Unconditional love sounds like the ideal in romantic relationships, but when we're talking about a work relationship the idea tends to produce a strong recoil, or even the distinct possibility of hives. We are trained to view these relationships differently somehow — as competitive rather than collaborative, and therefore to be entered into highly conditionally (and with all of those conditions in writing, thank you very much). What would happen if we actually dove into work relationships in a different way — in perhaps a more expansive, open, trusting way? The first thought that pops into my head is not a pleasant one. (I'm pretty sure it falls in the babe-in-the-woods category).
Given enough time to consider it though, it occurs to me that my reaction to that thought makes my life so much more difficult than it has to be. Actually opening up to unconditional love with coworkers and friends might just be the boost I need to "leveling up" in life. Let me explain the thought process here:
1. All humans, including the weird guy down the hall who always has egg on his shirt, want and need to be recognized and accepted for who they are at this very moment. They have a primal need to be loved just for being them. Just like you do. You, the CEO, the janitor, your customers, the guy who always kisses up and the lady in the next office who won't ever stop talking. Every one of those people is reaching out in their own way to try to get approval from the people around them, and in the workplace that's you. In your social circle, that's you too. Chances are all of the weird ways that they behave, just like all of the weird ways you behave, are just clumsy attempts at love. Being open to accepting all of these people as they are (eggy shirts and all) may just give you the opportunity to see past the traits that jump out at you so that you can start to appreciate the fullness of each person.
2. Like the primal need to be loved, we also have an instinct to love and connect with others. We are herd animals, so to speak. Humans are meant to be in tribes and families and teams and groups — we're hardwired for it. In modern society we probably waste more time and energy trying to keep ourselves separate from the people around us than we would if we just allowed the relationships to deepen and broaden. We are designed to love, so why not actually allow ourselves to do that in all of the variety of ways that love is possible and not limit the scope to one romantic partner or a small family group?
3. Allowing yourself to sink deeply into friendships and work relationships may actually help out your romantic relationship too. Your partner is only one person and they have their own needs, likes, dislikes, work and other obligations. Perhaps putting them in a position to be the recipient of all of your unconditional love, and likewise expecting all of theirs, is a little bit like handing the world to Atlas: it's just a lot to hold up. If you can expand the scope of your unconditional love relationships so that you are nourished in this way by your entire friend and work group, that leaves you full to overflowing and more able to nourish all of those people in return, including your primary partner. If you're relying on all of the good vibes to come from one person and sending them good vibes laser-style, it might all start to feel a little claustrophobic.
4. Unconditional love means also trust, and I think this is the rub for a lot of people. But here's the thing. Trusting the people you work with doesn't have to mean trusting them to put you in the lifeboat while the Titanic is sinking; it means trusting them to be just as human as you are. Every human wants happiness, wants to make themselves more comfortable, wants to look capable in the eyes of others. That is something you can always put your trust behind. Trusting someone doesn't mean you have to trust them to be a paragon of human excellence, it means you trust them to be human. It can mean you trust them to be working on the same goal, or you trust them to collaborate on a project, or you trust them to distract the chatty lady while you sneak out the door. It can even mean you trust them to borrow your favorite sweater, or to come to you with good (or bad) news.
5. Psychologists as well as business researchers have long found that people who are trusting are also perceived to be more trustworthy. Is this the unconditional love we so strive for? Perhaps all it takes is that simple willingness to trust the people around you that allows them to turn towards you and grant you that same trust in return. You can form a trust loop that will feed on itself and nurture itself — all it takes is that first little bit of courage to be open to the initial idea of trusting.
6. The biggest thing to remember is that loving someone unconditionally doesn't mean you love everything they do and say or agree with them all the time... or even necessarily like them all the time. It means you give them the benefit of the doubt, hear them out, really listen, and talk with them like a human to find common ground in disagreements. It means you trust them and give them the opportunity to be the best version of themselves just like you would probably like the opportunity to do.
Unconditional love, although it sounds sweeping and grand, is actually kind of a simple thing. I'm proposing that it's the basic core of every human relationship and that those relationships actually work a whole lot better for everyone when that core is given a little bit of breathing room. Being willing to have the quiet courage necessary to extend trust to someone outside of your primary relationship — to a coworker or friend — may actually be the tiny crack through which unconditional love comes flooding in. By allowing that little bit of space, the other people in the room are more likely to allow space too. And as they do, then it's easier for you to allow even more. I'm not saying you're all going to end up singing kumbaya, but you will create an environment where people feel more comfortable talking, opening up, being themselves, sharing ideas and generally letting a little more love flow.
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