Name your uncomfortable feelings – and magic may follow

My interview for the TVNZ Sunday programme with Jehan Casinader is one of those experiences I’ll look back on and say, “Yeah. That was a good move.” It’s been brilliant for book sales, business, and providing a platform for me to bang on about Beyond Burnout.

But what you don’t know is that I almost pulled out. Being interviewed for a top rating television programme on a subject you’ve just written a book about can mess with your head.

It was one of the most nerve wracking, red zone moments of my professional career. But I’m glad I did it. Because what went on behind the scenes of the interview – the stuff you didn’t see – is where I found gold. It offered up one of those ‘sliding door’ moments we should all pay attention to in the pursuit of something special in our professional lives.

From the get go, Jehan, his producer Joanne, and the cameraman Will worked hard to build trust with me. They explained the process we’d take – what would happen, when, and why. For them, all this detail might have seemed like overkill. But it gave my anxious brain the road map I needed to follow. They also built trust in the moments when they thanked me for welcoming them into my home, knowing how exposing that would be for me. And in the moments when we shared our stories and experiences as they set up the camera gear.

This trust building paved the way to allow courage, vulnerability, curiosity, and empathy to emerge when it mattered most.

At first, the interview was going interview smoothly. I confidently trotted out answers I had rehearsed.  

But about halfway through, something changed. It was subtle, but I felt it. The energy in the room shifted. I noticed Jehan’s eyes become intense. His tone shifted a gear. I noticed myself closing down, getting flustered, withdrawing. The story in my mind went something like, “He’s frustrated with my answers. I’m not doing it right.” And even, “he thinks I’m stupid.”

This is what I call a crossroads, or a sliding door, moment. You might be having a conversation with a colleague or a discussion with your peers in a meeting. The energy shifts. Maybe someone says something and then someone else goes silent. People’s tone or body language changes. You haven’t worked out what’s happening, but something definitely is – and you can feel it. This is the moment when our assumptions are the enemy. This sliding door moment, one which researcher and clinical psychologist Dr John Gottman calls, “the seemingly inconsequential everyday moments” that can make or break a relationship over time. You can decide to play it safe, turn away, stay silent, and soldier on. Or you can decide to take the plunge with courage, curiosity, and compassion for everyone in the room, including yourself.  

Because Jehan had done such a great job of building trust with me, I plucked up the courage to say, in the moment, what I was observing and experiencing. But it felt like stepping into the abyss. What if it’s all in my head? What if me saying this makes it worse?

But it was Jehan’s response that made all the difference. My feedback was a surprise to him. But he responded non-defensively – with curiosity and empathy. Turns out, he wasn’t thinking any of those things I was thinking in my head at all! He was just picturing the end result of the interview and how my answers would fit into the story. My courage and his response to that vulnerability allowed us to have a conversation which was gold – and helped both of us.

Had I stayed shtum, I don’t think he would have gotten what he needed for the story. And if he hadn’t responded as he did, I would have regretted opening my mouth.

Courage, vulnerability, curiosity, and trust – all the things I endlessly espouse to the executive teams I work with. It was all there in spades in that sliding door moment, for both of us to learn from. It was the ‘reset’ moment which not only helped to deliver the result we both wanted for the piece, but also challenged the unconscious assumptions we were holding and deepened our working relationship for the rest of the shoot – and in the months following.

So the next time a sliding door moment presents itself to you, have the courage to name what you’re noticing in the moment. And if someone does this with you, respond with empathy, curiosity, and non-defensiveness. You might be surprised to find just how much grace and generosity you’ll experience if you do.

4 Comments

  1. drpattersonmd on July 19, 2021 at 12:07 pm

    Great points. It’s amazing how our own thoughts and preconceived notions get in the way of success. Take the plunge and figure out as you go by being vulnerable is great advice.

  2. Tanya on July 11, 2021 at 10:49 am

    So true Suzi, great that you highlighted this, helps make others more confident to do so. It’s so critical to lean in rather than lean out 🙂

  3. Carolina on July 8, 2021 at 3:15 pm

    Ohh thanks for sharing this Suzi! This is something my clients and I battle with and it is so refreshing to learn that it is possible to break the wall. Thank you!

  4. Chris Gladstone on July 7, 2021 at 4:26 pm

    Love your honesty Suzi! Love how you shared your vulnerability. Lots to learn from this. Thank you.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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