Connect with Others at Work in Authentic Ways
“It seems like everyone everywhere is super mad about everything all the time.”
The coffee maker is in the wrong place again at work. Not a car, which can be towed in less than an hour if I accidentally park it in the wrong spot - a coffee maker. Yet this plastic appliance has inspired everything from sarcastic comments to frustration, anger and a punk rock song, Mr. Cupajoe Shop. If a coffee maker can do this, there is no way I am going to feel comfortable about sharing what I did last night, much less about what I believe and most care about in my life. Finding authentic connections with others at work becomes even more difficult in high-stress positions. How can I talk to anyone in a real way if I feel like I’m constantly stepping on eggshells?
Be Mindful of Body Language
Your emotional and facial expressions can greatly influence another person. We talk with our bodies. (Trust me, it does no good to say to human resources, “That’s just my body.”) Your facial expressions have an even greater impact on a group. If you stir up two or three other people, oh boy, you three can have a big impact on how everyone else feels. Add in an aggressive stance, lack of eye contact and wild hand gestures - you are on your way from a staff meeting to a punk rock concert! Not to mention that the coffee maker is just black plastic. It isn’t going to make it through a mosh pit. Before you can connect with another person, think about how your body language is making them feel and how you want to present yourself to others. Smiling has never hurt, either.
Bring More of Yourself to Work
When you go to work, you may be carrying one of two attitudes. One is that all your interactions must be based on your terms. The other is that your terms must be based on all your co-workers’ values and perspectives. Neither is correct, of course. Authenticity is the alignment between our inner beliefs and our outward behavior. Ask yourself, at what point do you no longer feel yourself? When the coffee maker is next to the microwave? Across the hallway? It does not feel good to compromise too much. Fight for the coffee maker to stay in the kitchen. Authenticity also requires that you accept the authenticity of others. It is unrealistic to be universally liked. (Except me.) Where can I accept as a place for the coffee maker? Where can you accept it? Keep your head up, take a risk and have the courage to speak out. You will feel far more engaged and find greater satisfaction at work.
Practice Listening to Understand
To connect with others in an authentic way is to listen first. I mean really listening. You are going to put down the coffee maker and listen so hard that you aren’t even going to think about how your co-worker never listens to you and goes on 12 different tangents when you just want to know where the sugar is. Imagine that you are an investigative journalist and a contributing writer to her biography, Disgruntled, Coffee Too Bad to be True. You aren’t listening for breathless claims about filters. You want to understand how she is feeling. Sure, you disagree with her. Yet you can still listen to her in a way to understand where she is coming from. This skill also takes courage. A common problem in connecting with others is allowing them to have their own experiences. “But she just doesn’t get it!” you say to yourself. You can find out all kinds of things about her in the process of listening authentically, and at the same time, you will allow her to grow into her own authentic self at work. Don’t just allow them, but make sure that you understand them correctly. You can ask, “Did I hear you correctly?” Give her a chance to respond. It takes a team to do this kind of work. No successful team wins without listening to one another.
Live Out Your Core Values
AWARE's Unconditional Care Principles - Building on strengths is the key to success, We take on and stick with the hardest challenges, We are agents of change, Everything is normal until proven otherwise, Families are our most important resource, I’m ok, you’re ok, It takes a team, Our connection with our communities is vital, We strive to the highest quality of care, and Lighten up and laugh - are values that guide AWARE to where it wants us to go. Your true self is a guide to your core values. Identifying them isn’t as easy as it sounds. We can discover and uncover our values when we connect to others in an authentic way. Think about what was going on when you got angry about the coffee pot. What were you feeling? What value underlies that frustration? Do you really care about coffee makers this much? (Email me if you do because I like to talk to people with this much passion!) It isn’t as easy to exemplify these values in daily life, however. You are going to need feedback. Your coworkers, your therapist, your dog. This kind of work is worth it.
Improve Your Well-Being with Authenticity
We know what it feels like when we live with our true selves as guides. We just feel better. We are motivated to do more. We set goals and pursue them. Our relationships are more meaningful. If you pretend to be cool with the coffee pot being moved across the hall, you are setting yourself to wreck your health. “Sure, put the coffee maker where ever you like!” you say as your insides swirl with fear and anxiety and anger. To bounce back from other difficulties becomes harder and harder because you are rewiring your brain circuits to default automatically to negative emotions. “Sure, I can wait until tomorrow to pick up my car!” I say to the mechanic even though I have no idea how I am going to pick up my friend’s kids from school. Positive emotions have been linked to a variety of health benefits: lower weight and blood pressure, reduced risk for heart disease and diabetes. You may even live longer.