I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized.
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Several years ago I accepted a new position with the same organization I had worked at for many years; a position that carried with it many benefits as well as challenges. One such distasteful challenge was building workable, professional relationships with specific people that I had spent an entire career detesting. People who, in my experience, were rude, unprofessional, obnoxious, arrogant, and not overly bright, but nonetheless people I would have to deal with on a recurrent basis.
If I couldn’t bring myself to actually like or respect these people, I vowed that – being the better person – I could at least make an effort to pretend not to hate them. A feat, I was positive would be easier said than done, but for which I nonetheless looked at as a challenge. If not quite Mount Everest, it would at least be my own personal Mount Washington – 6,288 feet in the air and -100 degree wind-chill and all.
So, every time I met with them, passed them in the hallway, or dealt with them for business, I made sure to find something positive. I never lied. I never contrived. But surely there would be some positive element in even the most bristling of individual if I searched hard enough. So, I complemented Jane on a pair of attractive summer sandals. I asked John for his opinion on handling a particular situation. I asked Susan for help, thanked her honestly and used the opportunity to find out more about her day to day job and how she balanced all the demands on her time. I made sure to give credit for the input and assistance I was given and always, always gave my sincere thanks.
Amazing, miraculous and nearly unbelievable things began to happen: Jane, who never spoke to me even when I was standing two feet from her, would stop me in the hallway to chat. John, who always acted as though his manhood was a pink purse in danger of being stolen, actually relaxed, joked and even offered help. Susan, who had a scowl plastered on her face to everyone she met and made simply doing her job sound like giving a kidney, smiled when she saw me and would go out of her way to do what I needed. When she actually apologized for sending me information a day late, I nearly spilt my coffee.
That is when it finally hit me – a lightning bolt out of the sky, a punch in the gut, and the high pitched shriek of nails on a chalk board all rolled into one horrific revelation…it had been me, not them all along. For all of their faults – and I could itemize many – the only piece of the relationship that had changed to produce such amazing transformations was… ME.
Much of what we do and think and feel everyday is based on our fears and our insecurities. Too often we REact instead of act and those reactions are based on fear instead of power. We surrender our strength to the subconscious acceptance that we have no control over situations or environment: If I don’t act this way my husband won’t love me. If I lose my job I won’t find another one, so even if I hate it, I’m stuck. If my kids don’t go to a certain school then I’ll be letting them down as a parent. If I don’t stand up to my co-worker / neighbor / friend / spouse they will walk all over me.
Actions that are based on fear are almost always a bad idea that will lead to nowhere worth going. Let me repeat this: Actions that are based on fear are almost always a bad idea that will lead to nowhere worth going. They leave us powerless, anxious, depressed and stuck. They relinquish our strength, surrender our power and ignore our ability to create the change we long to see.
The truth is, that I had nothing to lose in giving a colleague added credit for a job well done, taking the time to learn about someone else’s job or remembering the names of a co-workers grandkids. It cost me nothing in self esteem or resources to brush aside a decade’s worth of preconceptions, overlook their initially snarky comments or choose to find the positive even if I had to look hard to find it – somethings really really hard.
What I gained in return was immeasurable. I gained the certainty that I have the absolute and unyielding power to change the only facet of a situation that will make all the difference…ME.