Escalation in the Workplace | Matthieu Ricard

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, visits with Matthieu Ricard, to discuss the importance of mindfulness and compassion at work. I found Ricard's insight into confrontation simple but extraordinarily difficult, a habit that requires practice (the segment on this topic is 5 minutes long):

"Humans are not so rational ... they are anything but rational ... they are flooded with emotions .... if you are flooded with emotions, you better have the right ones." - Matthieu Ricard

Ricard didn't state it in these words but I heard him imply: retain sovereignty over your own disposition, where "at least you remain in peace". I find that that small throw-away statement by Ricard ("at least you remain in peace") to be one of the most important, largely because that particular disagreement won't be the last one in the workplace and many times, the residue of a difficult conversation clings, unless you have learned the skill of inner peace. (Earlier in the conversation, Ricard notes a secret, that the catalytic factor for compassion is empathy). 

In the novel The Glass Bead Game by German author Hermann Hesse, the protagonist Joseph Knecht (a high priest of sorts) meets with the President of his order at an extreme moment of heightened escalation. Here are two men, well-versed in the art of meditation, en route to an imminent emotional collision when one of them retreats inwardly to that center of calm:

The Head of the Order closed his eyes and seemed to be no longer listening. Knecht saw that he was performing that emergency exercise used by members of the Order in moments of sudden danger to regain self-control and inner calm; it consisted in twice emptying the lungs and holding the breath for long moments.

Earlier in the novel, Knecht attempts to instruct his distressed friend Plinio (who also represents a kind of modern skeptic) in the way of serenity and equanimity. I am sure there are many who hear the words of Ricard and feel the same aversion: 

You are adverse to serenity ... [it] strikes you as shallow and childish, and cowardly to boot, a flight ... from reality into a clear, well-ordered world of mere forms and formulas, mere abstractions and refinements ... Granted there are those among us who are too easily satisfied, who enjoy sham serenity; but in contrast to them we also have ... generations ... whose serenity is not playful shallowness, but earnest depth ... to achieve this cheerful serenity is to me, and to many others, the finest and highest of goals. 

Kinecht's resolve "to achieve cheerful serenity" is the denouement of the novel but I find his words and his fictional life instructional, largely because the character lived, not in the benign protectorate of a cloister, but in the bustle and busyness of an important office that dictated his actions and mandated performance, very much akin to the frenetic pace and obligations many of us walk in now. (I tend to learn more from fiction than non-fiction, relishing Werner Herzog's comment: "If you’re purely after facts, please buy yourself the phone directory of Manhattan. It has four million times correct facts. But it doesn’t illuminate").

P.S. I don't know if Matthieu Ricard manages his own Twitter account but when I tweeted the interview, Ricard (or his social media team) favorited my comment. Namaste, Matthieu. 

P.S.S. I learned about Matthieu Ricard first, as a photographer