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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

Getting Along at Work

Dear Sue: I work with a group of professional and mostly college educated people who act as though they are in high school. There are people who brown-nose, gossip, befriend you only when no one else is around, and those who will do anything to be a part of the “in” crowd.

High school was hard enough, and I was glad to get out of that place. I didn’t expect things to be the same the workplace. I am not sure how to deal with some of these ‘adolescents’.

– Out of high school

Sue Says: No degree will ensure professional behavior in the workplace. The ability to get along with people and adapt to different personalities and types of people we encounter is a key component of survival in the workplace. In some ways, the workplace is like high school, not only because of the time spent there, but because it’s often where we connect with people and look for a sense of belonging. The relationship component of a job can be crucial -- if it is important to someone, but missing, it can lead to unhappiness, which can make going to work everyday miserable. If we never figured out how to deal with the trouble makers in our lives or how to be a part of a group, we may find ourselves struggling with the same issues we did in high school when they surface in the workplace. It is a painful reminder and reinforcement of our old feelings of inadequacy.

Look at what happens at high school reunions -- we go to the reunion, and what do we do? Most of us talk to the same people we always talked to, hang out with the same group we used to hang out with, and simply say a casual hello to those we used to say “hi” to in the hallway. It can be 10, 15 or 25 years later, and we often find ourselves reverting to our old, comfortable behaviors. Many of us do the same thing every day – we act in a manner that we find most comfortable without even thinking about it, never realizing that some of these behaviors date back to where we learned them – in high school.

The person who was quiet and shy in school may have excelled in his/her studies, but not with people. As an adult, this person is likely to excel in his/her job skills, but may struggle with interpersonal issues. It’s not that people can’t change, because they can, but won’t be motivated until there is a need. The need often results from a poor review, a missed opportunity, or when the person realizes that his/her shyness is impacting his/her advancement opportunities.

If things at work are reminding you of your past, try to identity what the recurring theme for you is all about. If you’ve felt ‘left out’ most of your life, and find yourself feeling the same way at work, acknowledge that the feeling you have now could be a result of past experiences.

Be aware of your old and negative behaviors and work at changing them. Then be sure to identify you’re strengths and embellish on them. You can’t change or control the actions of others, but you can change and control your response and begin to serve as a role model for others. 

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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