My first office at Disneyland was not a conventional cubicle. It had tall walls, but no ceiling. I could easily hear one end of telephone conversations in adjoining offices, as well as full conversations. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but looking back, there were certain people who spoke up robustly as if they didn’t care who overheard them. These were the open personalities who didn’t make it a point or policy to be secretive. I always felt relaxed around those people. They spoke positively about others, which gave me the feeling they probably spoke positively about me in my absence.
The same principle holds when reversed. Disney was the first big corporate atmosphere I ever worked in. The human dynamics of the workplace were a fascinating and frightening thing to behold for a single young person with delusions of grandeur and no polished skills to achieve it. Through experience, I learned that people who habitually speak positively of others tend to do so in all circumstances. Those who criticize others in your presence and recruit you to agree with their cutting remarks will probably criticize you when you’re out of the room.
There were those who always had muffled and subdued conversations in their ceilingless offices. Someone would come into the office, the door would be closed (which was a cue that some secret information was about to be exchanged), and the whispering began. I don’t remember ever being able to decipher what was being said, and I didn’t want to be caught standing with my ear pressed to the wall or tippytoed on top of my credenza, straining to hear what was coming over the wall. Those conversations will forever remain private. But they piqued my paranoia and sure sounded important at the time.
The whisperers might have been trying to cloak their conversation from any number of people in the surrounding, ceilingless offices. Perhaps they were aware that the apparent secrecy of their conversation made the information, whatever it was, incredibly enticing.
Maybe they knew the effect of whispered conversations and didn’t actually say anything—just whispered to bust the neighbors’ chops. None of this is a problem if people are open and honest.
There was a secretary for one of the other Disney executives who took secretiveness to an extreme. Whenever anyone, not just me, walked near her workspace, whether to talk to her or just pass by, she dove on top of the papers on her desk to hide them. I had to pass her desk on my way to the restroom. The next nearest restroom required walking downstairs, out the door, and into another building.
Whenever I walked past her desk, I repeated to myself, Say nothing. Don’t slow clown. Don’t look in her direction. It didn’t matter. The Will the Real Idiot Please Stand Up? moment I rounded the corner, I heard the papers rustle and a dull thud as she landed on the desktop. She lay there, sprawled out, glaring at me, until I was out of sight.
I always wondered what was so important about her boss’s work to warrant such secrecy. He was a good person, a mid-food-chain manager, like me. He seemed to be an open communicator. The effect of her sprawling performance was curious, though. It created the illusion that whatever was contained on those papers was top secret, which it probably wasn’t, and that she considered me a threat if I found out what was there.
Maybe I should have been flattered that she thought I had so much power. I felt like she had some reason to be suspicious of me, even though I knew she didn’t. Obviously, she felt she had reason to be suspicious of me. Other people had similar experiences with her and she spent a lot of time on top of her desk (especially an hour or so after the first pot of coffee disappeared). Yet, I only worried about what I might have done to warrant such treatment.
Good Bosses are aware that sharing information in a thorough, timely manner makes people feel included, respected, and acknowledged for their ability to contribute. They make open communication a priority. They keep everybody informed all the time. And they are receptive to feedback. Not just between 3 and 4 p.m. every third Tuesday, but all of the time. It’s so remarkably easy that bosses who don’t do it should undergo psychiatric examination and electroshock therapy if necessary.
The equitable treatment of all team members is nearly as important in the workplace as communication. I say nearly as important because, if people are going to be treated inequitably, it’s better to be told up front about it than to pretend it’s not happening. The real sting from preferential treatment of some at the expense of others comes from the charade that everyone is being treated equally. People don’t mind being Cinderella before her run of luck as much as they hate being promised the whole prince and pumpkin thing with no follow through.
HOW TO WORK FOR AN IDIOT SURVIVE & THRIVE… WITHOUT KILLING YOUR Boss Cap II: Chapter 2: Will the Real Idiot Please Stand Up? (By John Hoover) Part 2