“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” — Voltaire, French enlightenment writer and philosopher
“I don’t like the job and I don’t particularly like any of the people.”
My friend was pretty bitter about his job and based upon some of the stories he’d shared with me, he felt justified in being so.
He had recently accepted a new job and was wrapping up the final two weeks.
To him, it felt like an endurance test — a kind of Ironman Competition where the goal was to walk out the door without losing his temper and self-control.
“I feel like writing a letter to each one of them telling them just what I think.”
It seemed that my friend despised many of the people he worked with and I wondered if part of it was owing to his own insecurities and current level of self-esteem.
He felt unappreciated and misunderstood by everyone at work — in particular, his supervisor and higher-ups. “Can you say anything good about these people?” I asked.
“Not much,” he replied.
“Everyone has admirable qualities,” I explained. “Sometimes we need to look hard and dig for them.” I knew my friend was good at his job and that the conflicts were likely the result of a poor fit. “Try this,” I said. “Take a pen and paper and see if you can jot down at least one good quality for each person at work — especially those people you find the most challenging.”
He thought about my comments for a moment then shrugged his shoulders.
“I’ll try,” he said, “but I’m not making any guarantees.” As it turned out, I didn’t see my friend for about three weeks; he had already started his new job by the time we reconnected. I asked him how it was going and he said, ”Great!”
“Did you leave on good terms?” I asked.
He just smiled. I was curious now so I pressed him for details.
“On my last day, we all met in the boardroom for pizza.
“Everyone was there, talking and laughing. That is, until I took the stack of letters I’d been holding on my lap and placed them on the table. Everyone got really quiet.
“One of the gals from Administration finally asked, ‘What did you do? Write letters telling what you really think about each of us?’”
“You didn’t!” I said, shaking my head.
“I told the group that was exactly what I had done!”
Apparently, you could have heard a pin drop. Finally, the “Admin” gal asked for her envelope and ripped it open.
After a few moments she smiled and declared the words were the nicest anyone had ever written about her.
Soon everyone was ripping open envelopes. Upon reading the words, some people smiled and gushed while others turned red and others still got up and left the room.
“It was tough,” he admitted, “but I did find something good to say about everyone there.” He had found at least two and often three or more positive qualities for each person.
“How did that make you feel?” I asked.
“Free,” he said. “And in a way, more aware of my own strengths and shortcomings.”
There’s an old saying: “What is expected tends to be realized.” In other words, what you see is often dependent upon what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for the good, you’ll find it. If you’re looking for faults, you’ll find them too.
The reality is we often fail to take our own shortcomings into consideration when our focus is upon the perceived deficiencies of others. Our goal should be to raise our level of self-esteem to the point where we can recognize our own personal bias and transcend it – where we can see a world that lies beyond perceptions.
So, how do we start? How can we shift our focus so that we begin to see the good qualities of others at work, at home or in a relationship? Here are some thoughts to consider:
• Start by practicing patience. The good qualities of others may take time to be revealed. Having patience will allow for these good qualities to present themselves naturally.
• Remember that truth is in behaviour. In other words, actions speak louder than words. Observing other people will provide tangible evidence of the good qualities they possess.
• Be tolerant and allow for the fact that other people have different value systems based upon such variables as ethnicity, background, upbringing, education and experience.
• Challenge your own expectations of others — what do you expect from others and are those expectations realistic? Few people can live up to an unrealistic expectation.
• Remain objective — you don’t have to like someone to find good in them.
By acknowledging the good, it became apparent to my friend that he was not working with a group of “nasty” folks but rather his personality was not a good fit for the business. He realized too that he was part of the problem and therefore needed to be part of the solution. The new job proved a better fit and he remained happily and gainfully employed there for many years.
Mary Xavier Mehegan, known for having founded the Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth and New Jersey’s first four-year women’s college, once wrote, “Life can be seen through your eyes but it is not fully appreciated until it is seen through your heart.”
Some years later, my friend was approached by the “gal” from Admin who confessed she was so moved by his words that she framed his letter and hung it on the wall next to her desk at work. My friend was deeply moved as she had been one of his most challenging co-workers. His gesture had helped her to appreciate the good qualities of people around her.
“Looking for the good is really just that,” he said. “Opening your eyes and seeing.”
Murray Fuhrer is a local self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca