It’s always something: a sick mother, a dying aunt, a relationship breakdown, or a baby on the way. If it’s not happening in my life, it’s happening in someone else’s, and if it’s not happening today, it will be happening tomorrow.
In my company: two dozen people, hundreds of behind-the-scenes stories creating subtext and subtitles to people’s lives. Often invisible ones, but ones that influence our organization’s ability to do business as usual — any organization’s ability to do business as usual. At any given moment, someone is experiencing a crisis, or a celebration, whether you know it or not.
In choosing to build a business bigger than myself, I also chose a path of including others in my work. In including others in my work, I also chose, without being fully conscious of it, to open my life to the heartbreaks and exhilaration of other people’s lives and stories, daily moments of frustration, elation, or regret, and all the accompanying emotions.
Know that there is so much happening that you can’t see.
While people choose to disclose their private moments to varying degrees, those stories, acknowledged and voiced (or not) affect the quality of our work relationships, our productivity, and our personal/professional effectiveness. Awareness of and understanding that personal circumstances influence people at work can inspire us to operate with more kindness, patience, and grace as we interact with others.
When in doubt, choose to believe the best — this means choose to believe that everyone is doing the best they can at any given moment.
Invite people to openness, because the more we know, the more effective we can be in working together.
I want to create a safe environment where people know their personal lives matter to me. I invite people to openness by asking questions and by modeling openness myself. “I’m dealing with some personal stress,” I might say, “so if I’m quiet today, that’s why.” or “I’m really sad after taking my daughter to college.” Not everyone will want to share. That has to be okay, too.
We can’t be curious about people’s personal lives without choosing to relate personally, finding out about people’s spouses, partners, kids, extended family, hobbies, dreams, hopes, and aspirations. Invest time in getting to know your colleagues lives so that when they experience peak or valley moments, you can support them well.
When people choose to share, provide perspective and space.
Yesterday morning, I entered the office and immediately launched into venting about work-related stress. When I finished, a colleague shared a serious personal concern. Immediately, all my work stress seemed less important. The perspective we need, when life challenges spill into work, is that people’s personal lives are always more important than work. They matter more, and we can’t ignore that. Sick kids win. Personal illness wins. Marriage struggles win. Kids’ track meets win. We all make choices at different times about how to prioritize our work and life, and we may choose to work as a first priority at times. Even when we do that, our personal lives are still preeminent.
Here’s what I know: It’s always something. People’s personal lives matter more. They always will. If I want people to bring their best to work, I must give them space to be who they are by acknowledging their moments of despair as well as their moments of exhilaration.