Are you and your co-workers ‘Perfect Strangers’?

by Rich DeMatteo on January 12, 2010 · 35 comments

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perfect-strangersLarry Appleton had just moved to Chicago for a more private life, away from his large family in Wisconsin.  Unfortunately for Larry, but fortunately for all of us, his distant cousin Balki Bartokomous drops in for a visit, which completely shatters the life Larry was seeking.  Even though the two are extremely different, Larry lets Balki stay with him long-term as a his roommate and the two develop a rocky friendship.  Balki comes from a Mediterranean island called Mypos, is extremely eccentric, and knows very little about America.  Simply put, Larry and Balky come from different worlds and learn to co-exist.

Coexisting with your co-workers

Who do you spend more time with, your family or your co-workers?  I ask those of you who work from home to kindly not answer this.   For the rest of you, I’m almost positive you’re seeing much more of your colleagues at work than your spouse, partner, kids, dog, paper boy, and Oprah.  With this much time spent together, we need to find a way to be friends, or at least coexist.

We never know what to expect when meeting co-workers for the first time.  Usually, they are nothing like us, they come form a different culture or background, and have their share of annoying quirky behaviors.  Even with these obvious  differences, sometimes we are able to mesh and make friends with these annoying folks.  In some situations it’s not so easy, and we simply need to find a way to just coexist, because our career depends on it.  And my suggestion is?

Become Perfect Strangers

When you realize there are clear and annoying differences between you and a co-worker, make a strong effort to become buddies.  Ask that person to go to lunch with you, spend a few minutes at their desk just bullshitting, or even ask them to go to happy hour.  Developing a real friendship probably won’t happen, but  just including them in your plans can take the business relationship far.  At the end of the day, the two of you need to work with each other to be successful, so you owe it to yourself to spend a few annoying hours with this person when necessary.

Who knows, maybe after some lunch time gossip or a few beers at happy hour, the two of you will be performing the ‘Dance of Joy’ together…

Do you have any annoying co-worker stories?

What tactics have you used to befriend, coexist, or just become ‘perfect strangers’ with colleagues?

Want to do the ‘Dance of Joy’ with me?

Let me know, Corn Heads!

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29 comments
Diane Prince Johnston
Diane Prince Johnston

Hi Rich. I agree that it is good to get to know co-workers a little bit more however, from my personal experience and in reference to the happy hour suggestion, it is never a good idea to hit the bar with an annoying person from the neighboring cubicle. Not so much because of the irritating hour or two lost from your life and never to be regained but more so due to the risk of running your mouth after a couple of house margaritas only to face the offender the next day with the realization that you, in fact, are the problem! Or maybe it's just me and that's why I work from home with my dog.

Elisa
Elisa

The number of people who do not know or reference 80's sitcoms hurts my heart a little. And Perfect Stangers was one of my favorites. I actually DID a dance of joy when I got my column. Like went out to the Jeep, jumped in, closed the door and danced around to the happiness in my world, no music at all. My colleagues and I get along well enough but our personalities are like a melting pot of differences. My boss created his team that way. Our differences scrape against each other like sandpaper. Sure, sometimes we scratch a finish or cause a little pain, but in the end our product is smoothed and refined and we kick a lot of ass at what we do. It took almost 2 years for us to get to this point, though. And we still sometimes have issues and our dance of joy is more of a knife-fight of anger, but we work through it. Can you tell I have the utmost of love-hate relationships with my team?! :)

Nicole Crimaldi
Nicole Crimaldi

LOVE this post. I'm going to selfishly use it as a spring board to gather some advice about my own office woes: 1. I am THE only Gen Y'er in the whole department. It's me, age 25, and then most others are 45+. I find that many of them will not look at me in the eye when I pass, they will not respond more than a word when I say "good morning how are you" in the coffee room. 2. I'm assuming they feel a young person like me did not deserve the job. Most of them have been with the company their whole careers. They choose to have an attitude of being a martyr, even though it was their choice to work there for so many years. 3. I get a lot of snickery comments about the way I dress (some which border sexual harassment), how small I am, how young I am, that I live alone in the city (while they have families in the suburbs). I'm not sure how to best address these issues but it's getting old. I think your idea of doing lunch, trying to start conversation, etc is a great start of breaking the ice. Maybe once they get to know me they won't hate so much!

Fran Holm Hogan
Fran Holm Hogan

Hi Rich, You asked those who work from home to kindly not answer this. Well, that's me so I won't answer. Just wanted you to know that I enjoyed reading the post and all the responses. Also......I work at home because I was probably one of those annoying co-workers when I worked in corporate.....and all my co-workers were annoying. This works out for everyone. Thanks for the fun read!

Melyssa Bernstein
Melyssa Bernstein

Great post and who doesn't want to take a trip down memory lane of hilarious 80's sitcoms? I miss Balki. It's posts like these that make me realize how I fortunate I am to work with a group of people I absolutely adore. We are a small office of just women and although that may sound like a recipe for disaster, we get along really well (knock on wood). Respecting your coworkers, their space and their life outside the office is key. We hang outside of work for the occasional happy hour, baby shower, wedding, etc. but for the most part we live our own lives. And they're just NOT annoying so that helps too. :)

Jonathan Hyland
Jonathan Hyland

Talk about ABC's TGIF flashbacks... I think it's important to make an effort to "get to know" the folks at work. When I first got into the working world, I actually shied away from it. Work was work, and that was that. As I got to know my co-workers, though, and went out to lunch, etc. I found that I actually had a lot in common with them. Fortunately, my company does give us several opportunities to "get together." We have end of the month lunches, Bagel Fridays (mm, bagels for breakfast), a summer picnic, and volunteer activities throughout the year. Sure, team building might be for suckers (ha-ha for obscure HR blog references), but it can be fun.

Grace Boyle
Grace Boyle

Ha, I love this Perfect Strangers reference (and theme song). I always try to make an extra effort with co-workers, especially when I'm new. I invite and plan lunches, grabbing a coffee and happy hour. At my current job, we're very close as a team and there are very few 'riffs' or trying to co-exist. However, we become closer and understand each other better by: hiking in the morning before work (our team), our whole company has monthly happy hours, we go to lunch together and company outings like go-karting encouraging us to all co-exist and connect inside and outside of the office to have a better work environment. Such a good post!

Jenny
Jenny

HEADPHONES. There was a two month period when I blasted Kings of Leon all day. Baileys in coffee. JK. hahah

Srinivas Rao
Srinivas Rao

I can't necessarily think of any co-workers that I've had that were particularly annoying. But, it's a really interesting analogy that you've used here to analyze co-existing in a working environment.

Dawn Lennon
Dawn Lennon

Such a clever way to address an issue that can slither out from under a cubicle and wrap itself surreptitiously around your legs. In my case, the issue was office snakes and how to keep prevent the poisonous ones from biting me. There are always people at work (usually only a few) who want to keep us back, whether because of jealousy, bias, competitiveness, or an inclination toward bitterness. The suggestions you offer are great. I would also add trying to find a way to help your "perfect stranger" achieve something they want but can't get without your help. When we add value to a relationship, it tends to thrive. In time the value we add can turn into gratitude and finally shared regard. It always pay to defuse a potentially bad situation rather than to ignite one. Another great post, Rich. Always loved that show!

Royce
Royce

I feel reasonably confident that me jumping into my coworkers arms constitutes an HR violation. I also like that you summarized the show's premise, AND included the Dance of Joy video. That's diligence. I dunno about your suggestion though, I've had at least one super annoying co worker and the last thing I want to do is spend out-of-work time with them. We have little in common and it would be tough to hold a conversation with them. I just try to keep it as professional as possible in all my interactions. I also have a weird office social dynamic. I have a very small corporate office in which I work, and nearly everybody is older. And we have never done anything outside of work. The most we've done as a company is company lunches for birthdays. My network is atrophied as a result :(

Beth
Beth

Nice post! Not to mention my favorite show of all time. I really agree with the message here - for awhile at my office, there was a culture of silence. literally. People didn't talk to each other, and less things got done. I finally have started reaching out, saying hello, making friends, and it has changed my atmosphere here. No, I am not BFF with everyone, but it works. And most importantly, you can find really creative and awesome ways to work things out if you have the right relationship with some people. Great ideas :) P.S. JUST saw your invoice. Will do ASAP.

pfm
pfm

Do you have any annoying co-worker stories? They're all annoying. The tactics I use to coexist include jedi mind tricks, soviet mind f****, sabotage, common allergens, petty revenge, dirty tricks, physical intimidation and yodeling cowboy music.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Diane - Solid points here. Hmm, so what happens if We are the problem... Maybe once we realize it, we will be able to make things easier. Maybe not. I like the sound of working home with my dog. I

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Elisa - so glad you did a dance of joy when you received your column, that is 100% awesome! It seems like your love-hate is intense but you get through it. As always, thanks or the comment!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Nicole - Let me comment on each point you bring up: 1. They probably are a bit jealous that you are so young and have a lot to look forward to, and they are still there and haven't left. Make them feel special, ask for their advice (even if you don't need it). Make them feel important to you. People love to share stories, make them come up with a story. 2. Again, make them feel like you are amazed to be working with such great people. Appear humble to them (not saying you already don't) and it could open them up. 3. The sexual harassment shit needs to end. If they say things that border it, make your voice known that it isn't right. Don't hold back from stating that you feel anything they say is an unwelcome threat or comment. This would be a clear case of hostile work environment harassment. Once you feel some of these things have calmed down, try reaching out to lunch. Be the bigger person and make this shit work for you. If not, then just try to coexist, like you already are doing.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Fran - lucky that you can work from home! I always loved being able to, hope I can at some point in my next job!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hi Melyssa, yes who wouldn't want to visit the 80's? Balki was the man. Sounds like you are in a great situation. A perfect match is always best, glad you don't need to resort to battle tactics to get through the day!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Jonathan - I definitely shied away from it, so I know what you are talking about. Team building is important and I'm glad you took advantage of those opportunities.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Isn't it a great them, Grace? Wow, hiking before work? That is incredible. Your team certainly goes above and beyond. I feel it is important to have that bond between team members to introduce respect and commitment to each other.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Jenny, head phones will work. Baileys in coffee can work too. What were they drinking? haha

Infinity
Infinity

Hahahaha. I’m not too brgiht today. Great post!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Srini - my mind thinks in TV and movies far too often, and this show made 'perfect' sense to me. Thanks!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hiya Dawn, office snakes sounds tricky. Keep those away at any cost. Great suggestion also. Adding value to the relationship and helping them with something is a great way to build a bond, or at least the start of one.

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Royce - Umm, yes, I was too busy screaming when I found that video to think of the HR consequences....damn it. As long as you guys work together OK, then maybe there is no need to offer a hand out. Having someone respect you in the office can go far, and that is really the only basis of my suggestions. Do you use Linkedin? There are other ways to build your network. Hope that company isn't slowing you down!

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Hey Beth - glad to see you gained value from this. Definitely don't need to be a BFF with everyone, but it is nice to at least get along. Looking forward to seeing what fun ideas you come up with, when you receive the shirt

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Not the most HR friendly response, but I'm laughing a good bit. I think my favorite is "common allergens".

Royce
Royce

I don't use LinkedIn because, well, I'm a terrible human being apparently. What exactly is the benefit of LI though, if I'm not actively job searching? I mean why LI versus just like, strong resume, knowing a 100-comment-blogger (ahem), etc?

Rich DeMatteo
Rich DeMatteo

Add me on linkedin, Royce (if you'd like) - rdematteo@gmail.com The benefit of linkedin can go further than just a job search. Can help with sales, promotion, consulting gigs, etc. You never know what opportunity could come your way from a connection. It is your business connection portfolio!