2006.07.12 Responding to the Unfamiliar
People respond to things in curious ways. I've had a few different experiences lately at work that have caused me to ponder my own reaction to various things. A couple of the instances were caused by me asking truly trivial questions of people. The other is from a reference made to a TV program with which someone was unfamiliar. Why is it that people seem so alarmed by such simple things?
"Change Management" is what they call it in my corporate soaked world. How well, and in what way do you respond to changes in your environment? How do you prepare for those changes, and how do you deal with them once they're upon you? I'll give most people credit here, since it would be extremely uncommon to let people know hours, days, weeks, or months ahead of time that I'm going to ask them an off-the-wall question. I suppose that people who are truly skilled at "Change Management" don't necessarily need to be warned about a change, but are just able to respond well when something gets thrown at them – like my random questions, and references to TV shows.
Somebody brought in bagels recently, and was kind enough to share them. They walked around, letting people know that the bagels were available. There is an episode of Seinfeld where we find out that Kramer has been on strike from working at a bagel store. To sum things up, he goes back to work, yet he goes on strike again and decides to picket the business. While picketing, he taunts people walking by (who might be tempted to enter the bagel shop) by saying "No bagel. No bagel. No bagel…" over and over again, until they pass by the door.
With that in mind, a co-worker was saying the same thing when these free bagels were being offered at work (clearly out in jest). There was a person who was apparently unfamiliar with the reference (which is completely understandable), and said, "Why do you keep saying that?!" There was extra emphasis and annoyance expressed in the "saying" part of that.
I have also asked two random questions lately at work, but didn't get any specific response that I can remember:
- Have you ever put a nine volt battery on your tongue?
- If you're curious about the response, I'll tell you. The majority of males had done it, and the majority of women had not. It was about the same number of men that hadn't as women that had. Most who hadn't asked why they would ever do that. Some who had gave the disclaimer that they were a kid the last time they did it.
- Have you ever put chips in your sandwich?
- This one was particularly interesting, since the majority of people had done it. The interesting thing was that every official leader in my department had not done it. It continued to the leaders outside of my department almost with a 100% success rate in that same thing. It also seemed that they were either very pro-peanut butter, or very anti-peanut butter as the sandwich of choice for chips. Tuna seemed to be a close follower as a favorite.
I guess what was most interesting about the questions was not so much the verbal response, but he body language. In most cases I would get my answer well before they actually said anything. It was the negative responses that revealed the most, as they tried to figure out why anybody would put chips in their sandwich, or why you would ever put a battery on your tongue.
I'm not looking to derive anything super deep out of these trivial items, but I've been intrigued by the responses that people provide to the unfamiliar. They could be totally disgusted by a pop-culture reference that they don't understand, or annoyed by a trivial question pertaining to chips on sandwiches. With some self-reflection, I hope I can do a bit better at responding to things, or at least hiding my true emotions when caught off guard.