Editor's note: Welcome to our weekly column on business etiquette. If you have a pressing question for Miss Conduct, please send her an email.
It's midsummer: Hot and sticky, and with "business casual" running to Polo shirts that fit just so and legs liberated from nylons, there's a whole lot of shakin' goin' on.
And lucky you -- instead of hitting the beach with your old classmates, you're at work 24/7, up against a deadline.
The good news is, you're working so closely with your colleagues, you don't just finish each other's sentences -- you hardly need to start them. You don't need to waste time figuring out what to get for yet another 9 p.m. desk-side dinner -- you all know each other's dietary preferences so well that you can anticipate what to get from any restaurant. You know what turns each other's stomachs -- and their cranks. You know their pet peeves, their family histories, their favorite childhood stories and their guilty-pleasure comic books.
Sounds great. Your team is firing on all cylinders. Except for one thing: Catching sight of one of your colleagues suddenly makes your heart go pitter-pat.
Please, don't talk about love -- don't even talk about comic books. Instead, let's talk about the survival of the species -- of the employee variety. Because if you talk about love at work, you become an endangered species.
Miss Conduct hears your protest: What's the big problem? We're all adults here, right? Wrong. Miss Conduct hates to break it to you, but when it comes to
, we're all big babies.
With the universal urge being what makes the world go 'round in finance, science, the arts, politics and every other field, talking about love makes some people aroused -- or so Miss Conduct has read. Since arousal is part of the biological heritage that propagates the human race, it is bound to be more powerfully engaging than whatever's cluttering your inbox.
Talk about love, or even thoughts about its physical expression, leads to daydreaming about it. And that not only makes the problem worse -- it also makes us less productive. So much for that great team momentum.
There was a time when even talk of emotion, much less romance, was rude in mixed company -- and absolutely unheard-of on company time. Now, however, between relaxed social mores and instant messaging, today's workers are more able to express themselves -- but they're also easier to replace. With doctorate-holders a dime a dozen in Bangalore and telecommuting a snap, even information workers can't afford any sort of dilly-dalliance, no matter whose dim sum they can order.
But, you protest, you're not talking about love; you're just shooting the
with a friendly coworker. Miss Conduct understands. You'd talk this way with anyone else around the water cooler, but when it comes to two people who fancy each other -- even in a distant, "what if" sort of way -- conversing about anything outside the work task at hand can become talk about attraction.
Face it. If you know that the fascinating finance leader is fond of 19th-century novels, unless you promise yourself that you'll stick to your mutual task, you will work it into the conversation that your signature Halloween costume is a brooding character from Jane Austen. It's only natural -- but channeling human nature into productive behavior is what etiquette is for. It's not polite -- that is, it doesn't keep everyone comfortable -- if it gets anyone's knickers in a twist.
If your favorite accounting
is a Red Sox fan, just try to deny that you're dying to divulge the details of a dinner party you attended with Daisuke Matsuzaka.
It's human to want to be wanted. But it's divine to be bigger than your temptations, and temptation is exactly what this is.
Resist the Heathcliffe anecdote. Get behind thee, Daisuke -- I mean, Satan. The summer's just getting to you (it's no coincidence that in Western thought, the dark side of the afterlife is also hot and sticky).
So what, pray tell, should you do with all that pent-up emotion? When you've finished a nice game of squash with your old school chums or a lunch-hour workout, pour yourself into work. Lavish your attention on the task at hand, not on wooing your coworker. The only sheets you should envision are spreadsheets -- devote your energy to going back and double checking your work.
And for each day you build the team momentum as a whole -- in an appropriately professional manner -- you can reward yourself on the weekends. Call up your friends, hit the beach or the gold course and tell
all about Heathcliffe and Daisuke.
Read more of Miss Conduct's best advice at
AskMissConduct.com. Her amanuensis, Lisa Moricoli Latham, is a freelance writer in Los Angeles, and has contibuted to The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and Salon.com.