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Interview With Stanley Bing

Aired March 29, 2002 - 09:43   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: One reality that many teenagers bemoan at one time or another is that you can't choose your parents. Well, when you get older, you learn another one that is equally as harsh: You generally can't choose your boss either.

Recognizing this is one of the first steps in getting ahead, according to a new book called "Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up."

Stanley Bing is the author of the book; he joins us now.

And hello, nice to see you.


ZAHN: The name of the corporation he works for will remain anonymous at this moment.

BING: Yes.

ZAHN: But I just wanted to quickly remind you all, if you have some questions for Stanley this morning, call us at 212-643-0077. We already have some of your e-mails.

But before we get to those: You have a couple of four truths. A couple -- that made no sense. You have four truths that readers should accept about their bosses. I'm going to put them up on the screen.

One: Work is suffering. Two: Desire is at the root of suffering. Suffering can be conquered by eradicating the self. And there is a path to the end of your suffering.

BING: Right.

ZAHN: What is the path?

BING: The path is to recognize the futility of trying to understand and manage and rationally get with the elephant. The elephant is your boss. The elephant is large and gray and massive and has weight.

And you can't out-self that elephant. You have to accept the fact that with desire comes suffering, that you are very small and unimportant in the vast scheme of things. And once you accept that, you can relax and not hope for too much.

ZAHN: Ours is elegant and smart and reactive...

BING: Your elephant?

ZAHN: She's not an elephant.

BING: We're seeing a huge example of one of the great things about elephants, which is that they love to be lathered.

ZAHN: Will I get anything out of that?

BING: Yes, of course you will. The boss sitting there right now thinking, I knew she was smart, but not that smart - to actually do it on the air, you know, it's a terrific thing.

But the idea of accepting that the relationship with your elephant is going to be suffering, I think that's at the heart of it. And getting rid of that is kind of just leaching as much emotion out of the relationship as you possibly can, because elephants are not like people. They don't react like people, and they can't be managed like they're people.

ZAHN: Got a question for you now, and it comes in the form of an e-mail from a woman named Sarah. And she says: "One of my bosses has become almost codependent on me. She can't do anything without having me by her side. We have endless meetings all day, it is unproductive and inefficient. How can I break the ties and make her more self- sufficient?"

BING: Well, this person profoundly misunderstands what needs to be established with her elephant. That wonderful codependancy, that's a tremendous asset for this person. This person is going to enjoy a long and prosperous career with that elephant.

Why break that cycle of dependency? That's exactly what you want. And if you want to get out of the meetings occasionally, there are tricks and gimmicks you can do. I mean, it's always good...

ZAHN: Name one.

BING: Well...

ZAHN: The iced tea defense?

BING: I have to get out for some iced tea?

No, you can also have your assistant or a friend call you periodically from the room. Somebody comes in with a note. The periodic phone call or beeping -- being beeped so you have to leave the meeting periodically. First of all, this shows that you're important and need to leave a room.

ZAHN: I love it. BING: And second of all, you know, it gets you out of there, and you can walk around, because one thing about meditation and meetings is it's really bad to fall asleep during a meeting

ZAHN: Not a good thing.

BING: But this person actually is on step eight on the 14-fold path or whatever towards dominance of that boss. So don't try to create independence in the boss, try to create dependence in the boss.

ZAHN: Enjoy it.

BING: Have a good time.

ZAHN: All right, Steve writes this: "My boss constantly criticizes everything I do and never gives me a bit of encouragement. She also discourages people asking her questions about anything. It almost seems as if she wants me to screw up just so she can yell at me."

BING: Yes, well, you're right. That boss sounds like that she does want people to screw up so the elephant can feel better. Elephants like to make a lot of noise. Have you ever noticed that? You're in the circus or you're in the zoo, they trumpet, they make noise. That helps them express themselves, and they feel good.

So don't -- the issue here is to embrace Zen, you know. I mean, this person wants that elephant to be nice, to be kind, to be rational. Give up. Give it up. Do not invest...

ZAHN: So what should Steve do?

BING: Steve just...

ZAHN: Just not react personally? Not react at all?

BING: Steve shouldn't care. Steve should not invest his emotions and his hopes and dreams into this particular elephant being a lovely person to work with.

ZAHN: This is better than going to a shrink.

BING: I mean, you justly relax. And, you know, it's like work is suffering, get over it. I mean, how much power is there in that?

ZAHN: Well, you're right.

BING: That elephant goes trumpeting around. And then everybody -- if everybody adopts this Zen attitude they can just say to each other, oh, he's noisy today, she's noisy, let's go get a muffin. And you go depart the area, and you feel fine, you know, because you're not hoping. You're not hoping that that boss is going to be a wonderful person all of a sudden, you know.

ZAHN: We have a phone call now for you from Sean (ph). Where is Sean -- Sean, where are you from? Good morning. CALLER: Good morning, I'm from Atlanta.

ZAHN: Fire away, Stanley is ready to go here.

CALLER: My question is dealing with -- I'm starting a new job next week, and I want to know about establishing new relationships with a boss.

BING: Yes, that's a good one. The early parts of my book are engaged in the sort of opening gambits, meeting the elephant, greeting the elephant, feeding and watering the elephant; and also, of course, the famous following along after the elephant with a whisk broom and a little dust pan.

ZAHN: My favorite duty.

BING: But, you know, it's important how you greet the elephant. And I think the thing to do is to try to focus as much as possible not on yourself, on your nervousness, on your expectations and hopes, but more on what the elephant expects and what the elephant wants. Always focus on the needs and desires of this big, sometimes smelly beast.

So if the elephant is -- for example, if you have an opportunity to just say hello, then accomplish the hello. "Hello." There you have it. You've just said hello to the elephant. Don't go off into some kind of rhapsodic whiz thing going -- you know, I've always admired your work and you look great today.

ZAHN: It doesn't work.

BING: Well, you're then showing yourself to be a suck-up too early in the process. That really should go in part two, the intermediate elephant handling.

So, I mean, I think the thing about meeting and doing anything with elephants, particularly at the beginning, is to make sure that it's based around function and duty, and not about hopes and dreams and, you know, kind of, you know, lathering and massaging and greasing the elephant.

ZAHN: Well I have to say when I got my hands on the book I laughed out loud. There's really good advice in there. And there's a cynical view in there as well, but some of it's very helpful.

BING: If you can start with laughter in your relationship with elephants, you know, you're already 10 steps ahead.

ZAHN: Are your current bosses happen with the elephant metaphor?

BING: They seem to have a sense of humor. I'm always expecting that phone call, but you never know, you know.

ZAHN: Great to see you.

BING: Nice to see you.

ZAHN: I know what his real name is, but we're going to call him Stanley Bing here this morning. Good luck with the book.

BING: You're so nice. Thanks a lot.

ZAHN: The name of the book: "Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up."




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