Remaining Yourself in the Workplace: Protecting Your Identity

J Reed, MFA is a college adjunct English professor and writer from Chicago, who writes fiction, nonfiction and local and national news stories. Subscribe and share to get new self-help articles. Follow him on Twitter @jreed913.

Remaining Yourself in the Workplace

You’ve made it past the interviews and landed the job you wanted, but the hard part is remaining who you are while working with your judgmental coworkers. Every morning, you crawl out of bed before the crack of dawn and get jammed in traffic on your way to work. It’s not easy, but you do it every day, making sure nothing you did the day before inhibits your ability to make it to work on time. The hardest part of work is dealing with your judgmental coworkers, but there are ways to remain true to yourself.

Mastering Yourself

To master yourself, you must know yourself.

The workplace is crammed with coworkers who drive a Mercedes, Tesla or other vehicle they’re paying hundreds of dollars for a month. Some carry Gucci bags or brag about the shrimp at restaurants you have to reserve a spot at weeks in advance. Your coworkers red-bottomed shoes clack through the halls as she struts around. Your coworkers have pizzazz, a certain flare that comes with vacationing overseas. You on the other hand are just you, no luxury vehicle, no designer names across your jeans, unimpressive, you think. Where do you fit in your workplace?

The workplace can be like social media. I once saw an optical illusion photo of a house any celebrity would be excited to call home. Though the house in the picture looked real, it was an illusion. The “house” really wasn’t the astounding property it appeared to be. These are the types of pictures that make it to social media: glorious and beautiful but lacking the whole story. As they do on social media, people share what makes them look best. They give you clips. Your coworker might brag about the tan they got while on vacation, but they won’t tell you about the person they caught their significant other French kissing on that same trip.

Knowing your coworkers share what they want and drive luxury vehicles for status and stares, you must know where you fit into your work environment. Are you the luxury car type or the type who drives whatever gets you to work? Are you a fitness nut, or do you eat what you want? Are you a social drinker or not a drinker at all? Introvert or extrovert? Though these things may seem small, all of them are things you’re judged on in the workplace. Your vegan coworker may frown when he hears you eat chitterlings. Your coworkers might laugh in the breakroom about the loud, shaking vehicle you drive.

So, the question becomes, how comfortable are you with yourself? If you waver under the gaze of a judgmental coworker, you’ll not only look weak but you’ll feel weak. Who are you? What are your values? Are you single or married? What information will you share with your coworkers? What information will you omit? You must know who you are and what you stand for. Otherwise, you will be molded by what people think of you.  

Before sharing information about yourself with coworkers, consider what you want to share. Remember, you don’t owe anybody any explanation of who you are or decisions you make in your private life. Your identity is your own to share – or not share – as you see fit. It’s fine to associate with coworkers, but there is a very fine line between sharing and oversharing. Don’t invite too many people into your personal life with the details. Be careful of the coworkers you associate with.

Naturally, there are argumentative or drama-loving coworkers in every field, so be selective with whom you have coffee. Some coworkers can’t help spilling everything they know or gossiping behind the backs of others. They aren’t hard to spot mostly, but sometimes they come off as a “helpful” person. Oftentimes, they offer to help you with your work, and you accept that help sometimes. Behind your back, they’re probably telling the supervisor how they “had to help” you. Regardless of your coworker’s intentions, their sharing this information can make you seem lazy or incompetent. This is why you must keep your circle small and master who you are.

Mastering Rude or Judgmental Coworkers

Depending on where you work, you have dozens or hundreds of coworkers, all with their own personalities. In certain work cultures like that of college campuses, nearly everybody has a title. To protect the image that helped gained them their titles, people walk with their noses tilted upward. They ignore “Good mornings” that come from the title-less or those they consider beneath them. People like this set themselves apart by the clothes they wear, cars they drive or communities in which they live. To feel big, they make people feel small. Rude and judgmental coworkers make you cringe, but you can handle them effectively.

You’ve likely had a coworker make a not-so-flattering comment about how you dress. Or your supervisor hinted she doesn’t care for your cologne. Whatever the case, you feel picked on or singled out. This is something bullies do to make themselves feel good. Coworkers who always have something negative to say about you are miserable. You could argue back and forth with them or ignore them. Nothing gets a bully’s skin boiling quicker than being ignored. This is an effective way to avoid escalating the situation.

Sometimes, ignoring a bully is like pouring gasoline on a barn fire; their egos won’t allow them to be shrugged off. They might snicker more loudly or use profanities as you walk by, and that stings like a wasp. You have to look them in the eyes and tell them to leave you alone. It’s important you make eye contact, so you appear unafraid. Fear feeds the egos of judgmental coworkers, so don’t display it. Nine times out of ten, a cowrker won’t punch in the face. In the off chance you are, a good lawyer might turn that face punch into a pay day.

If your coworker makes rude comments about your style of dress, the way you wear your hair or anything else, address that coworker. Tell them why you don’t like their comments and that you want them to stop. Do not threaten to report them. If you tell them you’re going to report them before you do, they might report you first. Even if you’re the victim, proving it once somebody makes a claim against you is difficult.

For the feistier bunch, when your coworker says, “Your car is nice, but the color is ugly”, you can say, “You have nice shoes, but your personality is garbage.” Meeting insult with insult isn’t the best way to deal with a judgmental coworker. In situations where you can’t depend on management to address the issue, you might have to resort to delivering insults back. Fights have started over smaller issues. Just be cognizant of that.

In Case You Are an Introvert

If everybody drove a Lexus or Mercedes, spoke the same way and ate the same foods, individuality would not exist. Since the early 1900s, this country has been promoting the “extrovert”, the people’s person who can fit in with any crowd. The workplace demands leaders who work well with others and fit in with the culture of the workplace. Employers prefer smiling, waving extroverts over tight-lipped introverts who’d rather stare at their shoes than into the eyes of another person. There are as many introverts as extroverts, but people commonly identify as extroverts to avoid the stigmas that come with being an introvert. However, the push and yearning to be an extrovert fails to consider the value of introverts.

By nature, introverts would rather observe a conversation than to dive into it. They think more than speak and find small talk hard to engage in. Many of them prefer being alone over being around crowds of people. They are often brilliant in how they find solutions to problems. Though they are not people pleasers, they are loyal, focused and dedicated to whatever they put their time into. If you are an introvert, you know the pressures of new social situations, but you also know how to navigate them unnoticed.

The push to meld the individual away within work culture is inspired by fear of the individual. Employers prefer employees who fit in because disrupters challenge the status quo. Disrupters ask questions, stand up for their rights and speak their mind. In workplaces where elitism prevails, everybody wears a mask of fakeness and having a pedal stool is common, the introvert is feared.

If you are an introvert, don’t pretend you want to talk about football if you don’t. When somebody questions you about your personality, shrug. You don’t owe anybody anything. You’re the best thing to happen to you. Be awkward; be shy; be observant. Whatever you are, be you.

Takeaways

Workplaces can be cesspools of judgement, and you have to know yourself. Your coworkers are on diets, paying high car notes on a Benz or spending their last on Gucci bags. They do all of these things for the reactions of others. Hearing someone say “That’s a nice car” makes their hearts flutter. Without recognizing the fakeness, you risk becoming a person more concerned with impressing others than being who you are. Master yourself and your identity. Know what you want and who you are. Being an introvert is a benefit not a crippling disorder. If you master yourself, you master your workplace.

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Published by Professor J

Professor J is a professor, author, poet and screenwriter.

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