Forgotten How to be Social at Work?

As the pandemic morphs into an endemic, many remote workers are being asked to return to the office — some are less excited about it than others. In this episode of My Crazy Office, Kathi and Katherine ask the question, “Have you forgotten how to be social at work?” If so, here’s what you can do about it.

Living in the Waiting Room

I don’t know about you, but I hate to wait. When faced with a long line at a store, a movie, a food bar or even a gas station, I’m the person who opts out, returning at another time when I won’t have to wait. In fact, until March of this year, waiting for anything seemed like an immense waste of time to me.

That was before the pandemic hit. Before we were all told to shelter in place. Before we understood the importance of social distancing. And before we were asked to wait in line at stores, at banks, at any place where people congregate to conduct their essential business.

Now, waiting is a form of caring, of preventing, of dealing with a situation we don’t yet have under control. We’re waiting for signs that it’s safe for the economy to slowly re-open. We’re waiting to see how schools will operate. We’re waiting to discover when and how sports teams, service businesses, and the entire entertainment industry will re-emerge.

It’s hard to be waiting in so many ways for so many things. The human brain is a planning brain and we desperately want to know what comes next. That unquenchable thirst for answers can mutate into uncomfortable feelings of anxiety, frustration, impatience, agitation, restlessness and even depression.

Today, we are all Living in the Waiting Room. We won’t have to be here forever, but it will be a while before we can re-launch our lives in any significant way. What follows are some thoughts about making the Waiting Room more tolerable:

Bring many forms of entertainment to the Waiting Room– good books, fun movies, knitting projects, crossword puzzles, word games, musical instruments, dance routines, sketch pads, new recipes – anything that takes your attention away from fretting, worrying or obsessing and allows your mind to be creative.

Take physical breaks from sitting in the Waiting Room – Go outside, take a run, go for a hike, yawn, stretch, shake your head and arms, walk around, pound a pillow. Physical movement helps move emotions through your body. Feelings of impatience, frustration and agitation can be reduced by increasing blood flow.

Connect with other people in the Waiting Room – We’ve heard over and over that we are in this together. Nothing confirms that more than striking up conversations with others who are waiting. Even if the novelty of video conferencing has worn off, it’s still essential to reach out to the people you care about and make contact. Human connection lessens anxiety and makes us feel less adrift.

Try not to obsess about when you’re getting out of the Waiting Room – This is a hard request. You know that person in the waiting room who paces back and forth, looks at the time, stares at their phone, insists on being the first to be informed? Don’t be that person. Understand the limits of endless news briefings, medical predictions, scare tactics, and conspiracy theories. None of those items are going to get us out of here faster. And everyone is working on getting things moving again.

One other thing about the Waiting Room – each person, each family has their own set of concerns, their own set of pressures that they are juggling.  Appreciating that we are all dealing with different conditions is part of living in the Waiting Room. You don’t have to feel guilty if your conditions are less difficult than others, but you can be respectful and appreciate the wide range of challenges that each person in the Waiting Room is managing.

Katherine Crowley – Career Therapist and co-owner of K Squared Enterprises

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Responding to negative feedback

How do you feel when someone offers negative feedback to you? Do you appreciate it? Do you wish the person would go away? Do you bristle or blush or get steaming mad?

Receiving, processing and responding to feedback that isn’t positive can be a challenging exercise for many people. If you’re someone who cares deeply about your work, if you’re determined to produce excellent results, negative feedback can be humbling — even painful.

But it’s also extremely rich. If you can take the message and use it for learning purposes, (instead of a whipping post) negative feedback always helps you grow.

Today, if someone criticizes your way of performing a task, or corrects your presentation, or re-writes your copy or critiques your design, see if you can take the information in without feeling bad about yourself or despising the messenger.

Say “I’m willing to find the good in this moment.” Take a breath, thank the person who delivers it, and take a little time to cool off. Then use the feedback to improve your professional self.

Before You Offer Advice…

Before you offer advice, make sure that the person on the receiving end is open to hearing it.

Sometimes, we think we know what someone needs to do or say or even wear at work. We’re sure that we’re right, and if our colleague or client would just listen to us, a certain problem or situation would immediately improve.

But offering unsolicited advice to someone who’s not ready to receive it can create more problems going forward.

Before you offer advice, stop and take the recipient’s temperature.

Say, “I’ve got a few ideas about how to resolve _________. Let me know when you’re ready to hear it.”

If you’re itching to advise a colleague on a personal matter like health or weight or love life, you’re better off waiting until that person requests your input.

If you can’t hold it in, say, “I’m having a strong reaction to ________. Can we discuss it?” Or “I’m really concerned about ________ . “ and see how the listener responds.

It may be hard to zip your lip. You may feel anxious and frustrated. But learning when and how to offer advice is an important life skill. It takes practice to offer assistance in a way that can be received.

Going with the Flow

Sometimes, the things we plan to do at work get completely derailed by other events that demand our attention. Your internet connection goes down, the lights blow out, a client emergency arises, or someone calls in sick.

In these moments, it’s easy to become both exasperated and tense. ‘How am I going to complete my list of tasks?’ you wonder. ‘Why did this have to happen?’

When unplanned events throw a wrench in your plans, your best strategy is to practice going with the flow. Going with the flow means you take a deep breath, adjust to the circumstances, and trust that things will work out. Going with the flow requires accepting the current reality of what just happened and moving with it.

Going with the flow at work is not an airy fairy response to emergencies and interruptions. Rather it’s an understanding that these sudden events are a part of life.

If something happens today that upsets your plans, try going with the flow. Take a deep breath, incorporate the new reality, and trust that tending to this inconvenient occurrence doesn’t have to ruin your day.

Hitting the Pause Button

If you are like most people, the people and devices around you at work require constant interaction. Emails demand a reply. Meetings fill your calendar and require participation. Social media portals buzz, click, tweet and ping – insisting that you respond in kind. It’s easy to spend an entire day reacting and responding, without actually accomplishing anything.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed; if it seems like you never get any traction on the projects that you truly care about, try hitting the pause button. The next time someone insists that you take on a new task, ask for a moment to think about it. If you’re at your desk feeling pulled in ten directions, close all your files (paper and digital) for a minute. Hit the pause button, allow your brain to re-boot and discover its priorities. Pause long enough to evaluate what efforts are worth your time and what can simply wait.

Sometimes, you may discover that you need to say, “no,” to the latest demand for your attention, or “not now.” Sometimes, you may decide to put down whatever you’re doing and address a more pressing issue. Pause, recalibrate, and move forward with your day. Take a few moments to decide what matters most.

Boundaries, Anger and You

Interpersonal boundaries, the lines or parameters that define and protect the territory between individuals, can be difficult to discern. How do I know when my behavior feels invasive to you? How can you tell if you’ve offended my sense of propriety?

Because interpersonal boundaries are imperceptible to the human eye, and because they differ from person to person, they have to be communicated. Part of the work at work involves defining and expressing your own interpersonal boundaries.

Here’s a hint: If you are continually angry, upset or complaining about someone or something, you probably need to set a boundary.

In this case, anger can be your friend. It’s telling you that you feel invaded and probably need to protect yourself. It’s important not to act out in anger. Rather, notice who and what bothers you. Then consider whether you need to communicate a boundary.

If a coworker’s voice is too loud, can you ask that person to lower the volume – explaining that you’re having a hard time concentrating?

If your client is behind in payment, can you explain that until you receive payment for work already delivered, you won’t be able to move on future projects?

If your boss or coworkers habitually email you at midnight, can you stop responding to all emails after 10 p.m.?

Use your anger as a signal that someone may be inadvertently invading your territory. Then see what you can say or do to communicate your limit.

Giving Yourself Credit

Ever notice yourself wanting more credit or recognition or appreciation from others for your hard work? Ever resent the people who have no problem patting themselves on the back or bragging about their accomplishments?

Building your own sense of value and confidence at work is an ongoing exercise. This is especially true if you work for someone who is highly demanding or extremely critical. It may also be true if you work for a company that expects everyone to bend over backwards to meet its goals

Today, try giving yourself credit for the things you wish someone else would appreciate. If you finish a report ahead of schedule, pat yourself on the back. If you field numerous customer complaints, acknowledge the skill and patience it took to do that. If you solve a major glitch in a software program, stand up and take a bow.

Taking a moment to savor your successes will increase you enjoyment at work. If you’re too busy to notice what you accomplished during the day, take a moment after work to write down three things you did right.

Yes, it would be better if the people you work for were more appreciative, but don’t let that stop you from taking in the good.