I remember my first office job. I don’t remember my boss’s name anymore, but I remember his face distinctly. I remember his loud, booming voice, especially when he was upset about something, which wasn’t infrequent. I remember him slamming his office door which was across and diagonal from my cubicle, and then immediately opening it to storm outside, then coming back many minutes later smelling like smoke. I was a young girl, fresh out of college in the early 90s. Everyone I’d meet at the office, when finding out what team I joined or who I reported to, would pause and lightly chuckle or smirk and say, “Ah, yeah, good luck! He’s tough.” I was nervous for sure.
While I had witnessed several adult temper-tantrums from that man over the months I’d worked for him, I appreciated how much I was able to learn there in a short amount of time: quality, repeatable processes, ISO certification, and more. I eventually figured out how to work well with him, and his outbursts didn’t affect me as much after that point. I wouldn’t say he was really influential for me, except to learn that I did not want to adopt his style that invoked so much fear in others. Sure, he got his teams to get things done – fear is definitely motivating, but it is not lasting or healthy. There was little inspiration or innovation, unless of course he handed it out for you to execute or on the rare occasion, invited you to help.
And of course, I’ve worked several other jobs under many different managers since then. I came to work for another man who had a similar temper, but also had one other quality that I did appreciate: he believed in me. He pushed me hard, he gave me space, he held me accountable, he taught me, and yes, he occasionally did get really grumpy with me. I worked really hard for that job, too, and I learned so much.
But this isn’t just to critique or celebrate their working styles, as much as it is a look at my own, and what I’ve learned about them all.
At times, I’ve had certain people become the object of my frustrations on the regular. I could easily fill pages with my reasons and the circumstances and other justifications. I’ve certainly recapped those many times over the years, and found that folks would readily agree with me. Sometimes it was my boss, sometimes a coworker or even a direct report (sorry!!). I don’t mean having passing annoyances or random problems that typically come up now and again, as much as a pattern of prevailing problems that made my job really difficult. Day in and day out, they’d create more work for me, so I thought. I failed to remember that day in and day out, my searching for those problems and focus on them is really what was creating more work for me. I was just as much of a problem.
To that, I offer that it pays to offer some grace in the workplace. At this time, more than ever in my career, I’m seeing a conflict between capitalism and human decency and progression. At times, it absolutely is worth it to cram and stretch and push limits. We rejoice as we rise to the occasion, and celebrate success. But it’s not always sustainable, and it can cost us other opportunities in life like loving, giving, and even our physical strength. And it’s bad enough when we push ourselves, but when we create an environment where we push each other, it can hurt families and affect health in that entire community of individuals. So when we do want to favor better long-term societal outcomes over short-term market gains, you can extend some grace in the workplace. Consider these bare-minimum points:
- Continue the conversation. Don’t stifle it. If you did, go back and ask questions to kickstart it again.
- Treat everybody as a partner in progress – as essential to progress, even.
- Make it easy for people to contribute. Don’t be a gatekeeper; be a bridge builder.
- Accept people how they are. Make sure this is true before you try to push them to try something else.
- Remember that you’re a “people”, too. Accept yourself, and be kind to yourself. In fact, do that first, and you’ll find it much easier to do all of the other points.
Does having some grace mean that we should not address a situation when there’s expectations not being met? It’s still work, after all. The answer is no, grace doesn’t change that. Grace enables you to handle that well, and to be supportive throughout. Grace is seeing things through a larger lens, and helping clearly articulate expectations and explain well when there’s not a great fit.
The question is really about aligning with how much you’re willing to invest in this, and making sure you’re working somewhere with similar enough alignment.
Is it worth it? For heaven’s sake, yes. For YOUR sake and everyone else’s, yes yes yes.