Getting to know you…

I think The Archivist and I got off on the wrong foot… No scrap that – I think I got off on the wrong foot with The Archivist! It is a difficult thing to admit, but I think I let a small incident influence the way I thought of my colleague.

I do not want to go into too much detail, but it all started at the end of my third week in the job. The Archivist had discovered a small mistake I had made the previous week. Discovering that I had made a mistake, combined with the initial reaction of The Archivist, really upset me. I am sure you can all relate to the fact that, when starting a new job, one wants to make a good impression. Being “told off” for this small mistake was not going to help me make a good impression. I therefore decided that I did not like The Archivist.

Now, almost six months on, when I reflect on the working relationship between myself and The Archivist, I realise that – in truth – it was probably disappointment with me, for making a stupid mistake, rather than The Archivist “telling me off” that upset me so much. Because honestly, The Archivist did not tell me off, he was quite cool about it once he had realised that the mistake was not as large as he had first feared – but because I was so disappointed with me, I felt like I had been told off.

I freely admit I was wrong – The Archivist is quite a nice guy! Yes, he does annoy me sometimes, it cannot be avoided when there are only two of us working together in the archive and record office, but mostly he is alright and I have grown to respect him.

One thing I really like about working with The Archivist is that he includes me in a lot of things. It would be very easy for him to give me the standard, repetitive archive tasks (I am trying to avoid calling them boring) since doing the less “boring” tasks requires a good, in depth knowledge of the collections which I do not have yet. However, The Archivist happily throws tasks at me and let me attempt to do them myself. Most of the time I end up having to ask The Archivist for advice, and even when I am able to work it out myself I find that I am checking with The Archivist that I have done everything possible to answer an enquiry or complete a task given to me.

Lately I have come to respect The Archivist on another point – he is not afraid to call me out on things. I know I am not the easiest person to work with and, at times, I can become quite negative and grumpy. I had one of those days a few weeks ago and The Archivist called me out on it and, quite rightly, pointed out that I could not let my bad mood affect people around me.

So, the last few weeks I have attempted to be a more positive and cheery at work – and, not very surprisingly, I enjoy work a lot more when I decide to have a positive attitude about it.

The Archivist’s comments about not letting my attitude affect others reminded me of a lesson I learned some years ago while I was working in retail. My manager asked me to read a book called Fish!: A Remarkable Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results and I found it a very inspiring read. Basically there are 4 main principles in the book:

Be there
Make their day
Choose your attitude

I would argue that ‘Choose your attitude’ is the most important of the principles, but I also thing that they all need to be combined to achieve happiness in your job.

It may seem difficult to achieve the principles in an archive setting, but since being reprimanded by The Archivist for being grumpy at work I have had a good think about how I can apply these principles in my job. Here is how:

Play: This does not necessarily mean building cardboard castles out of archive boxes (however tempting that might be at times!). Rather, I think, this should be achieved, for example, by sharing a joke with your colleagues to ensure a light-hearted attitude. For me this also means getting excited about things – be it something interesting I discover while answering an enquiry or just the excitement of making good progress on a major task I have been given.

Be there: I think this is about giving people and tasks the attention they deserve. Personally I am working at improving at this. When I have an issue to discuss with The Archivist I always begin with his name and then pause until I have eye contact with him, that way I know I have his full attention. However, I feel uncomfortable when people seek eye contact with me, and I am extremely bad at giving The Archivist my full attention when in the old office – I find it a lot easier in the shiny new office we have recently moved into. So this point is a work in progress for me.

Make their day: While the Fish! book initially applies this to customer service, I think it works equally well in an archive environment. Obviously, working with researchers in a reading room can easily
be compared to working with customers in a shop. Do that extra bit of digging to find that one document that will solve the puzzle for a researcher, or provide them with a free photocopy once in a while. Even in jobs, like mine at the moment, where there is no face to face interaction with researchers there will almost certainly be some other stakeholder whose day you can make. For me
this means working with people contacting the Record Office for various reasons. For example, I let people know when they have filled out their record transfer list satisfactory (you cannot imagine how difficult this seems to be), respond to their request promptly, and let them know that I am happy to answer any questions they may have. Often it does not take much to make someone’s day.

Choose your attitude: I do not think this one needs a lot of explanation. After my grumpy Monday I now choose to be positive about work. It does of course help if you can find something to like
about work – I have recently learnt to appreciate working with The Archivist, and as part of the Fish! approach I have decided that he needs to be included in the group of people for whom I ‘Make their day’. This includes not letting a grumpy attitude rub off on others, especially The Archivist – after all it is not his fault I am grumpy because I woke up late, or had a rubbish journey to work, or got drenched by the rain on my way to work.

So for me it is a positive attitude to work which makes work enjoyable, and I think that a positive approach often brings along the other Fish! principles.

There, ramblings over!
I am undecided as to what next blog post will be about – suggestions and comments on a postcard please!

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