Wednesday, February 08, 2012


I've been on my new job for about 5 months now.  Even though I've not been in an office environment for 35 years and out of "human services" as a career for over 30 years, not ever working in a school context nor knowing Microsoft Office like the back of my scarred and wrinkled hand, my main concern was not   human services competence to deal with problem people (having run a social work construction business and dealt with Orthodox Missions), computer skills (I have enough), or ability to learn the job (I catch on quick)... it was "Can I work for someone else?"

"Working for someone else", of course, is a red herring. Even if you are self-employed, you work for someone else.  EVERY client is "someone else".  I realized a long time ago that *I* am not my "own boss"... every client is my boss. Some days I had three or four bosses.  Being self employed,  I didn't have to deal with one personality and one set of expectations a day, but several.   One learns to be incredibly flexible and perceptive when one has to discern and please a lot of different personalities daily. The upside was if I didn't discern well, the job was finite... I could finish it, even if it took all day to please the client and I lost my ass for a day's wages bending over backwards for someone, at the end of the project I could walk away and go on (as we say in construction) to "New Money" and I didn't ever have to go back unless I chose to.  The problem in an office environment is you can't "move on to new money" tomorrow morning.  These people are the people you will deal with forever unless you want to find a new job.   So after a few months at my probationary period evaluation the question I asked myself was, "Would I rather deal with a daily/hourly change of bosses and co-workers or can I deal with these people on a long term basis?"  Do I quit or do I stay?

In my final hiring interview I told the Executive Director that I didn't NEED the job and I was interviewing them as they were interviewing me.  I said, if I had gotten the impression that the people I'd met were small, petty and prone to drama I'd turn the job down and stay in construction, but I liked how they interacted and I liked everyone I'd met so I would take the job if offered.  After five months, is the place perfect with perfect people? No, of course not.

The challenge for me was (and is) after 30 years in construction, how do I "be a Christian" in an office environment where I interact with people for eight or more hours a day and every day forever as opposed to a few hours once in a while and with an expectation that the relationship will end at an agreed upon time.  It's easy to fake being anything in short spurts and in limited exposure (much like being a Christian at Church...but that's another blog post issue).  When people deal with you every day it is harder to hide the quirks, touchy spots and baggage. And on top of that I represent the "company" to clients, I don't just represent myself.

Well, the good news is, people are people. The things that "work" in construction work in an office work at Church work in marriage work in driving on the freeway in rush hour work in a monastery work at the grocery store work on the street corner with the homeless guy with a sign... etc.  What "works" is simple, really.  Just be a saint.

Be silent.  (My opinion isn't a necessity.)

Speak with grace if speaking is a necessity.

Acknowledge people's goodness.

Apologize sincerely even if the wrong is only perceived.

Don't engage in nor take morbid interest in debates, disputes and gossip.

Go the second mile without being asked.

Give the cloak when asked for a shirt (do more than expected).

Be concerned about other's burdens.

Say please. And thank you.  Often.

Ask for help. 

Be gracious for unasked for help.

Bring donuts.

Don't boast.  About anything.

Be someone who is known to have a sense of humor.

Don't be conspicuously pious.

Compliment other people behind their backs.

Say "Good morning" and "Goodbye".

There's probably more, but off the top of my head those are a few things I can see work everywhere, at all times, with all people.

Or, I suppose I could just say, love your neighbor and be humble.

But then that would be too easy.


elizabeth said...

enjoyed this. thanks.

Anam Cara said...

Bring donuts! I love it! Seriously, all of these are spot on. Thanks for making the list so easy to read.

hsteven said...

Donuts only work for me when I'm not on program...actually...I don't think they really work for me anymore. *His Royal Plumpness!

amy said...

" It's easy to fake being anything in short spurts and in limited exposure ..."

wow... did that ever hit the nail over my head...

Anonymous said...

well said. I am back in the workplace after working at home for almost 10 years and I find this is all so true and helpful!

Sasha said...

This is a life's worth of experience and wisdom. Thank you for sharing it, Stephen!

Audora said...

This seems like some hard-won wisdom. I appreciated reading it.

(another) Elizabeth

Chrys said...

Beautifully said. Very happy, too, to "hear" your voice again. Your posts are missed.

This is a very helpful and insightful list. I would love to see others add to it - the collaborative efforts of your readers, a kind of a "mixed fruit cup of the Spirit." (That doesn't sound right at all, but I hope you know what I mean.)

I would add:
Do what you know is right and have faith that what you are doing - however small - will eventually bless someone. Only very rarely do we actually get to see the outcome of our efforts. But God, Who sees what is done in secret, will bless the effort and make it fruitful in His time.

Or does that addition lack the wonderful specificity and concision of your list? Probably. Even so, thanks again.

Steve Robinson said...

Chyrs, You comment in the spirit of your patron. LOL! ... but yes, a collaborative list would be great, and a good addition. I ran out of steam about midnight last night and hit "POST".

Unknown said...

After many years of struggling with being both "truthful" and "helpful" when I open my mouth, I have decided that most people, even popular people, even prideful people actually don't get enough positive reinforcement. I don't mean "praise".. I mean a positive assessment of their participation in the common project.

When the fit-hit-the-shan in my own life a few years back, I decided that more people had it harder than they let on and even what are commonly called "First World Problems" are still meaningful to the people going through them. (Even rich people have dying parents or kids-on-drugs or whatever.)

All this is to say, I have come to believe thanking people for the contributions they make in a constructive way is a real key. Most people don't want to believe this, but much of what we do is simply getting things done together. Job descriptions are really just vague suggestions.

That is, much of the business of business (or any other enterprise) is all the inner-workings and for those workings to work, people need to hear and hear often that what they do matters.

And yes, bring donuts.

Secret tip (not so secret online)... ask people, and in particular people you are having trouble with, for an insignificant favor, but make a rather big deal about it.

Do not underestimate the power of bringing out the good in people.

Steve Robinson said...

Good thoughts, David (good to hear from you). I agree, most people live in some kind of silent desperation. The greatest is the desire for an authentic human relationship. It is hard to give that when one has agendas, vain-glory, pride and hyper-piety.

Ian Climacus said...

Thank you. As someone who has worked in a office all of his professional life, I thank you for your insights to things I was blind to.

Anonymous said...

can i still hang a couple of paper icons in my cubicle? :)

GretchenJoanna said...

Thanks so much! And David, too. I read this post to my husband, who just retired from his lifetime career -- he also thought it an excellent list. I wish I could comment on many points, but just the part about not getting in on the office drama is worth so much in preventing troubles and offenses.

Øystein said...

Greetings from Norway. I think I´ll print those 19 commandments and hang it on my office wall.

paula said...

I agree about the value of giving people some sincere appreciation. In fact when working with people you have trouble connecting with it can make all the difference. My friend once started a job where there was a young man no one liked ,and he in turn was hostile to everyone. She, however began to see that he felt ganged up and disliked because he was the only man there, and she began to find things to be pleasant to him about. He actually responded to this kindness by being more open and able to accept criticism and becoming friendlier. If you try hard enough you can find something to be genuinely kind about( even if you have to make it up!)

Anonymous said...

A quick question. "Don't be conspicuously pious" strikes home. So should I cross myself before having lunch with folks from the office?

Steve Robinson said...

Anon, Some of my friends are for it, some are against it and I'm with my friends. :) Personally, I don't. I don't want to be identified as a Christian by my co-workers by my "pious acts" but rather by my Christian acts that they would not view as a "show". Of course there are those who think crossing, praying in public and Tebowing are "standing up for Christ", but I tend to think of it as standing on the street corner making a show that might impress another Christian but drives a wedge between me and a cynical unbeliever that I can reach with love. The true cynical atheist will call you out either way: for NOT showing your religion and for showing it. The rest, IF they ever convert and ask why I didn't cross myself and pray in front of them, I'd just say I didn't want to make them uncomfortable or offend them out of respect for their beliefs at the time. All that said, I'm inconsistent and it depends on who I am with. If I DO make a cross, I keep it small and quick in public because its for me, not everyone else.

Laura said...

I think this list would be well used at home with children, too.

Although, i'm wondering if the donuts are lenten?