Workplace Relations #1

I was about to write a post on this subject just before COVID struck. That same week ‘WFH’ became the latest buzzword, and my article fell into the ‘Keep for Later’ tray.

Our workspaces were now in our homes, laptops were provided (if our PCs were dinosaurs), and we were shown how to install the new ‘Zoom’ app (move over Mazda!). 

What BLISS!, we thought. No more buses, trains, traffic, piling leftovers on lunch sandwiches, looking for car keys, remembering our phone … Bad breath or body odour? No worries. This time, it’s only me, the cat, the dog, the children, or our partners. 

But we also easily forgot that we needed to look presentable for ‘zooming’ – once we figured out how to use it. Ladies began slapping on make-up, grooming their hair and wearing nice tops. Guys now had the excuse to grow beards, but had to ensure their underpants didn’t show (many thought it wiser leaving their trackies on).

Two years later it’s still WFH, with near-empty offices in major cities on Australia’s east coast, and even in Perth’s CBD I’m told. But as I re-read my draft article, it struck me that even after many Zoom sessions, what I had written before was relevant: whether on camera or in the flesh, we will still reveal our strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies to each other

While it’s not “Shirley who works on the front counter”, it’s still “Shirley who has that interesting mural behind her desk …” 

WFH has also made it difficult to maintain (and sustain) our ‘office’ or ‘business’ personas:  we get too relaxed and easily drop our guard on video calls. Of course, wearing trackpants and having people, pets and young children around doesn’t help. Colleagues will invariably see their co-workers behave very differently in this environment. Office chatter would now be mostly domestic (“I have to teach little Joey not to barge in!”). Unfortunately, no one can hide on camera. 

Can we still maintain good working relationships?

Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People” is one book I’ve kept reading. I first saw it in Mum’s cupboard when I was 16. My 1981 edition reads: 

“Some of the things most people want … Health. Food. Sleep. Money and the things money will buy. Life in the hereafter. Sexual gratification. The well-being of our children [and I’d like to add our families]. A feeling of importance.”  

Carnegie, D. [1936] (1981). How to Win Friends & Influence People [Revised edition], p.48. CollinsAngus&Robertson Publishers Limited: Pymble, New South Wales.  

Carnegie also quotes from William James: 

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated. … Here is a gnawing and unflattering human hunger, and the rare individual who honestly satisfies this hunger will hold people in the palm of his or her hand.” 

Carnegie, p.48.

Almost 90 years on, has anything changed?

In my 40 years dealing with colleagues and staff in payroll, I made a list of the ‘Least Likeable’ types of people. Yes, these are the few who make all our lives difficult:  

  • Attention seekers: They want all of your sympathy, admiration or approval 
  • Bullies: They attack as soon as they perceive your weak spot
  • Complainers and whingers: Simply annoying 
  • Fibbers and phonies: Be wary – they trick you into trusting them
  • Gossipers: They only need to see someone at work holding hands with X’s partner to spread the juicy news all round the office 
  • Self-Opinionated: They’re never wrong; if they make a mistake, it’s someone’s else’s fault
  • Show-offs and know-alls: Hmm … what do I know that they don’t?? 

You’ll find 1 or 2 of them popping up in your workplace at the very least, including those in higher positions who should know better! 

In payroll, most of the staff who called in to see us were kind, sincere and appreciative. I wondered why everyone else couldn’t be like them. It would make each day at work a happy one – and every Zoom call delightful. 

But alas, human nature is complex. People can be quite nasty and make life totally unbearable, but they allowed me to practise the people skills I had learnt. No more the shy, defensive girl from Singapore, I worked the phones, asserted myself and took up the challenge!  

This week, I’d like you to PASSIVELY OBSERVE people in your workplace. Listen and watch their likes, dislikes, attitudes and habits. And importantly, don’t be judgmental. Make notes if you like, but keep them at home!

Such observations are crucial – especially when you’re forced into having a conversation with that fellow worker who’s been giving you insomnia!

But HOW do you deal with difficult people? I’ll tell you next week.


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