Is there some unspoken rule that it’s okay to love people outside work, but we’re not supposed to love anyone we work with? I don’t recall anyone saying anything about it and I’ve never read in any policy manual that you’re not supposed love the people you work with, and yet there seems to be a powerful taboo against it. Of course there’s inviolate policy about not harassing them, but I’m talking about love.
I’m not talking about romantic love, nor about anything in any way physical or anything like that.
I’m talking about the kind of love that can happen between good friends. But this is different from friends, it’s the kind of love you feel after you’ve been working shoulder-to-shoulder with someone and you get to see their true self and you come to deeply admire the intensity and uniqueness of who they are, the magic they bring.
For me it happens at work even with people I don’t hang out with outside of work. I’m talking about an intense feeling that’s a combination of love and admiration, a feeling of joy to be working with them.
Within my organization we don’t hold back and we sign our emails with “Love”. Telling my staff is easy, with clients and people outside my organization it’s a different story.
I was sending an email to an outside business associate (doesn’t that sound just so deadly dull? Business associate!), someone I had grown to really like, and spontaneously I started to sign it, “Love, Ingrid.” And then suddenly I felt I was violating a taboo, that it was inappropriate. I deleted “Love” and replaced it with “Warm regards”. What the heck are “Warm regards”? It just was as close to the truth as I could get without infringing on the taboo.
I reflected on this and started to think about if I could sign my emails with “Love,” how many clients and business associates do I work with that I would do that with? The list is really long. And then I asked myself, what percent of the list would slightly freak out, not know how to respond, and would feel a little (or a lot) uncomfortable?
I don’t know for a fact, but I have a feeling it’s a good percent. They just wouldn’t know what to think because it’s so different – signing off with “Love” NEVER happens in business. They wouldn’t know how to respond. It would create a dilemma for them. They would wonder – what will happen if they don’t sign theirs, “Love” back?
I don’t want to make people this uncomfortable!
And then I realized I never say, “I love you” to them. Yet for many of them I feel an intense love and, as much as I might try to mold it into something more socially acceptable, the truth is, it’s love.
How could love come to be so misinterpreted?
Is there some false idea that love will interfere with business? It hasn’t in my life. As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved many clients and coworkers deeply. I’ve loved a number who didn’t even love themselves. It’s never interfered.
I remember one time when I was working with a major corporation and I was on a project with the executives of a division that had about 4,000 people. I had completed a number of successful projects that made them tens of millions of dollars, programs that were very popular with the employees. My work with the senior executives all the way down to supervisors, especially with the training department, was very shoulder-to-shoulder, if you know what I mean, all of us pitching in to make it work. Intense, tight, driven, no BS.
As we poured all of ourselves into these projects, over the course of 5 years I grew to fiercely love a large number of them. My heart would explode with joy in many of the meetings, discussions and conversations. I was profoundly moved by many of them.
Something held me back from ever saying anything about it.
One day the top executive was leaving a 1-on-1 meeting with me. He hesitated in the doorway, turned only partially around and with the most neutral tone asked me, “You know we like you, right?” This incredibly tough guy had an almost pleading expression on his face for me to understand his meaning. This question pierced me like a saber.
I gently said, “Yes, I know … I like you too.” He gazed at me, looked satisfied, didn’t say anything, slowly turned around and walked out.
The moment he left, I burst into tears. I actually have tears in my eyes again writing this. It was his way of saying, “I love you. We love you.” I knew it was as close as he has ever gotten, or would ever get, to saying it. It meant the world to me.
I will love him, and all the people there I worked closely with, forever.
Somehow I’m afraid that when I get to the end of my life and look back, I will regret not having said, “I love you” to all the people I have loved at work.
The only reason I don’t say it is because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. And I REALLY don’t want to make them uncomfortable. That’s important to me. I’m going to keep looking until I find an answer. In the meantime I’m just going to enjoy feeling it.
Wishing you many good people to love …. in all areas of your life.