Set the Table

Having lived in many different regions of the country over the span of my professional career, has afforded me a somewhat unique perspective on a wide range of spoken – and unspoken – modes of communication with my peers, colleagues, bosses, and direct reports.

Born in the South, I took for granted the “culture of nice” one finds in many workplaces – where one rarely is confronted with unpleasant interpersonal interactions, at least directly; though, you will quickly find out that a “bless your heart!” from a co-worker is as apt to mean “you’re an idiot“, as opposed to implying common cause – passive aggression, meant in the nicest way possible.

While working in Brooklyn, I learned that New Yorkers are actually the nicest people in the world. It’s just that they are incredibly busy, in constant motion between home and work, rushed, and will suffer fools who waste their time not at all. They bruise easily, heal fast, and always let you know precisely where you stand. Zero pretense. Zero… cares given.

In the Midwest, I am discovering a culture of direct pragmatism. They speak their minds. Don’t like to be told what to do, or how to do it. Say what they need to say. Finish. And then move on.

However, wherever I go, I have learned that in order to succeed – personally and professionally – it was critical to let people know who I was. What I believed. What I would put up with. And what I wouldn’t.

Setting the table.

Right from the get-go.

It goes back to the old saying that “good fences make good neighbors” – clearly identified boundaries and expectations allow colleagues, friends and loved ones, to understand where our limits of acceptance, governance – and accountability – begin and end.

So, when you find yourself assuming that people know what you implicitly mean… or when you assume something is “common sense” knowledge… or when you don’t speak up, for fear of inducing an unpleasant confrontation with a prickly co-worker, remember – clearly stating your beliefs, expectations and standards, at the start of any project (or relationship), will make all following interactions infinitely easier to manage, maintain, and – ultimately – more likely to succeed.



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