The Way of Retreat: How To Get Promoted Without Doing Anything

You leave no cushion unturned. You search the house until you’re in a state, roaring internally (and perhaps externally) with frustration. You waste ten minutes and a load of energy.

Eventually you give up the hunt – that important form you were filling out has disappeared into the ether. Sulking, you put the kettle on and plonk yourself in front of the TV.

Then you finally hear it – that quiet voice inside. It was talking to you all along, telling you that the form was in your back pocket the whole time – right where you put it when that charity collector knocked on the door.

Flow Like Water

Life works in cycles – just as there will be times when progress is easy and enjoyable, there will be times when the obstacles you face seem insurmountable. This is not the time to push harder.

It is the time to retreat, to let go, to meditate and wait. It is the time to cease judgment and to practice acceptance.

In our society we are brought up to believe that in times of adversity the way forward is to push, to fight, to be steadfast. We are told to grit our teeth, roll up our sleeves and persevere despite all odds.

The Taoist way teaches the opposite, recommending the way of yin – the way of water. A steady drip of water can erode a path through rock, and it does so while yielding.

The Taoists called this wu wei – effortless action. Often by not responding we find a solution will naturally arise. This strategy can, despite all you may have been brought up to believe, render powerless the aggressor. Instead of trying, fail to respond. Replace advancement with retreat. Instead of resisting, submit. Rather than facing up, hide. Don’t push; flow around the rocks.

Running Out of Juice?

Years ago I took on a job managing a small juice bar, part of a chain. I thought it would be easy. It wasn’t. The demands from head office were incredible. My days were spent racing against the clock, pushing myself to the limit. I would start early and hit the couch late each night completely bushed and unable to enjoy life. To make things worse, the pay wasn’t very good.

Stressed out, exhausted and perpetually broke, I considered my options. I was giving my all, and although I was meeting the demands being placed on me, it was obvious I couldn’t go on this way for long. I couldn’t hire more staff as I had to run the shop on a tight ‘cash-takings to staff-hours’ percentage formula. In order to make the percentage I could only ever put on a certain amount of staff (never enough to take the pressure off).

It seemed obvious that I would have to quit, but I needed an income. So I decided to give it a month and just see what came up. I gave my notice, and waited. Within two weeks, to my surprise, I was offered a job at head office – with higher pay and much better conditions. Sweet!

The lesson I learned here was that ‘doing nothing’, or retreating, is one of the best forward moving strategies available. If I had kept pushing myself I would have burned out. I would have lost my temper with somebody from head office or made myself ill, and in both cases wound up without an income. Instead – by retreating and waiting, by taking the path of least resistance – a better solution naturally arose.

Responding passively does not automatically sound like good advice to the Western ear. The word ‘passive’ is connected with weakness; ‘look after number one’ is the prevailing wisdom. But if we hang back, problems often resolve of their own accord. Meanwhile we can save energy, and earn respect, by refusing to respond in a knee-jerk way.

The Up-Side of Passive Aggression

You are being continuously hounded by a nasty, arrogant middle-manager – somebody senior to you, but not the overall boss. This person keeps pushing you around; not explaining your role clearly, getting mad at you for not doing things their way, and taking every opportunity to make you look stupid in front of others.

How should you respond?

If you were to react aggressively, you would do yourself no favors. The chances are this would work against you because, when faced with two ranting idiots, the boss would probably see little option but to take sides with the more senior staff member.

But if you were to respond meekly, if you kept your temper in check and your best manners and diplomacy on display, you would set yourself up for a better outcome. The chances are that if your middle-manager is stomping around belittling people, then the person is probably making few friends and earning little respect. All you need do is wait and watch as this person digs his or her own grave.

People will start to niggle about him or her to you – just smile mysteriously (it is important that you don’t give an opinion yourself, but allow others to draw their own inferences from your silence).

Nasty Manager, Hidden Opportunity

Eventually, if they don’t already know about it, the powers-that-be will find out about your middle-manager’s bad attitude, and one day you will arrive at work to find his or her desk empty. They finally got up the boss’s nose to get sneezed out the door.

Meanwhile, you, Oh Master of the Effortless Way, will have done nothing to harm your own reputation – and you just may find you have effortlessly earned yourself a tasty little promotion…

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