Every leader client I have ever coached has at least one relationship in which they feel challenged or stuck.  When we explore what they’ve shared with the other person, invariably, I hear some version of how they are not able to say what they really think, feel or want. I hear some version of how they have withheld. I wish she knew that her negative attitude at team meetings is a drag on the whole team but I cannot tell her that directly.

When we explore their reasons for withholding, there are many. It is often some version of I tried talking to her before and it didn’t work; I am scared that if I say what I really think, she’ll cry/get really angry/quit etc. I hear how they would rather tolerate the situation than confront it. Then they usually admit they have withdrawn somewhat, that there is some degree of distance in the relationship.

When we explore their “stories” about the relationship, I often here things like She’s just a negative person and she always will be. My client will have found all the confirming evidence that this is true.  He will have trouble seeing the person in any other way other than thru the lens of this projection.  He will easily spot all the ways this person is negative in team meetings and might have trouble noticing when this person is a positive contributor.

Withhold + Withdraw + Project = The Death Spiral of Relationship[1]

While it may sound sounds dramatic, it is really death by a thousand cuts. It can be largely unconscious.  We hold back a bit. Pull back a bit. Start collecting evidence to justify our position. And then, seemingly all of a sudden, we feel stuck. The situation feels intractable. Damn. 

Happily, it doesn’t have to be this way! There is an antidote. We can be different. We can spiral up instead.

Reveal + Connect + Own = Transformational Learning and Connection

We can reveal ourselves. In a candid, not blaming, non-superior way, we can share our thoughts and feelings. In our team meetings, I feel frustrated when you respond with all the reasons why something won’t work. And I have made up a story that it will always be this way, that you will never change. I am noticing that I am avoiding you a bit and I feel sad about that.

We can connect. I want you and I to have a strong relationship. It’s for this reason that I am risking telling you how I feel and what I am experiencing. How do you feel? What’s important to you? What do you want? How can I help?

We can ownWe can eat our projections. What are all the ways that we are also negative in team meetings? How is it true that we have habitual ways of showing up too?  How have we contributed to the relationship being exactly as it is because we withheld, withdrew and projected our stories onto it?

Like many things in leadership, the concepts are simple when written in black and white.  The formulas make sense. Facing our own feelings with withholds can be more challenging. Changing our habitual patterns can be more difficult.

So, we can start small.

We can practice first with growth-minded leaders who want the best for us. This safe to fail practice will give us the courage to face our more “difficult” relationships.  I believe that once you taste the freedom that comes from being more fully yourself, you’ll never look back.

If you’re ready to learn how to reveal, connect and own then I invite you to reach out to discuss which of our programs best suits your needs to transform your leadership.

P.S. Transforming your leadership can take others by surprise. This article that I wrote in 2016 highlights the importance of signaling a lane change – telling others what you are working on is the best way to accelerate your development.


[1] These concepts come from The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership and were originally developed with Hendricks.com.

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