Lessons from the Dalai Lama on Building Relationships

Recently, I attended a talk by the Dalai Lama at Southern Methodist University's Hart Global Leaders Forum for high school students. Fortunately for me, my alma mater doled out a few extra tickets to alums and I got to watch in awe from the second balcony as his Holiness connected with those students. It was amazing and, in the process, I learned a few things from him about relationships:

1.  Walk a few steps in your client's/co-worker's/friend's cap.  As the Dalai Lama walks on to the stage, he is dressed as one would expect in a flowing magenta monk's robe.  He bows, acknowledges the audience and then smiles broadly.  With a grand gesture he dons a bright red SMU Mustangs ballcap.  And we love him.  He honors us by wearing our cap.  

When you want to connect with a client or a colleague, wear her cap, literally, figuratively or both.  For example, when you visit the factory floor (you do visit your clients-right?), how are you dressed?  Time to chuck the suit for more casual garb?  And when your office mates wear t-shirts honoring a colleague's victory over cancer do you join the group?  

2.  Acknowledge your friends.  In the front row sits First Lady Laura Bush.  The Dalai Lama recognizes and honors her, an old friend.  He recalls the times he has spent with her and President Bush.  Who are your friends?  When you visit a client, follow up with colleagues or attend a conference, do you seek out your old friends?  How do you honor them?

3.  Understand that friends need not agree.  When a young student asks what he wishes for his people, the Dalai Lama proclaims he wants a democracy, a social democracy.  He smiles broadly.  "I am a Marxist."  He stands in Dallas, TX facing his old friend Laura Bush, whom he clearly loves, and yet he confidently proclaims his belief, much different from hers and from much of the audience.  No matter.  We love him anyway.  And we know he does not criticize those who differ from his opinion in the generally conservative Texas audience.  How many relationships fail because we cannot respectfully agree to disagree?

4.  Know your stuff and be spontaneous.  As he approaches the podium to speak he looks to his aide and asks the topic for the day.  "Democracy," the aide replies.  His Holiness smiles and says to the audience that he speaks from his heart, no notes, just bringing forth what is inside him.  But make no mistake, his Holiness has thoughtfully considered his positions.  He knows where he stands and he knows his audience.  So he is well positioned to speak spontaneously.  From that flows a sincerity that engenders trust.  We see that he is speaking directly to us and that he believes deeply what he says.  We trust him and we connect with him.  

5.  Connect to other generations.  The Dalai Lama tells the audience that this Century belongs to the students in the audience who will lead us.  He understands that we must begin to pass the torch, to acknowledge that they will lead.....soon.   He connects to them.  When he drapes the ceremonial shawl around the necks of those on stage, he waits until last to honor SMU Student Body President Jake Torres and they clasp hands above their heads.  The students cheer.  When you join a meeting, reception or event, do you connect with all generations?  

6.  Walk the walk.  The Dalai Lama was ordained to be the political and spiritual leader of the Tibentan people.  But he believes that religion and government should be separate and that the political leader should be democratically elected.  So he changed the system.  Now the Tibetan people have a duly elected Prime Minister, Samdhong Rinpoche.  His Holiness tells us that he remains the spiritual leader.  He smiles and explains that he could not call for others to be democratic if he did not do the same.  A good message for all of us.  Walk the walk.  Show others that you are true to who you say you are.  Consistently doing what you say you will do will inspire loyalty in others over time.

7.  Happy People Build Better Relationships.  The Dalai Lama has attended to serious business in his life:  leading the Tibetan people in exile, negotiating with the Chinese government, being a champion for peace resulting in his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize.  Yet, he says that our primary purpose in life is to be happy.  And why not?  Happy people build great relationships.  They bring something extra to each undertaking and tend to be more successful in their work and lives.   

There is no doubt in my mind that the audience left that day feeling happier and more connected to others, and that those who came in contact with them that day caught a bit of the infectuous happiness of the Dalai Lama.  

So here's to great relationships and even greater happiness!