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A Gen X perspective on calling your boss into mentorship

Updated: Jan 20

Mindfulness is all the rage. How might it show up in how we relate to one another at work?


Yesterday a friend and I were talking through a tough situation she’s facing at work. She’s in a time of transition, doing her job plus an acting role. She’s overwhelmed, “drinking from the fire hose”, and working extra-long hours to keep everything moving forward. Unfortunately, in the last week, she felt like her superiors – who had promised to help her through this tough transition – had adopted the mindset of critical spectator. Their input and actions over the last week had left her feeling unsupported, nit-picked and even, by times, undermined.


Her superiors are highly knowledgeable in their fields and she sometimes needs them for guidance. They also will have a say in whether her acting role will become permanent. She has no desire to blow up these relationships.


My burgeoning sense of middle-aged-empowered-woman confidence told me that she had to stand up for herself. Don’t be a people-pleaser. Articulate your boundaries. Insist on respectful treatment. But how to do that without straining these relationships?


The other option is to become Old Ironsides, grand matron of the stormy seas. Steadfastly motoring toward the horizon, unaffected by the whims and onslaughts of the natural environment, which are beyond her control.


Neither of these options seemed quite right.


And then she blew my mind.


What if, she suggested, we took all that beautiful book learning from sages like Thich Nhat Hanh and put it into practice? What if we looked at the critical superior and said:


- “I’m glad you are here.”

- “Thank you for your presence, and the knowledge you bring to this situation.”

- “You are partly right.”


“No way!” I shouted. “They’re treating you badly! How can you say that you’re glad they’re there?”


She explained, “By speaking to them from a place of gratitude for their value, you help them to pivot from critical spectator to wisdom-elder and mentor.”


Hunh.


Thanking the person who is making you feel terrible? It’s hard to conceive. It would require setting aside my injured ego. I’m not sure I could do it.


The concept is similar, but different, from Old Ironsides. It is similar in that you are unaffected by the emotions and opinions swirling around you. It is different because you are not hiding behind armour. You welcome the storm with openness, equanimity and compassion.


Dropping the metaphor, it is an exercise in looking past the person’s flaws and foibles to instead speak to their deeper aspect, where wisdom and a desire for goodness reside.


Sheesh, operating from that place is going to take some practice! I might have to start meditating or something.


Our next post - part of our new InTheory series - will be a distillation of principles from Thich Nhat Hanh's book, The Art of Communicating (2013).

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