As tempers get ever-more heated at my office, people are hunkering down in their respective corners getting increasingly defensive and spiteful. The sad thing about feeling under attack is that it makes people lash out and blame others and attack each other even harder.
The vibe in the office has been one of ever-growing hostility, sadness and despair over the last few weeks. Restructures are never easy, and I’ve been through several, but this one in particular feels somehow far worse than any we’ve gone through before. There is a bitterness and resentment that is slowly seeping into everyone’s consciousness, as if an evil villain has released some kind of toxic conflict vapour into the air.
I have been through my own rollercoaster of emotions, ultimately touching on all of the 5 stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) when thinking about my job, and the prospect of losing it.
I have days when I accept that it is all out of my hands, and days when I feel angry and want to fight back. But I also realised that our senior management are bearing the brunt of everyone’s visceral anger and hatred and frustration. And I suddenly saw how tired and exhausted and worn down they all are. And then I remembered that despite being “management” and being the ones having to propose cuts to this team and that team, they are also just people, and I remembered that they are people I happen to like.
I have spent so much of the last few weeks joining in with all the panic and anger and sadness and bewilderment and confusion and defensiveness that I forgot that some of the colleagues I admire the most are also suffering the most.
So I decided to try a new tactic.
In all of our team meetings and restructure discussions, our senior managers have tried to gently remind everyone to be kind to each other, and look after each other, in a quiet gentle plea not to descend immediately into finger-pointing and recriminations and blame.
And then two days ago, an announcement was made, (not related to the restructure), that lit up a fresh riot of anger and outrage, and aggressive finger-pointing, blaming and devastation. Hundreds of people were left questioning what we do, our very core mandate, and it was as if all the anger and frustration that has been building and swirling for weeks and weeks was suddenly given an outlet, a name, and a direction to point all the aggression towards and it went WHOOOSH. It attracted the anger like a magnet. People went NUTS, loudly and openly, and with very good reasons, but it was like watching someone throw a match into a parched, drought-ridden forest and stepping back to watch it burn.
We humanitarians are generally quite passionate people, we feel the injustice in the world on a personal level, and we are geared up to fight it. Watching colleagues all over the office weeping tears of frustration and anger and sadness and despair, it was really overwhelming. I heard about the begging and pleading and fighting that has gone on behind some of the closed doors. Some of the best colleagues I know, who two days ago were fighting tooth and nail for their jobs, and standing up for an organisation they have believed in for 20 years suddenly slumped in tears of despair, saying “If this is who we are now, then why bother? I don’t think I can continue working for an organisation if this is who we are going to be”.
Now NGOs are known for their navel-gazing, but this was a legitimate collective questioning of our very core values, and humanitarian mandate – the very principles that we live and work by (first, do no harm, the humanitarian imperative must come first, and we must hold ourselves accountable to the people we seek to assist). There was a significant shift and a sense that rather than trying to fight for our jobs and our team and our work, many people may just give up and walk away. It has added a new dimension of drama and stress to the whole restructure, and while it is emotionally draining, it’s hard to step away from, like watching a horrific car crash and being unable to look away.
So, with such a backdrop, I decided to try to be more proactive about balancing the karma scales.
I wrote carefully thought-out, personal emails to over 30 of my colleagues, telling them they were great, awesome, wonderful and appreciated. I offered love and support and kindness, and actively tried to push some nicer, kinder vibes into the atmosphere.
And the response I got was overwhelming. Several people started to cry, most of them came over to hug me and thank me for thinking of them, or showing my appreciation. Loads of them wrote back wonderful things about how much they love me and how awesome I am too (which was not the purpose of the exercise but was surprisingly affirming!). Not one but two lovely colleagues pointed out that no-one has ever actively just told them they are appreciated or doing a good job outside of annual performance reviews and they were incredibly moved that I had taken the time to appreciate all the hard work that they do.
I even deliberately wrote to the people in the department I barely know, or who I don’t get on brilliantly with, and tried to think of some nice, kind things to say to them. One guy who is extremely grumpy and ornery all the time with everyone came over to thank me, and said I had inspired him to try and pay it forward and actively be kinder and say some nice things to others.
Basically, I put some good vibrations out into our team, and I got them back tenfold. By the end of the day, most people were able to smile and laugh, and the feeling in the team was much more upbeat and positive. I feel as though I really achieved something good in the face of all this madness. The senior managers in particular were all touched and overwhelmed to hear such kind things when all they are hearing right now is how everything is their fault. I am very pleased with myself for finding a way to proactively inject some positivity into this team, and in lifting up some of my dear friends and colleagues, I got back so much support and comfort and kind words, that I ended up feeling happy and loved, which is pretty bloody awesome actually.
So my advice to you all out there, is go out and do some random acts of kindness – tell someone they are amazing, or that they are doing a great job. Find something nice to say to someone you don’t get on with, or help a stranger. Pay it forward, and actively put good vibes and positive energy out into the world. I firmly believe it will come back to you bigger and stronger!