A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem
Getting Along at Work
Dear Sue: I work with a group of professional and mostly college
educated people who act as though they are in high school. There are
people who brown-nose, gossip, befriend you only when no one else is
around, and those who will do anything to be a part of the “in” crowd.
High school was hard enough, and I was glad to get out of that place. I
didn’t expect things to be the same the workplace. I am not sure how to
deal with some of these ‘adolescents’.
– Out of high school
Sue Says: No degree will ensure professional behavior in the
workplace. The ability to get along with people and adapt to different
personalities and types of people we encounter is a key component of
survival in the workplace. In some ways, the workplace is like high
school, not only because of the time spent there, but because it’s often
where we connect with people and look for a sense of belonging. The
relationship component of a job can be crucial -- if it is important to
someone, but missing, it can lead to unhappiness, which can make going to
work everyday miserable. If we never figured out how to deal with the
trouble makers in our lives or how to be a part of a group, we may find
ourselves struggling with the same issues we did in high school when they
surface in the workplace. It is a painful reminder and reinforcement of
our old feelings of inadequacy.
Look at what happens at high school reunions -- we go to the reunion,
and what do we do? Most of us talk to the same people we always talked to,
hang out with the same group we used to hang out with, and simply say a
casual hello to those we used to say “hi” to in the hallway. It can be 10,
15 or 25 years later, and we often find ourselves reverting to our old,
comfortable behaviors. Many of us do the same thing every day – we act in
a manner that we find most comfortable without even thinking about it,
never realizing that some of these behaviors date back to where we learned
them – in high school.
The person who was quiet and shy in school may have excelled in his/her
studies, but not with people. As an adult, this person is likely to excel
in his/her job skills, but may struggle with interpersonal issues. It’s
not that people can’t change, because they can, but won’t be motivated
until there is a need. The need often results from a poor review, a missed
opportunity, or when the person realizes that his/her shyness is impacting
his/her advancement opportunities.
If things at work are reminding you of your past, try to identity what
the recurring theme for you is all about. If you’ve felt ‘left out’ most
of your life, and find yourself feeling the same way at work, acknowledge
that the feeling you have now could be a result of past experiences.
Be aware of your old and negative behaviors and work at changing them.
Then be sure to identify you’re strengths and embellish on them. You can’t
change or control the actions of others, but you can change and control
your response and begin to serve as a role model for others.
Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She
is author of the newly released
101 Tips for Graduates and
How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her web site at
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