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Compiled and edited by Julie Tereshchuk
In February 2020, I was thrilled to start my new job and get settled in at the office. Then, before I’d had a chance to get to know colleagues and management, we all started WFH. I’m still enjoying the work, but am concerned about handling office small talk when we’re back face-to-face, which we are being encouraged to do now, although with the option of flexing between WFH and in-office working.
I still don’t know people well and have found it easy in virtual meetings to hide my personal feelings when people make comments about politics, the pandemic, social justice, etc. (Going off-camera is such a boon!)
Now, I’m worried about how I’ll handle water cooler-type chatter when faced with real people. Do I keep my opinions to myself? Do I speak up?
And advice would be much appreciated.
Above all, simply be yourself, listen, and communicate clearly.
To practice social skills, look for opportunities to socialize in other settings for practice. WCA events are a perfect place! Also, many groups are starting to reconvene in person. Look for networking events (try Meetup and NextDoor) if you are vaccinated and feel safe in groups again.
If you don’t find any, start your own! Maybe a book club or neighborhood game night.
Regarding whether you should speak up when the conversation turns to what some might consider “uncomfortable” topics, I look to my mood, my values, and my estimation of how the other person might react. For example, if I’m in a setting where a sensitive topic comes up, I ask myself the following questions:
- Am I interested in this topic?
- Would keeping quiet go against my values?
- Is this likely to lead to a spirited discussion or a shouting match?
Personally, I believe that debate is at the heart of a functioning democracy, so the idea that we shouldn’t talk politics goes against my values. I also recognize that it’s really hard and also very unproductive to do this in some settings. Often a safe bet is to simply ask people about their beliefs and how they came to them, putting aside whether you agree or disagree, at least initially. That’s a good way to learn about people and “test the waters” for a deeper discussion. Good luck!