We’ve all heard the phrase “judged by the company you keep.” But what exactly does that mean? If you simply hang around with someone, is that enough to get you labeled with their faults?
And, conversely, if you hang around with people with great reputations, does that mean you slide by if you’re not exactly squeaky clean? I’m guessing you already know the answer to that one is mostly “no”. But, it may at least make people rethink any previous negative conclusions about you.
Why company you keep matters
In an ideal world, it shouldn’t matter. You should be judged by your own words and actions, and not by what anyone else does or says. But we all know this isn’t an ideal world.
People do form conclusions based on associations, including who you hang out with at work. And, to add some validity to that point, who you choose to surround yourself does reflect on you. At least on some levels.
You’ve chosen their company. And you spend time with them. Or turn to them for advice. Or you simply go to lunch with them. So what about these people appeals to you? And what does it say about you and the way you make decisions / view life?
Boss who makes bad choices (example)
Imagine you accept a dream job working for someone you admire. You’ve heard good things about him. And you’ve read how his hard work helped build the business. Plus the company is in a field you really enjoy and has been growing nicely. You’re excited!
But then, once inside, you see the people your boss favors. And you learn that they cut corners and even cheat or lie. Maybe they even treat people badly to get what they want. Nothing you knew about beforehand. Yet your boss knows and loves them. He even hangs out with them after work.
Wouldn’t that change your opinion of him, even if from the outside (and from the glowing PR he probably helped create) he seems great? And even if the company continues to do well (at least for now), is this someone you feel the same about once you’ve seen who he chooses to respect and reward?
Company you keep matters. Is it fair?
Who you surround yourself with. Who you admire and welcome as friend. All this does matter. And it does reflect on you. Even if you haven’t changed one iota, people will see you in a different light based on who you choose to single out to be one of your close associates.
Interestingly, even if you’re simply seen having lunch with people, the fact gets registered. I’ve known senior managers who advised their direct reports to be more careful about hanging out with “lower level” employees.
Like it or not, people get judged in the workplace. And it is not always fair.
But should that be the controlling reason you decide who to hang out with? Don’t you have a right to choose your own relationships / colleagues / friends? And if not, is this the place for you?
So what can you do?
The company you keep does matter. And it’s well worth taking a second look at exactly who you do spend time with and energy on. If you’re starting to get a tarnished glow (even if it’s second-hand smoke), maybe there’s an important message — one you need to look at.
But, if this is merely about some dinosaur-age status thing or perhaps unfounded prejudice that is part of your new workplace, then maybe the thing to look at is what you got yourself into!
I’m not advising you to turn and run without giving the place a chance. And again, there may be something in your relationships you need to look at for yourself. But if you feel you are being unfairly branded, here are a few things you can do:
- Widen your circle of work friends. The company you keep can also expand your knowledge, networking contacts, and opportunities.
- Talk to your boss about any negative feedback or signals you seem to be getting. You might be surprised as to what’s really going on.
- If people in your immediate circle are doing things you know are wrong, let them know you are not going to play that game. And, if needed, walk away. Or at least see them less.
- Look for ways to help others see “lower level” employees for more than their status. Get them a chance to shine in a project. Or show some of their special talents. We once had an art show that changed the way certain “limited skill” employees were seen. Things like that that can help remove unspoken barriers that deserve to be removed anyway.
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