Creating stronger ideas via meaningful relationships
Redefining the term “interpersonal” in the creative work environment as a business strategy
What an artist is trying to do for people is bring them closer to something, because of course art is about sharing: you wouldn’t be an artist unless you wanted to share an experience, a thought. I am constantly preoccupied with how to remove distance so that we can all come closer together, so that we can all begin to sense that we are the same, we are one.
Most of us are lucky enough to have close relationships with other people in the form of friendship, partnership, and family. Very few of us, however, can say that we have true, meaningful connections in the office.
These relationships, the types we seek out when we are not working, are not only important, they are necessary to our very way of life. So why have we been groomed to check them at the door when we clock in in the morning? If we start embracing them in a work environment, we will attain all the benefits we do outside the office: a heightened sense of stability, deeper thought processes, and greater creativity.
The creative environment
As a creative, I have worked with dozens of designers/technologists/problem solvers. I’ve set up shop in those stereotypical open office layouts, dotted with iMacs, fridges stocked to the gills with IPAs, super sleek fancy chrome finish everywhere, and that effervescent startup mentality buzzing through the air.
I am often lucky enough to be surrounded by extraordinary talent, people who impact the way I think and the way I create. People I learn from and look up to. Most importantly, people who challenge me. I can confidently say at these places, we have one common goal: creating brilliant ideas.
It should be amazing.
But there is always something missing. The moment you look below the surface of these creative environments you realize there is undeniable lack of transparency and communication. A lack of (WARNING: NSFW) emotional awareness. Between not only the leaders and the lowers, but between all of us. We are a living breathing creative lump of bubbling innovators, but we rarely take the time to appreciate one another on a deeper level, forgoing meaningful conversations and connections all together.
I know… everything that exists in the 21st Century was created to keep us from creating deeper relationships with other people. Some of us obsess over technological existences where we create internet personas, have conversations with people only via text message and Facebook chat. Others default to phatic social structures that prevent us from having genuine conversations with one another, e.g. the ever-popular exchange of
How are you doing?
Great! How about you?
But when we do find ourselves in a meaningful relationship that we have taken the time and care to build, we realize that we have created some of the softest safety nets and most resonant sounding boards in existence. We find ourselves completely comfortable expressing our emotions and our thoughts, even when they are negative or unbecoming.
There is no reason, if done carefully, that these types of relationships cannot be translated to the office environment, bringing with them a bevy of benefits.
When you come home at night, you talk openly about your day to your partner/housemate/mother, etc. But in the office, Steve the IT guy who you’ve known for a year and fixes your damned Outlook every other week, gets the generic Hey, how’s it going? Crap weather we’re having, huh?
To create meaningful office interactions requires practicing a combination of the following imperatives:
Be Genuine. As with anything, be honest and authentic. Nobody wants to dance around a problem. Nobody wants to sugarcoat their opinions, and no one wants to be on the receiving end of said sugar. In a creative work environment where you have a larger density of ‘sensitive’ employees, do not tip-toe around a problem/situation, whether personal or professional. Instead, address it face-on. Openly communicate your thoughts, reactions, ideas, and — yes, feelings. But do so rationally and without bitterness. You will save an immense amount of time and energy.
Be Empathetic. Not just sympathetic. Acknowledge and understand that you and everyone around you is human. We are that first and foremost, and only after that are we employees, bosses, coworkers. Share in the fact that we all have moments of weakness, darkness, happiness, exuberance. Don’t punish the people around you when situations get difficult and tensions run high — guide people in a positive direction. In a creative environment we harness our core selves to produce great work. Celebrate the positive and the negative. But within limits; don’t allow your own or other’s emotions to steer a situation in a negative direction.
Be Constructive. Realize that for another person to understand you via an objective reference point, you need to communicate constructively. Focus on problems and solutions rather than on fault. Don’t put people on the spot, realize that there is a chance that a person may unknowingly feel judged and/or become defensive. Take ownership of what you are saying and say it confidently. Communicate with the intention of arriving at an end-goal, and maintain that end-goal in the line of sight throughout the conversation, especially during disagreements: remember that everyone has good intentions and is there to solve a problem. That said, always critique, always challenge, always question, always push forward—empathy does not mean abandoning progress.
I think it’s safe to say that all three of these categories boil down to caring—considering one another’s feelings, respecting one another’s thoughts and opinions, wanting the best for ourselves and for each other. If we all took a moment to genuinely care about each other, the possibilities would be endless. Our work would benefit immensely, the ideas and products we produced would be that much more full of thought and consideration.
We come to work to push boundaries, to innovate, to elevate concepts. These pursuits all require an immeasurable amount of time, energy, and heart. They also require us to function at an elevated level to do them ably. We are, after all, creating these ideas with our brains and hearts, the same organs that let us experience love and overcome sorrow.
The type of care I’m pushing for here isn’t that different from the care you (hopefully) show your significant other. Just like you nurture the relationships you have with family or friends, you should nurture work relationships:
Communication leads to deep understanding. They say the best way to understand something is to teach it. Communicating about complex issues allows you to sift through your opinions and refine them. But surface-level communication leads to surface-level understanding. Most of the time when we are interacting with coworkers we are taking a very surface level approach to our communication — change this. Don’t just try and tackle problems more adeptly, try and get inside your coworkers’ minds — and let them inside yours.
Friendship allows for growth. Not everything has to tie back into attaining business goals. You work with people. Taking the time out of a busy workday to interact on a purely personal basis can foster relaxation and build loyalty. Relaxation is an important ingredient for artistic stimulation (so is stress — but that should be readily available in spades). Meanwhile, loyalty can lead to better teamwork and stronger work ethic, as well as the chance to have a lot more fun. If you’re laughing, then you’re probably on the verge of creating something amazing.
Outward focus begets solutions. Don’t focus on yourself. Your workplace is filled with smart people. Alternate between fighting for your ideas and listening to others’. We all have something unique to bring to the table. More than likely, a solution will be hiding right in between your idea and someone else’s, or better yet, in the marriage of the two.
These commandments are all variations on a theme. Treat your coworkers like complex human beings with flaws and a deep capacity for helping you function at a higher level. In short: date your office (after all, we spend way more time there than we do at home).
A restructured creative process driven by honesty and informed by an ethic based on inter-human connectivity can allow us to communicate powerfully, efficiently, and with greater nuance. We would have full confidence that each of us have the best of intentions and the same end goal. This freedom to communicate would allow us to put down our guards, empowering us to confidently rip each other’s ideas apart in order to rebuild them into something stronger and better. It would allow us to truly innovate.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Communicating and caring is hard. Doing it in the workplace doubly so. But, we are the ones who are ultimately in control here: we are the ones with the opportunity to heavily influence our ever-changing definition of the ‘work environment’. We need to cultivate an environment of safety and openness, encourage people to communicate honestly, and push for constructive interactions.
Let’s elevate each other, and in the process elevate our work, our business, and most importantly, the things we put out into the world — our products. Because, yes, at some point we are all in the business of selling. Of being marketable. Of making profit. To do those things we have to build, and anything built on the foundations of genuine connection and open communication will be stronger for it.
Superficiality has never changed the world. But if we care about each other as much as we care about ourselves, our business, and our products themselves, we will create ideas as strong as the very human relationships that bring meaning to our lives.