Not long before my wife first introduced me a couple years ago to this understanding of how the mind works, I had a pretty good job that almost overnight had become very stressful. My boss had hired a new employee whose job included overseeing my work. Her background was in another area and she knew little about my job or area of expertise. She was controlling, manipulative, condescending, disrespectful and more.
At least that’s how I saw my new boss before I learned how my mind actually works. Once I did, I turned around a dysfunctional work relationship in a few short months.
Mostly, I did it by doing nothing. I took no real “action” as the situation did not require it. It was my thinking that got me into this situation and it would be my thinking that would resolve it.
Let me explain.
Among the fundamental truths I first understood about how the mind works were these:
- Thinking has a constant flow and I need not react to each one of my thoughts
- It is not a given how I respond to the behavior of others, I make a choice regardless of whether I am conscious of it
- This is a universal condition, it’s the same for everyone
With this realization, it was enough to get me started. I began to see that perhaps I was overreacting to the demands of my boss and that by doing so I was feeding the conflict between us. I saw her picky requests and busy work as a challenge to my expertise in my field and to my job security, and she probably saw my reactions as a challenge to her authority.
As this new understanding provided clarity for me and pulled back the blinders, I realized that I held the key to defusing the situation. Sure, it was no more my responsibility than hers to address the issue, but if I had waited for her to make the first move the situation would have remained the same. Blame is a pointless game fueled by ego and stuck in the past that has no winners.
I decided to try something my wife suggested as a way to test my new understanding: to not react to her requests with the first thing that popped into my head. I simply decided to give myself time to consider her suggestions and her behavior first before responding. I soon found out that with this approach my influence actually increased.
In a typical day, the two of us met at least once with another colleague to discuss projects typically assigned by our boss. By refraining from reacting immediately, I learned that these meetings were much more productive and devoid of conflict. Instead, I would ask mostly neutral follow up questions to gain a better understanding of the assignment.
This went over much better than telling her why this idea would not work or what had to happen to make it work better. With this new approach, what often ensued was a collective realization that there was enough uncertainty about the task at hand that she would either defer to my suggestions how to proceed or she would go back to our boss seeking clarity. Often, my questions would raise issues that helped us find the best approach collectively.
The result of all this was that she began to trust my judgment much more than she had before. I was raising good points and questions in our meetings instead of objecting. She began to see me less as a challenge to her authority and more as a contributing colleague. It didn’t take long for me to also realize that many of my former objections were not really all that important. They were more a matter of my feelings or my ego being bruised.
Again, this comes back to thought, my thought. Feelings come from thought and in this case they were only my thoughts and not facts. I was choosing to feel a certain way and to interpret what she said rather than take it at face value. Nobody made me feel anything. What I feel comes from what I think.
As this understanding deepened, I realized that this was the same for everyone, my boss included. She was often caught up in her own thoughts, much as I had been. I still occasionally get stuck in my own thinking, but I can much more quickly release that lingering thought and let another one take its place. My empathy for her and others increased the longer I had this understanding.
A funny thing happened, too. Without ever talking with her about this new understanding of the mind, the concept rubbed off on her a bit. Perhaps I had become an example for her? She was much more relaxed around me and even complimented me frequently.
By the time I left that job last Fall – for reasons unrelated to the scenario described above – she hugged me on my last day and commented on how well we were able to forge a new working relationship. I did not raise any objections.