The Middle Way

Zen Spot #158 - Mindfulness, meditation and managing people January 19, 2015 20:12

Q: As a novice Buddhist and professional manager, how do I practice compassion for a problem employee?

A: The power of this question is found in the search for a practical solution that abides by your choice to practice the Buddhist tradition purely. I am unable to practice purely. Few practitioners can. I've learned to accept my lack of purity, in part, because it is beyond my choice. Recognizing my impurity provides me the opportunity to practice compassion for myself. Perhaps this is the most important factor to consider. If you can have compassion for yourself, it is easier to have compassion for a problem employee.

As a younger professional, and even today at times, I mistake compassion as a unilateral and absolute demonstration of patience, care and clarity. This understanding doesn't provide for the experience of truly living. For those people who desire to practice the Buddhist tradition, this is a common mistake that can cause considerable inner turmoil. Accept that a certain level of turmoil always exists within you as well as within all of humanity. It ebbs and flows. The point, however, is not to relieve your inner turmoil. The point is to practice compassion and mindfulness in order that turmoil will be minimized.

Next, remember that the issue is a human issue between two or more human beings; one of whom is you. Rigorously evaluate your role. The problem cannot exist without you. Be accountable for your participation and make the changes necessary to demonstrate leadership and good faith. Also, it helps to consider the business a living entity with the attending fragility.

As thoughtful as you've committed to being, different problems require different solutions. For example, an employee accused of harassment requires a different response than an employee who is consistently late for work. I make this distinction because it becomes obvious that a thoughtful Buddhist response can be swift and rather harsh (when dealing with harassment on the job) but still demonstrate compassion for a problem employee by ensuring there is respect for all those involved during the evaluation or expulsion process.

From this point, trust the Dharma. Walk the Middle Way and commit to a resolution that will be crafted from the facts. Do not determine a goal/solution and work backwards to achieve it. Pursue truth and communicate clearly to all parties involved. When necessary and appropriate, put communications in writing and document all relevant information. Provide a description of the problem, the desired solution, a realistic time frame and final measurement.

Finally, American corporate culture does not walk the Middle Way. Expect it to continue down this path. Anger, malevolence, resentment, manipulation and fear are naturally exacerbated and, in some circumstances encouraged, in order to meet corporate objectives. The Dharma is inclusive of the worst and best in mankind. You may be a witness to the problem employee's anger, malevolence, resentment, manipulation and fear.

Perhaps most importantly, trust the fear as a pathway to compassion. Study the fear. Understand the fear and it will allow you to more easily walk in the problem employee's shoes and contemplate their world view. Compassion naturally follows.

Your response, in any eventuality, is to walk the Middle Way. Pursue the truth and be fair. That is enough.


About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?