When you and I think of the word compliment, we generally think of someone saying something nice. Nice words from those we associate with can indeed be life-changing events. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like to receive praise for who they are or what they’ve done.
But what if that same kind of boost could come to you through a simple shift in thinking, an expanded meaning of the word complement?
I got my first view of an expanded meaning of the word complement, and the Complement Effect, from my friend Bill Urbany. Urbany is a highly successful realtor in Santa Barbara and I was introduced to him through a mutual friend. We hit it off and began to collaborate on ways to improve our business skills. Yet, after we had worked together for a while, I noticed a time when he wasn’t himself. His normal, friendly and positive demeanor had all but disappeared to the point where I was worried for him personally and professionally. His business was suffering just as he was suffering. It was painful to watch and experience.
At first, I simply looked at his business slump as the reason for the personality change. We spent hour after hour talking about this connection. After a few months of focusing on business solutions, we came to a startling conclusion. What appeared to be a clear connection, was not really a connection at all. It was a result of what was really going on. It was an effect, not a cause.
Urbany is an avid surfer, and even now in his later years, he still competes regularly. But at the time, we were working on his business. He had financial goals and we were doing everything we could do to allow him to reach them. We never thought that surfing was an important component to his business success.
What we discovered was that Urbany’s life, his quality of life, his whole identification, and his business success, are all tied to surfing. In short, a lack of surf time was destroying his personal and professional life. He went through a lot, simply because we weren’t good at recognizing the connection. When we did, his time surfing was no longer viewed as a negative connection. We suddenly saw it as a positive one. It’s a perfect example of the complement effect.
Surfing complements everything in Urbany’s life and knowing this allowed us to overcome at least three difficulties.
First, sometimes all of us have a problem of mindset. There are times when you and I want to accomplish something we view as real important. We focus on it to the exclusion of other things in our life. We do so thinking that we’re preserving our core value. It’s natural, but in the end, it’s futile. Urbany’s experience allowed us to embrace a complement mindset instead.
Perhaps American economist Bharat Anand says it better: “Embrace a complements mindset, following value where it leads, and you’ll find new opportunities.”
That describes Urbany’s experience, exactly.
Second, sometimes our own language gets in the way and doesn’t allow us to “get it.” Sometimes there is a blurring of personal and business boundaries. Our society likes to create imaginary silos that neatly put everything in their proper place — “business is business, and it’s not personal.” But here’s the thing: such a simplistic view is deceptive. Urbany and I thought his time surfing was competing with his business when in reality it has always been complementing his business by allowing him to be who he really is.
Finally, we were fooled by the numbers. We kept focusing on how Urbany was using his time to benefit his business to the exclusion of all else. We were looking at the wrong data. So, we had a perception issue and that led to strategic mistakes. That’s a problem because the stakes were really high — Urbany’s life. Surfing was not a substitute for work; it was a complement to his work. Our thinking was wrong, but we corrected that with more days at the beach for Urbany.
When I last saw him, he was relaxed. He was fitting into his Hawaiian shirt much more comfortably and he had a smile on his face.
“I just got back from Costa Rica,” he said. “The surf was amazing!”
Nice words from a man who knows that the word complement has a much greater meaning, a meaning we now associate with life changing connections — the complement effect. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t like to receive the benefits of discovering who they are or what they really love to do in life. What could you and I do if we enjoyed that same kind of boost, made possible through a simple shift in thinking and an understanding of an expanded meaning of a complement?
Lynn Butterfield lives in Erda and is a managing broker for a real estate company.