It’s a bit risky bringing together friends from different parts of your world in the hopes that they’ll get along as well as you get along with each of them. It has the potential to go really well or to end up as the basis of an epic disaster, “When Worlds Collide.”
I love colliding my worlds. I’ve thrown parties where I invited personal friends, professional colleagues, people with whom I attend church and relatives. I’ve seen people make connections they otherwise never would have made. Selfishly, it’s also fun to have all the different people I care about in one place at one time.
Friday night I had the chance to bring together some people I knew would hit it off — and, boy, did they. Steve and Cindy Crescenzo were in town for Steve’s “Creative Communications” seminar and we planned months ago to have dinner afterward. I’ve known Steve for 15 years and I’ve loved getting to know Cindy since she came into his life. We all see each other from time to time at conferences and we keep up with each other by e-mail and Facebook, but we’ve never had the opportunity to just hang out and spend some quality time together. Here was one of those rare chances. I knew we’d be doing a lot of laughing that night.
A last-minute addition, though, made that dinner even more special. I’ve been seeing a terrific woman named Skyler who, among her many outstanding qualities, has a sense of humor as weird as mine. That’s pretty weird. We’ve forged a friendship that, as far as I can tell, is built primarily on low-brow humor. So, of course, I knew I had to introduce her to Steve and Cindy.
Let’s just say the sparks flew. It was instant chemistry, a beautiful thing. These three friends with seemingly nothing in common except their incessant teasing of me (well, Cindy doesn’t tease me, so I love her more than the other two) immediately bonded. For three hours we traded stories and laughed so hard our sides hurt. We ended the night with a group hug on the sidewalk. It was so sweet it almost made me sick. Old relationships were strengthened that night and new relationships were built.
All of this got me thinking about the workplace. If total strangers can forge such fast bonds over dinner, why does it take months, sometimes years, for people to get to the point where they can work together productively? I know there are obvious differences between having a fun dinner and moving a work project forward, but it seems to me we could adapt some of the lessons from our personal lives and apply them to our work lives:
- Assume the best of others. Too many times we start off assuming the worst about other people. Granted, for whatever reason, Steve and Cindy like me and were eager to meet my friend Skyler. And for whatever reason, probably because I’m such a suave and intriguing man of mystery, Skyler wanted to meet my friends. But I think a lot of it has to do with the naturally positive nature of these three people. They assumed the best and looked forward to a positive encounter.
- Look for what unites you instead of what divides you. The only things these three people had in common at the beginning of the night were me (known to them) and a love of laughter (known to me). That was enough to get the ball rolling. As the night wore on, we discovered more things we had in common — including a common goal, which was to eat and drink just short of too much.
- Stop looking out for number one so much. This is one of the most common problems in the workplace. People are more concerned about how they look, about getting their share of the credit, and about advancing their own agendas that they miss out on the blessings that could come their way by being a bit more humble. Steve, Cindy and Skyler are among the most kind-hearted, down-to-earth, unassuming people I know. They are the kind of people you’d want to take to dinner and they are the kind of people you’d want on your team at work.
- Lighten up. There’s a time to be serious, but we allow those times to overtake us. I’m convinced if there was more laughter in most workplaces, a lot more work would get done. In fact, I’ve seen it happen. For two and a half years I worked with a group of people that knew how to laugh. They were among the most productive years of my career so far.
Colliding worlds, bringing total strangers together under these principles, turned out to be creative and rejuvenating. I wonder what other principles from our personal relationships could be applied to our work lives so they could be infused with a breath of fresh air?