His written words were cutting, cold, and cruel: “It’s obvious she’s trying to pull a fast one. Does she think I’m stupid? A wimp? Tell her she’s done writing for us. We don’t work with devious people.”
My crime? Sending the wrong file. I’d been in a hurry and carelessly attached an article that had been published elsewhere. Negligent? Absolutely. Conniving? No way.
Going through life with such a jaded attitude makes the world a dark place. Always ascribing malicious intent, being suspicious, expecting the worst, and trusting no one. Because we find and see what we look for, badness lurks in every corner.
That dismal mindset permeated a company where I once worked. The company had been in financial difficulties and was acquired by another firm with deep pockets and a dim view of any organization that didn’t scrupulously and profitably manage its money.
Disdain and suspicion ran up and down the hierarchy between the two organizations. I dreaded going to work. We all did.
Then one day in a particularly gloomy and discouraging meeting in which we had thoroughly bashed and trashed the new leadership, a vice president observed, “You know, we’re no better than they are. They think we’re a bunch of country bumpkins. We think they’re money-hungry jerks. It’s time to stop believing the worst and start understanding.”
After that call to action, we practiced a workplace version of unconditional positive regard – listening and accepting what HQ did and said without ascribing ill will or evil intent. Carl Rogers, a psychologist, was the first to advance unconditional positive regard as a practice for therapists. We put his concept to work.
We gave HQ the benefit of the doubt. We quit opening meetings by sharing I-just-dealt-with-a-jerk stories. We quit jumping to negative conclusions and started thinking critically. The outcome of our new mindset and approach was extraordinary. Going to work wasn’t dreadful anymore.
So, back to the negative-thinking editor. Imagine how less stressed both of us would have been had he practiced unconditional positive regard and asked, “Can you find out if she made a mistake in sending this? She knows we only accept original material.”
Automatically relying on judgments or bias is an easy default. Rogers believed we all needed to be in touch with our subjective experiences and feelings. He urged people to continually learn and grow without judging. This is hard stuff to do.
But, oh, so worthwhile.