The Silicon Valley Voice

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An Office Kind of Love

I’m in the mood for love.

Every year, as we get closer to Valentine’s Day, cards and candy start showing up on nearby desktops. The stupid cupids in marketing get lavish bouquets of roses and poison oak, while stale cookie grams brighten every gloomy Gus in accounting. The cubicles of the lovelorn in IT start blooming with heart-shaped balloons, a lovely sight until they are burst by the technicians’ pointy, little heads.

Romance even blossoms in the HR department, where candy hearts temporarily replace the stone-cold hearts that justify measly raises and coordinate mass firings.

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Yes, February is the kind of month when you don’t need a telescope to spot lovebirds, but that doesn’t mean that everyone has got that loving feeling. While you and your floozy may be feeling warm and fuzzy, there is one group of people who suffer mightily from all the outward evidence of office love — your managers.

It may be your manager’s goal to see that you love your job, but making sure you also love a co-worker or two is definitely not in their job description. In fact, managers don’t really like to see co-workers canoodling when they should be working. Apparently, skipping down the hall while holding hands is not considered very productive, or very professional, not even at major financial institutions, though it may be more suitable when the bankers are sent off to prison.

Nor is it OK to refer to a colleague as “snookums,” or “sweet-pea,” though “honey-bear” is always acceptable.

But what is a manager to do? What are you to do, if the sight of all the loving couples is making you jealous, or making your nauseous? If you don’t have a date to the Monday morning staff meeting and you never get a corsage from the CFO before you head off to make a sales call, you may feel like expressing your dissatisfaction with workplace love affairs.

Be careful! You don’t want to be seen as a killjoy, nor do you want to be known as a nosy Norbert. And that’s why I know you’re going to just fall head over heels over Kerry Patterson, “a workplace expert and the co-author of The New York Times best seller, ‘Crucial Conversations.'”

According to the press release I received from Patterson’s firm, VitalSmarts, “with the right set of skills, employees can candidly and respectfully talk to their co-workers about how their behavior is impacting the workplace.”

Even though I am someone who has never had a crucial conversation in his life, I suggest we examine the five tips Patterson provides for “confronting office lovebirds.” If we can’t make love at work, we can definitely get some satisfaction from making trouble.

Tip No. 1 is to “Keep the scope of the problem small.” You don’t want to “air a list of gripes,” even though you’ve probably been keeping that list since the day you started work, and it currently takes up 35 gigabytes on your hard drive. “Instead, work on one issue at a time,” Patterson suggests, and I agree. Start with a precise and limited gripe, such as “seeing the two of you together makes me want to yak.”

Tip No. 2 is to “be careful in your use of terms.” For example, it’s sufficient to say, “Hey, I noticed the two of you were locked in the supply closet for two hours this afternoon. Did you have trouble finding the paper clips?” It does make sense to “describe what the couple is doing — not what you’re concluding,” as Patterson puts it, especially when you consider your dirty mind.

“Create safety by letting them know you have their best interest in mind” is tip No. 3. You might say, “I think it’s wonderful you two found each other, even though you’re each married to someone else. Here’s the card of a good divorce lawyer. You’re going to need one.”

Tip No. 4 is “Keep the discussion private.” You don’t want your private conversation to spread gossip throughout the office. It’s so much more efficient to spread gossip with a broadcast email.

“End by expressing concern and thanks” is tip No. 5. The reason you are butting your nose into their romance is because you “care about the other person and want to help him or her address the issue without feeling humiliated.” Remember — making your co-workers feel humiliated is your manager’s job, and it would be just mean to take away a job they really love.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@funnybusiness.com.

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