Enthusiasm, cynicism and the kindness of strangers

ImageLast week I was running a training course in Singapore for a group of business people from Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia.  Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work in Asia, and something that strikes me every time I visit is the great courtesy I am afforded by complete strangers.  This is not to suggest that Europeans are discourteous, but that the default courtesy control in Asia seems to be set to maximum. In contrast, across Europe it has become increasingly cool to be cynical and there’s almost a fear of appearing enthusiastic.

We could learn a lot from this.  I love enthusiasm.  Much as I hate gardening, I really enjoy the BBC radio programme, ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ because it features people who are absolutely passionate about their subject, and who speak with enthusiasm, joy and humour about it.

I regularly facilitate large conferences and I am struck often by the dryness of language, the dull presentation and the lack of verve in the keynote speakers whom I introduce and who are supposed to set the tone for the conference.  They invite the audience to share their enthusiasm without displaying any – and using the word ‘enthusiasm’ whilst sounding like they are reading the shipping forecast is not enough to convince me that they feel any passion about their chosen topic.

If we can use richer language, align our words, voice and body language we might convince other that we are genuinely enthusiastic and so bring them along with us – enthusiasm can be infectious if we can drop our guard long enough to allow it in.

And I can’t help feeling that, if we were to show a little more spark and joy in our work, we might start being nicer to people.  Weirdly, if we are nice to people, they feel more motivated and they work more productively.

What’s missing in work is kindness – being nice to people for no good reason.  It costs nothing and it feels good.  And when we see the results of kindness and courtesy, perhaps it will reignite our enjoyment of work.

Think back to the day on which you started your current job.  Most of you will have been excited at the prospect, perhaps slightly nervous and certainly enthusiastic, because the job didn’t simply land in your lap.  Over time, you may have been sucked into the cynicism of others, had the positive energy sucked out of you by the office’s ‘mood Hoovers’ whose existence seems to depend on their ability to make everyone’s lives as miserable as their own.  When we start to lose that spark, we forget to be nice to people.  We begin to regard the with suspicion, and we start to play politics instead of simply getting on with whatever we though we were paid to do.  And then we lose that common courtesy which I find so appealing in Asia.

I’m planning a business trip to Oman right now, and another to Kuala Lumpur, and I look forward to the delight that people in each of those countries seems to find in the company of others and the sheer joy they appear to take in daily life.

If you want to discuss any aspect of leadership, management, behavioural skills or business strategy training, meeting facilitation or organisational development, I’d love to hear from you.  You can reach me at david@davidcotton.co.uk or on +44 161 929 4145.

I look forward to hearing from you.