Light from dark nights of introspection

Imagine being charged of committing acts so dreadful you can’t comprehend being capable of performing them. Acts that are selfish and mean-spirited.  I took copious notes throughout the conversation that occurred during a raging thunder and lightning storm. Turmoil inside, turmoil outside.

I coach others feedback is a gift. Accept it gracefully even if it hurts. Analyze it from multiple perspectives. Seek to understand. Work through the emotions. Look for what resonates. Explore what doesn’t. Grow, be better. Keep moving forward.

Hence began the long dark night. I returned to the list of offenses (which had grown in a subsequent email), seeking to understand. Nothing in the list rang true for who and what I perceived myself to be. Was I refusing to look candidly in my own mirror?

I poked and prodded the allegations, coming up empty-handed. When the solitary journey isn’t going anywhere, I coach vulnerability: confide in a trusted advisor, someone who lovingly tells you the good, the bad and the ugly about yourself. They are your mirror.

While my sounding board had never seen the behaviors ascribed to me, she accurately pointed out that I obviously had done something to prompt the other’s beliefs. Together we reviewed the context of each incident, looking for clues. Sure enough, buried in an early conversation was an ill-phrased suggestion. To me, the comment was simply a blue-sky idea, a way to divvy up a project between two busy people. There was no hidden agenda.

Yet the other party heard something very different – that I was seeking to marginalize her role and maximize mine. Rather than asking a clarifying question or two at the time the suggestion was made, she concluded I was self-serving. And that became the lens through which she viewed our subsequent encounters.

Once my advisor pointed this out, it was easy to see how my comments were taken out of context and filtered by her point of view. And, if you’re not paying close attention (especially when all interaction happens via technology), you miss clues coming your way – and I missed a ton of them before the thunderstorm conversation.

Now that everything is out in the open between us, we both can see where each of us went wrong. Will the partnership survive? It’s too early to say but we’ve both committed to rebuilding the trust that was seriously eroded.

Two insights stand out for me from my dark night:

  • If you’re harboring ill feelings toward a friend, colleague, loved one, business associate, etc. and haven’t openly addressed it with them, make it so – the sooner the better. Stop the rot. End the awkwardness. Get things back on track or close the track.
  • If you’re wondering why someone is acting strangely, make the time to ask why. Ask both from your head and heart. Listen deeply to what’s said. Be open to introspection. Without knowledge of the wound you’ve caused, you may inadvertently be making it worse.

Make that call right now and get things back on track, OK?