Dear Vicki: I work at our family car dealership and put in long hours. I’ve done what it takes to be the top salesperson most months and as the oldest son, I plan to inherit running the business when my parents retire. My sister also works here, but only part time, and does well selling. Frankly, selling comes more naturally to her (she’s outgoing and funny), but I work harder. Recently, her new husband lost his job managing an art gallery and started working here. No surprise, he’s failing miserably. He isn’t an outgoing person (which I find an absolute necessity for selling), and I’ve caught him reading at his desk instead of working his files. I don’t like him all that much – I have no idea what my sister sees in him – and now having to work with him every day is driving me nuts. He’s a slow, pondering guy who isn’t particularly charismatic (also important in selling) and seems to have brought the whole sales team down. Everyone’s sales are off, even mine! How do I get rid of him without upsetting my sister? Signed: Top Dog
Dear Top Dog: Well, you certainly are clear regarding what does and doesn’t work for you. Success and accomplishment clearly matter, which suggests that you’re a Wood personality. Woods are very much into individual accomplishment. They are also great planners and corporate ladder climbers. Your “plan” to inherit leadership of the family business also speaks to a Wood’s tendency to cast themselves in the lead because leadership equates to success in their worldview.
I suspect your sister is a Fire because the outgoingness and enthusiasm Fires have for almost everything makes them natural sales people. Your quiet, inner-directed brother-in-law who loves to read is probably a Water. And you are correct, Waters are rarely naturally good at sales; they really don’t like engaging with other people that much. Your desire to get rid of him is understandable, but that probably isn’t going to go over well with your sister, and possibly your parents. However, there are ways to help with your frustration, which by the way, is a very typical Wood response to something that isn’t going well. Let’s look at what’s playing out in your dealership relationships from a Five Elements perspective.
You and your brother-in-law relate to each other on the Nurturing Cycle with his Water feeding your Wood. Technically, that should feel good to you. The fact that it doesn’t implies that your brother-in-law probably has too much Water energy. In nature, too much water will rot a tree and ultimately destroy it. Too much Water personality at work could well by why your sales are down. Rotting Wood loses its structure, which is a core aspect of a Wood’s ability to be successful. In fact, excess Water energy will affect everyone at work in a negative way because, as the Five Element model teaches, when any part of a whole is out of balance, the whole will suffer.
This means it’s not surprising that your sister’s sales are off, too. She and her husband relate on the Controlling Cycle with his Water controlling her Fire. In a balanced relationship, Water gives Fire the gift of helping it not burn out of control, something that is easy for a Fire to do given their lack of structure and boundaries (in nature, fire isn’t even solid, it’s just heat made visible). And by the way, this is probably exactly what your sister sees in her husband. She can be a fun and super-outgoing person knowing that his Water energy will cool her jets, so to speak, before she can crash and burn. But too much Water absolutely can take down too much of her Fire, diminishing what makes her so good at sales.
I understand your reactionary desire to get rid of your brother-in-law. It is a very Wood approach to the world: “Just do it!” is pure Wood. However, dispatching with your brother-in-law could be a flawed plan for several reasons. First, it is highly likely that your sister will be upset. For better or worse, he is her husband and firing him will seem cruel. Also, as a couple they probably rely on whatever income he is making. Instead, I encourage you to reframe your plan and instead of firing your brother-in-law, look for ways you can use the skills he does have in some way at the dealership. Oh, you’ll want to help him balance his Water energy, too, so let’s start there.
In the Five Elements model, it is Earth energy that manages excess Water energy. If your brother-in-law recently lost his job, it’s possible that his personal Earth energy might be depressed because providing for a family and home sits in Earth. In my blog post last week, I covered ways to help balance Earth energy. You might read those suggestions and see if your sister would be willing to help orchestrate some of them for her husband. More importantly, bringing more Earth energy into the dealership will help keep your brother-in-law’s Water energy in balance at work. A quick way to increase Earth energy in an environment is to bring in earthtone colors like yellow, brown, or orange via paint, artwork, or even flower arrangements. More live plants will help build Earth energy, too.
Finally, I’d like to suggest that rather than being just an idiot, your Water brother-in-law will have ways he can contribute to the dealership other than selling. Waters have more imagination that any other element. Imagining the new, be that promotional approach, ad campaign, market segmentation, or streamlined paperwork, will be right up his alley. What areas do you wish functioned better at work? Why not chat with your brother-in-law and see if he has thoughts on ways to improve them? I guarantee he will not lack for ideas. So instead of firing him, I encourage you to find ways to use his strengths. With his Water imagination, he may well be the person who leads the way toward improving the business your Wood hopes to inherit one day. Good luck!