Dark Side Flip Side

We all have dark places in us. Each of those has a reflection that’s light. Because it’s part of our nature, it doesn’t take effort to create it, only to direct it.

Arrogance is a distasteful characteristic. Flip it, and you have confidence. When you’re convinced your course is right, you’re not quickly shaken by others’ opinions or their lack of confidence.

The strong-willed can be manipulative. The unselfish flip side is the ability to lead others for their own good. Unselfish leadership matters.

Our first reaction, gut level, instinctive, is to hide or quash our dark sides.

How can that dark place become a strength?

Meta Morph Assist

Coach. Mentor. Guide. Pathfinder. Guru. Sherpa. Everyone’s looking for just the right word to say how they can help you.

What about metamorphosist?

Metamorphosis is a fundamental change. You may think of yourself as a little green worm when it comes to your ability to change the world, or even make a dent.

But what happens to a little green worm when they have the safety of a chrysalis? Nature takes its course. The inevitable happens: genius takes wings and flies.

When Are You Like the Fish in the Pot?

And our fish came down, too.
He fell into a pot!
He said, “Do I like this?”
Oh, no! I do not.
This is not a good game,”
Said our fish as he lit.
“No, I do not like it,
Not one little bit!”

It’s often said there are three kinds of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened. I know a fourth group: those who try to prevent things from happening.

The fish in the pot sounded like the voice of reason.

“No! Not in the house!”
Said the fish in the pot.
“They should not fly kites
In a house! They should not.
Oh, the things they will bump!
Oh, the things they will hit!
Oh, I do not like it!
Not one little bit!”

But did things turn out badly? No. In the end, all was well.

When you’re unsure of the future, how do you react?

Then our fish said, “Look! Look!”
And our fish shook with fear.

When you’re out of your comfort zone, do you shake with fear, as the fish in the pot did? Do you watch from the sidelines, not knowing what to do? Or when the Cat in the Hat steps in on your mat, do you wholeheartedly embrace the fun and adventure?

Certainly, we don’t want to take unnecessary risks, but that’s not what Dr. Seuss is about. There are no risks in Seussland.

And there are far fewer in real life than you imagine.

Next time circumstances or people surprise you, next time a scary opportunity appears, consider: how will you react when the Cat in the Hat steps in on your mat?

Manners Matter

I am ruthless when it comes to manners. People who condone rudeness are summarily excised from my life. People who say they’re “just being honest” when they’re defending their blunt, unnecessary comments get deleted instantly.

While most of those people will never miss me, there’s a life and business lesson for the few who are willing to consider another perspective.

Sensitive people who value good manners have a larger pool of wisdom available to them than those who don’t care what others think of them.

People need to feel safe to communicate. In Crucial Conversations, the authors point out that the most effective people in their studies had the ability to get everyone involved in a conversation to put all the information they had on the table. Having all the information was the key. People who don’t feel safe hold back. Usually, what they hold back is the most emotionally sensitive stuff. Of course, that’s where the passion is, and often, where the real value is.

Yes, there are some people so confident that they feel safe to say exactly what they mean in any conversation. They’ll get the benefit of free and open conversation with others just like them.

What they won’t get is free and honest communication with more sensitive types, folks who won’t feel safe opening up their most passionate thoughts.

Unless there’s a valid argument that emotionally sensitive people are fundamentally less intelligent, there’s an enormous pool of data, wisdom, passion that some folks are denying themselves.

Manners matter. Being polite isn’t just a throwback to antiquated mores. It’s a practical tool for making the most of relationships, personal and professional.

Shipwreck and Salvation

Barton and 51 acquaintances share ownership and use of a gorgeous sailboat. One week a year, they each get to take this beautiful home with sails wherever they want to go. Sometimes a few of them join together and spend two weeks, three weeks, even a month out at sea.

One dark night when Barton is sailing, the boat starts to sink. He doesn’t know why. He does everything in his power to prevent it, but it’s beyond what he can do to keep it afloat. Reluctantly, he abandons ship and watches it go down. He survives unscathed, other than the deep-seated emotional trauma of his loss.

But that’s not the end of it. Miraculously, the boat survives. It’s raised up, and repaired by experts. When it’s returned to Barton and his 51 partners, it’s actually in better shape than it was before it went down. As is often the case, this trial revealed flaws which were eliminated or reduced in the repairs which got it seaworthy again.

Time passes. Lots of time. Years, in fact.

And Barton never sails again.

Folks ask, “How come you never go sailing anymore? It was such a part of your life.”

He replies “The boat sank.”

Now, they’ve been on it recently with acquaintances and know that it’s sailing just fine. They say so.

He replies, “No, it sank.”

No matter what anyone says, he insists that that boat sank.

He’s stuck at the moment of his greatest personal loss in this relationship, and never seems able to move past his own pain and accept that the boat is not only afloat, but better than ever.

Now, while it’s rational to be cautious about sailing on a boat that sank out from under you, does it make sense to pretend that its sinking was the last thing that happened? Of course not.

And yet, when someone makes a huge, faith-shaking mistake and we choose not to forgive, that’s exactly what we’re doing.

We believe that, that day, they sank, never to be seen again. We don’t know who that is walking around in their body, but when someone says “Have you talked to them?” our response, perhaps not verbal, but emotional, is, “No, they sank.”

Shipwreck, literal or metaphorical, isn’t always final.

Find someone who sank but, miraculously, was salvaged and repaired, and take them for a spin. You may be surprised how much sturdier a craft is once it’s been properly shaken down and fitted out after a shipwreck.

Clarifying Your Perception of Risk: An Exercise

Vague undefined fears negatively affect our decisions and actions. This is a way to make the fear less vague.

  1. On a 3×5 card, write down the worst possible thing that can happen. Possible, not imaginable. You can imagine all kinds of evil and mayhem, but is it really possible?
  2. On another card, write down the best possible thing that could happen. Feel free to stretch possible a bit.
  3. On a third card, write down the most likely outcome.
  4. Lay the worst card on the left corner of the table in front of you and the best card on the right corner. Put the likely card between them, more or less where you think it falls on the continuum.

You will notice three things:

  1. You can live with the worst case scenario
  2. The likely case is pretty close to the best case
  3. You’ve overestimated the worst case and underestimated the best case

Humans are risk averse. When you’re walking down a dark alley at night, that’s helpful. When you’re trying to be generous, it’s not. Trust is complex, but the short path to it is by giving first.

Assumptions hide our ignorance from us

When we’re aware of our ignorance, we give ourselves the opportunity to learn. Assumptions make our ignorance secret even from ourselves.

Today, pick an assumption to challenge. Give it a hard look. Are you sure? Talk to three friends you think might challenge you. Share your assumption and see what they think. Better, find someone you know assumes exactly the opposite and open a dialogue.

Assumptions challenged become either opinions or beliefs, but they stop being unexamined “truth” guiding our life without proper thought.

When Mistakes Have Been Made

If someone doesn’t even know they made a mistake, the desired outcome is for them to realize it, and learn how not to repeat the mistake. Maybe they just needed to be aware that this isn’t what we wanted done. Maybe they need to be more careful during the process. Maybe they need skills training. When you know the outcome and focus on that, you’ll provide what they need so they can get it right from now on.

Just as often, they already know they messed up. Some of the previous paragraph still applies, but we’re going to handle it differently.

First, clarify that you both know what happened. If they say “I messed up” then consider it clarified. Otherwise, if you suspect, but they don’t volunteer, just ask. “Are you aware this isn’t what we wanted here?” Non-confrontational. Just gathering information.

Next, find out if they know where things broke down. Were they careless? Do they need help with mechanics of the task? Was something totally unrelated to the task interfering?

If they’re not sure what happened, or where things broke down, spell it out. Again, since the goal is to help them get it right from now on and not just to make them know how upset you are we do this without rancor. If that means you wait until after you’ve had lunch or taken a short walk, wait. Don’t try to manage their feelings while yours aren’t under control.

If they can tell you what happened and how to fix it, praise their perspicacity, thank them, and move on. If they already know how to get it right from now on, the lesson is already learned. You’re already at the outcome. Any more discussion is like continuing to hammer after the nail is all the way in.

If hammering is your goal, though, take that walk and eat your lunch. Take a breather and come back when you can try for the right outcome.

This all applies when it’s just you, too. Once you know what broke and why, resist the urge to hammer yourself. You’ve learned a valuable lesson. Accept it, appreciate it, and move on. More hammering still doesn’t make any sense.

Tell Yourself Their Story

Riding the train with some unruly kids is annoying, until their apparently oblivious father explains that their mother is in the hospital, and it doesn’t look good. Nigh unto impossible to stay angry at any of them when you know that both the antics and the blank stare are reactions to deep emotional pain.

This works whether you discover a true story or tell yourself a story with no reason in the world to believe it.

The car that just cut you off on the freeway: unconscionable jerk, or late for work because they were up half the night with a sick kid? Newspaper in the bushes again: stupid lazy delivery person, or something else which you can fill in yourself?

Try it. Today, when you think someone’s acting out, make up a story that makes them a sympathetic character in the stage play of your day. Practice. After while you’ll begin to realise two things:

  1. You’re less stressed, because the stress was coming, not from others’ actions, but your perception of their intent; and
  2. the stories you’re making up about good people doing things that make sense, if only you know the story—well, those stories are more likely to be true than the jerk/victim nonsense we default to.

Active Understanding

Rather than assuming we understand others, actively seek reasons they speak and act as they do, especially when we notice it; that is, when it annoys or confuses us.

Our instinctive unconscious response is “They are like me, therefore I understand them, therefore what they’re saying or doing is mean or selfish or aggressive.”

Because it’s unconscious, we have to train ourselves to

a) notice we’re responding with assumptions
b) realize when the assumptions aren’t helping
c) imagine other possibilities
d) accept that they are equally, if not more, likely than our assumptions

There is someone in your life who could use your Active Understanding. Next time you see them, pause, turn on your AU senses, and see what you learn.