Taking Your Office Home For The Holidays?
“The family gathering also includes Claudia’s resentful, conservative sister Joanne, her stuffy banker brother-in-law Walter and their two spoiled children . . . along with their eccentric Aunt Glady” – from Home For The Holidays
Beside marking the beginning of the “most wonderful time of the year,” the holiday season can often be as stressful as it is joyful. A time for reconnecting with loved ones and . . . well, let’s just say tolerating those with whom we would prefer to enjoy a long-distance relationship.
But in the contemplation of having to deal with a cornucopia of unique individuals and idiosyncratic personalities, you might be far better prepared than you think.
You Can Choose Your Friends, but . . .
There is an old saying with which we are all familiar that goes; you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.
In other words, you are stuck as they say with the cards you are dealt – at least genetically speaking.
However, this same rule doesn’t only apply to your family. It also applies to the people with whom you work.
In this regard, you have, whether knowingly or not, been in training all year for these special holiday moments at home or office parties.
A Different Kind Of “Family”
If you think about it, we often times spend as much if not more time day-in and day-out with our co-workers than we do our own families. They are in essence a family of sorts, and not usually of our own choosing.
So it is safe to say, by learning how to deal with the unique individuals who are part of our work family, we will likely be equipped with the necessary tools to deal with our real families come the holidays.
Let’s take a few moments, and think about some of the great “home-type” personalities we deal with every day, and what we do to create a harmonious office environment.
1. The “Head” of the Family
Whether maternal or paternal, the head of the family in the workplace is our boss.
In part four of a series of posts on how to deal with a difficult boss, I provided the following tips. After reading them, ask yourself if there are parallel lessons we can learn and use at home:
- Recognize that you are not likely alone in your situation and as such, seek the counsel of other trusted co-workers without having it descend into a shared bash session.
- Try to better understand your boss. Maybe instead of criticism, a little insight into why they think the way they do might go a long way toward building a better relationship.
- Without having a desired outcome in mind, or preconceived idea as to how they may respond, look for opportunities to talk with your boss. Start by asking questions about how you can make a bigger difference in their world and/or if they have any specific suggestions that would enable you to help them achieve their goals or objectives.
2. The “perfectionist” sibling
I have always believed that behind every perfectionist hides to a certain degree, insecurity. Although perfectionists can appear to be critical, they are usually that way with themselves. It’s also easy to assume that perfectionists lack sensitivity. However, I have found that they tend to camouflage their own feelings but once you can see beyond their perfectionism, they are truly caring people.
In fact, I can remember reading a newspaper article in which one pundit suggested that “In the workplace, people generally don’t want to get in your way; they just want to make sure you aren’t shoving them out of your way.”
In this context, you should do the following:
- Spend time with your co-worker outside of the office. It doesn’t have to be a big dinner or a weekend retreat. A simple cup of coffee away from the office on a regular basis is a good first step.
- As you spend more one-on-one time, you will begin to build a rapport with them that will help to create a level of trust. This does not necessarily mean that you will become the best of friends. What it does mean is that your values and intentions will become known to one another, and you just might find that you have more in common than you think.
- Sincerely acknowledge what they do and what you have learned from them. After all, everyone has something to offer. By recognizing their unique ability and contributions, you will make them feel good about themselves and you.
3. The eccentric Aunt or Uncle
Have you ever spent time with someone vacantly smiling and nodding with their every statement, while looking at the clock wishing that someone would rescue you from the conversation?
This being said, and taking into account the pressures of operating in a “make every second count” world maybe, we have to take some ownership in terms of our impatience.
Rather than simply dismissing a fellow employee as a Walter Mitty-type eccentric who is there to rob you of your time, try this approach:
- Recognize that the eccentric’s creative or unique view of the world might actually free you from constraints that you may not have realized even existed. After all, Bertrand Russell once said “Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.”
- Look for ways to include the eccentric thinker in group discussions where the free flow of ideas is welcomed.
- Really listen to what is being said by an eccentric with an open mind, putting aside any preconceived ideas as to who you think they are. In fact, this is good advice to follow with anyone you meet.
4. The rebel of the family
You know about whom I am talking . . . the family rebel.
The Random House Dictionary defines a rebel as “a person who resists any authority, control, or tradition.”
We are at once both repelled yet drawn to the rebel of the company, because they challenge the status quo. They frequently break the rules and justify their actions with pithy sayings such as “it is better to ask for forgiveness, than permission.”
Yet rebels can and often are agents of needed change.
To deal with a rebel, you have to first understand them. Here are few tips that should help you:
- A rebel is not afraid to take a chance, to stick their necks out if they believe in what they are doing. The key word here is “believe”. A rebel can be someone who truly believes in what they are doing, and are therefore a sincere and often positive force of energy.
- A rebel will definitely ruffle a few feathers – especially the perfectionist. So if you believe in what the rebel is doing, be prepared for a bumpy but ultimately fulfilling ride.
- While you can support and even encourage a rebel, never shy away from pointing out to them the consequences of their actions. In essence, become a voice of balanced reason, delivered in a diplomatic tone. This includes helping them to consider the feelings of others.
5. The family peacemaker
Where we would be without the peacemakers?
You know who you are, the one who is always looking at a situation from everyone’s side . . . but your own.
While it is both important and rewarding to try and be the glue that brings everyone together under one harmonious note of equanimity, this role is fraught with risks.
If you are the peacemaker, be sure to remember the following rules for survival:
- Never let your own opinion and sense of your own values get lost in a sea of competing ideas. You have a voice that is equally worthy of being heard, so do not be afraid to use it.
- Do not automatically assume that any form of disagreement is in and of itself a bad thing. A wise executive once told me many years ago that if the two of us agree on everything, then one of us is redundant.
- Finally, know when to walk away. Not all problems can be solved through rational thinking and flip charts. Sometimes things just have to work themselves out in their own time, and in their own way – without your help.
Over this holiday season, when you leave your work family to visit your real family, remember the above points. Then embrace the differences you share because this is what makes life both interesting, rewarding and worthy of celebration. Last, you cannot inspire others to see your point of view when you are judging them.
Happy Holiday’s to one and to all!