One of my favourite Dickens characters is Mr Wemmick from Great Expectations – the clerk who looks after young Pip while he’s in London. For me, he’s the perfect example of Dickens’ ‘split’ characters. He’s mean and disdainful at work, but happy-go-lucky and carefree once when he gets back to his eccentric home, which is modelled like a miniature castle.
‘The office is one thing, and private life is another. When I go into the office, I leave the Castle behind me.’
Why do we put on a different personality at work? And talk and write so differently at the office?
Some of us don’t, of course. Some people stroll confidently into work and think, talk and act just as they would at home or anywhere else. They often seem like some of the happiest folk in the office.
But many of us live our lives with a curious split personality, like modern-day Mr Wemmicks.
At home, we’re relaxed, confident and easy-going. And straight-talking with our language. But when we step through that office door something funny happens. Suddenly our demeanour changes. The way we think and act is different. And perhaps most significantly, our whole vocabulary changes.
We’re in ‘work mode’.
Out of the blue, strange words and phrases pour forth from our mouths – in meetings, and when we talk to our colleagues and bosses. And we use these same words when we write to our co-workers and customers too. Corporate jargon shoved into the straightjacket of business formality. If we used this language with our family and friends outside of work, they’d laugh at us.
Then we hit communication breakdown and we wonder why.
Of course this is simplifying things – we still struggle to communicate outside of work too, but often not to the same degree. And it certainly doesn’t seem to cause us as much daily frustration.
So what’s the answer? We’re not suggesting that we talk and write at work exactly as we do at home. Some people might find that rather off-putting. But maybe we do need to bring a little of that straightforward, clear and direct – dare we say, human – style from our home life into work. We might start listening and understanding more. And that might just make us a little happier too.