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They can't GIVE you what they do not HAVE.

Today's 40for40 post is another focused on leadership, people, and perhaps, life in general. I am writing to encourage you with what I hope will be a personal moment of clarity, so buckle up as I'm not holding back on this one. Okay, here goes; make sure that you read this next sentence very slowly and carefully. "People cannot give you what they do not have." I repeat, "People cannot give you what they do not have."

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

From money, to other resources we often seek such as; food, shelter, clothes, etc., if someone does not have it, they simply cannot give it to you. This point is not that difficult a concept for people to grasp when it comes to tangible things. We've all been in situations when someone (stranger or friend) approached us to ask for a tangible need that we either did not have to give (or did not want to give) such as loan or favor. Just the other night a homeless man asked me to offer him "help" with finding a hotel room for the night. He obviously didn't know that he was speaking with a social worker, so when I gave him an encouraging word and pointed him to local resources here in Columbia that could help him, he got upset that I didn't give him money to help him book a hotel stay for the night and yelled at me in an attempt to provoke me. He told me that I was "...a fake...and I KNEW it before you told me you weren't giving

Not me, but this is a pretty good example of how my face looked during the surprise confrontation. Photo by Andrew Dick from Pexels.

me no (sic) money!" Seriously, it went down, pretty much just like that. I graciously opened my car door slowly, said a prayer for the gentleman on my way home and kept it moving. I don't usually carry cash on me, and I literally did not have any cash to give the man. He needed it. I did not have it to give it to him. He walked away angry and disappointed. I walked away annoyed at his ridiculous request and reaction to my refusal to give him "...something I did not have."

Now, let's take this a step further and apply that same concept to the intangible (and often more important) things we may request from others such as integrity, compassion, trustworthiness, affection, joy, leadership, etc. Have you ever desired for someone (a peer, coworker, supervisor, friend or family member) to give you something that you needed only to end up disappointed when they didn't care, didn't try, or didn't come through? Don't lie now, we've all been there!

While accepting the "people cannot give you..." principle may seem like something that should be easy to grasp; through both personal and professional experiences I've seen countless examples of interpersonal conflicts that grew into World War III sized events solely because there was an expectation that one party would give the other "...something that they did not have." Think back to times when you experienced those "I just wish they would LISTEN!" or "I can't believe how TRIFLING they handled that situation! They have no INTEGRITY." These moments often ruin relationships - sometimes beyond repair - hurt team morale at the office, and sometimes lead to depression, bitterness, and resentment.

Frustrated woman. Free image courtesy of Wix.

In a future post I'll write about why I do not absolve people from their responsibility to be decent, cordial, and generally follow the golden rule to treat others they way they would like to be treated. However, what I am strongly encouraging you to consider with this post is to stop EXPECTING people to give you something that they have not demonstrated they own as an effective tool in their proverbial toolbox. The bottom line is that some people just aren't good at some of the things that we wished they would be good at. We live in a world where you will occasionally get the rude person in a customer service role who clearly shouldn't be working in that role. You will work alongside people who may or may not be aware that their negative spirit and energy is the primary reason why they are miserable at work. Unfortunately, some times those people are placed in positions to lead; which only creates a culture where everyone in the office is miserable, as they take the lead from the person in charge.

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

Some people are high energy and love to help others. Other people are more secluded and choose to be more cautious. While it would be nice if you could go to your family member or colleague who is naturally more reserved and have them give you attributes that aren't their natural strength (such as mentoring, sharing information, or bringing joy into the room), most likely doing so will lead to a bad outcome. I often illustrate this point in class by asking my students to think about Winnie the Pooh and all of the adventures among his group of friends: Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Christopher Robin. Clearly, each of those characters have significantly different energies and each have their own unique value within the proper context. Think about it like this; would you go to Eeyore for a pep talk? Would you to to Piglet or Tigger, for a frank and honest talk about areas of your job performance that need immediate improvement...or else?! I certainly hope that your answer to both of those questions was an emphatic "no!"

Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of the people we work and share life with is a far too often missed opportunity to display, quiet, sincere leadership. This takes time, care, and commitment to actually study the people that you work with. I've worked with a colleague who literally would go out of their way to NOT walk past my door because our energies didn't match. This person's natural inclination was to view work as something that had to be laborious, harsh, and an never-ending survival of the fittest struggle where "your win is my loss." People like this tend to be uncooperative and will most likely ALWAYS view you as competition, no matter how much evidence you provide to the contrary. Recognizing that someone else's issues are just that, "their issues," will free you from over-analyzing why each time you: are cordial, make a gesture to invite collaboration, or (gulp) actually mean it in the morning when you say "good morning! or how was your weekend?" The sad truth is many of us naturally take it too personally when many of the actions we desire from people who "cannot give you what they do not have" do not happen. Some colleagues will NEVER be supportive. Some family members will NEVER be empathetic to your personal issues. Some friends will NEVER "come through" for you when you need them most. I recognize that the previous point sounds harsh, but I'm encouraging you to recognize that the reason why you cannot get what you want from someone may not be because they are "evil" and don't have other redeeming qualities. They just don't have what you think you need from them.

Oftentimes, conflicts occur with people who can't provide what we desire from them because we ourselves may have misdiagnosed our own needs which themselves may be less tangible, more delicate, abstract, and harder to quantify that what we may have thought. For example, professional development needs such as being mentored, sponsored, or supported may be difficult to see in others if you have never received it yourself. Have you ever worked for a supervisor who seemed to be more concerned with their personal career goals, than developing the people entrusted to them to lead? Have you ever taken the time to think about why they may behave that way? How do you think it ends up working out for those people in the long run? Do you see their future as one where you imagine them as happy, satisfied, and full of joy people; or do you imagine them ending up as bitter, demanding, critical, and constantly looking for their next hill to "conquer?" Many co-workers or employees may begin their career excited and ready to learn, but soon grow weary and disenchanted due to a variety of climate and culture issues that show themselves through many of the behaviors mentioned above.

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

That being said, this post is to encourage you to not make a critical mistake that is easy to fall into; becoming that person yourself because of resentment that grows from over-assessing the flaws of others. While not easy, developing empathy and compassion for the needs of others, as well as yourself, is the key in growth during your professional and personal development. The error we make when we often invoke "the golden rule" is that we only see it from our perspective. We wish that people would be better to us so that we would be more satisfied. Doesn't that same principle work both ways? While difficult, it's important to remember that people in your lives who do not give you what they do not have also have a need and desire to "be treated the way they would like to be treated." Unfortunately, many people are taught bad lessons early in life, and within their career, that lead to dysfunction, fear, and hopelessness. Unless YOU make a personal decision to be more empathetic to the needs of others, and change your expectation and reactions to their behavior the cycle will never end, and the only person who won't have what they desired...will be you. #40for40 #Leadership #Empathy #ToughLessons