Updated: Sep 15, 2019
I was talking to a friend of mine about how people treat each other at their workplaces. She was saying that they don't even say "good morning" at her office and I felt lucky that in my team they still do…
My friend works in the city, in a big company. The company that I work for is in a smaller city and my team is quite friendly - we have been working together for years, so we have this a bit of a "family" feeling going on. Anyway, since my friend is my friend (and I do care about her) it was really painful for me to hear that the no "good morning" is actually a reality for her. It makes me think that there is no connection between people, despite the fact that they spend all day together. There is not even enough connection or consideration to say "good morning " to each other. Of course, this is not the first time that I am hearing about this - I have heard before that working environments like that exist. However, the difference is that before I didn't really think that it was the actual reality for any of the people that I know. I thought that type of reality is a very distant one - almost like a myth, something that happens in extremely de-personalised environments somewhere Far Far Away*... But it was a very real reality to my friend - she was living in it every day!
Am I just making a very big deal about a little thing? Well, I think it goes much deeper than that. The no "good morning " is a symbol of what is happening below the surface.
Realising that this "myth" is not such a myth, after all, made it quite painful and real to me too. Why people are so unkind to each other? Where is the consideration? When you think about it, people are not things** so it must be really horrible to feel like your presence is not even acknowledged. Are we really not seen like that? Is our presence in our colleagues' environment is so insignificant? Didn't anybody actually notice that we have turned up? Does anybody care if we do? Would anybody know if we didn't? Those are the thoughts that come up in my mind when thinking about it and they feel really cold, isolating, quite inhumane and simply…unkind.
So, why people are being unkind? (Monologue 1)
Am I being unkind too? (Monologue 2)
Should we be kind? (Monologue 3)
Should we expect kindness from others? (Monologue 4)-----> Let's explore!
Monologue 1. Why people are being so unkind?
My guess is that they are not really doing that on purpose… What is happening (most likely) they just no longer have that instinctual pull to be warm towards the other. The OTHER here is the key word, I think.
It is easy to ignore THE OTHER when you don't really think about that person as someone who somehow belongs or has anything in common with you.
I believe that in the places (I am talking workplaces, businesses mainly) where people tend to concentrate on individual goals and on personal agendas mainly rather than team goals, or goals of the company, this type of separation and isolation is quite usual, almost like accepted "normal". I think in the places where there is loads of (emotional) distance between people and clear restriction between personal and professional life, there is also strong split between the role that one plays (let's call it the Corporate Façade) and the humanity of the individual. These days (even though many people are waking up for the fact that we have become really disconnected from ourselves and our nature) there is still a lot of value being placed on "being strong". Definition of "being strong" here includes -> "controlling own emotions", --> keeping your face straight, not crying in public and ---> generally "being professional" i.e. a bit robot-like...
Of course, none of those professionally wanted qualities is associated with asking a colleague for a coffee, sharing your lunch with someone, asking how they feel about their work/situation, smiling at each other and laughing of oneself after making a mistake. The expectation of how "a professional" would look like is still pretty cold/detached image, rather than a kind, warm-hearted one. So I think even though we naturally might want to be kind/warm towards each other, nobody wants to "blow their cover" and to expose our "human" side because it is not safe to be vulnerable in our typical "professional" environment. And of course, after being in such environment for a while and behaving the way others around us do, we ourselves are starting to follow suit and it becomes our second nature. And nobody wants to change this status quo and potentially expose themselves to being rejected - implementing new habits in well-established environments is not an easy task.
Monologue 2. Am I being unkind too?
It is sooooo easy to see what others are doing wrong. They say that the things we most hate/dislike in others are exactly the same things we suppress the most within ourselves. That's the reason why we have such resistance to other people behaving the way we most dislike. "No, I definitely don't have/do that" ---- I am sure some would say. And it could be that we don't have that…most of the time… However, the fact that it is so hard for us to tolerate that exact behaviour means that we judge it. And the more we hate something - the more we judge it. Probably quite harshly too. And what is so KIND about judging others harshly? That's right - nothing!
I will give you an example of what I might be thinking:
"he/she (let's call them HeeShee) went for a coffee - and they always go for a coffee at least three times - and they never ask me! I am so busy today and I ALWAYS ask if HeeShee wants a coffee and sometimes HeeShee says YES and then, of course, I do buy them a coffee! Yeah, sometimes they even forget to give me money back too! It's been 6 months that I am in this company and they never ask ME! What a bad selfish person HeeShee is!"
See what happened there? I have judged another person based on a little thing like a coffee as a BAD person. Later, I probably started talking to them less, decided that I don't like them, stopped asking them if they want a coffee and eventually I have made that person feel isolated based on my own assumptions and judgements about them. At the same time, I probably never tried to understand what was going in HeeShee's life: maybe they had some pressures, maybe they have been depressed, maybe their life was quite miserable and now their character was formed in that way that they simply don't proactively ask/initiate contact or care towards other people. So I guess in that situation I was unkind…
Monologue 3. Should we be kind?
So in good teams, you will find WE and US a lot, instead of ME and HER or HIM. And if we don't find that, there is probably a lack of common ground. This applies not only in the work teams but also in other types of teams: i.e. a strong group of friends, family, partnerships. There is a sense that beyond you and me there is us: something that includes parts of you and me, plus something else.
What happens in the workplaces who are not very well connected is something that goes a bit like this:
I come to work, I do my job, I leave.
You come to work, you do your job, you leave.
I have my life, you have yours.
There is nothing in common between us…
OR is there? How about the space we share? How about the coffee machine that we use? And the sink where we wash our hands? And of course, the frustration about the printer that we have on our floor? We probably use similar chairs, we probably have the same problems with the air conditioner so basically…we are living together for a period of time (almost) every day. I remember that I once I calculated that realistically speaking, if we come to work 5 days per week, we probably spend more of our waking time with our colleagues, than with people that we actually live with. From this perspective then, it wouldn't be nice if the people that we live with are not kind to us. So why it should be OK and tolerable to spend time with the colleagues who are not kind to us? They are also people. We are also people. The sense of well-being would definitely be affected if the people we "live" at work with are not being kind to us. Why do I say kind instead of nice? Niceness could be superficial, in my opinion, but kindness is something that really goes from the heart. It doesn't have to be anything huge, but a simple consideration for a fellow human being that we are spending so much time around every day while at work. That's why I use "kind" and I also say, that yes - we should be kind to each other. Or at least we should try…
Monologue 4. Should we expect kindness from others?
In Lithuanian language, we say "koks pats esi, taip apie kitus galvoji", which roughly translates to "you think of the others according to the way you are yourself". That means things we ourselves would do, we think the other would do too. So the things we expect from others, are the things we expect from ourselves. If we hold a door for somebody with a heavy load, we would expect others to hold the door when we have a heavy load. When we offer our seat to an elderly person, we expect that from others as well. And of course, when we say "hello" in the morning to our colleagues at work, we expect them to do that too. So it is fair to see how if we are kind to others, we would expect kindness from them too. And when we don't get it, we feel disappointed. What we do usually is a "minimum" standard, because it is "Normal" to us to do these things. The same is true for other people.
Detaching from the pain can help a person survive a painful situation. But it comes with a "Kinder Surprise" risk: disconnecting from yourself and becoming numb, lifeless, making myself US and the rest of the PEOPLE - OTHER. I think that has happened with people in that office (in many city offices, I think). The not being connected or not being able to connect is so painful that at some point we decide to numb ourselves from the pain altogether. The problem is that the numbing doesn't happen selectively. Usually, when we decide to numb ourselves out of how other people's action affect us to prevent us from feeling pain, we will also disconnect from both good and bad feelings and emotional experiences.
So now that we have explored the issues from a few different angles***, what's the cure? Can we do something about it?
OK. Here's the cure: let's have a look if there is at least one lonely person in the office. How about someone who seems to want to talk? Maybe there is someone that we can see a bit of "wanting a human connection" look in their eyes? Is there nobody? MAYBE there is somebody? How about that lady at the desk on our far right? How about that guy near the fire extinguisher? The thing is that sometimes we have to be brave. Sometimes we have to make the first step. Why? Because we can. Then, why not? What do we have to lose?
Also, I think that taking the first step can be considered a deeper level of "cure", which I always prefer because it addresses not only the personal issue but sets a trend and a good example for other people who might want to join in to follow. Instead of seeing other people as "unkind" let's try to see what has happened to them and maybe they are trying to do their best in their own ways, or maybe they just don't know how to and maybe there is an opportunity for us to connect.
Instead of asking "should we be kind to others?" let's ask "why shouldn't we be kind to others?"
I want to leave you with this quote that I really like by MJ:
" I'm starting with the man in the mirror
I'm asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change "
*Shrek 2 reference: whoever doesn't know about Far Far Away - they should find out
**(despite the fact that some people even talk to their things as if things were people -i.e. cars)
***yes, I know that these angles are my personal angles and the chances are that other people would find another 21, but I have decided to stick with the ones that have flared up as the most important one to me