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Unlike the witty, now defunct podcast, (which you should totally download and listen to), the comment that one often hears has yet to fade from our day to day lives. Working in an office with the same individuals, there’s a point when one runs out of things to talk about. Of course, when all or nearly all are women, there’s an interesting phenomenon that materializes.

For me, I do my best to maintain a professional appearance. It’s no secret that this is a struggle, as I have posted before about my wardrobe. I have noticed a trend among my colleagues to point out and “compliment” whatever is different about my outfit. Whether it’s a pair of shoes I haven’t worn in a while or a new shirt or a change in my hair, certain individuals simply can’t help themselves but to comment.

At first, I became incredibly self conscious, not understanding why my wardrobe became such a focus of their attention. Considering that the compliments usually interrupted me in my work, I began to wonder what one’s ulterior motives would be to do so. It caused a great deal of frustration, because I’d rather be left alone, especially considering how in the workplace, comments like this are often backhanded compliments or attempts to vet one person against another, building alliances or fishing for information. I wanted no part of it.

After some reflection, I remembered some video I had seen as an undergraduate psychology major, which was about the developmental stages of school age children, emphasizing the differences between boys and girls. The boys tended to use one-upmanship to form bonds between them, whereas girls tended to focus on  what similarities they have between them. Girls often would say that they liked something another girl had or wore as a way of showing sameness between them, which reinforced social bonding.

Most often it happens subconsciously, and is something that apparently still continues into adulthood and way into the modern workplace. However, for an awkward saurus like me, it does play tricks on the mind, and makes for a very insecure discussion. How do you handle it? Say thanks and move on? Or, do you try to remember where you bought the item of focus and tell them so? Probably best to return the compliment, but that’s difficult, because it comes across as forced and insincere. My current strategy is to say thanks and cite where I bought it as I continue what I’m doing, but this doesn’t always work. Getting stuck in a conversation I would rather not have is something I spend too much of my time trying to avoid, without much success.