Leaders Clear the Air – first in a series

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Today a combined Reading for Leading and LeadingX2 (leading by two).   

I will keep this reasonably short by introducing a topic, two steps, and then continuing next week.

In any strong partnership there come times when you need to “clear the air.”  Your partner cuts you off while you’re speaking (again), or cuts you out when you have a stake in a matter (again), or cuts you down in a conversation that you find out about later (again). You replay it in your mind. If you’re body-aware, you realize your gut, chest or throat are holding its effects.

Sometimes you can let it go. But sometimes it sticks. It affects your mood.  It affects your effort. It affects your trust. And trust is the essential ingredient for all successful two’s.

So, the issue sticks.  Yet you don’t want to raise it.  You think, “I should be able to let it go.”  You think, “They’ll get defensive.”  You worry: “It’ll get worse.”

If you’re not already doing so, think about whether you have such a situation now – with a business partner, spouse, child, sibling, boss, etc. The first two steps will make more sense. They are:  A seemingly easy first step, and a really hard but essential next step.

The easy step is to value yourself enough to know that you deserve to be heard. This step is decidedly not easy for some people. Examples are people who are natural caretakers of others; those who enable others; those who identify as “selfless” (often religiously and/or spiritually so); those whose families never raised tough issues, and those whose families exploded with their issues.  If that’s you, or some part of you, it’s worth remembering that you deserve to be heard, and the other person deserves a chance to understand, and the relationship craves such understanding. That’s step one.

Step two is to own YOUR problem. When my wife or my writing partner John or one of my TA’s do something that gets under my skin, and I can’t let it go, I have the hardest time getting here, but IT’S MY ISSUE.  Okay, you see how hard THIS is right? It is for me, anyway.

Oh, yes, they may have a problem. But I am certain that I have a problem.  My rational mind usually doesn’t have a problem. Instead, it says, “he or she has a problem! And if only they wouldn’t do, say, think, act in x, y, z manner, then all would be well. They, or at least their behavior, is the problem.” So, says the mind.

But there are two problems with this work of the rational mind.  First, it protects me from the truth of my heart, gut, feeling, and this is the true level at which the problem lies – at least until I raise it with the other. And, the second problem with my rational thought that they are the problem is that this framework will almost inevitably trigger their defensiveness and their rational explanations.  And this may well escalate, as I try to convince them how wrong they are.  And tell me who likes to be told that they are wrong (and presumably BAD on top of wrong)?

These two steps are the result of my making hundreds of mis-steps, reading the writing of people who have shed light on these steps and mis-steps, and a great deal of practice, and thinking and teaching about this.

I wonder if you can just hold these two thoughts for a week:  asking if indeed what you’re holding onto is your problem, and suspending for a week the judgment that they have the problem.  Such suspending* is an important to practice if you’re to:

Lead with your best self.

*Suspending is a concept outlined by William Isaacs in his great book called Dialogue.