Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.
With Halloween just around the corner, I thought I’d draw this month’s material from my childhood trick-or-treating experiences. I’ll start with a rather bold allegation. I just may have been the best candy grabber in the history of Halloween. “Pshaw!” you say. Well, here’s the evidence.
As I walked home with my best friend one crisp October afternoon in 1956, he asked me a rather naïve question: “Do you want to go trick-or-treating with me?” What a hayseed! Didn’t he know anything about the finer art of extracting candy from strangers? First of all, going door to door with friends is a huge mistake. When you travel with friends, you slow down as you talk.
Trick-or-treat rule number one: During the precious few hours of the one night of the year when candy is free for the asking, don’t slow down for anything. Every moment lost could cost you a candy bar—which, by the way, just happens to be your only reason for going out in the first place. (It’s all about the chocolate.) One Halloween, I sprinted by a house that was on fire and didn’t break stride. You think I’m going to go trick-or-treating with a friend?
Here’s another time-related hint. Today’s kids tote plastic pumpkins and other such store-bought trinkets for holding their goodies. I carried, and I’m not making this up, a ratty looking burlap bag that originally contained a hundred pounds of potatoes. I chose this cast-off carrier because I didn’t have time to be swapping out bags in the middle of the evening. This choice, quite naturally, caused problems. By the end of the evening, a potato sack jammed with candy weighed just about as much as I did. Equally bad, a lot of people were offended by it. “Look at that thing! It’s positively disgusting!” they’d say as I held out a bag large enough to schlep a yak.
Rule number two: Run from door to door. When you only have a five-hour window to get free candy, you run. You don’t walk, you don’t jog, and you don’t even trot. You run. Of course, to be perfectly honest, not everybody took advantage of the full five-hour running period, but I did. I was always the first and last kid on the street. Every year my Halloween adventure started with: “It’s not time yet you moron! I’m still doing the lunch dishes!” and ended with: “You woke me out of a dead sleep!”
Rule number three: Put the trick back in trick-or-treat. The candy companies of the fifties didn’t produce the pathetic miniature bars they now make in such abundance, so when someone gave you a candy bar back in my day (and I firmly believe this qualified them for sainthood), you got a full-sized candy bar. This didn’t happen very often, but when it did, you scored big.
So, here was the trick. I’d carry three masks. I didn’t normally don a mask because it would limit my vision and slow me down. But if someone gave me, say, a Hershey bar (most people gave out penny candy) I’d hit a couple of neighbors’ doors, put on a mask, and return to the place that was giving out the mother lode. I would repeat this stunt with a different mask until they caught on to me. “Say, haven’t you been here before?” I once scored ten Almond Joy bars from the same house.
Rule number four: Beware of baked goods. I was raised at a time when a handful of homemakers still made their own treats—cupcakes frosted with an inch of gooey chocolate icing. They’d beam with pride when they opened their front door. “Here you go sonny,” they’d say as they held out a tray full of their baked concoction while eyeing my bag suspiciously. Now what was I supposed to do with a cupcake? Consuming it was out of the question. That violated the fifth rule of trick-or-treating: Never eat on the job.
One year I made the grievous error of letting a well-intended grandmother drop a cupcake into the center of my bag. I swear the chocolate-covered treat had its own gravitational field—sucking every decent piece of candy into its icing atmosphere until, by the end of the evening, it had grown to the size of a medicine ball. I learned to take cupcakes gingerly in my hand and then use them to mulch the neighbors’ flower beds.
Now for today’s broader (and less halloweeny) lesson.
Before writing it down for this column, I’d never shared this childhood story with my own children. As much fun as it is, I suppose all these years I’ve had a fear of exposing a certain quirkiness about me and my love for chocolate, or revealing that at one time, I was a bit greedy and weird. This hesitance to share a shadier side of my past raises an interesting issue. When you mostly share your accomplishments (as the majority of us are wont to do) and fail to share your embarrassing moments, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities, you’re less interesting and less human. All of this superficial perfection amounts to an individual who is less approachable and doesn’t connect well with others.
The same could be said for your relationships at work. I’m pretty confident in assuming that most everyone has a peculiar story like my Halloween ritual that they’d rather keep locked away than aired to friends and coworkers like dirty laundry. Instead, we delight each other with long and impressive lists of accomplishments, noble experiences, and stories that aren’t really told, but rather boasted to anyone in ear shot.
Ironically, sharing a list of accomplishments typically creates more distance than unity. However, sharing oddities, fears, and stories of your personal faux pas creates the very glue that binds people together. Of course, we typically don’t share such personal information at work. It’s just not done. Nevertheless, at a time when companies expect employees to work in more collaborative and “team-oriented” ways, how can we expect to be unified into anything that even approximates a social unit when all we know about each other is what can be found on our resumes?
So, this Halloween season, dare to be vulnerable. Consider donning a new costume this year, not one shielded by masks of sobriety, perfection, and accomplishments; rather, expose your coworkers to the more interesting you—the geek you, the childlike you, the oddball you. For instance, did you dunk for apples as a teenager until you choked and spit up on your date? Did you make your own costume for a neighborhood competition only to have critical parts of it fall off during the awards ceremony? Or, as related earlier, did you aggressively knock doors on Halloween night until someone finally shouted: “Hey kid, it’s time to haul your potato sack home!”
Knowing stuff like that binds families and teams together.