Respect, Compassion, Tolerance, Patience
I have a post it note hanging on the bulletin board in my office. It has been there for five years and has long since lost its adhesive abilities. A thumb tack holds it in place. In my handwriting, in block script, there are four words:
I wrote these words after reading The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama and Dr. Howard Cutler. The central theme of The Art of Happiness is that happiness is not determined by the events that happen to you. Happiness is the pursuit of life and is achievable through a disciplined attitude that allows you to maintain a content state of mind even when confronted by challenging and frustrating circumstance.
These four words represent techniques that the book’s authors suggest you employ when faced with difficult people or situations. I have found them to be extremely useful in attempting to maintain balance in my life. More than that, respect, compassion, tolerance and patience have become the cornerstone of my work persona. I rely on these principles to guide my work decisions, to frame my perspective when confronting challenges and to align my professional behavior with my ethical and spiritual standards.
The Dalai Lama refers to respect as the recognition that every living thing has a right to live and to exist within the universe. By practicing respect, you allow that living thing to occupy its space without attempting to assert yourself over its dominion.
I apply that to the business world by acknowledging that everyone has job responsibilities and that they must do their best every day to fulfill those responsibilities. Their responsibilities may be at cross purposes to mine. They may place them in direct competition with me. They may even make them a threat to my business. This does not make them the enemy.
I practice respect by attempting to understand the roles and responsibilities of others (my peers, my employees, my competitors, my vendors.) I hope that by understanding where others are coming from, I can understand their role. I may be in a position to do business with them or offer them a referral. Or, if nothing else, I can at least coexist without losing my perspective. Respect is understanding and allowing for the existence of others, regardless of its impact on you or your business.
Compassion is empathy. It is taking your understanding of the other’s position, extending your humanity and attempting to feel what the other feels.
In the competitive world of capitalism, many would challenge the assertion that compassion is necessary. Some might even argue that it is a detriment. I disagree. I believe that making the effort to empathasize with co-workers, employees, vendors, competitors and especially customers is extremely valuable.
Compassion will make you more relatable. It will help you to establish rapport and to build upon your personal relationships. It will generate loyalty. And when approaching customers, compassion is a very valuable tool at uncovering pain.
Pain, according to many sales philosophies, is the driver of the sales process. If you can uncover the root pain that your prospect is experiencing and offer solutions to alleviate that pain, you will improve your chances of closing business dramatically. Being a compassionate person naturally leads you to finding and alleviating pain.
Compassion also leads to philanthropy, which brings its own rewards. Philanthropic organizations benefit from their community activism through name recognition, brand loyalty, employee motivation, reduced tax obligations and higher regard in the community.
Tolerance comes from respect. If you recognize that each person has a right to earn a living and you understand that people will behave differently based upon their backgrounds, you then apply tolerance to accept those differences and to integrate them into your professional life.
Tolerance requires that you set aside the notion that there is one correct way to achieve results. It demands that you set aside some traditional and long held beliefs about performance. It may challenge your conceptions of politeness, rudeness, etiquette and intelligence. Tolerance is demanding.
Tolerance is also rewarding. The tolerant business person always has the upper hand in negotiation because he is harder to rattle. Tolerance, and its associate, acceptance allow for greater focus because they prevent distraction by events or people who are outside the norm. Tolerance, like respect and compassion, make a person more comfortable in her own skin because they do not allow you to inflate your own self worth at the expense of others.
Beyond that, tolerance also can strengthen your organization by leading to diversity. Diversity of view point creates smarter, quicker, more sustainable organizations than those led by hegemony. Most executives expect that their sales people will behave differently than their accountants. Tolerance allows you to accept those differences, to interpret their nuance and to utilize the varying view points to your advantage.
Tolerance, it is important to note, is not acceptance of poor performance. Understanding and accepting difference is not the same as lazily excusing poor behavior and settling for less than optimum effort among your associates. You can tolerate difference and expand your acceptance and still hold people accountable for their actions.
Patience is perhaps the most challenging of these four tenets.
Patience comes into play daily. One must exercise patience when communicating with any stake holder in your business. Large deals that require involvement by many parties requires patience. Market conditions may demand that you practice patience, pushing your business into new directions while you wait for more favorable waters to return.
The benefits of patience are many. Patience brings perspective. It allows you to see events unfold before action. It prevents you from pursuing short course solutions that may throw you off track. It forces you to wait until your head is calm before acting, preventing an emotionally charged action from endangering a relationship.
I’ve discussed patience with many entrepreneur friends. Our consensus is that the difficult nature of patience arises from its conflict with another prevalent business dynamic, the sense of urgency. Most entrepreneurs practice at the altar of the sense of urgency. It is the constant drive that pushes them to accelerate the pace of growth 24 hours a day. The sense of urgency is almost business DNA in its primacy. Ignoring it is to allow your competitor to grasp it, leaving you in the outside lane. Exercising patience seems counterintuitive. How can you be urgent and also patient?
To achieve the balance between urgency and patience, you must examine your definition of urgency. You must have clear, long term goals that deny distraction. You must be able to recognize the opportunity that requires that you act immediately and the smoke screen that will waste your week, forcing you to run in circles. I find that if I am unsure, I act on the side of patience. I may lose a few opportunities but I also make fewer mistakes.
Over the last five years, I have returned repeatedly to the post it on my wall and find that the presence of those four words helps me to be mindful about my actions during the work day. I believe that they have made me a smarter, more deliberate business person and that they have improved my interpersonal relationships dramatically while also lowering my stress level. The Dalai Lama is not Harvey Mackay but I think there is a place for his insight at the board room table.