Love Is In The Air

One year, I gave my team members a gift for Valentine’s Day. It was a small box of chocolates and a few office trinkets—colorful pens, clips, and the like. I wanted to express my gratitude and say that they mattered.

I took a lot of guff from my team, colleagues, boss, and others for being “mushy” and “girlie.” I never again took Valentine gifts to work, and now I look back with regret for not standing my ground.

Really, why can’t there be more love in the workplace?

Not the romantic Eros kind typically associated with Valentine’s Day. But the unconditional caring, compassion, and empathy kind—what the ancient Greeks called agape.

Nearly everyplace I worked could have benefited from a big dose of agape love.

I told that to a male colleague one day, and he laughed so hard he nearly toppled his chair.

“Now I get why the division president thinks you’re a goofball,” he chortled. “We’re here to make money, lots of it. Not agoopee love or whatever you called it. Get with the program, girl.”

Sure, get with the program. Translated, that meant doing whatever you needed to do to get the numbers. If you had to throw a colleague under the bus to do it or ignore moral or ethical boundaries, then you did it. Showing people you cared was for wimps.

Talking about love was too far out of the norm for that company. Because I wasn’t in a position at the time to change jobs, I found a less threatening way to talk about love (sounds kinda crazy, doesn’t it, that talking about love was threatening?), which was unconditional positive regard, a concept from psychologist Carl Rogers that meant accepting people for what they are. There were still those who found the words positive unconditional regard too whackadoodle, so once again I regrettably yielded to norms and spoke instead about doing three things to show your team that they mattered: be curious, not judgmental; encourage authenticity, not conformity; and listen actively.

Be curious, not judgmental.

Sooner or later, everyone makes a mistake, be it something small or a mighty whopper. Instead of rushing to judgmental the minute you hear about the matter, give your people the benefit of the doubt. Take the time to ask questions, understand what happened, and use the situation as a teachable moment, which are valuable shapers of character and yield massive amounts of respect. Rushing to judgment breeds fear, which is a mighty motivator, but people don’t learn much from a leader who rules by fear. Working for a boss who gives people permission to fail and learn from that failure is an extraordinary opportunity to grow into your potential.

Encourage authenticity, not conformity.

Conformity kills creativity and inclusion. Joy, too. Urge team members to share alternate points of view and respect one another’s right to have them. People can be authentic without being rude while expressing their thoughts, opinions, perspectives, and experience. When there’s diverse differences and richness of outlook, everyone benefits.

Listen with both ears, your head, and your heart.

I once had a boss who was proud of his multi-tasking skills, telling everyone he was more than capable of listening to us talk while he read. Tired of feeling ignored, a colleague once asked for a huge raise while describing a project. The boss said yes and absent-mindedly signed the paperwork, too. After that, it became a team sport to see who could get him to say yes to the most outrageous activity when he said he was listening but really wasn’t. Giving people your undivided attention is a workplace gift without equal because when you listen with both ears, your head, and your heart, people know they matter.

Why do I regret not continuing the Valentine gifts and modifying my language? Because refusing to comply with a norm begins the conversation of changing it; and, everyone's workplace could use a little more love, don’t you think?

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