I spent the last week participating in an expensive retreat that highlighted the challenges small groups of people usually face while spending considerable time blocks of each day in close proximity to each other.
Lots of other folks are also currently participating in these types of interpersonal stress dynamics experiments.
The scientific name for these trials is “vacations.”
I couldn’t help thinking about all the times I’ve spoken to groups about the dynamics of people working together in close quarters for extended periods. Granted, this was a vacation, right? You’re not working, right? Yeah, right.
(Parents who’ve recently vacationed with the family nod in unison.)
And believe me, we had a fantastic time. It may have been the best vacation we’ve ever taken. My kids are in that sweet spot of being old enough to be mini-adults and still young enough to actually want to be around us. It’s a great time to be alive.
Yet, there were any number of times during the week in which everyone on Team Martin was on everyone else’s…last…nerve. You can have nothing to do but have fun… and still end up aggravated, agitated, perturbed, or flustered about something when you are always in each other’s company.
I found myself marveling during one particularly “spirited” interaction with my family as we tried to get a picture in front of a beautiful backdrop.
As everyone (me included) sniped at everyone else, I thought, “Wow. Here I am with the people I love and care the most about in the world… in front of some of God’s most beautiful work… and I’d like to toss these guys in that ocean right now.”
And yes, I’m sure the sentiment was mutual.
My point is that many people seem to think that if you regularly become frustrated with coworkers whom you work shoulder-to-shoulder all day with, you must work with jerks.
No, you work with humans.
Now, that doesn’t mean that chronically “bad attitude people” should simply be tolerated. Few things bring a team’s morale down more than unchecked malcontents.
But as long as we’re working closely along with other humans, things are occasionally going to become testy. Work isn’t always a vacation.
Heck, vacation isn’t always a vacation.
Breathe. Think of something funny.
Laughter is a wonderful diffusing agent. Apply generously.
One of my longest-running soapbox topics to bankers is that they have more influence on their work environments than they often realize.
Simply, over the course of a day, you’ll usually receive as much goodwill and courtesy as you display.
For umpteen different reasons recently, I was having one of the most mentally tiring and stressful mornings I can remember. My work day started at about 7:15 AM that day, and by 9:00 AM, I felt like I had about a month’s worth of aggravation and frustration crammed into that one morning.
I realized that I was then itching for arguments. I didn’t need any real reason to “jump ugly” on people. I was just ready and willing to do it.
For a brief moment, I sensed how stupid my mindset had become, and decided to do something. But I didn’t feel especially capable of changing my tone or demeanor at the time.
Instead, I decided that I would consciously monitor the words I used with folks for the rest of that day.
I addressed every male I spoke with as “sir” and every female as “mam.” I wasn’t particularly effervescent when doing so. But I did it.
While doing so, I remembered a northern friend of mine’s comments to me almost two decades ago. (It’s funny how particular old memories remain vivid.)
She didn’t like being referred to as “mam” and wanted to help me “get along” better at her bank. I was specifically told that referring to a woman as “mam” could be offensive.
Being much younger and much more ignorant, I initially took her advice. Not long after, however, it dawned on me that if someone takes offense to being referred to in a pretty universally-accepted term of politeness and respect, well… I probably wasn’t the one with issues.
But, I digress.
As the day progressed, people seemed to be especially pleasant with me. One person I frequently interact with even commented, “Boy, you’re in a good mood today.”
That was far from an accurate statement. But by later that day, it was far truer than it was earlier. I (almost) forgot about the morning.
I’m pretty sure that whatever smile I forced on my face that day looked, well…forced. And my tone wasn’t exactly sunny.
But my simply using respectful and courteous words more than compensated for that.
How will you speak to customers and peers today? That will likely be how you’re spoken to as well.