Getting To Know A Co-Worker

You might be that person who hangs out after work with your co-workers; arranges Wings Nights, plays baseball or volleyball with some others and is generally the social bunny both at work and beyond. Like I say, you might be that person but I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not anti-social, I just like to separate my work life and my personal life, and the fact that I live in the Town of Lindsay but work 95 kilometres away in Oshawa Ontario makes hanging around after work to socialize more challenging. After all, I don’t want to arrive home with only an hour or two with my wife before hitting the sack and getting up to drive into work in the morning. My home life in my case takes priority.

At the office however I’m known as jovial, fun to be around, full of creativity, positive and use my interpersonal skills on a daily basis. If you find my self-description similar to your own, or if you want to know how to get to know your co-workers better within the confines of work hours, you might enjoy this read and try what I did just yesterday.

One of the new staff in my office is someone I’ve only known by name and face in the past when we’ve run into each other in training workshops we were involved in. Now that she’s here in our office on a full-time basis, I’ve been wanting to get to know her better and opportunity came  calling yesterday afternoon.

You see I was scheduled to facilitate a workshop which, unknown to me, she had approached her Supervisor for approval to attend. When she walked in ten minutes early, just the two of us were there and we started a quick conversation albeit about the topic of the workshop and her familiarity with the content or lack thereof. As the minutes rolled by, it became clear that for reasons unknown, no one else was showing up to this drop-in workshop.

Now normally that would be a huge disappointment for me, but the next 45 minutes would be the highlight of my day. I ran through my presentation for her quickly so she’d have a grasp of what the people we mutually serve normally hear so we could be consistent in our delivery and support each other as well as them.

Once completed, I seized upon the chance to move the conversation beyond the subject matter and more into a personal conversation designed to get to know one another better. The other option would have been for one of us to say, “Well I’ve got work to do; too bad no one showed up” and go our ways. All too often this happens. I’m telling you people, recognize these opportunities and jump all over them and get to know the people you work with. It was so much more productive than hanging out in a neighbourhood bar eating wings and trying to get into  multiple conversations with several people; well for me anyhow.

So what did we talk about that you might similarly talk about with your co-workers? Well it started with a question of mine (I know, big surprise there right?”) about why she made the move from Social Services Caseworker to Employment Consultant. I was thrilled with her motivation because it mirrored my own reasons a decade earlier. Like attracts like and surrounding oneself with others who think similarly to us is most often a good thing.

We talked what I call philosophy of service, and as much as I wanted to learn more about her thoughts and ideas, I took the time to share my service delivery thoughts and also how gratifying and privileged I feel to be in this role I find myself in. Here’s the real interesting thing that I’m sure you’ll acknowledge happens in conversations you have with others: the more we talked, the more the conversation deepened. We got past superficial surface stuff quickly and shared what we were passionate about.

I can tell you that by the end of our conversation I was thrilled to find a kindred spirit of sorts. She also expressed a future desire to join the team I’m currently on which would again transition her role to include workshop facilitation. This lead me to extend an offer of help, support and mentorship. After all, providing answers to her questions, general information and specifics about the most desired qualities to have on this team is good fodder for getting past a future interview and landing a job on the team.

What could have been a huge disappointment turned into a moment of magic. Well, not so much magic because anyone can do this; you can do this. We all have moments each day or several times a week when opportunities abound for dialogue and getting to know someone a little more intimately.

If your nervous or intimidated, breathe and start with, “Hey, do you have a few minutes? I’d like to get to know you a little better than I do if that’s okay.” Open with a couple of questions and you’ll find as they talk, you can stop stressing about your own comfort level and what to say next. Respond with genuine interest and share a little of yourself as appropriate.

When you know those you work with better, you can acknowledge others strengths and become stronger as a whole.

Dealing With Unwanted Attention

About six months ago I received an envelope from a client who frequents the Resource Centre where I work. At the time, I’d had absolutely no contact with her for several months as she hadn’t been in, or when she was, I was off facilitating various workshops. Bottom line, we hadn’t had any interaction in some time. So when she handed me an envelope with my name on it, I what it could be, and I was puzzled.

Well I opened it after she had quickly departed, and was stunned by what it contained. Without going into a great deal of detail, she got across the message that she found me attractive and had been imagining all kinds of sexual things she would do to and with me. She said she couldn’t concentrate when I was around and as part of some kind of process she was telling me exactly how she felt. Talk about awkward.

Now far from being flattering, I felt sad for her. I tried to think if in any way I had communicated anything that could be interpreted as suggestive of a relationship, but as stated, I hadn’t even had communication of any kind with her in ages. So what to do?

And here’s why I want to share with you the reader what I did so that if by any chance you experience something akin to this, you might remember this story and learn from it. I went to my Supervisor and showed her the letter. We talked about things and brainstormed together how to best address the problem, for a problem it clearly was. The important thing here was to make sure everything is above-board and known to Management so that should any allegation come forward of inappropriate action on my behalf, I’ve been up front at all times.

I offered to speak with the woman myself – in a public setting, and very clearly tell her that such letters were inappropriate and crossing the line between the client/employee relationship. I’d also let her know that she could not be a participant in any class I’d be leading, but that we could and should still continue to maintain a friendly client/employee relationship and that should we see each other in the Resource Centre, I’d continue to help her if she wanted help like any other client.

While initially embarrassed that I was speaking to her about the letter, which she had thought I’d just read to myself, she understood and agreed. So it was deja vu all over again just yesterday afternoon when a second envelope was put onto my desk in the Resource Centre as I sat alongside a student working with us for the summer. I made a decision not to open the envelope while the client was in the room, because if I guessed correctly, it might have inappropriate content, and I’d feel I’d have to address it right then. If correct, I wanted time to formulate a strategy.

So she left and sure enough, a message saying how beautiful I am and what an awesome tan I’ve got. Mild stuff, but with a history, still not appropriate. So there I was with a teachable moment for the summer student alongside me. I gave her a brief history and explained what I’d now have to do. It’s conceivable that she too might experience something like this and have to deal with it herself. I’ve seen some men eye her up and down when she’s not looking.

So I went and spoke with our Area Manager who had been briefed six months ago when the first letter appeared. We read the file first and found information about drug use, alcohol problems, sex trade activity, absent partners leaving her to raise children and then children being removed. Clearly she’s had some rough times and maybe hasn’t really had too many encounters with men who are helpful, nice and don’t want anything in return. So maybe she’s not really to blame entirely in other words. I told the Manager that rather than having her in to chat with both of us which she might find intimidating, perhaps she could give her a phone call, and she did just that. Maybe coming from a woman who is in Senior Management she’d see things have to stop.

The client said she knew she wasn’t to write letters with this kind of content anymore, but was writing it for another woman who apparently feels the same way about me. Again, awkward even to share. Why it would be okay to write and pass on a letter from another person when it’s not okay to do it yourself is unknown. So my goal here was not to get her banned from coming to the Resource Centre; after all, she makes use of and needs the help she can get here, so I want that to continue for her. Personally, I do not feel threatened or stalked but I’ll be sure to never place myself in a position where we are alone.

Still, anything could be alleged that I said or did, and that’s a risk when you work with people. It’s part of the responsibility we all undertake when we come to our workplaces daily. Handling tricky situations is a skill you can learn like any other.

Things To Do BEFORE You Go To A Conference

This Friday, I am looking forward to a day at a Conference I am attending with my Supervisor. The event is looking at innovation in technology but now that today I have received the actual itinerary or schedule of the days activities, I can see there is a significant amount of time set aside for networking.

Now all of those in attendance have the same information I have just received, or at least that’s a safe assumption. However, do you suppose that we will all prepare for the day in the same way? I certainly don’t. Some planning on attending may like me, get together a stack of business cards in order to have them handy and distribute and exchange with other delegates. In addition, a little bit of time devoted to thinking about the topic, how it might be beneficial and applicable in advance of the conference is also a useful use of time in order to see the relevance of the day to the job I hold.

On the other hand, I’m willing to bet there are others who will be there who don’t really prepare much in advance and are there for the day away from the office, the food at lunch and break time, and they’ll show up perhaps with a pen for taking an odd note but may even be counting on the conference to supply that for them too. Business cards; they’ve got a whole desk with a new box that hasn’t been opened since they were issued it 8 months ago!

Now this isn’t to chastise those who don’t prepare for conferences and networking events. You miss the point if that’s all you think. My point rather is to point out that these events are opportunities and how you and I respond to those opportunities may go a long way to helping or hindering our advancement at work, our likelihood of getting approval to attend future events, and of course the material itself may aid us greatly in our work if we are open to what is being shared with us by others. And aside from the specific topics being shared, there are great possibilities of forming working relationships with others in attendance from other agencies, companies, organizations and entrepreneurs.

Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites provide us all with online networking websites and platforms that permit the exchange of ideas, and going to meet people in person is what pre-dated all of these social media sites. It is possible that I might even meet someone at a conference who is a connection of mine on Linkedin for example, and can now flesh-out that avatar and photo on their Profile page. And I might add, it’s a chance to either reinforce your brand or possible damage your reputation based on how you act while at conferences and networking events.

For example, the person who is the networking guru; assertive, proactive, and can talk up a storm on the internet may in-person be someone who acts like that in real life too, or they may be constantly avoiding talking to people they don’t know, hanging out at the buffet or never get up from their seat and mingle. In other words does the person in real life mirror or conflict with the on-line persona you have come to know. That synergy or disconnect may either help or hurt your self-branding and your reputation along with it.

In this case, I am someone who enjoys using technology in the classroom when facilitating job search and employment related topics. One of the things I’m in the middle of is using Prezi to make a timeline of my past employment and education; a Prezisume if you will. It’s taking quite a bit of time in order for me to get it right, but it’s something I want to pursue as one example of how a traditional resume can be electronically viewed rather than on a piece of paper. It may not be something I would submit to an employer, but it is something I might use in a class if I wanted to show participants my own path from my high school days to the present. The benefit of that? Showing others the path I’ve taken with its twists and turns, ups and downs can provide inspiration and that openness and willingness to share can help inspire others to work through their issues and still hope for success when it’s hard for them to see it.

One thing about technology is that no one person ever really seems to know everything there is to know. Someone always has a new and better communication device, a better app for a phone, a new website you didn’t know about etc. The information I get this Friday might be entirely new to me personally or a mixture of things I already knew and things new to me. Even if I were to go to a conference and the material was more of a refresher than new information, the opportunity to network, establish and nurture relationships is vital and critical.

All that networking should in my opinion, not be about what others can do for you and I, but what we might be able to do for others. By offering assistance in ways we are able to, others in turn are more open and receptive to helping in return. That symbiotic relationship, each helping the other, is the very best kind of networking!

Nurturing Relationships With Co-Workers

My neighbours immediately next door are in the middle of building a deck on the rear of their home and last night the last plank went on the deck. Now while there is still the railing to appear, it’s at least given them a solid surface to walk on for the moment.

My wife and I were out at a garden centre in the evening picking up some supplies when I mentioned I wanted to get them a plant as a kind of celebration because they’ve been wanting a deck for two years, and have also mentioned that they want some plants out back but have no idea where to start. So plant-in-hand, we returned and gave it to them last night. Well, the guy thanked me personally four times over the course of an hour as we were both outside doing chores; him with the deck, me with the lawn and fertilizer.

As I was cutting the lawn, I was thinking how that single act had made me feel good and so had the reaction on his part. He obviously felt really good too and said that we were very thoughtful. So it was a win-win, neighbour to neighbour relationship-building gesture that cost us about $22. Not bad.

Now in the workplace, what can you do to form and nurture positive working relationships with your co-workers? Well for starters, see the value in impromptu, short conversations that can establish you as friendly, interested and connected. Rather than seeing ‘chatting’ as unproductive and a waste of paid time, see it as keeping lines of communication open with those around you; especially with those with whom you will frequently interact and work with. Otherwise, when people hear your voice and see you coming, they’ll know beforehand you are only bringing them work and aren’t interested in them as a person, just as a co-worker. Taking a cursory interest in things that interest others; even just asking questions, can engage you in ways you may not immediately derive a benefit in, but it will come.

One of the things that I will share with you that my wife does is to make it a practice to go around each morning and just acknowledge her team members. A quick hello, an inquiry about last night, how are the kids, good to see you, it’s going to be a sunny day, etc. are all short comments that give the staff the impression that the Supervisor does care about them as a whole person, not just an employee. Done correctly this can serve the purpose of both ensuring folks are at work and on time but with an emphasis on really taking a personal interest in the people, and done incorrectly can just come across as micromanaging. Make sure your motives are right in greeting your co-workers and take a genuine interest in saying hello.

Be cautious about sharing all your problems all the time. Few people can tolerate someone who sucks the life right out of them. If you have some heavy news to share do it quickly and make sure not to consume an entire conversation. Just because you are down and feeling blue doesn’t mean others want to join you. Be honest and sincere, but do your best to also move the conversation along and perhaps back the people you are chatting with. What’s new with them?

If you have some training to go to, or a meeting off your regular work location, see if you can carpool. Carpooling is a good way to be with your co-workers but in a different situation. Maybe some tunes come on and you all start singing and realize the wonderful voice you didn’t know someone has, or you collectively agree that you can’t believe what some other driver just did. The conversations you’ll get onto can actually be very productive and you might resolve some issues that wouldn’t have come had you both been just sitting at a table trying to come up with some solutions.

Look for spontaneous opportunities to laugh. I work with roughly 50 people on a given day, and often several wear the same predominant colours in their clothing. So every now and then, an announcement goes out via email asking everyone wearing purple or some other colour to assemble for a quick picture. It’s a laugh, a quick photo, and then it gets put onto a drive where everyone can see the pictures. This is an example of some quick, spontaneous activity that gets people up and off their chairs, a short walk, a chance to smile or laugh, and feel connected. With digital photography, it’s free and then it’s back to your workstation perhaps a little more energized.

What relationship nurturing activities do you have where you work?