The missing piece…

by | 15th September, 2013 | thoughts on life, unconditional love

Today I have been feeling cross. I’m angry that after spending over eight years at a university doing my undergraduate and masters degree this institution left something out of my education. It was an important piece too, critical for the prosperity of all in my field if they are after a long term career. My education was in the field of Adult Education – corporate staff training and development. I was a Human Resources staffer, and I spent my corporate career supposedly helping department managers and supervisors to get the best work from their team.  Yes, I learnt all the traditional theories about adult learning and workplace motivators. I was indoctrinated into the world of “what you put in is what you get out” and I became a disciple spreading the word to all my corporate colleagues. The message always came back to – treat people well and they in turn will work well. The premise for this is the notion of “garbage in equals garbage out”, therefore “good in equals good out”. However, now, after all these years working and building a business I have come to realise this is not correct…it’s just not complete.


Robert Cialdini in his groundbreaking work about influence and social behaviours talks about this as the power of reciprocity. It is the notion that as humans we are conditioned to think that one good deed deserves another. If you go to a party, you can’t go empty handed(Cadbury Favourites chocolates even produced a TV ad using this premise recently!). If someone cleans your windscreen at the traffic lights you need to give them some money. If you receive a Christmas card in the post from someone you need to return the same gesture. We’re conditioned to believe it’s simply good manners/morals/behaviour to return the favour. I don’t see anything wrong with sharing the love…not at all.

However, what happens when a good deed is NOT returned? What then? I’ve come to realise that not addressing this missing piece can lead to a lot of angst. I touched on this last week about my own buiness burnout. This was an underlying cause of my stress. My education let me down because the theory simply didn’t work. It’s not just in the work arena: it affects families, friends, colleagues. It’s the fundamental feeling of making an effort and then being let down. The reciprocity spotlight needs to move off the receiver and onto the giver because to do something and then have an expectation of return in all situations is fundamentally flawed.  For the giver, the key to true self-preservation (and love) is to decide to do something unconditionally – without any expectation of a return. That’s the most liberating and freeing place to come from and often a damn tough road to walk initially (old habits die hard!). I feel the most challenged with this when it comes to raising my beautiful boys. I am constantly checking myself to ensure I am letting them “be” – and not trying to shape them to be someone I think they “should be”. Reciprocity can raise it’s head in so many situations….and as the giver I have to first ask myself why am I giving and is it ok that the favour may not be returned? Stephen Covey outlines this idea beautifully in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (start at page 16 for those interested) where he talks about how he and his wife’s effort with their son was confused with their perception of what makes a good parent, and the ultimate message this sent to their boy. I’m going to talk more about this idea next week.

Famous psychologist Carl Rogers argued that for a child to truly blossom they must have unconditional positive regard from others. Unconditional. I think he was right, although I would go one step further and argue that for the giver/adult to also blossom they too must come from a place of unconditional positive regard for themselves and the receiver. For me, unconditional positive regard for others is the key to a life that is fulfilling, rewarding and grudge free. i think it’s quite ironic that to be able to extend that idea to another person in my life results in me giving it to myself as well. If I had realised this a few years ago I probably would have reduced the level of workplace stress and anxiety I experienced. Reciprocity begins to take on a whole new meaning….  Have a great week everyone xx