Parents throughout the ages have advised their kids to choose whom they associate with wisely. We do this because we know that the people they regularly interact with will impact their behavior, thinking, and even outlook in life.
But that phenomenon is not limited to the young. We humans have these things called open-looped limbic systems.
Our moods and attitudes are directly influenced by the moods and attitudes that surround us. In fact, we’re so influenced by others’ demeanors that we can even experience physical symptoms and reactions to them.
I was reminded of this recently after a series of interactions with a person who flabbergasts me. (We’ll call him John to protect the non-innocent.)
The cherry on the cake is that it involves volunteer work. So yes, I volunteer for those frustrations.
John isn’t a bad guy. Heck, he’s a volunteer as well.
But he is a master at finding problems where none exist. Problems then inevitably do pop up because of the friction endless negativity creates.
Chuck is also in that group, and he seemingly always has a positive attitude about challenges. And he is someone who has had serious health issues that would give him full license to have a negative, “life-isn’t-fair” demeanor.
But he’s just the opposite.
After I got off of the phone with him recently, I joked to my wife, “I just feel better about the group when I talk to him. I find myself wanting to help instead of wondering why I even bother.”
She smiled and said matter-of-factly, “Okay. Start spending more time with Chuck and less with John. Doesn’t seem like a tough thing to figure out.”
It was “Well, duh!” advice that I still needed to hear. And it soon improved my outlook.
Back in school, we didn’t always get to choose whom we sat next to in class. But we did get to choose at lunch, recess, and after school.
Now that we’re older, we don’t always get to choose whom we work with or for. But we do get to decide the kinds of attitudes and moods we seek to associate ourselves with, both at work and away.
Do what you can this week to interact more with the folks who actually make you feel good about work and/or life. Choose whom you associate with wisely.
More importantly, strive to be the kind of person others look to be around and speak with to improve their own outlooks and attitudes.
I had an experience a few weeks back that had me smiling and attempting to give coaching advice without being too “preachy”.
I was on hand to give a speech to a bank’s management team. Several familiar faces came up to me before and after my presentation to say hello.
Before I left, a young man walked up to me and I found myself a little stumped. When he began speaking, it dawned on me that I had seen him before at speeches at another bank.
Before I could ask, he said, “I was excited when I found out you were speaking to our group! I’ve seen you several times before while I was at (XYZ) bank.”
That filled in the blanks for me, and I thanked him for the nice words. I innocently asked, “So, how long have you been here?”
He gave me the answer and then, unsolicited, began telling me why he had left his previous bank.
It was entirely negative.
The particular bank he was criticizing is one I know pretty well and has management I consider friends. I’m sure that this person was sharing sincerely-felt emotions.
And it’s possible that he was indeed mismanaged, overlooked, etc. along the way.
But knowing what I know of that organization, I had my doubts. Then again, I suppose anything is possible.
Making that grievance part of your introduction (or reintroduction) to a person, however, is extremely counterproductive.
I told him, “I’m sorry to hear that. I have lots of friends there and know it’s a great organization. But I guess sometimes things don’t work out.”
He immediately offered, “Oh, it’s a great place,” and he named several folks there whom he really respected and missed.
I smiled and told him, “I think you’re fortunate to have come from one great organization and now have an opportunity at another one. You must be doing something right.”
He then spent another minute praising both organizations…which made for a far more pleasant and productive conversation. In fact, he credited several folks at his former bank for preparing him for the opportunities he now has at his new employer.
There are forks and bumps in the roads each of us travel upon. But there is seldom benefit in burning bridges with the organizations, bosses, peers, or customers who are part of that journey.
And you never know when a detour may take you back down a road you’ve traveled before.