On some level, we all want to like our co-workers. Eight hours a day (or more) sitting next to someone is certain to go a lot more smoothly if you enjoy the company. But what happens when the relationship among staff has more animosity than amicability? And worse yet, what happens when it’s directed at you? Hill Navigator discusses.
Q. I landed a great job with a great boss on the Hill but I just don't seem to fit in with the other staff. They often go to receptions and don't invite me and they don't include me when they go out for happy hour. They have been working together long before I started and know each other well but don’t seem to like me. How do I get them to include me?Ah, the dreaded, “my co-workers don’t like me.” Just when you think you’ve outgrown the last of the popularity contests, you’ve landed in the middle of a competitive, close-knit bunch and you’re the odd one out.
Before launching into advice, let’s take a moment for hurt feelings, shall we? At the heart of being disliked is the painful, visceral uneasiness that comes with it. Even if you’re confident in your abilities, have dear friends, strong relationships and plenty of activities outside of work, it won’t change the ugly feelings that come with stepping inside of an office that isn’t exactly pleased to see you .
So what to do about it?
1) Look for the sliver of friendship. Most co-workers don’t all-out dislike one another; the negative feelings usually hover around “feigned indifference” on the animosity scale. Find moments when a co-worker is feeling appreciative or friendly, and use that time to reciprocate. Most staffers have a lot of tasks heaped on their plate and there are usually some things others can do to help. Volunteer to be that person. Focus on the appreciative nod or smile as a way to gain standing.
2) Try to minimize harm. Even the most beloved of us have annoying habits and small office spaces with long hours tend to make our little tics louder and more prominent. Rather than point fingers, try to minimize the things you could be doing that others might find less than endearing. If you can’t or aren’t willing to change your behavior, try acknowledging it with an apology. As in, “Sorry that I’m taking yet another conference call on speaker phone, but I’ll try and make it quick.”
3) Go to bat for others. Want to endear yourself to your co-workers? Be the one who has their backs. People appreciate someone who is willing to stand up for them, help them in a pinch or graciously share credit. Not sure where to start? Try taking an interest in their work. And in the era of over-sharing, it can be fairly easy to know what’s important to someone outside of the office, too.
4) Whine. Just not to your co-workers! Relationships can take a while to change, and feeling unloved in the office is something that can wear on any of us fairly quickly. Venting your concerns might be one way to make the day easier for you. But make sure your confidante of choice is not connected to your office, preferably someone who lives across the country and has no idea who these people are, except by name.
5) Ask the hard questions. Maybe this isn’t the office for you. Perhaps this animosity is spilling over to other areas of your life. Or maybe there is an office bully and this needs to be flagged for the higher-ups. If such hard questions yield alarming answers, take action. Both the Office of Employee Assistance and the Office of Compliance offer confidential counseling for congressional employees — including agency employees such as the Capitol Police and those who work for the Architect of the Capitol — and can help sort through the issue and see if it’s worth escalating further.
And when all else fails, bringing in doughnuts works wonders. Good luck.
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