You are in Australia (or Whistler) and you stop to get directions. Either way you’ve just made a new Australian friend. His name is Baz. You start chatting. He is a really interesting bloke and you find that half an hour later you are having a coldie (beer) and a bowl of kangaroo soup and discussing bunyips (mythical outback creatures) with your new mate. What you also find (“Holy dooley!”) is that you too are now Austalian – or at least that’s the way it sounds to everyone else in the boozer (pub) as you’ve been speaking with a heavy Australian accent…
The point of the above story (besides the awful Australian phrases and stereotypes), is that it is not unusual that we would unintentionally pick up the accent of someone we are talking to without noticing it.
And its not just accents. Ever since we were born we've been mimicking those around us. As children we model the behavior of our parents, our teachers, and our peers. Its how we learn.
And its not just children. As adults we pick up habits, sayings, and perceptions from those around us all the time. We learn how to view the world and what’s possible. We learn “appropriate” ways to interpret circumstances and “acceptable” emotions, reactions, and actions to take in those circumstances. We model our way of being on that of those around us in many ways.
We are human sponges. We soak up information, incorporate it into our repertoire of possible ways of operating, and then squeeze it back into the world without realizing we are doing it.
Lets look at it in the law context. As a young lawyer if you start out your career working for senior lawyers who are negative about work (the type of work, their clients, opposing counsel, colleagues, the state of our profession etc.), you will likely develop a negative relationship with work yourself.
And if the firm you are working at has a general buzz of panic about it - most people are overwhelmed, frustrated, and putting out fires most of the time - you will likely start to be stressed out, panicky, and overwhelmed yourself. You may even come to believe being stressed out is a requirement of our profession.
In either of these scenarios - and maybe you have both together (lucky you!) - it would be very difficult to develop a positive relationship with work.
I have worked in a number of different environments. From a hog barn, to a restaurant, to a swimming pool, to a call centre - and in law from a one lawyer rural firm, to the Courthouse, to an 80 plus lawyer firm, to a small boutique. In each of these places the degree of happiness I felt while working had alot to do with the people around me. It was, and is, from my colleagues that I learned the way I relate to work.
This is not meant to be an excuse for unhappiness at work if you find yourself in a negative environment. Nor is it meant to be a way of blaming others for our unhappiness. What I hope is that we can develop an awareness of the power of those around us to shape our relationship with our work, and of our own power to do the same for our colleagues.
Let’s look at the opposite side of the coin. If you are stressed out or in a bad mood, you probably aren’t that pleasant to be around. More than this, the people around you are increasingly likely to be in a negative mood as well. The way you relate to the events of the day will not only make or break your own day - those around you get to come along for the ride.
That is not to say you should keep every negative emotion you have inside. If you feel something, acknowledge that you feel it, and express it if you need to get it out. Just be cautious that you are expressing what is truly bothering you and not unfairly taking it out on work or your nearest colleague. And be aware that if you are constantly fostering negativity you are undoubtedly wringing it out onto those around you, who are soaking it up, and wringing it out onto others, who are soaking it up and wringing it out onto others.
You get the point.
All this comes down to two things:
1. Who you surround yourself with is crucial to your own happiness and to developing a positive relationship with work.
2. Who you are being at work has the power it has to affect the happiness of those around you and their relationship with work.
So be aware of your state of mind, and be really conscious of who you are learning from. If those around you are wringing out negativity, be aware of how much of it you are soaking up and wringing out on others. Acknowledge that you can choose a different interpretation or action. Acknowledge that you can choose to squeeze out positivity onto your colleagues instead of negativity, and that if you are constantly soaking up negativity from your environment, you can choose to step out of it and into a different bucket.