A great philosophy professor named Luke Barber once told me: “If you are feeling caught in negativity and are struggling-go watch water. ” My first reaction to that advice was confusion. It was hard to understand how this would apply to work interactions. He continued: “If you watch a river you might notice that water just flows. When it hits a rock it doesn't struggle with the rock, it flows around it. And, if you could watch this water long enough you would see that the water eventually wears away the rock. So, the next time you are facing negativity—let your mind be still for a moment and ask yourself, ‘what would water do?’”
Soon afterwards, I had a chance to try it. I was facilitating a senior management meeting and our topic was How to Deal with Difficult People. We first discussed the importance of differentiating people from behaviors. Then, I asked them to list behaviors that can be challenging to deal with. Just after we finished that exercise, a woman who I will call Linda, showed up late. She sat at the back with her arms crossed and wore a big frown on her face.
At the break Linda came up to me and in a sharp tone said, “As the HR manager you should have the courage to confront the one person on this team who is the real problem here. Everyone knows it. I noticed Jim isn’t even here today. Isn’t that just so predictable! He’s probably back in his office playing computer golf just like he always does. He is completely incompetent. Not only that, but he complains constantly and blames everyone else for why things aren’t working. He makes life hell for the rest of us!”
First off, I was not the HR Manager. I was an outside consultant. Secondly, I had no idea who Jim was. And, ironically, Linda was displaying all the behaviors of a difficult person we had previously discussed. Since everyone could hear what she was saying, I tried to interject, but she was too busy unloading. As she continued I decided to take a breath, clear my mind and ask myself “What would water do?”
Then an idea hit me. I saw some ceramic cups on the wall. One cup had the word “Jim” written on it. I grabbed Jim’s cup and held it in the air. Then I said; “You’re right. Let’s do a ritualistic breaking of Jim’s coffee cup to show him how we feel!”
I beckoned her to follow me as I headed for Jim’s office. She said; “Wait, we don’t have to go quite that far. ” The other managers couldn’t help themselves and had to laugh. Linda first hesitated, then broke into a big smile, and sat back down. She moved her chair closer to the front and began brainstorming quite enthusiastically on solutions to solve the real issues.
So the next time you feel too much negativity or struggle going on—remember to clear your mind and ask yourself, “What would water do?” A metaphor like this helps activate your creative, problem-solving abilities. It can allow you to stop identifying with the problem (the rock), and identify more with possible solutions (the water). In short, it can be a powerful technique to move you in a constructive, forward motion while successfully navigating past the obstacles in your path.
Carla Rieger is an expert on creative people skills at work. If you want a motivational speaker, trainer, or leadership coach to help you stay on the creative edge, contact Carla Rieger.
Web site: http://www.carlarieger.com