76. When Politics Divide the Team + The Opt-Out Option

Episode 76: When Politics Divide the Team + The Opt-Out Option (Summary)

When politics divide your team, embarrassing moments we can laugh at now, and an entertaining story about the importance of knowing your audience. That’s what’s on tap for this episode of Boss Better Now.

Links:
To learn more about Joe Mull, visit his website ​Joemull.com​.
To hear more from Joe Mull visit his YouTube channel​.
To learn how to invite Joe to speak at an event, visit ​Joemull.com/speaking​.
To check date availability or to get a quote for an event, email ​hello@joemull.com​.
For more information on the BossBetter Leadership Academy, visit Joemull.com/academy.
Email the show at bossbetternow@gmail.com.
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Transcript – Episode 76: When Politics Divide the Team + The Opt-Out Option

Opening:
Hey there, BossHeroes. We’re on a short summer break as I finish my next book. The good news is that this gives you the chance to catch up on some of the great episodes we’ve published in the last 18 months, including this one. Enjoy, and I’ll be back with you soon.

Joe:
When politics divides your team, embarrassing moments we can laugh at now, and an entertaining story about the importance of knowing your audience. That’s what’s on tap for this episode of Boss Better Now.

Alyssa:
You’re listening to Boss Better Now. Please welcome speaker, author, and student affairs veteran, Joe Mull.

Joe:
Hello, BossHeroes. Welcome to the show. Please take a moment right now to bask in the pride of everything you faced and accomplished last week. Maybe you had some hard conversations, some long hours, maybe you were pulled in multiple directions or taken for granted. Yet, here you are. You got through it. And not only that, you pushed play on our little show here to recharge, learn, and grow. Consider yourself fist bumped by me and by my cohost, professional and executive coach, Alyssa Mullet. Hello, my friend.

Alyssa:
Howdy Ho, Ranger Joe! Does that annoy you? Did you get that a lot growing up?

Joe:
I’ve gotten every variation of like the Joe nickname. Yeah. And then there was a layer of an extra layer of perkiness with whatever you had going on there that really made it extra special. So thanks for that.

Alyssa:
Extra special. That’s what I’m here for. Well, that intro, I was like, I wanted to take a deep breath. I was like, yes, it has been a long week. Yes, I have survived a lot. So, I hope it invited the same kind of invitation to deep breath and give yourself a pat on the back and that fist bump, because we all deserve it.

Joe:
That was one of the things that I heard somewhere on the internet near the end of 2020. The idea of congratulations, you survived 100% of the challenges you faced. I think I even threw that out on a previous episode and I know that when I sent my year-end email to our BossBetter Email subscribers, that was kind of the theme that we wrote about because that’s kind of something that I’ve been holding on to is we have not had a year, like the one we just came through. Uh, but for most of us here we are. And uh, you know, it does seem like we’re on the precipice of things getting better.

Alyssa:
I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I actually just wrote about this this morning, um, in my journal… That it feels like a luxury that I will now allow myself to enjoy to daydream about being vaccinated and being able to be out and amongst people. I don’t care if I have to wear a mask for the next 20 years, just being able for my kid to go back to school and all of those things. Being able to have alone time in my own house by myself, like these feel like maybe perhaps tangible things that might occur within the next six months. I’m just basking in that. It’s possible.

Joe:
Uh, I am with you, there are some things from all of this that I do hope stay around. Obviously the effort that we put into washing our hands and to be careful about germs. I hope the masks in some regards stay. I mean, I haven’t had so much as a sniffle since this all started. And I, and I’ve heard that from other people too, that boy P people are generally healthier because we aren’t as exposed to everything. Not just COVID.

Alyssa:
Yeah. Agreed. Agreed. It is an interesting outcome from that too. Yeah.

Joe:
Well, one of the things that, uh, I think was front and center for a lot of people in 2020 and continues to be, uh, is the role of our politics in our personal lives and in how it affects the workplace. Um, that’s the idea behind our first segment today, uh, right after, uh, the last time we recorded, I got an email from one of our listeners and I’m very sorry that I can’t remember who it was. I had made the mistake of writing down the question, uh, and then deleting the email, which I usually don’t do. I’m an email saver. I save them all. (Alyssa: You’re a hoarder of emails.) I kind of am like my deleted items folder has like 13,000 emails in it. I’m not going to lie.

Joe:
I’ll just pay for the extra storage. But the, the email came in and said, my team is really politically divided. And she went on to kind of talk about the intense differences in the way that it’s really started to, to negatively influence the relationships and the ability of people to work well in the workplace. And, uh, this is not the first time I’ve gotten this question. Um, but it’s certainly one that I think is, is really relevant, given everything that we’ve come through over the past year. Uh, so I like to start with that, Alyssa. Um, how do we keep people’s personal politics from dividing the team?

Alyssa:
You know, it, when I think about politics in the workplace, it automatically ties into something that I’m very acquainted with as a coach, which is we hold these political beliefs as aligning with our value system as part of our moral code. And I think perhaps what I, we have more acutely experienced in the last year – Maybe more than that for some of us, is that there it is… that feels like that real attack of you as a person against your values and your moral code when there is a disagreement or a, um, not an agreement in terms of an issue, it feels like it’s no longer an issue. It feels like you wronged me and now we have a conflict. So it’s not a matter of just disagreeing. It’s a matter of you’re attacking me by not agreeing with me because that’s my value system.

Joe:
And I think, and, and I think you’re so right. And underneath that is depending on where you get your news from where you get your information from, there is, in our politics, a constant belief that the other side is sinister, that, that they are, um, driving our country into the ground. That they’re hateful, that there is, um, a certain level of your, your world is going to be, um, painful. If these evil people are allowed to come into power. And, and I’m, I’m kind of painting with a broad brush right now and intentionally. So, um, but if you believe that the person whose politics are different from yours is quietly, secretly, plotting to, you know, and we’ve, we’ve heard about Qanon, in the news and you know, that their, that, that all the Democrats are pedophiles, you know, like there’s a reasonableness that, that moves away from our understanding of each other when politics gets involved. And when that comes into the conversation, it just widens the gulf.

Alyssa:
So what are some of the things that you have heard from leaders about their experiences of how they’re experiencing this kind of divide in the workplace? How’s it showing up specifically? Um, you know, is it in your face? Like people are like having shouting matches or is it this kind of like divisive, there’s no longer a, camaraderie, a connection that people are willingly pursuing with their colleagues because they now believe, or have been told, you know, that their political opinions differ. How are people showing up specifically with that divide?

Joe:
I think it happens in a couple of different ways. I think, in some places, it’s, it’s one or two louder voices where maybe the, the, the team have all sort of come from the same political viewpoints, but maybe someone else on the team stands alone with a different viewpoint. And that creates some strife or maybe there’s one person who is kind of a pot stirrer and, um, is constantly calling people out or challenging them in one way or another related to politics. Uh, and that pot stirrer can certainly do harm. Not to be confused with pot stickers, by the way, which are delicious…Um (Alyssa: Yes, yes they are.) Sorry to throw you off there, but, um, you know, what I’m seeing, from a lot of leaders, is some folks will say, I just don’t want to talk about it. We — it’s an off limits topic. Let’s, let’s not bring politics into the workplace.

Joe:
Let’s check that at the door, believe what you want to believe, but, but, uh, it’s too divisive and it’s, um, too touchy a subject for us to, to bring into the workplace. And I really get that. And, and, and I’m not, I’m not of a mind that that’s a bad strategy if that’s what it takes in order for people to co-exist in the workplace, then maybe that is the way to go. Um, on the other hand, though, we also have some folks who will say, well, I’m just going to try to find people to join my team who think, what I think and believe what I believe. And, um, I mean, good luck, you know, there there’s the talent pool out there is already challenging enough when you’re trying to find someone who is available and qualified and a good fit for your culture and your team. And, um, when you layer that in, well, then you’ve also got to believe what we believe politically. Um, in addition to being challenging, that also might be illegal, um, from an HR standpoint. Um, and so neither of those I think are sustainable. What are you hearing in terms of how it’s showing up?

Alyssa:
So this is so interesting. I, um, whenever you were talking about the, um, information sources, how we, you know, get our information, what people are consuming and then how that filters into the workplace and, and leaders just trying to, you know, perhaps one strategy is to have them leave it at the door. I don’t know how feasible that really is, right? Because to me, it’s, it’s a, an it’s part of my value system. You know, I believe it’s so thoroughly aligns my beliefs with my political, that this is who I am. And so whether or not I’m overtly, you know, saying, this is what I believe, and you should believe it too, blah, blah, blah, blah. I think it’s going to seep in. So one of the, um, most recent webinars that I had the privilege of sitting in on this week was actually, um, on the topic of creating psychological safety in the workplace.

Alyssa:
And, you know, there’s tons of strategies, definitions out there for what that means, right. Um, but they’re these constructs of how, um, we show up as leaders. Um, and what happens when we try to, um, bridge the divide such as this, are we risking, um, alienating one group or another right. Of the divide. And then, um, in terms of also trying to, uh, show up as, uh, an individual who isn’t trying to take a side, but also has to lead authentically, like, how the heck do you do that? Right. Um, what I think is most interesting about how people experience psychological safety in the fact that they are able to express themselves and be heard in the workplace, um, and feel responded to in a way that does not make them feel attacked. So that would be the number one strategy for me is to say, okay, how are we communicating so that we’re not feeling attacked?

Alyssa:
And so again, I go back to what I know, which is my values, how do I communicate in a way that says that doesn’t really align with my values? And where am I willing to say, okay, this isn’t a personal attack and acknowledging that, right. And I think that as a leader, we have to be able to address that elephant in the room to say, w.., This is a whole, this topic of politics, right, is we have to look at this and say, it’s not a personal attack. And so how can we be thoughtful and, and still bring our full selves to the workplace, but also create an environment of psychological safety in the workplace.

Joe:
And let’s recognize and acknowledge that you are coming to that with a, a fairly high level of emotional intelligence and a level of emotional intelligence that not everyone else has. And sadly, in some cases, it is a personal attack, you know, and I think this is where this is where it gets really tricky around the politics, because for some people, their politics dehumanizes other people. Their politics devalues the lives of some other people. Their politics accepts and tolerates the suffering of other people. And so it’s easy to experience that as a personal attack. And I, and I think that’s what makes it such a force in the workplace that can do so much harm. But I think your point about thinking about the quality of the interaction, is what’s key here. When I get this question in workshops or the first thing that popped into my mind when I got this email and saying, how do we manage this?

Joe:
Was that as bosses, it’s our responsibility to create standards for behavior and to enforce those standards for behavior in the workplace. And so there have to be some standards around the quality of the interactions that take place between people at work. And those standards have to be related to how people give feedback, share feedback, how they talk to others, how they listen to others, even things related to the words that they use and their tone of voice. And while it’s the leader’s responsibility to create and enforce those, uh, the, the team on the whole has a role in that as well. And to saying, how are we going to treat each other when we disagree? How are we going to handle conflict? When it rears its ugly head? What kinds of behaviors have no place here? And so by doing that work at a kind of macro level, it doesn’t become about politics.

Joe:
It becomes about communication. How do we treat each other? What are the boundaries, what is appropriate and what kind of workplace do we want to come into every day? And then when everybody gets on the same page with that, when you see a violation occur and you see the, the, um, the emotional charge that tends to take over when politics infuses itself into the discussion, we can start to note some of those behaviors where we say, Hey, you know, one of the things that we’re really committed to here is that we don’t get in each other’s face and shout and name, call, and we’re going down that path. So why don’t we all take a time out because that’s just not how we do it around here. And so it’s those standards of behavior and the work that we do as a team and as leaders to get clear on what is and isn’t appropriate and how we’re going to treat each other.

Alyssa:
I love all of those, those tools. Um, one of the things that I have in the back of my mind is this kind of default, um, language, right? Um, that, uh, I don’t know if it will decompress or, you know, diffuse for anyone else, but when I feel myself getting heated and getting charged and feeling personally attacked and all of the rest of the things. I can say to the other person out loud, I can feel like this discussion is going to be really, you know, could be really engaging and interesting and productive perhaps. But for me to be able to be productive in the conversation and continue with my level of engagement, I got to take a timeout. I got to take, you know, a different perspective or we have to be able to set aside some time later on, uh, when I’m not feeling as emotionally connected to it as I am right now.

Joe:
Yes. And to be able to give yourself a timeout and to acknowledge to the other person why you’re taking it right, is, is it’s kind of conflict resolution 101.

Alyssa:
I was just going to say, it feels kind of like this kind of feels like marriage therapy. Right? It’s just good advice.

Joe:
Well, as you’re talking about that, I remembering a conversation, um, with my father who is completely politically opposite from me. Uh, and he, he wants to have the, the, the back and forth and he wants to get into it and he wants to debate. And he’s like, why can’t we argue? And I, my whole thing is you don’t want to argue. You just want to be right. And that’s the difference. And you know, what I finally came to terms with was these are topics, that for us, don’t make sense for us to spend time on. And I’ve actually said to him, I want our interactions to be easygoing. I want them to be peaceful. And given our politics, there is nothing easygoing about what either one of us thinks or believes. And so it, it, it puts our relationship in jeopardy. If we will continue to allow ourselves to go and have these kinds of conversations. And so depending on the persons involved in the workplace, you may do all the good work that we just talked about, with the emotional intelligence and the boundary setting and all of that. But you may get to a point where you do have to say, you know what, the, these couple of players aren’t capable of touching that dragon because as soon as they touch the dragon, fire blows everywhere and everything is toasted. Overdoing my analogy.

Alyssa:
Well, I think that that is really a brave and vulnerable space for you to be able to articulate and be able to openly communicate, to say, these are the terms of what I need in order to be psychologically safe for our relationship to maintain, to be intact. Um, and I think that that’s absolutely applicable in the workplace.

Joe:
And, and sometimes it takes yes, and it takes one person sometimes to say, no matter what, I’m not going to take the bait, right. I’m not going to do it. Um, okay. It should come as no surprise that in the 15 minutes or so that we’ve been talking about this. We have not solved the problem with political discourse in our country. Shocking as it is. Perhaps we stay tuned for a future episode of Boss Better Now, at which point in time, we will maybe try again.

Alyssa:
Give another 15 minutes. I bet you we’ll get it.

Joe:
But we also have to get to our Camaraderie Question of the Week. Bosses build camaraderie on teams, by making it easier for people to find things in common with each other. Every week, we give you a question you can use at meetings to facilitate connections and build camaraderie. And Alyssa, this week’s question is, as a standalone idea, may not actually be a really great one for building camaraderie, because it’s a question about some of our most embarrassing moments. But I think when we add a qualifier to it, it makes it an easier tool to use for building camaraderie. If you just ask your team, tell us about your most embarrassing moment, that could be awkward. That’s some… That’s some stuff that maybe people don’t want to talk about. So that’s why our question this week is as follows. Tell us about an embarrassing moment from the past, you can genuinely laugh about now.

Alyssa:
Yeah.

Joe:
Do you have such a moment? If you don’t, it’s okay.

Alyssa:
Well, so here’s the, here is my, um, proposition. I feel like perhaps our leaders could benefit from an introvert’s perspective on this question, because even as it reads with that qualifier, to me, it makes my insights weep. Like I want to go, if I could crawl inside my own body, I would still do it right now. Um, and you know, I, I, I could rack my brain and, you know, try to turn it into one of those HR speak things of like, Oh, tell me about your greatest weakness. And, you know, you, you could take one of those strengths that you have.

Joe:
I can’t stop saying no. I take on too much. Yeah.

Alyssa:
You know, like the whole, the whole thing, but that doesn’t feel authentic to do in this space. So my proposition is as follows: for your introverts on your team, I feel like there could be an open invitation to a hard pass

Joe:
An opt-out

Alyssa:
Yeah. An opt-out. I was going to opt out of this one. Thanks so much. And just keep going and don’t make a big deal about it. You just keep on a moving. That person is still, maybe they don’t have anything that they could laugh at. For me, I’m tying it in. I, I, there are plenty of moments that I could I laugh about. And it’s in the moment that I laugh at myself, I don’t know that I’m going to be able to laugh about it with an audience. And so that makes it a little different for me. But as a tried and true introvert, I feel like we ought to be able to have the option to say, no, thanks.

Joe:
I actually want to take that to another level. I think that applies to any of the Camaraderie Questions of the Week that we put out there. If you’re going to try to take a few minutes at your meeting or at a huddle to try to help people find things in common with each other, and you ask a question that asks people to reveal things about themselves, you should be completely okay with, at any point in time, someone saying, yeah, I’m going to pass on the question this week. That’s just, Nope. Nope. That’s not for me. Hard pass. Like you said, I’m opting out. No questions asked. And, and I think it’s important for the leader to set those ground rules to, if you will create that psychological safety that you referenced earlier, uh, to say, listen any time and do you have to come back to it over and over again? Right. If you’re going to do this kind of thing, you have to kind of constantly say, by the way, general standing rule, if you don’t want to answer the question, it’s totally okay, nobody’s going to fault you for it. Um, but if you, you know, if you have an answer we’d love to hear from you and let that be enough.

Alyssa:
Yes. Thank you. My introvert says, thank you deeply. Well, I would still ask you, Oh, what do you have to share? Because I can’t wait to hear it.

Joe:
I am a treasure trove of most embarrassing moments because you know, I’m, I’m clumsy and you know, there’s a whole lot of reasons. Um, the story that I thought of when I first saw this question, though, it is kind of fun now. It wasn’t for me in the moment, but I will share it to you because it’s probably a little bit entertaining. Um, as you heard at the top of the show, I am a student affairs veteran. I worked in student affairs and higher education for almost 10 years. Uh, for those who don’t know, student affairs comprises a lot of the non-faculty kinds of roles on a college campus. So all the student life stuff, these are the people who run the residence halls or the health center or the career office, or the student programming center, did that do new student orientation, et cetera.

Joe:
I did that work for a lot of years and it was very fulfilling. Uh, and it it’s a special time in my life. And at, at one point I was the residence hall director, uh, for a large complex at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, where I got my graduate degree. And I had been assigned when I got there to a residence hall to two big buildings, with a large staff that had had some bumps in, in the year prior to me getting there. Um, and so I was doing a lot of work to not only try to, um, coach the student staff to higher levels of performance, but to challenge them sometimes on some of their thinking. And so when you’re a hall director, you usually have a group of RAs, right? These are student, uh, student life folks who live on the floors and kind of build community and, and enforce the rules of the residence hall.

Alyssa:
Gotcha. And let you drink and all that kind of stuff.

Joe:
That’s right. That’s right. Um, and on my team, I had a couple of, and I’m going to say this with an asterisk next to it, knuckleheads. Um, they weren’t, they were wonderful kids. They were bright and they did care about the work, but for one reason or another, they seem to get something out of playing the role of knuckleheads. Right. It made other people laugh and it was just cool to not, you know, I’m too cool for school and I don’t care. And boy, I sound really old when I say that.

Alyssa:
Yes, yes you do.

Joe:
And there were some times when that’s totally okay. And there were also some times when, as, as the supervisor, I had to swat that down. So that there’s a little bit of sort of vague backstory here. Um, we’re about halfway through the year. And one of the things that we tried to do once a quarter was take all of the housekeepers in our residential complex, out to breakfast – as a thank you for the work that they did all year round for keeping our facilities clean. And if you’re a housekeeper on a major college university, your schedule is not 9:00 to 5:00. It’s like 3:30 – 1:00. Um, and so when, on the days when we would need to take them to breakfast, we would have to be over at the, at the breakfast hall at like 6:00 or 6:30.

Joe:
And so, um, the time was coming up for us to do this for us to take the housekeepers to breakfast. So we’re having a staff meeting one night and we’re going through the agenda. And I announced that, Hey, by the way, um, next, you know, next Thursday morning is going to be the housekeeper breakfast. Please make sure you’re there on time. Um, you know, it’s, it’s really important that we continue to express our appreciation for these folks. And, um, one of my knuckleheads – again, good dude, really good dude, but for one reason or another, he raised his hand and said, would you be able to just call my room to make sure I’m up – that morning?

Joe:
And I don’t know why, but I had this really strong reaction to it….in in the moment. And it was probably because there had kind of been a pattern of knuckle headedness here and sort of the pushing of the buttons in the boundaries. And I just sat up straight and I said, did you just ask me for a wake-up call? And he laughed. And that was the wrong thing to do. (Alyssa: That was the wrong thing.) Because this was the moment when I was done and it all came out right. And I will acknowledge that I was at the time like 25, 26, you know, so little I’m a little more mature, now, I like to think that I was back then, but I said, did you really just ask me for a wake-up call? Let me ask you a question. Does it say Holiday Inn on my shirt?

Joe:
Do I look like I work at the front desk of a hotel? Let me tell you something. And what came next Alyssa was a speech about how sometimes in life you need to be where you need to be when you need to be there. And part of being a mature respons… And I sounded just like this sure that I did. Part of being a mature, a mature, responsible adult is not expecting failure and asking for forgiveness, but deciding that I am going to just make sure that I do not fail in this moment. If you care enough about those housekeepers, you’re going to be there and do whatever it takes to be there on that day. I cannot believe you would come to me and ask me for a wake-up call. You’re a grown man. (Alyssa: You mommed his butt.) I did. And so it should come as no surprise to you or our listeners that on the day of the housekeepers’ breakfast, I overslept.

Alyssa:
Oh sh…, Sugar bits. Oh, Ouchy burn on you.

Joe:
The phone rang in my apartment and it was one of the RAs on staff, “Joe?” And I’m obviously, sleeping.

Joe:
Yeah. “Um. We’re all at breakfast. Are you coming?” And I did what any self-respecting person would do in this moment, which was I lied. And like, we all do. I pretended that I was not asleep. I said, Oh yeah, I’m so sorry. I, I didn’t realize what time it was. Um, I was just finishing something up. I’ll be right there.

Alyssa:
Finishing my ZZZZ’s up.

Joe:
And, the other thing to know is that I had all the breakfast passes. So they couldn’t go in and eat. So I’ve got like 18 RAs and 11 housekeepers, and they’re all waiting for me in the lobby of the breakfast buffet, cafeteria spot. And so I walk in and of course they burst into applause. Uh, and, and as you can imagine, could not resist ribbing me for my, my goof. The highlight of course was when one of the RAs, uh, called everyone to order stood up on a table and perfectly recreated my speech About how sometimes you gotta be where you need to be when you need to be there. And that’s the sign of adulthood and maturity. And it was, I was mortified, but I took it like sometimes you just gotta take it like a champ. And, uh, I don’t know that I was as hard on them after that, but it was a most embarrassing moment that I can laugh at now after the fact.

Alyssa:
Well, I’m glad that you can, you can laugh at that now. Uh I’m, I’m sure you are also a good sport about it in the moment. Um, but yeah, that crow must have tasted real tasty.

Joe:
It was quite bitter. Yes.

Joe:
That is our Camaraderie Question of the Week.

Joe:
All right, folks, if you enjoy our show and you are listening on Apple Podcasts, we’d really appreciate it, if you would take a moment today and leave us a review. Just scroll to the bottom of the list of episodes. Click “write a review” and drop a few kindly sentences about our show. It would also mean the world to us, if you would compose a post on one of your social media accounts, telling others about our podcast and encouraging them to give it a listen. Tell them we give away a lot of free stuff, tell them you could win a car. Tell them if you listen to the podcast, you get a kitten. I mean, we can’t do any of that. But if you go out and say that — you know that’s your social media profile, we don’t have any control over that. And if you’re going to do any of that, don’t forget to include a link to our website at bossbetternowpodcast.com. Okay, Alyssa, the last thing that we’re doing today is a story…

Joe:
As our listeners, I think have come to learn and know from time to time, I will bring a story to the podcast that I use on stage or that I’ve shared with audiences previously. Because stories are a really powerful way to learn lessons, uh, and to remember information, uh, and knowing that I was going to talk today about that kind of most embarrassing moment with the speech and the oversleeping, uh, at, during my time at OU. It reminded about another story, uh, from my time at OU that I think would be fun to share. So, uh, we are going to depart from Alyssa for just a minute here and come back to her right before we end. Uh, as I prepare to share the story that I call “Lincoln 225”.

Joe:
Ohio University in Athens, Ohio is what college is supposed to look like. 100 year old, red brick buildings are surrounded by sprawling greens and mature trees. The landscape is constantly dotted with bike riders, joggers, students on blankets, or under a shade tree reading a book. Arriving on campus is like stepping into a high gloss college brochure. OU, is where I got my graduate degree and is one of the places I worked during my student affairs career. And at OU, I was, as I mentioned earlier, a hall director, I was the professional staff person responsible for running three buildings, housing 900 students and supervising a staff of 18 resident assistants. Now most college campuses experience their share of student partying and alcohol fueled misadventures. Residence halls, or dorms for the depraved and uninitiated are where much of this mayhem takes place as a hall director.

Joe:
A normal Monday morning would find a pile of incident reports on my desk from the parties that were broken up by the weekend duty team during their rounds. About once a month, it was my turn to be the staff member on call for all of the halls on our green, which meant spending Friday and Saturday nights gliding from one dorm party bus to the next, supporting staff, involving police when necessary, and facing down a lot of college kids who weren’t always the very best version of themselves in the moment. During my time there, I became close friends with another hall director, named Jim, who managed the buildings next to mine. We bonded over music. And since both of us played the guitar and liked to perform. On the rare weekend, when we were both off duty, we grab our instruments and head up the hill to host a local open mic night at the student union. And that is where our story begins.

Joe:
The two benches, in front of Lincoln Hall, are the perfect waiting spot for friends who have made plans. And so that’s where I stood my guitar in hand waiting for Jim, the hall director at Lincoln on a crisp fall evening, the kind that requires a jacket and where nightfall has started to arrive too early.

Joe:
Jim was running late. So I propped my guitar against the bench and I took a seat. A few seconds later, the side door of Lincoln Hall slammed closed as a male student, stepped outside and lit a cigarette. He looked up, saw me sitting there with my guitar and walked over to introduce himself. He said, “Hey, what’s up, man? Do you play the guitar?” I said, “Yeah …you?” He said, “Oh no, I don’t know how.” He took a draw his cigarette. And then after a pause, he said, “You partying tonight?” I tried hard not to smile. And I said, “Ah, that’s not really my scene.” And then I asked the question that had to come next. The one that had I not asked it would have felt like a break in the natural order of young adult conversation that unfolds on college campuses, the world over. And so with a forced nonchalance that quite frankly should have scored me an Oscar nomination. I casually asked, “You partying tonight?”

Joe:
His answer was perfect. “Hell yeah, dude – Lincoln 225.” “Cool. So what’s the plan?” And like the villain in the movie who has inadvertently been tricked into the monologue that reveals his evil master plan, my new friend let fly with all the details of the party starting soon, just behind me on the second floor of Lincoln Hall. I heard it all, how they were sneaking the booze in, what was on tap, how they were collecting money, how they were keeping watch for the duty teams on their rounds. He was so proud. And then with a generosity that would have made his parents proud. He said, “Hey man, stop by if you want.” To which I replied, “Thanks. Would it be okay if I brought my friend that I’m waiting for?” And he said, “Sure, where do you live?” I pointed to the building across the green and said, “Right there, I’m the hall director.”

Joe:
It’s rare to see another human being actually move in slow motion. But that is precisely what happened to my new young friend as his mind processed the sentence that now hung in the air. He stared blinking, as if not comprehending. I said, yeah, I’m the RD of that building over there. And I’m actually here waiting for the RD of your building. You know, Jim right? Mouth slightly open, all he could do was nod. And of course at that moment, right out of central casting, the door behind us slammed shut, and now here comes Jim heading right for us. And with delicious irony, Jim arrives at the bench and says, Hey, Corey, what’s happening?

Joe:
Corey stood frozen. His eyes darted back and forth from Jim to me and back to Jim. And as someone who just can’t stomach human suffering, I tried to perform a gentle rescue. “Corey was just telling me about how his plans for tonight had to be canceled at the last minute. Right, Corey?” All Corey could do was nod. As Jim and I walked up the Hill, carrying our guitars, we left Corey standing there a little dazed. We placed a quick call to the duty team that night and encouraged them to stop by the amazing party in Lincoln 225 later. And then we laughed about the situation. We weren’t laughing at Corey. We actually felt kind of bad for him because Corey had just learned a valuable lesson, the hard way. It’s a lesson that we need to know as bosses. It’s a lesson that I take very seriously as a speaker. And it’s one that regardless of our role in life, sometimes we often forget, but it should always remain top of mind. That lesson – know your audience.

Alyssa:
That was amaze-balls.

Joe:
That’s one of those stories that if you work in student affairs, if you work on a college campus, there’s a certain amount of, of, uh, enjoyment. I think that that story brings about if you’ve ever been the kid who got in trouble for drinking in the residence hall, it just feels like we’re spiking the football.

Alyssa:
All of it, love it.

Joe:
Well, my friends, remember this is your show. We want to hear from you. Share your comments and questions by emailing us at bossbetternow@gmail.com. If you want to get more help, like what we do here on the show, then head over to bossbetternow.com and subscribe to my free BossBetter Email newsletter. Twice a month, we share videos, articles, and more all designed to help you boss better. That’s our show. Thanks for listening.

Alyssa:
This show is sponsored by Joe Mull and Associates. Remember commitment comes from better bosses. Visit joemull.com today.

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