One of our basic premises is that understanding makes change easier. Sometimes the change simply comes from an expanded or altered perspective. Sometimes understanding breeds acceptance, even appreciation. Deep understanding often dissolves conflicts as it stimulates empathy and reduces defensiveness. Understanding creates a bridge to another person from which create problem solving emerges.
Let's go back into Sally and Donna's worlds to see how understanding or the lack of it affects each of them as they move through the day following their first team meetings.
After an unsatisfactory team meeting, Sally has two phone conversations that leave her feeling worse than when she finished the meeting. The colleague who brought her into this company and her husband were less than empathic. Though she wants to go down the hall to get a cup of coffee, she stays in her office rather than risk contact with her direct reports.
Unable to focus on the articles she is attempting to review in preparation for her next meeting, she continues to open them, read bits, then moves onto another. She is aware that she is not absorbing what is in front of her yet she continues with the same behavior in hopes that eventually, she will be able to put the meeting out of her mind and be able to focus.
The upcoming meeting is important in that it will be her first leadership team meeting with her peers and her supervisor. She wants to impress them with her knowledge so it is extremely important to her that she read through all the pre-material so she can comment on it.
She finally decides to highlight important points in the reports that she finds questionable. That brings her a bit more present. Now, at least, she'll have something of value to contribute at the meeting. This thought provides relief and fuel. She is relieved to think that she can improve or at least question the reports, thereby showing her peers and supervisor her capabilities.
The phone rings. Alex, the colleague who brought her to the company, just finished his telecom and wants to check in on her. “How's it going? Are you okay now?”
Sally does everything to keep her cool. “I'm preparing for my next meeting. Maybe I'll be able to make a better impression there! Hopefully, my peers and boss are more intelligent.”
Realizing that Sally has not shifted since their earlier conversation, Alex sets up a time and place to meet after work and quickly gets off the phone.
In another office, Donna has just completed writing notes about the first team meeting and has moved onto her next priority. Like Sally, she will also be attending the first leadership meeting of her peers and supervisor later in the day. Donna opens the agenda for the meeting and reads through it quickly.
Donna met several of her peers during her interviews. She is eager to be part of this team and looks forward to meeting the folks who she has not yet met. She begins to imagine what the meeting might be like, how she'll fit in, how she'll get to know the others, and how they'll get to know her. She decides to go for a short walk outside to think about the meeting, people, and herself.
During her recent leadership training, Donna received feedback about the first impressions she created when meeting people. She realized that she often gets very quiet, almost invisible when in new situations. As she reflected on this pattern (by doing an AID - an Archaeological Internal Dig), she remembered the many times her family moved when she was a child. Each new school required meeting new people. She felt awkward and uncomfortable. She knew that she would only be in the new place for 2 years so why bother. The survival strategy she developed—getting very quiet and listening a lot—had served her well. However, it didn't help people to get to know her and it didn't create strong connections. She had learned that this part of the equation was just as important as her getting to know them.
Outside, the fresh air relaxed her. As she walked, she realized that she could simply be herself. She didn't need to hide and become invisible nor did she need to put on a show. She could stay present with herself and with her new team. If and when she began to feel anxious, she could calm herself down. She knew she would be okay, that she would find her place on the team, if not today, eventually.
On her way back to her office, Donna asked a colleague to join her for lunch so she could learn more about the team. Back at her desk, she reviewed the pre-material for the meeting. She remained relaxed and engaged.
Let's review each leader's behavior with a focus on understanding.
Sally shows no signs of engaging in any self-reflection. Nothing in her behavior would lead us to believe that she is curious about her reactions, motives, or behavior. She seems to be fixated on proving herself right and on blaming others rather than understanding herself or them. Instead of learning to use her mind well, she allows her feelings to overwhelm her and make her lose focus.
She's gone off the tracks and has no clue about how to get back on. It is clear that Sally did not use her team meeting as a learning opportunity. Nor did she use the time before her next meeting to help create an environment in which she could be her best.
Donna, on the other hand, took time to consider what was most important for her as a new person with her peers and her supervisor. She made a conscious effort to use her newly gained awareness and understanding of herself to help herself prepare. Rather than simply telling herself that she would behave differently than she had at previous first encounters, she did the emotional archaeology necessary to understand what motivated her behavior. In this way, she was able to dissolve most of her anxiety.
To deal with the part of her anxiety that she realized was a normal human reaction to first encounters on a new team, she asked someone from the team to lunch so she could feel more connected.
Due to Donna's awareness and understanding of herself, Donna was able to create an environment for herself in which she would be more likely to remain authentic, present, and engaged.Back to top