Love in the Workplace

As a leadership coach and entrepreneur, I talk a lot about a model credited to the authors of “The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership,” in which we imagine a very simple horizontal line. We are challenged to recognize ourselves as being either above or below in different situations. The point is not to always be above the line, but to recognize honestly where we are, and pause before we act from below the line, considering if we are ready and willing to shift up. Sometimes we are not ready or willing, and that’s OK, so long as we don’t do harm.

Above the line are the characteristics of our aspirational best self; openness, accountability, valuing people’s opinions and differences, curiosity, compassion, generosity, respect, patience, letting go of being right…here we understand that we create our own reality by our own thoughts, speech and actions and don’t blame others, we know that the world is our ally and everything is set up to teach us something, and we know that we are enough.

Below the line we cling to being right, talking badly about others, we are closed-minded, blame others for everything, feel the world is happening “to me” and have no power. We are a victim, clinging on to our own stuff and taking everything personally, driven by a scarcity mentality of not enough, never enough, and with certainty that the world is out to get us.

I have lived and practiced with this model for several years and recently began to think about it in an even more simple form. There are lots of ways of describing the state of being above and below the line – consciousness and unconsciousness, awareness and delusion or trance, a presence or lack of presence – but one that I like the most is LOVE and FEAR. If we break all these things down into their most basic form, that basically covers it.

Why is LOVE important in the workplace? First of all, let’s try to define it. More than a feeling, love is a group of actions that embody those above the line principles. It’s acting in a way that cares and is genuinely interested in the well-being of the other and seeing them as a 3-dimensional and unique individual who matters as much as anyone else. And that could be self -love too. When we practice self-love we are acting from above the line towards ourselves.

Love doesn’t just play a role in business; it is the key to business. Business is simply about relationships, and all healthy relationships are based in love. This is not romantic love, of course, as we don’t have to fall in love with our patients and coworkers and we don’t even have to like them sometimes – but we need to deeply care about them, recognize them as unique and valuable and important, and give them our full time and attention when we are together.

Why do so many new patients come to see me every year instead of going to some other place? And why do the vast majority of my patients come back? And conversely what is the nature of pretty much ALL of my patient complaints?

I believe the answer is LOVE, or in the case of complaints when we fell short and patients felt a lack of love and did not feel important or cared for. My capacity to communicate love and compassion to my patients is the single greatest differentiator from my competition. That’s why they come here.

I have told people what our organizational values are in our mission statement and they come to me because they share those values. People are attracted to people who make them feel seen, valued and alive. People remember how you made them FEEL. When I promise to deliver something and don’t do it, people feel disappointed, they feel unloved.

So this “exceptional experience” that I am promising/aspiring to deliver at every encounter is an act of love. It starts on the phone or with the first interaction, recognizing that we are talking to another human being, someone just like us, with the same hopes, fears and desire to be happy. And with a bunch of history that we don’t know, but safe to assume it has included both a lot of pain and a lot of joy. And I have no idea what happened in her life that month, day or morning, but I listen deeply to what she is saying and what she is not saying, pick up on cues of body language if she is in front of me, then use my heart, my intuition, to try to give her what she needs to feel loved. To do that, to really listen with my whole body, I have to be present. That goes back to my favorite subject of mindfulness- having your head and body in the same place. I can’t deeply listen to the person in front of me if I am thinking about my grocery list or worrying about month-end or an argument I had this morning. My mind is in the past or future, and love can only exist in the present moment. I owe my patients my presence. To be actually there with her, in tune with her needs, on the phone, at the front desk, or in the exam room, or operating room.

One author, whose name I can’t recall, suggested that there are 4 basic things that each person is continuously subconsciously asking:

Do you see me?

Do you care that I am here? 

Am I good enough for you? 

Can I tell that I am special to you?

My job is to continuously be anticipating those questions and answering them for my patients. These questions are all based in fear; fear of not being seen and not being good enough, and on a primal level of not surviving since we depend on each other to stay alive. This is a fear that all humans share on a basic level. Love eliminates fear. Love lets us know that we are good enough exactly as we are, and we are cared for.

What happens to these questions when we don’t look at a patient in the eye and smile at the front desk, if they hear me sigh, if we don’t call them by their preferred name, if we make them wait a long time, or if we don’t get their results back as soon as we promised? What story will the patient make up based on these questions? How are we making her feel? What emotion do many people feel when we answer these questions with a NO? If they are pretty self-aware and mature they may just feel disappointed. If they are less mature they may feel anger, rage, or lash out. We may have hit their primary childhood wound, they might tell all their friends and write all over the internet, but more importantly, we have made them feel terrible and reinforced an old story about not being good enough. That is creating harm, which I promised not to do. It’s a big deal.

I love this question that came from one of my teachers Vinny Ferraro (look him up online or in YouTube). In every situation, the universe is asking me “How can I be a better lover?” This can apply in the romantic sense with our partners and is a great question to ask in that setting, but more in the day to day interactions. How can I bring love to this situation? Especially if it is a difficult situation or conflict? How can I add love and not fear? How can I make things better, not worse? How can I put water on this fire and not gasoline? How can I create this magic alchemy (making gold out of base materials)? I see this all the time when a team member calms an angry patient and makes her happy. This is not easy, and it takes courage and strength to face someone who is angry with an undefended heart. But we can’t engage in love or connect with a defended heart.

We have to be vulnerable, and trust and have faith that love always wins. Nelson Mandela famously wrote that he approached all of his guards during his 27-year imprisonment with love. No matter what they brought him, he returned love. Inevitably the guards could no longer do their job and kept being replaced. They simply were unable to hate him when they were consistently faced with love.

Be careful to give love without conditions. If I come home and do something really nice for my husband because I am afraid to tell him that I have to go out of town next weekend, or because I need to prove to myself that I am loveable or good enough, that is adding conditions, and robs me of the opportunity to experience real altruism or generosity. I don’t calm a patient so that I can get a good online review; I do it because it’s the right thing to do, because I am acting from love, which is our true nature.

So what about our coworkers? People are people 24/7 – we don’t stop being people when we come to work and start being human when we leave. What if we treated each other this same way? To recognize that each of us is unique and special and that each of us is asking those same four questions.

What if your co-workers consistently treated you as a real person, more than your title or uniform, and listened to you in a way that made you feel special and important? What if we gave each other a unique and valuable experience every day and that was as important as what we offer our patients or clients?

My guess is that it would dramatically improve engagement, reduce turnover, and improve happiness, it would make work purposeful and meaningful, and give you a reason to get up in the morning. If work has lost that shine for you, making things better has to start with you. If you are waiting for someone else to go first, you are below the line, living in fear. Fear that you will look foolish or that your sentiments won’t be received well, or that you will lose power. Shifting above the love means going first, doing the right thing no matter what the outcome, being vulnerable, saying “I Love You” by your actions, first. And when you give love from a genuine place, it is extremely unlikely that you will not be received well.

I challenge you to wake up to the little miracles going on all around you. Go first. Say I love you with your eyes and your body language. A happier, more engaged and loving workplace starts with YOU!