Lisagor: Relating to others

It is important to address a person’s flaws head on, but with compassion

I have been making a concerted effort the past few years to accept my life as it is, both good and bad, instead of obsessing about how I wish it would be.

In the past, I spent considerable energy trying to reach an elusive "there," meaning everything "good" — a promotion, a successful software delivery, a more pleasant boss or a little more money. It was almost impossible to enjoy my life when I was so busy waiting for something better to happen.

Speaking of elusive, I have also tried to work on how I relate to other people, especially business associates who give me grief. Many people I know have a tendency to label a manager who does something "bad" as being a bad person or something even more harsh.

But as long as we judge others to the extreme, expecting them to behave perfectly, there will never really be an effective organization, much less a more peaceful world.

When I get upset with someone for something they have done or said, I try to reflect on that specific behavior instead of declaring the individual a lost cause.

By awakening my compassion for that person as a fellow human, I am able to communicate my concern without going into attack mode. It often means getting to know someone at a deeper level than the size of their office or how they behave during meetings.

This approach was very effective with one of my clients. Her demanding management style was preventing her staff from feeling free to express their opinions. In meetings, they would fight over who got to sit at the end of the conference table farthest from her and her verbal barbs.

Finally, when her behavior started to upset me, too, I realized I needed to talk to her. First, I accepted that her behavior was the problem, not her as a person. I also accepted that I could lose a valuable client as a result of broaching this subject with her. But I decided that it was more important to try to speak out against what I perceived to be unacceptable behavior than to swallow the pain out of fear of retribution.

After I had an honest discussion with her, she actually thanked me for pointing out why her actions were inconsistent with her desired company culture. And instead of canceling my contract, the next day she invited my wife and me to dinner.

This breakthrough was made possible only by transforming my initial negative, general judgment into a meaningful and respectful dialogue.

I try to remember that everyone has a unique contribution to make. This increases my appreciation of family, friends, associates and myself.

As an added benefit, my happiness today doesn't have to depend on some elusive tomorrow.

This column is adapted from Lisagor's book "Romancing the Buddha," which will be published in May by Middleway Press. He founded Celerity Works in 1999 to help information technology executives accelerate and manage business growth. He lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and can be reached at lisagor@celerityworks.com.

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