Adding That Third Thing: What Nobody Tells Us About How to Handle Charged Situations

There is so much that we all take for granted when going through life.

One of the biggest assumptions that I have gotten caught in historically (and that I see a lot of people caught in) is the assumption that for any given situation, all you have to work with is you and the situation.  If you can’t change the situation (which mostly you can’t, not directly anyway), and you can’t (or won’t)  change yourself, you’re stuck and screwed.

If you’re unemployed, and you can’t seem to find a job, you may become more and more frustrated as you focus on the ‘got to find a job got to find a job got to find a job’, leading to less and less success: You are annoyed, you take that energy in with you to job interviews, it comes across in your interaction even if you try to hide it, you dont get the job, you get more frustrated, and on and on.  Even if you get a job at that point, would you be happy about it? Probably not, with all that energy built up!

If you’re a business, and you are used to marketing through the use of big splashy events and Superbowl commercials rather than providing experiences that surprise and delight your customers, and suddenly your revenues are slipping and you can’t see why, so you keep doing what you’re doing to try to affect the marketplace and make them buy more of your product, spending tons of money on a new campaign with a celebrity saying how awesome your product is, and your share of the market continues to dwindle so you fire your PR people and demand a launch event that will go viral and spread across the internet and whatever Twitter is, and on and on.

The reality of the situation (and something that I don’t think gets taught to us at any point in most of our development) is that there is actually a third element within any situation: the relationship between us and the thing in question.  The relationship is something that we always have the ability to look at and adjust.  We can focus our attention at our relationship to our not having found a job, and choose whether to remain frustrated, or tune it so that our relationship is one that is more calm, accepting “I have not found employment yet, and that is okay, because it does not mean that I will never find employment”, and ultimately useful.

ArcAttack metropolis styleWe often don’t get a chance to look at situations like this, though, since we are usually very quick to respond to a situation directly.  The most important thing to take from this, and something I struggle with but am learning, is to slow down and pause before reacting.  Take a second to look at your relationship to the situation rather than just focusing on the situation itself.  Is an advertising campaign the best way to reach customers? Is frustration the best way to deal with your employment situation?  Probably not, but until we learn to take a look at that third thing, we will be stuck there.

So, where are you stuck on things 1 and 2, where looking at the third thing might be useful?

The best way to do anything.

In one of my rare moments of clarity, this thought flashed across my mind:

“The simplest way to do anything is to stop not doing it.”

It may seem kind of “duh”, but if you stop for a moment and take stock of all the places you want to be, the things you want to do, the people you want to meet, the communication you wish your company had with its customers, and then take a moment and really contemplate the attitude and automatic responses you have in your mind about not doing these things, and then begin to change the “no’s” into “yes’s”, I bet you’ll get pretty darn far.

Try it with something small.

Figure out what happiness you’re not bringing toward yourself, and stop not doing it.

Let me know how it goes.

Recognizing and embracing true value: How do we address fear?

When we talk about values we enjoy when it comes to people, things that often come up are kindness, approachability, warmth, humor, a connection and openness to others and the world around them (often described as ‘lighting up a room’), and a willingness to include those around them in whatever is going on. These are pretty globally attractive characteristics, and those who display them are frequently well-loved and respected wherever they go.


Scared (Photo credit: Melissa Segal)

In business, however, I feel as though there is a disconnect from embracing these same values. Kindness becomes weakness.There is a fear that making your business approachable will somehow lead to being taken advantage of by customers (or worse yet, ignored). People are afraid that being open to others will lead to competitors stealing their ideas, or that somehow the company will be ‘exposed’ as less than it claims, and that will lead to something drastic.


These insecurities are quite human and understandable, when we’ve been taught in business (and in our personal lives) that we must portray an image of a secure, independent and successful entity who is not reliant on anyone at all times, or risk losing social status.

What we’re coming to understand is that ‘projecting an image’ is a sure way for people to want to keep their distance. I’m sure everyone reading this knows at least someone who may be a good person underneath, but could commonly be described as someone who ‘tries too hard’ or is ‘always on’. When you think about your reaction to that person, it’s probably something approaching pity, rather than an honest inclination to connect, engage and have a valuable exchange with that person. I’m sure everyone can think of companies (and in fact entire industry trends) that are trapped in fear.

The interesting thing about the world we live in is that those entities are brought into stark relief, as more and more places are embracing a new value of openness, and finding that success follows shortly thereafter. More importantly (I think), the public nature of these interactions allows for people to share in those successes. As follower counts grow for companies that embrace openness like JetBlue, Zappos, Starbucks, they are finding that their goals are being cheered on by the public. People actually want these companies to make money. This would be so far removed from reality even ten years ago as to be absurd.

So, how can we work with companies rooted in fear to open them up to the opportunities? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I would imagine it begins by showing them the effectiveness of a more human approach, and talking out their fears with them. As with anything in life, the antidote to fear is love and compassion. To those change agents among us, are you approaching your clients this way, to address, alleviate and walk them through their fears? If not, it might be an interesting exercise.