We did a photo shoot at the office the other day for our Annual Report. Instead of using stock photos, the company wanted a more personal, authentic feel. So, instead of being marketers, managers and product leads, we were models for a day. Glamorous, I know.
It’s 9:30AM, and the four of us – two company directors, our boss and little old me – are sitting down for our moment in the sun. We’re the Automotive Team – the “team that makes it happen.” Though we’ve only been together for about seven months, we work closely day in and day out, so there’s a good rapport there. We get along. We knock heads. We get stuff done. It’s all good.
Yet, it’s hard to put into words how much of a hot mess we were as models. I almost felt bad for the photographer, as we fell apart as soon as we started. Everyone came in with a great attitude. The agency guy sat us in our spots, gave us our props and set up the scene – just have a normal work conversation, but make sure we stay open to the camera and look straight in each others’ eyes.
Now, I came up as an actor. On stage, you have to be open. Be vulnerable. It’s a daily thing. It’s your job.
Sitting there under the lights at the office though, it was incredibly hard. After a minute, we were all visibly uncomfortable. One person started cracking jokes and crossing his eyes when his back was to the camera. Another asked when it would all be over. Me, I couldn’t stop laughing and turned bright red… which is hard when you’re as tan as I am. The hour was sheer torture – a lot of laughs, but torture nonetheless.
After we were done, I was struck by how uncomfortable it had been – especially with a group of people that I really like and enjoy working with. But it’s all in the eyes.
You know, we don’t make a lot of eye contact with people these days. The next time you are having a conversation with someone, think about it. You’ll probably notice how often you glance away or glance down. It’s not that you’re not interested, because you are. Instead, you’re taking an emotional break.
Making eye contact is essential for effective communication. Sustaining eye contact is about something much more. After a minute or so, something happens. It’s visible. You can see the walls we unconsciously keep start to come down in each other’s eyes. Then, you’re left with something very emotional – something extremely vulnerable. It’s visceral too. Something in you reacts to something in the other person, and you both connect on the human level. Barriers down. Nothing is between you. Instead, that universal human condition bonds you.
Now, the people you love, you let into your eyes. It ties you closer together. But when it happens in an unfamiliar environment – aka at the office – you have to figure out how you feel about that. Last week, our team stumbled upon walls which we weren’t consciously aware existed. It was strange. It was awkward. And afterwards, we fumbled to find safe ground again – creating conversations to tide us over until we were back in familiar territory again.
But yet, something new remains. We put up walls to keep us safe, but what are we really protecting anyway? Does that unconscious distance make us more productive? Or perhaps, does that fleeting moment of vulnerability bring us closer together as a team? Does that hour full of laughter and embarrassment remind us that we’re all the same down deep? Driven. Dreamers. Flawed. Fantastic.
We go to work and put on our game face. It’s good. It’s safe.
But as I sit here a week later, I think we’re better for the time we spent in front of the camera, defenses down. It reminded me that we’re not put on this earth to play it safe. We’re here to push the limits of what’s possible, to take risks, to dream and to achieve. We’re here to change the world.