Wow, the reaction to my 10-item checklist that new managers need to do was fierce. As in, it took off. Clearly, even though it’s 2018, we’ve had modern offices for uh… 173 years now (made up fact), people are out there dying for help in understanding workplace dynamics and how to navigate them. Instead, we’re served up with useless pablum like “speak up in meetings more!” or “don’t include question marks in emails!” or “dress for the job you want, not the job you have!”
What do any of those even mean. They mean nothing. They’re not helpful. And generic workplace advice like that is often gaslighting. By that, I mean, you may do all the things the books tell you to do, and still struggle in the office or in your work relationships, and inevitably end up thinking, “Well, I did what the experts said to do… so I guess the problem here is me.”
It’s not you. It’s that the ability to define and ask for emotional needs to be met, and to communicate with clarity even in conflict are skills that no one understands need to be integrated into the workplace. (People barely understand how to do them outside of the workplace, for that matter.) Think about all the advice we’ve heard over the years: “Don’t cry at work. Don’t fight at work. Don’t be pushy at work. Speak up at work, but not too much. Don’t show your emotions. But don’t be too emotionless.”
OMG. We are not robots. We spend 40+ hours a week at the office, sometimes more than with our families. We cannot and must not separate our feelings and our true selves at the workplace and pretend to be conflict-free-emotion-free droids. Plus, workplaces are absolutely LADEN with feelings and emotional issues. Money. Power dynamics. Pride. Control. Sexism. Racism. We could split ourselves in half trying to be cool and detached in the face of all of the deep emotional stuff that goes on in any and every workplace.
So what can you do at work to make it better? My advice: be yourself, and learn how to ask for what you need, and communicate clearly to others, without shame about who you are. And be vulnerable. Most of my employees have cried in front of me, and I have cried in front of them, and the gentleness we have showed towards each other during and afterwards has been the biggest blessing in our work relationships.
My biggest message I would wish to send to anybody out there is: have no shame for being a human being that both wants to succeed, and is terrified of failure. Who wants connection and recognition, but doesn’t know how to ask for it. Who is wildly impressive and successful, and who sometimes cries in conference rooms.
You are all and any or none of those things — you are just you. And in the workplace, and anywhere, that’s more than enough.