At Choose Leadership, Connor McDonough and I are committed to sharing what we make up about each other and the world. When we interpret something in a way that triggers us, we share and process what’s happening for us. By doing that, we support each other to do the inner work of leadership.
We have self-exploratory conversations – instead of blaming and shaming conversations.
What we know for sure, is that our reactions have less to do with the other than with our own life experience.
As we work together a lot, we generate lots of opportunities for bumping up against each other. And so, together with our co-creator Ina Zukrigl-Schief, we were wondering: Can we bring this work to people who have just met for the first time? People who might not yet be aware of their reactions, but might still be preoccupied with looking good?
Last week, the three of us ran this experiment. At the European Learning Gathering of Liberating Structures, twenty-four people stepped into the risk of telling someone what they made up about them and in what way that impacted how they performed a task together.
The reward of this courageous vulnerability was instant connection and belonging. People saw each other and themselves more fully.
Let’s go back to owning our reactions as what they are: We all see life through the lens of our early life challenges and the reactions we have developed to cope with them. To put it bluntly, we keep reliving the traumas we experienced early in life.
No wonder that one person’s trigger does’t even show up on another person’s radar!
How is this of interest to leaders?
We like to pretend that we leave the personal at the office door. But do we?
The consequences of unprocessed triggers are creating toxic relationships at many workplaces.
Whole organisational cultures unintentionally rest on relationships which are rotting from the inside, because sincere communication seems impossible or too risky.
This unnecessarily creates unaligned and unproductive work environments. Fundamentally that’s why it is so important to acknowledge that, if we want to or not, we do bring our whole messy selves to work. We need to talk about the elephant in the room!
But what to do with that, you might wonder? Full disclosure at work? Emotional free rides for all?
Not if we keep our communication intentional, structured, and grounded in the premise that everyone takes responsibility for their own reactions.
There are simple structures for detoxing a team, and for leading a relationship back into the healthy space of mutual respect and understanding.
And they are far from an emotional free ride.
On the other side of full disclosure lies the possibility of powerful relationships, and the release of energy for the sake of creating something better together.