As Albert Einstein once said, “Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” Profound advice and, speaking for myself, profoundly true. Do you have too much chaos in your life? Too much conflict, frustration or resentment? That was certainly true for me, so years ago I took Albert’s advice. I found the secret to greater harmony and personal success – not in books or ideologies – but in Mother Nature herself! Turns out there is a specific process of social interaction that animals follow to maximize cooperation and minimize argument. I can best describe it as a “pyramid” of social interaction. I simply wrote it down and call it the Harmony Pyramid™
The pyramid identifies Nature’s universal pattern of social interaction, divided into six sequential tiers of awareness and action, which must be climbed in a specific order — similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but now we’re dealing with social relationships instead of personal fulfillment. Understanding the Harmony Pyramid™ reveals how animals have managed to live in relative peace with one another for millennia, and how we can, too.
Six Tiers to Harmony
The Pyramid is composed of six Tiers, or stages of interaction, starting at the bottom with Trust, moving up through Situational Awareness, Personal Boundaries, Acceptance, Social Success and finally to Harmony at the pinnacle of the Pyramid.
Here’s a brief summary of each tier.
Trust: I believe in your character, honesty and ability
Trust will determine from the get-go whether a relationship has the potential to be harmonious or whether it will be fundamentally flawed and destined for discord. Trust is the determinant. For example, living with a spouse that keeps secrets or has an unpredictable temper, working for a disingenuous boss, or raising a teenager that routinely lies to your face will always spell challenge and prevent full and complete Harmony. You might eventually get your way in those relationships, but cooperation will not be willingly given and certainly not in the spirit of harmony. On the other hand, when Trust exists or can be restored, a truly satisfying and productive relationship is possible. (More on building or restoring Trust in a later post.)
Situational Awareness: I understand our “pecking order” in this particular situation
Some hierarchy of authority routinely forms within a group, with rules and expectations so that the group can function safely and efficiently. A healthy hierarchy is Nature’s way to avoid chaos. It prevents anarchy, the sworn enemy of group cohesiveness. It creates a structure in which each member of the group not only knows who is in charge but each knows their own place and their responsibilities within the group. The key for us is recognizing that every situation has its own hierarchy of power and where, in that particular situation, we stand on the power ladder. A simple example would be that of a mother, who has the power advantage over her children at home where she is the parent, but in the workplace where she is an employee, she is lower on the situational hierarchy than her boss. Being aware of the “pecking order” in any given situation is crucial in order to continue the journey up the Pyramid.
There is no room on this Situational Awareness Tier for entitlement or hubris. Things are what they are…even if they are not what you think they should be.
Personal Boundaries: I realize the limits and expectations of my present position
Once you know where you stand in a situation, you must also figure out the specific limits and expectations of that current position. When each member of a group (even a group of two) knows exactly what is expected of him or her in that situation, it minimizes stress, confusion and hurt feelings. Specific duties and responsibilities for each position within a situational hierarchy as well as limits of authority for each individual, keep things calm and efficient with no fighting over control. Personal boundaries prevent confusion and misunderstanding, two of the greatest enemies of Harmony.
Acceptance: I accept this present arrangement
In my epiphany years ago, I learned that gracious acceptance of our differences in abilities and status is not only the key to interpersonal harmony, but ironically, the key to personal advancement as well. Only from this peaceful place of accepting who we are and where we stand in the group dynamic can we implement an upward strategy with maximum cooperation and minimum pushback. It is what animals know and we should, too.
Acceptance might come naturally to those lucky few already in a position of authority to command what they desire. Acceptance of a lower situational status position, however, may not be as easy for the rest of us, who need willing cooperation from others whom we cannot “command.” We might want more advancement at work, or greater cooperation from our spouse but only from a place of acceptance of the way things are now can we change the future. Anger, argument, resentment, indignation, entitlement – all work against us, since no successful negotiation or willing cooperation happens in an atmosphere of conflict. On the other hand, Acceptance of your present position, even if you hope to change it in the future, creates a calm and rational platform for change through cooperation! This is where that shift in mindset might be necessary and egos may need reining in. I didn’t say this would be simple!
Social Success: We are cooperating, and I am getting what I want
With the supporting Tiers of the Pyramid firmly in place, everything is now aligned for a successful interaction or negotiation. Social Success with another person, be they your boss, co-worker, employee, friend, child or spouse and a productive discussion about what you need or want can now happen. If you have the power advantage and have acted with calm and reasonable follow-through, you are likely to get the cooperation you seek. If you are lower on the power ladder but have fostered trust and cooperation with your “superior”, they are likely to reciprocate, and cooperate with you. You have created an atmosphere of mutual respect and a safe space in which even delicate conversations can take place. These same supporting Tiers of Trust, Situational Awareness, Personal Boundaries and Acceptance are adaptable to any type of relationship, professional or personal, because of the mutual respect the Pyramid produces.
Harmony: We are happy together
You have done it! You have reached the top Tier of the Pyramid which is Harmony — a state of being, created by your sustained Social Success which has made life most gratifying and enjoyable.
In My Book, Cracking the Harmony Code…..
I go into detail on specific action recommendations for those in power-advantaged positions and those lower on the power ladder, as they both must climb the Harmony Pyramid in very different ways. The magic of the Pyramid, however, is that when the Tiers are ascended in the right order and in the right way, anyone can succeed in gaining willing cooperation from others, whether it’s getting along better with our co-workers, gaining more admiration from our boss, getting our kids to mind without pushback or cultivating a more loving relationship with our spouse. The list, however, is endless! The Harmony Pyramid can be applied to any situation.