Bring something to the table. Even if it is the marginal compliment you pay to someone, make sure they feel your optimistic attitude and it impacts them in a beneficial way. This way, you will become slowly indispensable to the company and have a leg up on all your other co-workers without them even noticing. It may seem like a kiss ass scheme, but it’s not all that deceitful. If you are feeling good, let it shine through. No need to conceal it.
On the opposite end of this, don’t share any negative, emotional shit with anyone. Mainly because they don’t want to hear it, but mostly because it makes you a liability to the company and when evaluation time comes around, you’re more than likely going to be asked about this specific, random incident in two dozen ways.
What to Keep Secret
1. Boss bashing
This is like the first rule of fight of Fight Club. Whatever it is you do: don’t talk about your boss. Positive or negative, your comments can and will be spun if heard by the wrong set of ears, so avoid making any type of comment unless you want to put your career at risk. If your asked to give an opinion and the boss is around, make a neutral comment or say you don’t know him or her that well. Protect yourself.
2. Bathroom activity
I’d like to think this is obvious, but in case some dudes think its OK while at work to still brag about the size of their crap or how long they just pissed for, then this point is on here for them. Work is not college and no matter how relaxed your job might be, I doubt this is acceptable behavior. I’m sorry, bro, but the days of crap bragging are over.
I don’t know why this would be brought up at all at the workplace but in case it does, refrain from subjecting yourself from any judgments. Although you may have a funny story that will crack the guys up and possibly get you some new friends, it will more than likely isolate you from all the females in the office and bring on unnecessary tension. You have your friends from back home and college to share your sex stories with, if you so desire, keep them away from any associated with where you work. It will end poorly.
4. Behavior patterns
Any behaviors, even good ones, need to be kept in the closet. Don’t tell people how you respond to certain situations or any flaws you might have from the past. I learned this the hard way at a job interview when I told them I used to have fits of rage in high school but I had overcame them in college. The three-panel team looked at me strange, asked a few more questions and then threw me in the disposable pile. They were so put off by the fact they might be hiring the Hulk that they didn’t invite me back for a final interview even though I had done what they told me to do which was answer the question, “what was the most important change I had made in my life?” honestly. You can tell parts of the truth, but telling the whole truth, in a work environment, is only going to leave you on the backburner.
[Office image via ShutterStock]