In my post last week I talked about a familiar theme. It’s not circumstances but our choices that determine the quality and outcomes of our lives.
My example last week was a key moment in which I had to make a decision about how to handle a recent Saturday evening. The choices I made were relatively small in the grand scheme of things but allowed me to experience an enjoyable night evening with my wife that could easily have been otherwise. Although small, these incidents are important. They establish a pattern of being aware, visualizing what is important and making conscious, deliberate choices about how to think, feel and behave. Out of such small choices I gain mastery over my life and learn that I can create the state from which I experience life.I have to admit that I regularly confront key moments in my career, some pretty big. At least that’s how they feel at the time. A lot of the consulting work I do is high risk and high reward. I get into touchy situations, helping management teams shape their strategy, design their organizations, build teams or work through issues related to trust and their ability to work together.
Someone recently invited me to submit a proposal to do some trust building with the board of trustees of a city government. I met with the Mayor and a couple board members and they selected me to do the work. Once on board I began to learn just how dysfunctional they were. Several issues had occurred in the past several months in which certain members felt betrayed. Their trust and ability to work together had been serious fractured. Many of the board members could barely be in a room together, let alone talk to one another. They had shouting matches during some meetings and a few had even walked out of their public meetings leaving the remaining members floundering as they tried to carry on and conduct business.
I was commissioned with facilitating a two day retreat to rebuild their trust as well as help them create a shared vision for the future. I recall a public meeting of the board prior to the retreat. I needed to explain, in an open forum, what we’d be doing in the retreat. Following my remarks the Mayor Pro Tem, who was conducting the meeting, looked at me and said, “You have an impossible task. It will take a miracle to get this group working together again.” My anxiety edged upwards as I left the room and pondered my approach to bringing a group of estranged people together. I was experiencing a key moment.
My first order of business was to confront myself, particularly my self-talk. My thinking, as I drove home that evening, was pretty negative. “These people really dislike each other… They don’t want to repair their relationships… They’re waiting for the next election… What makes me think I can get them to cooperate? Am I up to this work? How did I get myself into this in the first place?” And so on. I drove home with a feeling of foreboding and dread.
I didn’t like how I was feeling over the next few days and so knew I needed to challenge and shift my mindset. I knew I could not go into two days of meetings coming from doubt, insecurity or fear. I absolutely had to put myself into a powerful and resourceful state of mind. So I started talking differently to myself. “They don’t like how they’re feeling… It’s in their interest to work through their resentments and work together… I know it and they know it… I understand exactly what I need to do to bring them together… They selected me for a reason… I’m the right person at the right time to not only help them heal old wounds but become excited about new possibilities…” And so on. As I shifted my self-talk, I began to feel confidence and trust in myself, in each of them and in the process I would take them through.
I grounded myself in my guiding principles. I visualized myself handling this event in a positive way. And I took productive action by sending each of them a letter acknowledging their mistrust and challenging them to put the interests of the community and board as a whole above their grievances. I included a contract or set of ground rules by which they would communicate and insisted that they sign and bring it with them to the session.
The day for the meetings arrived. I recall driving to the hotel still feeling some twinges of anxiety. I greeted each of them as we entered the conference room and then excused myself and went to the men’s room. Fortunately the door locked from the inside. I didn’t want anyone bursting in on me as I went through my final emotional preparation. I stood in front of a mirror, looked myself in the eyes and repeated my credo. “I am a positive, powerful and caring man.” I repeated the words several times, giving myself a good chest thump each time I said the word “powerful.” I left the bathroom, not doubting, but knowing we’d accomplish a good work together over the next few days.
And we did. It was tense at times. However, the members of the board got real issues on the table and talked them through. They expressed feelings of hurt, betrayal, resentment. The dialogue went on a long time until at some point they were ready to reengage with each other and move forward.
For me, what had begun as high risk became high reward. Certainly one reward was observing a process of honest dialogue lead to respect and recommitment. Just as big, for me personally, was knowing that I made deliberate choices about how to handle my key moment. I chose to come from trust and confidence rather than fear and anxiety. Another experience in living from the inside-out.
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