Lessons in intimacy: Playing nicely with the other children
This week we’re taking the mortifying step of actually trying to make friends and influence people. Oh the tragedy of actually getting on with the people you work with. Yesterday I was doing a workshop with a group of up and coming trade union leaders about gangs and bullying. Sunday morning and we’re doing a role play about negotiating with a mining multinational with teams made up of passive aggressives, egotists and compulsive complainers. This might sound way beyond irrational but seriously, what a chuckle. The pure undiluted relief of being able to admit that groups bring out the primitive and defensive in all of us where a regression into playground politics would be a distinct promotion up the evolutionary scale. More pond life than chimp.
If we’re honest, most of us are like paranoid crack addicts when it comes to where we position ourselves on the workplace beauty contest. For those of us with a weak sense of our inner goddess, contact with colleagues can be exposing and not in a good way. This can be aggravated in the run up to Christmas where an invitation to the work’s Christmas party throws up invasive thoughts of competitive twerking and conversations beginning with “don’t take this the wrong way but….”
This paranoid psychic condition is often actually a defense against the much more Rennie inducing anxiety of being liked. The reality of someone really liking you can be stomach churning and quite hard to handle because it upsets the predictable order of things. It’s awful comforting to know that your colleagues are just not that into you saving you the embarrassment of stumbling n fumbling your way around a real life human relationship.
Oh Santa, say it isn’t so? But how many of us last week interpreted an unanswered email as code for “I-never-liked-you-and-I-consider-you-completely-anxilliary-to-my-happiness”. With what I laughably call a career spanning from philosophy to trade unionism to mental health let me tell you ladies and gents I can get awful chippy, never knowingly missing an implied swipe or underhand attempt to disempower.
This stubbornly anti-optimistic position was totally scuppered the other day when I was doing some work and someone said IN FRONT OF OTHER PEOPLE that they liked the cut of my Surviving Work jib and found something I had said inspiring. Honestly, I was gutted and felt my ego scuttle like a cockroach into a far corner of my unconscious.
Eeeeewwwwww, the problem of being liked.
Breuer was a colleague of Freud’s, and famously treated the patient Anna O. He left his practice not because of the relentless brutal attacks of his patients and polite Austrian society, but because he couldn’t handle the adoration. I’m pretty sure my colleagues don’t technically adore me but over the last few weeks I’ve become less snug in my defence that they all literally hate me.
This problem relates to working under the Gosford Park school of industrial relations – knowing what people want before they even want it, silently delivering it and then sloping off downstairs to resentfully fill your internal well of bitterness and drown some kittens. It means becoming invisible in a servile way, bringing cups o tea, laughing at lame jokes and an uncritical silence on pay equity. It means not allowing other people to see you as you really are, and taking the risk on them telling you what they see.
This underdog attitude to the people we work with has something to do with our chimp like use of technology, where emailing some NLPs to the person at the desk next to you is preferable to the nameless dread of human contact. Far from Facebooking our lives and making us more attractive to the people around us, it cuts us off from the possibility of actually having a relationship. Computer never says yes please.
So why not take a punt this week on intimacy, by putting your computer and your phone down and communicating an appropriate amount of warmth to someone you work with. You can accessorise with a little squeeze or do a dump and run as you trot along a corridor (I find doing it in lifts can be a little awkward) but you should do it.
And in an attempt to G-Force myself into a position of intimacy at work, this week rather than getting jiggy with my very important emails I will be attending my first ever work’s Christmas party and trying to play nicely with the other children.