Ever had one of those occasions where you felt inspired to write something — maybe it was an email or a social media post and then right before (or even worse, right after) you hit send you began second-guessing yourself?
Should I have shared that?
Maybe that was too personal to include in professional correspondence.
Phew! I thought it was just me. Then earlier this week, I received a message from a colleague who had been “shamed” by a friend for something they had posted. It was one of those, “Oh no you didn’t” messages about a post that made a “business point” and also integrated a “personal story” that was happening in real life. The friend wrote insisting they take down the post claiming it wasn’t appropriate. I don’t know about you, but in my experience, those kinds of “let me help you with that, you idiot” messages trigger an avalanche of shame.
Obviously, it did for my friend, because they reached out to see if others thought they had crossed the line.
Little did my friend know their inquiry would trigger this post.
This whole idea of whether or not something is fitting for professional correspondence reared its head in sinister fashion in the course of “ordinary conversation” just two weeks ago. Let me illustrate with a personal example from a real-life story. The names have NOT been changed to add to the credibility and veracity of the story. (Of course, I did request and obtain permission from the two people involved.)
A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Renée Smith who leads the Make Work More Human Project for the State of Washington. Renee was attending the LEI Lean Summit in Houston and asked if I could help facilitate an introduction to Rich Sheridan, CEO of Menlo Innovations and author of Chief Joy Officer and Joy, Inc. Both have been guests on the Higher Purpose Podcast and have become personal friends. Of course, I agreed. I sent an introductory email, and the two of them began exploring schedules and logistics which were going to be tricky because Rich was balancing other commitments and only at the Summit for a short period. The stars aligned and their schedules worked out for a meeting. This breakfast meeting came together pretty quickly.
If you know me, you know I love levity and have a dry wit sense of humor. Moreover, by this time in life, I have come to understand my humor is not always appreciated, but it’s me. It’s who I am.
There I was watching this wonderful meeting come together in a matter of minutes and against a few odds. Suddenly, I found myself typing this email without thinking about it at all. To quote the illustrious and fictional Hannibal Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together.
As I was about to hit send, it happened.
That voice…”DON’T SEND THAT, WHAT WILL THEY THINK? THAT’S NOT A VERY PROFESSIONAL OR BUSINESS-LIKE EMAIL.” Suddenly, I felt like I was back in Mrs. Taylor’s 4th-grade science class being disciplined for making a funny at an inappropriate time. Or maybe, it one of those times when I said something out loud in staff meetings at AT&T that the VP preferred I kept to myself. It was the voice of SHAME and SHOULD. Maybe you know it. I know it. All. Too. Well.
Of course, it is possible that you are a much more evolved and intelligent person than me and you never struggle with stuff like this and are judging me at this very moment for writing this post.
[And lest you think this occupied an entire afternoon — wrong. ALL of this occurred in milliseconds.]
I started deleting the text and thinking of a more proper response, and suddenly, I was like NO! Not going to do that. I heard the words of my dear friend and mentor, Hildy Gottlieb saying; “Kevin, someone needs to kick the SHOULD out of you.” Instantly, I hit CMD+Z to replace the text and hit send and forgot about it. Then, what happened next began illuminating the LIGHT BULBS and unlocking LEARNING MOMENTS. Almost immediately, Rich responded with “Love that quote … loved the A-team! :-)”
Renée was busy teaching her workshop at the Summit. Several hours later she responded, “Ha! That was my colleague’s favorite saying and I can’t read it without hearing his super positive personality come through! :)”
WOW! A eureka moment.
This wholly human and personal comment brought back fond memories to both Rich and Renée.
Well, for some reason, I couldn’t leave it alone. I was now free to share the struggle and insights from this simple email exchange. I wrote back, “I almost censored myself from sending that email — seriously, I thought about it before hitting send. That’s too corny, unprofessional, or whatever…and look at this — it tapped happy memories for all of us. There’s a lesson there for me.” Rich responded with a smile and Renee put an exclamation point on the conversation with this, “Oh Kevin, remember, we all are the ones who are redefining “professional” to include being authentic and human!! :)”
Thanks for the reminder, Renée. For those of us involved in movements and initiatives like #HumansFirst, Human-Centered, or Work Human, we are changing the conversation and the culture of what belongs.
For me, this was a vivid reminder that instead of asking is this too personal to be part of professional correspondence? I now have a better question to ask and barometer to use.
Is this an authentic part of my humanity looking for legitimate expression?
If so, give full expression to it because that is part of what it means to bring your humanity to your workplace and work. Failing to do that means cutting off or shutting down a part of you and your humanity.
Of course, I’m not talking about things that cross the lines and offend people — I’m talking about the parts of your personality that make you uniquely, wonderfully, and beautifully YOU. Don’t shut that down or cut it off because someone told you it doesn’t belong at work.
Show up and shine as YOU. By doing so, you invite others to do the same.