"The law of action and reaction is not exclusively for physics. It is also of human relations.” –Dalai Lama
Do we always have we the time or inclination to consciously analyze how we impact, positively and negatively on others?
Perhaps relating an unforgettable incident from my days as a young diplomat serving abroad, will best illustrate the significant ROI of analyzing the cause and effect of even inadvertent perceptions:
In the car some thirty years ago, returning from an out-of -own conference with a member of the host government, he dropped a bombshell: In return for a tidy monthly stipend and eventual citizenship, I would make an ideal source of useful information for his government!
I distinctly remember the frisson of fear that ran through my body. I was being recruited as a spy by a foreign government!
What was I to say?
Would I be in mortal danger when I refused?
How would my own government react?
Would the Embassy operation be professionally compromised?
Panic soon gave way to anger. In the deafening silence I wondered how this guy dared betray the trust I and other members of the embassy had afforded him over the years. Filled with self-righteous indignation, I keenly anticipated blowing the whistle on him.
How could he be so stupid?
Then it struck me that I knew he certainly wasn’t stupid!
What had I said or done that had convinced him to take such a daring step?
I realized this question was where the issue lay… It must have been something I had done… not only what he (and his superiors) had decided to propose that had set the ball rolling?
This realization calmed me down – When his “So what do you think?” came a few minutes later, I immediately conceded that I must have led him to believe I would be open to such a drastic step. While I also allowed that I knew he was just doing his job, I stressed that betraying my country, living a life of deceit and fear and being owned by others was just not an option.
My concession and lack of visible emotion, allowed him room for a dignified escape. To my chagrin he reminded me of several comments I’d made expressing my extreme frustration with colleagues who had refused to enter the spirit of change/reform in South Africa, as well as declared distaste for aid project incompetence that I believed verged on corruption. Apparently, what I had intended as a strategic counter to negative perceptions, was erroneously interpreted as ideological variance. Added to the mix, my youthful enthusiasm for the lifestyle of Europe was mistaken for a ‘psychological separation’ from my country of origin.
I discreetly reported the incident to a senior colleague, who agreed that the bigger picture advantage of minimizing the incident, at a sensitive time in the bi-lateral relationship, would contain far-reaching fall out that would achieve little.
Leaders are encouraged to see introspection and empathy as a strong value proposition in facilitating response rather than reaction in operational spheres of influence. The positive ripple effect of breaking down the Us vs Them syndrome is, for me, immeasurable!
Here is the same message in another format. If you have time listen to The Balance – Moody Blues: