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Don’t Spread the Suffering

One of my favorite clients is Celes Glover. As an administrative assistant to a vice president, Celes is in a unique position, as she puts it, to “spread something.” She literally sits in the middle of the department. People come to her all day long, usually because they want her help. She has to stop what she’s doing and take care of them. One of her insights, she told me, is that she can choose what she spreads. If she’s having a bad day, she can choose the spread the suffering by being short with people or ignoring them. Or she can decide to spread good will. She can listen, she can respond respectfully--even when she’s feeling irritated at an unreasonable request.

Celes has learned something every boss needs to know. Each person who supervises someone else is in a position to “spread something.” Their responses to the people around them are contagious. If they choose to spread the suffering by being short-fused, critical or ignoring others, their behavior will set the tone for the whole office. Their people will shut down, will be less creative. If they choose to spread good will, the office mood is more relaxed and supportive and creativity can flourish.

Let me hasten to add that supportive doesn’t mean soft. There are still too many bosses out there who confuse the two. Soft means you don’t rock the boat. You don’t confront when you need to. You sweep problems under the rug. Reacting with good will means you control your temper, you respond respectfully, you wait until you calm down to act. When President Obama said he wouldn’t “govern out of anger” he was paying attention to what he was spreading.

Right now, there’s plenty of suffering going around. There’s no need to add to it if you can help it. Calm yourself, then act. Say you’re sorry if you make a mistake. Listen. Managing your emotions is good for business.

Plum Cluverius is an executive and leadership coach located in Richmond, Virginia.

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