Who Are You Outside the Workplace?

We were riding the morning train recently, when we witnessed the following exchange:

(Older White man walks into subway car and stands near a seated younger White woman, who soon recognizes him.)

Woman: Hello, Mr. Baxter. Er, good morning.

Man: You can call me John when we’re not in the office.


Where are you headed?

Woman: I’m going to Queens today.

(They remain silent for the next 10 minutes.)

Man: (Exiting the train) Good-bye.

For what we’re about to say, it’s true we could benefit from having more context, like where these two work and their formal roles there. Still, we have enough data to form an impression that feels plausible.

The two commuters were clearly American in dress, accent, and non-verbal behavior, such as making direct eye-contact when communicating. So why didn’t their conversation correspond with the American cultural value of informality when greeting someone by name? Read more

Teachers Benefit from Revealing Themselves

We often blog from the library of a graduate school of education, and recently we overheard an earful. A frustrated student teacher was talking with his peers about their high school students, and we gathered three (3) main points:

  1. He’s finding it increasingly hard to keep order in the classroom.
  2. Too many students have been prescribed psychotropic medication to manage behavioral issues.
  3. He’s devastated that his grandmother is seriously ill, and he’s trying to “be professional” and “hold it together” when he’s with his students.

If we were bold enough to approach him, we would have said this:

In light of your despair regarding your grandmother’s condition, why must you “hold it together” in class? Why not share your pain with your students? By revealing your current emotional experience, you accomplish so much:

  • You humanize your authority, which can help your students better relate to you. Being able to relate to you correlates with empathizing more with you, and your feelings. And nurturing your students’ ability to empathize may be the most important gift you give them, ever.
  • You unburden yourself from the unproductive work of “holding it together.” When you can share of your self without fear, you’re more relaxed. When you’re relaxed, you have more energy to listen actively to your students, who hunger for your focused attention.
  • The more nurturing you are with your students, and the more you listen to them, the closer you may feel as a class. From here, the difficulties of “keeping order in the classroom” may become more manageable.

If at this point he hasn’t scowled at us for butting in, we’d ask him where he learned that teachers are more professional when they hide who they are.

Get this: we know a school which is incorporating into the junior high school curriculum one teacher’s plan to donate part of his liver to his father. At this same school, another teacher shares with each new class his story of being adopted, so students can understand the complexities of different family structures over a lifespan.

Pretty revolutionary, yes? To publicize these seemingly private aspects of our lives in service of educating today’s youth is a radical–and totally effective–way to teach.

It may be challenging to implement at first, yet teachers who strive to share some intimate details of their lives will reap tangible benefits.

You follow, oh student teacher in the graduate school library?

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Challenges to Engaging Your Whole Self at Work

A friend of ours, “Karisma,” last month attended a two-day course on lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) issues in the workplace, and left with her head spinning. What happened may surprise you.

She’s a counselor in a New York City high school, and two colleagues attended the learning program with her. We connected when she was somewhat distressed shortly after the seminar; the primary issue, in her words, was:

I tried to ‘come out’ at work during a two day training and it was a disaster for me. Internally I felt so upset I cried all the way to the ferry, obviously not a good look. I’m better now than I was, but I am still thinking about Monday and my re-entry to work.

Like many people, Karisma has preferred to separate aspects of her work life from her personal life, so the struggle to reveal her self to her coworkers is real. Still, by thinking hard about her actions and feelings in the context of her job, she’s well equipped to reap the rewards of revealing and engaging her whole self at work. Let’s look at how the events unfolded.

Karisma relates how the opening go-around began: Read more

Come Out at Work: As a Non-Drinker

This is the first in a series called “Come Out at Work.”

Following is a true story, with names changed — actually, we never caught the names in the first place. So here goes:

Jerome is a banker in a multinational financial services firm. He prefers not to drink alcohol, yet one day his business group goes out to a nearby bar, and he joins them because they’re pleasant to be with. Plus he knows that outside the office is where helpful, informal data surfaces about his projects.

When it comes time to order a drink, he ponders for a moment, then orders the microbrew on tap. His boss Sandy comes around and asks, “What’re you drinking?”

“The microbrew,” he responds. Sandy orders one, too.

Jerome doesn’t finish his beer, while Sandy orders a second and third, grateful that Jerome has introduced her to this delicious libation.

The following weekend, it’s Jerome’s birthday and he’s having a mellow celebration with his family at home. The doorbell rings, and a delivery person hands him a box marked “Microbrew of the Month.” As Jerome leaves the package in the entryway, unsure what to do with it, he reads the attached card “Happy Birthday to our favorite microbrew fan! -Your officemates.”

On Monday his colleagues are eager to see him. “Did you get anything this weekend?” Pat, the office manager, inquires.

“Yes, I did. And it was very kind! Thank you for the thoughtful microbrews!”

“And?” asks Pat.

“And?” says Jerome, bewildered.

“Yeah, and… how did they taste?”

“Oh! Wicked good, of course,” Jerome lies as he looks at the wall.

For each of the next eleven months, he receives a new 12-pack, and stores them in his basement. In time he gets wise and gives them away as gifts to his neighbors and friends, striving to avoid any further conversation about brews at work.

What to Do?

So what’s the problem here? Jerome is a closeted relative teetotaler, so his colleagues misunderstand him, and he chooses to go along with a charade about who he is, largely because his officemates were well-intentioned and generous in offering him a birthday present. To be fair, nobody’s at fault here. Jerome wants to join his workmates in an activity they enjoy, demonstrating how he fits in with the group. And we can’t criticize his team members for honoring his birthday, and working with the little they know about him to come up with a suitable gift.

Still, is there harm in what’s going on? We think so. Lying never feels good, and Jerome and his coworkers miss out on the opportunity to bond around the real gratitude he feels for their benevolent gesture. He feels compelled to present a version of himself that’s untrue, which in the end detracts from his work obligations.

What should he have done differently? When at the bar, aside from ordering a seltzer–which could feel incongruous to his peers’ behavior–he might add that he typically doesn’t drink with an optional short explanation. To refrain from socializing at the bar is not an option, as it may hurt his professional development.

Do you think there’s something Jerome can do at this point to be understood better as a person with preferences that may not align with his peers’? Have you had a similar experience as Jerome? Comment below.