Step outside of your worn patterns and embrace the magic of being real together
It’s a dance. Choreographed, practiced, worn into the grooves of the everyday interactions. When teams get into an oft-traveled pattern in their interpersonal relationships, their behaviors are almost scripted and predictable.
It would be one thing if a team was thriving, but as we see teams fraying, with that sheen of “just holding together,” these dances are dangerous.
You see, just under the surface of the status quo lies the deep, real issues of what everyone is really thinking and feeling. “I could explain why this isn’t going to work, but they don’t want to hear it.” “Here we go again - a new priority we won’t stick with.” These dances keep a team lingering at the surface — collegial, yet unnourished. Sometimes when people are so overwhelmed by all that they are facing, that surface level keeps things reassuringly predictable. And confining.
So if you find yourself in a groundhog day of workplace dynamics that lack the spark of creativity and energy, then let’s look at a secret to creating a new groove.
The antidote to old patterns: real conversations.
When we work with teams who feel stuck, we often see an inflection point. New dance steps get fed into the ways they work, and there is a new energy of possibility.
There is a common catalyst for change fueling these moments: real, heartfelt conversation.
When people name the elephant in the room and say what they are really thinking, there is an electricity in the air. Team members realize they’ve been funneling energy into workarounds that are more costly than addressing an issue head on. Perhaps they find they were misunderstanding themselves for ages, and the dance was unnecessary. Often, someone feels seen. They believe that a bit more of themselves belongs.
Of course, if you’re like us, when we embrace these moments, we often “toddle.” Something feels new or a little awkward. Perhaps we don’t have the right words or we go a little off-center. But it ends up okay in the end. People have a remarkable ability to be open in the face of realness. Perhaps it touches our common humanity.
Four tips for bringing compassionate authenticity to our conversations
Having a heartfelt conversation isn’t rocket-science, but we still don’t do it - or do it well. Some people use the excuse of authenticity to be bluntly candid. Others try to gloss it up with a “just saying” or “bless their heart” to excuse their harshness. Both leave unnecessary bruises and decrease the likelihood of others showing up with their authentic selves.
So here are four guideposts to helping us lean in with compassionate authenticity. It’s a place that holds space for the other person, but allows for us to speak from the heart.
Infuse these moments with grace. We love the definition of grace by Francis Su: “Grace is the good things you didn’t earn or deserve, but you’re getting them anyway… Grace gives people dignity they don’t have to earn.” When we extend grace to ourselves and others, it enables us to allow for change to take place AND to acknowledge we are works in progress. That concept of grace allows for us to lean in with humility rather than wrestling to defend our intent in the past.
Bring an attitude of openness and a practice of curiosity. People can feel it. They sense when you are open to learning, and they are far more willing to show up when they feel like you will actually do something with those words. We need to foster a curious way of showing up for others, trusting that there is truth and magic that others have to share when we invite them to.
Exhibit true empathy. When we really see the other human aside from us, when we show a sense of real care for them, that already softens any solution that is needed. Somehow, we bypass this moment and simply rely on a surface-level picture of the other person. But when people feel seen, valued, and safe, they show up as their full selves.
Don’t wait for the perfect moment, but commit to repair. Sometimes leaders withhold their thoughts fearing the effects of saying things imperfectly. (Side note: this is especially true when working across lines of difference.) We believe that any heartfelt moment of two people working through something will not create an outcome that is unsalvageable later. Conversely, unspoken conversations will metastasize and fester when we wait for circumstances to deliver things perfectly. So operate with care, but trust that being in motion can serve you better than you give credit.
The conversation is just the beginning
The real work comes after the heartfelt conversations. We have to show up and follow through. We have to adjust course or ask for clarity. A single conversation will never be a perfect solution for any issue. But without compassionate authenticity, any solution will take much more energy. As you take one toddling step at a time, you can figure it out together. New ideas will emerge. A different give-and-take will help you to make things happen. And a sense of “in-it-together” instead of “just-holding-together” will fuel a sense of possibility as a team.
You can have more than the worn dance patterns that you’re facing. “Real” doesn’t have to be scary. With compassionate authenticity, you will find that there is momentum and connection waiting just under the surface. We hope you’ll dive in!
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