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December 22, 2008
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Thank You for Sharing

The HR Doctor is dictating this article while driving along next to a person who insists upon sharing some of the loudest, booming music ever recorded in the history of mankind.  Even on one of the consistently hot and humid days in South Florida, the land of the air conditioner, this person is kind enough to keep her windows rolled down to insure the maximum impact of her musical choices on other people.

It makes me realize that one of the characteristics of our 21st century lives is the increasing difficulty we face in finding escape from the sensory intrusions foisted upon us.

It is very difficult to go out in public, or even remain in our offices, without soon being treated to another person’s loud mobile phone conversations or at least one side of the chat.  Even if the call is a wrong number, we get to experience the latest ring tones followed by the loud “Hello.”  It’s no different on the mobile phone front than it is listening inescapably at a stop light, or in a traffic jam to deafening sounds emitted by the person in the car to my immediate left. 

All that is missing from the “perfect storm” of intrusion is for that person to be speaking on a cell phone, while simultaneously putting on her makeup, not wearing a seat belt and veering into my lane. 

Perhaps, I worry that I am getting curmudgeonly after all these years.  Perhaps I have subconsciously stepped up the search for sanctuaries or retreats relatively free from the “Invasion of the Ear Drum Snatchers.”  I don’t really know.

I do know that thoughtful, quality time with good friends, perhaps over a dinner full of conversation and trading of hopes and dreams, is too rare in our busy lives.  The same, of course, applies to our interactions with colleagues at the office, or with members of our own families for that matter.

Helping someone else develop and grow personally and professionally, or developing one’s own skills, involves sharing experiences, new perspectives, stories of failures and successes, and recommendations with another person. This is the stuff of mentorship. 

This form of sharing is best accomplished by invitation rather than by intrusion.

Finding a great mentor might well mean approaching this person and asking for advice and help.   Overwhelmingly, the person will respond with a great desire to help.  That is less likely when the “request” for help takes the form of a demand, an entitlement to your time or unproductive whining. 

Invitation rather than intrusion is the primary lesson I’m taking away from my fleeting encounter with the lady in the white car next to me.  However, what should I do to keep what’s left of my hearing, i.e., to respond to an unwanted intrusion?  I could respond with “noise rage” by honking the horn, gesturing, and otherwise attempting to get the lady’s attention, as she apparently has gotten mine. 

Most of the time, however, that glandular response is driven more by testosterone than by emotional intelligence.  Besides, the Florida Legislature, in its latest example of testosterone excess, has denied employers the right to restrict employees from bringing guns to their employers’ garages or parking lots.  The lady next to me, for all I know, may have a Glock 40 caliber handgun on the seat right next to her waiting for someone to dare comment about her taste in music.

I could respond in kind by opening the windows of my yellow Jeep and turning my musical selection up as loud as possible to send out an “invitation” to her to expand her musical tastes.

Unfortunately, that quid pro quo response will also be unlikely to have any impact.  First, she couldn’t hear me anyway.  Second, I’m not properly equipped to defeat her in an “Extreme Sub-Woofer Fighting” TV reality show.  Third, Bach and Mozart, both wonderful companions on nerve-wracking morning commutes, are not at their best when cranked up.

The simple act of smiling if she looks my way and perhaps pointing to my ears with a friendly thumbs up may be the best, least threatening approach.  I only hope the little child in the car can have more effect in getting the noise level reduced.  On the other hand, I can be thankful that this person is my “neighbor” for only a few seconds.  I’d have a major rethinking to do if she lived right next door.

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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