I recently had what I can only describe as a “Mean Joe Greene” moment. If you weren’t watching football in 1979, you might not know what that means. Here is the historical document that will put that phrase into perspective:
Very much like the kid in that stadium tunnel, my MJG moment included me receiving an unexpected gift from an unexpected source.
Here’s the story… I was brought in to work with a client recently who had some people who were not playing well with one another. It’s not a huge company, so any disruption in the work-life harmony was noticed by many and it spread quickly.
One individual, we’ll call him “Jim”, was a guy I was particularly warned about. “He’s gruff, grumpy, and is really unhappy outside of work.”
This should be fun.
So I met with Jim and we started talking. We first spoke about the job, the company, and his work-related challenges. Somewhere along the line the conversation turned to what he did outside of work, and football came up. He mentioned he was a Browns fan and our conversation detoured from work for a bit. Growing up in Cleveland myself, we had a lot to discuss from the Kardiac Kids to Bernie Kosar, Jim Brown, and the early days of Bill Belichick.
We then started talking about music… he was also a drummer, worked with lots of bands and even ran sound and lights for many years. So the conversation went down THAT rabbit hole for a bit.
We steered it back to work and finished up. I thanked Jim for his time and he went back to his department.
A few hours later, I was leaving for the day and I was about 1/2 way to my car in the parking lot when I heard someone calling after me. I turned to see Jim walking toward me with something in his hand. As he got closer, he revealed this Browns lighter.
When we were speaking earlier in the day, he mentioned getting this from someone in the Browns organization, and that he actually had two. Not being a smoker, he doesn’t really have a need for one, let alone two. I’m not a smoker either, but he wanted this to go to a fan, even if I would never use it. “Better to go to a fan than in the trash”, he said.
As I walked to my car, I totally felt like that kid in the Coke commercial. Jim was a guy that was supposed to be gruff, tough and didn’t like anyone, yet here he is giving me something that meant something to him, because he figured it would mean something to me.
And it does mean something to me.
So how did this happen? Like the kid in the commercial offering Joe his Coke, I offered Jim somethings without expecting anything in return… my time, a listening ear and my genuine interest. I was also careful NOT treat him like he was the gruff and tough so and so that I was warned about. It’s AMAZING the barriers you can break down when you listen to people without judgement.
To be fair, I do also think it helped that we had no history, meaning that there wasn’t any bad blood or muddy water under the bridge to clutter our conversation. We all know that kind of baggage can prevent us from seeing things clearly, or it can even stop us from attempting to foster a solution. But that doesn’t mean the situation is hopeless.
If you have a team member like Jim, don’t write them off just yet. Be the leader you know you need to be and bury the hatchet, let bygones be bygones and wipe the slate clean. Whatever cliche you choose to adopt, it’s up to you to take the first step, to listen, and to invest the time to build the bonds you know you need to build.
And who knows, you may end up with a Mean Joe Greene story of your own to tell!
Thanks for reading!
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