12/18/2012

Less Stressed and More Moral? An Adjuster’s Eightfold Path

Long hours, heavy workloads, and interpersonal friction can be the bane of an adjuster’s existence. Is there a way to diminish daily aggravation while improving one’s ethical focus at the same time?

By Barrett A. Evans

Long hours, heavy workloads, and interpersonal friction can be the bane of an adjuster’s existence. Is there a way to diminish daily aggravation while improving one’s ethical focus at the same time?  

Interestingly enough, early Buddhist teachings espouse a method of eliminating psychological suffering and improving ethical behavior simultaneously: The Eightfold Path. In fact, one modern scholar, John J. Holder, has even suggested that the content of the Eightfold Path is best viewed as an ancient form of therapy focused on “ethical and psychological transformation.” This view appears to have significant merit, as early Buddhist teachings not only have strong ethical content but also contain many parallels to modern cognitive-behavioral psychology. Furthermore, early Buddhist ideas provide some thought-provoking observations and aphorisms that can benefit anyone contemplating how to cultivate a more satisfying career.

With these thoughts in mind, here is an “Adjuster’s Eightfold Path,” which will help stimulate reflection on how the goals of heightened career satisfaction and improved ethical conduct are both interrelated and mutually dependent. Moreover, these dual objectives are best reached through a multi-faceted approach that considers the interdependency of the right perspective, the right intentions, the right manner of speaking, the right behavior, the right job, the right focus, the right effort, and the right state of mind.

The Right Perspective ­— Conflict is inherent in the adjusting career. Accepting this reality can be the start of a new perspective, wherein the frustrations inherent in trying to earn the approval of all parties to a claim are both recognized and abandoned. There are many things in life where criticism cannot be avoided. “They blame him who sits silent, they blame him who speaks much, they also blame him who says little….There never was, there never will be, nor is there now, a man who is always blamed, or a man who is always praised.”—Dhammapada

The Right Intentions — Actions driven by a desire to crush or belittle others are often counterproductive to successful claims handling. Trying to upstage disrespectful attorneys may only increase an adjuster’s anxiety level in the future; desires to “get even” with coworkers will likely lead to a more stressful work environment. “He who seeks happiness for himself by making others unhappy is bound in the chains of hate and from those he cannot be free.”—Dhammapada

The Right Manner of Speaking — Dishonest speech can build the distrust that eliminates the effectiveness of negotiations. Disrespectful words and tones can feed an adversarial relationship that prolongs litigation. Many claims professionals have lost a job over dishonest or rash speech. “Never speak harsh words, for once spoken they may return to you. Angry words are painful and there may be blows for blows.”—Dhammapada

The Right Behavior — Unethical behavior usually catches up with an adjuster. Whether in the form of bad faith claims, missed chances at promotions, friction with coworkers and supervisors, or just a more stressful work environment in general, unethical behavior typically can be counted on only to bring short-term reward (if it brings any at all). “As long as the evil deed done does not bear fruit, the fool thinks it is like honey; but when it ripens, then the fool suffers grief.”—Dhammapada

The Right Job — An employer that encourages an adjuster to lie, to short-change people, or to refuse payment according to the terms of the policy is also not likely to be fair about salary, benefits, or general working conditions. Although the process can be difficult, often the solution is to look for a new job if the company’s dynamics cannot be changed from within. For the adjusting journey is difficult enough even when the companions are good ones. “If on the journey of life a man can find a wise and intelligent friend who is good and self-controlled, let him go with that traveler; and in joy and recollection let them overcome the dangers of the journey.”—Dhammapada

The Right Focus — An adjuster’s ability to keep priorities and stay on the most important task is crucial. Already high pendings can become unmanageable when focus is lost. “An enemy can hurt an enemy, and a man who hates can harm another man; but a man’s own mind, if wrongly directed, can do him a far greater harm.”—Dhammapada

The Right Effort — An adjuster must be willing to try repeatedly when warranted. Persistent efforts early in the stages of file handling may save enormous amounts of time in the long run. “Earnest among the thoughtless, awake among the sleepers, the wise advance like a racer, leaving behind the pack.”—Dhammapada

The Right State of Mind — An adjuster should try to develop a personal sense of calm in the midst of potential stressors. An even-tempered adjuster is more likely to act prudently and resolve problems effectively than an overly emotional one. Modern psychology has verified several practices that can be helpful in this regard: aerobic exercise, adequate sleep, a healthy diet, relaxation exercises, taking necessary breaks, and meditation. For centuries, many have found a great calming effect in meditative practices, which can build a sense of distance from the daily grind. “From this calming of the body, he feels happiness. And from happiness, his mind is concentrated…. At that time there is in him a perception of a subtle reality, joy, and happiness born of detachment.”­—Potthapada Sutta

Your Own Path

Adjusters are by nature skeptics and fact-checkers. These general traits fit well with a major line of ethical thought in early Buddhism that insists that the speculative, unverified, and unverifiable should be doubted. In one of his most famous discourses, Buddha explained to his hearers that it is “proper to doubt” until and unless one is able to verify through either observation or experience: “When you know yourselves: ‘These things are wholesome, blameless, commended by the wise, and being adopted and put into effect lead to welfare and happiness,’ then you should practice and abide in them.”—Kalama Sutta

There is much in modern psychology and the early Buddhist tradition to suggest the interconnectedness of psychological satisfaction and ethical considerations. There is no reason to think that these ideas could not be applied to your adjusting career. All that remains is for you to decide what is worth trying. “The wise calmly consider what is right and what is wrong, and face different opinions with truth, non-violence, and peace.”—Dhammapada  

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CPCU Society membership, the CPCU Society Ethics Committee, or the author’s employer.


Barrett A. Evans, CPCU, AIC, is a regional claims manager for County Reinsurance, Ltd. He is a member of the CPCU Ethics Committee and has been a CLM Fellow since 2012.

 

Additional Resources

  • The Dhammapada: Loosely translated as “The Path of Truth,” the Dhammapada is a small but popular collection of early Buddhist aphorisms. Many of the sayings have strong ethical overtones. This is perhaps the most famous one: “‘He insulted me, he hurt me, he defeated me, he robbed me.’ Those who think not such thoughts will be free from hate. For hate is not conquered by hate; hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal.”
  • Secular Buddhism? If you are interested in Buddhism but skeptical about ideas like karma and reincarnation, former Buddhist monk Stephen Batchelor may be of interest to you. In his best-selling book Buddhism Without Beliefs, Batchelor provides a practical guide to Buddhist ideas and practices from a secular perspective. Among other things, he provides some fascinating commentary on the jarring experience of living in a world where change is the only constant: “A world of contingency and change can offer only simulacra of perfection. When driven by craving, I am convinced that if I were only to achieve this goal, all would be well….My sense of having found a new lease on life turns out to be merely a repetition of the past. I realize I am running on the spot, frantically going nowhere.”


Barrett A. Evans, CPCU, AIC, is a regional claims manager for County Reinsurance, Ltd. He is a member of the CPCU Ethics Committee and has been a CLM Fellow since 2012.

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