Abe Lincoln and your “Office Immunity”
It’s a question we love asking:
“How many of you have a great friendship now, that initially started off with you not liking, or even really disliking the person ?”
Everyone seems to have at least one story. The mega-best friend who tells you quietly in confidence one day “… the first time I met you I thought you were the world’s biggest JERK!”
But they have the confidence to tell you that story now, because you are great friends.
First impressions can be powerful, but often incorrect and misleading for long term friendships and social connections.
Maybe the person is an introvert, is nervous about meeting you, or is just having a rotten day. There are a hundred reasons why someone could seem disinterested or somehow rub you the wrong way on a quick initial meeting in a poor setting.
Honest Abe Lincoln seemed to understand this idea well when he uttered one of his classic quotes:
“I Do Not Like That Man. I Must Get To Know Him Better”
So an “Abe Lincoln Friend” is one that on an initial impression, you probably WOULDN’T want to be friends with. They probably bugged you or even annoyed you. It’s only after follow ups and learning about shared interests and dreams that you realize maybe you have a lot more in common than you first thought.
Yet for all of these types of interactions at college or a neighborhood BBQ, how many Abe Lincoln friendships are waiting to be fulfilled in the office?
In his most recent book Originals, Adam Grant talks about the power of “converting resisters” and how an original foe can make for a better long term advocate because they have credibility of initially being negative. Perhaps creating an Abe Lincoln friend is also more valuable, because instead of being a friend at first sight, they initially started as a skeptic before turning into a great friend and confidant.
Often times CEO’s and executives cringe when we talk about these friendships in the office.
“It will just mean they are goofing off …”
“Work is for working … not for socializing!”
But science seems to tell a different story. Employees with good friends at work are more likely to stay at the job longer, take less sick days, and even be more satisfied with their current salary. If you add a “Best Friend” into the equation, the impact is even more pronounced.
Engagement and employee satisfaction skyrocket when employees have a best friend at work.
Among these statistics is a less well known concept. This idea of the Abe Lincoln friend-building process. How many of your employees or co-workers are still stuck on that first lousy initial impression of another person, and therefore don’t trust or communicate with them on day to day simple ideas that could have a huge impact on your business and your office culture.
How much creativity and innovation is being lost in your company because of a bad first impression?
Co-workers that move through the “friend-building” process to acquaintances and then to friends are able to build up two key kinds of “immunity's.” The first is that if a misunderstanding breaks out, be it a late project, or a tardiness, or even something wrong with their paycheck, employees are much less likely to send that nasty e-mail or see it as a personal insult or attack.
Did Joe deliberately try and sabotage you by not finishing his part of the project on time?
Maybe you think that, if you are still stuck on that first impression of not liking or even knowing Joe.
But if you are working through the Abe Lincoln lens, maybe you approach Joe and learn that he was up all night at the ER because his kid had pneumonia.
Perceived insults, attacks, and slights that could lead to office drama, lost productivity, and mis-communications can actually occur less if you have stronger workplace friendships.
The second immunity deals with reactions to stress and change. If you are trying to grow your business and your bottom line there is going to be stress. New clients, new problems, and new challenges. Or conversely you might be suffering stress and workplace problems because business is slowing and maybe you even needed to lay off a few employees.
The stress and challenges don’t ever go away, as any CEO will tell you. What many of them are slow to find out though, is that it’s easier for employees to cope with stress and challenges if they have strong workplace friendships. They become more immune to it, the more good friends they have in the workplace.
Both of these immunities may seem subtle, but can have a long term impact on your company and your culture.
Simply put, a friend will do more for a friend in a week then a co-worker in a month.
If your office was losing hundreds of dollars a month because there were leaks in the windows and walls and all of your heat was slowly seeping out every day, you would probably be stunned and take action.
What if your company's productivity, problem solving, and teamwork skills were also leaking out slowly every day, because of initial first impressions that never had a chance to turn into Abe Lincoln friends?
If you work in an office that still sees friendships as a negative or even a dirty word, maybe ask around and see if there are any examples of Abe Lincoln friends that already exist. Maybe honest Abe is the example you need to have people understand that workplace friendships can help build valuable immunities and move an office culture towards one that is able to deal with stress and change more easily, and not get dragged down by minor grievances and mistrust that aren’t even important in the long run.
If it worked for Honest Abe, surely it can work for your growing business.