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Building Bridges

unharm someone
telling the truth you could not face
when you
struck instead of tended.

— put the fire out (unburn)

– Nahyyriah Waheed

Safety is a necessary component of what makes us comfortable to show up wholly ourselves with an other, or a group of others. It’s a necessary component of our work environments, especially our co-founder relationships.

We often go through our days inadvertently threatening others’ sense of safety by denying or hiding our emotions–or worse, erupting with emotion… Or, we exacerbate a workmate’s upregulated moments by our own non-verbal communication, or our reactions or lack thereof. Sometimes, our unnamed feelings can come out sideways–in ways that hurt. And, before you know it, someone may be feeling quite ‘red’ in an amygdala hijack moment.

We all react differently in these moments, poised with different defenses. When these defenses and wired reactions shut us down from an open communication stance we can only head into non-versation territory–unless we have the awareness and mindfulness to navigate these moments. It’s hard to communicate when emotions are triggered like hot wires, or bottled up and unvoiced.

This is part and parcel of being in relationship to another. We each have our own bag of “stuff”– the ways we learned to communicate and how we handle our emotions–that shows up in the verbal transactions the days call for at work and home. Failure to tend to tense moments wrought with emotion said or left unsaid festers. Proceeding to “work-mode” right on past them may not be as wise as it might seem as the tension can linger in many ways only to come up later possibly more intensified or resentful.

The good news is that we also have the capacity to make our compadres feel safe and help them regulate their inner state by coming to understand what they need in certain moments when they may be shut down, in code red mode, or any other expression of a fear state. As Harville Hendrix notes, “We are born in relationship, we are wounded in relationship, and we can be healed in relationship.”

Our work-pace and emotional literacy may not seem to give the time needed to air feelings that arise or space to skillfully name what feelings are showing up, but making the time for these conversations–for exquisite communication as Jerry refers to it in our recent podcast episode–can be a game changer for your company, especially if you are a co-founder. From the first conversations at the genesis of your company and onward as your team grows, learning what your co-founder and co-workers value and need in communication is a key conversation to have in order to best support our comrades through the ups and downs of our daily and weekly work adventures.

While deep into Brene Brown’s latest book Braving the Wilderness, I ran across a definition of trust that wove together vulnerability and personal values that felt like the line I often feel around when I do or do not share what’s happening for me with someone else (i.e. when I don’t trust the space to reveal how I’m really feeling). Brown quotes Charles Feltman, author of The Thin Book of Trust, who describes trust as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions,” and he describes distrust as “deciding what is important to me is not safe with this person in this situation (or any situation).”

Our point of view informed by our unique sensibilities and how we know the world. If we don’t trust our partners and coworkers, how much of ourselves do we bottle up when big issues arise, when we have perspective and feelings to share? What do we sense from our environment that shut us down? What do we need to feel safe?

The responses to these questions differ for each of us. We have all come to our emotional needs and expressions, or tendency for bottled expressions, honestly via our varied histories wired into our equally varied neurologies. So many of these imprints begin in the first minutes to years of our lives as our caregivers assured, reassured, or dismissed our very existence in their responses to us. (I offer this as a reminder to be gentle with ourselves and those around us when they are in an upregulated or triggered state.)

There are some general bedrock things that make us feel safe with each other. Brown outlines her BRAVING acronym for what we need in order to trust others:

Boundaries – You respect my boundaries, and when you’re not clear about what’s okay and not okay, you ask. You’re willing to say now.

Reliability – You do what you say you’re going to do. This means staying aware of your competencies and limitations so you don’t over promise and are able to deliver on commitments and balance competing priorities.

Accountability – You own your mistakes, apologize, and make amends.

Vault – You don’t share information or experiences that are not yours to share. I need to know that my confidences are kept, and that you’re not sharing with me any information about other people that should be confidential.

Integrity – You choose courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.

Non-judgement – I can ask for what I need, and you can ask for what you need. We can talk about how we feel without judgement.

Generosity – You extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others.

When one or more of these is missing from an interaction with others, how do you feel? How do you exercise these qualities to show up for your relationships at home and at work?

We build bridges with each other when we can provide safety and space for others to show up, to say what they need to say, to voice feelings, and to talk about what’s happening as it’s arising. When they do the same for us, we feel safe. These baseline qualities serve as a general orientation to what is required of others and ourselves. However, there are specifics that each of us have–that we came to honestly–that make a difference in our communication styles and what we need in various moments to come back to center (and to feel safe). Uncovering what we need when we are angry, scared, sad, insecure is a great exercise for ourselves, so we can recognize where we are at and perhaps let those around us know what we need and what best serves us in our triggered or upregulated or feely moments.

Our ability to know the operating instructions for each other, and know how to navigate this, allows us to support each other in shifting from an upregulated state. This co-regulating is a skill that allows us to be able to recognize what someone may be feeling and be able to hold space for them, ask them or give them what they need to come back from an upregulated place. To move from triggered and threatened to safe, and to unearth the information in all of the emotions along the way, is a great skill and worthy of the time it takes to tend to as they arise.

In her book, Brown interviews Dr. Michelle Buck, clinical professor of leadership at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, about what she calls conflict transformation (versus “conflict resolution”) as an approach that has the potential to change how we handle conflict. Conflict transformation is the notion suggesting that:

“[By] creatively navigating the conversational landscape of differences and disagreements, we have the opportunity to create something new. At a minimum, we learn more about each other than before. Ideally, we may find new possibilities that had not even been considered before. Conflict transformation is about creating deeper understanding. It requires perspective-taking. As a result, it enables greater connection, whether or not there is agreement.”

We humans are capable of communicating–verbally or nonverbally–in ways that can feel like active or passive aggressions when it comes to projecting our emotions out onto everyone else, or when our unprocessed inner-stuff comes out sideways because we didn’t take time to process what’s up. In many of those moments, our spoken or unspoken fears, anxieties, sadnesses, angers have other information in them. This is where Red – Yellow – Green  can be a great tool to open those conversations, and – depending on what’s arising – potentially move them into the realm of conflict transformation.

Being with what is means there’s no negating the emotions that are present. Instead, we become congruent with what we are feeling in ourselves by naming it. Being able to name what’s true for us with an other, or a group of others, is a vulnerable space. If we can hold that space for each other, even at work, our conversations may take another dimention – one beyond mere transactions.

Everyone has their own owners manual. Yours is different from your co-founder’s, and different from all the folks you work with. Erin Frey and Ti Zhao of Kip model this in their podcast conversation with Jerry.

Effective communication starts at the top and sets the tone for how the company communicates as team grows by modeling it. Are you committed to having constructive conscious relationship – or a crazy-making toxic one? From a vision, alignment, and very practical perspective, you can craft a blueprint on how you want to work together to build this company. What’s  the qualitative feel you want to have when working together? What are the commitments you’ll make to each other in supporting each other in coming back to center when things are upregulated?


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