Farewell, not Sartrean hell!

Quite often at social workplace events, such as a farewell, there exists a phenomenon called Sartrean hell.

Jean-Paul Sartre was an existential philosopher who believed that hell was a silent room where a circle of people were unable to look away from each other’s eyes.

Seem familiar?

Well, perhaps the issue is not the eyes but the accompanying frozen silence and general uncomfortable feeling of not knowing how to be around a bunch of aquaintances.

So how do we avoid collective social awkwardness?

The following tips below should help:

Play music.

This way the background noise should make people feel more comfortable, so that if anyone starts a conversation, it's not like breaking wind in an elevator.

Talk about the food/decoration.
This is a great ice-breaker. Compare the decorations to IKEA or thank whomever brought the food.

People often stare at the food awkwardly, waiting for the first person to break the ice and make a move, so that Eating can begin.

To remove this tentativeness, hover over the Food making conversation about what to have first, or eat something straightaway and talk about how good it is, or ask who made it and what went in it.

You can go straight for the Food, or for a cup of tea, as soon as you enter the room, making a joke or small talk about how you're looking forward to Cake etc.

Sometimes a lack of table manners has people laughing. Don't overdo it though, the aim is levity, not crassness!

If you have baked Cakes, get people who are milling around to help you ice them.
Group interaction will make the atmosphere more comfortable.

Ok, I'm freaking out. 

Just give me an exit strategy.

Structure a small event to break the ice.

This requires someone who is more outgoing.

Some examples include organising a small free raffle – such as who gets to have the leaver’s mug/stapler/pot plant – make some noise about getting people to put their names in the hat.

Or get the person leaving to throw a paper airplane or a scrunched paper ball (eyes closed, after turning around three times clockwise and anti-clockwise) – whoever it hits is the next one to leave the company, a twist on the bridal bouquet-toss.

This is especially funny in industries with high turnover, but maybe not in a recession!

Get some extra help with party tips for work.

Over the long term, have your workplace practise its social interactions by having regular, group morning teas.

Try having ‘penalty Cake’ - certain mistakes required Cake payment to the group.

Come the time for a farewell the atmosphere will be a lot better, and so will workplace morale.

For individuals: Be Comfortable (obviously!)

Comfort is the opposite of awkward.  When we feel comfortable in ourselves, our grounded vibe and relaxed body language will subconsciously affect the people near us (and the opposite is true).  Take the time to improve comfort physically, mentally and emotionally.

Physical -

  • freshen up in the bathroom;
  • take your shoes off (if your socks don't have holes!)
  • take a brisk walk to work off excess energy;
  • help arrange the festivities to become more comfortable with the space and people;
  • make neutral conversation with non-toxic people.

Mental -

  • leave your mental checklist of jobs at your workstation, do not think about work, think about a holiday you would like to have instead
  • focus on your breath
  • release any expectations of this event and just view it as an opportunity to eat and be away from the grindstone
  • place your attention on the details of the room to get your mind away from anything stressful
  • spend a minute beforehand meditating to relax you

Emotional -

  • rid yourself of any notions that you have to be the life of the party, that the success of it depends on you, or conversely that you are seen to be nervous/awkward
  • allow yourself to just "be" rather than "do" anything
  • rid yourself of any notion that you are being judged
  • find something you enjoy about the farewell, even the smallest thing, such as savoring your cup of tea, and focus on milking that enjoyment.

Good luck!

Remind me why we do farewells?

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