This a love story. And it begins with a banana.
One morning while eating breakfast, I thought “gosh, how many people were involved to get me this banana?” (Yes, I had lots of time to think while in lockdown.) Farmers, pickers, packagers, shippers, warehouse workers, grocery story workers, delivery people… the person who created Miss Chiquita!?
I then looked around at all the other items around me; coffee, plates, stove, electronics; and I asked myself “how many people were involved to supply me with everything I use in my life?” There were the people I’ve met; grocery staff, the postman, doctors, delivery people… Then there were all those I’ve not met; government workers, lawyers, maintenance crews, city cleaners, warehouse staff… One thing was clear: we need each other to survive and thrive.
A Functioning World
Our world is run by people; not ‘systems’, ‘governments’, ‘businesses’, ‘organisations’… these constructs don’t really exist. People do. People who plan and hire, buy and sell. People who are also parents and bakers, cyclists, and geeks. The world can’t function unless all these different people work well together. And what is the basis for working well together? “Healthy relationships!”, I thought as I finished my banana.
While the relationships needed to bring a banana to me are seemingly working (and we will discuss what ‘working’ means and for whom a bit later) there are many relationships that aren’t. Countries are warring, businesses aggressively compete and are not trusted by their own customers, our relationship with nature has deteriorated to the point of crisis, political viewpoints are pulling us further apart, as are economic disparities. We also make sweeping generalisations about groups of people we don’t understand? This is how bigotry exists in all its forms: racism, sexism, LGBT-phobias, ableism, ageism etc. If healthy relationships are needed for the world to function, we also need them to avoid these types of conflict and segregation.
What about personal relationships? If it weren’t for friends and family on video calls during lockdowns, I would have gone a bit crazy. Because my relationships are working well with these people, we have reached a point where we want to support each other. Because we LOVE each other. But out of all the thousands of people I’ve ever met, how did I end up loving these wonderful people and they me? I know many other relationships have not worked, those people have left my life and in many cases, as I’m sure you can relate, left me with feelings of varying levels of sadness, unease, or distress. These feelings can last a very long time as I consciously and unconsciously try to rationalise behaviours of all parties with what I believe to be true about myself and them. Understanding and processing this ‘cognitive dissonance’ is one of the keys to resolving conflict which I have found has been helped.
The Psychologist, George Levinger identified the five stages of interpersonal relationships: Acquaintance, Build-up, Continuation, Deterioration, Ending. Successful relationships get to the third stage but how do we keep them there?
Whilst conflict can lead to progress of sorts, we know it is not as productive or constructive as collaboration. It also bad for our wellbeing and emotional health.
Conflict and segregation are preventing us from making all types of progress: personal, business, political, societal, and of course, environmental. To make progress, we need to constantly adapt, change, and transform – the businesses that survived through 2020 definitely did. But before we can change, we must be open to change itself, and that isn’t always easy. If we want consistent progress, this means curating a culture which embraces continual change. Ah ha!
Hearts and Minds
So…to support a functioning world, to avoid conflict and segregation, and to make continual progress, It is clear that we need a system that helps people to:
1) create and maintain great relationships, and
2) continually embrace change
Sustainability professionals are always talking about changing hearts and minds to create a thriving planet. We use many models to change minds, but we really don’t have a robust model to change people’s hearts. And we love thinking we are logical, don’t we? It’s comforting to know we can deduce our way to a singular, provable answer. We were actively taught in school how to form a logical argument by writing essays or following the scientific method.
While logic might teach us how to use our minds, what about our hearts? Humans can’t magically separate our logic from emotions. ‘Understanding people’s emotional states is an exercise in logical reasoning, rather than something that conflicts with logical reasoning.’ Separating the two can be detrimental.
To make a decision, humans use our minds (analytical and higher-cognitive), our guts (intuition and reflex), and our hearts (emotional and affective). I will address the finer points of changing minds another time. As for our guts, well that takes a very long time to influence so I’ll leave that aside for now. Therefore, I wanted to see if there were ‘ways of being’ we could actively apply to create great relationships and continually embrace change.
Turns out there is! And to my great surprise, the acronym spells HEART.
To arrive at this model, I examined my personal and professional relationships that have worked and have not worked. I then applied it to various other contexts; business, political, and societal. I did a lot of research and tossed the concepts around with people close to me who are business professionals, doctors, scientists, lawyers, priests, politicians, consultants, and more. They also happened to represent a cross societal groups: ethnicities, genders, faiths, sexual orientations, parents, singles, left and right political supporters etc.
This is what I found.
I discovered that there are 5 ‘ways of being’ that I could apply to anyone in order to create good relationships. They are in this order because one begets the next – you can’t truly get to trusting someone without moving through the other ways of being beforehand. Human’s don’t like change; we like to stick to what is safe. So, if we can trust each other, safety is established, we can embrace change and create a thriving planet.
Each of these ‘ways of being’ are a choice. For new relationships, if we actively apply them in this order, I’m sure they will prosper and ‘continue’ (Levinger’s third relationship stage). For existing relationships, I found we need to jump back and forth based on the situation we are in and if we have developed trust in the first instance, this is easier to do. But if trust isn’t there, we need to understand what stage we are at and build upon it.
Humility: Be open to learning
I found this to be the single most important value to apply to both new and established relationships. To be humble means putting the needs of another person before your own. It’s about listening and not assuming. Being humble opens oneself up to learning and growth by looking for new insights and wisdom. Also, if you act with humility, you are more likely to get honesty from others.
Humility also requires you to acknowledge that you don’t always know it all and to be comfortable with that. This is the time to get out of your comfort zone, be inquisitive, and give space for others to give answers.
“[Humility] involves an experience of growth in which you no longer need to put yourself above others, but you don’t put yourself below them, either”
– Dr. Karl Albrecht
Psychologists have shown that those with higher levels of intellectual humility are more likely to seek out new information, are more open to learning about opposing views and why people hold them, and are more likely to be able to distinguish strong from weak arguments and see fake news for what it is. Interestingly, it is also correlated with higher levels of wellbeing.
Empathy: Look for insights
If humility makes you look for answers, empathy will encourage you to collaborate with others to find them. You will actively look for information from diverse groups of people. Whilst we are most comfortable around people like ourselves, we will not get the most innovative insights from them.
Carly Fiorina, who started as a secretary and later became the first female CEO of a Fortune 50 company has said,
“Empathy is the ability to identify with the challenges that have brought other people to where they are. Combined, [humility and empathy] invite us into authentic relationships with others, allowing collaborative energy to begin to flow.”
– Carly Fiorina
I feel empathy is what is lacking most in the world right now, with research showing its sharp decline in the USA particularly amongst young people. It’s easy to throw out a tweet in protest without truly understanding the other side of an argument and this ‘online way of being’ has bled into our personal and professional lives too. If we are actively empathetic, we will find new opportunities, have a greater appreciation for people not like us, and develop positive relationships where we all feel valued and appreciated.
Acceptance: Acknowledge truth
If we can employ empathy to learn from others, we naturally must accept their reality. We must acknowledge their feelings and dreams alongside our own version of the truth. If we don’t, we end up doubting others, rejecting feelings, and may try to impose our own worldview on others. This is a form of identity destruction. Some people are better able to accept than others. Those who are highly judgemental easily reject and blame other people. Those who accept many others, often have greater compassion. Therefore, humility and empathy must come before acceptance.
Have you ever felt bullied or judged because people aren’t accepting you? Part of the problem may be that they don’t know how to accept others into their environment. It’s easy to feel comfortable and safe around people who are similar to ourselves. We must move from tolerance to acceptance, which is the ability to see that others have a right to be their own unique self.
Respect: Respond with care
If we can accept the way people are (their identities, life-journeys, feelings), we can respect their opinions and beliefs. We might not agree with them, but we respect them.
An effective way of creating social bonds with others is to always accept the person but question what they do. This allows you to accept their identity while motivating them to improve how they behave, as long as we remember to also bring humility and empathy along. Respect involves recognising differences, understanding their significance, and responding with interest, politeness, and care. With mutual respect, you avoid labelling people in unhelpful ways. Instead, you celebrate the unique things that each of us brings and capitalise on all that we have in common.
Respect is the foundation of humane and ethical behaviour, and mutual respect underpins good relationships. To have respect for a person involves a fundamental belief in their right to exist, to be heard, and to have the same opportunities as everyone else.
Trust: Take care of others
Respect in your relationships builds feelings of trust, safety, and wellbeing. Trust is an important and delicate aspect of all relationships because it requires us to choose to be vulnerable and courageous. When we have learned to trust someone, it’s usually because we’ve come to understand that what we share with them or what’s important to us is safe with that person.
Trust helps to heal hurt and enables forgiveness. If trust is earned, then humility, empathy, acceptance, and respect are the ways to earn it. If trust is ever broken, we must work through these other ‘ways of being’ to get it back.
Things in our world need to change. Problems such as the climate crisis, social injustice, wars, political and economic disparity, aggressive business competition… they can all be solved if we can trust each other and collaborate.
What’s Love got to do with it?
Sorry Tina, it’s not a second hand emotion! Love is many things to many people – too many things for this blog. But for now, if we define it as a feeling of deep affection, then in most cases, trust is enough. We don’t need to love our co-workers, our employers, law enforcement officers or cashiers. We do love our friends, our family, and our pets. But what is honestly stopping us from bringing the language of love into business, politics, and the environment?
I was lucky to work with the amazing David Cadman, businessman and environmental philosopher. He wrote a book called Love Matters which was gifted to me by the lovely Julie Hirigoyen, CEO of the UK Green Building Council. I highly recommend it, and I promise to discuss it in later blogs. He has also co-edited a book called “Why Love Matters: Values in Governance”.
For me, I can truly say I love nature, I love sharing ideas… and I love my job. I have found my purpose in life and I’m living it. As a sustainability consultant, I have been able to help hundreds of businesses do thousands of great things for millions of people. This has truly been a labour of love.
“Hatred paralyzes life, love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonises it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it”.
– Martin Luther King Jr.
Call to action
The aim of this blog is to turn a realisation into a conversation. Whilst concepts presented here aren’t revolutionary, bringing this thinking into businesses is. The world is at a social, environmental, and economic tipping point, so if there was ever a time to question our ‘ways of being’, it is now.
It is my hope that you will read this, comment below, add to the concepts, challenge ideas, and in the end, find a way that you can build good relationships in your life, your business, and the world.
“Changing Hearts and Minds” Series
As part of the Changing Hearts & Minds series of thought leadership, I will examine how this model can and has worked. We will look at some case studies and apply this HEART model to various relationships: Personal (family, friends, partners, etc.), Business (line management, B2B collaboration etc.), Political (left to right, various countries, etc.), and Societal (cultural, racial, communities, etc.)
JustOne was established to bring humanity back to business. As a sustainability consultancy, we help businesses put people first, because when we do, we make decisions that benefit society and the environment they live in. Taking care of people is our business, and it is yours too.
We have our own set of company core values that live everyday and implement in everything from our recruitment to client relationship management. We will work to layer the HEART ‘ways of being’ in specific processes. For example, when we meet a client for the first time or carry out stakeholder engagement, we will employ ‘humility’. When we carry out brand reviews or help clients with adapting through the pandemic, we will employ ‘empathy’. When we present sustainability strategies and debate long-term goals, we will employ ‘respect’.
– End –
A lot of this blog is about making choices. As a sustainability professional, I’m very conscious of my choices. I walk, cycle, or take public transit as much as I can. I’ve reduced a lot of my meat consumption and single-use plastic. I buy second-hand goods and gifts from social enterprises.
I also am very conscious about what businesses I support because I want my money to be used for good. The banana in my story was Fairtrade and it came from The Co-Operative. So, when I say I know the “system the brought me my banana” was working – I’m fairly confident that the broad systems was “working” for most of the workers in the supply chain: they were paid a decent wage, that there was no modern slavery, and that my money would go to good causes. But at the end of the day, eating a banana grown in a different continent racks up my food miles; and that was down to my personal choice and it’s a choice I can improve on.
Do you know how socially and environmentally your supply chain is? If not, maybe it’s time you peel back the layers. We are here to help so please get in touch. JustOne.UK
Dave Carlos is Managing Director at JustOne.