Just Say No to RTO

Bob Goldman on

It will happen to all of us. Sooner or later, you will be forced to leave your cozy COVID-19 cave and return to a normal work environment -- not that it was all that normal to begin with. This makes return to office (RTO to its friends) a very difficult transition.

At home, you can decide the level of chit and chat. You can also bar the door to people who waste your time with endless, boring stories about nothing. (I do exempt your endless, boring stories from this criticism. Everyone loves hearing about how your pet parakeet escaped from its cage and was missing for a week, and your entire family said Chirpy was gone forever, and then you climbed a tree in your backyard, and found Chirpy on a top branch, and he was fine, which taught you that you must never give up, but believe in yourself and persevere, even though the next day Chirpy came down with beak and feather disease and died.)

If the idea of returning to the working world of yore gives you a case of beak and feather, Jancee Dunn wants to help, and so do I. That's why I recommend "Your Office Is More Annoying Than You Remembered. Here's How to Handle It," her eye-opening article in The New York Times.

Providing a far-from-comprehensive inventory of highly annoying co-workers, Dunn offers a number of strategies designed "to keep ourselves from snapping." Personally, I'm not sure her remedies are sufficient, so I have added a few nostrums of my own. If you feel a snap coming on, read on.

No. 1: The Loud Talker

Psychiatrist Jody J. Foster, the author of "The Schmuck in My Office," a title I plan to steal for my autobiography, feels it is completely reasonable to confront bombastic, noise-generating colleagues. "These distractions are really getting in the way of my ability to work" is the language she proposes you use to launch the intervention.


Since everyone in your office knows your ability to work is zero, or less, this approach is likely to be ineffective. Instead, I recommend that you feign deafness. No matter how loudly your co-worker talks, put a hand to your ear and ask, "What's that again?" Keep doing this until your colleague's screams reach Mahogany Row. Irate at being disturbed while busy thinking high-level thoughts, like where to eat lunch, your manager will surely fire the loud talker, leaving you free to dream away your workdays in splendid peace and quiet.

No. 2: The Gossip

Sozan Miglioli, a Zen Buddhist priest, suggests a threefold benchmark for deciding whether to listen to or pass on gossip. "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it beneficial?"

Unfortunately, the best gossip is neither true nor kind. Tell me the uncooperative IT technician is really a warm and friendly person who is simply too busy to act like the sweetheart he is, and that story ends with me. But tell me their boorish behavior is because they're descended from the evil Bogdan I of Moldova -- that's totally fictitious, and totally worth passing on. It's also very entertaining.


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