Back in high school my grade 8 art teacher wrote on my end of year report card that I had "a fiery nature when called for". I had spoken up when she punished the whole class for the behaviour of a couple of boys. I wasn't having it.
What's this got to do with a beautiful photo of an elephant in Thailand? Read on.
It's risky to speak up. To create a fuss. To move towards the tension, rather than away from it. Few people want to do this. One leader I worked with loved to be challenged and to argue. To get to the heart of the issue, to challenge assumptions and to hear someone else point of view. To have conversations not to win and not to be certain but to be curious and to understand. I learnt a lot from working with him.
Another leader I work with now also says what needs to be said but in a more gentle reflective way. There is so much power in this approach. It's less fiery but just as effective as it comes from a courageous place.
A few years ago I attended a workshop about having tough conversations focusing on how to get to the purpose of what's going on for both people. As is normal when learning new skills when you first try them out it's a bit clunky. I decided to try out my new skills on a colleague who I wasn't very happy with. I wanted to let her know that I felt unsupported and out on a limb with what she has asked me to do. I rang her up and started the conversation. It didn't go well. She basically ended up hanging up on me. Live and learn. I know I could have that conversation much better now and get a better outcome, but you also need to have people who are willing to have the conversation and not everyone is interested.
I was reminded this week that not everyone is interested when my "fiery nature" appeared during a conversation. I was feeling very frustrated with a group of people who should be the conscience of the organisation. I wonder whether we all felt helpless to influence the situation effectively and so there is no point in speaking up? And maybe there are times when I expect too much and maybe this was one of those times. Or maybe not. I don't know. I have learnt to have more restraint with conversations over time but I would rather be with others who are willing to be brave and open and talk about the issues rather than leaving the elephant sitting alone in the middle of the room.
And what happens when you challenge and question and point out the elephant and no one cares? Or worse you are told to be quiet and that no one wants to talk about it? Well we all have options and choices. We can choose to live with the situation or we can choose to fight or we can choose to go somewhere else.
What would you do? When have you been in a similar situation?