On the recent first day of school in my community, I decided to swing by the local elementary school on my morning walk. I love the excitement, jitters, and smiles of that first day drop off! While walking behind the school, along the outer edge of the playground, I came across the school’s “Buddy Bench.”

Buddy Benches are a relatively new phenomenon, and I wish they had existed when I was in school. Basically, if a kid is out on the playground and doesn’t have anyone to play with, they can sit on the Buddy Bench to let others know that they’d love to be included in a game or a conversation. Other kids can then come over to the kid on the Buddy Bench and invite them to join in.

I don’t delude myself into thinking that the Buddy Bench is a magical place surrounded by rainbows and unicorns where inclusion and kindness reign supreme. Kids are kids. Outsiders remain outsiders. Peer pressure is a POWERFUL force. I’m sure there are a fair share of kids who would rather remain lonely and excluded than sit on the Buddy Bench. And I’m sure there are plenty of kids who sit alone on that Buddy Bench until the bell rings to go back to class. But…

I’ve also heard fabulous stories of kids practicing kindness and making friends thanks to the Buddy Bench. This can be a place where people find their people. When you are alone and excluded, you may think you are the ONLY one who is alone and excluded. And chances are that you’re not.

What I really like about the Buddy Bench is what it represents — ideas that were not part of my late 1970s elementary school years:

There’s nothing wrong with saying what you need and asking for help.
Not everyone is an outgoing, extroverted self-starter.
Everyone feels alone sometimes.

It also got me thinking about Buddy Benches we may need in our professional lives. Where do I go when I need help? Do I sometimes feel like I’m in it alone (especially as a solo consultant in my – gulp – 19th year of consulting)? How do I know if colleagues or people in my networks need help, if they don’t ask me directly? As professionals, where do we go to say “Hey, I could use a hand here?”

I participate in some listserves and LinkedIn groups where I can ask questions and seek advice. I have some trusted colleagues who I can call when I’m not sure how to handle a situation. But those are not Buddy Benches. They aren’t places to sit and signal to anyone who might notice: I could use someone to sit beside me, to invite me in, to include me.

Do you have a professional Buddy Bench? What does it look like? How does it work?


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