Harmonising in the spirit of the season

I recently returned to choir after a long hiatus.

I love singing. I can hold a tune but my counting is lazy and my breathing is out of practice. I also have a terrible poker face so the audience can tell when I make a mistake. Nonetheless, the team welcomed me back with smiles and patience, and with what I choose to believe is genuine generosity.

Because of the time of year, the choir is focusing on Christmas. A time when we are all encouraged to focus on generosity.

It was St Nicholas’ legendary generosity that gave rise to the modern-day tradition of Santa Claus. As the story goes, as a youngster, St Nick was left with a substantial amount of money when his parents died. He used this to help others. He was generous.

Generosity involves being kind and giving time, attention or gifts to others without conditions or the expectation of getting something in return. It also involves emotions such as empathy and compassion.

These are essential elements to building trust between people, which is the foundation of every healthy relationship, including those in the workplace and the boardroom.

I facilitated the rebuilding of a relationship between two colleagues today. By the end of the meeting, they both expressed to me relief and surprise that they had been able to talk so openly with each other.

One thing that helped was the emphasis we put on them being generous with each other in their communications, including:

 - Giving each other the benefit of the doubt by not jumping to the most negative assumptions about the intentions behind what was said. They may have spoken curtly because they were simply having a bad day. We all have those from time to time, right?

 - Giving each other the freedom to express themselves in a way that was natural to them. For example, to talk through their ideas out loud, with gestures and volume.

 - Giving each other permission to ask for time to process information and to have it presented in a certain way. Some people want just the facts, delivered in bullet points. Other people want to know why information is being sought so it helps them understand context. These different approaches are both legitimate.

 - Giving respect to honour each other’s boundaries. Let’s say a colleague asks you to stop using certain language or joking in a way that they find offensive. Just stop it. Don’t be a dick and carry on intentionally hurting someone.

The most generous communication we can offer our colleagues is the freedom to express themselves. To make it safe for them to take the risk of being misunderstood or misinterpreted.

Often we expect colleagues to give and receive information in the same way we do. However, the reality is that we often don’t express ourselves well and others don’t interpret us in the way we want them to.

People thrive when they can be their authentic themselves. How about carrying on the Christmas spirit into January and beyond? We can let fear and scarcity influence our work culture or we can let generosity shape it.

(And I hope the choir leader continues to exercise generosity with me or else I might end up busking down George Street.)

 - Kate Keddell is a mediator, investigator and director of Balance Consultancy.