“The practice of patience toward one another, the overlooking of one another’s defects, and the bearing of one another’s burdens is the most elementary condition of all human and social activity in the family, in the professions, and in society.” – Fr. Lawrence G. Lovasik

I often think about the virtue of patience and the years I have spent trying to cultivate this habit I so admire and appreciate in others. This morning, as I sipped coffee in the quiet early hours while my family slept, I reflected again on this topic and a relevant conversation I recently had with a past coaching client. This busy senior leader in a large Atlanta-based company described his frustration and impatience with a number of people on his team and in his peer group. I listened carefully, then shared some hard-fought experience about being more patient with others from my own career and observations of others who I think do this well.

Here is a summary of the advice I offered this leader in the newest installment of Ask the Coach.

Putting myself in the shoes of others and seeing the world through their eyes has always been an effective approach to cultivating patience in my life. When I feel impatient with others, I try and force myself to realize that there may be understandable reasons for whatever they are doing to trigger my impatience and there is likely no malicious intent. I work hard at not responding in the moment, especially if I am frustrated or impatient, and make a sincere effort to understand why they are saying or doing the thing that is evoking this response in me. I assure you that I am not always successful, but it gets easier as I get older.

This idea of better understanding others, walking in their shoes and seeing the world through their eyes is all becoming counter-cultural in today’s world. I work with business professionals every day who are dealing with ever-increasing levels of stress and anxiety, over-scheduled workdays, little time for meaningful conversations and nurturing relationships, and neglect for their own self-care. Lack of patience with others is a likely fruit of these environments and approaches to work/life. If this post is resonating and you want to improve your level of patience with others, here are six best practices to consider:

  1. Be Present. When engaging with work colleagues, friends, family or whoever, put the iPhone away and completely focus on the person or people in front of you. Schedule adequate time for these conversations. When your thoughts are occupied by your next appointment or to-do item, your impatience rises and you are only thinking about the future and not those deserving of your full attention. If at all possible, have conversations in-person as reading facial expressions and listening to the tone of each other’s voice improves the quality of all dialogue. Virtual meetings, with the camera on, are an acceptable alternative if there is no other option.
  2. Be Curious. You have to ask questions to truly understand why people think a certain way or do what they do. Ask how they are doing at work and outside of work. Ask them to explain their reasoning on decisions. Ask them if they understand your expectations. Ask them if they need help and how you can better support them. Curiosity activates greater understanding and reduces impatience.
  3. Actively Listen. When we are struggling with patience, listening can be very difficult. If we are genuinely curious, it follows that we also need to be good listeners. We may be learning the all-important “whys” behind behaviors that are making us feel impatient with others. Be mindful to not listen only until it is your turn to speak, but listen to better understand.
  4. Practice a Little Self-Reflection. Look in the mirror…am I to blame for my lack of patience with others? Did I adequately train/develop my team member(s)? Have I created clear expectations on what I want? Have I communicated clearly? Have I offered help and support? Did I explain the rules? Am I modeling the behavior I wish to see in others? Am I stressed, anxious or burned out and is this why I am feeling impatient? Did I practice sincere curiosity to perhaps learn of a personal burden my colleague or team member is carrying on their shoulders? Wasn’t I once in the same situation as the person in front of me?
  5. Sleep on it. When feeling impatient with others, if possible, it is always a good idea to not respond right away. Take a little time, perhaps 24 hours, to carefully consider all angles of the situation. Allow yourself to gain a sense of calm and peace. Word to the wise…responding when impatient, frustrated or angry is never a good idea. Also, avoid responding when feeling impatient via email or text…see best practice #1. I have learned over the years the tremendous benefits of this best practice.
  6. “Do unto others…” The Golden Rule is an obvious and critical best practice for us to follow. We should be motivated to be more patient with others because we all need others to be patient with us. Reflect for a moment on how you personally benefited from someone being patient with you. How did you feel? Did you thank them? Let these positive experiences in your life inform and motivate your own practice of patience with the people you encounter each day.

I often write about the importance of being good humans. Practicing patience with others helps us become more understanding, compassionate, empathetic and fosters stronger relationships. Patience is an act of kindness. Our patience is a wonderful gift we can give to others.

The people I admire and respect most in my personal and professional life are all incredibly patient. I am always a work in progress and have a number of areas I wish to improve, but perhaps in the coming days I will simply focus on more intentionally practicing the virtue of patience. I hope this effort inspires others to do the same…and I pray they will also be more patient with me.

How will you show more patience with others this week?