This is the first in a series called “Come Out at Work.”
Following is a true story, with names changed — actually, we never caught the names in the first place. So here goes:
Jerome is a banker in a multinational financial services firm. He prefers not to drink alcohol, yet one day his business group goes out to a nearby bar, and he joins them because they’re pleasant to be with. Plus he knows that outside the office is where helpful, informal data surfaces about his projects.
When it comes time to order a drink, he ponders for a moment, then orders the microbrew on tap. His boss Sandy comes around and asks, “What’re you drinking?”
“The microbrew,” he responds. Sandy orders one, too.
Jerome doesn’t finish his beer, while Sandy orders a second and third, grateful that Jerome has introduced her to this delicious libation.
The following weekend, it’s Jerome’s birthday and he’s having a mellow celebration with his family at home. The doorbell rings, and a delivery person hands him a box marked “Microbrew of the Month.” As Jerome leaves the package in the entryway, unsure what to do with it, he reads the attached card “Happy Birthday to our favorite microbrew fan! -Your officemates.”
On Monday his colleagues are eager to see him. “Did you get anything this weekend?” Pat, the office manager, inquires.
“Yes, I did. And it was very kind! Thank you for the thoughtful microbrews!”
“And?” asks Pat.
“And?” says Jerome, bewildered.
“Yeah, and… how did they taste?”
“Oh! Wicked good, of course,” Jerome lies as he looks at the wall.
For each of the next eleven months, he receives a new 12-pack, and stores them in his basement. In time he gets wise and gives them away as gifts to his neighbors and friends, striving to avoid any further conversation about brews at work.
What to Do?
So what’s the problem here? Jerome is a closeted relative teetotaler, so his colleagues misunderstand him, and he chooses to go along with a charade about who he is, largely because his officemates were well-intentioned and generous in offering him a birthday present. To be fair, nobody’s at fault here. Jerome wants to join his workmates in an activity they enjoy, demonstrating how he fits in with the group. And we can’t criticize his team members for honoring his birthday, and working with the little they know about him to come up with a suitable gift.
Still, is there harm in what’s going on? We think so. Lying never feels good, and Jerome and his coworkers miss out on the opportunity to bond around the real gratitude he feels for their benevolent gesture. He feels compelled to present a version of himself that’s untrue, which in the end detracts from his work obligations.
What should he have done differently? When at the bar, aside from ordering a seltzer–which could feel incongruous to his peers’ behavior–he might add that he typically doesn’t drink with an optional short explanation. To refrain from socializing at the bar is not an option, as it may hurt his professional development.
Do you think there’s something Jerome can do at this point to be understood better as a person with preferences that may not align with his peers’? Have you had a similar experience as Jerome? Comment below.