January 2015

Be Flexible

Navigate Conversations Well

Flexibility is a primary characteristic of resilience. Since life is not predictable and the best laid plans can fall apart, flexibility is a critical skill. The more we are able to maintain a clear sense of our purpose, we can stay with our own authenticity and be flexible. Rigidity, sometimes mistaken for strength or consistency, actually creates brittleness, unhappiness, and frustration. Conversations that have no fluidity and flexibility are stilted, feel lifeless, and don't allow for the unknown to emerge, bringing surprises that often feel like magic. Perhaps flexibility is what allows magic to happen between people and on teams.

Let's find out what happens with Sally and Donna with a focus on flexibility. As we peek into each of their lives, let's examine their behavior on the continuum of flexibility to rigidity.

Sally has just left a meeting with Alex, the friend who brought her into this company. During the meeting, Alex gave Sally his perspective on the company, emphasizing how they actually live their values, not just give them lip service. He told Sally how effective it is for the company to invest in their people, which is why everyone is so happy. Sadly, Sally doesn't understand his point and thinks that he is cricizing the way she is with people. When they part ways, Sally is on her way to visit her headhunter, James.

Sally walks into the headhunter office suite, says hello to Bob, the receptionist, and makes herself comfortable on a small sofa. She looks at her phone and opens a new email from her boss, Tom. Her stomach tightens, as does her jaw.

“Why does he have to be so nice?” Sally mumbles to herself. “It would be a lot easier if he were a jerk too.”

Bob raises his head and says, “Excuse me? I didn't catch that.”

Sally apologizes and assures him that the comment was not meant for him anyway. She continues to read the email. Tom expresses his concern for her and says that he is looking forward to speaking with her in the morning at 8:00AM. He wishes her well and lets her know that her team is also concerned.

Sally cannot believe it. She has never had a boss show such concern for her feelings. She really doesn't know what to make of it. She sits there, thumbing through emails and staring into space.

“I'm so glad you returned!” James says as he walks out of his office toward her, extending his hand and smiling broadly. “I think I've found a great place for you.”

Sally shakes his hand and mumbles that she returned because there's nothing else to do. The two of them walk into his office and close the door.

“Now Sally,” James begins when Sally is seated. “I've known you for years. I've never seen you like this. What is going on?”

Sally hesitates. She really doesn't want to tell James about her weird experience. She flashes him a fake smile and says quickly, trying to change the subject, “I really would rather not talk about it. I'm glad you found a place that you think will be good. Tell me about the company. I'm all ears.”

James shakes his head, looks at Sally with concern and admonishes her, “You know, I really think it would be valuable for me to hear what is and isn't working there so I don't send you from the frying pan into the fire. At least tell me what was good about the company.”

Sally starts to feel her irritation growing. Her jaws clench. Her nostrils flare. She's about to get up and leave when James apologizes.

“Sally, I care about you and I want to do the best for you,” James continues. ”I can see that you don't want to tell me anything about the company you're leaving. Okay, then. I'll tell you about the company I found.”

Sally listens and as she does, her jaw loosens and she begins to breath more evenly. She likes what she's hearing. She gives James the go ahead to put her name in for the position, thanks him, and leaves his office. She feels like weights have been lifted off her shoulders.

“Nothing can possible be as screwy as the place I'm in now,” Sally thinks to herself as she walks to her car. “At least something is going right.” She realizes that she is looking forward to regaining her sanity. Now, she has to figure out what she will tell Tom in the morning. She decides to drive home with hopes that her husband, Larry, will help her figure out what to say and what not to say...

Now let's check in on Donna and see what she's been up to.

We left Donna after she had just had her first coaching session with her onboarding coach. On her way back to her office, she ran into two of her peers who asked her to participate in a project they were spearheading. The three of them spent a few minutes going over the project so that Donna could decide if she was interested. Not only was she interested, she was flattered that they had asked her and she let them know that. She left them in time to make her next meeting.

Donna arrives at the meeting room several minutes early. She isn't reporting on any of her projects so she has nothing to prepare. She opens up her email. As it's loading, she closes her eyes and marvels at her good fortune. There's a small part of her that is waiting for the other shoe to drop. She just isn't used to things going so well.

Donna takes a nice, long, deep breath and exhales, letting herself enjoy the quietness and sweetness of this moment. She wishes that she could make it last forever but she knows too well that life throws curve balls and the best way to succeed is to figure out how to catch the ball and run with it. Wishing something would stay the same simply causes pain and frustration.

Donna opens her eyes and looks through her emails for anything that requires her immediate attention. While she's doing this, other folks start arriving for the meeting. Donna completes one response and then stops and greets her teammates. Her emails can wait until the meeting is over. The groups chats together until everyone arrives.

Lorin starts the meeting by doing a quick round robin so everyone can make announcements, ask for help regarding challenges they may be facing, take credit for their team's accomplishments, and anything else that arises. When everyone has checked in, Lorin tells the group about the special project that is starting which will be led by Mark, Juanita, and Donna. The group errupts in praises and excitement. This is the first they're hearing about the win. They had all touched the proposal in some way and are delighted that their proposal won and is being funded. They congratulate Mark and Juanita for the fine work they did with the proposal. Then, several of them comment on what a great addition Donna will make to the team.

Donna feels herself flush. She is a bit overwhelmed by the warmth of these people and how much they're acknowledging her even though they hardly know her. She breathes to quiet herself down and get ready to listen to the presentation that is already starting. She wants to give her all to this team that is including her so deeply.

Now let's take a few moments to compare and contrast how Sally and Donna have each handled their situations.

  • Sally's rigidity is most apparent. Even though she knows that James, the headhunter, wants some information from her about her current workplace, she is not willing to budge and engage in the conversation at all. In fact, she is so brittle that just James' mention of her workplace is enough to push her buttons and propel her out the door. She settles down only when James acquiesces and engages in exactly the way that Sally wants. Sally shows no flexibility at all.

  • Donna shows a high degree of flexibility and adaptability. After her onboarding coaching session, while on her way to her office, she changed course and had an impromptu meeting with her colleagues. Then, when she arrives at the meeting room early and starts looking at her email, she quickly puts it away, connecting with her workmates rather than complete emails.

As we go through this month with the focus on flexibility, we'll look at how you can stay with your authentic self while also being flexible.

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