When I began working at my “real” job nearly 20 years ago (the one from which I recently retired), I was – like many “new kids on the block” – animated, enthusiastic and full of ideas.

I’d suggest this or thought we should try that; my mind was a cache of concepts, a plethora of plans and a noggin of notions. Why, my new workplace was lucky to have me.

Then one day, as I shared my latest scheme with a co-worker, two longtime employees came up behind us and began belittling the idea. Of course, they were only teasing, but as is often the case in these situations, the teaser really was expressing an opinion.

“You new people are all alike,” she said, “always with a plan. We were like that once and had many of the same ideas.”

I think they were the originators of “been there, done that.”

Soon I realized that, as a newbie, it might be wise to “read the room,” so to speak, even if I was hired precisely because of my ideas. I did consider those ideas a real value to the workplace; however, I learned quickly that I would be smart to do some fact finding first.

The Good Book says (Ecclesiastes 1:9), “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Maybe “been there, done that” wasn’t that flippant after all. My new colleagues shared a wealth of information about ideas that had been tried and discarded, or that had been nixed on the drawing board. If I had listened more carefully at the start, I wouldn’t have laid the first row of bricks on the wall rising between us.

I suppose what’s at stake here is respect. In his book “The Power Principle: Influence with Honor,” Blaine Lee writes, “When people honor each other, there is a trust established that leads to synergy, interdependence and deep respect. Both parties make decisions and choices based on what is right, what is best and what is valued most highly.”

It also occurs to me that respect implies communication – the transparent kind. Goals, plans, problems, obstacles and criticisms are shared openly and honestly. This is especially true with those affected by the decision at hand or who may have pertinent background information to help in weighing outcomes.

As a new staffer two decades ago, I could have saved considerable angst by putting more effort into doing my homework and bringing more people into the conversation: Yes, I should have communicated more effectively. Only then could I avoid blindsiding others, and then gain an accurate picture of the consequences. I might have even preserved a relationship along the way.

Finally, I should have listened more, not only to words but to what wasn’t said. How did they act? What was their body language? If I’d put myself in my colleagues’ place, i.e. “read the room,” I just may have learned something valuable that would have either validated my decision or saved me from a big mistake. 

At the very least, I’d have had all the facts.

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