Sometimes when a difficult or challenging time presents itself, we get consumed by “it.”
All of our conversations are about it. All the news is about it. All the planning is about it. It feels like nothing else is happening but it!
But as I look out of my new office window, formerly referred to as the “playroom,” I see the world continuing on its natural progression toward spring. Birds, flowers, green grass (and the weeds) beginning to grow. It reminds me that the world is much bigger than just “it.” Sure “it” is scary, uncertain and humbling but “it” is not all we have. The world and its people are resilient.
People are still creative. They see hope and maintain positive energy. Just look at all the creativity in our Zoom meetings, happy hours, hat days, crazy hair days and so on. Fun stuff. And work is still getting done. Maybe that is the silver lining. Not only have we discovered that most of our work can be done anywhere, maybe we have also been reminded that work is human and it can be fun if you let it. Even though you laughed with your colleagues at the start of the meeting (or maybe throughout), it did not stop you from working, learning, deciding and collaborating. In fact, I bet the laughter created a safe space, which helped more people to contribute and share their voices. When we come back—where ever back is—we need to sustain creative ideas for keeping our work environments fun and productive.
In that vein, I will share an idea on communication, the power of listening and knowing your audience.
A who’s who dinner party and lessons in fun
First lesson: Fun seems to break down barriers and allow you to just get things done.
As you know, I get most blog ideas from my life. This blog was inspired by a family dinner organized by my daughter, Ellie. Earlier in the week, Ellie had suggested that we should each act like another member of the family during a family dinner. I thought “That sounds like fun.” Before I could say anything, my other daughter, Anna, was already putting everyone’s name into a baseball hat, and asking us each to pick one. And just like that, we had decided who would be who. We were told to keep it privileged and confidential information. My son quickly suggested we should do this dinner on Friday. And there you have it, a group of five who normally cannot decide what to have for dinner just planned a dinner party.
Second lesson: Fun gave us a chance to make new rules and break old paradigms.
As the week progressed the dinner party got more elaborate. There was a start time. People were making up new customs. We had to sit in the seat at the table where that person normally sat.
My third lesson: The mirror lies, but my daughters don’t.
Then we had the dinner. OMG. It was hysterical. I had my wife’s name, and I appeared at the table dressed in her PJs. I thought I was being creative, but my daughters (playing my son and me) had me beat. They were hysterical. They used some form of eye make-up to color in their eyebrows, because apparently I have these caterpillars stuck to my face. They used that same make-up pen to draw hairy arms and whiskers.
But the biggest lesson of the evening for me: know your audience.
Next came another sobering lesson: everyone began to play the other person and how they act and interact at dinner. It was so much fun. I got to mimic my wife and not get in trouble…worth the cost of admission. But I also got to see how my “audience” sees me. My mannerisms, my conversation topics or lack thereof, and the annoying nature of elbow bumps at dinner every time my son and I say something sarcastic to the group. Side Note: The elbow bump has replaced my trademark move of the fist bump and, apparently, it is equally annoying.
Trust me, it was funny, but humbling for everyone to see how others see them. But it was the best night of the pandemic. We had so much fun and we never once talked about “it.”
Think less about what you say (OK maybe you should pay attention to that too), and more about how it is interpreted. Your audience is paying attention and interpreting your words much differently than you think.
By the way, for what it’s worth — kids actually do listen — you just need a fun way to bring it out of them. Maybe the same rule applies at work. Go had have some fun today with your family or your team and see what happens.
A parting thought: I shared this experience with my leadership team. Their feedback was, “Wow we (meaning the leadership team) should do that!” Stay tuned.