Early one morning I was canoeing on the silent lake. My mind wandered as I admired the still surface of the water. I could see the reflection of the blue sky and clouds but also some of the features on the bottom of the lake. It occurred to me that this beautiful interface, half reflecting the sky and half revealing the depths of the water, is like the boundary along which people engage in their organizations.
When we work with each other, we see ourselves and the organization reflected in our coworkers. Occasionally we catch a glimpse of the real people below the surface when they are very relaxed and have their guards down or when they are under particular stress. What we see below the surface is never entirely clear since it’s hard to have a true understanding of other people’s ambitions, worries and motivations. Sometimes we think we see something but, since the light is bending at the surface, we can’t be sure it’s really how it appears.
Every once in a while, in order to overcome interpersonal issues or performance problems at work we need to plunge through the surface and splash around a bit, confirming what we think we see. It can get a little messy and the water may get a little rough for a while but by occasionally breaking the surface and revealing ourselves, we can understand our colleagues better. Armed with this knowledge we can work together more effectively.
Next time you’re facing a colleague with whom you’re having trouble don’t be afraid of the water. Strap on your life jacket and break the surface.