4 Thoughts We All Have When Dealing With Crappy, Competitive Co-Workers
I’ve now been in the “real world” workforce for a few years, and I have a confession I need to get off of my chest.
I am scared and incapable of working with a directly equal counterpart.
I first realized this was a struggle during my college internship.
The summer prior to my senior year, a work friend and I vented about various problems with our internship.
Specifically, we vented about an abrasive and very loud intern, who was a point of frustration for both of us.
“I don’t dislike her,” I remember saying. “But we would never be friends outside of work.”
“Same,” my friend said. “But, I don’t think you and I would be friends either if we worked together all the time.”
I didn’t think much about it then, but after the conversation ended, the words echoed in my head.
Why wouldn’t my actual friend and I be friends?
Was the problem not with the co-worker we both disliked?
Was the problem actually with me?
At the time, I brushed off the negativity and went on with my life.
When the internship ended, I graduated from college, stayed in touch with my friend and started my first "real world" job.
It was a heck of a year.
I remember speaking with my father the week before I started my entry-level assistant job.
“The real world is like high school,” he told me. “Just be careful.”
At the time, I brushed that off as well.
We’re decades and generations apart.
I thought what was true for him, but probably wouldn’t be true for me.
I was dead wrong.
During my first in-person interaction with my boss (a high-ranking executive), I was given a Miranda Priestly once-over, complete with a “Where on Earth are your high heels?” glare.
The first task I was asked to complete was thrown at me by a bitter woman nearing the end of her fellowship who thought she deserved my job more than I did.
The woman who had previously held my job was — as I quickly found out — dismissive, unhelpful and disinterested in me.
I tried to fight it; I really did.
But, I ended up disliking her just as much as I did my old co-intern.
When explaining it to friends, I spoke of her inability to take her personal items off of what was now my desk (because she was “just super busy”) and her “Oh, that’s nice” responses during our small talk.
Friends quickly called it like they saw it (my co-worker being the worst), and they were very happy for me when I announced I was leaving for a better job.
When I left, my predecessor didn’t even bother to say goodbye.
"That’s fine," I remember thinking. "It’s not like I really wanted to say goodbye, either."
And yet, a similar instance occurred at the next job.
The guy I was assigned to occasionally coordinate with was cocky and dismissive, and he frequently insulted my character when things didn’t go his way.
I caved into my instincts much more quickly this time.
I openly discussed my dislike of my co-worker with friends, family and even my boss when she expressed concern that I was too trusting of my co-workers.
“I don’t want to make you paranoid,” my boss told me, “but people can turn from friend to jerk just like that.”
She snapped her fingers.
“Just, you know, be careful.”
My dad’s initial advice sprung back into my head, and I realized I had a serious co-worker problem.
Or perhaps, more appropriately, I had a problem with my co-workers.
It’s incredibly easy to find studies, literature and other thought pieces on competition in the workplace, especially if you’re looking at women-versus-women competition.
But, my problem wasn’t that I didn’t like my female co-workers.
Truthfully, I like a lot of my co-workers, both male and female.
My problem was that I disliked the people I was assigned to coordinate directly with.
After some serious thought, I boiled my unfortunate pattern down to four possibilities:
1. Everyone I've worked with sucks.
I understand that this is probably not true.
2. I suck.
I am really hoping that this is also probably not true.
3. My past co-workers and I are all ambitious and competitive people.
I don't mean in a "Legally Blonde" Vivienne Kensington way.
But, we might have been eager to find reasons to dislike each other because we felt threatened.
This seems too convenient to believe (and also inaccurate), which is why I don’t think it’s true.
4. Everyone is a jerk.
Yeah, I also thought the phrasing for number four was pretty strong, but thinking that everyone is a jerk made me realize that, in actuality, nobody is a jerk.
And yes, it turns out that the problem is, in fact, me.
I’ve been blinded by an idyllic picture of what the workplace is “supposed” to be like.
We watch "The Office," where Jim and Dwight have a kooky, yet friendly rivalry, and "Parks and Recreation," where the department is essentially one big family.
These shows give us this idea of what the workplace is supposed to be like.
Today, if you don’t have a “work spouse” or an Ann to your Leslie, then you’re probably a lonely and pathetic loser who eats lunch at your desk.
Or, you’re just a normal person.
We glorify the image of what work should be.
We do it through social media, through traditional media and through gossip over drinks.
If our work life doesn’t fit that ideal, it can feel like we’re not doing our work correctly.
It can feel like everyone is a jerk.
Looking back on my old co-workers, I don’t think they were nice people.
But, they weren’t out to get me.
They simply went about their days and focused on themselves instead of on those around them.
It’s not considerate (and not something that I would recommend), but in the end, there’s nothing wrong with how they acted or with how I acted.
Though, if we’re being honest, I could probably focus less on my co-workers and more on my work if I didn't have to deal with petty drama.
We simply didn’t connect, and I hope to someday find somebody I do professionally get along with.
Occasionally, my mind still lingers on the co-workers I never connected with.
I know it’s in the past and that it doesn’t truly matter, but I wonder if I’m even on their radars.
But, once again, I have more important things to focus on.