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The Candy Bowl Theory
This is a guest post from Lisa Grove.
In my professional experience, getting to know the people you’re working with is one of the first important and productive things that you can do when starting a new job. This isn’t only important in terms of making your day-to-day enjoyable, amiable, and fun, but it will also help you be more effective in your job moving forward. Discoveries such as who on your team or in your office prefers a two-word email versus a thorough, explanatory email, who likes to take charge and lead meetings, and who would prefer to sit back during group conversations and absorb, taking notes, all add up to better efficiency and a more ideal, humming work environment.
Beginning at a new office can be intimidating and, after that welcome lunch or quick introductory walk around the office, it can be difficult to proactively meet people until the time comes when you begin working on a project with them. It’s vital, however, that you make a pointed effort to do so. Simply having knowledge about other people can help you prepare for potential responses to stressful situations, plan more effectively for the completion of tasks, enhance your situational awareness, and ultimately make you better at your job. This proactive initiative to get to know everyone on your team and in your office doesn’t have to entail any elaborate plans, logistics, or fuss. It can literally come in the form of a candy bowl.
Yes, putting out a bowl of candy at the office is perhaps the most obvious way to win your coworkers’ hearts. It’s simply a nice gesture, especially if you know that the person three cubicles down from you loves to have an afternoon chocolate fix, or that your desk neighbor can’t say no to Starburst. Having a candy bowl within eyesight of your desk, though, also serves as an attractive place for people to gather and chat, much like a more sweet and delicious version of an office water cooler. By creating this low stress opportunity for gathering, you’ve introduced a Proxemic Pull into the environment that will allow for easy introductions and conversations as people are drawn into your working space.
If you’re in a front office or front line position where many people pass by you every day, it might take a while to move beyond the cursory, “Hello,” or, “How are you?” unless they have a specific reason that they need to talk to you. If a candy bowl causes all of those people to slow down even just for a moment and ask you how your weekend was (or give you the opportunity to do so,) then your candy bowl has done its job. It has created a space where you can influence the pull of people to you and give you the chance to proactively get to know them instead of sitting back and hoping someone introduces himself or herself to you first.
The candy bowl also gives you the opportunity to learn a little bit about your coworkers’ body language tendencies. A colleague might simply pause to take a peek at what you’ve stocked the candy bowl with that day. While getting to know your coworkers through conversation is ideal, even just that bit of hesitation allows time for you to get to know the people, their personalities, and even perhaps some of their behavioral nuances. You might learn how someone acts when they’re unsure (Kit Kat or Milky Way? Kit Kat or Milky Way?), when they’re hesitant, when they’re relieved, when they’re searching for something, when they’re excited, when they express interest in something, and more. Whether this comes in the form of gestures, facial expressions, overall body language, tone of voice, or any other telling sign, these are all things that you can remember down the line and use to work more effectively as a team with your office mates.
Becoming adept at behavioral analysis and being able to quickly gain a grasp of any situation requires almost constant intentional practice. In order to be able to do these things, you must be able to read not only people, but also how situations are affecting them, and then be able to anticipate how they will react to changes in that situation. Proactively learning about your coworkers and office mates in a very intentional, consistent way, puts you in a better position to be able to naturally pick up on these things as you continue to learn and get to know them and their personalities. This ultimately leads to a safer, more efficient, and more finely tuned work environment.