Reintroducing humanity into everyday business life

In the middle of a typical meeting-filled day in DC, I was fortunately able to jam in some time for coffee with an old friend and mentor. Our chats – akin to taking myself in for an oil change – are always a great mix of catching up and warm reminiscences, along with advice and guidance about the road ahead. So, I always look forward to these hours the most among the busy day. I guess that’s why I was in such a hurry to get our coffees and find a good table that I failed to notice an older lady in front of me struggling with the coffee lids. Fortunately, my friend stepped up and helped out – turns out that she was partially disabled – but for his help I have no clue how she would have got a lid on her coffee and the cup to her table without spilling the molten hot coffee everywhere. Immediately I felt very small and walked away quietly kicking myself.

In my career I have observed (and decried in these pages) the removal of human emotions, feelings and language from our official behavioral norms and communications like so much toxic waste. My guess is that much of this has been an understandable, evolutionary reaction to some of the behavioral excesses of previous generations and to the overall acceleration/digitization of our lives. However, like any unilateral movement, the sanitization of our human interactions, even in a business setting, inevitably must be re-balanced.

We all know that mutually beneficial relationships are the foundation of business exchanges (a product or service without a market is just an idea), but we seem to forget in practice that these relationships are built upon human exchanges. Showing compassion for others – truly caring about their ideas, contributions, and welfare – and taking a few extra minutes to show despite our relentlessly busy world is an investment that pays dividends downstream.

If you linger to ask how their kids are doing, to tell a funny self-deprecating story, or to make a coffee for your colleague, they will of course have a more favorable attitude towards you, they may have a more productive day, and they’re much more likely to be there for you with a kind word, a smile, or a spare hand when you’re in the ditch.

No great insights here. However, don’t forget, there’s a big cultural bias theses days against showing (and especially telling) your employees you love ‘em, so be forewarned:

  • Showing your humanity involves risk taking – When you hear that a colleague is struggling with a personal problem, will you approach them? Even expressing concern and offering assistance could be taken the wrong way. I say it’s worth it – as folks get to know you, if you are consistent in showing your concern for others, they will appreciate your character and willingness to expose it to them.
  • Expressing compassion and following through takes time – If you approach someone in need, you have to be prepared for the fact that they may actually interact with you. Maybe this means you have to take five minutes to listen and offer up whatever comforting words you can muster. But maybe it means you have to give someone a ride because their car is in the shop or approach a peer or even an executive about a problem you now know about. Again, in my mind, this is an investment rather than an expenditure of your time but, like all investments, you must be prepared to put the principal at risk at the outset.
  • The process of dealing with human issues is not easily expressible in a spreadsheet model – Engaging with others, even for a few minutes of small talk, involves active listening, verbal and non-verbal communications, and emotionality. These exchanges will consume your energy and even small tidbits can manifest themselves as takeaways for your subconscious (you may find yourself waking up at night thinking about what someone said, how they said it, or the quality of your response). In other words, being human can be a bit messy. However, I believe that these consequences are good too – the takeaways are actually learning objects that can form the basis for mini self-improvement projects, provided that your maintain your own balance and don’t dwell on any negativity that surfaces.

As you plow through everyday life advancing your career and personal interests, take time to hone the craft of being human. These things go hand in hand.

Thanks as always for reading, commenting, forwarding and tweeting. Take care.

About Denis

Business Leader, Consultant & Social Entrepreneur. Proven senior executive leader with deep experience guiding companies throughout various lifecycle phases including start-up, rapid growth and maturity. Principal of YellowPark Garden, providing executive leadership expertise and assistance in economic and societal development initiatives.
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