Dear Vicki: I’m writing about a co-worker of mine who I’m pretty sure is a Metal. Jim always follows the rules, arrives exactly at 8am and leaves exactly at 5pm, and is fastidious in his work. We’ve been at the same small structural design firm for several years and usually get along just fine. But for the past few months, Jim’s acting like a completely different guy. He used to be pleasant and a hard worker, but now he is often what my grandmother used to call “prickly.” He’s argumentative, disagreeable, and makes rude or insulting comments under his breath (but still loud enough to be heard). We’ve ignored this at work – our office manager says Jim is going through his second divorce – but it’s really becoming uncomfortable. I dread going to work for fear that a loud argument will break out between Jim and Frank, our sales manager, who can be overbearing himself. Is there something I can do to help Jim, and other people in our office, stay happy with each other? Signed Worried in Wisconsin
Dear Worried: Jim is lucky to have such a caring and considerate co-worker. He does sound like a Metal, and while you don’t mention your element, I suspect you are a combination of Metal and Earth. To enjoy structural design work suggests that you have the meticulousness and precision of a Metal. But it’s your Earth that’s upset about Jim’s rudeness and the potential for conflict at your small office. Your sincere desire to help Jim also speaks of Earth. And Frank, your sales manager, may well be a Wood because the outgoingness of Woods usually makes them great at sales. The fact that he’s a Wood will also make Frank more sensitive to out of balance energy coming from Jim. Let’s take a look at how you might help Jim and your office “stay happy with each other.”
First, it’s important to remember that you, as an Earth, relate to Jim on the Nurturing Cycle, with your Earth feeding Jim’s Metal. This will make you feel somewhat “motherly” toward Jim and is probably a factor in your desire to help him. Frank, on the other hand, relates to Jim on the Controlling Cycle, with Jim’s Metal controlling Frank’s Wood. This dynamic alone can create an undercurrent of tension in your office; Woods usually don’t like to be controlled. And as an aside, you probably do find Frank somewhat overbearing because he relates to you on the Controlling Cycle, with his Wood controlling your Earth. The fact that your Metal controls Frank’s Wood probably allows you to hold your own with him, but it’s your Earth that wants peace in the kingdom.
If Jim is currently going through a divorce, that means that he is being asked to let go of a relationship that, at least at one time, mattered a great deal to him. This will be true regardless of whether he instigated the divorce or not. You don’t mention whether there are children involved, but if there are, this could make the divorce even more difficult for Jim. And the fact that it’s his second divorce could be weighing on Jim because Metals hate to fail. They expect perfection and “getting it right” from everyone, especially themselves. For most Metals, divorce is a badge of failure, and they often resist it for this very reason.
In the Five Elements model, Metal sits at the end of the cycle. It is Metal’s job to let go of what’s no longer needed or is not going to be useful for the next cycle. This means that Metals should be good at letting go, and they can be. In fact, staying detached is one of the most admirable traits of a balanced Metal. But when a Metal doesn’t want to let go, or it can’t let go, the flow of energy through the Five Elements model will be disrupted. Metal not letting go keeps energy in Metal that should be flowing to Water (Metal feeds Water via the Nurturing Cycle). This leads to a state of excess Metal energy and I think that’s where Jim is these days. Too much energy makes Metals inflexible, controlling, and dismissive. This seems to be pretty much the behavior you describe in Jim.
The good news is that there are ways to help Jim and your whole office get along better. First, your Earth desire to reach out and help Jim is excellent, but he doesn’t need Earth energy right now because that will feed and build his Metal even more. Instead, take a lighter, more playful tone with him. Fire is what helps Metal stay balanced (Fire controls Metal), so find your inner Fire when you’re around Jim. Tell jokes or funny stories to help make him laugh (laughter sits in Fire). You might even suggest an office outing to a funny movie one evening or weekend. If he is going through a divorce, it’s likely that Jim is alone a great deal these days. And while Metals appreciate alone time, too much time alone isn’t good for any of the elements. As the Five Elements model suggest, we are meant to interact with each other.
Additional ways to help Jim manage his excess Metal while at work include adding red – the color to build Fire – to the environment. This could be as radical as painting a wall red if the owner of the business allows, or even decorating with paintings or posters that have lots of red in them. Raku pottery carries the energy of Fire, so a few pieces of that scattered around the office will help, too. And finally, you can also help address Jim’s excess Metal by using techniques known to balance Metal. This includes using a subtle amount of eucalyptus or lemon air fresheners in the office, bringing in spicy foods to share, or even playing instrumental music in the background featuring flutes or other metal instruments. Anything that sounds breathy will help balance Metal.
Short term, these interventions should help Jim without throwing off anyone else in the office. In the long run, time will pass and Jim will move through his divorce. Until then, whatever efforts you make on his behalf to keep peace at work will also help him get to a place of balanced Metal. It is from there that he will access his Metal detachment and get on with his life. And that is the change Jim’s Metal most needs right now. Bless you for giving him the time.