How is everyone feeling today? I recently read an article in a well-regarded monthly magazine that enjoys a monthly circulation of around 20,000. Whereas I don’t agree with its editorial standpoint, it nonetheless remains a welcome read, if only to gain some insight into alternative viewpoints and positions. A recent article spoke to the apparent rise in mindfulness in the business world. If an article could sneer, this one would have worn one.
It’s not without foundation though. A well-known colleague starts too many interactions with, “How are you feeling today/this morning/now?” It goes further: “Do you want to tell me more about that?”
Me: “Actually no, I want to get on with the conversation/meeting.”
After hearing this, my colleague gives a wounded “Oh..I just thought…,” sort of reply.
Like most other conversations, there’s a largely unwritten social etiquette that establishes and maintains our comfort zones. Push against it too hard and the effort to engage people creates resistance, discomfort and in some cases “dysfunctional pushback.” But wait, isn’t it a good idea to share some personal feelings and insights as we try to build trust within our team(s)? Well, yes: but there’s a “but,” (isn’t there always!). So, here’s a useful way of developing an understanding of how we might choose to seek access to thoughts and feelings, including our own, that might prevent us from walking into “bear-traps” (deeply uncomfortable, literally and figuratively!)
Think of the way we share personal information as a house with four rooms.
Room 1: Anyone is welcome here, they can ask questions about its decoration, fittings, photos, everything! And you’re happy to tell the stories, to share the associations, meanings, and emotions. Some happy, some sad, all safe.
Room 2: This is a room of deeper personal significance and meaning and to be invited into it is an overt recognition of trust and value. On display here are the more deeply held values, memories and the feelings they generate. Our surface hopes and fears reside here and they are shared conditionally and with trust high on the agenda.
Room 3: Only the most trusted and secure of our associates (professional and personal), are allowed in here. In this room there is a potentially harmful mix of love, hate, joy and despair. To be allowed in here and to observe the contents is a privilege that must never be undervalued or over anticipated. For the “householder” (you!), giving access to this room is the ultimate expression of trust, the granting of which is a declaration of oneness, for here reside your dreams, ambitions, hopes and insecurities.
Room 4: A room that holds the deeper aspects of memory, hope, joy and shame. It is a place of ambiguous power; a place that for most of us and for most of the time, we are reluctant to enter ourselves, let alone to invite another to join us!
For our workplace, as we strive to develop trust and affiliation by creating opportunities to share feelings, we need to bear in mind that our efforts to establish a more open culture are truly frightening to some of our colleagues: we are sometimes looking at a significant cultural mismatch as we seek to adapt and change well-established rituals, conventions and processes. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. What feels important is that we understand that we’re going to have to spend a lot of time in Room 1 before our colleagues even consider opening the door on Room 2 and it’s for them to grant access, not for us to require it.
To return to the article mentioned in paragraph one. My preferred approach is one that creates an opportunity for people to share (if they want to) some Room 1 personal stuff, and to give them a chance to express how they’d like to leave the meeting-and I’m very happy with short or one-word answers here, one that contribute to our understanding of each other, as individuals and as team members with the hope and intention that this can be nurtured and grown.
It’s worth trying. Good luck!