In Energize Your Workplace, Jane Dutton writes about the importance of high-quality connections at work — where connections are the social exchanges that make up the day, from passing in the hall to greeting on the telephone to responding in a meeting. Every exchange can be energizing … or corrosive to the people involved, depending on the quality. Jane Dutton writes about ways to enhance and preserve energy at work through practices of respectful engagement.
I thought about high-quality connections today as my mother and I walked home from our trip to the market. There is a man on one of the streets she commonly walks who stands there looking straight ahead and holding out a baseball cap. He always wears a blue jacket and has a large blue pack — large enough to live out of — stacked against the wall. Every time she passes him, she puts a dollar in his cap, and he looks at her, smiles, and says “Thank you very much.” This has been going on for over 5 years. She never passes him without giving him something, though sometimes she crosses the street about a block before she gets to his accustomed spot if she feels like she’s been handing out enough dollars lately. For Thanksgiving and Christmas, she gives him 5 dollars for a similar thanks. Up until last summer, she didn’t know his name. My brother said, “Well why don’t you ask him?” So she did — we all know him as Frank now. Sometimes they exchange a few words about the local baseball team, but otherwise the exchange is always the same.
These little connections are probably a pleasant habit for both of them – an acknowledgement and awareness of the other’s existence. My mother wonders about him — what the rest of his life is like, what he thinks while he stands there staring straight ahead, why he isn’t there on some days. In a way, these seem like high-quality connections in the sense of respectful acknowledgement.