“Aunt Jen, You Don’t Really Work.”

November 1, 2017

My nephews, age 6 and almost 8, are growing like weeds. The 2nd grader, Joe, has four upper teeth that have fallen out, making him look like a seasoned hockey player. It’s pretty adorable. Evan has two bottom teeth that have come out too. The tooth fairy is busy at their house and will continue to be for a while.

And along with the physical development, both Joe and Evan are growing ever more curious too. They ask those kinds of questions like, “Why do you have olives in your drink, Aunt Jen?” Or the perennial question, “Why aren’t you married?” I now have a developmentally appropriate response to a question that has been asked by many others over the last 25 years as well. When I finished sharing my kindergarten level response with Evan, what I learned was that my nephew really just wanted to make sure I had friends to play with at recess. I assured him that I was okay. I have friends to play with at recess.

Then Joe changed the subject from personal to professional and said, “You don’t really work. You just fly around and talk to people.” Given that his parents both have jobs with tangible ‘outcomes,’ (sports announcing and owning a package shipping franchise), his comment made sense. What do I do? I do fly around and talk to people. Joe’s right. And talking to people about how to talk to people is really important. Really super important, Joe.

A few reasons for it being a critical skill: Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, authors of the book, The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What To Do About It cite statistics of how a single incident of incivility in the workplace can result in:

  • 48 percent of affected employees intentionally decreasing their work effort
  • 47 percent intentionally decreasing their time at work
  • 80 percent losing work time worrying about the incident
  • 63 percent losing productivity avoiding the offender

Their research also showed that 78 percent of affected employees were less committed to their organization after the incident, and 12 percent actually go so far as to change jobs. We all know someone who walked or wished they could do so when the climate at work is just so bad. In fact, my former school district, Palo Alto Unified School District, is considering a Civility Policy that the teacher union president hopes would “minimize inappropriate conduct among teachers, administrators and parents.” The district next door, Los Altos School District, has a policy and their district hopes it “encourages positive communication and discourages volatile, hostile or aggressive actions.” Sounds like we really need to talk about how we talk to one another.

Robert Sutton, author of the 2010 book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t wrote his provocatively titled book seven years ago. Then, as the new Amazon blurb says about his new book, “(Sutton) shifts focus from building civilized workplaces to providing relief for anybody who feels plagued and pushed around by assholes” in The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt. What can I say, Joe? I see the need to support and facilitate learning for adults who want to, and need to, communicate with maturity and humanity. It’s a living. 🙂

I have often started my workshops by saying that when I came into coaching and facilitation I realized I had a teaching credential to work with students around the subject of English but I didn’t, and so needed, a credential in how to communicate effectively with other adults. And with so many of us in our work being stressed out and exhausted, feeling undermined and overwhelmed, we often times aren’t our best selves. And we need to be. We have such urgent work to do. We need to be on our game with students and with each other.

So, yes, Joe, I drop out of the sky and talk to people for a living. It’s good work, a great calling, and I think it makes a huge difference.

If you have any questions, comments or topic suggestions, please feel free to email me at Jennifer@jenniferabrams.com. I look forward to hearing from you!

Cool Resources

On my bookshelf and desktop suggested by colleagues:

Meredith Fuller’s Working with Bitches: Identify the 8 Types of Office Mean Girls and Rise Above Workplace Nastiness

Brene Brown’s Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Linda Darling Hammond’s blog, Where Have All the Teachers Gone?

About Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams

Jennifer Abrams considers herself a "voice coach," helping others learn how to best use their voices – be it collaborating on a team, presenting in front of an audience, coaching a colleague and supervising an employee. Jennifer holds a Master's degree in Education from Stanford University and a Bachelor's degree in English from Tufts University. She lives in Palo Alto, California. Jennifer's publications include Having Hard Conversations, The Multigenerational Workplace: Communicating, Collaborating & Creating Community and Hard Conversations Unpacked – the Whos, the Whens and the What Ifs. She has also created a Corwin Press e-course by the same name.

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Praise for Jennifer

“Jennifer presented a workshop on Having Hard Conversations to our staff. She is a superb presenter, with a strong command of the content, excellent real examples, and professional delivery. Staff have since been talking to me all week about how much they enjoyed the presentation. I only wish we had more time with her, as these practices have the potential to have a really positive impact on our workplace.”

Cameron Paterson, Head of Teaching and Learning
Shore Sydney Church of England Grammar School, North Sydney, Australia