So I’ve been living in Texas now for three months, which I think is long enough to really appreciate some of the differences between this vaguely hat-shaped state and the mitten-shaped state from which I came. I got a sunburn in December, for example – not a bad one, just mild enough for me to wonder how such a thing was even possible. Right now my northern friends are probably putting snow tires on their cars and gassing up the snowmobile, while at this very moment one of my Texas neighbors has just bet a friend of his that he can make a snowmobile skim over the water. He’ll be drowning soon, but it’s going to be fun to watch.
The point is, culture plays a big and almost invisible factor in who we become. People in Michigan love to eat pasties, which in Vegas means something completely different. Wisconsinites get their money out of a TYME machine, which stands for ‘Take Your Money Everywhere’ but makes them sound like they’re hopped up on psychotropics when they say it. Texans have high school football stadiums that are larger and more expensive than many college arenas. In most cases these things aren’t even conscious choices; newborn Texans grow up in a world where football is a religion, and so they grow up doing what they’ve been taught.
You probably work with some people whose ideas, attitudes, and habits annoy the crap out of you. If you don’t, then you probably work alone. So as you brace yourself for another year with all those weirdo idiots you’re surrounded by, here are a few things to think about that might make working with them less obnoxious.
Your Own Family Members Have Glaring Differences
Your kids likely have very different character traits. Your brothers and sisters, whom you deeply love can possibly annoy you just as much as a perfect stranger at holiday get togethers. Even if you’re an only child, you probably have cousins or family friends or even parents whose differences are so obvious that it defies logic for them to all be related. The point is, if people who same the same genes can end up having completely different tastes and personalities, it’s pretty much a given that your colleagues will have their own idiosyncrasies. There’s virtually no way around it, which means you’ll have to learn to live with it – just like you’ve learned how to somehow love that crazy wife/husband/girlfriend/best friend of yours.
You Are Also Weird
I may not know you very well, but I can say that for certain. Some of your clothes are awful, and your music, and the movies you like. You could very well have a weird laugh, and you possibly sweat a lot when you exercise, which I don’t like. But then again, I also have a bunch of weird habits that might make you wonder if I’m actually a fully functioning adult. Stare at anyone for long enough, and you’ll find some things about them that just don’t make a lot of sense – including yourself.
Most Differences Truly Don’t Matter
And this is the big one. When you really boil it down, it doesn’t much matter if I use a million exclamation points in my emails or none at all; whether I love the NCAA tournament or think it’s a colossal waste of time; or whether I go to church on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or not at all. The overwhelming majority of the differences between us have literally no bearing on whether or not we’re able to do our jobs well. Some of those differences do matter, of course, and those are the ones we need to focus on – but it’s way, way fewer than we often pretend.
Creating a vibrant corporate culture is extremely difficult, and we make it harder on ourselves by trying to cram everyone into the exact same box. The more we allow others to express their particular flavor or weirdness, the more easily we’ll be able to tackle the real issues. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to let my Texas neighbor teach me how they fish down here. It’s an intricate ritual that involves punching the water and choking the fish to death. Wish me luck!