I’m a technical professional. It’s a different identity than that used to operate this virtual venue where I fancy myself to be an Odd Life Coach. I only share it as context necessary to talk about the importance of preposition choice. Don’t worry, as always, I assure you, the reader, that it will make sense….at least some….in the end.

In my vocation, I’m expected to know technical things. As a matter of often frustrating fact, I’m expected to “know” all the technical things. More importantly, I’m expected to ensure other technical professionals “do” all the technical things. Yes, I’m the boss, a term I absolutely and wholly abhor. Don’t get the wrong impression. It’s a job I generally enjoy, believe I’m reasonably good at, and is one which I worked for over the past years….and years….and more years.

“Well….,” you say, “that’s a good story. What’s the point?” The backstory is necessary to lay the foundation for a truly groundbreaking and immensely innovative, new approach to personnel and production management. Oh, wait. Belay my last. No, it’s the first Blinding Flash of the Obvious (BLOO) and a simple reminder about something known for eons:

BLFO #1: “People are people.”

I know. It’s not a mindblowing, new idea. It’s a matter of fact that’s been known to some people since the dawn of humankind. That said, it still exists in 2023 as a theoretical concept to too many. Let’s frame it like this:

Company X provides a technical service to Companies A, B, and C. They want to entice Companies D and E to also procure services from them, within the next 18-months. The longterm goal is to leverage successful alliances with Companies D and E to attract other alphabetically monikered companies.

Since company X provides a technical service, what do they most need? They need qualified, skilled, and motivated people who can actually do the work. Since they’re a technical company, there’s constant competition from other technical companies who try and tempt Company X’s employees to jump from the technical ship. Herein lies the challenge. How can Company X hold on to its best and brightest? The answer is yet another blinding flash of the obvious:

BLFO #2: “Treat people like people.”

If you’re confused by this, I’m sorry to tell you you’re probably part of the problem, or as Dr. Phil might inflectively say, “Your problem is yooouuu.” This is where as a herder of technically proficient cats, my choice of preposition becomes the most important element in my head cat job. In case you were unaware of the universally true fact, people will work, behave, or do anything else based upon how you treat them. 

Again, I acknowledge it’s an underwhelming revelation. In fact, it’s not a revelation at all, or at least it shouldn’t be. In my profession, I have (and sincerely hope to always) treat people like people. Yes, they accepted a job and, as such, have a job to do. It is, though, a job. Employers give people jobs, not identities. People already have one when they accept a job, and they can’t be expected to check their identity along with their coat, at the workplace door. People have lives. People have families and friends. People have outside interests and commitments. Expecting them to completely forget or even demote their personal lives is a ridiculous idea. If a person were even willing to do that, for you, as an employer, what confidence would that give that they wouldn’t demote your company in importance when a newer and shinier company appears?

This line of logic is exactly why I refuse to deviate from my longstanding tradition of treating people like people. I remember reading an idea that in a post Covid pandemic environment, the professional dynamic has shifted. Employers should no longer look at the relationship as one where they “give” employees a “chance” to work for them. Employers should look at it as a relationship where the employee gives the company a “chance” and “chooses to give” their effort and talents.

Anyone who really knows me will tell you that when I give thought to something, I give a lot of thought to it. And since reading it, I’ve given the previous thought on the dynamic shift a lot of thought. It actually falls perfectly inline with a premise I have held  for years:

BLFO #3: “The key to success is working with people, not on them.”

This isn’t something I’ve just thought about for years. It’s something I have also shared with others for years. Most importantly, it’s something I strive to do daily. I recall a job interview where I told the interviewer that if they wanted someone who would come in and find a way to make people do things, I wasn’t the person they wanted. I phrased it exactly as above. I work with people, not on them. At the beginning and end of the day, I have a job. My job is to make sure smart people get technical things done. Yes, I will endeavor to ensure requirements are met, but I won’t do it at the expense of the people who do the work. In that interview instance, I think it was taken as a sales pitch, because there were many times that this approach was met with skepticism over the following months. What I said, though, is what I meant and still mean. I believe people are people. I am a person, but my professional position does not increase my importance as a person. I take it a step further to share my view that people don’t work for me as much as I work for them. Yes, they have a job to do and report to me, but my most important role is not to ensure things get done. My most important role is to ensure they have the things and more importantly the support they need to get things done. I openly confess that this is also a wildly unpopular management technique. Nonetheless, it’s one to which I am committed.

Why am I committed to it? In the poetic lyrics of Pink Floyd, we’re “all in all…just another brick in the wall.” Please don’t mistake this as a defeatist attitude. No, it’s a reminder that we all have a part and are a piece of something much larger and grander than ourselves. So, if you’ve never given pause to consider your choice of preposition, you should do so now. Your choice of With or Or and contextual use of For really do matter. The overall, age-old idea discussed herein isn’t limited to professional employment. It applies to every aspect of life wherein we, as people, coexist with other people. It’s also not a hard concept to grasp, but as my late Titi Mary once said, “It’s easy to say but not so easy to do.” As such, I leave you with a challenge. Choose your prepositions wisely, and treat people like people. You’ll be a better person for it…just better than your previous self, not better than other people. That is all.