Ever wondered what goes on in the heads of the guys you work with? Our friends at The Daily Muse asked one man what he thought, and got a surprising answer: He doesn’t like going to happy hour with us—or even lunch.
I ran into two co-workers in the elevator on my way out of the building after a long day. A man and a woman.
I knew the man well. Late 30s, married with young children, and starting to lose his hair. I had never spoken to the woman, but I had seen her around the office. She was hard to miss—early 20s, blond hair, blue eyes. When she walked into a room, she turned heads.
They were headed to the bar, and they asked me if I wanted to join them.
I smiled at the married man like I had just caught him with his hand in the cookie jar. I couldn’t stop smiling. Neither of them said anything for a moment. The moment lingered, and then the elevator doors opened. He hastily added that another colleague was also going to join them, and that I should definitely come.
I abruptly wiped the smile off my face, declined politely, and headed to Grand Central. I felt so foolish. Can’t two work colleagues go out for a drink after work? Why had I stood there smiling like some lecherous old man?
It got me thinking about my own behavior with women in the workplace. The fact is, I rarely go out to lunch or drinks with an attractive woman, unless there is a large group of us. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth.
The politically correct way to explain this is to say that I don’t want to put myself in situations that could lead to unfaithfulness. That’s partially true, but it’s also ridiculous. It’s not like I’m Brad Pitt and women are falling all over themselves to take me home.
The real answer is that I’m intimidated by attractive women. I can think of one point in my career where I would go to great lengths to avoid speaking face-to-face with an executive assistant who looked like a supermodel. She scared me, and I was more effective communicating with her in email or over the phone. I couldn’t even imagine going out to drinks with this woman. Just thinking about it felt like cheating on my wife.
But, of course, developing real relationships at work and outside the office is important. So what’s a beautiful woman to do?
There’s lots of practical advice out there: Dress conservatively, drink responsibly, leave the office door open when having a private meeting with a male superior. That all sounds like reasonable advice.
But the thing that helps me develop solid working relationships with women is, ironically, to get to know them personally. To learn about their interests, to share a few details about my family, to talk about my hobbies, to learn about theirs. It’s important that it goes beyond work, even just a little. I need information that will help my brain relate to an attractive woman, personally, as a human being, and not just as an airbrushed cover model.
The goal shouldn’t be to remove gender from our work relationships. That’s impossible. The goal is to add some humanity to them, some personal connection.
I wish I could apologize to the woman in the elevator and connect on a personal level, but she’d probably just assume I was hitting on her. Ugh.