How I Overcame Shame in the Workplace

A few days ago, I was shamed at work for giving a co-worker a compliment.

My work culture is an odd one, but I am sure not completely foreign to anyone who works with mostly guys or in a blue collar environment. Most of the conversations revolve around football and women - either who you wish you were with or lamenting about who you ARE with. In this HR director's nightmare come to life, any conversation that makes one seem slightly effeminate is cut off or even mocked until it ends. Regardless of this verbally enforced yet unspoken rule, I try my hardest not to let the culture there affect my behavior or attitude and I try to change the culture just a little bit each day. 

A few days ago, a coworker passed me in the warehouse and caught my eye (unfortunately, I have to clarify that I used the idiom "caught my eye" only to mean that as he walked by he distracted me from my work). In order to make small talk and attempt to lighten up his day, I said "Hey Larry, you are looking sharp today." The unspoken rule was verbally enforced upon me when his response was "Okay Cale, that's kind of weird for you to say," trying his hardest to imply that I was coming on to him. As is customary in a situation like this, I became a little frustrated that my compliment was twisted around upon me and mocked.

On some level I gave Larry the compliment because I would like him to feel a little better, to boost his confidence. At its core though, the compliment was not for him, but for me. I gave the compliment because I want to work in a culture where compliments are given to coworkers walking down the hall. I want to work in a culture where it is the norm to be an encouragement to one another instead of an insult.

Yes, I have been on the other end before, making fun of someone for what they said or making someone feel dumb. For that, I repent and hope to do better next time. Actually, if you hear me take that approach anywhere (not just at work), call me out on it. There is enough negativity and separation in the world without me adding to it.

The shame Larry placed upon me was short lived and an encouragement for me to continue being the change I want to see in the world. I know the world won't change today, but I am one step closer if Larry can come to expect this attitude from me.