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In my previous place of work I was sure that one of my colleagues saw me as a cardboard cutout. I mean, I got the feeling she perceived me as Being 100% the role that I was Doing at school. So, for example, if we started to chat and the conversation turned personal, it was always about her life and I became the interested listener. You get it, right? We all have colleagues or friends where we accept that what we talk about is going to centre around them. We happily or perhaps begrudgingly understand this and add questions or comments to support their chosen topic. It’s a one way connection. We’re connected so long as we stay attached to the end of their fishing rod.

One day, this particular work colleague told me that she liked my pearl earrings. “Oh my gosh,” I thought excitedly, “we are actually going to talk about me for a minute or so.”

“Do you?” I asked, “I bought them in Bali last holidays….” “Bali, really? My daughter went to Bali. Blah blah blah….” And she was off. That was the end of the three second interest in my life. Later I reflected how sad it was that she was so disinterested in the person behind her cardboard cutout perception of ‘me’. There was no opportunity for real connection.

Just the other day I had the opportunity in my work place of three years to chat to someone who works in the office. In all the time that I have worked there, we’ve never really had a personal conversation. Today, however, was different. I got to hear about her favourite Asian destination and some stories related to the many holidays she has had there. I also got to hear about her daughter’s pregnancy and the impending birth of her grandchild. She shared with me how certain tourists from a particular part of the world are very unpopular with the locals in her Asian holiday destination because they don’t respect the people. These tourists are only interested in getting the cheapest price at the markets. Because of this lack of connection, the locals refuse to barter with them. I contributed some comments about my experience in Asia and she listened to my contributions. I have to say that after three years of only talking about workplace stuff, it was so refreshing to see that this woman had a life outside of her role and that she was willing to share some of it with me. I felt delighted and privileged that she had chosen to have a connection with me. We connected and I know our professional relationship will benefit because of a conversation that focused on personal life. My theory is that work relationships improve when we chose to take an interest in the whole person, not just the part they have to play at work.


In my current workplace, I can tell you at least one thing about the personal lives of each of the four cleaners that work at my school. Ok, they play the role of ‘cleaner’ just as I play the role of ‘teacher’ but that’s not WHO we are. Like me, they have a wealth of life experiences and each day we catch up for a few minutes when they come into my room. With some of my teacher colleagues, we are Facebook friends and have shared meals at each other’s homes and even been to the ballet together. It’s so refreshing to have this connection outside of the workplace because when we are at work together we behave differently. Remember in A Christmas Carol how Scrooge’s attitude changed when he saw certain things through one of the ghosts who visited him on Christmas Eve? Scrooge was shown that Bob Crachitt, his employee of umpteen years, had a crippled child and the family could barely make ends meet. Ebenezer’s whole attitude changed towards Bob because he was given the gift, the opportunity, to see the whole person and not just the role of accountant that Bob was playing at work. In the second edition of Life’s a Mango, there’s a new poem called The Catch-Up. Here are some verses from the poem that remind me of the importance of connection:

What I love most

And I bet you do too

Is when you say something

And listener asks for a review.

They’re seeking more info,

Not just being polite.

They’re trying to get you,

So they understand right.

My eyes just light up when

I know someone’s listened.

Oh my gosh, we’ve connected.

My eyes start to glisten.

It feels like we’re playing

A great game of ping-pong.

We hit the ball to each other

And our rally is long. ©

I wonder if this week at work you’ll find an opportunity for more connection with a colleague. I hope I do because after that connection everything about the relationship will be different.

Take care



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