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How to balance work friends and not get slapped

“ERGHMEGHERRRD I heard that she slapped you, is that true???” No that’s not a quote, overheard in the locker of a high school girls’ locker room [interestingly I don’t really have many crazy American-style, girls’ locker room stories despite going to an all-girl school for 10 years….in fact the craziest thing I remember was when we found a baby mouse from the Year 7 Dissecting Mouse Experiment hidden one of the girl’s uniforms…yeah my school was hard core].

No, the question above involves me and was asked by a former colleague from a few years back. The circumstances of course, involved the reality TV show/high school that was my old corporate WORKPLACE. Yes that’s right. I actually got asked if one of my former COLLEAGUES had slapped me. Seriously. You can’t even make this shit up.

The specifics on this case are probably meaningless to my overall point, however there’s nothing I hate more than being kept in suspense. And I’m assuming you, my dear reader, are currently on the edge of your seat, questions about this incident swirling in your head, caught in wonder as to the circumstances of ‘The Slap’ [haha now I just have a sudden desire to tell this story over a bajillion pages from a bajillion point of views…but I also want to get back to watching ‘Ex on the Beach’]. Anyway I’ll try my best to cast myself back a few years [here’s where I’d put in swiggly lines to indicate historic him travel]. In essence this former colleague told me something then accused me of telling that something to another colleague. From memory I was pretty focused that week on maximising jetlag as an excuse for coming into work late so telling tales was not on my agenda. Regardless this colleague allegedly told other colleagues that I was not to be trusted.

Now for the best part….that’s it. Yep no slap.

The most offending part of this whole story is the fact that my former colleagues thought that I was the one getting slapped. Have they not my massive guns [incidentally named Bettina and Cora…Cora’s the left and has a bit of work to do]? Have they not seen how thug I am? Have they not seen how I rock a ‘Bye Felicia’ cap and look so gangsta? What’s the point in grossly misappropriating African-American culture if no one appreciates it. Seriously!


Obviously the second offending part of this whole debacle was the actual exchange with a friend/colleague and then subsequently having other friends/colleagues being told that you cannot be trusted…you know ‘trust’ that ol’ chestnut that’s kinda the basis of most functional relationships. As is this whole “he said, she said” gossip that you would usually reserve for trashy, reality TV and is usually resolved by hurling drinks and expletives in a manner I can only aspire to. Regardless, as time went on we both moved on positively in very different directions.

Now usually I reserve this blog for sticking it to ‘the man’ because ultimately my dream remains to be fired for writing and exit the building as some sort of martyr with ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’ playing over the speakers as I thrust my fist into the air in solidarity. But being reminded of this incident did make me think about the people who for the most part, make work tolerable: Colleagues [lol I just remembered that up until about the age of 19, I used to think ‘colleagues’ was spelt ‘collegumes’…actually collegumes would be awesome. You could have colleagues who encourage you to also eat vegetables. That’s basically all I look for in a life partner].

The whole question of whether you should be friends with colleagues is now redundant. There was a time that you could work closely with someone for 25 years before finding out their actual name, let alone any other personal information. However nowadays those archaic rules have been relaxed. Not only are we spending at least a third our working days with colleagues, but hiring processes are such that they’re meant to hire people who will get along and be able to deliver outcomes together. Statistically your colleagues have a good shot at being compatible friends with you [lol just reading that sentence alone makes me realise why I have no friends].

Further we’re all now more connected than ever. You’re spending 8 hours a day with colleagues, you add them on social media, we’re now all living these blended work/life lives. Some of my most quality friends are all from work. One of my best work years was spent next to someone who got engaged within a month of me and we proceeded to spend the next 12 months relentlessly talking about weddings as if it were our main KPI that we needed to deliver on or the whole company would shut down. No work was done but a true friendship was borne.

But at the same time there’s a line. You might be statistically compatible as friends, but circumstances have dictated that you are ‘colleagues’. That one word that encourages collegiality and ruthless competition at the same time. Pretty fucking depressing when you think that of a 40-year career, 13 years are spent with ‘kinda friends’.

To assist with drawing of this line between personal and professional, I have used the time that I’ve spent having friends/colleagues mistrust me since ‘The Slap’ to come up with a definitive test. I’ve decided to call it the Colleague, Legume or Collegume Test [as a tribute to my second favourite show, the cultural classic hit ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’]. It’s simple. If the relationship is just professional, you’re a Colleague. If it’s personal, you’re a Collegume. And if you’re a dick, you’re a Legume because ultimately no one wants to eat vegetables…I was joking above wanting a partner who would encourage me to eat vegetables – they can go fuck themselves.

All you do is ask yourself one simple question:

 Do I know this person’s rough personal history/situation?

Ie. Do you know if your colleague has a sibling/child/partner/pet/pet-rock? Now you don’t need to know specific names but if you’re sitting there thinking you’re a Colleague to someone but you’ve just spent the long weekend with said Colleague at their Aunt Edna’s annual death anniversary dinner for her pet cat, then my friend, you’re in too deep, you have Collegume written all over you. Similarly, if you know you’re a dick, but you’re finding yourself being trusted with personal information of a Colleague, then GET OUT because you’re a Legume and you’re about to be a massive shit brick to someone nice.

This test places Collegumes in the majority because I’m a believer in humankind but also like the sound of statistical compatibility confirming my friendships. Collegumes should be expected to act as friends, BECAUSE THEY FUCKING ARE FRIENDS.

Now I hear you say “Ok Arani, cool test bro, but in reality what if my Collegume tells me something about work (ie. Like they want to quit etc.)? What do I do now?”. These sorts of conflicts of interest are hard to navigate but again there is some simple logic that can be applied.

Collegume to Collegume conversations should not be discussed in Collegume to Colleague/Legume situations

Instead of getting into a death spiral of disclosing Collegume to Collegume discussions with a non-Collegume, try doing the oldest trick in the book: back away like the John Travolta disco dancing emoji. Smile and nod. Stare blankly. No need to engage. Your Collegume actually expects you to act like a friend and you know….I don’t know….not tell other Collegumes that you’re not trustworthy or dished out a Collegume Slap. In that instance, it’s a very quick transition from Collegume to Legume.

I’m no saint at all when it comes to navigating the world of Colleagues, Collegumes and Legumes. No one really can profess to be an expert. But this is definitely going to be my approach from now on. The Slap has taught me my lesson [seriously surely the I think the ABC are going to make an 8-part mini-series about my non-slap after reading this].

About Arani Satgunaseelan (78 Articles)
Corporate nerd. Wannabe blogger.

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