By nature, I’d prefer to completely avoid conflict. To me it feels like walking with other people through a minefield, either by force or by choice. In some ways, it is. Navigating conflict requires courage and is profoundly vulnerable.
We know that avoiding conflict at work makes us sick, damages creativity and diminishes productivity and morale. One study by CPP, Inc. found that 1 in 4 employees reported illness or taking sick days due to workplace conflict. More than one-third said that conflict resulted in someone leaving the company, either through firing or quitting. The losses and costs add up quickly.
As I reflect on my life, I find that the greatest growth has come from challenges that had me paralyzed at the time: believing I needed 34 hours in each day as a plebe at the Naval Academy, failing to stand up to a bully in the Marine Corps, trying to stay motivated and effective when I lost interest in my corporate job, learning to sell services to prospective clients, and understanding the depth of my arrogance and lack of curiosity as a coach and consultant.
I was a decent basketball player as a kid. I went to the Taylor University Basketball Camp two summers in a row, and I learned a lot. I’m right-handed, and I’ve always found it easy to drive to the basket to the right. But defenders would always frustrate me by poaching over to their left, shutting down my driving lane. When I learned to dribble left-handed, it opened up a lot of possibilities for me on the court.
Because of my personality, there are other behaviors that also come naturally to me.
Last weekend I was blessed to have the opportunity to go to a 3-day workshop about a personality/spiritual formation tool I’ve been interested in for about 6 months. The little psychologist in me was geeking out as I drove there on day 1. I’ve already been using this with a few clients and couldn’t wait to learn more. While definitely helpful for my clients, what I discovered profoundly changed me.
It gave me a new lens to see my life through. I have much greater clarity on WHY I do some of the things I do. It shone light on a lot of my darker places. While those are hard to concede, there’s also peace in the truth that comes from acknowledging them.
The kindest words that have been said to me lately are, “Jess, I’m worried that you’re wrong, and that it’s going to hurt you.” They came from a friend, who I know didn’t really want to say them, about some personal views in which I had been very confident. Essentially, I had forced her to call me out on pridefully asserting that I was above struggling with something. After opening the conversation, she went on to gently explain her point of view, pointing out some obvious flaws in mine. She was humble, gracious, and obviously continued the conversation for my good rather than her own.
Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi found himself diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 35 with months remaining in his residency. As he and his wife sat across from his oncologist, she asked him to think though his values so he could make the most of the uncertain amount of time he had left to live. While I hope none of us will ever have to have that conversation under those circumstances, all of us live with the same questions and wrestle with expanding and contracting timelines – some which seem more certain than others. I’m convinced that our focus on legacy, impact and leadership development shouldn’t wait until the last decade of our careers.
I feel like the Lorax. They cut down the magnificent old-growth trees on the floodwall. I live on the south bank of the White River, and the Army Corps of Engineers has been floodproofing my neighborhood for 15 years. The latest iteration of the plan involved the industrial scale de-treeing of the levee. Nobody asked my opinion, and I’m in a stage of resentful mourning.
I recently worked with a team in the midst of a major change. Their company was acquired. Everything is in flux. Questions like “Who will be redundant and let go? and “What will the ‘new normal’ look like?” were frequently posed. In the midst of this uncertainty and chaos, it was Kairos’ role was to help them have a healthy conversation to air their fears and determine a path forward despite the disruption and uncertainty.
Through all of the fears that come with transitions, however, I witnessed a few universal themes play out.
Recently I had the opportunity be with a small group of folks to hear from Alan Fadling, author of The Unhurried Life. We had an interesting dialog about how hurry drives us to anxiety and burnout as leaders. I had to laugh when one woman shared that her company’s word for the year is Velocity. Yikes.
Last week I got a Tdap booster vaccination. My arm is still a bit sore. I knew it was going to hurt, because the nurse who gave me the vaccination warned me, “The needle will hurt a bit, and the injection site will be sore for a few days.” I took the shot anyway, because I knew it was good for me.
But in other areas of my life, I confuse pain and harm. And I find other leaders too often make this same mistake.