On being responsible for the energy you bring into the room

I first learned this lesson upon getting feedback from my Hyper Island team mates while teaching about open data in Singapore with Daniel Beauchamp.

I was thoroughly jetlagged and feeling otherwise salty.

The feedback came in the form of a sticky note. Maria, my coworker, had each person in the teaching team give a team mate feedback in the form of three notes: what to start doing, continue doing, and stop doing. This happened at the end of every day of the week-long workshop we taught.

Maria’s advice was to be aware that my sometimes dour mood took away from the experience. That sometimes the students and other facilitators were affected by how bummed out I was. Likewise, when I was actually “on”, the room brightened up.

I don’t think that was the first time I had received that advice, but it was definitely the first time I had received that feedback in a professional setting.

According to my students and their accomplishments, I’m a pretty good teacher. This is the message or voice that I carry around in my head and the same one that responds the loudest whenever my perception of myself is shook. How could I be bad at this? I know I’m good. And yet there is evidence suggesting otherwise. This dissonance messes with me. My personal view of myself — my personality—is that I am a good teacher. But now I’m not. So obviously there is something wrong with my world view or perspective. This is the kind of thing that messes with me the most. When who I thought I was turns out not to be true. But it is through experiences like this that I can get closer to the truth, be more self-aware, and be better — more like how I want to be. How I dream.

Poetic self-romanticism aside, by becoming aware of how you’re feeling going into an interaction you give yourself the choice of how you’re going to colour it. Humans are incredible at perceiving each other’s internal state. Based on my personal experience, we can also be pretty bad at being aware of our own internal state, leading to an easy mismatch of what we think we are outwardly communicating intentionally versus what’s actually being perceived by our audience. It sucks, but being aware of it is a good first step towards being who you actually want to be.

By being responsible and aware of the energy you bring into the room you can bring an entire group of people up or down. Maybe it’ll just be subtle, but it’ll still be real.