Shhh. I’m listening in. My graduating senior, Vince, is having one of his last digital quarantine classes. And there’s a big business lesson for you in this. But you have to indulge a dad for a minute.
You see, Vince was a very shy, non-participatory student for most of his life. He was bullied in 6th grade for being different (his sin was not caring about fashion and current pop culture) and it left a rough mark on his future education.
Right now, Vince is showing off one of his cats to the class and talking about the graduation baskets (full of decorations) they all received. And just like that, they’re debating whether the U.S. will adopt more fashionable masks the way China has for over a decade now. And now, this is suddenly their “social studies” class.
Schools (And Businesses) Must Have Connection
Have you thanked a grocery store employee for their help over the last few months? Did you do that before the pandemic? Not with the same sentiment, for sure. Why? Because you’re recognizing the contribution of their service to your day’s success.
Do we do that at work? No. We speak to the screw ups. The rest of the time, we placate and repeat empty phrases.
Have you ever realized just how much of office work is repeating the same stupid chatter over and over? Probably you didn’t until you were forced to stay home and participate in endless Zoom meetings.
At home, Vince was asked about his cat. We all do this. We take in the little video rectangle behind the student or employee and we do mental inventory. We look for weird things, interesting things, and most importantly, we seek to find items to which we relate.
We seek connection as an important part of our business interactions. Not like we have to be best friends while I buy this extended warranty kind of connection. But more like, “I see you.”
In the age before it got tricky to understand what appropriation was versus what was sheer appreciation (practically the same word), I started every speech for two years by saying this:
“‘Sawubona!’ This is the Zulu greeting. It means literally ‘I see you.’ I love it so much more than hello or hi or waving my hand. Waving your hand, by the way, was a historical way of telling the person you were approaching that you were unarmed and meant them no harm. It meant ‘I have no intention of hurting you today.’ By contrast, Sawubona means, ‘I see you.’ I recognize that you are here and a person.”
In the post-pandemic world, I suspect we’ll be required to wear masks for some time. Everything will have a slightly “removed” feeling. But people seek/want/need to feel some level of connection. It’s why you might find yourself talking to strangers a bit more often right now.
And companies must embrace it, nurture it, and find ways to add it to the value of working somewhere, and of what it means to work with your organization.
My son Vince is one of the most active and contributing kids in his senior class. All it took was people recognizing him as a human and someone with interests as well as a student filling up space. Your customers and employees and even the bosses of all this want that. They want to be seen.
Sawubona - I see you.
Ngikhona - I am here.
About Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan is an author, keynote speaker and business advisor who helps companies update organizational interfaces to better support modern humans. The age of factory-sized interactions is over. We all come one to a pack. And it’s time to accept that we are all a little bit dented. Chris advises leadership teams to empower team members by sharing actionable insights on talent development. He also works with marketing and communications teams to more effectively reach people who want to be seen and understood before they buy what a company sells.
Bank of America, N.A. engages with Chris Brogan to provide informational materials for your discussion or review purposes only. The third parties within articles are used under license from Chris Brogan. Consult your financial, legal and accounting advisors, as neither Bank of America, its affiliates, nor their employees provide legal, accounting and tax advice.
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