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How do we bring all these lofty ideals to our day to day behavior in the business world? As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Love is also in the details. Christians believe that the queen of all virtues is charity, loving God above all things and others for the sake of God. A recent article I read in the website www.opusdei.org reminded me of how to bring this lofty ideal to very concrete day-to-day relations with the people surrounding us in our family, workplace and social life. Entitled “Sharing Other’s Feelings”, the article started by observing “how many problems could be avoided if we truly tried to understand better others’ feelings, their expectations and ideals. ‘Charity consists not so much in giving as in understanding.’ (a quote from St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei). The first requirement of charity is recognizing in the other person someone worthy of consideration and placing ourselves in that person’s circumstances. The word ‘empathy’ is often used to refer to the ability to put oneself in other people’s shoes, taking stock of their situation and of being aware of their sentiments. Joined to charity, this attitude fosters communion, the union of hearts…”
It is in our workplace that we can find many opportunities to know how to share others’ feelings. This was dramatically illustrated in a negative sense by an article I read in the Financial Times (June 12, 2018) about what caused the downfall of Martin Sorrell who spent 33 years building up the world’s largest advertising agency, WPP. A major reason for his being asked by the board of WPP to step down was the inhuman and insensitive way he treated his employees. Take, for example, the following account: “Martin Sorrell’s driver had worked for the WPP chief executive for 15 years, ferrying the ad land king around London in a Range Rover. Last autumn his job came to an end. Having worked 12 days on the trot, an extra long chauffeuring shift had finished with a request to pick up Sir Martin’s wife, Cristiana, from Isabel, a Mayfair restaurant, and drop her at the couple’s Belgravia home. It was 2 am and the driver was told he needed to be back five hours later for another job. He refused, claiming he had a previous appointment and, in any case, would not be safe on the road with just two or three hours sleep. Sir Martin fired him the next day.” Any top executive reading this article should immediately examine himself as regards his treatment of the service people working under him, the driver, the household helpers, the janitors, the gardeners. and many others rendering personal services to him or to his family. Are we able to empathize with them, to share their feelings, to put ourselves in their shoes?
The example of inhuman treatment of Sir Martin’s driver of fifteen years was not an isolated case. Current and former executives within the WPP group who were interviewed for the Financial Times article commented: “He was brutal and inhuman in how he dealt with his assistants…He would say ‘you’re fucking idiots, what’s fucking wrong with you’…He had a real dark side….I never had a problem with Martin. He never raised his voice or shouted at me. But with the Personal Assistants in his office who rotated in and out with a lot of frequency, he used to treat them pretty badly. There was a lot of turnover among that group because it was a pretty thankless task.” It seemed that Sir Martin was charming to the outside world but oppressive within the walls of his own company. Several former employees said that Sir Martin would often swear at underlings, calling one elderly colleague a “pudding” and describing others as “bozos.” No wonder that executive assistants working in Sir Martin’s immediate orbit typically lasted no more than 18 months or so. For many, the job proved just to be too demanding. As one former employee confessed, “After a year, my doctor told me that if I continued I would be dead.”
The ability to share others’ feelings is necessary to practicing the virtue of charity. Those of us who have responsibility of managing other people must show understanding towards those who are disoriented, at times because they have not had the opportunity to receive good formation in the faith, or because they have not met a person incarnating the authentic Gospel message. Empathy is possible even when others are in error. As St. Josemaria commented, “I do not understand violence. I do not consider it a proper way either to persuade or to win over other persons. Error is overcome by prayer, by God’s grace, and by study; never by force, always with charity.” As Pope Francis said, “Often it is better simply to slow down, to put aside our eagerness in order to see and listen to others, to stop rushing from one thing to another and to remain with someone who has faltered along the way. At times we have to be like the father of the prodigal son, who always keeps his door open so that when the son returns, he can readily pass through it.”
We will not know how to share others’ feelings if we do not know how to listen. As Pope Francis wrote in “The Joy of the Gospel”: “Listening, in communication, is an openness of heart which makes possible that closeness without which genuine spiritual encounter cannot occur. Listening helps us to find the right gesture and word which shows that we are more than simply bystanders.” It is by listening intensely and attentively that we get involved intimately in the lives of others. Through this intimate conversation, we are able to help the other person discern the specific steps God is asking of him at a particular moment. And when others sense that their situation, opinions and sentiments are respected, and even shared in by the one listening, they open the eyes of their soul to contemplate the splendor of truth, the attractiveness of virtue.
In contrast, indifference is a serious defect of any professional manager. We cannot be distant from those who are around us. People who think you are pleasant will change their mind once they realize that you really care for them. Our words full of understanding, our small deeds of service, our friendly conversation reflect a sincere interest in the welfare of the people beside us. We will learn how to win the affection of others, opening the door to a friendship that shares with them the marvelous reality of dealing closely with God. The role model of a Christian is obviously Christ Himself. How did He behave in relation to the people close to Him? His conversation with the discouraged disciples of Emmaus who were returning to their village after the crucifixion of Christ gives us a clue: “How much must His words have eased the worries of the disciples from Emmaus, for them to say at the end: stay with us? And they do so despite the fact that initially he reproached them for their inability to grasp what the prophets had announced. Perhaps it was his tone of voice, his affectionate look, that made them feel welcomed, but at the same time invited them to change. With God’s grace our dealings with others will also show appreciation for each person, a real understanding of what is going on in each one’s heart, thus encouraging them to set out on the path of Christian life.”
This ability to share others’ feelings is especially crucial in the mentoring work that every top executive should be engaged in if he is taking seriously the challenge of management succession in his organization. Although there are now professional business coaches, the CEO and other heads of departments must be the first business coaches of those under them. In this task, human friendship is indispensable. A mentor must be a friend of his mentee. As the article “Living for Others” appearing also in the website of Opus Dei states: “With his personal example, St. Josemaria taught us how to be friends of our friends. A friend, as classical writers put it, is another self—someone who helps make our lives more tolerable, who is here for us in our troubles, and shares our joys and sorrows. A friend is someone we can confide in, because we can trust him. We all need to be able to rely on each other, so as to travel the road of life in this way, to make our aspirations bear fruit, to overcome difficulties, to benefit from the results of our efforts. Hence the enormous importance of friendship, not only on the human but also on the divine plane.” From these words, we can conclude that mentoring or coaching goes much beyond inculcating professional or academic skills (in the case of university mentoring). The mentor must help his mentee in attaining what we have called in this article integral human development. For comments, my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.