Okay, let’s do an experiment. I want you to take a piece of paper and write down the following: “I’m having a hard time with _______. I need help to ______ so that I can _______.” How did that feel? It might have felt good, or it might have felt a little weird. It’s definitely an uncommon thing to write those sentences that way. You’re disclosing a struggle, asking for help, and optimistically sharing a goal. You’re showing your real self, or at least a peek at it.
Now imagine you’re in a room full of people — could be strangers or co-workers — and picture everyone in that room writing what you did on their own piece of paper. How would that feel? Probably kind of cool that everyone has something to write about. Maybe it looked like they had their stuff a hundred percent together before, but now you realize they’re human just like you: disclosing a struggle, asking for help, and sharing a goal — they’re also showing their real selves.
Now imagine that you all passed your papers around the room. Everyone gets to read everyone else’s pages. While you’re doing that, if you have a nugget of help to offer — it could be a book, a story, a website, an idea, whatever — you just write your name on the page, kind of like an offer to help out. Then you keep passing until the papers return to their owner.
When I do this exercise with groups of people, and I’ve done it many, many times now, it fundamentally changes the way they see each other. It builds empathy. It turns out that everyone is having a hard time with something, everyone could use a little help, and everyone has some goals in mind for their future. Everyone feels a little scared to pass that paper around.
Everyone has the experience of going, “Wow. Me, too,” a shared moment of realization when you’re reading other people’s papers. Everyone receives at least a few offers of help when other people write their names on their page. With this simple exercise, people stop seeing each other as just their resume, their school, or their job title. They see a human being who disclosed her or his real self. That’s a big step towards becoming great colleagues, not just co-workers. So, my advice? Bring your real self to work and let other people do the same. Colleagues are so much better than co-workers.