Richard Rohr, an American Franciscan friar and writer on spiritual issues, believes that each of us is addicted to our habitual ways of doing and thinking about things. He calls this tendency “stinking thinking,” and says it’s the “universal addiction.” It results in a binary approach to problem solving, even though the things we do rarely involve a simple “this” or “that.” We face complex questions for our businesses and our clients. The answers to those questions could be compromised by our stinking thinking, as well as that of our clients.

Let’s take a model for our clients’ safe spending levels. I shudder when I think of how our own personal perceptions affect the results of these models. The term “safe spending” is a value judgment that implies other people’s spending levels are unsafe.

Unsafe for what? Are we saying they’re going to outlive their assets? Or that they’re going to be caught unprepared for an uncertain future?

What if we change the term to something like “spending competencies”? That could mean we have a relationship to money that allows us to enjoy it more. Or maybe we could make better spending decisions, ones that reflect what’s actually important to us internally instead of what we want the outside world to see in us (unless we decide that’s what’s really important to us). Maybe we want to improve our ability to adjust and change spending when our situations suddenly change.

Stinking thinking can cloud our interactions with colleagues and clients. I was talking to one of my cohorts, who asked me why I was able to talk with people who had money long before I had any myself. My thought was that I generally view people as people. I don’t consider them below me, so I also don’t consider them above me. Because I wasn’t comparing myself on humanness, I wasn’t intimidated by those conversations.

On the other hand, I want to be liked. That has cost me when I avoid crucial conversations, become oversensitive to perceived slights, and at times lose who I am to preserve unhealthy relationships. It sometimes means I’ve held on to clients who aren’t good for our firm.

I still want to be invited to everything and go to nothing. Even though I appear outgoing, I tend to dislike being in big groups and am generally far happier curling up at home with a book or watching a sporting event or a show with my wife. Wanting to be invited comes from wanting to feel liked.

This is my own version of stinking thinking.

So how can I develop competencies? How can I accept that some people will like me, some won’t, and become more comfortable with that? This is a muscle that I have been working on my whole life, and while it has become stronger, it is far from overdeveloped! That’s Rohr’s point. Our habits always influence our day-to-day lives.

What are some other ways this kind of thinking hinders us? Where does our own stinking thinking show up and how can we be aware of it?

Perhaps it’s in the way we solve problems. Maybe when a client is expressing distress, we’re moving too quickly to solutions and not listening. Maybe we’re not comfortable with others in their discomfort and feel the need to talk, to solve. Maybe we need to develop competencies there, too—and help people find their own answers rather than giving them ours.

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