One of the reasons I love my training and coaching profession is that it gives me the chance to know people, to marvel at their thinking, to discover their motivations and to rejoice in their wonder as they discover themselves. Although I think there is nothing more fascinating than other people’s minds, I sometimes can’t stop noticing that this very same fascination can turn to dread when faced with people whose thinking is more scary than captivating.
The idea of this post came to me in a discussion with a participant in one of my seminars, let’s call him Robert, who worked in sales and thus had extensive experience with a wide variety of customers, with all their good and bad behaviors and reactions.
We were discussing the issue of trust and finding the best in others, when Robert told me the story of the most awful sales meeting he had ever taken part in. During that meeting with the potential customer he was shocked at, what he believed, was an utter display of obtuse thinking and lack of manners on behalf of the client. “Why are some people so aggressive?” he wondered. “Why do they feel like displaying their power and influence and revel in treating others like a rug they can wipe their feet on without any trace of remorse?”. “I had proposed to meet the client to sell him a new software system that would improve the efficiency of his team, but all he wanted was another method of control” he told me. “This guy”, he added, “was reveling in the fact that he always came up with some new way to make sure his team could take no step without him knowing it”. “He made his call center team take timed bathroom breaks, he timed their calls to the second and fined them if any call took longer than planned, and he organized all sorts of competitions for who got the best call indicators! No wonder people couldn’t care less about customer satisfaction and even started to give out wrong information to clients, just to get them off the phone quickly enough and get a chance at that cash prize or, if they didn’t win the prize, at least make sure they escaped the fine!”, Robert added, still outraged. “It was like running a bunch of slaves, not a team! No wonder people left every couple of weeks and turnover approached 100% in a year. Nobody could survive there and stay sane!”.
“Tell me”, he finally said, “What kind of a manager is that? What kind of a person? How can you trust someone like that and what good might you find in such a person?”
I admit Robert’s story got me thinking. Even for those who are, like myself, incurable optimists and believers in the incredible reserves of goodness of human nature, this kind of story is unsettling. Is it possible that some people are incurable? That some minds are so badly messed up that nothing in this world can make them better?
Apart from the pathological cases, which are a different kind of story that I won’t be discussing here, it’s almost certain that nobody really wakes up in the morning with an urge to consciously hurt others. We all like to think of ourselves as good, honorable people. We all justify our actions, abysmal as they may be, by some good intention. I can bet that Robert’s client, if asked, would provide a very convincing and, apparently rational, explanation for his dictatorial management style. He might say that his team was made up of young people who were careless and always try to shun their responsibilities, unless strictly kept under observation. He might also add that his own managers over time had used the same strategies, and with great results too! There might be countless other perfectly reasonable explanations he might bring for his obviously unreasonable behavior.
Isn’t that what we all do, more or less, to justify our own inappropriate behaviors? Come up with explanations? And does it mean that we’re not good people?
As unsettling as Robert’s story was (and, sadly, it’s far from singular), it didn’t shake my confidence in people’s inner treasure of kindness and goodness. I’ve come to think that, while some people are like open planes, displaying the treasure of their kindness for all to see, others are like deep forests – dark, scary, full of perils. And that treasure is hidden somewhere in the middle of the forest, but to reach it you need to cut down trees, build roads, clear the thick bush within their hearts and minds. Sometimes not even they realize that treasure is there.
Also, I’ve come to understand that if we are to help others find their inner treasure, they have to want to be helped first. There was probably nothing Robert could have done to help that client realize his management ideas were wrong, since he had not asked for help. And it’s easy for someone who genuinely cares about others to fall prey to the so called “drama triangle” – the triad of the Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer. In Robert’s case, his client was clearly the Persecutor, his employees the Victims and Robert felt the qualms of the Rescuer. But what we should realize is that all these three roles are equally perilous. We cannot save others from themselves and might well lose ourselves in the process of trying, just as it is unhealthy to settle for the role of Victim or Persecutor in any relationship we may be a part of.
The only way, I believe, to actually be able to find our own treasure and help others in finding theirs is to first get out of the “drama triangle”, take a step back and look at ourselves or at the other person with fresh eyes.
I’ll end my plea for the existence of the elusive “treasure from within” with a question. What do you think about the “inner treasure”? Do all people have it? Why do so many fail to discover and use it? And, finally: If you are to take an honest look inside, where on the drama triangle are you in your own lives? And, if you managed to get out of the triangle, how did you do that and what advice do you have for others who are still toiling on the path to self-awareness?