There are people who set the tone, and there are people who follow it.
One of my coworkers truly makes an impact everywhere he goes. He sets the tone that many follow.
During my first days on the job, he told me he avoids emailing unless it’s absolutely necessary. Instead, he makes it a point to walk to the desk of the person he’s collaborating with, and talk face-to-face about the project they’re working on. If they work offsite, he calls them to still maintain a human connection. If he needs to request a status update, he walks to the coworker’s office to start a conversation as well as check on the project.
During my second week at the office, our team was waiting for a meeting to start. This colleague softened the “awkward silence” as he told a detailed and hilarious story about how he lost his favorite water bottle and his friend found it in his car a year later. You know those stories that in theory shouldn’t be that interesting, but the way the storyteller shares them just makes you feel part of the scene? That’s the effect this guy has.
He’s always ready to help someone think through an idea. He makes time to teach others the skills he knows that they want to learn. He daily has some kind of pop culture update, new joke, or personal story that bonds everyone in the department when they listen.
For Halloween and “spirit week,” he goes all in with his costumes — adopting the body language, voice inflections, and vocabulary that a person in his costume would portray.
In short, he brings his humanity to work. And he builds productive and fulfilling relationships as a result.
When I first started at this job, I was extremely concerned about making a strong professional impression. I cared so much about professionalism that I struggled to show my human side. I didn’t really joke or talk about anything except work. I gravitated towards emails instead of conversations and I hid in my cubicle.
Naturally a “people person,” I didn’t feel like myself. But I didn’t know how to be myself in a new environment where I hadn’t learned all the norms yet. By observing and interacting with this colleague, I began to slowly adopt the norms that he lived by. Others around us did, too. The department brought their full selves to work. We joked, talked about real life, and produced valuable work at a high capacity. My coworkers became friends. We established a way of working together that accomplished our goals and was usually fun.
When you set the tone for an environment you’re part of, you leave a legacy. I now subscribe to the rule, “Email less. Talk more.” That’s a result of the legacy my colleague left. The team environment he helped to foster will remain even when he leaves.
It’s now my goal to do the same everywhere I go.