One size fits all
In most things in life, one size fits none.
Our world is too diverse, people’s needs too different and humanity’s history of trying to create homogeneity and standardisation is too bloody, at its darkest, and too socially and intellectually oppressive at its most palatable.
All in all, not great.
In business, digital or otherwise, advertising that you aggressively do not believe one size fits all is a strength.
In life, it is common sense.
In all things but one.
At home, at work, on the tube and on the news. No matter who you are, no matter who they are, empathy is the only thing that is universally needed and universally appropriate in the default size of “we all human here, we all have stories we haven’t shared. We all have hard days. And although some will be harder than others, hard is hard.”
Why am I saying this?
Because back in the second week of the first lockdown, yes, a lifetime ago, I hesitated before writing a piece about the impact of COVID on our ways of working, the shock of it, at the time. I hesitated because it felt too fresh, too new and potentially too myopic.
Oh, the optimism of these days.
My editor Tanya, ever-wise and prescient, said, go for it. This thing will become a huge piece of our history and shared experience. This is no blip. So write about it like you would about other parts of our reality.
So I did. I wrote about it again and again, as it turned out, because this thing was here to stay, affecting our lives, the economy, our present and our future in ever-evolving ways.
And it’s affecting our mental and emotional states. Deeply.
I have developed this weird new habit, in this lockdown 3.0.
Every morning, as I wake up, I find myself groggily asking… myself… “are you happy?”
Don’t ask me where that came from, I have no idea. Never used to have this kind of internal dialogue before.
It’s not really needed either, to be fair. I know the answer. I am not happy. I am not unhappy either. I am just coping.
Is anyone happy these days, anyway? I am going to go with “no”.
This is hard. Hard in different ways for all of us but still hard.
Here is another one where one size fits all. This is hard for all of us.
You know how I know? You got it. A bit of empathy takes you a long way.
Also. You know how else I know that this is hard for everyone?
I see increasing bouts of bad behaviour, all over the place.
Like the whole of humanity was stuck in a crowded central line train for the last three hours and everyone is now deliberately bumping shoulders with strangers, a bit harder than required, because they are cranky and everyone on their path is in their way.
I constantly hear of people lashing out in meetings. Behaving like entitled toddlers.
I hear of people ignoring colleagues and leaving them in the lurch because it’s easy to say you missed an email. And a slack message. And had a clash so you missed that meeting. It’s easy to deflect.
I hear of people realising they had forgotten to do something and blaming others. I see people trying to get out of the spotlight they assumed was turned on them and digging themselves into holes of varying degrees of humorous value.
I hear these stories across companies and industries, but it’s particularly bad in financial services because our starting point wasn’t hugely cooperative anyway.
I hear these stories and I believe them. I hear these stories and see defensiveness, passive aggressive quips, humanity acting out.
And I totally get why.
But that doesn’t make it ok.
What you do habitually, what you choose to do and allow yourself to do defines you. What you give yourself permission to do, what you are willing to excuse yourself for, matters.
So bad behaviour is understandable but not excusable, at the individual level.
But what about our organisations?
What about when those bad behaviours happen at work?
Emails and slack channels and awkward meetings.
Deafening silence and endless message tennis. Conversations and dodges and unhelpful manoeuvres with colleagues standing by as unwilling witnesses?
Because, of course, remote working means we live in a world of cc-ing every man, woman and their dog on emails to make sure they can see you working.
A friend working for a big bank responding to a routine operational email on Christmas Eve, replied all because that’s what we do. He got 84 out of office notices. Plus a bunch of responses.
A meeting-heavy industry now has even more meetings, and the meetings have even more people in them. Because you need witnesses to actions taken, commitments made, the progress, the promises, the resistance.
Inside financial services organisations, in these times of coronavirus, the need for witnesses has gone stratospheric.
Careful what you wish for, they say, you may just get it.
So now you have witnesses.
Not just for the bits you wanted to showcase but also for your bad behaviour. Not just for the gap you wanted to call out, the colleague you hoped to shame but also for the fact that you tried to shame them, the fact that you were actually not in the right and the thing backfired. With witnesses.
As an individual, I am sure you have your reasons.
As an organisation, what do you do? Do you acknowledge that individuals have their reasons and leave it at that?
When you have documented, witnessed bad behaviours going on, day in day out?
Do you shrug and hope these behaviours don’t become big and habitual? Do you consider them isolated and contextual?
Do you say oh well this is hard for everyone so people acting up is par of the course? Or do you say this is hard for everyone, so let’s not make it harder?
Do you understand that empathy is not an excuse but a shield and it only “fits all” if you offer it? Less so if you brandish it.
Do you realise that, as a person, you are defined by the corners you chose to cut, the excuses you choose to hide behind? The battles you allow yourself to bow out of. The exceptions you choose to create for yourself.
As an organisation, you are what you tolerate.
The sum total of what you tolerate. The battles you choose to not fight. The bad behaviours you choose to consider exceptional and therefore excusable.
That is all.
Whatever your reasons for tolerating bad behaviour, that defines you. More than anything else. And more deeply.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!