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Don’t you hate when, out of all the positive exchanges we have at work, there’s that one negative that hangs in our memory? It was a team-building exercise on trust really early in my career. One of the people on my team, with whom I worked at the time, just wouldn’t engage. She finally said, “You are just my co-workers. We are not friends.”
We are not friends.
Throughout my career, I’ve made it a goal to befriend colleagues – those close to me and up and down the ranks. Befriending isn’t becoming best buddies necessarily. By definition, it is “to act as a friend to; to help; to aid”.
When this coworker, in my professionally formative past, expressed openly that we were just a part of her job…I was surprised and schooled. For some, relationships at work are compartmentalized in such a way as to keep them formal and shallow.
There is a measure of safety in keeping work relationships at a distance. I get that. However…
When we spend more waking hours with our colleagues than with even the closest of our loved ones, they bear some significance.
I’ve just begun reading Scott Sauls’ book Befriend: Create Belonging in an Age of Judgment, Isolation, and Fear. I wrote about it here a few weeks back as the next book on my reading list. The author Scott Sauls is a pastor, but more than that, he is a friend. Not because I know him personally, but because the imprint of Jesus is on his writing and life. He is not preachy or churchy (in the way it was never meant to be). Sauls is wise, loving, and inclusive. Whether you are a person of faith or not, if you want to deepen your friendships and work relationships, sampling the pages of this book will aid you on your way. This book itself, like Sauls, actually befriends you.
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My Monday blogs are often reserved for workplace matters – either the culture of our workplace or our very careers. Sauls talks early in the book about how we view success in life. He recalls David Brooks‘s take on our achievement culture.
“We live by two sets of virtues: the résumé virtues – things we bring to the marketplace – and the eulogy virtues – things we want said about us at our funerals. Brooks concludes, ‘In [our] secular achievement culture, we all know the eulogy virtues are more important, but we spend more time on the résumé virtues.'”
What people think of me when I’m gone is less important than truly making a difference in this life. When it comes to our work, I think we all want to add value, not just to the product, but to the people with whom we work and for whom we provide services.
We can get caught in the press of beefing up our résumé and lose sight of the people, real flesh-and-blood people, all around us. Oh, we may not call our focus résumé-building, but when we take a moment to check our motives, it becomes more clear. Ambition, self-promotion, and exclusive control can crush work relationships. We often think it’s someone else but before long it can become us.
I will never forget a colleague who shared about his own pivotal relationship with someone he once considered a difficult boss. They argued over every idea, every decision, every action plan…at least, as this man remembers. His boss was always asking hard questions and pushing him to think more and more outside the box. Yet, in the middle of his heatedly trying to persuade his boss of the rightness of his ideas, the boss would look at his watch and say, “Let’s go get some lunch.” This would infuriate the man re-telling his story.
However, over the years, he began to see something in his boss he didn’t notice at first. This older man genuinely cared for his young protégé. The banter back and forth was to encourage excellence and innovation but never at the expense of valuing the relationship. That’s why lunch together was all part of the exchange. He mattered to his boss.Photo Credit: Free Stock Photos
Later the older man retired and the younger man advanced in his career. Their paths rarely crossed after that. When the older man finally died, his wife called this colleague and asked for him to be a pallbearer at his funeral. The older man had come to consider the younger a friend…and the younger man, as he teared up in remembering, was the better for it.
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However, we are the ones who lose the most in not extending a hand of befriending (acting as a friend) to those with whom we work. It changes us, from the inside out, and we live only in the land of résumé-building, rather than eulogy-making.
Sauls writes about expanding our “us”. In the workplace, this can be extraordinarily counter-cultural. To look out for our own status and position is expected. To consider how we might take down silos and create a work community where “the rising tide lifts all boats” (Adam Grant) – something remarkable and memorable.
That is the legacy, years ago, of that coworker/”friend” of mine. She made me more resolved than ever. I want to be a befriender, a boat-raiser, and a person willing to expand the “us”.
Sauls closes this chapter by asking the question, “Where is your greatest opportunity to expand your “us”? It has me thinking. How about you?
“Compelled by the love of Christ, we must not withhold kindness or friendship from any person or people group, and we must not engage in any sort of us-against-them posturing. This in itself is countercultural in modern society. Compelled by the truth of Christ, we must honor and obey the Creator’s design—even when his design is countercultural and, at times, counterintuitive to us. His ways and his thoughts are higher than ours.”