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Trevor E. S. Smith | The Way we are : Suspicion, separation, confrontation.

Published:Monday | October 2, 2017 | 12:00 AMTrevor E. S. Smith

What is the impact of our socialisation on interpersonal relations - supportive or destructive?

The discussion is inspired by another 'The way we are' conversation with participants in a leadership development workshop.

The group quickly indicated in one role play that I should have asked them what they wanted to drink instead of serving the beverage I ordered. Unquestionably, I displayed poor etiquette. However, when one adamant individual was found guilty of never having asked a colleague with which she had worked for years, how she wanted to be treated, the critical lesson was revealed.




'The way we are' exercise reinforces the point that we seem to be unwilling to bring over things that we do as a matter of course into the work environment. It appears as if our socialisation frustrates rather than stimulates healthy interpersonal relations.

Being disturbed at being offered a drink that is not to your liking cannot be compared to the challenge of being presented with behaviour that annoys you 40 hours per week for years.

Why do we fail to apply this basic principle of good manners in our interaction with colleagues?




It feels awkward to ask colleagues how they want to be treated. Our socialisation has attached a sense of intimacy to that question. We feel uneasy asking it outside of our intimate circle. Yet, we spend more of our waking hours with colleagues than loved ones. Being treated the way we would like to be treated is important, and sharing preferences helps.




But there is another challenge: How does one respond to the question of how you want to be treated?

Putting the issue to countless groups, the response is ... you got it: "With respect!"

But what does that mean? It is so broad and subject to varied interpretations. It is like "I want something to drink" as against "I would like hot coffee with cream and one teaspoon of sugar." When it comes to preferences, we need specific references.




The consistent excuse for not displaying fundamental good manners with colleagues, is that we learn their likes and dislikes over time. So our poor co-worker suffers while we figure things out.

You invite a friend over for dinner and you offer a steak. She eats around it. Next meal - chicken. Makes sense? Yet, that appears to be common practice among colleagues. Why is patiently eliminating preferred to meaningfully connecting?

Why wait when vital information could be exchanged at the point of introduction?

Why not show and tell to get on well?




The heart of the problem is the failure to master a language of behaviours that allows for effective communication of our preferences, without burdening it down with issues of intimacy or invasion of privacy.




Some participants were adamant that they don't drink the beverage that I ordered. This highlights the importance of putting aside our comfort to achieve desired results. We have to get wet in the rain to catch the train. We need to learn to get comfortable with discomfort. This is not a call to breach ethical or moral codes. It is a call to be flexible to achieve our objectives.




Another consideration is, what if the beverage I ordered was my dream drink? They turned it into a nightmare. One lesson is that we sometimes reject the best that someone has to offer without due consideration for their feelings, rationale or future impact.

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- Trevor E. S. Smith is a director of the Success with People Academy, home of the SHRM-accredited certified behavioural coach award (now enrolling) and 3-D Team Leader Certification: Leading difficult, dominant and diverse personalities. The Success with People Academy applies DISCerning communication while improving recruitment & team performance. It prepares personal & team behavioural DNA analyses and 360 surveys on the revolutionary FinxS Platform from extended DISC.