“I’m really bad at relationships!” Jesse said.
This statement of incontrovertible fact was Jesse’s explanation for why he dropped off the grid. During this last week he quit communicating with the important people in his life: the co-workers and employees who were waiting for him to get supplies to them, the incredible woman he had just met and made plans to see last weekend (but didn’t), his best friends from California who were coming into town for a gathering next month. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, or let anyone down (he told himself). In his mind, ‘I just stink at relationships.’
As if that were the truth.
As if that explained everything.
After nearly 30 hours of conversations with this mid-level manager, over the course of our relationship, one thing was evident to me about Jesse. He is very good at conversations. He is smart, introspective, kind, and thoughtful. He expresses himself very well. And, the conversation IS the relationship. So, what really was the problem here?
How can one be good at one thing (conversations), and not good at the other (relationships)?
Here’s what Jesse couldn’t see:
Jesse lacked clarity about what was really driving his avoidant behavior. Jesse was living from a victim place (both consciously, and unconsciously). And Jesse remained in this disempowered place because he was in fear.
So what is there to do? Jesse at least couldn’t see any options.
When a leader, or family member is stuck below the line but doesn’t even see the possibility of the freedom – and more, the contribution that is available above the line – it seems hopeless that s/he could ever make the journey. Jesse himself couldn’t see any possibility! Jesse didn’t even recognize the harm his behavior was doing.
I’m bad at relationships, he said.
Is that true?
Jesse got sad and blew off some responsibilities and commitments.
What would antifragile look like here? *See the article on antifragile here.
Jesse could use this experience to stretch his capacity for love and connection. This might mean learning how to take care of himself with integrity rather than by blowing people off.
“In my experience Jesse, you are great at conversations.”
“My question for you is what is a relationship to you?”
“What does it mean to be good at them?”
Jesse realized that he had not been clear about his commitments. He was out of integrity when he shut down and avoided communicating. When he noticed that, he felt terrible. He muttered, “communicating is what a grown up would do isn’t it?”
He cares deeply about being honorable. He cares about his employees, his family, his co-workers. He even cares about this woman he just met. However, more than that, he realized, that caring about his own integrity matters-perhaps most of all. To feel good when he looks in the mirror, he must act in ways that he himself respects.
Jesse chose to take fierce ownership of his own behavior no matter what funk he might be in.
That isn’t always easy to do. It’s comfortable to shut down sometimes. Jesse’s habit was to withdraw when he was feeling bad. There is nothing wrong with that. And Jesse can respect both his own boundaries and his needs. The key is that he can respect the feelings and needs of the other people in his life at the same time.
It is not true that he is bad at relationships. He was however living below the line in the land of blame, hiding and fear. When he chose fierce ownership of his honor, he was now free to choose love, truth and fierce ownership instead. And he still got to have his alone time. He simply had to communicate.
Jesse is good at conversations.
The conversation IS the relationship.
Where are you hiding? Where can you step into integrity more, with fierce ownership?
To your powerful path of Fierce Ownership.
Dr. Lisa Hale is an professional speaker, author, executive coach and trainer. Lisa helps powerful people master self-leadership to amplify their power, presence and impact as leaders, parents, and in their personal relationships. To schedule a conversation with Lisa about change in your own life, send her an email request at Lisa@FocusedLeadershipConsulting.com. And visit, FLC to see more articles by Dr. Hale.