“So I have asked you plenty of things,” the job interviewer said to me during the phone call. We had met a few weeks before and now we were exploring more seriously what it might be like to work together.
“It is your turn now. Interview me. What do you want to know?”
I was a little surprised by the request. I had thought a lot about the questions I would need to answer during this phone call, but little about the ones I would need to ask. Luckily, there was only one thing I was concerned about figuring out about working with this new person.
“Ok,” I said as quickly as I could once I’d realized my response. “Is the glass half empty or half full?”
She didn’t miss a beat.
“Half full,” she said. “But I like to sell people on the benefits of ice.”
She offered and I took the job.
Skills are important. Experience is valuable. But most days, attitude is more important than both.
You can learn the tricks. You can practice until your fingers bleed. But smiling when it hurts is hard and not everyone can do it.
A co-manager and I once decided to institute the “no-no” policy. We stopped using the word that made it sound like we could not. Instead, we vowed to our teams to try to find ways to make things happen when we could and work to find alternate plans or different ways of doing things when needed.
We didn’t do every idea suggested after that. In fact, we probably did less than normal. But it caused a dramatic change in morale. The minute members of the group knew they no longer had to be worried about getting shot down in meetings or condescended to in pitches, they were more engaged, more open to conversation and full of ideas.
For this approach to work, of course, everyone must try. Each team member must withhold judgement and promise to assume that everyone else is trying their hardest. When this happens, the focus is no longer on doing exactly what one person wants, but on figuring out what will actually work the best.
But this is where it is easy to get hung up. What is sometimes missed in this conversation is an examination of what is keeping people from being positive. Negatively-charged people don’t love being miserable. They’re scared.
Think about it: Smiling and trying might mean failing. Crossing your arms and frowning insulates things from immediately getting worse.
This is why I like the ice analogy.
My daughter and I love to enjoy cold fountain drinks together, but whenever we hit the convenience store soft drink machine, Sadie insists on foregoing the ice. I argue with her every time. She thinks she gets a better deal when the frozen water blocks are out of the way. But I’m convinced differently.
The ice makes the already cold drink frigid and more refreshing and the ice gives the cup weight and stability. It’s easier to hold and handle because the loose liquid isn’t sloshing up the sides of the cup.
And sure – the ice could melt and leave this whole container a watered-down syrupy mess. But it just might bring the crunch I need on a hot afternoon.
I’m willing to take the chance.