01/13/2014 04:13 pm ET Updated Mar 15, 2014

3 Questions to Help You Get Along Better at Work

It's inevitable. Your colleagues will get on your nerves at least occasionally. Some will do it so often you'll wonder if you're in the wrong job. Here are a few questions that might help you stay upbeat.

1. You realize the people you work with aren't family, right?

Once upon a time my new husband got laid off from the same radio station I worked at. Now what? Quit, right? I mean, how could I keep working for those people?

Here's how. I treated my job as a job. It wasn't family. Well except for Darrell. But he worked in the front office while I covered the news -- and we treated each other so professionally new employees were often surprised to learn we were married.

That came in handy in the weeks after someone else moved into Darrell's office. Oh sure, it hurt to walk by and see those tchotchkes where his had been. And then I got back to work.

I never seriously considered leaving when Darrell's run ended. I still loved my job, and I had more to learn. Eventually, after the initial awkwardness faded, a few people asked how I kept from being bitter.

I told them what I just told you.

Colleagues who once gave me the impression I was more businesslike than I needed to be, especially in such a small office, now told me that was one smart move.

You'll probably always have to work with people you'd rather work around. If you love what you do it'll be worth it.

If not?

Start plotting your escape.

2. Have you considered the bonus of not being quick on your feet?

A woman I used to work with didn't like me. She wanted something I had, though I've forgotten what that was. My job? My boyfriend? Whatever the problem was, being around her made me uneasy.

One night I attended an office party at our boss's house. When I got there I didn't want to butt in on the few small groups of people already engrossed in conversation. So I planted myself next to the fireplace and played with the dog. This was before my adult-onset allergy to the animal kingdom, and it was a fine way to pass the time until the others arrived.

My nemesis walked in soon after that. She had a way of entering a room that demanded people pay attention, and pay attention they did. The gathering got very quiet as she looked at me, sighed, and announced: "Oh, look. Maureen found a friend."

I wilted. I was too stunned to say a word. It's been thirty years, and I'm still speechless.


Nothing good would've happened had I been able to summon a comeback. I'm sure of it.

Sometimes the best response is nothing, served with a dollop of wide-eyed wonder.

3. Do you appreciate how much you can learn from a boss who's young enough to be your kid?

When our daughter was about to turn three, she asked if we could go to a park. "I suppose," I said. A while later, after I'd forgotten the exchange, she had another question: "Mom, what does 'I suppose' mean?"

It means fifteen years later I'd wish I would've said "yes" instead.


Isn't "I suppose" really just "yes," begrudgingly?

I wish I would've said, "Yes!" Or, "What a great idea!" Or, "Of course." You know, the way I usually did.

Maybe I was under the weather. More likely I was under a deadline. Whatever my reasons, why couldn't I have shared those? Why didn't I involve her in the decision? Why didn't I ask for ideas on getting where we both most wanted to go?

Missed opportunity noted.

A kid who's smart enough to make you realize you're just going through the motions on an April morning early in her childhood is a dandy source of inspiration for doing a better job at all of life.

Katie's in college now, but I'm perusing the notes I took when she lived with us. So while she's busy studying calculus and physics and statistics and economics, she's also still busy teaching me how to be a good kid.

If I was interviewing for a job with a person young enough to be Katie, I'd thank my lucky stars for the good fortune!