I was standing in the security line at O’Hare, and a woman a few places in front of me dropped a penny as she was balancing her bags, her phone, and her purse. She stood there for a split second, thinking about what to do, weighing the cost, then she swiftly stooped over and scooped up the dropped coin.
It’s a penny. It’s not worth much, if anything. It won’t buy a single thing all on its own. Why go through the effort to pick it up?
Over the course of my life, I’ve tossed my fair share of thoughtless statements at others. I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, of course, but my careless words hung out there as a testament to my lack of regard for their value as a human being. I’m talking about silly little comments made in passing in the course of doing work, or little side jokes made in good humor, but words clearly targeted at the other person. Even though they laughed along, I could tell that my words struck a deeper nerve than they were indicating with their good humor.
Those little interpersonal interactions, on their own, are like pennies. They don’t do much harm and they’re all in good fun. But over time, as they do begin to add up, they become something much more serious and damaging. Devastating, even, to a team dynamic. Even more costly to our personal relationships and character.
How sad that we will stoop over to pick up a penny that we’ve dropped, even when it’s inconvenient, but we’ll ignore the tensions between us and another person out of a desire to avoid the temporary discomfort of confronting them.
Healthy people, and healthy teams, stoop over to re-claim what is valuable, even when it’s inconvenient.