At the end of a virtual event Sue Heilbronner and I co-facilitated this week, one of the attendees expressed what I heard as dissatisfaction with the call. I immediately went below the line.
The person’s reaction sounded highly reactive to me. I heard her as jogging around the three roles on the drama triangle: victim, villain, and hero. In response, I went into my own safe pattern: I disengage in the face of conflict.
Feeling overwhelmed with emotion, I froze. I had no words to respond to what I perceived as extreme confrontation.
Sue’s pattern response to conflict is the polar opposite of mine. She is a challenger. When she is below the line, she can be combative in conflict. At that moment, I assumed Sue would jump in, ready for a scrappy fight.
Instead, Sue maintained her composure. She employed conscious listening, offering an extremely gentle response. This stunned me.
In reflecting later on this with Sue, we laughed, and she acknowledged she had felt extremely tempted to dish out a fiery, entitled response. She realized, however, that if she did that, she would be in the same pattern of reactivity as we had both observed in this attendee. No surprise, this is how drama begets drama. It’s viral. Sue mentioned to me that she realized in retrospect that the feedback she was tempted to offer this person — something like “when you sound entitled, it makes me want to steer clear of any relationship with you” — would have been a gift to someone truly open. She chose to keep that gift to herself, knowing it would be ill-received in any event. She made a choice instead of sliding into reactivity.
I loved her reflections. This felt like a true expression of Conscious Leadership. Not only making the choice to respond instead of reacting, but to see one’s personality traits as gifts and to choose when to use them. It was beautiful.
Later, I faced a difficult situation. As a foster family for the Golden Retriever Freedom Rescue, I am tasked with both providing interim care for foster dogs, as well as helping to select their new forever family. After a meet-and-greet with a potential adopter for our current Golden Retriever, Oliver, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I knew in my gut that this inactive older couple was not the right match for an energetic eight-month-old. I also knew they were looking for their next companion and I would have to make the difficult phone call, telling them they weren’t a fit.
I spoke with the rescue’s adoption coordinator and she offered to make the rejection call for me. I was tempted to take the offer, to avoid conflict. Then I paused, realizing making the choice to face a difficult situation was an opportunity to challenge myself and grow.
Instead of reacting from a place of conflict avoidance, I made a conscious choice. I picked up the phone and told the family I felt they weren’t a match. At this moment, I could also see the gifts of my pattern response to diffuse conflict. While disengaging in the face of conflict can have costs (lack of connection, for one), I also have developed the ability to take a diplomatic approach when facing a challenging conversation. This is a gift. One that I can choose to save for when I want to face conflict but remain in connection.
Exercise: Notice & Appreciate One of Your Personality Patterns
- Find one opportunity this week to see where a reaction you had at work was connected to a familiar pattern of reactivity.
- Notice the costs of this pattern. Then, see if you can identify some benefits this pattern offers you or others when used with intention.
- Ninja move: Find one opportunity next week to make the choice to respond, instead of reacting.