Fifteen months ago, my mother-in-law was extremely ill and we didn’t know if she would live past the summer. Nine months ago, my mother fell and broke her back. Falls and breaks can be the beginning of the end for many. Thankfully, both of these amazingly strong women are back on their feet and better than ever. It doesn’t always end this happily. With all our day-to-day rushing and stresses, it’s easy to let silly irritations get in the way of relationships. But—what if they weren’t there?
Next time your spouse, friend, lover, boss or coworker does something that drives you crazy, consider this—What if he/she weren’t there?
Jeff was talking about some annoying habit that his husband has and how irritating it was. It was one of those “nothing” annoyances, such as socks on the floor or toothpaste-tube messes. But then he thought about the void that would be left if his husband weren’t in his life. Sure, the floor would be clean, but there would be so many other things missing. So Jeff had the class consider this question and do the following exercise—while spinning, of course.
Think about someone you love and some annoying habit that he/she has. Feel that annoyance and the anger and frustration that goes along with it. Are you feeling the pain?
Then think of that person’s many other wonderful aspects. His generous heart or her carefree demeanor…his ability to make you laugh…that she likes paying bills…his never-ending energy. Feel better, right?
Now imagine your life without that person in it. That means no annoyances but also no beautiful benefits. A whole new but very sad perspective. This is not an earth-shattering concept, but it is a super-important reminder.
I was reminded of this again today when I attended a dear family friend’s funeral. He and his wife were probably the longest and best friends my parents had as a couple. We grew up with their kids. Together we went to the Jersey shore and Hebrew school. We attended one another’s family weddings, etc. He was the patriarch of an amazing family, and I’m guessing that more than 500 people came to pay their respects to this amazing pillar of multiple communities. Each of the nine eulogies mentioned David’s compulsion to talk to anyone and everyone. He was one of the smartest and best-read people around, but he also was quite the story teller. I’m sure that there were many times in his life when family members and friends would have loved to have had fewer or briefer stories from him, but what a loss it would have been if they didn’t have all of those wonderful tales, along with his insights, advice and passion for helping the underdog.
My sister credits an old boyfriend for one (and only one) good thing in her life—the concept that your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. It’s kind of a corollary to Jeff’s spin-class challenge and one that I apply often at work and at home when I am helping my girls to be tolerant of and accept people who they find “annoying.”
In the office, it is a leader’s job to get the most out of the members of the team—and that team often includes people with diverse skills and personalities. There have been many times when I have had to help team members work through conflicts. Sometimes the same person who is meticulous and detail-oriented also has a tendency to miss important deadlines. Or perhaps the big-idea guy is short on specifics when giving instructions to his team to implement those ideas.
Each of these people provides tremendous value in their sweet spots but also requires understanding and appreciation on the part of other team members for the sour side of their sweetness. The leadership challenge is to help team members appreciate the sweetness of the person—for example, his attention to detail or her ability to come up with big ideas—while helping him to overcome the sour aspects in order to generate successful outcomes. It takes a lot of work, but it is well worth it if the process improves team morale and productivity.
Family members, on the other hand, can drive one another crazy with benign bickering or even world wars over the holiday dinner tables. Sadly, far too many families are torn apart because no one stops to think about all the good surrounding those annoying habits. Instead the adversaries focus only on the problematic parts. What a tragic waste!
So do me a favor, inspired by Jeff and his mind game. Call or text that person who comes to mind when you think of someone who drives you crazy and let him know how glad you are to have him—and his annoying habits—in your life. You will be amazed at how good it will make you feel.