One look at the way I operate around my co-workers and you’d think I’m anti-social and evil. I don’t talk to these people, I don’t let them talk to me, and I keep all group participation levels to an absolute minimum. Simply put, if I don’t have to interact with them, I don’t. I’m not evil, though. I have my reasons:
1. None of these old white hyper-conservative fucks are anything like me, so there’s no reason to pretend like we have anything in common. Inauguration Day was damn near a Trump rally in my office. Everybody high-fiving and laughing as the country goes to complete shit. These aren’t the people for me.
2. I don’t plan on being here forever, so I don’t want to get comfortable, which is a risk you run when developing co-worker relationships. You get used to seeing and working with the same people every day that you look up and realize it’s been 16 years since y’all very first met. No thanks. I’m already three years deep and this clock is going to expire very very soon.
3. I know the lines dividing co-workers and friends can be dangerous to cross. I still remember the days when Former Co-Worker A was fucking Former Co-Worker B, and when things went sour they both had to get up outta here. I’ve always known to maintain my distance at all costs, and I shall continue to do so until the day I finally walk out the office for the last time, with two middle fingers in the air.
Maybe you’re like me, or maybe you’re the Trump-lover surrounded by a bunch of liberal snowflakes at the office. Whatever the case, there’s a good chance that your life would be much improved if you were just left alone at work. The good news is that I am here to help you.
You may be hesitant, because it’s not easy to close yourself off from the people you spend 85 percent of your time with, but effectively avoiding your co-workers will become second nature once you get these basic steps down. I’m so smooth with it at this point that the hicks in my office barely even approach me anymore. When they do, I can smell the fear in them. They look at me like I’m a stray pit bull or some shit. I can get you there.
Get comfortable with the fact that people will think you hate them, or that you’re an asshole.
When you’re quiet, people assume it’s because you are angry or there is something wrong. This is unfortunate, because sometimes you just want to chill in your own bubble and be left the fuck alone, and everyone can understand that sometimes isolation is needed.
It’s unlikely that your co-workers will understand this, and will instead interpret your silence as a personal affront. The quicker you can come to accept this, the better off you’ll be. If the people in your office think you’re an asshole, that’s just the price you have to pay in exchange not having to hear “How was your weekend?” six times each Monday for 52 straight weeks.
Learn to end conversations quickly and efficiently.
Regardless of your efforts, there are going to be times when your co-workers pop up at your desk to ask about your weekend, if you watched the game, who you voted for—normal everyday professional dialogue. Most of the time, you’ll be able to avoid this by keeping your headphones plugged into your computer and both earbuds planted firmly in your ears. You’re just, uh, listening to a podcast, and you can’t be disturbed right now.
But there will be times when a particularly persistent co-worker will linger and wait for acknowledgement. In these situations, you will need to deploy three maneuvers: The Earbud Insert, The “Are We Done Here?” Stare, and The Shoulder Roll.
If you’re in a standard cubicle, you’ll have to rotate your chair in order to greet intruders. (If you’re in one of those office where it’s completely open you might as well just die because there’s no saving you.) The key is to never turn fully around; it’s too inviting. Instead, rotate 45 degrees, pull out just one earbud and say, “I’m sorry, what?”
Once the intruder announces their purpose, give them “Oh, haha, yeah that’s crazy. I guess we’ll see,” and immediately begin putting your earbud back in. Right before you get to the ear, throw in the “Are We Done Here?” Stare. This is where you give them one last chance to say whatever they want, but you pair the invitation with a partially opened mouth and two raised eyebrows that say, “Yo, I’m done here.” Now you put your earbud in, roll your shoulder to rotate your chair back to the front of your computer, and celebrate another dodged conversation.
Always have a fake obligation on deck, unless you’ve been offered free food and drink.
Skip group events. If you aren’t obligated to be there, don’t go. You are only required to be in the office during your work hours, and any time outside of those hours is your personal time. I went to a group happy hour my first week at my company and haven’t attended one since. Why? Because I only needed two strawberry margaritas to realize I couldn’t fuck with any of these people. I sat there while the people around me traded conspiracy theories about Barack Obama and overshared about their love lives, and I went about building a Nah, Fuck Y’all Wall around me.
The only time you should break this rule is when you’re getting a $70 steak or a bunch of cocktails on the company’s dime. Lord knows they don’t pay you enough to treat yourself to that, so go ahead and take advantage of the company when you can. Consider it payback for all the times the people in your office wouldn’t leave you the fuck alone. Reparations, even.
But if you’re not getting filet mignon out of the deal, always have a fake obligation that can’t be questioned. My favorites are: Dinner with a visiting family member, YMCA league basketball game, and “my dog’s having puppies.”
The first two are bulletproof, even if you don’t have family or have never played basketball in your life. The third is only for occasions when you feel like living dangerously.
Master your surroundings.
It’s important to be familiar with everything about the office, especially the layout. That way you’ll know where you should and shouldn’t be. I know the break room is the place where everyone likes to congregate and talk about America’s progress toward becoming great again. There’s only one way in or out, so if I don’t get in and out with the quickness, Bob might ambush me with a conversation about Tom Brady’s cheekbones. I don’t need that; you don’t need that.
You’re better off only leaving your desk during times when everyone else is likely to be at theirs. Wander around the office just before or after lunch or while everyone is getting their morning coffee, and you will be punished for it. As the Ancient Greek Philosopher Ludacris once said, don’t slip or get got.
Know everyone’s schedule. Timing is everything.
Learn the schedules of your bosses and co-workers so you’ll know how to dodge them. If you don’t, you’ll fuck around and walk out of the office at the same time as one of them and get ambushed with an unsolicited conversation. One day I crept out the office at the same time as Bill, and he trapped me in a conversation about the Dallas Cowboys that led from my desk, to the hallway, up the elevators, through the parking garage, and to my car. I hate the stupid Dallas Cowboys.
So if your co-workers leave at 5:00 every day, creep out at 4:45. If they leave at 4:45, leave at 4:30. If they leave at 4:30, just quit.
Never stay in the office on your lunch break.
That time is for you and you only. If you stay in the office, no matter what you’re doing on your lunch break (reading your Kindle, punching out a freelance article, staring at the ceiling wondering why your college advisor didn’t tell you life would be trash), your co-workers will take the opportunity to inject themselves into your bubble, and you won’t be able to stop it. They know you’re on lunch, so you can’t pretend to be busy with work. You also won’t be able to ignore your emails or things that actually have to get done because you’re there and you’re not really doing anything, and that makes you fair game for all work-related requests.
Don’t even give them the chance. Even if you decide not to leave because you don’t want to lose that incredible parking space in the garage, just go sit in your car for an hour. Maybe even take a little napski. Whatever you do, just don’t stay at your desk. You will 100 percent regret it, not only for the aforementioned reasons but also because human beings weren’t meant to spend eight hours a day in the same shitty office chair.
Never ever become friends with your co-workers on social media.
My very first week at work, I added one of my co-workers Instagram. The very first picture I saw on her account was of her crying in her car without a caption. No explanation, just Thursday afternoon tears. I immediately unfollowed.
Being friends with your co-workers on social media blurs the line between co-worker/friend because they’ll feel like they know you. Even worse, they’ll feel entitled to your time. They’ll feel like they can ask you about certain things in your life because you’re already airing your business out online. Don’t even go there with them, because it will make it impossible to lie about things you don’t want to talk about. The Monday after the Super Bowl, I told my co-workers I didn’t even watch the Super Bowl because the only thing worse than watching the Patriots come back from 25 points down is having to spend the next day talking about it with the #MAGA crew. If any of those people followed me on Twitter, they would have seen me live-tweeting the whole game and I would have been fucked.
Being social media friends with your co-workers also makes it super easy for them to dig up dirt on you. No matter how many things you delete, the internet is forever. Allow your co-workers to friend/follow/find you on Facebook/Twitter and it’s only a matter of time before you’re navigating an awkward conversation about that picture of you hitting a gravity bong for the first time sophomore year.
Stick to these rules as best you can and you’ll find yourself with a much more peaceful work life. Remember, you aren’t there to make friends or enemies. You’re there to get in, get out, and get paid.
Dante Jordan is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. He enjoys making people laugh, taking days off, and binge eating on weekends.