Kuta Beach

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Saturday, 10 July 2010

Defensive Socializing in the Workplace

A friend of mine from work has just come back from a holiday from Thailand. I had lunch with him and the first thing he talks about are the brothels he has visited while on holidays and how beautiful and attractive the women in these brothels are. This man is engaged to be married.

Socializing in the workplace is difficult to avoid, but it is diffierent to socializing outside of work. If you meet someone in, say, a shopping centre and become friends with her, if the friendship turns sour, you can simply stop seeing her. However, in the workplace, you may not be able to avoid her because you may have to work with her. Furthermore, if she hates you a lot, she may try to sabotage your career.

Don't Badmouth Your Boss or Your Team

If you are socializing on a Friday night with work colleagues, don't criticize the boss. The boss is the one who hired you and has power over your career. If you are unhappy with your boss, do not complain to a co-worker because that co-worker may spread the gossip and before long your own boss will know just what you think of him.

The same applies to the team you work for. Suppose you work in HR and during a Christmas function you socialize with co-workers across the organization. You may be socializing with someone from the accounting team and while chatting you let it slip that you dislike the team you work in, that the people in HR are unfriendly and rude, the work is boring, and so forth. Your friend from accounting could spread this news around and before long everyone in HR will know what you think of them, and this will make it awkward for you and may negatively affect your career.

When talking about your boss or your team, it is best to tell everyone that you love your boss, you love your team, you love the work you do, that it is interesting, and so forth.

Don't Express Radical Views

It's rather easy to identify the difference between mainsteam or normal opinions (also known as politically correct opinion) versus radical opinions. For example, if you have been cheating on your wife, don't tell anyone about this because cheating as an activity does not fit in with socially appropriate behaviour. If you tell a co-worker that you have been cheating and he decides to spread the news to everyone, it is not going to be good for your career. Many women may hate you. They may try to sabotage your career, and female bosses will not promote you. If asked to express a view on a controversial matter, it is always important to express politically correct or conventional views.

A problem with expressing conventional views that fit with the social norm is that often conventional views are not really based on any hard logic. Rather, they are based on the emotional values of a mass of people. If you are expressing conventional views, it is easy for some radical person to argue against you and win. If someone argues against you and wins, it looks bad. Losing an argument makes you seem weak. The way to combat this is to threaten to expose the radical if he attacks you. For example, suppose at work a friend of yours tells you that over the weekend he had sex with a goat. This is not politically correct as it offends animal welfare groups and religious people. Following with the principle of always expressing views that conform to the social norm, you reply by saying, "Wow, did you tell me you had sex with a goat over the weekend? I personally believe that what you did is an abomination. You should not harm animals like that."

Suppose the radical employee escalates the issue by challenging you to an intellectual argument in front of a few workers, saying, "Do you eat meat? If you eat meat then you are hurting animals because animals need to be killed in order for the meat to be provided for you. If it's okay for you to eat meat and kill an animal for food, why not have sex with an animal for pleasure? At least when you have sex with an animal you keep it alive and there is a probability that the animal will enjoy engaging in sexual intercourse as opposed to being killed. You claim it is okay to eat animals so why not have sex with animals?"

Your radical friend is attacking you, claiming that you are a hypocrite. His argument seems logical, but that is beyond the point. The radical is attacking your honour by arguing a radical position. The way to defeat this is to threaten to spread this person's views. You should say something like this: "I acknowledge your views. I think it is very strange. What does your wife Mary think about your views on sex with goats?"

The radical will likely become scared. "My wife doesn't know! Don't tell anyone about my views. We must keep these views private."

With subtlety, you should threaten him. If his attacks get more persistent, you should make it less subtle and actually tell him that you will disclose the information if he keeps attacking your honour.

What happens if you accidentally express radical views? The best thing to do is to change your views immediately. It is natural to want to express your views to others, but in the workplace it is dangerous, so if for example you express to others that you had sex with goats and you are worried that your boss or your wife might hear about this, you must make a full 180-degree turn and be against bestiality. One way to do this is, for example, to tell everyone that you have suddenly turned religious and you believe in God. Whenever you have a chance, tell others that you have been reading the bible because you want to find meaning to your life and all of a sudden you are religious now. Tell others that according to the bible, having sex with animals is an abomination and that you are against it. Prevention is better than cure, of course, but this is better than doing nothing. It will mitigate any potential negative consequences if this information gets out. When you are trying to correct a mistake you have made, it is best to be aggressive and to try to express your new belief whenever you have the opportunity to do so.

What happens if some attacks your politically correct views and you don't have anything to threaten him with? Suppose for example your friend asks you what your views are on bestiality and you say that you are against it. He then says, "But you are eating meat now? How can you approve of killing animals for good but not approve of having sex with animals for pleasure?" You cannot threaten to tell others that your friend approves of bestiality because he hasn't stated that he approves of bestiality. Rather, he has just criticized your politically correct views. The way to combat this is to try to get him to express a politically incorrect view. For example, if your friend accuses you of hypocrisy because you harm animals by eating meat but disapprove of having sex with animals, you can say something like, "So are you pro-bestiality? Do you approve of humans having sex with animals?"

Some topics do not have a clear-cut answer in terms of what is socially acceptable. if someone asks you about abortion, either position you pick you are going to strongly offend a significant number of people. In this situation it is best to express no opinion at all. Say that you understand the views of both sides but you have no opinion on the matter.

Sometimes a conventional view you have will go against the view that your organization has. For example, most people dislike big banks. However, if you work for a big bank you don't want to express views that go against the bank you work for. In tricky situations like these it is best to play it safe and express no opinion at all. When asked, simply say you have no opinion because you have not considered the matter or that you understand both sides of the argument.

The recommendation to not express radical views does not mean you should express the exact opposite. Being a communist is radical but that does not mean you should express your love for capitalism because that too can become extreme and radical. It is best to stay in the middle, to be a moderate, and to sit on the fence.

Collect Dirt on Other People

Just before you have a chat to a work colleague, it is important to affirm in your mind the principles above. When you chat with work friends, try not to release too much information about yourself, especially your views on controversial matters or your views on your boss or your team. If you are asked about this, always say positive things about your boss and your team, and when asked about controversial matters, always express views that conform to the social norm.

If you are going to be expressing little about yourself, it is likely the other person will reveal a lot of about himself in order to compensate. It is natural for people to want to talk about themselves. Showing off your individual and unique values, your opinions, and so forth is a natural human desire. During these times when the person you are chatting to is expressing his own views and experiences, it is best to simply listen and ask questions. If your friend says something about their boss, their team, or if they give a radical opinion, file it away in your brain because it may come in handy in the future if you want to threaten this person if he decides to attack you.

It is best to be defensive and passive. Express little about yourself and only express your (fake) views if you are asked directly. Collect dirt on other people but don't release it unless you feel you need to in order to stop an attack from another person.

Conclusion or Summary

- Don't badmouth your boss or the people with whom you work.

- To minimize the risk of offending others, don't express any views on controversial matters, and if asked about your view on a controversial matter, express no view, acknowledge both views, or express a view that conforms to social norms.

- If you mistakenly express a view that is offensive to your boss, your team, or to society, take it back immediately and proactively express the opposite view to make up for expressing a view that goes against social norms.

- Listen to other people talk about collect information about their views on controversial matters, their boss, or their team.

Image: CR Artist

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