Recent discussion in the media regarding emotions, the British ‘stiff upper lip’ and our mental health got me thinking about how reticent we are in our working lives to express ourselves openly. Outside of my family (although I’m sure Barry will claim it includes family) I admit that I’m not the most touchy-feely person on the planet.
I’m not sure why, I don’t believe anyone would accuse me of being shy. Maybe it stems from my sub-conscious telling me that any advance I make, however well-meaning, might be misconstrued, or unwelcome, or that I must maintain a professional detachment. God forbid I should actually tell any one of my close colleagues how much they mean to me or give them a welcome-back-to-work hug after the long summer break. The world will freeze over before I feel fully comfortable in a pub or restaurant with work colleagues (perhaps this is because I’m prone to throwing food or drink over myself if I’m not constantly vigilant). But I do wonder whether, maybe, my role should be the one that sets the tone for how my teams express themselves to each other.
I spend over a third of my life with my work colleagues (Jack would say “the third you spend in bed doesn’t count Mum” he reckons it is really just under half!) and isn’t it madness that I am unable to tell them how much our shared walk through life means to me?
My first post as an SBM ended with the usual 3 month notice period, succession planning and becoming accustomed to the fact that I was moving on, but it coincided with one of my line reports being diagnosed with a terminal illness. My SBM successor was a rock, I gather, but I was left feeling that I had deserted them when they needed me most. I was only the ex-line manager, with a demanding new job some 40 miles in the opposite direction, I felt like I would be intruding on the process of building their new team if I tried to support them. So I felt excluded from the sad inevitability and I suspect that they felt abandoned.
So have I learned a lesson from this? What will I do differently next time? How can I build more emotionally intuitive relationships with my colleagues, both those that I manage and those that manage me, and how can I encourage them to do the same?
Short of weird-ing them out with a continental style hugging and kissing greeting, I don’t know what the answers are. I do know that I should not be afraid to tell them how I’m feeling, whatever the emotion is, and that I, perhaps, need to try harder to be more approachable and accepting of physical contact.
Occasionally, a clear indication of you-mean-a-lot-to-me would build rapport and understanding, enable me to recognise and support them in a crisis more easily and maybe one day I’ll be able to say ‘You are my friend and I love you’.