Tag Archive for humanness

Fit in. Or Don’t.

drseusswhyfitinYou can fit in, or you can stand out. You can’t have it both ways.

There are scores of people and groups out there who are more than willing to describe for you to a well-crossed T how you’re to act/look/think in any given situation or setting. Perhaps they’ve been there since you were a wee lad or lass, encouraging — and sometimes forcing — you to fit in to a given mold.

soldieryawnThink of all the books, scoldings, fringe religious zealots, co-workers, employees, school systems, etc, who took (and take) great pains to establish for you (or others) exactly — and often it really is a precise thing — who or what or how you’re supposed to be, whereas we’d say we want people to just…be.

It can be overwhelming. And paralyzing. And terrifying. When we feel the tug to step outside what’s expected of us, we can feel befuddled, bamboozled, baffled, and bewildered, especially if we’re berated for doing so. What becomes painfully obvious is that we’re really good at clinging to the way things are, and we’re often fiercely loyal to the way we’ve always done things around here.

But back to those folks — many of them well-intentioned — who will give you those subtle reminders that you need to be or look or talk like or believe a certain thing or things.

“This is what a corporate cog…er…individual looks like.”

“This is what an executive looks like.”

“This is what a [insert your follower-of-a-given-religion here] looks like.”

“This is what an affluent kid looks like.”

And so it goes.

But if you fit in too much, you won’t do anything. Think of people who do or have done things in any sphere. Amazing things that made or are making a real difference to different groups of folks. History is full of such people (Jesus of Nazareth, Ghandi, MLK, Michael Jordan, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Churchill, Richard Branson, etc).

weirdisradRarely do they “fit” anywhere. They do great things precisely because they’re willing to challenge conventional wisdom, think outside the box (though I still loathe that expression), innovate, and be, well, different. Isn’t that the very essence of the word extraordinary? Something outside the ordinary?

What groups, churches, organizations, and communities need is just those people, but sadly (though not unpredictably) they’re largely missing. As leaders, we’ve got to create environments where people can explore who they are and become the person they’re meant to be.

See Jack Assume


Perception can be a wonderful and awful thing, can’t it? It’s especially wonderful when accompanied by a good sense of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. It’s especially awful when it’s accompanied by neither.

You know what I’m talking about.

SI ExifIt’s that guy at the company Christmas party — we’ll call him Jack — who won’t shut up. Everyone in the room has his or her own individual perception of Jack, of course, and they vary a bit. The problem is that Jack assumes (see what I did there?) he’s the life of the party, the wittiest guy alive, and that he’s well-liked by all.

Unfortunately the reality is more along these lines…Everyone dreads at least one part of the Christmas party every year — Jack. Is he a terrible human being? No, he’s not. But he seems to be so full of himself. He never stops talking, acts like he’s smarter than he is, and is like that guy in high school who only thinks he’s the most popular kid in school.

So where’s the disconnect? Well, it goes back to what we mentioned in the first paragraph. Everybody perceives situations differently based on a number of factors, including their own self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Another example. Say a local TV personality is eating at a casual restaurant. He happens to be sitting alone in a booth, and appears to be doing something on his computer. A woman approaches the booth and without hesitation slides onto the bench seat across the table from the now confused man.

He doesn’t lift his head, but looks up from his screen to see who his unexpected guest is. Not recognizing her, he assumes she’s mistakenly landed in his booth thinking it was her own. But she doesn’t move.

“You’re Nathan, right?” she asks, already knowing the answer.

“I’m sorry. Do we know each other?” he replies, taken off guard.

“No, but I follow you on Facebook and catch you on TV all the time. Love your show.”

“Thanks,” he says. “I appreciate it.”

Thinking that would be a sufficient amount of conversation for his guest to move along, he goes back to his work; but she doesn’t move.

“Mind if I join you and buy you a drink?”

Awwwwkwaaaarrrrrd, he thought to himself.

“Um, thanks but no. I’m not trying to embarrass you or read too much into this, but I’m together with someone and really do have some work I have to get done.”

“I just think we have so many things in common,” she replies, missing the cues.

He looks back at her, giving her that that’s-great-but-please-just-leave smile.

She was saying something as she scooted out of the booth, but he was determined not to hear or acknowledge it, and so continued to stare as intently as he possibly could into his computer as she walked away.

What happened there? Two people were involved in the same situation, but were perceiving it in different ways. One was lacking self-awareness and emotional intelligence to some degree, right? Mr. Nathan the TV Man was giving all the signs of not wanting her to be there, but yet she tarried. And talked. And offered to buy him a drink. And said how much they had in common. You know how those pesky stalkers get — all clingy and whatnot.

So as leaders and teammates we’ve got to do a better job with these things (perception, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence — not the stalking thing). We need to understand that regardless of our intent, others will always have perceptions about us; and they won’t always be right or fair or what we’d like them to be.

To stay with our recent and now tired example, maybe you just like wearing suits or dressing up for work, but someone else interprets that as you trying to appear powerful or better than them. Or maybe they assume that you must be super smart and successful since you don such dapper attire. And really, all it actually boils down to is that you like that style and so you wear what you like.

Or it could be the other way around and the jeans and shirt guy is deemed “less professional” and “doesn’t take his job as seriously.” And Mr. Jeans is certainly not as smart and successful, right? Because if he were, he’d be wearing a suit.

It’s amazing what people think they can “know” about others based on such random and arbitrary factors. But that’s the world in which we live. Everyone has perceptions about everything. Everything means something.

So we’ve got manage perceptions about ourselves and at the same time be aware of potentially misguided perceptions we have of others. And we need to be humble enough to wrestle with self-awareness, even when it’s not pretty.

11 Reasons Workplace Fun isn’t of the Devil

56c0d33627d2d352eb8daee1b3c3b83cIs a fun workplace really that big a deal?

It’s a question I get all the time, and it’s a fair question. I’m an advocate for workplace happiness, both on human and business grounds. But isn’t workplace happiness just a bunch of BS some back-rubbing, bongo-drum-banging, “incense” using, 1960’s corporate burnouts came up with to make themselves feel better?

Well, no.

Depending how well I know the one who just posed the “is it really that big a deal question,” I might ask them if they prefer a miserable one. Or if given they choice they’d rather feel despair at work rather than a sense of fun. I’m not trying to be a smart-ass, but it’s really not all that complicated when you think about it.

Think about it this way. Michael Kerr, author of The Humor Advantage: Why Some Businesses are Laughing all the Way to the Bank, says the humor at a given workplace depends almost entirely on that organization’s culture.

In workplaces that encourage people to be themselves–that are less hierarchical and more innovative–people tend to be more open with their humor,” he says. “Even people who aren’t always comfortable sharing their humor tend to do so in more relaxed environments where the use of humor becomes second nature with everyone’s style.”

Kerr goes on to say that several — or was it dozens? — of surveys suggest that humor is one of many keys to success. For example, a Robert Half International survey found that 91% of current executives believe a sense of humor is important for career advancement. 84% believe that people with a good sense of humor do a better job. Bell Leadership Institute conducted a study and one of the findings was that the two most important traits in leaders were a great work ethic and a good sense of humor.e4e903851161412d2970ac6dba5740b9

At an organizational level, some organizations are tapping into what I’d call ‘the humor advantage,’” Kerr says. “Companies such as Zappos and Southwest Airlines have used humor and a positive fun culture to help brand their business, attract and retain employees and to attract customers.”

Lynn Taylor, author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, suggests that humor shows that one has the “maturity and the ability to see the forest through the trees….You don’t have to be a stand-up comedian,” she adds, “but well-placed humor that is clever and apropos to a business situation always enhances an employee’s career.

And here some of you thought I was making all this stuff up. I’m secretly far nerdier about this stuff than you know. If I get one more nasty email about culture and workplace happiness being a load of bunk, I’m going to have to go all academic on you. And it won’t be pretty. I’ve got oodles of research bombs and I’m not afraid to use them.

Practically speaking though, what does it matter? Why are humor and fun a big deal? I’m so glad you asked.

1. Humor is human. Seriously. (See what I did there?)

2. If you’re halfway fun to be around, it reduces the likelihood that people will hate working with you.

3. It can really help alleviate workplace stress.

12381a9acbc88cf25558485a4b8d4bc64. Humor has ties to creativity. Having a good time allows you to have fun with ideas. You can bat them around. Suggest things you otherwise wouldn’t. Not worry so much about what others may think of an idea. It relaxes you and encourages you to make associations you otherwise may not have.

5. It prevents board room kung fu battles from breaking out. A little humor can help lighten the mood and ease the tension in the room. It’s very tough to hit this just right. Too little and they can’t tell if you’re being funny or stupid, and too much tells them you’re just stupid.

6. Since it makes you more human (see #1. seriously), it helps build trust. The real you comes out.

7. It makes you more approachable. If given the option between approaching someone who was going to make you laugh or make you cry, which would you select?

8. Having fun at work boosts morale. Do I have to explain this one?

9. Having fun at work boosts productivity. Do I have to explain this one? (If you’re saying yes, please refer back to paragraph 10 and the veiled threat of research bombs.)

10. It can help you stand out. You don’t even really think about it, but there are companies who make a killing off standing out for being perceived as fun or humorous, right? Southwest would be the cliché, though still great, example. I’m not saying every organization should or needs to be funny. In fact, I’d beg you not to if it’s not your thing. Just be you.

11. They’re often contagious. Emotional contagion is a thing. It goes by different names depending on what nerdy study you read, but the basic idea is that humor, happiness, etc, spread just like other things do. You know that whole apple and bunch-spoiling thing? Yeah, it’s something like that, but in a positive way.

Am I forgetting any? What do you think?