Businesswomen fighting
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You choose your friends, but you can't always choose who you work with. As a result, you may spend eight hours a day or more with people you do not get along with...or even like. So how can you make your workplace more pleasant, peaceful and caring for one another?
Certainly you can do things that are simple, yet effective, like bringing flowers to work or sharing fresh fruit. Some businesses start each meeting with three minutes of silence, in order to create a psychological break between activities. This is a brilliant way to bring people together on the same page. But often the difficulties go deeper, especially if it feels like someone has it in for you—and even more so if the offender is your boss.

We were teaching a week retreat in an old vicarage in the countryside of County Wicklow, Ireland. A beautiful place, yet many of the participants had difficulties they were working with. In particular, Helen told us she had a very critical, angry boss—Mary, who would walk in each day and immediately begin to find fault with everything Helen did: the way she was dressed, the way her hair was, she was always late (which she wasn't) and so on. Helen was becoming a nervous wreck, feeling inadequate and shameful, as well as developing a real bitterness toward her boss. She wanted to leave, but jobs were hard to find in her area.

At the retreat, we taught Helen how to develop greater objectivity toward Mary. We reversed roles so Helen could see she was actually being very self-centered, as many people are, by presuming it was all about her. She had immediately assumed she must have done something wrong, as Mary did not seem to like her. She was then able to see that, instead, Mary might be unhappy or facing her own problems and taking it out on Helen.

Why it's important to think about people other than yourself

Businesswoman thinking
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It was very important for Helen to go beyond thinking of herself as the cause and to see the bigger picture, even to realize it probably had nothing to do with her at all. This was a profound insight. She was then able to practice a meditation we taught her to cultivate kindness. This helped Helen develop more self-confidence, as well as a greater sense of connectivity with others so she didn't take things so personally. It gave her greater objectivity, awareness and freedom, which also led her to a deeper understanding of Mary, and even compassion for her.

After the retreat was over and Helen was back at work, she happily wrote to tell us what had happened. She had been focusing her kindness meditation on Mary and had begun to perceive what an unhappy and sad woman her boss really was beneath her tough exterior. Helen watched her moving and talking to people and saw the loneliness in her body language, sensing sadness in her voice. Each time Mary approached her, Helen would silently direct toward Mary, "May you be well, may you be happy, may you be peaceful," while sending her boss thoughts of care and compassion. This not only lowered her own stress response, but also balanced her reactive feelings.

Helen saw the reality of this other woman's unhappiness and how all the criticism and anger appeared to be due to her own issues, rather than anything Helen had done. Meditation cleared her mind and opened her heart so she was no longer giving her power away, but was able to stay steady within herself. No longer absorbing the criticisms, Helen could talk to her boss quite fearlessly.

On one occasion, while Mary was accusing Helen of something she thought had been done wrong, Helen gently reached out and touched Mary's shoulder, quietly asking, "Is everything okay?" To which Mary gave a deep sigh, sat down and began to unload her story of her husband being sick at home and two very rebellious teenage children. Helen was able to offer a listening ear, and the two soon forged a new and far more caring working relationship. Helen told us that developing a greater understanding for her boss had enriched her whole work life.

There is a Helen in you! At those times when you are in conflict with others, ask yourself: "Is it really about us, or is it their issue?" When you bring others into your heart, you're able to see beyond your own ego-centered mind and learn not to take issues so personally. Then you're also able to be more caring and kind. The meditation below can help you develop these qualities.

Try Ed and Deb's 3-step kindness meditation
Kindness Meditation

Spend a few minutes on each stage of this practice. Settle your body in an upright and seated posture. Take a few minutes to focus on the natural flow of your breath, while bringing your attention to the heart space in the center of your chest.

  • Now either repeat your name or visualize yourself in your heart so you can feel your presence. Hold yourself there, gently and tenderly. Release any tension on the out-breath and breathe in softness and openness with the in-breath. Silently repeat: "May I be happy, may I be peaceful, may I be kinder." Feel a growing sense of friendliness and kindness for yourself.

  • Now direct your kindness toward the person you are having a hard time with at work, where communication is not easy or there are misunderstandings. Keep breathing out any resistance, and breathing in openness, as you hold this person in your heart and repeat: "May you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be kinder." No need to get caught up in recalling the details of the story. Hold them gently and tenderly, wishing them wellness and happiness.

  • Now expand your kindness outward toward all people, in all directions. Open your heart to others, whomever they may be, silently repeating: "May all beings be happy, may all beings be peaceful, may all beings be kinder." Let go of any prejudice or resistance. Feel kindness radiating out from you in all directions. Breathe in kindness, breathe out kindness.
When you are ready, take a deep breath and gently open your eyes, letting the kindness in your heart put a smile on your lips.

Ed and Deb Shapiro are the authors of Be The Change, How Meditation Can Transform You and the World. They are featured weekly contributors to, and Ed and Deb write Sprint's The Daily CHILLOUT inspirational text messages. They have three meditation CDs: Metta: Loving Kindness and Forgiveness, Samadhi: Breath Awareness and Insight and Yoga Nidra: Inner Conscious Relaxation. Deb is also the author of the best-selling book Your Body Speaks Your Mind, winner of the 2007 Visionary Book Award.

Keep Reading More from Ed and Deb Shapiro:
Why your mind is like a beautiful garden
How meditation can calm your mind
3 anxiety-free ways to change


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