Friday, 22 May 2015

The masks we wear

Can you be different in work than outside work?

And what role do personal values play in successful relationships?

I've been on an Emotional Intelligence course recently and have been reflecting on discussions I've had there. In particular I've got some musings on working relationships, personal relationships and organisational vs personal values.

It's my belief that you CAN be different in work than outside work, but that it's not necessarily a good thing. 

And I speak from personal experience. As always. 

I used to make damn sure I was different inside work than outside it. But it wasn't always that way. I remember in my first few jobs, admittedly in very junior positions, where I didn't take work seriously enough and as a result struggled to get to grips with the restrictions and expectations that a professional working life imposes. 

As I climbed the HR ladder I felt more and more responsible for upholding what I thought was professional behaviour in the workplace, and withdrew a little. I've also spoken about my early social media mistakes and the effect that had on my behaviour at work, but there was one other big lesson for me. 

Several years ago I was accused of bullying someone in the workplace. I'd considered this person a friend and had shared a lot of personal stuff with them particularly around the time I was getting divorced, and felt we had a strong relationship and could be open, direct and honest with each other. That backfired spectacularly in this case, and whilst the bullying allegation was unfounded and nothing happened, it was enough to convince me to withdraw into my shell and wear a totally professional and dispassionate mask at work. 

It got to the stage where a few years ago at the Xmas Party I more or less refused to relax and enjoy myself around staff, and because it was a big event I gate crashed another organisations table and stayed with them having fun and letting my "hair" down before returning to my own organisations table some hours later to resume being Mr Serious HR Person. 

I even used to tell my Chief Executive when he would comment on my cool, distant demeanour at work that I was very different outside work. I'm not sure he believed me. 

And why would he? Why would anyone choose to be so different in work than outside work?

So we have discussed that on the course and no one could really fathom it either, and to be honest I didn't defend myself. 

It was a case of Emotional Intelligence gone wrong and it's done me no favours really in my working relationships. 

What recent experience has taught me, and what the course has reinforced, is that individuals should be congruent, whether at work or at home. Be true to yourself and balance all aspects of yourself no matter where you are. 

I'm trying to be more balanced myself in the hope that I can harness my Emotional Intelligence better, and don't see much value in keeping things separate any more.

What's your view? Can you be different? Should you be different?

We also discussed mixing professional and personal relationships. In particular we discussed what happens when your friends come and work for you and whether that makes it difficult to maintain a professional boundary. 

I've had friends come and work in my team but never directly managed any, but I can see how it would be difficult. I have once ended up in a full blown relationship with someone from work but in hindsight that was not a good thing at all, and again I can see how that would, now, make things quite difficult professionally. 

Other people on the course had positive experiences though and commented that in their experience it made for a great culture and working environment, and a fantastic team spirit particularly in small organisations where one person had more or less employed all their friends. 

What's your view on mixing personal and professional relationships? Can it work? Should there be boundaries?

The course discussions also touched on personal value systems and how these can relate to other people's value systems and organisational values.

We noticed that as we described our closest relationships with our partners, we (without noticing) described how they shared our values and that was what attracted us to them, despite in some cases big social background differences, age differences or language barriers. 

I concluded that it's all very well having an amazing personality, being stunningly attractive and having an unexplainable sexual magnetism - accusations all regularly levelled at me - but unless the other person has a similar value system, the relationship is ultimately doomed. And some of those other things can go by the wayside but your values hardly ever change and aren't something you can really hide away either. 

Now in my single days I used various dating sites, but very few if any focused on providing you with information about someone's values.

Maybe there's a gap in the market?

I think the same is true of organisations and the relationship and bond we form as employees with them, as I discussed today. You'll stay with an organisation long term when you share its values. Over time you can evolve to share them if you don't at the outset I guess, but the relationship is doomed if you don't. 

However, and as someone who has done a lot of work on establishing and embedding organisational values, it's one thing to list these on a recruitment site (or even a dating site) but it's quite another to get beneath the surface and find out if they are real and get to understand them. 

For that, there's no substitute for actual experience. 

In short, you have to date someone for a while, or work for an organisation for a while, before you really know for certain if they are "the one". And getting out of that situation if they are not, well, that can sometimes end badly. 

On the course we talked about whether anyone would compromise their own values to fit in, and we concluded that people often do. 

But is that healthy? I wouldn't have thought so. 

What do you think?

Till next time...


PS in other news, wedding invites are imminent! Naturally we would love you all to come, but there's only so much room on the beach.  I'll still send you the Gift List though. 

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