Mind The Gap

January 18th, 2018


Why is it that when we go to work, we can develop the mindset of believing our colleagues are like robots, there to perform their tasks, with the same level of energy, motivation and focus, day after day? How on earth do we think we will engage them in their work if we don’t see them as a person at work?

We can think of the ‘person’ we are as having 3 bits of ourselves. There’s the ‘Professional bit’, the ‘Private bit’ and the ‘Person at work bit’.

The ‘Professional bit’ is the mandatory bit we are expected to bring to work. It’s our intellect, our knowledge, our relevant skills and experience, applied to the task in hand.

Then there’s our ‘Private bit’. This is the stuff we bring that’s in our world outside of work; our family experiences, hobbies, interests, activities with friends. Some of us bring this bit very readily to work and talk about it easily; others prefer not to share it, preferring to keep a clear boundary between work and not work. If we do bring it, it helps build relationships as we find connections with each other and get to build common ground. And it’s an easy starting point for conversations: ‘Hi, how was your weekend?’

I’m most interested in the 3rd bit, the ‘Person at work bit’. This includes our thoughts and feelings about our recent work experiences and the challenges ahead, our energy highs and lows and passion for the work we’re doing, our fears and concerns for the conversations we need to have, our disappointments with failed expectations, our excitement at the opportunities we envisage. I believe this is the arena for engagement at work, for building effective relationships that get the job done, because we are relating to each other as people rather than robots, and tapping into personal motives and energy that drives great performance.

And yet this is the ‘bit’ that, in some contexts, I see many people missing out on, especially when the pressure is on to deliver. The ‘small talk’ at the start of a meeting is so often about the football or the weekend or last night’s T.V. viewing and then the conversation switches sharply on to the task.  How much richer and valuable it would be if it then moved on to how people were feeling about the task ahead; how focused or distracted they were by other stuff going on for them; what was really driving them or holding them back to give their full commitment to the work; what would be helpful for them to engage fully right now. And only then, we moved the conversation on to engage in the task itself.

So next time you notice yourself about to switch from the ‘Private’ to the ‘Professional’ conversation, take a moment to Mind The Gap, and spend some time on the ‘Person at work’.



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