Constantly the Butt of the Joke

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being labeled slow:

I’m an employee of three months at a coffee house. I’ve got most of the responsibilities down. I enjoy my work, like all of my coworkers, and feel confident in saying they like me too. We’ve gotten through the initial Getting Acquainted phase and worked out how to talk, relate, banter and be serious with each other without someone hitting a nerve.

My problem is, the way of relating we’ve cussed out seems to depend largely on good-natured ribbing directed at me. ‘He’s slow on the bar,’ ‘He can’t do math,’ stuff like that. Work-related. My coworkers always add, ‘You know I’m joking,’ ‘We love you, man,’ etc. And they mean it. But I need a new way to relate to them. I know they’re kidding and tend to roll my eyes gamely, but this does make it difficult to tell when I really do need to work on an element of my job, like multitasking or speed v. quality. Also, I want to eventually work up to management, and don’t think this workplace image will help. So how do I relate to them differently? Thanks.

Signed, Work Related Ribbing

Dear Work Related Ribbing:

If you have scanned even a few dozen of our thousand Q&As, you would have realized how fortunate you are to be working in a job you like and with coworkers who like you; like you well enough to rib you. Every natural work group interacts in ways around three dimensions: inclusion, power, and attraction. That is to say each individual within a work is concerned about if he (I gather you are a he) is “in” or on the fringes and where he is in the up-down of who is in charge and has more or less influence. Add to this and because of these two primary dimensions/tensions, he feels the mutual warmth of liking or coolness of being disliked.

Three months is long enough for these tensions to develop into roles and processes that make your coffee house work; by providing the products and service that make customers happy. Sure learning the ropes, an expression that goes back to sailing ships, takes time. Naturally being new, a jab here and there makes those, who’ve worked there longer, assert their superior know-how. You probably have learned from the ribbing about how to do the job more efficiently. And when new hires come along, some of the regulars might rib the newcomers by saying, “Don’t do it like Jim (or whatever is your name), he’s our klutz, but we love him.”

Now if that happens you could take it as a hurt or you could good-naturedly say, “They have shaped me to be better than I naturally am and I’m becoming better cup by cup.” You have aspirations wanting to work up to management. Soak up everything about the job. Informally and formally ask questions to learn how well you are learning. Stay humble and eager to please. That way you make others’ jobs easier and more effective. See yourself as a cheerleader.

Cheer leading is one side of managing. Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. By that I mean think team. Think interdependence. Think dancing with the stars. Think that you and your coworkers are on a journey of forming, norming, occasionally weathering storming, and performing. That is a sequence that in the forming stage people are careful to not offend and as the trip continues they get to know each other well enough that they kid each other, find their roles and what is expected. You’ve been through these early stages and may encounter some more difficult times; however, I predict with your good spirit you will have a good journey.

William Gorden