How Important Is Friendship In the Workplace?

Question:

How important is friendship in the workplace? Do you have to befriend everyone? Is it okay to not be friends and just be co-workers?

Signed,

Finding a Balance

Answer:

Dear Finding a Balance:

Most people consider only one or two people at work as friends (and sometimes no one is considered as close as a personal friend would be). The rest are work colleagues, coworkers, fellow employees or mere acquaintances. The size of the business, type of business and the workplace culture makes a big difference in how emotionally close one gets to those in the business.

Sometimes a workplace is so friendly that work doesn’t get done! Instead of feeling focused on doing the work, the focus is on feeling good about each other. That can be a big problem.

On the other hand, sometimes people are so focused on work that the commonplace courtesies and efforts to smooth out conflict and communication issues are missing. That can be a big problem too. So, balance is very importance! I wonder if you are asking your questions because of a work situation in which you are involved. If so, the following thoughts might help you develop an answer for your specific situation.

How important is friendship in the workplace? It’s good feeling to have friends and often that adds to work environment for everyone. But, one can be an effective employee and not be as close to anyone as the term “friend” involves.

Do you have to befriend everyone? You have to make an effort to be friendly and courteous to everyone, with the goal of improving communications and being a good citizen in the workplace. But, you do not have to be a friend to everyone (and probably couldn’t be) nor should you spend time cultivating friendships to the exclusion of getting work done.

Is it okay to not be friends and just be coworkers? Certainly. In fact, it is very doubtful that everyone wants to be everyone else’s friends anyway. Most people want to work around those who are credible, knowledgeable, skillful, good communicators and who are able to have a variety of good interpersonal relationships—from friendship to internal customer to coworkers to work-acquaintance.

When someone is told they are not friendly at work, it usually doesn’t refer to them being friends with someone or with everyone. It refers to them being curt, isolated, not participating or acting strange to the point that others feel uncomfortable around them.

Most employees, as they mature, learn how to achieve a balance between being more concerned about friendships than work and being obsessively focused on work to the exclusion of even good communications. If you wonder about it for yourself, talk to your manager or boss and see if you have achieved the balance he or she wants for all employees–or if there is some other issue you need to consider and improve.

Best wishes to you with this issue!

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Where Should You Ask Someone For Approval?

Question:

Is it appropriate to ask someone to approve something as the person is in the vicinity of your area or should you wait until that person is at his/her desk (which is in another area)?

Signed,

Location Question

Answer:

Dear Location Question:

Your question seems to have a rather logical response: The time to ask for approval is when it is easiest for both people to consider an item, discuss it if needed, and get it approved according to procedures.

However, circumstances vary so much in workplace situations, that even a simple question can have several responses, unless one is right there to know the context.

For example,, if someone is standing next to you and you need their approval for a letter or report, does it not seem appropriate to just ask them for it while they are there? That seems to me to be the best way to handle it.

Carry it further. If they walk away and THEN you get up, leave your area, go to their area and ask them for approval, doesn’t it seem likely they would think it very foolish of you to have waited?

On the other hand, if they are standing by your desk but they have to consult with something on their own desk BEFORE they can give approval, doesn’t it seem logical to let them know what you need approval about and tell them that you’ll send it to them by email or will bring it over to them later, unless they want to take it with them?

Communication and understanding the situation is the key. So, the answer to your question requires context. What is the approval about? What have you or others been told to do in the past? What seems to be the best use of time and energy? It could be that you asked the question because a decision you made about getting approval turned out to be wrong. If that’s the case, perhaps seeing the situation from the other person’s viewpoint would help you understand why it was thought that your actions weren’t the best. Maybe it seemed obvious to them that you should have waited. Or, maybe they felt you shouldn’t have felt the need to get approval for something in the first place.

But, if you feel you did the right thing, maybe the matter isn’t important enough to worry about anyway. Next time you can think through it and do it differently.

Most of the time, work moves forward in spite of bumps in the road and minor misunderstandings. The secret to success is to not stop for too long wondering about the bump. Just keep moving along with the work! Best wishes with this issue.

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How To Converse With Supervisor?

Question:

How should I talk with my supervisor without sounding stuck-up, like a kiss-ass, or like an idiot?

Signed,

Speechless

Answer:

Dear Speechless:

The best way to talk to anyone, whatever his or her role in your life, is to talk with sincere interest in the message that you want to communicate. Sometimes our talk is serious, sometimes joking or light-hearted and sometimes, small-talk that doesn’t mean much (“Nice weather, huh?”) But, through it all there should be a sincere desire to build a relationship that is appropriate for the situation.

You can’t do any of those things if your main concern is how you DON’T want to sound. Be most concerned about being comfortable, honest, friendly and appropriate.

I often suggest the following conversational topics to young employees. If you have been working for some length of time for the same person, they might need to be adjusted.

1. Greetings and farewells. It’s always appropriate to say good morning and goodnight, with a smile and just those brief words. Most bosses don’t have the time to chat with each employee, so it’s easier for them to just look up and say hi or goodbye. But, those two times of the work day are important for showing friendliness and appropriateness. If they leave first, just glance up and smile and say, “Have a nice evening. See you tomorrow.” In the morning you can just say, “Hi, Jim.” Smile and keep moving.

2. Moving through the day comments. When you see someone repeatedly up and down an office or hallway, you don’t want to stop and talk all the time and it seems weird to say a big hello every time you pass someone. So, I suggest that people just make brief eye contact and barely say, “Hi.” Or, “Busy day.” Or even some comment that works for the situation, “183 copies and no jams. Yaaay!”

Those kind of remarks aren’t conversations, but they move things along and smooth relationships. 3. Small talk socializing. Balance in how much time is spent in non-work talk is important, but there is usually time for chatting about various things that make life and work fun. I often suggest to those who feel on the outside of the group that they acknowledge the group as a way to show there are no hard feelings about their closeness. “Hi you guys!” “Have any of you guys seen that movie about cowboys and aliens?” “See you guys tomorrow.” (I use the term “guys” because that has become fairly standard for addressing both genders.)

If you’re not talking to a group the easiest topics for individuals are to talk about his or her family, travel, car choices, vacation plans, etc., or about work topics.

I have found that it works best to limit small talk chit-chat with those who aren’t close friends. Usually it is awkward for everyone and tends to get boring quickly! Say a few things, smile graciously and get up and leave or let them do so.

4. Thank you and appreciation. There are many times to say thank you and we should look for those times. Someone holds the door or they help with something, or they pass along a report or bring a new item to work on. A brief thank you or word or two of appreciation is always appreciated. (“Oh, thanks. I could have gotten that but I appreciate you doing it for me.” “I saw the report on my desk. Thanks a lot, Anna.”) 5. Information about work. During every work day there is usually a need to keep people informed about something. Use those times as times to show appropriateness about conversation as well as to demonstrate dependability. (“I’m still working on that report but I’ll have it by 3 p.m.” “I sent that file over to Gretchen and she said she’d pass it along. I’ll let you know what I hear.”)

6. Requests for assistance. These times should be limited, but there are times when a manager or supervisor is the only one who can help us. Avoid making this a whining, excuse making, groveling moment! Instead, ask for what you need and wait for the answer. (“I can’t do this in the time allowed. I can do it by noon though. Would that be OK?” “I’ve looked at this form for an hour and still can’t figure out what to do with it. Could you look at it and tell me what you think?”)

7. Questions and comments about work and the workplace. A manager is interested in how work is going and probably is often thinking about the future of the office or the staff. Thus, that topic is one he or she is thinking about and has an opinion about. (“How long do you think this situation will last?” “Is this working out the way you want it?” “Why do you think this is causing more work than last year?” “Where do you see us in five years?” “What got you into this line of work anyway?”) There are a million things to talk about. The key is to really want to discuss it and really want to know the answer, not just talk to be talking.

Now, having said those 7 topic areas for conversation, I will also share what I tell young employees: None of that matters if you’re not doing good work. A manager isn’t interested in fun talk with someone who has let him or her down on the work. He or she will also not be very happy to talk if you are creating so many problems at work that you are more trouble than you’re worth. So, first, be a great employee, then put positive purpose behind your communication.

I hope these ideas are useful and that you can adapt them for your situation.

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My Boss Doesn’t Seem To Like Me!

Question:

I recently acquired this job a couple months ago and has been pretty good since. It’s a laid back place and I pretty much sit at a desk all day. My other coworkers are pretty cool and we chat and goof off sometimes. We tend to surf the web and slack off every now and then too. Recently I’ve been doing the same as them by going on the web and what not but there are times when my boss sees me doing so and I catch him sometimes staring at me doing it. He has caught me recently doing it often, so finally he took me aside and talked to me. I didn’t really think it was serious up until he started watching me more and more. And yes, I was being irresponsible by continuing this behavior, but I made sure my work was getting done. But when he pulled me aside that one day, he spoke to me about it. He told me that he is close to getting rid of me due to poor performance. I apologized for my actions and told him it won’t happen again. It has only been a few days since the talk but I have not done anything other than my work since. The problem is, and this was even before the incident, that whenever he would come in to the office or whenever the whole team was together conversing, he would act like I wasn’t there. Something like not being a part of the team is what I was feeling at that point. I don’t usually care about these things, but since the beginning, he has never showed any interest in building a relationship with me, as if I’m of no importance. I honestly don’t know if he’s not comfortable with me or if he just doesn’t like me or what. My birthday passed and he did not acknowledge it, even though everyone in the office knew. I feel tension between us, and I do not want it to be that way. He’s humorous and playful with the others, but he doesn’t even say hi to me. I hope he doesn’t have the wrong idea of me, but I’m willing to work at gaining his respect.

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Necessary To Say Goodnight?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about goodbyes:

Is it necessary to say goodnight to everyone when leaving work at the end of the day?

Signed, Unsure

Dear Unsure:

Whether or not you say goodnight to each person depends upon the size of the workplace and the nature of the work. If you can look around the office and say goodnight, it’s courteous to do so. If you have to go office to office, it’s usually not expected. If others are working with clients or on the phone, it would be disruptive. So, the best way to know is to observe what almost all others do, especially those who seem the most accepted in their performance, behavior and personal style at work. If that doesn’t provide enough of a clue, ask a friend in the workplace what he or she thinks. Or, ask a manager.Many people feel that a quick goodbye with a smile, is a good way to end the day, just as a brief good morning is a good way to start it.

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My Supervisor Says I Ask Too Many Questions

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being shy in a new job:

I am currently an intern at a Department of Social Services office. I just graduated from college with a Social Work degree. I do my job well, I know I do. But, I am having trouble relating to people at work. I am one of those people who are very smart, but have trouble interacting with people on a personal level. I am not rude or arrogant, just quiet and shy. When interacting with other workers, I stick mostly to asking questions, like a good intern should. I am worried that no matter how well I do my job, I am in the wrong field because I don’t really relate well to the other workers. It is like High School in that place!

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Boss Encourages Violating Chain of Command

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about mixed chain of command:

My boss is a manager and I am one grade lower (an associate manager.) I joined this group two months ago. From the very first day I was told that I was in charge of the two recruiters who report to me “up the chain” in HR. Unfortunately, these two junior employees are still reporting to my boss. For example, yesterday my boss told me to start handling my team more aggressively. But, today he sent an email to me and a peer associate manager to work on a staffing situation. When I wrote to one of my team members and gave her instructions I found out my boss had copied the junior team members on the email. One of them argued with me about what I had directed and said we should get permission from my boss about it. Finally, after some conversation she agreed to do what I requested, but I could tell she didn’t agree.What can I do to get my boss to remember to use the hierarchy, to avoid this kind of situation?

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Avoiding Judgment of Non-Participators

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about those who don’t participate: It’s not good to judge others, but what can you do to get non-participators to come on board?

What can members of a team do to not pass judgment on another team member who does not participate? How do you get him/her to come on board?

Signed, Get On Board

Dear Get On Board:

Yours is a common question because team member’s commitment and effort often are not equal. Forget not being judgmental. It’s impossible not to become aware of members who don’t pull their own weight. The issue is then bound up in your second question: How do you get a non-participant to come on board? There is a generic answer of how to cope with such behavior constructively; however, each situation hinges on the task and composition of its team. Therefore, analysis of your situation entails first-hand knowledge of the history of your team and the rewards that come from working together effectively and/or penalties for not.

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How Can Employees Socialize And Get Work Done?

Question:

I try to make a conscious effort to throw myself into my work and avoid socializing, but, it bothers me that people around me socialize, yet, get their work done. What can I do? Is it worth it to socialize on the job?

Signed,

Silent Sal

Answer:

Dear Silent Sal:

Your question involves a lot of issues related to any work, so I’ll respond about those individually.

1. What is socializing at work and when is it being done to excess? If, by using the term “socializing” you’re referring to friendly conversations, standing around on occasion and just chatting, or making small talk while working, I’d say that it is quite possible to do that and still get work done, in most work places. That thought applies to work that doesn’t require close focus. However, there are some workplaces where socializing can be done but probably shouldn’t be. For example, if clients or customers are present employees should limit their personal or business chatter, especially if the employee is supposed to be focused on the customer. (For example, while someone is checking you out at a store, cleaning your teeth, doing your nails, fixing your car, etc.) They may not always be directly talking to the client or customer but they should at least give the appearance of being more interested in them than in socializing with a coworker.

If you mean frequent long, extended conversations about non-work related issues, that would probably be excessive and a manager would say it is too much. The issue isn’t whether or not employees can get their basic work done and still chat, it’s that often they aren’t available for anything but assigned work. They don’t have time for self-initiated, extra-value work or to do things like organizing supplies, planning for future projects or asking if they can help someone else. If they can do 8 hours of work well in 5 hours of actual work time perhaps the manager should figure out a way to reduce the staff by one or two employees and let the remaining ones get focused on work instead of talking.

Another problem with socializing to excess is that often the conversations become gossipy or negative about others in the office or the business. That is another reason to limit chats to a few minutes.

Fortunately, in most work places employees watch themselves and don’t consistently spend excessive time in conversation or other non-work activities. The fact is that socializing makes work fun for many people. For some, work is where their friends are but for most, it is a way to keep work from being all work and no play. The key to whether it’s appropriate is in that issue of getting work and extra work done; and talking about appropriate things. 2. Is there value in socializing on the job even if the people aren’t your friends away from work? Yes. Most of life and work is about relationships, even short-term or work-only relationships. Chatting builds confidence in coworkers, encourages cooperation and creates a feeling of camaraderie. That ties in with this next question.

3. When is working hard counter-productive? You say, “I make a conscious effort to throw myself into my work and avoid socializing.” An employee can’t sit in near-isolation all day and expect people to feel comfortable about asking for his or her help or working with him or her on a project. I’ve often mentioned the concept of three ways to gain influence: Be credible, be valuable and communicate effectively. The last two are directly related to the ability to engage people about themselves, their work, their lives and the things that matter to them; and to share those things in return. It could be that some of your work could be done easier if you were more relaxed about work and if you weren’t bothered or concerned excessively about relatively small, extraneous issues.

4. What can an introverted person do to participate more in conversation at work? I gather it isn’t your nature to speak up or to push into a conversation. Try starting it by email and start it by talking about work. For example, instead of walking up to a group and jumping in, send a short email to someone, asking about a matter of mutual interest or concern. “Tracy, I’m having trouble getting responses to questions about the property broker meeting next month. Are you having better luck than I am?” She may respond by email, but when you see her next time she’ll probably bring it up again; or you can. You seem to be concerned that you won’t get your work done if you talk to someone. Instead of trying to have long conversations, set aside ten minutes for “Relationship Building.” If ten minutes will destroy your work effort, you probably have other issues to contend with, so give that a try!

I don’t know what your work situation is like, so you will probably need to adapt this. On your way to the copier or the supply room or to the restroom, stop by someone’s desk or by a group that is talking and just say, “Hi! How is your day going?” Or, “I don’t want to bother you because I see that you’re busy, I just wanted to say hello.” That’s a way to break off the conversation quickly after a few sentences, so you can move on.

Move through the area, according to the type and size of your workplace, saying hello to two or three people, then go back to your desk and get back to work. At least you will be more energized and will have been seen reaching out to others.

I often teach about Instant Impact Communications. I’m referring to words, phrases or gestures that only take one or a few seconds but that convey a message. Positive ones are: A smile, a thumbs up, a head nod, a couple of silent hand claps, a couple of taps on a desk in passing, combined with a smile. Or, “Good job.” “Thanks!” “Wow, impressive!” “I appreciate that.” “Can I help?” “Way to go!” “You’re working hard today!” “Have a nice evening.”

Some negative but necessary ones might be a head shake with a slight frown, a hush expression, a gesture toward the clock, saying something like, “That’s not something I like to talk about.” “Uh oh, bad topic for me.” “This sounds like it’s going downhill.” “Don’t do that, OK?” “We’d better not talk about that here.”

The issue is to say it or do it and keep going so as not to put too much emphasis on a small matter, even though you wanted to communicate at least something about it.

So, the bottom lines on this long answer to what might have seemed like a relatively obvious issue is this: It’s possible to socialize too much and it’s possible to not socialize enough. It’s possible to not get enough work done and it’s possible to have an obsession about work. The best thing for you may be to purposely build some brief, casual conversational relationships, in keeping with your comfort level. But, also accept that it’s OK for you to focus more on work than others do and it’s OK for them to focus less on work than you do, if your supervisor seems approving of both of those levels of work.

Best wishes to you in your work as you seek to find ways to work hard but enjoy it more.

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Unfair Work Distribution

Question:

I work in a very small department in a hospital. I work primarily with two female doctors and their private secretaries. I have two co-workers who hold the same title/job as I do. My two coworkers and I see patients for many other doctors, but these two doctors provide a very large portion of the patients we see.

For the most part, they appreciate our workups and even fight over how many of our available work slots they get. The three of us have all passed a board certifying exam and theoretically are equally qualified.

It has become very apparent recently that both doctors have told their secretaries to book with co-worker A first and then us. Co-worker B also is given patients I am apparently not allowed to see.

Our performance development reviews are always good. I have never had either doctor come to me to ask me to do something different in my work-ups. They certainly request things occasionally, but I honestly cannot see a difference between co-worker A’s assessment and my own.

I can’t believe I have gone to university for four years, then did a two year professional post grad program in hopes of getting a good job just to be stuck in a situation like this. Hospital jobs in our profession are hard to come by. Seven people applied the year I graduated, so I was very lucky to get this job.

Please understand, I love seeing patients and doing my work. What I don’t like is that everyone seems to have control of us. Even though we have a schedule we are suppose to adhere to, we have to wait for the secretary to check the patient in and put up the chart before we can take the patient in. The patient can be here for 10 minutes before they check them in and our appointment slot is half over by the time we get the patient into the room.

The other day I waited 12 minutes for a chart and just as I finally got it, Doc A stopped me to ask me to do something for her that would take about 5 minutes. I’m sure she could tell I looked harassed, but I’ve learned not to say no. No one backs me up if I do. It’s not that I would get in trouble; in fact my coordinator would back me up and say my job is to see patients not do that task; but she had changed her attitude and I want to meet her half way.

Also, if I am between patients and am waiting, I don’t mind doing a little extra. Problem is, they don’t see it as us doing extra things for them. They see it as if this is part of our job. We had a meeting recently and the secretary was very nice to all of us until the meeting started and then it was like a bear came out and growled at all of us. I couldn’t believe that the doctor allowed her to talk to us like that or even that our coordinator let her. But everyone backs down around her. She was upset about us asking for time off because she has to then move patients. We try to do things as far in advance as possible, but frankly, it is part of her job to move patients.

So, no one listens to me. I have tried in the past and been unable to make the doctors listen to me. The secretaries are in control. Co-worker A is not ever going to stand up for us and frankly on one level enjoys that status of being the most wanted. Even the third co-worker who was very upset and going to talk to the coordinator has decided she isn’t sure she wants to be the one to rock the boat. Today co-worker three had two patients booked in. Co-worker A had almost a full day and I had no patients booked in. We are not unionized, I don’t believe we are in danger of losing a position, but even thought I am the middle one with seniority, I know I would be the one both doctors would want gone if they had to choose.

Normally I would have taken some of the patients, but I don’t feel like I can now. They truly want Co-worker A to see them, and this upset her. She asked me if I was going to speak to our coordinator and I said no, I wasn’t going to be the one to speak up again.

I have never been given a bad review and I don’t want the doctors to be pushed into putting something down on paper because they are in defensive mode. I am quite prepared if anything is said to ask my coordinator to sit in with during an exam to evaluate me, I know I am good at my job. Perhaps co-worker A is better, she’s been at it a decade longer than me, but why does it have to be a constant comparison? Why can’t we all be good? Why can’t we all be happy and do our jobs without this constant threat of you aren’t good enough……. I’m not sure what I can do to change this situation. There are literally no other jobs for me in this area. I feel like I have been unfairly judged and cannot undo people’s opinions of me. I can either fight for fairness and my reputation or I can back off and simply accept that life isn’t always fair. I have a good job and should I be pressing these doctors about why they want co-worker A over me? Should I not leave well enough alone and be grateful to be employed. Most days we are all fully booked so it doesn’t matter. It is just days like today that aren’t fully booked for all of us that it is noticeable.

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