We had a meeting this week with a wonderful woman, Janis, who is a leader in a number of spheres in her life—in her business, her family, her community, and her church. She is warm, kind, and powerful. She is often looked to for her wisdom and perspective and has a thoughtfulness that many admire.
So, when she came into our meeting furious and saying she wanted to scream, she was apologetic. We assured her that she was in the right place. She was with people who respected her and who could hold with gentleness and openness her humanity. People feel. People react. People get furious. People get hooked. People are people.
We asked her to talk, just talk about all that was going on, all that she was feeling, all that she was angry about. Just talk. She talked for about 20 minutes. At first she was agitated and loud, she was blaming and insulting, she was hurt and humiliated, she was teary. Then she got slower and softer, she was gentler with herself and more compassionate toward others. She seemed calmer and more reflective. Then she had a thought and was as pissed off as when she walked in. Raging about a conversation and an insult. Then she laughed, long and hard, observing herself and the range of her feelings and thoughts. At that point, she was ready to look at all that had happened, all that she’d felt, and all that she’d thought, and asked herself:
What is the information this experience and my reactions provide me?
It is tempting to believe that there are some people who always have it together. But that would be a mistake.
The people who are most successful have all the same reactions, feelings, hurts, and confusions that the rest of us have, but they understand that their reactions are data. They understand that their reactions are information, and if they explore that information they can determine what to do next; they can determine how they want to respond.
Once Janis had listened to herself, allowed herself to feel her feelings in a safe and confidential environment, and allowed herself to get support for making sense of her experience she could see that:
- She had let a relationship go on too long without discussing the problems.
- She had committed to things she really didn’t want to do and didn’t believe in.
- She had tried to like and trust someone who she didn’t feel particularly good about and rather than listening to herself earlier she had ignored her gut and put herself in a difficult position.
Once she understood the above, she could:
- Talk with the person to renegotiate the relationship. She got clear about the extent to which she would be involved with them and worked with us to find the words to tell them that with kindness but a non-negotiable clarity.
- Step into her leadership, she used the information she’d gotten when she “wanted to scream” to guide her next steps so she would not be in the same position going forward.
This week, instead of asking yourself not to have the feelings you have, spend some time in dialogue with those feelings and reactions. What are they teaching you about what is working and what is not working? What are they teaching you about the things you may have committed to that you knew, deep down, are not good for you or your organization? What are they teaching you about what you need to do next?
And… think about how to move forward and who you can talk with to support you in your efforts. As you saw with Janis, having a trusted friend, spouse, or coach can often help you get your “data” out on the table, explore it, and determine how to move forward in a way that is faster and easier than doing it alone.
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