Looking to Matter

I sat in a coffee shop some time back working on various customer deliverables, some schoolwork, and other things of interest to me and those peering over my shoulder to see my screen.

I watched three people come into the coffee shop discussing various elements of work, nothing out of the ordinary to be seen or heard - so I went back about my business. I was eventually drawn back out of my work trance when I continued to hear one of the three people speaking loudly, gesturing widely, and continuing to espouse fodder sprinkled with "I" seemingly every other word. Still nothing out of the ordinary other than it was irritating to experience the unsolicited showing of someone else's stories about themselves.

After a few minutes of trying to ignore the conversation, I felt the need to watch the behavior of these three people... one person was doing all of the talking - big, boisterous, loud, and starting most sentences with "I"; the second person, silently stood and faced in the direction of the speaker, but I noticed her looking around as if semi-interested and yet looking for other options at the same time; and the third person, would interject a "yeah" and "hmmpf" periodicially while looking around, looking at mugs and coffee beans as if they held some secret that required distinct concentration and effort. My guess is that this gathering of three was to be an informal social period as a break from the day. As time went on, I noticed only the one was doing the talking.

Then it happened ... the loudest, most annoying cell phone ringer deviously loaded to a cell phone by any vendor went off. I think I saw grout crack in the floor tiles. It rang three times as if it weren't yet loud enough to draw someone's attention to the fact that their phone was ringing. And who should answer it but the loudest speaker in the house that I had previously been observing. So, now I, the coffee shop and the other two parties to this fine guest were all enjoying the cell phone conversation just as loud as ever. And what do you know but the conversation included truckloads of "I".

Finally, the phone call was over and we all returned to the previously unenjoyable loud conversation about "I". I think the guy's name was "I" ... or they were talking about another workmate named "I". Nevertheless, the drone was becoming normal, and then .. the cursed cell phone from that previously unnamed vendor went off again and this time I know I saw grout crack the width of the coffee shop. And then we were off again.

While working diligently to put this person into background noise so I could return to productivity, it occurred to me that this gentleman was really looking for validation. In fact, he was not so likely interested in talking about himself as he was having his workmates validate that he was important, or at the least, valued and valuable. Then it occurred to me ... our software delivery and support teams seek the same thing .. to know they are adding value, and that they are individually and uniquely valued.

When people feel valued and that their contributions to the team are valuable, they become part of the team and part of the solution. Inversely, when people do not feel individually valued and that their contributions may not, or are not valued, they likely will not buy into team problems, solutions and sense of urgency.


Similar to this gentleman to whom I refer at the coffeeshop, those who may not feel valued or valuable may seek to get attention in other ways such as being loud and boisterous within the teams, in meetings and phone calls; and exercising their right to disagree with others more often than is useful.

Maybe strife in a team has some direct or indirect relationship with feeling valued _and_ feeling that they valuably contribute to an important problem!? This seems to further speak to methods of leadership as well.

For those teams that are led by prima donnas, dictators and those with god-complexes, the team may not feel valued, the individuals may not feel valued, and productivity and quality may be disappointing. In other words, the team becomes what they believe others view them as while at work. If they feel they are viewed as an intelligent team full of intelligent individuals, respected and capable of assessing situations and solving them, then that is the team that will exist. If they however feel that they are viewed as "staff", "cogs" or "monkeys on the line" waiting for someone smarter than them to think and decide, then that is what the team will be, and will become. Interesting. Clearly there is more here to explore.

The next time one of us experiences a loud, boisterous, exceedingly energetic disruptor personality in meetings, phone calls, cafeterias and other places at work, maybe the problem is that said person in question has a hearing problem and needs a hearing aid. Maybe.

Another more plausible possibility is that said person is trying to find someplace where they feel valued, valuable, and that they are an important member of something bigger than themselves. People want to matter.

Maybe the problem is not a defective person as we postulate when using the Jack Welch 20/70/10 methods of trimming staff where the top 20% are rewarded, the middle 70% are kept, and the bottom 10% are candidates for layoffs. Maybe the problem is defective leadership thereby creating a defective team which shows up as allegedly defective people behaviors, i.e. individuals.

The next time I get interrupted at the coffee shop by a loud, boisterous, unbelievably disruptive person drawing all attention to themselves .. maybe I will be experiencing someone looking to matter while at the coffee shop because they feel they do not matter while at work.