Many years ago, at a previous job, I decided to perform an experiment.
While walking around the workplace, instead of staring down at the floor and doing my utmost to not pass within hailing distance of a fellow human being, I started looking up, not avoiding people, and smiling.
The first day, experimental results were tainted by the collisions, but after that I mastered avoiding people without avoiding them.
What really stood out to me was the reaction of other people as I walked by. When I smiled, they would smile too. There seemed to be an…almost a softening of the gait, as if a weight had been lifted.
This happened with everyone.
OK, everyone but Earl. He just glared at me and said, “Not interested, buddy, so back off!”
Earl is a misanthropic jerk who everyone at my old place of employment pretty much hated. If he hadn’t been so good at the particularly obscure and hard to hire for role he held, we would have murdered him a la Murder on the Orient Express (spoiler alert – they ALL did it!) and been much happier, generally speaking.
The company might have even avoided bankruptcy had we done in Earl.
While I felt the experiment was a resounding success, I soon reverted to my floor-studying, human-dodging ways because I found positive social interactions exhausting.
I still do.
Fast forward to today and my current job. While some wines gets better with age and some people grow and develop over time, my personality and I soured into a bitter vinegar as the years passed.
Today I am my company’s Earl.
It’s true, I am.
I hear the whispers behind my back.
And the sometimes conversational-volume statements made to my face.
Uncertain how my skill level with respect to my particularly obscure role with my current employer compares to others, or quite how hard it would be to hire a replacement, I decided it was time to chug a couple of espressos, pop some anti-anxiety meds, and roll out the ol’ chin up, eyes forward, smile on social experiment again.
You know, trigger serotonin in others by locking eyes with them as I walked past, a big, loopy grin on my face. Make my colleagues feel warm and comfortable, that somehow, just by being near me, I eased a burden on their shoulders they weren’t, until that very moment, aware they were shouldering.
Well, as you can guess, it was an absolute disaster.
It wasn’t just Earl who barked “Not interested, buddy, so back off!”
(Yes, through an unbelievable string of coincidences and happenstance, and despite having no professional skills applicable to his current position, Earl ended up here too.)
It was several people.
No, more than several. A lot.
OK, honesty time. It was pretty much everyone I interacted with that day.
Full disclosure: when I say “pretty much everyone” I mean everyone.
Every. Single. Person. I. Saw. That. Day.
And my cause wasn’t exactly bolstered when Earl claimed I’d harassed him at a previous job in exactly the same way.
Following a long conversation in a crowded conference room with my boss, my boss’ boss, three HR reps (and an HR intern being taught how to “handle extreme cases”), as well as an off-site counselor brought urgently on-site just for me, I was invited to reflect on my career, what I wanted in life, and take an involuntary drug test.
I say the experiment was an absolute disaster, but that isn’t strictly true. Despite my initial hypothesis that my efforts would make people like me more being utterly, completely, and pretty much totally disproved, I did learn three things:
One, when people know you as the anti-social, life-hating bastard that you are, going from grumpy to grinny overnight sets of alarm bells. And not the good ones announcing the approach of an ice cream truck and the yummy, delicious confections of a sub-zero nature contained therein.
Two, I don’t have the teeth for a toothy grin, and need to make an appointment as soon as possible with a dentist to round out the pointy bits and make my smile a little less threatening.
Three, my job here is sufficiently obscure and just hard enough to hire for that I only got a written warning instead of being fired for cause.
Said cause as defined by HR? “Being unnervingly super creepy.”