Is it possible to bring your whole self to work?

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This is a thought I have been pondering on for the past few weeks after reading Radical Candor by Kim Scott. An ideal organisation is one where every employee thinks and acts in a way that is natural for them. But this scenario does not and cannot happen due to Personal Preferences.

Humans share similar physiological features but are mentally unique, weird and complex. So it is no wonder when you stuff a bunch of humans with diverse interests, likes, dislikes in an enclosed space for 8–9 hours each day, things get awkward and tense at times.

Gimme some beats

Photo by Fábio Alves on Unsplash

Let’s say Amy like to listen to heavy metal music while designing like a unicorn. And she prefers to play it on her speaker rather than using headphones. If everyone in Amy’s office were into heavy metal music and enjoy music piped in their environment, then problem solved. Everyone holds hands and sings kumbaya.

Now let’s say another member in the team, Jake, considers anything other than Beethoven and Bach as heresy. How do you think he would feel sitting next to Amy all day long?

Some of the possible scenarios that can play out:

SCENARIO 1: Only Jake doesn’t like heavy metal music while all the other employees are fine it.

Reaction 1.1: Peer pressure could cause Jake to bottle up his emotions and suffer in silence.
Reaction 1.2: Jake approaches Amy and requests her to use headphones. Amy understands his feelings and complies.
Reaction 1.3: Jake approaches Amy and requests her to use headphones. Amy asks Jake to shift to the farthest location so the music would be less intrusive for him. Amy feels there is no fault in playing her preferred music. It allows her to work well and bring her entire self to work. And everyone except Jake likes it.

SCENARIO 2: Except Amy, everyone on the team hates heavy metal music.

Reaction 2.1: All the team members gang up and express their displeasure to Amy. Peer pressure could cause Amy to bottle up her emotions and suffer in silence. Out goes the bass, in goes the headphones.
Reaction 2.2: Amy feels threatened and not valued in her organisation. She decides to quit the job and find her tribe.

SCENARIO 3: Jake and some of the colleagues dislike heavy metal music, while Amy and a bunch of folks love it.

Reaction 3.1: Jake & Gang confront Amy & Gang and demand music be turned off. Imaginary pistols are whipped out and heated words are exchanged.
Reaction 3.2: Jake & Gang demand a sound-proof chamber to work in peace.

If you were the manager of the team, what would you do in this scenario?

Gunning for that corner office doesn’t sound so exciting now, does it! Jokes apart such situations do arise in real-life. I have been in a similar situation. In a previous workplace of mine, some folks liked to play music on their speakers. If one soundtrack is disturbing, two is double-trouble. We implemented a policy of no music on speakers.

The only other alternative was to provide noise cancelling headphones for everyone. But forcing someone to wear headphones all day long is no fun either.

Photo by Malte Wingen on Unsplash

Was this policy fair to all employees?

Not necessarily. But this was the best available solution.

After the initial grumble, everyone started using headphones while listening to music and lived happily ever after.

Similar scenarios pan out related to food served in the cafeteria, eating at the desk, AC temperature, lightning, etc. It is not possible to resolve all the situations amicably for all parties involved. Some compromises have to be made by everyone.

So coming back to the original question — can everyone bring their whole self to work?

Not always.

My take on this statement is NOT

  • pandering to every whim and fancy of individuals or
  • walking on egg-shells around each other or
  • trying to please everyone (fyi — it’s not possible) or
  • being passive-aggressive or
  • ignorning genuine needs

But building an environment of trust, respect, understanding and co-operation.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Building an inclusive working environment is making everyone feel like part of a family. Hear everyone’s thoughts, open up avenues for constructive debate, make a clear decision and communicate the rationale behind it effectively. It is not an easy task but a truly rewarding one.

Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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