Lasers, Walls, and Relationships

Photo by Avrajyoti Mitra

Photo by Avrajyoti Mitra

My name is Allison, and I shoot lasers from my eyes.

Ok, I can’t literally shoot lasers from my eyes, but it certainly feels that way when I am in a reactive mode.  Sometimes it’s like a wall comes up between the world and me.  The atmosphere becomes more sterile.  My emotions and thoughts are packaged away as much as possible.  Reacting consumes quite a bit of internal energy.  Welcome to The Protector.

I listened to a visualization exercise a while ago that has stuck with me.  The topic was about relationships and vulnerability, or as the recording called it, “intimacy.”  Just hearing the i-word at the beginning of the recording caused a flutter of panic, but I kept listening.

I visualized the setting of a recent significant conversation.  I recalled the feelings of wanting to lean in and yet holding back and not knowing what to do or say and realizing that I was holding my breath so then I tried to breathe normally as I sat very still because I didn’t want to disrupt the moment as my friend talked about something deeply personal.  And as the visualization guide instructed me to picture a wall between the two of us, I happily envisioned a black marble slab that spanned vertically as high as I could see.  I imagined the cold, smooth texture against my hands.  I felt safe touching the wall.  Best wall ever.

Then the guide requested that I remove the wall.  So soon?  I was just getting to know my feelings from the safety of this side of the wall, and now I was slowly removing chunks of the wall.  I would peek over the top at my friend and then hide behind the remaining wall.  Piece by piece, the wall came down.  This was it: intimacy.  Seeing and being seen.  I realized I was holding my breath during the visualization.

What is it about a wall that is so appealing?  I think there’s an air of possibility that comes from the wall.  With a wall, we can be both connected and not.  Without a wall, it is one or the other.  It’s like a Schrodinger’s cat scenario where not removing the wall leaves the possibility of emotions open to imagination.  Removing the wall means intimacy.  Scary!  Which is why I shoot lasers from my eyes.  The lasers of you-should-know-better.  Lasers of don’t-tell-me-that-I-failed-you.  Lasers of this-is-important-and-I’m-disappointed.  The disappointment burns inside and finds its way out of my eyes to the rest of the world.  Self: protected.  World: potentially injured.

It doesn’t have to be that way, and I’m working on it.  I remember how wonderful it felt to be embraced in a really long hug by a fellow coach last year.  It had to be at least 10 seconds of hugging.  Wonderful.  I hold back from proposing such hugs with the people who have made it into my acceptable-for-hugging circle because I haven’t found the words, but I do try to put extra care into the hugs I receive from them and hope the other person recognizes that which is unsaid: you matter to me.

Some relationships may be formed easily and some take more time, but I do not form relationships lightly.  It means I see you for what you are and what you can become, and I delight in it all enough to let you see me too.  That’s why I’m learning to power down the lasers and tear down walls.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Changing Rules to be More Authentic

Photo by imelda

Photo by imelda

According to a Harvard Business Review article, “the more love co-workers feel at work, the more engaged they are.”  People working in an emotional culture of “companionate love” and connection perform better.  The theory makes sense, but showing warmth and affection for coworkers is a relatively new practice for me.

I like my personal space.  In fact, I half-joke that I like to maintain a 3-foot radius of open space between me and other people.  I’ve noticed that if I become uncomfortable with someone, I will lean away from them to reclaim space.  My desire for space reflects my desire to be perceived as a professional.  Previously, my understanding of professionalism meant respecting coworkers’ personal space and no physical contact.  This was a rule.

Like any rule, this one worked fine for a long time.  Occasionally a coworker would try to show appreciation with a pat on the back or other physical gesture, and I held firm to my rule.  Most people recognized that I desired my personal space and did not interfere.  Things became more complicated when I started working at the same company as one of my mentors—hugs were part of our normal greetings and goodbyes, and this did not fit my rule.  So the rule changed: no physical contact with coworkers except for my mentor who I will continue to hug.

And this new rule worked until my mentor introduced me to one of my peers who also works for the same company as us.  This peer and I get along quite well, and he greets many people with hugs.  Since the three of us would hang out, it became common practice to exchange hugs with both of them as greetings and goodbyes.  The rule was modified to become: no physical contact with coworkers unless we work for different clients, excluding my mentor who I will continue to hug.  This fits well with my peer’s rule to only hug coworkers who do not work for the same client as him.

My rule evolved to continually work for me, and I maintained my professionalism.

Then I started working at a different client location with more peers from my company.  We spent quite a bit of time together, and there were days when one of us could use a hug.  I clung to my rule.  I walked in late to a workshop one day, and a peer ran up and hugged me.  I was shocked.  My presence was reassuring to her because the group was so large and difficult to manage, and I felt awkward because I didn’t know how to respond. 

And then one day a peer gave his 2-week notice.  After all that we had gone through at work and the amount of time we spent together at lunches, happy hours, and user group meetings, we never hugged until his last day of work.  Professionalism hurt.

So my rule is now no physical contact with coworkers at a client site unless it’s my mentor who I will continue to hug.  One peer tried to break this rule a few months ago, and it took me by surprise.  Aside from that one instance, this new rule seems to be working. My changed rule about physical contact has freed me—I can be a professional and express emotions.  It’s still a work-in-progress, but I feel more authentic and connected.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.

Strength Through Authenticity

Photo by Steve Johnson

Photo by Steve Johnson

Michael Sahota's blog first introduced me to Brene Brown, and I'm so thankful for it.  He recently summed up Dr. Brown's view on vulnerability, which requires 3 elements: Courage, Compassion, Authenticity.  Good managers exhibit those elements, and today I wanted to focus on Authenticity.

Pawel Brodzinski shared how he is unable to hide his emotions in the workplace, and one of my coworkers is the same way.  Rather than view it as a negative, Pawel classifies it as authenticity--it's part of being honest and transparent.  But organizations don't always want honesty and transparency from their leaders; they expect leaders to put on a mask to protect the organization's interests because employees cannot be trusted to know everything or shouldn't be distracted by the ins and outs of organizational details.  In such situations, managers are caught between company culture and their employees.  

It's known that employees often quit bosses--not jobs--but studies have also shown that the exit rate of bad bosses (those who don't improve the productivity of their workers) is almost twice the rate of the average-quality boss.  According to the researchers, the best bosses are teachers and cheerleaders.  I suspect that the best bosses might also use those skills to shape company culture, making it more transparent so all employees can be more authentic.  After all, it's tiring to not be yourself in the workplace, and it's associated with lower job satisfaction.

So go on, be an authentic leader.

Allison Pollard

I help people discover their agile instincts and develop their coaching abilities. As an agile coach with Improving in Dallas, I enjoy mentoring others to become great Scrum Masters, coaching managers to grow teams that deliver amazing results, and fostering communities that provide sustainability for agile transformations. In my experience, applying agile methods improves delivery, strengthens relationships, and builds trust between business and IT. A big believer in the power of community-based learning, I grew the DFW Scrum user group significantly over the five years I served as an organizer. I am also a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, a foodie, and proud glasses wearer.