“What High School Did You Go To?”

skyline of st. louis missouri

If you’re from St. Louis, you’re more than familiar with the question, “what high school did you go to?” Visitors are puzzled by the question, but WE’RE puzzled if someone doesn’t ask!


So, say you’re starting a new job and you’re asked that question by your new coworkers. What are they really getting at?


As any St Louis native knows, there’s a TON of private & public high schools in the area. By asking this question, your new coworkers are trying to draw conclusions about you by associating you with what they know about your “alma mater”.


In reality, they’re trying to classify you based on your financial status. Sociologists call this class consciousness.


These assumptions we have about each other can affect the social dynamic in the office, among other things. How?


If you look around, you’ll notice that people tend to surround themselves with folks of similar backgrounds to their own—people like themselves. While it’s “socially” normal, they’re likely missing out on what could be meaningful connections, learning experiences, and even business opportunities.


Ignoring the differences in our peers’ financial situations causes stress.


Imagine someone who’s from a rough part of town, who works a second job on the weekends, who struggles to make ends meet.


Their top priorities are paying their bills on time & getting their kids to school.


So, they don’t show up to Thursday night happy hours.


They don’t jump into a conversation about the Blues game that someone went to last week.


It’s just not on their radar!


Folks in this situation might be afraid to speak up.

They might feel ashamed.

They might feel they have nothing in common with their coworkers, and begin to isolate.

They might dread coming to work for this very reason.


So, what happens if we start to talk about our “class consciousness”?


If people feel they can be honest with one another about their real lives, work becomes a “safe” space. People will feel more comfortable being honest with what’s going on at home, and coming to work suddenly becomes less intimidating.


A good starting point is simple: ask a coworker about their family, their hobbies, what they actually DID at their high school, and—really—listen.


Find some things you have in common, and build on that!


Every person has a different background & a different life experience. When people begin to branch out from their comfort-zones, their “cliques”, and start to share their stories, some amazing things happen—for your business, too.


People speak up in meetings & begin to offer their OWN perspectives.


People collaborate, create new ideas, and come up with new solutions.


Sounds like a win-win to me.


Let’s start talking!