Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Conversations at Work

I had an interesting conversation with one of the owners of my company today. Let's call him Bill. Bill started this company from scratch in the late 80s and has seen it soar to greatness, but has also seen us suffer dramatically from the economy. Four or five years ago he semi-retired. He no longer has an office at the company or handles any of the day to day operations, but he still is a part from an advisory standpoint. Bill comes in and meets with other company heads once a week and still is a big part of deciding the direction of the company.

In his day, Bill ruled the company with a bit of an iron fist. Though he is extremely fair, he is also pretty tough. I still have huge respect for him. Whenever he is in the office all of us are on our toes and I always get a nervous twinge when he's around. This is a man who can have any of us fired, after all. That isn't to say he isn't a nice guy, but I still straighten up in my desk chair when he walks by. Fortunately a few years ago he and I discovered we both enjoyed the short stories of Anton Chekhov, and there is nothing like the common love of a Russian author to warm two people to one another.

So today, Bill stopped in my office and mentioned that he had some forms he needed scanned into a pdf document and emailed to him. While I don't handle the scanning here, I know who does and was happy to take care of it for him. In the course of the conversation he asked, "So how are you?" Since I don't believe much in mixing work and personal life I answered the same way I almost always do, "I'm doing great! And how about you?"

I don't think he was expecting the question...

He gave me a look - one I am not entirely sure how to explain, the closest I can think of is "flummoxed." For a moment his guard just dropped. He was silent a minute, as though unsure how to answer, and then just laughed a little and said, "I don't think you have that much time."

I was taken aback. The thought running through my head was, "Ohhhh... we are being honest." I suddenly felt a bit guilty for my flippant "I'm doing great!" answer. I smiled a little and nodded and tried to let my own facade slip a bit. "I know what you mean," I said "we'd need a few hours and a glass of wine." (I threw in that last bit knowing he is a wine connoisseur.)

He nodded, "Exactly. We should do that sometime and catch up."

Aggggg... reading this it sounds a bit like he was hitting on me - or I him. That wasn't the case at all. It was more like two friends connecting.
I have absolutely no doubt that glass of wine will never happen, it was more a metaphor for the fact that both of us a lot going on in our lives. Though I don't discuss my personal life at work, my boss is aware of my financial situation and my divorice so I have to assume that Bill knows about it as well. He certainly knows that my world is very complicated right now. Maybe it was knowing that, that allowed him to admit he was having a tough time as well, even just for a brief moment. It was just a couple offhand sentences but I suddenly felt like I went from "one of the office gals" to... well, not quite friend, but certainly peer.

At my job, where despite being here 10 years and being made a Vice President, I still occasionally feel like low man on the pole, it was nice to have that brief moment of affirmation. It touched me and made me feel respected - not a bad way to start the day.

Photo by: Sean94110


lowincomelady said...

This post really touched me! When people say 'How are you?' most of the time they are not looking for a honest answer. It is hard to find people who will actually listen to you and not talk about themselves...

Dawn said...

LILady - I am in complete agreement. I certainly wasn't expecting to give an honest answer, so it took me by surprise, but it meant a lot to me.