It happened. My mom had a stroke, 3 weeks ago. A relatively mild one. She’s 92. I flew to Germany where mom resides to tend to her and her affairs.
Mom’s body and spirit are recovering, slowly. But here’s the unforeseen part of this experience. During my more than 2 weeks in Bonn I had a seemingly endless stream of interactions with professionals I had never before met. Doctors, many of them. Nurses, even more. Physiotherapists. Social Workers. Bank Clerks. Receptionists. Taxi Drivers. Security Guards. Assisted Living Directors. Car Mechanic. Apartment Liquidator. Newspaper clerk. Clergy.
I was taking care of mom, and I was witnessing a whole lot of professionals being professional.
Being helpful, not helpful. Present, not present. Focused, distracted. Flexible, rigid. Warm, aloof. Grouchy, joyful. All while performing their jobs. And I thought of you and me. The choices we make, every day, as we show up for work.
This week Luis Gallardo, Founder of the World Happiness Summit, and I will have a public chat in Miami about choosing happiness. It all connects.
It’s not like we don’t know. I saw it so clearly again while in Germany. How we show up at work, moment by moment, human interaction by interaction, is a conscious choice. It always is. The fundamental choices we make in every human encounter change their day, and they change ours.
A little reminder of what works, regardless of your personality type or what line of work you’re in:
It doesn’t need to be big ra-ra joy, and no fake cheer, please. But the moment you and I have a professional encounter with another person, whether we know her or not, whether we like him or not, let’s infuse it with a sense of delight in the encounter. Let’s make this sense of delight our most elemental choice, and let’s make it a conscious one. The starting point, always. It will infuse every second that unfolds. The alternative isn’t pretty.
When you’re having a “bad” day, don’t dump your crappy mood on others. Ever, ever. We have two choices, always. We can be transparent about what is bugging us. When that is not appropriate to the situation we’re in, we can manage our irritations. Not stuff ‘em, but be aware of them and mindful of containing them. Anything else is not cool. Bad-mood drip drip drip is poisonous. Show up as a grown-up, please, and don’t drip. Be cool.
We like agreement with others – but what we truly desire is understanding. You and I cannot always offer agreement, and we frequently don’t receive it. But we can always seek to understand. And we can, to the best of our ability, convey to the other person that we have understood. No fake “yeah, I get it.” No easy platitudes, no surface-skimming. No, an understanding of the deeper yearning, the stuff beneath the surface. The human and sometimes messy part. Agreement is nice. Being understood, truly understood, is better.
The professional mask, that is. It is so seductive. The “I’m efficient mask.” The “I know what I’m doing mask.” Don’t get me wrong. By all means, be efficient and know what you’re doing. We expect nothing less of you. But when this ability turns into your primary public demeanor, it becomes a professional shield. The “crisp” mask. Clean execution of required behavior – whether it is greeting a client or delivering a performance review at work – in a professional human exchange is never enough. Go beyond required. Warmth works. So does kindness.
Mom has her good days and she has the not-so-good ones. Her social filters are gone. She is a patient, she’s allowed. On a day when mom is yet again complaining about the inattention of the staff at the Rehab Clinic, we banter about what transpires in a human exchange. I know that when I greet the nurse with a smile and a good attitude, mom admits with a wistful sigh, I always get a smile in return.
It’s a two-way street. It always is. And the choice begins with us.