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I might have a below-average ability to care about people's lives and I'm wondering if that's a problem.

here's what happens all the time at work. I go visit Bill at his cubicle. we're talking about a project and all the stuff that has to get done. he says he can do all this stuff by Friday but also tells me he's leaving a tad bit early today because his cousin is coming over to help build a shed in his yard and he wants to get it started, cool whatever.

Friday I stop by to see Bill again and ask him about all the tasks and he's telling me about how everything is going, and says that Jim in the next cube is helping out too and calls Jim over. We all start talking. And then Jim says, "By the way how'd the shed turn out?"

Well shoot, I realize, that would have been a NICE way to start this conversation, right? Shouldn't you ask how people are doing, how their lives are, try to remember what's important to them?

aren't your coworkers supposed to know the names of your kids, know what your spouse does, know your hobbies?

I am so bad at that. It's not that I don't care - I do. I just don't think about it. I get right to the work stuff.

in my last group a guy arranged for us to all chip in for a christmas gift card for the lady who cleaned our offices. It's a contract company that does that so usually you don't see the same person twice, and often they're at night so you never see them, but for some reason we'd had the same person for a while and this guy knew her name. I was blown away.

It's like my brain lacks some social skill. They say that people like you when they get to talk about themselves to you. It builds trust. I've been told before that I'm seen as pretty kick ass and too the point, but kindness is something people remember too, and I'm not sure I remember when anyone has said I was just a darn nice person. It's good to be to the point, technical and get stuff done, but there's a balance - you have to be able to just relax and ask people how it's going, and I'm not sure I'm balanced.

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Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
pen_grunt
Sep. 9th, 2015 04:12 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty sure that most of this is a skill that people have picked up along the way. I'm not sure it's innate; it seems to me the best people at being warm and inclusive and asking about daily life are those who had really social parents who were also good at hosting parties and making everyone feel welcomed. Or who have had a lot of practice being good conversationalists. I find these people fascinating and charming...and so different from me!

(I am also not one of those with the skill, though I've been consciously practicing.)
jume
Sep. 12th, 2015 10:42 pm (UTC)
Seconding the practicing. I remember having a conversation with my dad as a teenager asking him how he got to be so good with people, because I hated interacting with them. He told me it didn't come easy to him and he had worked at it for many years.

For me, I think the inhibition I was working against in the beginning, and maybe still today, is social anxiety. Once I started treating my anxiety, my life changed completely. I had been a very social person on the internet, and would file away anecdata and stories other people would tell in chat to reference. Now, I feel comfortable doing that IRL as well, and using the knowledge I store to interact with people.

(and it probably helped that I worked in a call center for a year and a half and developed a lot of theories about customer service from it)
anita_margarita
Sep. 9th, 2015 04:41 pm (UTC)
Count me as another person who doesn't think to ask about others. I mean, I CARE, but unless there is something really REALLY important about someone else's life, I don't think to ask.

Part of it is that I feel people should have a right to privacy without others constantly asking personal questions, and most people will (if they want you to know) volunteer the details. I know that I personally get really tired of answering the same old questions over and over, or of being asked questions that I am not ready to answer.

But also part of it is that I tend to focus on whatever it is at hand. At work? I think about work, not about the private lives of others. And... sadly, I don't care so much about the goings-on of the family members of the person - just the person.
lookfar
Sep. 10th, 2015 04:16 am (UTC)
I disagree about these niceties being personal questions. They are usually rather surface questions, about things that have been discussed before or that the person has made known. It's not prying to ask someone about his shed or even about his work project; it's just acknowledging that the person is an individual with a life apart from your need for his or her product.
okoshun
Sep. 9th, 2015 06:15 pm (UTC)
I'm finding that I'm trying to remember *something* personal about each person that I'm interacting with so that we have something to small talk about so that it's not all business.

It does show to a certain extent that you care about the person as more than just a "resource" who works for you.

Some people come by it naturally. I would have to write down notes personally to help prompt myself because I have the brain of a goldfish at times.
ironphoenix
Sep. 9th, 2015 06:21 pm (UTC)
I think it's a question of focus... you may be less prone to allowing incidental thoughts to intrude on you when you're at work. It increases productivity, but may not be optimal for relationship-building or creativity. It's a pretty common trait in managers, probably because it gives an impression of seriousness and commitment which is very "promotable".
(Deleted comment)
astrogeek01
Sep. 10th, 2015 03:07 am (UTC)
I don't think the shed story was too much, it wasn't like a detailed going into things just a heads-up, hey I'm leaving a little early and here's why.
becomingkate
Sep. 9th, 2015 08:22 pm (UTC)
I find it a relief when I know something about what's going on in my coworkers' lives. Because I usually really suck at striking up a conversation, it's nice to know that someone's kid started school, or someone's girlfriend wasn't feeling well the other day, so I can follow up on that. Otherwise I have no clue what to talk to anyone about.
People say I'm a nice person but I'm the opposite of you; I would like for someone to say I was kick ass. LOL
dynamicgirl
Sep. 9th, 2015 09:00 pm (UTC)
I'm quite a social person, but I recognise that most conversations revolve around *me*, which isn't good. I find people ask me questions a lot, remember things etc. And so I have made a conscious effort to, but like you, I struggle a bit. I sometimes put a note in my calendar, if something big is happening. (Eg. minor surgery/ big birthday/ vacation etc) That way I can ask them about it. People often say "oh, thanks for asking" or whatever. But, the other day a staff member won an award and I didn't remember to congratulate her when i saw her, and she reminded me (!!) I've got to get better at doing it all the time.
lookfar
Sep. 10th, 2015 04:13 am (UTC)
Could you do it by rote? Just - first thing, before you talk Business, always talk Social Nicety.

I was raised by folks who weren't particularly gracious, and I kind of learned ways to say thing later just by remembering good phrases when I heard them. Like "I'm sorry for your trouble." Could you do the Social Nicety thing by having a short list of stock questions, like "How is your family?" or "How is your project going?" Some people come by this naturally but I don't see any reason that a person couldn't also train herself to do it.
dangerpudding
Sep. 10th, 2015 05:38 am (UTC)
I know that I trained myself out of some of that sort of thing early in my career because I had to - I wasn't taken seriously if I was nice/sociable/etc first. I've brought it back around, but I've also put a lot of effort into finding jobs at places that don't expect me to lack skills because of gender. I know I'm not the only woman I know who's had to make that call, and that some of my friends still carefully guard against it because they (at least feel that they) need to.
aryanhwy
Sep. 10th, 2015 08:09 am (UTC)
I find it irritating when people try to insert that sort of non-work small talk into the conversation to get it flowing in a "nice" way. I'd rather talk about what I/you came over here to talk about. If we're friends outside of work, then we can talk about what we did on the weekend.
luzclarita
Sep. 10th, 2015 11:53 am (UTC)
I suck at this too. It's a big effort for me.
microxcuts
Sep. 10th, 2015 06:24 pm (UTC)
Maybe your brain is just being selective to unnecessary information. Like a hard drive, a brain has its capacity and you better use it for important things.
mrs_dragon
Sep. 11th, 2015 01:37 am (UTC)
I try to remember to do this for people who seem to like it (not everyone does). And yes, when I'm distracted or busy I suck at it. But some days I need a brain break or things are a little slower and on those days I make a point to stop and chat with a couple of people on my way to refill my water cup. And if we are talking about a project, I try to remember to ask them about whatever--though if they are overly chatty I will ask AFTER we talk work stuff. That way I can cut it off when necessary. : )

I LOVE it when they have kids who do a set hobby because it's such an easy thing to ask about "Has the season started yet? How is practice going? How did their game go? How was the tournament this weekend?". But if I can remember at least one "fun fact", you can stretch that pretty far.
smittenbyu
Sep. 11th, 2015 03:44 pm (UTC)
ha! I find this aspect a challenge especially working part time and with so many different partners who talk to each other more frequently than I do. So, I end up just not asking and then in the call I am on the other person would have asked ... duh... there I was thinking it might have been asked and answered in the previous call/meeting and would prove repetitive (as most of our meetings and interactions are via phone call). sigh. I do care. I just don't remember or always wonder if it's already been talked about and I'd be the only one to not know.

And yet, since I am at work for limited time, I just don't have time on some days to talk anything but work.
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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