Seated in the courtyard of a sports bar during a playoff game in the home city of one of the teams, it was an energetic crowd that Sunday. While we'd come for a quick bite to eat, we caught a glimpse of a play now and then as home-team enthusiasts roared their approval during the first half.
When a man sat down next to us with two friends, ordered a pitcher of beer and maneuvered around to glimpse the game, we barely noticed. But when he hassled the waitress every few minutes trying to intimidate her into getting him a table closer to the TV where none existed, his rudeness and her apparent discomfort, drew our attention.
What happened next surprised me. Growing increasingly agitated at not being able to watch the football game from inside the bar, the man stood up, ordered his colleagues up, and walked away without paying. I don't get it. He came well after the game started. Why would he think he should be entitled to a great seat over others waiting in the wings?
But it wasn't just the beer he stole that bothered me. That thief stole the waitress's well-being that day. Close to tears as she explained what had happened to her manager, the customer's behavior left a long impact tail.
In workplaces across the country there are similar heists. Yes, there's the shoplifting variety, but the ones that do lasting damage are not as blatant. These involve emotional thievery, diminished trust, reduced happiness, and decreased self-esteem.
When we steal an idea from a staff member without acknowledging her contribution, we diminish her engagement. When we continually set unrealistic deadlines without concern for a growing workload that robs his nights and weekends, we reduce his commitment. And when we send reactive emails or text harsh critiques without a reflective pause, we ravage someone else's self-esteem.
If we're the outraged customer rudely addressing a customer representative, our verbal lashing impacts his day. If our posts or comments are carved with word-machetes, our actions hijack another's confidence. And if we think transparency means regurgitating everything we think, we diminish, not enhance, our work relationships.
Most of us can point to what someone else did that was an emotional heist for us. Yet we often don't realize how our own behavior can steal someone else's enthusiasm or well-being. Whether we're selfishly engaged like that beer-thief, or merely oblivious to our own behavior, the action still impacts.
Seventeenth century philosopher John Locke put it this way: "I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts." People who are winning at working do too. They monitor their thoughts and their actions.
Want to be winning at working? Be aware of your actions. Reduce your workplace heists.
(c) 2012 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.
Nan Russell's latest book, The Titleless Leader (Career Press, 2012). Other books include:
Hitting Your Stride and Nibble Your Way to Success. More about Nan and her work www.nanrussell.com