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Lions Roar : January 2005
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2005 25 • A competent human resources adminis- trator consistently met feedback by dig- ging in her heels and refusing to listen. For her, feedback meant that her career was at risk. Yet when asked how long she would need to find a similar job, she replied, “One phone call.” She wasn’t in any real danger. • The head of a company that distributes time-critical products hit the roof when- ever a truck was late or a staff member didn’t have the latest numbers at his fin- gertips. He diverted all the energies of his staff to address “the crisis.” His staff had given up trying to tell him that the con- stant diversions prevented them from putting in place the systems needed to ensure smooth operations. • A department head who had done solid work for fifteen years for which he had been amply rewarded. Yet he watched fearfully for any sign of disfavor from his superiors. He’d change his opinion, ignore his staff ’s recommendations or take over a sub- ordinate’s work if he felt it would help his relationship with his superiors. He couldn’t understand why morale in his depart- ment was always low. EVERYONE KNOWS THE OLD ADAGE about not seeingthe forest for the trees. At work, the trees are the immediate pres- sures you feel—the demands and directives from above, the needs and problems from below. The forest is the bigger pic- ture, beyond the immediate pressures. Most people try to remove such pressures as quickly as pos- sible, relying on ways of working that are familiar to them. The result is a progressive narrowing of perception and response: You don’t see the forest, so your reactions are unskillful and create more pressures. A vicious, self-reinforcing cycle devel- ops—pressures and reactions give rise to greater pressures and even stronger reactions. This phenomenon is present at all levels of corporate life, where fear of losing your job, fear of not being able to control outcomes, and threats to your identity are constant concerns. The energy of these fears puts you on edge, so that anything that resonates with unresolved associations triggers emotional reactions such as anger, neediness or confusion. Three things happen then. First, the emotion projects its own worldview. When you are angry, you see everything as opposi- tion. When you feel needy, no matter how much you may have, there still isn’t enough to go around. Second, internal agendas take over and cause you to ignore much of what is happening around you. The department head’s concern for smooth rela- tionships with superiors caused him to ignore the work and feelings of his staff. Third, you lose touch with your own intelli- gence and abilities, like the human resources administrator. Some people react to challenges by working through to-do lists, others by connecting and relating to people, others by ana- lyzing and planning, and others by trying to take control. In the work environment, you may be drawn to or placed in roles where your reactive tendencies best serve the interests of the organiza- tion, regardless of their effect on you and those around you. You end up relying on just one way of working to meet all situa- tions. At first you feel comfortable because what you are doing comes easily to you, but as time goes on problems may arise. Given the environment of reward and punishment— the ever-present fears about job, control or identity—you may move more and more out of balance. You may experi- ence a lack of meaning in work and life, which may lead you to compensate with substance abuse, workaholism or obses- sion with money or status, leading further to a lack of atten- tion to family and personal life, and finally spilling over into stress-related illnesses. K E N M C L E O D teaches Buddhist practice in Los Angeles and also works as a management consultant. He is the author of Wake Up to Your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention. ILLUSTRATIONBYDONBAKER Breaking Your Habit Habit Faced with problems at work, says K E N M C L E O D , we often fall back on habitual, inappropriate ways of doing things—and the system enourages us to do that. Here’s how to break the habit and make your work life more relaxed and rewarding.