Spontaneous Fun In The Office

Yesterday afternoon was a period of planning and preparation for me. Starting on Monday of next week I will be working out of a different office than I would normally, facilitating a two-week employment workshop. So it was an afternoon of assembling all the required resources I’ll need and putting these all together in kits for each participant.

So does this sound like a good time to you? It requires some serious calculations; determining all the items needed and not forgetting anything that might later on suddenly become essential if missed. These kits I assemble include pens, notepads, highlighters, pencils, a tent card, thank you cards and envelopes, USB flash sticks, toothbrushes and toothpaste, a large leather folder, a smaller folder including a calculator and my business card. Then there’s the general supplies like flip chart paper and markers, tape, stapler, and the list goes on.

Sorting all these items into a pile for each participant and ensuring no one pile is short any particular item takes time. If this administrative, behind-the-scenes kind of afternoon sounds mundane, isolating and boring to you, you’d be surprised then to find that I turned it into something both fun, productive and inclusive. I’m sharing this with you as a real-life example of what you might do – or something akin to what I’ve done – in your own workplace when faced with something similar.

The first thing I did was use a high-traffic location which is accessed by staff moving about the office from one area to another. To pass the time, I fired up the laptop there and was soon piping some music through the overhead speakers. Nothing too loud and annoying for those working at desks nearby, but just loud enough to hear while in the room.

The music I chose to play was catchy, lively and old enough to be well-known and hopefully spark some good memories. The playlist for example included, ‘Born to Be Alive’ by Patrick Hernandez, ‘The Twist’ by Chubby Checker, ‘Love Shack’ by The B-52’s, ‘Pretty Woman’ by Roy Orbison and ‘My Sharona’ by The Knack. Bouncy tunes with solid beats and music to move by.

Never afraid to be in the spotlight, I was shuffling my feet, dancing around the room and the fitbit on my wrist was counting every step and contributing to my overall daily goals. As it turns out, it was also qualifying as exercise minutes too, something I hadn’t thought of until I later checked; an added bonus. Who knew?

As the staff moved through the space, they laughed, rolled their eyes; hey I even got in a dance move or two with a few of my co-workers who couldn’t help but stop for 40 seconds or so and shake it on down with me. While this went on, another worker was taking photo’s and recording a video of these spontaneous moments which she later circulated to those caught on camera.

Now you might say to yourself that what I’m sharing just goes to show a good example of unproductive, wasted time when these few staff were entirely goofing around and getting paid to do it too. Ah my readers, if you feel this way you couldn’t be further from the truth. The packages I was assembling got done with no extra time involved. The staff passing through couldn’t help but smile and laugh. They experienced some levity and had you been there to see it, you would really have seen people bonding together; nurturing good working relationships with one another. These are the kinds of moments many employers hope to have in their workplaces but can’t script, plan and implement. It’s the spontaneity and staff themselves that make them work.

There’s huge benefits too. You know that post-lunch sag in energy that many people experience? There was none of that I assure you. People walked through and either moved to the beat, rolled their eyes in mock disbelief but chuckled, laughed out loud and shook their heads, or went about their business just after saying how much they loved whatever song was on at that moment. When was the last time you heard, ‘In The Summertime’ by Mungo Jerry? Ah, now you’re humming it or looking it up on YouTube perhaps.

Now does this sound like the kind of thing you could pull off in your office? What in your workplace are some of the spontaneous things you do or have experienced that others initiated which build on staff bonding and interaction? As I left for home yesterday one of the Administrative Clerks said goodnight and asked me if tomorrow it would be Broadway tunes!

Many organizations have social committees, as does the organization I work for. These groups of people are tasked with making the office a positive place to work, coming up throughout the year with fun activities, typically highlighting events of note like anniversaries, holidays, special themes etc. They may raise money for charities, need budgets to buy whatever supplies they need to run the events etc. The beauty of yesterdays spontaneous fun was it cost nothing to run, there was no planning to do, no permission to seek, no emails to compose, send and have read.

So in the end, some workers laughed, some danced, I got some exercise, the time flew by, the work got done, and a few of us got a little closer. Not a bad day at all.

Signals We Send To Others

In my line of work, I see a lot of people on a daily basis; people who are largely unemployed, others who are underemployed. They share many things in common with one another, the most significant one being that they are first and foremost people. Obvious yes, but critically important to continually recognize.

Each one of these people has a past and present, and while they may be occupying the same visual space in front of me at any given time, it’s that past and present which they have uniquely lived which differentiates them from each other, and logically from me as well.

Interestingly enough however, if you are observant, you can make some good assumptions about people you see but have yet to interact with in conversation. From the way they dress, walk, what they carry with them, how social or private they are with others, what they are doing and their physical appearance, you can gather a great deal of information.

Now were you and I sitting down together and watching, we would see the same people, note the same things, but we might make inferences and form opinions based on what we observe very differently if we compared notes. This phenomenon is similar to having 6 witnesses to an accident who give very different interpretations of what they’ve just witnessed to a Police Officer. In those situations, you’d be asked to describe what you saw without making any personal interpretations or subjective statements.

Ah but you and I sitting side by side, our situation is slightly different. Here’s what our brains do with what’s before us. First of all we receive this stimulation; most of it visual, perhaps some of it auditory and we could pick up odours be they pleasant or foul. It’s less likely we’ve got any taste or touch stimuli. So the sight, sounds and smells are what we’ve got to work with. This information we take in and our brains start to assemble that information in ways that make sense for us.

By making sense to us, what’s happening is that our brain is organizing the data we’ve received, putting it together in a way that makes sense to us; and this is largely based on past encounters we’ve had with others in our lives that were similar. Hence a cologne or perfume someone wears might attract or repel us but it may remind us of someone we’ve known who wore that fragrance. The other thing is that with the organizing that is happening in our brain, we compartmentalize what we are experiencing. Does this person go in the harmless, danger, be on my guard, pleasurable or perhaps avoid interaction at all cost categories? Ever been walking down the street and you see someone coming towards you and you suddenly think it wise to cross the street to continue your way but avoid possible contact? Same thing.

Knowing this process is going on; receiving, processing and evaluating data in order to assess and predict with some certainty if a given interaction will be favourable or not, it’s safe to assume other people do it too. So what? Excellent question.

The answer of course is this; how we choose to dress, walk, act; the things we carry with us, our hygiene etc.; all these things are sending information to those around us. Other people are then using the data we’re sending to form opinions about us then before we’ve even said a word. If and when we do enter into verbal dialogue, those words will be additional information their brains take in; as will the handshake or hug give them touch stimuli, and a kiss perhaps some taste stimuli to add to their assessment of us. Although a hug and kiss are unlikely for a first encounter but some do greet each other this way as cultural norms.

Like me, you’ve got a lot of control over the signals and stimuli that you share with those with whom you come into contact with. Even if you pay little attention to your clothing and your grooming for example, you are still sending out information about yourself and the choice you made in how you are presenting yourself to the world.

You have control over these things I say. So it stands to reason then that if you are not attracting the right kind of attention; if you are not interacting with others in your life the way you’d like or having the impact on others you’d like, changing up some things will communicate different information and it will be received and processed by others differently. Stands to reason doesn’t it?

Now if you want others to take you professionally – for a job interview perhaps – and you want a favourable first impression, you have the power to package yourself differently and hence increase the odds of promoting yourself so you are received as you’d like to be. Do nothing, and how you’ve been successful or not in the past with others in your personal presentation is likely to remain unchanged. Without making a personal change at all, assuming you’ll have better luck or a different reaction isn’t wise.

Whether it’s a job interview, wanting to impress someone you find attractive or putting yourself in a favourable position in your existing job for some future promotion, pay attention to the cues you are sending to those around you.



Sometimes….Say Nothing

Yesterday was an interesting day. It started off normally enough, I awoke at the usual time, but knew that I was meeting with someone at work half an hour earlier than I typically arrive, so I decided to pen my blog not at home but at work on my own time. However, once at work and after my early morning meeting, I turned to jobs at hand putting off that blog until later in the day.

Well soon it was noon and I had a lunch meeting which was something I had looked forward to all week-long, and it was followed by a Team meeting in the afternoon. Still I thought, there’ll be time when I get home while preparing dinner. Then a headache hit, and it stuck with me from about 1:30 p..m. on. When I got home after the hour ride, I called my wife at work and told her she would find me sprawled out on the couch perhaps asleep as I fought off the pain. The next thing I knew, she was walking in the door, and it was an hour and a half later and I had indeed closed my eyes and slept.

During the evening, things improved but slowly, and my ability to really concentrate and write anything meaningful was low. So I made a decision to not share anything in my job advice blog, rather than write for the sake of keeping up a string of daily blogging. So why share this with you and what relevance does this have to the whole job advice subject?

Well I was thinking to myself, there are a number of times when the best strategy is to lie low, to avoid speaking for the sake of speaking, and to reserve your comments until you are in a frame of mind to actually add something useful to a conversation. In an interview, there too are times when you’ve answered a question sufficiently and your best strategy would be to get comfortable with the silence, without the need for filing the dead space with your words.

I know myself that I’ve used silence as a tool to elicit more from clients in my line of work. If I can refrain from speaking in a conversation, quite often the person I’m engaged with will break first and start speaking first. This is a well-known and oft-used strategy that interviewers use to see how an applicant deals with a stressful situation. And from time-to-time, I’ve caught myself being the first to start filling the dead air with thoughts that are poorly thought out; winging it as it were. Seldom have I actually done well in those situations, as my brain scrambles quickly to think of something semi-intelligent to say. Only once I’ve started talking does it hit me that I’d have done much better to have said nothing at all.

Even outside of an interview, such as in my team meeting yesterday, I contributed to the discussion, but only in areas where I felt assured that what I had to offer was relevant. After the meeting I was speaking with a co-worker, and mentioned that there had been something I half-wanted to say, but after all was glad I had not.

When for example you are experiencing a headache, or on those days when you just know you aren’t functioning at your very best, a strategy for survival in the workplace might be to lie low. This could mean putting off emails until you’ve regained your clarity. It might also mean hanging out in your cubicle instead of making the rounds if that’s your usual routine. And if you have something positive to look forward to coming up in your work or personal life, think on that it will give you reason to get on and get through your day.