OK I will admit it, I talk about work often. I talk about it with colleagues, family, friends and sometimes strangers (i.e. the waiter who might as me “what do you do?”). I love what I do and it is very much a part of who I am. It is something, I think, we as a society do. What is one of the first questions you ask or is asked to you when you meet someone new?
It usually goes something like this:
1) What is your name?
2) Where are you from?
3) What do you do?
Here’s the thing, I love the work that I do, but I love other things too. I love to bike and run, I love sports, I love film and television, I love music, I love food. Why don’t I talk about those more? I am not defined completely, or even mostly, by my work.
I spend a lot of my meals and personal time with colleagues. I am fortunate to work with some incredible people whom I consider close friends. Many of them were invited to my wedding and have taken part in celebrating other personal milestones and life events. However, much of our time together outside of “the office” is spent still talking about work. I feel we are doing each other and our relationships a disservice by always spending the bulk of time together talking about work-related things. The same can be said with students. Most of my time spent with students is task related in that we talk about what they came to meet with me about, logistics for the upcoming program, questions they have, etc. However, my rapport with them gets stronger when we talk about other things not related to the task(s) at hand. It allows us to connect beyond the work we are doing together.
Work/life balance is a touchy subject for me. To quote Brian Lind, “My life is not a lunch tray, sometimes the peas mix with the mashed potatoes and I wouldn’t have it any other way.” I do not feel work and life need to be black and white. However, I do feel that we can make choices that help us to be sure that work does not become life and life does not become work. Taking time with colleagues to talk about interests and topics unrelated to work will help with this in a way.
I am issuing myself (and you) a new challenge to spend less time talking with colleagues talking about work outside of meetings, projects, and events and more time connecting over common interests. This will only strengthen our personal and working relationships, which will enhance our capacity to do great work together. You can learn a lot about a person if you take the time to ask and listen.
When was the last time you spent with colleagues talking about non-work related topics? What did you discuss? What would you discuss?