Pssst! Your coworker isn't perfect...and that's okay!

It is natural to want to maintain some privacy and distance between home life and work life - between who you are to your friends, to your family to coworkers – but it might be costing your company.  

The myriad reasons for this distancing are understandable and to some extent beneficial.  Differences in politics, preferences and tastes can create social friction stimulating emotional tension, hostility and ultimately lost productivity as energy and attention is directed to resolving personality differences.

But when it comes to conceiving, designing and executing products and services this distancing begins to hurt.  If the organization’s decision makers are reluctant to discuss their own faults and foibles – their own humanity – then how can they empathically discuss the faults and foibles of their customers?  And without frank and compassionate consideration of these issues, how relevant can these decisions be to the people they will ultimately affect?  

In one extended consulting project we were refining a healthy lifestyle marketing campaign.  It took more than eight meetings before some members of the team began to admit that they did not actually do any of the things that we were promoting.  In fact it turned out none of us did.  So who were these idealized people that we were supposedly servicing?   Perhaps they really exist or perhaps they are just pretending to…like we were.

I have worked in product and service development with companies large and small and found that (usually) the larger the organization the more difficult it is for the people involved to speak honestly and openly about themselves. And as a consequence, the more abstract and unreal user understanding becomes. 

Before we can get better at relating to our customers, we must get better at relating to ourselves.  Get better at being okay with who we actually are so we are unafraid to voice our real opinions.  This does not mean it is okay to voice intolerant or insensitive outbursts in the workplace (or anywhere really) in fact precisely the opposite:  

  1. It is okay to be a work in progress.  So what if you aren’t the yogi, speed-reading, multilingual, organic triathlete yet…it’s that you want to be that matters.
  2. It is okay to admit when you are ignorant.  Nobody knows it all but know-it-alls. If you have trouble saying the words “I don’t know” then try instead “I don’t know…yet” (see point 1). 
  3. It is okay to admit when you make a mistake.
  4. It is okay to admit when you make a mistake.   Pobody’s nerfect.

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