I took one midsize step back. I was disappointed in myself. A little shamed. Then I thought, don’t let being polite get you killed.
The platform was empty when I arrived at the Beacon station in Beacon, New York in the lovely Hudson Valley. Soon, it was packed. Before I realized it a guy walked up to me and started talking. He was 5 foot 7. Brown hair and puppy dog blue eye , A little pudgy with a sweet though wild nervous energy.
The coffee shop on the platform had a Big red LED open sign in the window but there was a padlock on the door. I got a chuckle out of watching people look at the sign and then yank on the door and get a confused look on their face.That kept me entertained for at least 10 minutes.
The guy, let’s call him Walt, danced from one side of me to the other side of me repeatedly as he talked. If I moved back, he’ll move closer. It made me nervous. He was in my personal space way too often for comfort or safety.
My mind wandered back to the lovely 20-year-old who is murdered on MacArthur BART station platform. The people of Beacon had not been very warm or kind to me. I got the distinct impression that I wasn’t wanted for a variety of reasons. There I am the only black woman on the train platform with a white guy getting close to me in a weird way.
Then I remembered something important. I had a choice about how I reacted. I could lean into Walt, figuratively speaking, and what he was trying to tell me. I could take a different path and actually connect with him.We could be annoyed, humans.
You see, the train was late. Fifteen minutes late! I had to catch a plane back to Oakland. The train could not be late.Walt started talking to me as we were both looking down the track wondering silently where is the train?
Walt told me that arrived pretty early before anything has opened around seven am. He walked along Main Street taking in many of the sites that I had seen on my stroll there. We talked about the coffee house. And the DIA: Beacon Museum. Walt told me he was a teacher in the Bronx. His stories are funny even, though I hardly remember them now. I relaxed and started to enjoy our conversation. The train came Walt wished me a safe trip home as we walked away to different train cars.
I’m grateful that, in the moment, I was able to question my motives. That a small pause to think allowed me to be a better version of myself. The version who thinks that people are generally good and kind.
I’ve seen people be kind and generous so I know it can be done. Like the guy in the grocery store who agreed to watch a woman’s basket and move it towards the cashier because she had to run out and crack a window for her dog. He didn’t have to help but it was such a simple easy kind thing to do.
The woman returned the favor. She spotted a mom with four kids who only had one item to buy a rotisserie chicken. She purchased the chicken for her so she wouldn’t have to wait on an hour-long line. I love it when I see people connecting with their basic goodness.
No, I haven’t forgotten that the world is danger, or that this is a particularly scary time for people of color. The MacArthur station is one stop away from my BART station. I thought, you know, that could’ve been you.
Nobody’s safety is assured. One of my favorite authors, Stieg Larsson, has a thrilling passage in his book, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, that makes an interesting point about politeness.
His words really stuck with me. Larsson observed that people would rather risk being killed than risk being seen as impolite.
I saw this in my legal career in the patients that I worked with. I prosecutor doctors for sexual misconduct. And, again as an ombudsman with coworkers who would rather be bullied then not be considered a team player or good sport. Being vulnerable and connecting is super risky.
Being suspicious and judgemental is worst I think. It’s no fun to doubt the people around you, including yourself. Judging everyone for the actions, for omissions and failures gets old. Being armored and isolated is not a good look.
Having a bad connection with someone doesn’t mean every connection will be bad. There’s risk but also reward. You just need to thoughtful about choices.
Of course, all the stuff got me thinking about emotions, our uncertain times and what can I do to be helpful. I decided to share the emotional intelligence tools I used to get through this situation.
The two essential skills needed for success in a remote working relationship are connection and communication. I bet you would agree that your legal staff and associates feel like family. Working remotely gives you a chance to check in with your work family and establish or reestablish the connection. People work the best for people that I know like and trust. You need all three of those and a whole lot of them to make remote working work.
I heard an announcement as I was deciding what beer to get in cold aisle. People who are parked on the side of the building please move your car now so that the trucks can come in and unload the food. If you do not move in the next 20 minutes your car will be towed.
That made me laugh so I giggled. The white guy standing next to me said something like I wonder if people will get out of line to move the car. (The wait to check out was about an hour and a half at that point.) I responded if they don’t lmove that shoppers would be happy to help them move the car. He laughed and set another joke; I laughed and attempted another joke We grabbed our beers and both walked away smiling. That was a moment.
Create moments of connect with your paralegal, legal assistant, office manager, or associates. Use this opportunity to establish or re-establish your connection with your staff. You need that more than ever now. How do you do that? Three simple steps!
- Be open to connecting. Yup, you’ll feel awkward, may be vulnerable, You’ll be rewarded.
- Make time. Have patience and don’t be in a rush. Good things take time. Yeah
- Recast yourself. Make a mental shift from your traditional role of boss to something else.. Go from being the boss to somebody else who likes the Warriors or thinks Roger Moore was the ultimate James Bond or is a vegan. Connect as you, not the boss.
Recasting allows you to see the situation, make a choice and act differently. I recast Walt and myself several times during our conversation. We were strangers. Then, we were the white guy and the black woman. Next, he was the potential criminal and I was a potential victim. Our real conversation started when we became just to train passengers annoyed by the train being late.
If you want to connect with your paralegals and associates, boost the know, like and trust factor or simply learn more about the best practices for working remotely, you’re so invited to join me on the free call.
I”m delighted to share what I’ve learned about building rapport and having difficult conversations in my 20 years as a business owner and Ombudsman.