I sat alone eating my lunch, it was later than usual and only a handful of people were around. I said hello and made eye contact as people walked by, hoping that somebody would join me. But they walked past, plate in hand, and found another table. “Is it my seniority? Is it my newness? Is it that I was signaling that I wanted to be left alone?” I wondered to myself. I thought of getting up and going and joining another table. But just as I was about to, I noticed that all the seats were taken and I did not want to intrude. Thankfully I caught myself going down a mental path of loneliness and decided to reframe it to that of being alone.
I then focussed on enjoying my meal in silence and reminded myself to chew the food and taste each mouthful. Mind-full eating I believe it is called. Appreciating each bite of home-cooked food, grateful for so much that I have. I went on to enjoy my meal and the rest of my day. I could as easily have gone down a slippery slope of giving many meanings to my meal alone, most of them with an unhappy ending. I would have then carried that negative energy and worldview with me into other interactions throughout the day.
If I found it difficult to reach out and integrate, I would imagine others to feel the same. Social connections and a feeling of being included and belonging are important elements of team building. Two years of working from home and eating hurried meals in front of a screen need to give way to shared moments with colleagues over a meal.
I try most days to find a spot at a table where I do not know people that well and share my lunch with them. Last week I enjoyed a conversation with a team member who I had never spoken to before (I discovered over lunch that it was the person’s last day with us). That conversation helped me learn a lot and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to connect.
The pool table is another area where I find it possible to engage with colleagues without an agenda. Share half an hour laughing and chatting and getting to know them as people, not just professionals. Long drives to meetings and traffic jams are another space that allows for serendipitous conversations that go beyond the work transaction. Our terrace garden is also a fertile area for more open-ended conversations. I often find someone up there enjoying the greenery or seeking solace in it. Happy conversations and some sad ones have taken place up there, but the important part is they are deep and meaningful conversations. Out of moments like these bonds get built, trust is established and team spirit emerges. The real work and the real-world deadlines are then easy to navigate. Empowered with this strength of connectedness and belonging, creativity flows and collaboration grows. The relationship capital that moments like this create is the backbone of a powerful team.
It is so easy to see imaginary dragons that need to be slayed. It is so easy to find a reason not to trust. The essence of the Public Relations profession is built on this fundamental premise of the power of creating two-way communication and open dialogue. Instead of “How could they do/say this…” the natural response then becomes “I find it hard to believe they would do/ say this… let me speak with them to understand what happened.”
The next time you find yourself feeling lonely at work, either find a way to enjoy the alone time or else go and find someone to talk with. Belonging begins with creating bonds at work. The good work then flows easily from this space.
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