With Christmas fast approaching we find ourselves at crowded dinner tables talking and laughing with friends and family. Just as at work we have expectations of people in our social circles. There’s the worried ones who constantly express concerns about everything going smoothly, the capable ones making sure that everything does, the good humour people ensuring that everyone is getting along well and enjoying themselves, the responsible ones carefully clearing up after the others and the freeloaders who simply show up and expect everything to fall into place around them.
We tend to have expectations of people and it’s hard to shake them off. It’s just as true of colleagues that we’ve worked with for years as it is of family members who we still treat in the same way as we have for a decade or two.
Sometimes it’s fun to throw someone new into the holiday dinner mix, an outsider with no preconceptions. It may cause some discomfort, and there may even be hostility, but outsiders can often see the current reality which is hidden from the usual suspects. Just like the little boy who didn’t know the background who notices that the emperor is in fact in the altogether, an incomer has the ability to ask the naïve questions and cut to the chase.
In historic courts saying the wrong thing to the king could have fatal consequences, courtiers and top advisors trod a careful line, ensuring that they played the political game to their best advantage. Telling the king that he was wrong, or even that he needed to keep an eye on a certain area of his domain because of unrest, was often out of the question if you wanted to keep your head. To ensure that their feet remained close to the ground kings and noblemen often employed Jesters. Whilst part of the role was to dance merrily and play the fool, another key role was to lightly poke fun at errors and softly introduce areas where things may be going wrong through good humour.
The same is true in organisations. People who have been working together for a long time, and who have been working on specific projects for a while can work in ways that even they would consider strange if they stopped for a moment to look at them, it just takes a gentle nudge delivered with charm and positivity to make them realise.