Threat and Politics

(Note: I’ll have less references in German here now, since I’ve started a brand new blog completely in German – http://www.braunekuh.wordpress.com – to better think and write in German. Thanks for tolerating all the German titles so far!)

Anyway.

Where I work, I’ve noticed that people are suddenly insanely friendly and willing to share when one knows that the other is leaving. But why?

I started being in this team since November 2011, and part one of the big news is that I’ve applied for a year off work, which just recently got approved by the bosses. And then I got around to telling one colleague.

Before that happened, we were on work-only talking terms. I’m an open book so most people know about me, my relationship, my travels and stuff. But he was the opposite. He had nothing next to nothing to say about his personal life, which made me feel like perhaps we weren’t close enough for personal matters. Fair enough.

But the moment I told him, he positively changed. He probed more and then told me a lot about his personal life, to a point of mimicking what his girlfriend would say in her tone of voice. I was taken aback and had started to wonder why. We were exactly the same as before, just that I’ve just broken the news to him that I won’t be here for a while, and instantly he tells me things.

I’ve observed this quite a bit in my department actually, since I’ve witnessed three colleagues leave. I don’t understand this phenomenon. Are people threatened by their presence, and therefore are only willing to be friendlier when they know this threat will be removed?

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Making Friends

It seems tougher to make friends when you get older. Your guard is up, you’re more selective, you know what kind of person you like, you know what kind of person you dislike. You become skeptical of the world, of niceness, of good intent.

When you’re young you just want someone to hang out with. But when you’re older, their looks, their dressing, the way they speak, walk, talk, stand, sit could affect your impression of them. Golly, we’re judgmental.

And then our ability to make small talk is nurtured, but we carefully place them into different categories. Acquaintances I don’t need to know more about, Facebook friends, colleagues, friends I talk shit to, friends I can actually tell things to, etc.

But recently I underwent orientation and got to know a bunch of people I was happy to be around for two whole weeks. On the first day of knowing some people, we already knew so much about one another. After a week, we were hanging out after work. After two weeks, we were playing sports, texting and hanging out after work.

I actually think it’s incredibly rare to make friends on the get-go. I’m not that person. I don’t open up easily, I don’t talk and laugh loudly. I certainly don’t laugh until I cry within a week of knowing people. But this bunch, I did.

I feel incredibly blessed to have gone through orientation with them. Now on to the next challenge, keeping in contact…

Leaders that suck, and those that don’t

I always think that having a good leader is half the battle won.

Superficially, I always thought that a good leader is a good speaker. I haven’t been in close proximity of a leader of sorts for most of my life, so I hadn’t known what to look out for in leadership.

Sure, you learn in school that good leaders, well, lead.

But that was more of a function than a trait. The job scope of a leader is to lead. But it’s only in recent years that I experienced different styles of leadership. And the leaders that I particularly like share a similar trait.

I’ve definitely encountered bad leaders before. In one stint, the leader was known to be a disciplinarian who yells at people with poor judgment. He wasn’t in close contact with the ground, and the fellow employees around were unmotivated. Everyone encouraged me not to stay on in the company because of him.

In another stint, the leader was only concerned about bottom line. Because it was a small business, it was clear whenever he did or said things, they were just for the bottom line. And nobody liked it. We felt like slaves.

But the leaders that I particularly liked had one thing in common. They were extremely personable. Even if they are many levels above you; Even if their pay checks are multiple fold of yours; Even if many people reported to them; Even if you’re just a small fry; And even if the number of years they’ve been with the company is longer than the amount of time you’ve been alive.

And when you’re personable, people naturally want to listen when you speak. This has nothing to do with a flair for speaking. You don’t need to speak like Obama. (He really is a brilliant public speaker!) But when you’re personable, people feel like you understand them. You don’t make them feel small. You make them feel a part of the team.

And most importantly, this motivates people to stay on. This makes me want to put in effort for them. This makes me want to work under their care.

I’ve been fortunate to have met these people. Just like parenting (I’ve always been on a lookout for what kind of parenting traits I want to have based on observation – I know this sounds weird), but these good leaders have been inspirational. They may not be CEOs, but they are impactful all the same.

And they’ve made me realize what kind of employee I want to be – and if I end up a leader – what kind of leader I want to be.

Be personable, folks, and the world will be pleased to be behind you.

Speaking with Acquaintances VS Loved Ones

In parallel with the previous post about being blessed – I noticed something at work today.

I’ve a colleague who was previously in a position where she had to liaise with customers all the time. She is absolutely brilliant on the phone. She has amazing phone etiquette and she speaks to cold callers, service providers, etc with extreme courtesy.

I adore her. I really admire her ability to make small talk, her ability to make others comfortable around her, her comfort with her job, in her own skin, her faith in running, how she juggles work and family, etc.

Her husband’s currently abroad, and I think they hit a slightly rough patch. So when he called the other day, she switched to a clearly irritable-sounding tone.

And then it hit me because I think we’re all guilty of it. How is it that we speak with acquaintances in a nicer manner than when with loved ones?

I mean – do we care about strangers on the streets? Do we care about our customers? Do we care about the acquaintances? Do we care about the colleagues we make small talk with? Do we care about them as much as our loved ones? How is it that we’re extremely nice to them instead?

Even if we’re having a bad day, we still mask it in front of others. But with our loved ones, we let it show. We let it all out. I’m upset, and I want you to know it. But in some ways, that seems really sad to me.

I’m not saying I’d rather mask my feelings when with my loved ones. I definitely would rather let them know what’s truly going on than anyone else I don’t care about. And it’s not about being close enough to not stand on ceremony, or skip the formalities.

But if we’re so nice to others, shouldn’t we try to say these “please” and “thank you” to our loved ones too?

When was the last time you said, “Mum, thanks for cooking the meal. It was delicious.” When was the last time you said that to somebody’s mum when you were invited over?

When was the last time you said, “Thank you” when your sibling decides to give you a ride to somewhere you needed to go? When was the last time you said that to cab driver?

When was the last time you said, “Could you please help me…” to your boyfriend instead of demanding it right away? When was the last time you said that to a colleague?

Shouldn’t we care more about sustaining that relationship with our loved ones – enough to speak to them in a nicer manner?

A Breath of Fresh Air

I’ve been on course for the past two days while at work, and I’ve been completely brainwashed about the company I’m in.

And it’s not propaganda because it wasn’t the content of the course. The content was brilliant, the external consultant did good, and we learnt a lot. But I gotta say, for all the hits and misses, I have lots of respect for HR – they’ve hired some amazing people. These people and the things they said, the way they behaved, have thoroughly impressed me.

I think it’s not easy to stick with an organization for more than 10 years, more than 20 years, and still be that motivated to genuinely want to serve customers. (Alas, the stark contrast between Gen X and Gen Y?) It is sincerity that cannot be bought, and I think the biggest takeaway from the course was that the belief is true – things do have to come from the heart.

Also, amidst all the unhappiness with work that is commonly lamented, this was a breath of fresh air. I’m sure these people aren’t happy every day. Heck, we were grouchy together in the morning because we weren’t “awake” yet.

But I loved what they brought to the table, I loved that they did not judge me for my lack of experience, they were willing to hear me out and include me in all discussions, used me in examples, etc. They were openly letting me know that it’s okay to say whatever I wish to say, and they will back me up as a team.

And with that, I already knew what sort of leaders they were, what sort of rapport they would build, how I would feel if I had the golden opportunity to work with them.

I think I’m inspired.