DEAR J.T. & DALE: I work in an office of all women. I don’t mind, but there are days when I feel left out. At times, they talk about things that make me uncomfortable. So I throw my headphones on and ignore them. As a result, they think I’m antisocial. It’s making me isolated. I’m looking for a new job, but I’m quiet and don’t interview well. – Kyle
Dale: Your letter brings to mind an interesting dichotomy in the workplace: There are plenty of women who consider it a compliment to be thought of as “one of the guys,” while rare is the man who wants to be introduced as “one of the girls.”
J.T.: I’m curious how that might be of help to Kyle.
Dale: It opens the mind. The question I want Kyle to consider is: What can you learn? Women are the majority of customers and decision-makers in most markets, and, given the rate at which women are earning advanced degrees, they are becoming a majority in more professions. So working in an all-female office is a chance for some personal anthropology. Observe. Learn. Experiment.
J.T.: I’m not sure about the anthropology, but you mention not interviewing well, Kyle, and this is a chance to improve your skill set, preferably with the help of a career coach. You’d be amazed how much stronger you can become with a little practice. Meanwhile, ask your boss for a one-on-one meeting and share your concerns about feeling like an outsider. Ask for guidance about how you can bond better with the team. Without blaming anyone, you can help her see the sensitivity of the situation and, hopefully, she will try to keep the conversation in a place where you can comfortably join in.
Dale: I’d say the worst way to bond with the team is by crying to the boss about feeling uncomfortable. I can hear the ladies saying, “Oh, we can’t talk about that because we might offend Mr. Man over there.” Instead, solve the problem by jokingly making them aware of what’s going on. When the conversation begins to make you squirm, instead of just hiding from it, wave a hand and say something light, like, “This is getting too feminine for me” and then put on the headphones. And instead of asking the boss to solve the problem, ask the most approachable coworker how you’re coming across and see what she says. Thought of properly, this is a wonderful opportunity to become a better worker and person.
Dear J.T. & Dale: My wife and I both work. She just got the opportunity for a promotion that would require her to travel. When our kids were little, she stayed home with them. Now she is proposing that I quit my job and stay home. I was excited about the idea until I mentioned it to friends, who each had a story of a guy who stayed home, and then the wife cheated on him and left him for a corporate executive. Now I’m nervous. What should I tell my wife? – Gary
Dale: So, Gary, when your wife stayed at home with the kids, did you fall in love with a “corporate executive” and run off? Apparently not. My point is this: The issue here isn’t your wife; it’s you. Just thinking about being a stay-at-home dad makes you feel vulnerable. I suspect that your sense of self can’t handle staying home, which could mean you’ll end up hurting your career and your marriage.
J.T.: But don’t give up on the idea just because of some rumors. Have a heart-to-heart talk with your wife. Tell her about the stories you’ve heard and talk about how you can make sure it doesn’t happen to you two. Come up with a contingency plan for you if being at home doesn’t work. For example, is there a way you can take a yearlong sabbatical without quitting your career entirely? The key is to recognize that a change this big should be handled with open minds and a willingness to adjust. That’s the way to find the life you both want and deserve.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.