I’ve gotten a lot of email through the years. And most of it has been difficult to read—people who were cruelly fired, who are being hassled by coworkers or who have done something truly stupid (just this morning I just got an email from a woman who told me about how she sent her resume and cover letter to her current boss).
If you have a particularly macabre sense of humor it is possible to find my mail funny. But mostly it makes me sad.
So given the negative nature of most of my correspondence, the last few weeks have been a revelation for me. I’ve been working on a new business venture and I’m part of a team of four people putting together a business plan. One guy I’ve worked with on my last two books, so we have a bunch of history working together. The other two people were total strangers when we started. I barely knew either of them either personally or professionally. Another complicating factor is how different our expertise, world view and just general make up are from each other (that’s make-up in terms of approach to the world and not our use of rouge).
If this column had a sound track, you’d probably be hearing Steven Stills in the background singing “Love the One Your With.” (Don’t recognize it, then just ask the nearest boomer and they can hum a few bars for you).
Please note, I didn’t say that we were all singing “Kumbaya.” No this is a room full of Type A personalities. The key is as remarkable as it is simple. We all listen to each other. In fact, I can think of multiple areas where we all had hard and fast rules for what we wanted. We listened to the other people involved and either modified what we previously thought was essential.
I can hear what you’re thinking. It’s like a committee that produces lowest common denominator work. Not at all. We are actually able to draw the best from each person and then make it even better through our brainstorming.
One simple trick, we call it placeholders. When we have a name or idea that is good, but its clear to at least some of us that we could probably do better, we call the existing best effort our placeholder. We use it, but we’re always on the lookout to make it better. This is just one technique we’ve developed to not settle for okay, but to push for the best.
This experience has given me hope. It is possible to work with people who you like and respect and accomplish a lot in the process. You better sit down before you read this next sentence—not only is it possible to find colleagues that you can work with, I believe there are even a few sane bosses out there. The challenge is to find ‘em.
Okay, I’m sure that most of my regular readers think that either this blog has been hijacked or that I’ve lost my mind. It’s hard to argue with the latter argument, but after year upon year of horror stories from the cubicle world, I want to take a moment to report that work can be uplifting, collaborative and fun and not just a long process of letting all of the air out of your tires.
I’ve decided to go positive. I’ve learned from Allan, Shari and Jon that collaboration is a wonderful thing. Sure there are tough times, but the more brains you have at the table the better the quality of the work and the more fun you’ll have.
A few words for those stuck in a less than great working environment. I understand that people have mortgages, orthodontist bills and families to feed. That said, I’m hard pressed to say that there are just some jobs that are better to have in your rear view mirror. A paycheck just isn’t worth daily bouts crying, being yelled at or just feeling miserable. Hopefully this blog can play a small role in reminding you that there are saner possibilities out there.
I’ve also heard through the years from people who’ve taken a bad work environment and turned it around. Mostly through “random acts of kindness,” or building community, trust and support in a place where none exists. It’s not easy, but like flowers growing up through tiny cracks in a sidewalk, it happens.
There is a saying from an old court case, “Work time is for work.” But that doesn’t mean that it has to be a prison sentence—something to be endured. Work can have meaning, collaboration and, dare I say it, fun. But it probably won’t just fall in your lap. You’ll have to seek it out, but it’s out there.
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Also check out his newly revised best-seller “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org.