One of my favorite stories was Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. What I remember most is the secret words that opened the side of the mountain and revealed a phenomenal treasure. The magic words were, “Open Sesame.” I often wish there were such a phrase we could use in our interactions with people. This iconic phrase would make them feel comfortable enough to share their inner treasures with us. When they are comfortable, accepted, and included, suspicion would disappear. Defense mechanisms would not be activated, and evasive tactics would not be employed.
In our current environment, we need to understand people who are different from us. We value diversity, equity, and inclusion. However, employees often wear invisible self-preservation armor for protection. How can we share our interests if we are not comfortable with each other? Silence, lack of participation, and minimal interaction are diversionary methods. They may seem like a good idea, but the lack of openness may be counterproductive. I support an environment which is an OASIS (Open And Share Information Safely). People in this climate will unleash their full potential and feel a sense of belonging at work.
A constant refrain I heard early in my career, was that people did not know me. People wanted me to tell them more about me, so that they could identify with me. They wanted information outside of work, about family, interests, beliefs, and hobbies. But I was reluctant. Initially, I felt full disclosure, would lead to overexposure. Eventually lowered my shield with certain people, after I developed trust in their intentions.
There are reasons for being guarded; reserving or withholding feelings. We may hear, see, or experience events that prevent us from revealing too much. I engaged in many conversations over lunch. During these discussions I learned the difference in perspective that existed among my peers. During one such conversation, we discussed discrimination. The opening premise by a well-intentioned manager, was that the only kind of discrimination that existed in the United States was economic. They went on to say that if you have the money you can live anywhere without any difficulty. This perspective differed from my personal history and my knowledge of many celebrities who encountered problems in certain neighborhoods. There were broken windows and graffiti and reckless damage to their property. It became clear to me, from this discussion and others, that our different experiences shaped our perspectives, which caused us to view the world differently.
People retract like a turtle or armadillo when they do not feel safe. They will not take a risk or step out on a limb with their perspectives and opinions. I knew someone who went as far as to not place family pictures on their desk. They wanted to separate work from home and keep the company out of their personal affairs. When we open ourselves, we will see the similarities that accentuate our differences and create a powerfully productive connection. I would call this a piece offering. By piece offering I do not mean peace, as in the absence of war, but piece, as in giving them a part of ourselves, to open to a greater dialogue and understanding of each other.
There was a manager who told every ethnic joke imaginable. He was humorous at the lunch table and people enjoyed his witty stories. One day, I pulled the manager aside and said, “I am probably depriving you of some of your best material, by being present here.” He paused, thought, smiled, and looked me in the eyes and said, “you’re probably right.” He did not receive points for sensitivity and not bringing up those stories in my presence. I could argue that he was careful, but the stories may have been told, but not in my presence. If the stories existed for others, they also existed for me and should not have been part of the workplace.
If we are to understand each other better, we must open to each other. If we are to open to each other, we must create a climate where people feel comfortable, accepted, included, and treated equally. There are not any magic words to convince people to be vulnerable. However, by giving of ourselves, even small amounts, and to create the right climate, we can set the stage for a marvelous relationship based on trust and reciprocity where people feel safe. Ultimately this results in a workplace with productivity and innovation that is beneficial for everyone.
Copyright © 2021 Orlando Ceaser
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