Sometimes you just need to embrace the things you don't like

Oct 3, 2014 at 5:26 p.m. ET

When I bought an apartment in New York City many years ago, I didn't like the dark bronze color of the window frames. There was nothing I could do about it and my decorator told me, "If you don't like something in your home, but you are stuck with it, embrace it. Put in more of it."

He was right. We had leather couches made in the same color and those bronze window frames started to look much better.

Then when I bought a house in Connecticut, which had a brand-new kitchen finished in granite that I disliked, I remembered that decorator's advice. I embraced the counters that I didn't like and had a kitchen table made from the same granite. It unified the whole room. (You can see that table in the video for our new food business at

I know it's counterintuitive to take what seem like problems and ask for more, but it works. I use the same strategy with people. I learned this from Ernest Shackleton, the famous British explorer whose ship was trapped in the Antarctic sea ice in 1915. Shackleton and his 27 crew members were on that boat for nine months until it finally sank, leaving them stranded on the ice with their remaining supplies and lifeboats. The crew lived another half year on the ice until Shackleton took a few crew members in one of the lifeboats and sailed 800 miles away to find help. Remarkably, everyone was saved, and no one was even seriously injured despite the hardships they endured.

Here is what impressed me the most about Shackleton: When one of his men was hoarding supplies, which was detrimental to the survival of the whole team, Shackleton did something brilliant. He realized that there was nothing immoral or selfish about the man, he was just terribly afraid that the supplies would run out. Instead of placing restrictions on him, which would have encouraged more hoarding, Shackleton took the bold step of putting the man in charge of the supplies. Once his insecurity about the availability of supplies was addressed, the man stopped stealing, and then his natural proclivity for hoarding proved to be just the trait Shackleton needed for the job. Instead of "rejecting" his crew member's negative trait, Shackleton asked for more of it!

Shackleton was smart enough to understand his crew member and use his insecurity as an asset. I have used this technique myself in business, and it works equally well in all human relationships, whether at school, at work, in volunteer activities or inside a family. The next time you don't like something, but you're stuck with it, see if asking for more will turn it into an asset.

Learn more about using difficult situations to your advantage in "Leaving My Ego at the Door" from Chicken Soup for the Working Woman's Soul.

Photo credit: Nils Hendrik Mueller/Cultura/Getty Images