Sunday, December 06, 2009

Things that seem normal but aren't, part 4

Continuing my occasional series on things that seem normal but aren't...

8. How totally fucking unhappy most of us are at work. We spend 8, 10, 12 hours a day at work. Most of us are there for a reason -- a common purpose shared with others or just a common goal of wanting to earn a living to provide for the essentials of life -- shelter, food, and medical care for ourselves and those we love. And most of us are totally fucking miserable in our jobs. Employees hate their bosses and see them as selfish, willfully ignorant,and intentionally counterproductive to the mutual aims of all involved. Bosses see their employees as lazy, unproductive, unenlightened impediments to traversing the obvious path laid out in front of them. In spite of seemingly mutual aims between all involved, most workplaces are a total fucking mess.

In a four year undergraduate college degree, most students will take zero classes in management (and no, an undergraduate class in psychology is not very helpful preparation for human relations in the workplace). In an MBA program there are lots of classes on economics, risk management, and decision making but most students will take one class in the art of management at most. In teacher education programs there are lots of classes on pedagogy and curriculum, but very few classes on how we get along with others and successfully negotiate the academic politics around us. In seminaries, where our religious leaders receive their professional training, there are lots of classes in theology but few classes in management. It's really quite extraordinary that the one thing essential to our mutual happiness -- the art of people relating to people -- is almost entirely unstudied in most all of our professional training. There is a sense that most people, in their heart-of-hearts must regard the art of how we are to get along with one another as simply unknowable. But the fact is, there are techniques for how we can and should get along with each other. Some methods are better than others and all of these propositions are knowable, testable, and replicable. The fact that all managers and most employees don't spend lots and lots of time learning, developing, and perfecting these skills is really dumbfounding.

If you are looking for a place to start, I highly recommend, Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone (and three other co-authors at the Program on Negotiations at Harvard). Hands down this is the most informative self help book I've ever read.

I also highly recommend Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande Even though the book is focused on how to improve workplace practices in a medical setting, I think his insights about checklists and processes could help improve both performance and satisfaction in lots of different workplace settings.

If you have other ideas for tools, techniques, and processes that you find helpful, I'd be eager to learn about them in the comments.

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