The elevator doors opened, and Evan found himself face to face with the elevator's eight occupants, all staring straight ahead. Nobody moved. Calculating that there was enough room for him to board, Evan stepped forward, slightly jostling the tall woman directly in front of him "Excuse me," he said.
The elevator doors closed behind him, and as the elevator began to move upward, Evan scrunched his shoulders, pulled his elbows tightly into his sides, and carefully rotated himself in place to face the doors. He inevitably brushed against the tall woman again, who responded by shifting about two inches to the southwest, which movement rippled across the other four southwestern occupants of the elevator.
Evan had claimed his space.
So goes the ritual of elevator boarding. It varies from culture to culture, but that's how it's done in the U.S. It's a fairly unfriendly, mildly competitive, and ironically isolating process.
Imagine a similar scene in a parallel universe. The elevator doors open, Evan notices that the elevator is almost full, and says, "Room for one more?" The tall woman responds, "Sure, c'mon aboard." The passengers in the southwest corner of the cab move over to make room and one says, "Yeah, c'mon in. Now we have enough for volleyball!"
Life can be so different — so much more fun — and we can make it happen. Here are some of the everyday rituals we can change.
- Two groups pass each other in a narrow hallway
- One or both will form single file to make space for the other to pass without stopping. Rarely do we stop, stand aside with a smile, and generously let the other pass.
- Pouring coffee at the coffee station
- Life can be so different —
so much more fun —
and we can make it happen
- Someone approaches as you're in mid pour. Do you finish pouring, and then set down the pot? Or do you interrupt your cup and offer to pour theirs?
- Entering the office or cube of another
- If the occupant is looking at the computer, or otherwise unaware of your approach, do you knock on the doorjamb? Clear your throat? Say hello? Or do you ask for directions to the Emerald City?
- Someone enters your office unexpectedly
- Do you stand? Say hello? Smile? Offer the visitor a seat? What if you've never met? Do you ask, "Am I in the right office?"
- Someone drops a book, some papers, their badge, etc.
- Do you do nothing? Do you pick up the items? Do you just point them out? Or do you make a self-effacing remark: "Hey, I thought today it was my turn to drop stuff…"
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- Workplace Memes
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See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.