Aside

Giving Up Swearing, I Swear

Last Wednesday, Christians started Lent. The season of reflection. People give up something dear to them so that when they miss it, they are reminded to seek instead the deep and abiding love of their God. (The Islamic faith has a similar practice based on a month of fasting.)  If I were practicing the Lenten tradition, I know what I would give up: Anger. Well, Anger and Swearing.

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It showed up in me after going to a meeting in one role (content contributor, expert) and suddenly picking up another role (facilitator). When we seemed to be having trouble setting direction, I offered an alternative way for us to have the conversation we needed to have.  To my surprise, the assigned facilitator seemed to become very uncomfortable, and I ended up hosting the pen for the rest of the day. What made this worse was that I was not quite over the hump fighting off some form of flu or cold. I had taken 3 different long-lasting meds to get me to the meeting but they made me really dizzy when I stood up. And here I was standing. For hours. Facilitating.

I got angry at myself. I should have let the group find its own way. I should have not stepped in. I should have insisted the facilitator take back the pen. Etc. [Notice the should language...perfect conditions for anger to foster.]

But I also deeply wanted this group and this company to be successful with the collaboration initiative that this meeting was kicking off. And so, without enough premeditation, I stood. I only realized how mad I was when I heard myself swearing a lot. Swear this. Swear that. A lot. Now I admit that now and then a wee bit of cursing is useful for adding a little flair and down-to-earthness once in a while. But I had sailed across that line easily by 10:00 am and was picking up more velocity by 11:00 am…

If my intent was to create a culture of collaboration, my behavior was something else. It’s not what we say that matters most, but what people can observe us doing and caring about that truly demonstrates what we believe. What I was showing up as was “angry, frustrated” and in a forgiving moment, perhaps “sick”.

As I drove away that first day, I wanted so much to be like an ostrich, stick my head in the sand and hope they never found me again. I was ashamed at my behavior. I knew I had made a big mistake in how much bad language I had used and I knew it  affected how well I was heard. If I could have come up with a reason to stay home for Day 2, I might very well have done it.

But I also knew that hiding from our mistakes doesn’t fix them. If we are to fix things, we show back up and we do it better, to embody our intent. By owning our mistakes, we also own our humanity.

So that’s what I decided to do.

I am reminded that how we behave after we’ve made a mistake, when we are feeling our worst, can easily be our best moment. We do not do our best by stepping out of the game. I may never fully win back the credibility of the people in the room, but I came back into the game ready to show my collaborative best self. On Day 2, I made fun of my Day 1 use of bad language, and adopted an approach of publicly clocking myself (55 minutes since my last swear word!) whenever I slipped again. On Day 3, the last day of the effort, I made it 3 hours out of a 3-hour meeting (before my first “shit” left my mouth). That got me a high-five from the guy sitting next to me; maybe he noticed I had changed from day 1, and maybe he didn’t. But, he was laughing with me. I did the best I could from my moment of choice at the end of Day 1.

Well, here’s to a better next time. Hope it’s going better for you than it was for me for a little while there…

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10 Responses:

  1. Trisha Liu. March 14, 2011 at 10:44 pm  |   Reply
  2. Trisha Liu. March 14, 2011 at 10:45 pm  |  

    Thank you for sharing this vulnerability with us, and how you took the opportunity to turn the Day 1 experience around.

    Reply
  3. Nilofer Merchant. March 14, 2011 at 10:48 pm  |  

    Writing is this wonderful exercise of sharing your worst moments so they might help someone else have better moments. Thanks for contributing to this blog, Trisha!

    Reply
  4. Mitch Krayton. April 4, 2011 at 12:40 am  |  

    Curses!

    Reply

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