Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Actually, I'm Not Being Defensive, I'm Just Being Right

Be who you are.  Own what you know.  Speak your truth.  

Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, I have a confession.  For the first four decades of my life I did NONE of these things.  I'm not sure if it's fair for me to completely place blame on my cultural upbringing, but I certainly cannot deny the fact that I was immensely shaped and molded by these values:

To, at all costs, "save face" in order to keep the respect of others
To always pretend that it's the first time I've heard a great idea (even if I've voiced that same idea a million times prior)

To allow people to "teach" "dispel wisdom" and "dispense advice" on things I already knew or had more experience with than they did

To put a smile on my face even if I was simultaneously imagining slapping someone square across the face

And then one day I turned 40 and (for a wide range of reasons mentioned throughout this blog) woke up completely incapable of being anything less than authentic.  And there I was at "the table" - board meetings, among other professional colleagues, in committees. I still had that same smile on my face, but I no longer acted bewildered and amazed when someone shared their "innovative" and groundbreaking idea with me.  Now I never humiliated anyone or acted like a know-it-all. I was always respectful, and I always thanked people for their contributions. But I also gently let them in on the fact that other bright and talented people had been operating with those same "groundbreaking" ideas for some time now.  When a well-meaning person without the slightest grasp of the complexities of my work tried to offer unsolicited advice on how I could be more successful in my job, I no longer nodded politely and said, "Gee, that's so insightful.  Why didn't I think of that?"  Instead I courteously, but directly - told them that it's a bit offensive that they would assume that I haven't considered the breadth of MY OWN job.  Or the fact that I was actually being compensated to provide leadership and vision for an organization.   And when someone was abrasive, confrontational and acted like a bully, I no longer just smiled and took it in order to "save face".  I called them out and held them accountable for their lack of professionalism, and their unwillingness to learn to disagree respectfully. 

And while my husband has been acting in this direct and honest manner for his ENTIRE professional career with no one missing a beat, when I began to do this I was met with remarks like these:

Aren't you being a bit defensive Mae?  
I'm just trying to help.
I didn't mean to upset you.

So, let it be known from this day forward, that when I speak with authority and authenticity, I'm not being defensive - nor am I upset.  And please make no mistake, that I am grateful for continued opportunities to learn from others, to see value in perspectives different than mine, and to embrace the wisdom of those that surround me.  But after 40 years of wasting my time, your time, and passing up on chance after chance, for ALL of us to make progress on a multitude of things, I'm done being "accommodating nice" just to spare and validate condescending feelings of inferiority.  There's a whole world out there that desperately needs us to step up to the plate, and act in ways far beyond any personal need to self-affirm. 

So meet me at the table with the assumption that I am just as capable - or perhaps (gasp!) maybe even more capable than you.  Go ahead and get comfortable with the notion that the ideas of others might also be innovative and groundbreaking.  And that yours might not always be that great.  And for the love of God, don't bring your baggage of privilege and power to the table in order to force yourself to be heard.  You will be heard - or more importantly, you will be respected if you too speak your truth with authenticity.

See, I told you, I'm not upset at all.  I'm just right.

Photo courtesy http://www.parexcellencemagazine.com.

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