Learning Not to be an Asshole

I am reaching out to communicate a concern from our most recent exchange…

That was the start of the email sitting in my inbox. And even those of us with nerves of steel can find our heartbeat does a little skip when you catch that short intro. I’m not one to avoid conflict. Quite the opposite. I’ve been known to embrace it. So of course, I had to stop everything to open the email fully and see what thing I did that rubbed someone the wrong way.

Ten years ago, if I had gotten that email I would have not been able to read it without a defensive mindset. One that suggests the problem is more on their side and not mine. I would have been smart enough to wait 24 hours before I responded. But the first 4, or more, of those hours would have been me coming up with a bunch of smart-ass things to say back. And then texting a friend or colleague to vent about the people I must work with.

Today when this happens the eagerness to open the email and embrace the conflict is based 100% in curiosity. I’ve learned that my experience is not yours. I’ve learned that my approach is one in a thousand and not everyone’s cup of tea. I’ve learned that my intentions, while usually based in the desire to be of service to others are also conflicted from time to time by getting results. I like to get shit done and that can sometimes leave your experience of me as a bit abrasive, harsh, or disrespectful. I have frequently been called “intense” and “fierce”.

And while men do get away with being abrasive (amongst other things) more than women, the reality is that if I’m trying to get shit done there’s only so long that having that sort of impact isn’t going to bite me in the ass regardless gender. But I can’t really change my core motivations. I value getting results and often that means I need to create momentum in others.

What I learned to change is what strengths I brought into those conversations. I didn’t need to change who I was. I’m sure many people who know me well today would still say I’m “intense” and “fierce”. But they would add to those words’ things like “intense caring” and “fierce love”. And lots of silly.

This learning started with a really hard conversation with another “intense” and “fierce” female leader that I respected greatly. She also had a grace to her leadership that I was envious of. We were both in a leadership course together and there was an exercise around assumptions sharing. She was one of the bravest in the room who shared with me that she sometimes felt that the rest of the group were all letting me down. That I was disappointed in her and the others. Hearing those words broke my heart.

Shortly after that another leader in that same group happened to be at my family home where I had invited him to stay for a weekend. Over the course of a few hours, he saw a completely different side of me than what I presented to others in the professional context. Like the prior person, he too experienced me as very serious and action oriented. But at home I was full of play and fun while getting things done. Like her he had the courage to share with me in his own words the contrast he experienced.

These two moments, which happened within weeks of each other, were exactly the words I needed to hear. I do have an extremely playful side that I rarely gave permission to bring into work. I felt I needed to be “all business” all the time. Not only do I know how to be playful, empathetic and make genuine connections with others – I am really good at it.

Today I help leaders get business results without being an asshole. None of us want to be an asshole and yet all of us has likely shown up as one unintentionally. Or we have avoided difficult conversations for fear of being seen as one. I certainly did and learned many lessons along my squiggly career as a project manager, IT & strategy consultant, sales executive, employee engagement leader and now leadership and wellbeing coach. If that resonates with you then I think I can be of service in your journey.

So how did I respond to the email and was I respectful? You tell me as I’ve included an excerpt of that response below. However, the best thing is that it took me less than a couple minutes to craft this response. There was zero defensiveness I was feeling as I was able to genuinely see the impact I had created, get curious about my actions, and own up to them. My overall lesson here, which is one I appreciate being reminded of, is there is always a way to get things done and have a little fun.

Of course, happy to have a conversation about the meeting. And I am sorry. I was disrespectful. I was frustrated with the way the meeting was progressing and I took that out on you. I simply thought you didn’t realize I was at that prior meeting and didn’t want to waste your time and everyone else reviewing what I already knew. I made a bad assumption about what you were going to actually say and just jumped in. Not cool.

I can be overly focused on action and getting things done. This means I lose patience when there are a lot of discussions that feel like, to me, it is going nowhere. Not suggesting you were going nowhere with your thoughts – it was me reacting to a cumulation of prior conversations in the meeting.

Again – happy to have a conversation to connect and just get to know each other better. I know I can be experienced as intense. But I can also be quite a lot of fun. When I feel we are being inefficient with our time I stop having fun. I need to learn to let that go.😉

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