The other day, a couple of friends paid a visit to Not Drowning HQ for a long overdue chinwag. In the course of the conversation, one of the friends – whom I shall refer to as Al – told me about her relatively recent career change and how dismal her new working conditions were. If she hadn’t sat at my kitchen table and told me all about it in person, I like to think she might have penned me a little letter instead and that the letter might have read a little like this:
Love your work (etc). I’m writing this (fictitious) letter to you because I hope you can help me sort out my workplace. I work for a software company where nobody smiles or is willing to meet your eyes. There is no polite chit-chat let alone playful banter. I can go all day without exchanging more than five words with anyone, and at least three of those words will be “Excuse me, please” when I need to squeeze past someone in the kitchen. I can’t even ring my husband to have a good bitch about them all being such drop-kicks because I’m sitting in the middle of this huge open-plan office where even the sound of a person’s spirit breaking can be heard, and regularly is. I quite like the job itself but the vibe of the place is getting me down, man. Can you help?
PS. Enclosed is a sizeable cheque for your consulting services on this matter.
Oh dear, poor you, Al. My initial thought is that they might all be happy chatting away in some kind of special computer language barely audible to the human ear – you know, all whirring and high-pitched humming like hard-drives or even sort of like dolphins but without anyone particularly wanting to save you. But still, there must be some way of getting them to communicate like Normal People, so I’ve come up with a few strategies you might like to employ.
Bring in baked goods. My experiences with feeding children has shown me how the shyest little person can be brought completely out of their shells with a sizeable sugar hit. Or perhaps that should read “completely out of their skulls”. On second thoughts, strike that idea.
Spike the water cooler with Absinthe. Let’s face it: alcohol is a great social lubricant. But this could so easily backfire. And I’m not sure of the legalities behind it so it could land you in a world of trouble. However, arguably a conversation conducted through lawyers is a conversation nonetheless. And it doesn’t sound like you’re in a position to be choosy, Al.
Invest in a whoopie cushion. Always a guaranteed ice-breaker, but all it takes is one colleague suffering from a condition that causes severe flatulence and you’re back having a heart-to-heart with your legal team about pending bullying-in-the-workplace charges.
Bring in outside help. Of course the CoP (see “The Chicken of Persuasion“) immediately springs to mind as someone you could bring in on a consultancy basis, if only because it gives me a chance to cross-promote another of my posts plus I get a percentage of his hefty fee. A cheaper option might be for you to invest in your own “Pirate Pete™” hand-puppet so you’d always have someone literally “on hand” to chat to (get it?). And it would certainly get your colleagues talking, even if they were just aligning themselves against you. I guess it depends on whether you want to be an active part of the conversation or just the topic. I’ll leave that one with you, Al.
Log onto facebook instead. Find camaraderie online and spend your day throwing sheep at people you went to primary school with and joining groups like the “Joining Groups is for Losers” group and “Ban the group ‘Joining Groups is for Losers'” and even “The ‘let’s ban the group that wants to ban all groups that ban groups’ group”. But then, I kinda recall you mentioned some kind of universal block on facebook in your workplace where even typing the URL into your computer automatically issues you with an official warning from the HR department and a second transgression gets you escorted from the premises. Of course, you mentioned this in our actual conversation and not in the (fictitious) letter that I wrote on your behalf, so I could just pretend that I don’t know about the block and offer this advice in seemingly good faith. Whoops, too late.
Er, that’s it.
Okay, okay! So I’m not about to leave my day job to become an Agony Aunt any time soon but what do you want from me here, Al? You should have thought of a more suitable person for me to write that fictitious letter to on your behalf, eh? I mean, I’ve only been out of the professional workforce for six and a half years, sweetheart. There must be *some* kind of “Work Colleagues Whisperer” out there – god knows there are enough Other Whisperers wandering about talking sotto voce to babies, horses, cats, dogs, ghosts… why, there’s even a “Pants Whisperer“, brought to us by Durex to help menfolk sort out relationship problems with their Little Friend. But I digress.
So, just for you, Al, I’m going to throw your (fictitious) letter to my commenting wolves. Anyone out there got some advice they’d like to offer? There’s a (fictitious) sizeable cheque in it for you…