by Sheryl L. Christensen, Head Editor, INALJ California
Reputation Builder — Give Back, Pay Forward — Learn from Everyone
One of my favorite books of all time, as far as its helpfulness with real world social interactions, has been Florence Littauer’s book, Silver Boxes – The Gift of Encouragement. Ms. Littauer compares all of the positive things that we say to each other to beautiful silver boxes (gifts!) with bows on top. We accumulate these boxes as we hear supportive feedback and we begin to feel more and more empowered and positive about ourselves with our increasing stack of silver boxes; we also begin to experience this same feeling by adding to other people’s stacks of silver boxes.
The problem is that sometimes it doesn’t take a lot, in fact maybe one severe or negative word from someone, to wipe out our entire stack of silver boxes. Should we work at becoming less thin-skinned and not allow other people’s harshness or negative input to affect us in the extreme way it sometimes does? We could work on this, because allowably not every interaction that seems negative to us has been meant to be so by another person. We all see things differently. Our perspectives are not all coming from the same place and we don’t share a frame of reference with everyone we come into contact with. There IS some push and pull going on with every interaction and the interpretation of these events can travel in an almost infinite number of ways, depending upon each person’s focus (and previous experiences) during a given conversation. Sometimes we think that we are saying one thing and the other person isn’t actually hearing what we think we are saying at all….
This frustration has most likely happened to all of us at least once. Whether we ever have the opportunity to express that there has been a misunderstanding is often dependent upon the nature of the moment as well as our rapport with the individual going into the conversation. Many times one or the other person walks away from this type of situation assuming that they know exactly what the other person meant D: and the opportunity may never come to clear the air or clarify one’s viewpoint.
One piece of good news is that we can create more opportunities for clear interaction when we support each other by being consistently encouraging. When we feel positive about the people we are communicating with, we tend to be more open and to listen more openly to each other; we also tend to feel more forgiving if there is a misunderstanding.
Clearly, committing to this type of encouraging action doesn’t always feel safe or sensible in every environment. Especially when we find ourselves in “oppositional” situations or where we feel we are being professionally undermined. It may take a while (and small steps) to turn a situation around or it may never turn around. But in the end, I feel that if we consistently contribute in a positive way, that we can feel good about our own influence and involvement. If we succumb to being a party to increasing negativity then we may regret not only having surrendered our values but also our part in the resultant damage to our workplace and our reputation.
In our working life, there will be disagreement: there are numerous ways to view and to accomplish a particular task or goal. But in this teeming bowl of potential conflict, there is so much we can learn from each other through the encouragement of open communication and by accepting the validity of alternate points of view. By building our reputation as someone who esteems and supports our colleagues (someone who is generously giving silver boxes!), we create a deep reserve of workplace community and social capital as well as significant movement toward that overarching and critical goal: a forward-looking, dynamic, and thriving organization.