A list – inspired by Anne Cooper

I was reading Anne Cooper’s blog yesterday (here) about the adjectives she would like to have applied to her. She gives a list of those descriptive words and some insights into what feedback she gets from others. That feedback seemed to major on ‘kind’, and I detected a little frisson of disappointment that although it was lovely to be recognised for one’s kindness, there were a whole load of other attributes that Annie was putting out there. It made me smile at her honesty and authenticity (a word I am growing to dislike and distrust – but not in Annie’s case, I hasten to add) and at her pondering on the effect she has on others. At the end of her blog she asks which adjectives her readers might like to have applied to them. It got me thinking. Not least about how we see ourselves and how others see us.

The list of adjectives that I’d like applied to me are:

  • Fair
  • Funny
  • Clever
  • Loyal
  • Committed
  • Open
  • Generous
  • Attractive (sorry, but there it is)
  • Wise

I’m sure there might be others, but those are the ones I would really like. At first glance they look like pretty good attributes to have, and I do know from feedback that most of these adjectives have been applied to me by colleagues, managers, people I work with. But I also know that some of these attributes are not unfailingly positive and they don’t make me some sort of paragon of the workplace. Far from it.

I am well aware, for example, that being fair and being loyal can often mean conflict. That putting fairness before loyalty can feel like unfairness to the person who expected me to be loyal, above all else. So, in others’ eyes I might appear unfair and disloyal when in fact I’m being scrupulously fair and loyal to my values.

I love making people laugh – the smart remark, the quick response, the over-the-top anecdote when everyone is looking at me and listening and shrieking with laughter – there’s no better feeling than entertaining one’s friends and colleagues and knowing that it’s you who have made them rock with laughter. So I know I’m funny. I also know that sometimes, in order to be funny I can be cruel. Not with an intention to hurt, but with an intention to amuse. Humour stands on many platforms – I have to try hard not to stray from one to another inappropriately. Especially when I’m on a roll and all attention is on me.

Committed, open and generous – what’s not to like? Who wouldn’t want these things said about them? Commitment is one of my most closely held values – I work hard, I expect others to do the same, I expect people to do the ‘right thing’ and to stand up for what they believe in. When I sense a lack of that commitment I can sometimes react too quickly – impatient, irritated, quick to judge and to dismiss. After all, everyone should feel as strongly as I do, shouldn’t they? Not so good. I had some feedback recently that made me really think about this – it wasn’t hard to take and I recognised the meaning exactly. Someone said “Ah, that’s June. She runs a bit hot sometimes.” It’s a brilliant description of my occasional lapses into astonishment that not everyone shares my strength of feeling all of the time or about the same things. That phrase was a useful mirror reflecting back to me that commitment to something requires nuance and finesse, flexibility even – even though that might feel like a contradiction in terms.

Openness – now that is something that I hear in feedback, ‘completely open and transparent’ and I really couldn’t be any other way. I am often heard saying “…so, now you know as much as I do. When I know more, you will too.” I can bide my time, I can hold on to information until an appropriate time to transmit it, but there has to be a very good reason for me to hold back information. I trust people and more often than not that trust is rewarded. There is a but though – I am open in other ways too. I struggle to dissemble, I am an appallingly bad liar, my body language is a body-language-reader’s dream. I am, as they say, an open book. When new people join my team, it’s one of the first things I say to them: ” I am very open and transparent, and that means that you will know how I’m feeling – you’ll know when I’m happy or pleased, you’ll know when I’m cross, you’ll know when I’m anxious and you will always know exactly where you stand’. Or something like that. So far, it’s worked well. I don’t play games and I don’t expect game-playing from others. It’s an approach that’s served me very well – and I think it’s one of the reasons I attract good people into my team – and keep them.

The organisation I work in has a set of core organisational values that I helped to define. One of those core values is ‘generosity of spirit’. They appear in our documentation, on the website, and underpin how we work. Generosity of spirit is the one value that most people think best reflects our organisational ethos. I think this is why I love working where I do – because it reflects my own sense of what is important. I try to be generous with my time, with my knowledge and experience, with advice, with encouragement, with lessons I’ve learned. The people who were generous with me are the people I remember. Sometimes being generous means that you get asked to do a lot. Or that you’re near the top of the list when someone needs a favour. That’s not a downside.

And wisdom? Who would claim that for themselves? Well, if it’s not too immodest, I’d like to. If wisdom comes from working through and learning from success and failure, then yes. If wisdom comes from finding out about myself and understanding why I am who I am, then yes. And if wisdom comes from recognising the positive attributes but not beating myself up when the flipside puts in the occasional appearance, then absolutely yes. I would happily accept and recognise all of the above neat and tidy list of labels. And I also happily accept that they’re not always neat and tidy. That makes me….me.

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