Dear Dr. Faizal,

I hate my coworkers but I can’t quit my job. My husband passed away suddenly a few months back and I’ve become the sole provider for my children. I’d been thinking about leaving for a few months because my colleagues are rude, selfish and I just don’t think I fit in with who they are. It’s really taxing for me to put on a fake smile and pretend that I like them but what choice do I have? I have many responsibilities and I don’t have any education to fall back on. What can I do?

– Fake Work Self

Dear Fake Work Self,

I’m sorry for your loss and for the extra responsibilities that you must now accept. It’s quite obvious that life right now is not much fun for you.

People sometimes avoid a person who is overwhelmed because they don’t know how to act around this person. Sometimes this person feels alienated by others or believes they don’t “fit in” with the happier group of people. Perhaps you and your colleagues are in the same situation, and because of their discomfort around you, you perceive them to be “rude” and “selfish.”

Instead of “hating” your coworkers, something that would only result in them further isolating you, and instead of “putting on a fake smile and pretending you like them,” why not take actions to get them to like you?

I would suggest that you read – no, study – Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book which details strategies for successful relationships between people. I think you would especially enjoy Carnegie’s six principles to make other people like you (page 117 of the newest edition):

  1. Become genuinely interested in other people
  2. Smile
  3. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language
  4. Be a good listener – encourage others to talk about themselves
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
  6. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely

Putting these principles into practice, you could first smile at others when you come to work. Make sure this smile is genuine. Keep in mind how special and welcomed you’d feel when they smile back. Make a special effort to remember everyone’s first names and begin to use their names repeatedly when you talk with your coworkers. As you speak with them daily, ask them about what/who is important in their lives, and, as they begin sharing, remember the names of people who are special to them. You could then ask about these people in later conversations. When you listen attentively (without interrupting or giving judgment) to your coworkers’ stories, they will feel important and feel that they matter to you. In turn, you will matter to them.

Essentially, your efforts to like your coworkers would lead to them to liking you, which would result in you feeling more comfortable at work and taking steps to regain your happiness.

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