You already know that to make a significant difference in the world, collaborating with others will allow you to accomplish much more than you can on your own. And have you also noticed that working closely with others on projects you are passionate about sometimes brings up conflict and reactivity, no matter how sincere you are about living your life purpose?
The key to maintaining harmony within collaborative ventures is to recognize that any time you feel reactive around another, it’s a perfect mirror for a misaligned part of yourself. When you can disengage from the pressing desire to make the other person wrong, you can discover what part of yourself you don’t want to see.
Simply noticing that someone is unskilled or thoughtless is not the same as feeling an emotional charge that wants to prove that the person is bad or wrong. Understanding this important difference is crucial.
Here’s an example. A client I’ll call Miriam volunteered at a nonprofit organization and found herself constantly resenting a coworker I’ll call Allie. Allie had less experience than many others at the nonprofit but she had no reservations about regularly promoting herself and her ideas to the leadership team.
Miriam found herself thinking “Allie has no business promoting herself so much – her ideas are often naïve and a waste of time – she should be more respectful of those of us who’ve been here for years, and ask our opinions and acknowledge us more rather than going straight to the top.”
Fortunately Miriam was aware enough to recognize that it was time for her to get curious about her reaction to Allie, since Miriam couldn’t give her all to the nonprofit mission without healing this dynamic that was sapping her energy. There was the objective fact of Allie’s lack of experience, which was readily apparent to others in the organization, and then there was the emotional tangle happening inside Miriam.
As we delved into the emotional experience triggered by Allie’s behavior, we looked for hidden parts of Miriam that were like Allie in some ways. These hidden parts would have gone underground at an early age due to being unwelcome in Miriam’s early childhood environment.
Miriam remembered that humility was a strong value in her family growing up. Any community or public figure who talked about their accomplishments was harshly judged, so Miriam learned to stay invisible and give credit to others in order to be a “good person” and not offend anyone.
This behavioral choice served Miriam well for harmony in her early environment, but this choice was now doing her a significant disservice in her collaborations with those who grew up with very different behavioral choices.
Miriam came to recognize that her resentment of Allie’s self-promotion signaled that it was time to stop hiding and judging her own desire for recognition, and to start talking more about her own contributions and ideas. Miriam didn’t need to like Allie’s style, but she had to find her own way of being seen and getting recognition.
As Miriam allowed herself to get the recognition she secretly craved, she was able to soften her heart toward Allie. She was able to have compassion for Allie’s hunger for attention by owning her own similar desire. Miriam started to reach out to Allie more and discovered the reward of encouraging and advising a newer staff member who had a lot of enthusiasm and potential.
This powerful mirror is simple to use. The next time you find yourself judging and reacting to someone, ask yourself “What are the ways I am like this person that I don’t want to see?” and “What neutral and objective assessment can I make about their capacity/style/values that may not match mine?”
Have fun experimenting with this. What wisdom do you have to share about reactivity?