I am hoping you can give me some scripts and tips regarding an incredibly awkward work trip that is approaching in about a month. I have been with my company for many years, but have obtained a promotion a year ago and am now remotely supervised. My boss also has another employee is in the same office as her, they have worked together longer, and seem to have a tight relationship, whereas I have only met my supervisor face to face three times. My former supervisor always gave me a lot of encouragement and feedback, but since my current supervisor is so far away, and she doesn’t give me much feedback, I feel like I have no read on how she feels about me or if she approves of my work.
My supervisor has worked hard to obtain a scholarship for an amazing multi-day training conference across the country for all three of us. She has also mentioned how important it is to develop relationships as a team during this time. It is possible that my co-worker’s sister, who works in the same field, may join us. My supervisor has let me know that due to funding restrictions, I will definitely be sharing a room with her, and all four of us may have to share a room. My supervisor is aware that I am an introvert and has joked that I should get as much alone time as possible before, since we may be all crammed into one room.
On top of this, I am terrified of flying and this is going to be a long trip and I can’t sleep on planes even with the anti-anxiety prescription I take when I fly. I tend to need more sleep than many people (nine to ten hours), and if I don’t sleep, I often get physically sick. The thought of the exhaustion of being with other people 24/7, being the odd one out when everyone else has established relationships, and trying to establish a professional relationships with everyone has sent my anxiety about this trip through the roof.
So I am asking advice on (1) how to recharge/complete self-care when there might not be any alone time, (2) good scripts to develop professional relationships, and (3) any tips on how to not completely break down physically and emotionally while traveling, since this is a professional trip and I really want to make a good impression. On the bright side, both my supervisor and co-worker seem like genuinely nice, kind human beings, so I expect them to be forgiving, but I still want to remain professional.
Terrified of Trip
I hope this gets to you in time before you travel.
One question is: Is it a) financially possible for you b) worth it for you to pay for your own room at the conference? I know that goes against the whole “Also, we’ll be bonding!” aspect of the trip that your supervisor has in mind, but “I need a certain amount of sleep and solitude in order to function, so much so that it’s worth it to me to pay extra for the room, see you at breakfast!” is one solution. Even when everybody knows and likes everyone, sharing a room on a work trip is a lot to deal with. Another option: Is it possible for you to fly in 1 day early so you can acclimate & catch up on sleep before you’re inundated with the others? Not everyone can throw money at problems like these, but if you can & you want to it might be the simplest solution.
On fostering relationships with your coworkers & other attendees:
- If you’re traveling with kind human beings, being your kind self will help foster professional relationships without you having to particularly strategize or perform. It sounds like they recognize your introversion and will respect you if you say “I’m heading back to the room/to bed early to recharge a bit/to grab a night shower so there’s less competition tomorrow morning, see you later!” Conserve your energy so you can be very present at instruction periods/conference sessions as well as mealtimes and scheduled social events (where the best networking at conferences & training session happens) and give yourself permission to turn in and turn on early each night.”Drinks sound fun, but I need all of my sleep or I will be a cranky wreck. See you in the morning!”
- Participate in the awkward-ice breakers, small group discussions, and other interactive stuff. Many, many people feel awkward about these events and these are designed to pull people out of their shells and help them cooperate and learn.
- Go to mealtimes & scheduled social events. You’ll be tempted to sit with people you know every day, but try sitting with someone different every day. The course gives you built-in small-talk subject matter with this room full of strangers. “Neat session today – I really liked hearing about _____. What did you think?” See also: What do you do? How did you get into this field? Is this your first time at one of these? How far did you travel? I’ve never been there, but I’d like to go/Oh, you’re from (city where conference is)/ Neat, what is a great place to eat/fun thing to see/do? Read any good books lately? Have you read (our trainer/speaker’s) book? Would you recommend it? I’m going to get more water, can I bring you something?
- Exception to above: If your boss says “Wanna skip (scheduled event) and grab dinner somewhere?” say yes. Small group bonding with your coworkers is part of the reason to all go.
- Let your boss take the lead. Teambuilding is an important goal of the trip? Cool, hopefully she’ll facilitate some.
My other suggestions for carving out some personal territory and safety & keeping it together:
- Take the anxiety seriously and treat it like the medical issue it can be. Ask the therapist/mental health pro who currently treats your anxiety for recommendations – maybe an adjustment in meds or a temporary supplement to your normal meds, or some calming rituals & strategies. Plan for and rehearse possible situations with them. Readers, what are your best self-care rituals in situations like this?
- Create a cone of silence. If you don’t currently use earplugs and/or a sleep mask, acquire some and see if you can get used to sleeping with them in before the trip (if you’re not already used to them, they’ll be of minimal use on the trip). Your coworkers will feel self-conscious about not disrupting your sleep if they come in after you’ve gone to bed, and you reassuring them “I will be blindfolded & dead to the world” will make it easier for them.
- Plan short breaks throughout the day. Better yet, bribe yourself with short breaks throughout the day. Knowing that in one hour you can have half an hour to yourself with headphones on and a book can help you make it through the hour. I did this in college in the library – 1 hour of studying/course reading = 30 minutes of reading my novel.
- Honor your anxious feelings but use procrastination in your favor, i.e. “I’m feeling overwhelmed and horrible. Does that mean I have to do something about that right now?“ For example, a good friend’s child is having some serious anxiety issues which result in them sometimes calling my friend at work wanting to be picked up in the middle of the school day. My friend wants her kid to know “Hey, I’m your mom and of course I’ll come for you if you really need me!” but also not be leaving work to pick the kid up from school every single day because of upsetting & scary feelings (feelings that are not linked to any specific source or cause, like bullying, so, don’t worry – kid is ok, just, super anxious!). The compromise they have worked out is a version of, “Kid, wow, that sounds really terrible and I’m sorry you are sad. Can you try to make it through lunch/one more class period/until (Mom’s lunch break at work)? If you’re still too sad I’ll come get you then, but I want you to try to hang in for a little while and see if you feel better.” What happens is, most times the kid is comforted and no pickup is necessary, and the calls for rescue are becoming less and less frequent because the kid is becoming proud of being able to wait out the feelings – “I almost called you at lunch but then I waited I felt ok!” Whether the comfort comes from knowing that Mom will come if it’s a real emergency, being given the autonomy to decide what that is, or being 10 and not being able to hold onto a terrible mood for very long I don’t know. Maybe your inner kid needs a reminder that “Hey, Brain, we can peace out of here if we really need to, but can you try to make it until lunchtime?” If you still feel crappy at lunchtime (or if you know just can’t hang in until then), politely excuse yourself.
- Remind yourself: It’s only for a few days. It’s a neat event that you want to go to, with neat people that you like working with. You can make it for a few days! Schedule a day off and/or something super-not-taxing for immediately after you come back.
I hope everything goes great. Please report back if you can.