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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

September 11

Dear Readers,

On September 11, I was conducting a workshop when John, the person responsible for the workshop, came in to inform us of the horrific events that had taken place that morning. Tears welled up in his eyes as he spoke, and the mood in the room became somber. Suddenly the concepts being taught in the workshop seemed insignificant in contrast to what had happened, and I wondered how to proceed.

We decided to continue with the workshop, but speed things up so that everyone could get out a bit early. It was one of the most difficult days of work I've had; I craved the comforts of my home and family, and desperately wanted to know the details of the day's events, but did my best to maintain focus and do my job. In the car ride home, my ear was on the radio, and when I finally arrived, for the first time I saw the reality and magnitude of what had happened.

In the days that followed, I had telephone calls to return, another workshop to prepare for and a column to write, yet had no sense of urgency to get things done; how could anything compare in importance to what was taking place in our country? As I began to prepare this week's column and look through the many questions I receive, I realized that this time I was the one with the questions, and very few answers. There are so many issues and problems we all face day to day, and I have been fortunate to have this space week after week to use as a vehicle for discussion. There are familiar themes that come my way week after week; stressful work environments, lack of appreciation, unfair treatment, unrealistic expectations, and the challenge of working with difficult people. Individually, we must deal with the situations we encounter, but this week we all share many of the same concerns. I wonder how many people, including myself, forgot about many of the typical daily challenges and frustrations last week, and focused instead on the terrible tragedy that had taken place.

In the workshop I was facilitating, once we learned of the events, there was something unique about the way we interacted and the connection we felt with each other. I wonder how many other workplaces took on a different tone that day too.

Two days later, as I was still recovering from the shock of what had happened, I had a workshop to conduct. I wondered how to go on with business as usual when it was anything but usual, but it ended up being a great day because something was different; there was a commonality among us. Perhaps we were viewing each other differently, and were united in our desire for a safe, secure environment to live and work in.

Too often we get so caught up in our day-to-day activities that we lose sight of what's really important. We've seen the people in New York pull together and know that for those who survived, their lives will never be the same. The same is true for many of us.

A woman who worked in the Trade Center and survived was being interviewed on television. She talked about how this experience had changed the way she felt about her coworkers, and how eager she was to see them all again. Another program showed the tearful reunion of coworkers reuniting for the first time. Look at the people who surround you -- who are these people you see everyday? Have you taken the time to get to know them? If you were suddenly facing a life and death situation, which people would you reach out and help, and which ones do you think would be there to help you?

I realize we can't do much about the complex events taking place in this world, but we can do something about our own worlds. We can be less critical and more tolerant, less demanding and more appreciative, and we can vow never to take for granted the people we see every day; the people we work with, who surrounded us and provided a sense of comfort on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

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