Work is love made visible. -- Kahlil Gibran
Recently I was working with a CEO who was constantly encouraging his employees to be "professional." Many in his company bristled at the word because they saw it as critical or they thought he wanted them to be more sterile in their interactions. When I asked him what he meant by professional, the first word he came up with was "caring." He wanted them to care about doing a good job and care about each other and their clients. When I asked him, "why not use the word 'caring'?," he replied, "I want them to take me seriously."
Contrary to some common practice, pretending we are not human does not make us better at business. In fact, the research keeps mounting that the most effective strategic decisions come when we integrate cognitive, emotional, and bodily awareness. Research also shows that the more human and connected a workplace feels, the healthier and more productive people are.
The word business comes from an Old English word "bisignis," which was synonymous with the word "anxiety." In my work as a coach and consultant, I have found that anxiety runs rampant among people in business. In fact, being busy and stressed is often worn as a badge of honor. By some, work is viewed as a sacrifice that gets in the way of life, while others view work as the center of the universe. Although we can easily forget it, work is one aspect of how we add value to the world. Business is an endeavor carried out by human being to serve the good of human beings. There is no reason that our endeavors at work have to displace human relationships or be cold and detached from the realities of being human.
This morning I woke up feeling a bit anxious, a bit lost. My practice used to be to indulge these feelings as the truth, blame them on my circumstances, or fight them off as the enemy. My practice today is to feel them kindly, breathe deeply, and decide where I will focus my energy. This practice does not mean that the feelings go away any sooner, but they do become part of the flow of life rather than derailing it. I am more productive when I acknowledge my humanity rather than treat it as a problem or a weakness.
Many of us are conditioned to either pretend we don't have feelings or to stop everything and indulge our feelings as if they are the only thing that matters. There is a vast middle ground where we can acknowledge that feelings are part of the human experience that may offer useful information. And we can simply support others when they are feeling uncomfortable without trying to fix them. We can be present and acknowledge how someone is feeling without arguing that they should be feeling something else -- and we can do this for ourselves as well.
Many of us are conditioned to check what matters most at the door when we come to work. It can take some practice to integrate our humanity into business. The elements of this practice include being present, cultivating positive internal resources such as curiosity, compassion, and gratitude, leveraging our energy by focusing on what is most important and under our control, and taking complete responsibility for our choices and our role in relationships.
Being professional does not mean being inhuman. Going to work does not mean we have to divorce the rich and complicated aspects of ourselves. At the end of it all, we are all in this together. We are all seeking a life of meaning and belonging. There is no rule that says that hard work, joy, and love are at odds with each other.
Dave Mochel provides coaching and training in Awareness-Based Self-Regulation -- a research-supported and time-tested practice to maximize balance, clarity, confidence, and connection. He partners with individuals, couples, teams, and organizations to focus attention and energy on growth and well-being. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org