Clearing the Air

gas-mask-469217_640I have a small workshop in the backyard. I learned woodworking from my grandfather and I get a great deal of satisfaction from creating something with my own hands. I spend a lot of time out there and have made several improvements to the shop over the past several months in order to make it a safer and more enjoyable space.

This weekend I added a piece of equipment that I’ve needed for years – an air filtration system. Working with wood creates a lot of dust, especially when you are sanding a finished piece. Much of this dust can be captured by filters or vacuums attached to the tool, but the most dangerous particles aren’t picked up by these methods.

I’m talking about invisible dust particles. These are so small and light (1-5 microns) that they float around the shop and linger long after the tools have been turned off. This dust does eventually settle, leaving a fine powder everywhere; but not before causing itchy eyes and a runny nose. When you inhale these particles, they cause tiny wounds and scars on the lungs. Our bodies have a difficult time expelling these microscopic bits and the long-term damage can be significant.

Isn’t it true that the tiniest things often cause the most hurt? Ever had a paper cut or a splinter? These smallest of injuries create a lot of pain. What about a derogatory comment or a backhanded compliment? Ever been the recipient of one of those?

Workplace offenses are rarely huge, show-stopping events. More typically, they are every day slights, indignities, put downs and insults experienced during day-today interactions with others. Often the offenders are well-intentioned individuals who have no idea that their behavior has caused any harm. But for the recipient, they can be very damaging; leading to lower levels of self-esteem, job satisfaction, employer loyalty, and performance.

As with micro-sawdust particles, an effective filtration system can help minimize the impact of these actions. I recently read an article by David Mayer in Fast Company magazine that offers four strategies for processing workplace offenses.

  1. Walk back from the conclusions you’ve jumped to. We tend to make assumptions about the intentions of others and allow negative feelings to morph into worry about our own place in the organization. Confiding in a trusted colleague can help us gain some perspective before taking action.
  2. Take the moral high ground. The natural reaction to a perceived attack is to respond in kind. We need to resist this urge and look at the situation critically. Doing so allows us to learn and grow, a much more productive option than creating or escalating conflict.
  3. Look for what’s still good, fair, and right. Human nature is to dwell on the negative – what we stand to lose versus what we have to gain. Taking stock of the positives can help bring some level-headed context to our emotional reaction.
  4. Forgive whoever’s responsible. This is probably the hardest step offered by this article, at least for me. It’s been said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. You don’t necessarily have to verbally forgive the one who slighted you; but in order to recover, you need to find it within yourself to let things go.

It didn’t take long for my new air filtration unit to make a difference. It had only been running for a short while before I noticed a lack of dust particles floating in the air of my shop. A glance at the filters showed that the damaging bits were being swallowed by the machine, rather than accumulating in my lungs. I am already breathing a lot easier about spending time in my work space.