The place of the squeeze, as Pema Chödrön calls it, is where we find ourselves in an uncomfortable position, cornered by feelings we don’t want to have: feelings that conflict us, a whole range of emotions that make us feel bad about ourselves.
What do we do when we’re so mad at our boss or colleague that we can barely look her in the eye?
And what if it’s our partner? Our mother? Our own children?
When emotions are high, we tend to move into a place that makes us feel safe.
We call a friend, who reminds us that we’re a nice and decent person. We tell ourselves that our boss is an egoistic narcissist. We see ourselves as yet another victim of his stupid tantrums and tell ourselves again and again that we are a good, ethical and kind person, unlike him.
And when the time comes to talk to our boss or a member of our team, we face the conversation thinking we are right and they are wrong. We bury how upset we are under our inner sense of righteousness and all the stories we tell about ourselves.
We then put on our professional armour and have the difficult conversation, following a template that allows us to say things we don’t feel but that we believe are the right things to say to resolve the conflict.
This is how we manage difficult conversations.
But there is an alternative to managing difficult conversations, and that is leading them.
The difference is that when you manage, you exercise control, and when you lead, you guide.
And what do I need to do to lead a difficult conversation?
I need to stay in the messy, uncomfortable, squeezed place where I feel vulnerable and hurt.
Yes – with the anger, self-doubt, guilt, fear or shame. Right there.
Can you breathe it all in and consider for a moment that you have more options available than being either right or wrong? Can you consider that every person brings his own baggage, that we don’t really know how it feels to be them?
Can you move just an inch from the idea that somebody needs to be shown to be right and somebody wrong at the end of the conversation?
You can show up and have that conversation with your boss or colleague feeling hurt and vulnerable, even mad, or you can have the conversation pretending that you never had these feelings.
I know what you’re thinking: “Why should I stay in this squeezed place, Natalia?”
Because that’s where you grow.
You might have a job title that says Manager, but you know that you have to lead others.
And leading is not something you learn in books – it’s something you achieve when you face feeling squeezed.
That’s when you start moving from managing people to leading them, when you have something to teach beyond the technical skills they need for the job.
That’s the raw work, the really difficult stuff.
Having the conversation is the easiest part. Facing your feelings and the stories you create in your head is the hardest.
And when you do, you stop managing conversations and people, and start instead leading and guiding others.
That’s how you change others – by going first.