From Janitors to Jargon: Navigating the Big Four with an Unlikely Tool

đź‘€ I’m about to tell you how I used my ‘humanity compass’ to navigate the wild jungles of consulting, where power suits meet PowerPoint slides, and where it’s easier to get lost in the jargon than to find a free meeting room!

Ever tried striking up a conversation with a security guard on a bustling Tuesday morning? As counterintuitive as it sounds, that’s where my day used to begin at one of the Big Four consulting firms (pre-pandemic stuff, folks).

Yes, you heard it right—I converse, not merely exchange a rushed, mumbled greeting. And not with the high-flying senior partners or the client relationship gurus, but with Mike, the security guard, the ladies at reception, the people working in the print shop, and so on.

The corporate world often fosters a peculiar kind of tunnel vision. Picture this: employees, each a cog in this grand machinery, bustling about like purposeful ants, eyes glued to screens or focused straight ahead, ears tuned into a symphony of productivity—keyboards clicking and the constant hum of ambitious conversations.

In this orchestrated chaos, they tend to cocoon themselves in their professional bubbles, letting their gazes glaze over the world outside their immediate tasks. It’s an ironic ballet of hundreds of people in one shared space, each seemingly oblivious to the other’s presence.

The security guard’s greeting, the janitor’s nod, the friendly smile of a colleague from a different department—each one often overlooked in the rush of deadlines and targets. There’s a palpable disconnect, a silent wall erected by unacknowledged presences and unreturned greetings. This veil of indifference, though invisible, can be as tangible as the glass walls of their meeting rooms.

“Paul knows everyone!” 👋🏼

In this whirlwind of a consulting world, where roles are as distinct as chalk and cheese, and hierarchy is as visible as the neon ‘Exit’ signs, my interactions are fueled by something less obvious but more potent—humanity.

Did I mention awkwardness as a byproduct?

The roots of this ethos trace back to my hometown, Chandigarh—a city that has perfected the art of living life in the slow lane. Here, my journalist father and schoolteacher mother introduced me to a timeless principle: every human deserves respect.

It’s an approach I’ve taken from the serene bylanes of Chandigarh to the high-powered boardrooms in Toronto, treating everyone as a human first and a job title second. At times, the irony of fancy titles is that they create walls. Not on my watch!

Channelling my inner Atticus Finch (thanks, Harper Lee!), I’ve discovered you never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view. So, whether it’s the night shift janitor or the senior partners, I approach each interaction with curiosity and an equal dose of respect.

Does it make a difference?

You bet it does! It’s like sprinkling a bit of Dale Carnegie charm into each interaction, resulting in relationships as robust as a well-brewed cup of chai. Think Chris Gardner from “The Pursuit of Happyness”—from homelessness to owning a brokerage firm while preserving his humanity. Now that’s a journey worth emulating!

So, if you’re ready to dodge those status-quos and disrupt the usual, here’s your how-to guide for putting ‘human’ at the forefront of your life:

Humanity Before Hierarchy: The CEO or the janitor? Both are humans first. Remember, folks, roles don’t define people; their humanity does.

Listen and Empathize: Channel your inner Dale Carnegie and view the world from others’ shoes. You’ll be amazed at the wisdom you unearth and the connections you cultivate.

Promote Open Communication: Create an environment where everyone feels valued and heard regardless of status. That’s where respect flourishes, my friends!

Lead by Example: As clichéd as it may sound, actions DO speak louder than words. So, demonstrate respect and kindness, and inspire others to follow suit.

In summary, I didn’t just survive the corporate world; I seasoned it with my unique flavour. My philosophy is simple: see the human first, the role second. And that, my friends, is how I discovered that respect isn’t just the secret ingredient for building strong relationships—it’s the spice that enriches life.

So, ready to tear down those invisible hierarchies and embrace our shared humanity? As you’ll soon discover, respect has the power to spin the most compelling tales—even in the most unlikely corners of the corporate world.

Also, the gossip is next level!


By Paul Syng

Paul Syng is a multi-disciplinary designer based in Toronto. He focuses on a problem-seeking, systems thinking approach that can take any form or function.