Yesterday when I returned home and stepped out of my car, I nearly flattened this baby snake with my feet before I realized he was there. Given his small size, measuring no more than six inches, he didn’t scare me, but he did startle me. Snakes generally terrorize me; I realize it’s not a very rationale reaction. This little guy meant no harm. He had just found a nice sunny spot to warm himself and despite my normal paranoia around snakes, I was drawn in by the color and shape of his markings and couldn’t help but admire the way he had wrapped himself up in the shape of a pretzel. I even caught myself thinking he was beautiful. I hoped he would be there when I returned from fetching my camera from the house and he was. He was still, but alert, and as I pointed the lens in his direction, he decided to slither off to safety.
Snakes give me the creeps. Whether it’s a rational feeling or not, we all have our biases. Some will see beauty and some will see a beast. That applies to everything — animals and people, including our pets, wildlife, and co-workers! I love dogs and cats, but I realize that not everyone does. A good friend of mine thinks cats are sneaky and wants nothing to do with them. Dogs, beloved by millions, are not embraced by all; they can easily petrify a child or even an adult who is unfamiliar with them or had a bad experience. People in our workplaces provide the same quandary; one person is respected by some and yet a major source of irritation to others.
Beauty and beast are not just terms for how we view outward appearances, it reflects the way in which we interact with each other as well. When we like someone, we have more tolerance and are more willing to support their individual needs. When we’re repelled by someone, we naturally want to dismiss them, quickly!
There was a time when I wanted every snake in my vicinity to be a dead one. I now see the craziness in that mentality. I’m still scared and don’t see myself getting friendly with them, but I have figured out that we can co-exist. Even more important is my understanding that there is greater value that we both survive. Crushing out what I don’t like isn’t the answer.
The recent shootings in Charleston, South Carolina offered an opportunity to see how we can rise above the deepest of divisions to focus on good over bad. Witnessing the families’ reaction to this tragedy has been heartening. I can’t imagine a more wrenching situation, to lose a loved one from a senseless hate crime. Yet those closest to the deceased, including spouses, children, siblings, and grandchildren of the deceased immediately offered forgiveness to the assailant. They acknowledged their anger, sadness, and dismay, but did not fall into a trap of hatred and condemnation. This is what a compassionate community looks like; where people can move beyond the beast and find beauty. These families make it look easy to do so, but it is certainly not.
Far too often, there are times in our own workplaces when we are faced with petty disagreements, of much less impact that loss of life, yet the tendency is to find fault, criticize, complain, and be disparaging to others. What would our organizational cultures be like if we found ways to express our frustration, even anger at times, then move forward together to find solutions? I think we would experience higher job satisfaction, less stress, more innovation, and an unlimited host of other benefits. When we continue to harbor negative feelings, it crushes any chance of progress.
We’ve all had moments of frustration with a co-worker. Here are a few ideas to help you bring out the beauty rather than the beast:
- Recognize when you are being too critical. It’s helpful to understand competencies and skill levels, but use that information to help train and teach as opposed to ridicule performance.
- Be alert to how you feel and acknowledge it; you aren’t helping yourself by dismissing your feelings. But then find a way to be constructive instead of destructive with your opinions.
- Ask questions of the other person to get a better understanding of the situation instead of pushing your own views as the only option for resolution.
- Listen with curiosity instead of judgment. Be sure you are not just lashing out at something unknown, unfamiliar, or unsatisfactory.
- Offer compliments for the areas that you do value.
- Lend a helping hand rather than a complaint of what should be done.
- Explore ways to build an alliance rather than an adversary.
What other ideas do you have? Are you an example of graceful leadership by working collaboratively through a difficult situation or do you perpetuate the beast?
To be completely honest, I hope that cute little milk snake moves on to a new home. But if he decides to grow up around our home, I am going to do my best to focus on all the aspects of him that I do find beautiful. I know that will help get me through the anxiety I will feel in his presence. It’s a good lesson in the workplace, too.