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The brutal pain of rejection can make a workplace difficult

Columnist Dave Conrad says keep your head down, stay positive, and new co-workers should open up to your positivity.

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Quote of the Week: "Know your limitations and be content with them. Too much ambition results in promotion to a job you can't do." — Ricky Gervais, actor

Dear Dave,

After several months of unemployment, I finally found a job. It isn’t the greatest job, but it is a job. The problem is my new company has laid off many employees over the past couple of years and there is a great deal of resentment among the workers. The mood of my new department is horrible, and it is quite an unfriendly place to work. I know that because some of the workers had to see their friends leave, they wonder why I was hired and consider me to be some kind of invading opportunist or even a spy.

How can I go about developing relationships with my new co-workers and let them know I have been kicked around too?

— D

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Dear D,

The answer is, you should be and stay positive, hard-working, and friendly. And, if and when you get to converse with your coworkers on a personal level, you should also make it clear to them that your employment history has had difficulties and scuffles and you certainly understand how people feel when they lose their jobs.

We all try to judge books by their covers. If others get a peak at your chapters, and fully comprehend what you have been through, there is a greater likelihood they will learn to accept you into their fold. Maybe misery loves company — and you should try to make friends with your coworkers and not betray their trust. But you cannot let yourself be lowered to the marching “negativity parade.” You have work to do, and you don’t want to get fired.

I have found through the years that when I have a really difficult time with a coworker, my best strategy — in order to remain civil and be able to have a solid relationship with them — is to be kind, focused and remain as productive as I can. Even if the coworker resentment lingers, you can take great personal satisfaction in knowing you are doing good work and making a positive difference. In essence, you can’t change the attitudes of your coworkers, but you can control yours … and your behaviors.

Framing the situation

A friend of mine is a manager of a large healthcare institution department, and he tells me that how we feel and what we believe at any given time — especially at work — is a matter of perspective, choice and handling. Simply, how we see things dictates our decisions and shapes what they will become.

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He says a trick he learned is to take a vivid mental picture of a situation — whether it is a negative conversation or an interaction with others — that is causing him anguish and he then frames it as a snapshot photo he can almost hold in his hand. He then acknowledges the event and how it made him feel. He then forgives the person(s), or himself, for not living up to expectations or actions, and he then rips up the picture and gets on with his responsibilities by creating and viewing a new “most desired picture” of the way things (should be). Perception becomes reality.

To be clear, I don’t recommend avoidance of a stressful situation, nor even denial of the reality that is taking place. I do recommend that you see the beliefs and feelings of others for what they are, do the best you can, and realize you can’t control the perceptions of others – you can only control your own. This is taking responsibility, being an adult and controlling your emotions.

You will sleep better at night knowing you are doing the best you can.

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The music lives on

In the whole scheme of things, and if you can be productive and stay friendly and open to dialogue and interaction with others, people will want what you have as time goes by. Unless someone enjoys living in a hateful world of resentment and takes delight when others fall into that same trap, they can and will change.

And there is a greater likelihood they will become increasingly friendly to you — if you stay strong and determined. I know it’s tough, but it is the right thing to do.

When others have a huge chip on their shoulder, I believe they are the ones who need kindness the most, even though they may view civility and kindness as signs of weakness. We have to remember that all people — including you — have a history of employment mistreatment and not being fully accepted by others in past jobs.

After awhile, your coworkers will come to realize that you are only trying to do your work and be who you are. Once they reach that point, and if you continue to reach out to them, they will begin to respond positively … bit by bit.

Contact Dave Conrad with questions or comments at conradd@augsburg.edu . Conrad is an associate professor of business at Augsburg University in Rochester.

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