Saturday, August 29, 2009

Halloween at the Office

If you're in Florida, in the path of a hurricane, your fears are legitimate and realistic.

Our fears can also be irrational. We recognize this when we see it in others - the child who thinks all dogs bite, or the adult who's afraid to ride in an elevator. When we have a fear like that, we know intellectually it's irrational, but we don't feel that way about it emotionally.

I'm reminded of this as Halloween comes around. My field is Emotional Intelligence (EQ), including EQ at work. I have always written before the December holidays about the emotional issues managers and CEOs must prepare for. They center around religion, which we feel strongly about, one way or another, and how to make everyone happy is a continuing challenge with our growing diversity.

Those feelings are strong, but they can't compare to the fear that generates at Halloween, which is now the second most celebrated holiday in the US.

I'm not a native Texan, and I'll never forget my first Halloween here. The town I moved to is 60% Hispanic, and there's this thing they do where they dress skeletons like a bride and groom. I found this creepy! There's a lot that goes on around Halloween that's creepy, and "creepy" is in the eyes - and minds - of the beholders.

Halloween triggers two things we don't like around an office -- (1) It's "childish," and (2) It's creepy. And each person has their own level of "creepy tolerance."

We can put up a Christmas tree in an office and get little flack, but try putting out a skull and crossbones.

Now I'm going to relate this to the hurricane that is circling around Yucatan as I write, and heading for Florida at the rate of about 5 miles an hour.

For years I refused to take a cruise because someone always invited me in September, "hurricane season." However, I've learned since then that, technically, hurricane season is half the year.

In September of 2003, I was asked to speak on a cruise, and off I went ... into the eye of Hurricane Isabelle.

We didn't know this when we embarked, we only learned about it as rumor and passengers began to get worried. Being quasi-staff, I heard the crew side of it. They weren't concerned about safety as much as extra work. They had to batten down the hatches, calm people, and cancel excursions as they diverted the ship.

Now that's a multi-million dollar ship to consider, so trust me, you're safe. You actually can't be safer than on a cruise ship. Well, I mean you're safe in Boise, Idaho, but as far as where the hurricane might be actually heading. The ship can easily, easily outrun the hurricane. If you're sitting in Key West, or Cozumel, not so. You can't move. Think about it rationally - what does it take to outrun something moving at 5 miles an hour?

In fact my friend tells me that when he was in the navy in Vietnam, they'd duck in and out of a hurricane in order to wash the ship. Five miles an hour, as you know, is very slow.

What happened is we went to Belize instead of Grand Cayman, and encountered some bumpy water and it was windy, but no one was allowed outside, and it basically just made a great story to tell. My fear of cruising during hurricane season was irrational, and when confronted by reality, dispelled. Therefore, when I hear "cruise and hurricane" my emotional reaction is not one of fear. If I were in Key West right now, I would be scared, and my heart goes out to those in the possible path.

There's no feeling that isn't accompanied by a thought, you see. When I hear "hurricane and cruise," my thoughts don't scare me. And looking at two skeleton dolls dressed like a bride and groom isn't going to hurt you, it's the thoughts you're having.

Now how would you feel about going on a cruise when there's a hurricane brewing? Typically my logical explanation and first-hand experience will have had little effect on you. Facts and words, you see, make little difference against fears. You can't reason OUT of someone, something that wasn't reasoned IN to them.

So, back to Halloween, which is fast becoming the second most celebrated holiday in the US: Get your policies in place. Maybe you have a light-hearted crew and run something like a grocery store, where you even encourage employees to dress in costume. Even then you may have to go over the rules of "common decency" (no "dominatrix" costumes!), moderate exposure, and safety.

Or maybe you're like the bank I just visited. Somehow the mortgage dept. had connected skeletons with mortgages, and mounted a promotion with skeletons of all sorts and sizes all over the bank lobby.

How you define "evil" and "satanic," I'm not sure, and you may have to deal with it on an individual basis, even correcting as they show up for the day. Basic guidelines might include:

1. Decent coverage

2. Nothing demonic, or what someone else might consider "evil"

3. Wear something safe - no masks that restrict vision, or clothing that constricts or can catch in machinery or cause you or someone else to trip

4. Get some examples from a site online of what you consider appropriate, and make a list of costumes that are "out." Then ask them to "okay" their costume ideas with you ahead of time.

5. Decorations? Individual cubbies are one thing, and there can be some latitude, but still must remain tasteful. Common areas are another thing. If you're smart, you'll assign someone you trust to "decorate," do it yourself, hire someone, or don't do it.

6. If one person complains about what another person has put up (or on), deal with it the way you deal with other such complaints. With your EQ! (See my EQ Foundation Course)

7. Put the loophole in there. Maintain the right to send anyone who dressed inappropriately "at your sole discretion."

If you work in a more conservative environment, and the only ones I can think of these days would be upscale boutiques, art galleries, certain law firms, and maybe downtown investment firms (because at my bank and at my doctor's office they now wear jeans on Saturdays, and costumes on Halloween), you'll likely centralize decorating, and stick with a fall theme.

As to addressing other's unfounded fears in general, remember that an unrealistic fear is based on a belief, and it's the belief that needs addressing. If a person is afraid to go to the holiday office party (or make a sales presentation), what are they thinking? And what gave them that idea?

As you can see, a general Emotional Intelligence program for the office can cover a vast range of problem areas. Emotional Intelligence is the interface between intellect and emotion and we help individuals and offices change their emotional lifestyles.

Would it serve you and your group, and your communal health, to rethink how you feel about things, exploring what's "realistic" and what fears are unfounded? Things like stress, diversity, cooperation, teamwork, leadership and integrity? These issues are escalating with mounting multiculturalism. One cultures "fun" is another culture's "crazy" or even "scary." Think about it. No, wait, feel about it. And let that be your guide.

Hope you get more treats than tricks!

About the Author
Susan Dunn offers coaching, internet courses, business programs, and ebooks for your personal and professional development. She trains and certifies coaches, and is the author of The Difficult People Internet course, interactive. Visit her on the web at, and . Email for fr** ezine.

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