Tuesday, February 09, 2010

By Belinda

He put the hearing aid on my desk. I looked up at him. I am tall but he was a good six inches taller. A head of thick, dark, wavy hair, topped a handsome face from which a pair of brown eyes languidly surveyed this new manager. I had been in the job for nine months and on a steep learning curve for every minute of every day.

"Could you please drop it off at the audiologist's?" he asked, but I heard it as more of a statement than a question.

My stomach churned itself into a knot of frustration. Not at him. At me. I felt helpless, unable to express what I wanted to say! "It's not my job to drop the hearing aid off at the audiologist," and, "I should be assigning tasks to you, not the other way around!" Of course I knew that there must be a better way to say this, but better or not, I couldn't find it in me to say anything at that momemt.

I had fantasy two way conversations with people. I figured that I knew exactly how each one would play out by the time I had imagined them.

I prayed a lot during those first nine months of leading a team. That worked well for the first little while--after all, wasn't that the spiritual way to handle conflict? God must have made allowances for this greenhorn during that period, but eventually he started to nudge me out of my safe and comfortable nest and imply that I might actually have to have conversations with people and "resolve issues."

That was completely out of my comfort zone. I was an introvert, remember. I had spread my wings and embraced a flock of people in my life, developing a comfort zone in a certain sphere--that of being an interdisciplinary team member. But being a team leader was diff-i-cult. Something inside of me didn't see myself in that role; the role of leader.

I remember introducing "my" team at an event and saying (self depracatingly I thought at the time,) that the only thing I directed was the traffic. I thought I was honouring them by saying that, but really I was dishonouring the role that God had put me in.

I had, by then, a team of strong minded individuals to lead. Things had gone fairly smoothly for the first few months--a sort of dreamy honeymoon state for all of us. But then, the honeymoon was over. People began to squabble and get on one another's nerves. Personalities clashed. Paul told me that I was leading by crisis and I needed to be proactive. Okay, I thought, I will have meetings with people and talk to them.

So I had conversations in which I thought I was being perfectly clear. I hinted gently at the problem at hand and people nodded and smiled and seemed to get it. Afterwards I realized that they had completely missed my point. Of course the point was so carefully hidden that it would have taken a virtual Sherlock Holmes to uncover it.

Drastic action was needed, so I signed up for a six week assertiveness training course.

I was amazed to meet other people who had as much difficulty as I did, in speaking their minds; it was very comforting. And to my surprise there were a couple of people in the class who were there to tone down their aggressive tendencies. Thus began a transformation and learning of new patterns.

Towards the end of the course, by which time we had all become friends, we had to pick a scenario to role play. I used the situation with the hearing aid which had rendered me paralysed with frustration. I practiced what I wanted to say and found a way to say it to my partner--something like, "No, I'm sorry, I won't be able to take it. Can you take it please?" It came out so easily and the sky didn't fall when I said it. How I laughed at myself for the way I had sweated over such a simple sentence.

We had an open house at the nine month point, to which we invited local politicians, families, and the Reverend John Klomps for a dedication ceremony. I gave a speech in which I referenced the birthing process of our team and the labour pains we had experienced of late.

The team made a long banner out of white cloth on which they painted a rainbow, and Psalm 127:1a:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;

We were growing together as leader and team and at least we got that part very right.


Dave Hingsburger said...

Interpersonal assertiveness may be one of the most difficult skills we learn. It's way easier to simply go along. But you had something powerful going into those classes. From the moment I met you I recognized a rock solid base of personal integrity - this is a rock upon which almost anything can be built.

Belinda said...

A hug and humble thanks, because I know where anything good in me comes from. And, by the way, I have always seen the very same thing in you.

Marilyn Yocum said...

I love your discovery that the words came out and the sky didn't fall in. The paralysis is real - finding the way to push past it is a worthy pursuit. God equips and so often we have the words and tone within us, but we need to discover it.

This insight is so rich: "I thought I was honouring them by saying that, but really I was dishonouring the role that God had put me in."

Wonderful post.

Suz said...

I loved this post. I have found myself in similar situations and, also, found the right words hard to utter. Time and experience are hard teachers but that was all I had. I wish I had had a course like you took. It would have saved me many sleepless nights.