When I first heard the quote, just after her death in the Spring of 2014, it took some time to resonate. I mean, technically, we can’t make anyone feel anything, right? That’s the rebuff that I’ve heard from many skeptics. But as with anything that I don’t fully understand, I placed the quote on a shelf in my mind where it was accessible, because I wanted to see if it was true.
Injecting this theory into personal life makes much sense. After all, friendships and romance are always based on feelings. Otherwise why would we bother? But when we think about work, the idea of feelings seems out of place.
We are always taught that professionalism is the ability to put aside personal feelings, biases and emotions in order to achieve the ultimate goal – success, whether it’s our own or that of the organization.
But this concept is not realistic, because even at work, we must build and foster relationships. And relationships are built around feelings.
Think about the concept of ‘fit’. It’s all built around the premise of comfort. When hiring a new team member, many organizations are putting more emphasis on fit over experience. Does the person make others in the team feel at ease, or do they stand apart, creating a sense of discomfort among the others? Skills are usually considered secondary when new employees are hired.
It’s a common theory that most people leave, or are asked to leave companies because of feelings – they don’t get along with their managers. If your boss doesn’t like you, she/he does not like the way you make them feel, and vice versa. People don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.
In turn, successful organizations are run by great leaders who make their employees feel valued, their clients feel satisfied and ultimately, their competitors feel concerned. When you feel like you have an important role within your team, don’t you try that much harder?
I can only imagine that the talented Ms. Angelou coined this phrase because she lived it for most of her life. A woman who lived in a time when freedom was legislated by government actions, where she could go to school and get an education as the law stated, but every day felt the pain of injustice and sting of discrimination as she tried to fit into a society where she was marginalized.
In a progressive work environment, we could argue that new employees should not have to fit into the environment, but should be hired for their experience and skills, and welcomed into a culture where they feel like they belong. But perhaps this would be akin to an early 20th century society adjusting to make an African American woman feel comfortable. And although our society pushes forward to promote the brand of diversity, maybe the concept still needs more time to resonate before the action can be implemented.
Maya Angelou’s quote still resides on a reachable shelf in my mind, and I access it often. In fact, it’s taken precedence as a guide in both work and play. And amazingly, I’ve learned how a little adjustment to prioritize feelings ahead of words and the actions, can produce such successful results.