At its simplest level, “Showing Up Clean” means having an open mind. Easy words to say but the ability to calmly hear opinions you disagree with, perhaps strongly, without getting upset, is rare. At its heart, it is a mindset that allows one to be “psychologically flexible”, to “be curious about a wide range of experiences without feeling judgment, rejection, or discomfort… to listen, ask questions, and explore new thinking instead of becoming suspicious, defensive, or stuck in their ways of thinking” (‘Bridge the Gap’ by Jennifer Edwards and Katie McCleary).
The tagline of every blog I write is “I share what I most want and need to learn.” This is particularly true with certain aspects of Showing Up Clean. My mother was extremely bi-polar and for much of my childhood she was my only caretaker. Her sense of power came from a victim identity and she was an expert at learned helplessness; I cannot recall her ever having gainful employment. I used to wonder what she did all day long at home while I was at school. We frequently had our utilities cut off, moved because of unpaid rent, and survived on dad’s monthly child support check and powered milk from the federal surplus food program. As a consequence, I grew up thin and with a hunger in my belly as much physiological as physical.
The upshot of this was positive: I resolved to live my life in direct opposition. My center of power would be within; I would never give my personal autonomy away by adopting a victim mentality. I would never be a burden on others, I would live a productive life, I would contribute far more to society than I took. The flip side is that I have a low tolerance for slackers, for folks not pulling their weight.
The role of organizational leader requires that I “show up clean” in many circumstances, lay aside preconceived notions about what happened and why, not rush to judgement, listen, hear folk out fully and respectfully, and I have worked hard to hone and maintain that skill. However, I still wrestle with “showing up clean” when I encounter a sense of entitlement; that they (or someone they advocate for) somehow have a right to a free ride at someone else’s expense.
Often a sense of entitlement is bundled with a hazy idea of economics; an unclear idea of how the benefit they want will be paid for. The reality is that resources are finite, and every yes requires a corresponding no. Everything the government gets, it took from someone else. Yes, you can try to tax wealth (see footnote) and hope you don’t discourage its creation or incentivize it to pick up and re-locate but you could also use those same funds to reduce taxes on the working poor or to simply balance the budget: it’s magical thinking to believe you can forever spend more than you make.
Cultivating the ability to “show up clean” is important on many levels including being good neighbors, citizens, and friends. Tolerance for others’ beliefs is as important as tolerance for others’ race, color, national origin, or religion. It is all too easy to slide down the slippery slope of:
1) Your beliefs are different from mine.
2) Your beliefs are wrong.
3) You are a bad person because of your beliefs.
Judging others and shunning them shuts down conversation, cuts off communication, and blocks the road to negotiation and any possibility of bridging the gap. Folks soften when they feel understood, begin to open up when they feel respected, start to listen when they feel heard.
“One of the best ways to persuade others is by listening to them.” – Dean Rusk, 1909-1994, Secretary of State under JFK/LBJ
“By fighting you never get enough, but by yielding you get more than you expected.” – Dale Carnegie, 1888-1955, ‘How to Win Friends & Influence People’
“Our experience has taught us that with goodwill a negotiated solution can be found for even the most profound problems.” – Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013
As always, I share what I most want and need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier
The goal should be to continuously tweak our economic system so that the main path to wealth comes from being productive (i.e. not cronyism capitalism), from creating unique goods and services (Personal computers! iPhones! Tesla! FedEx! Amazon! Uber! Airbnb!) that transform our lives in ways that society values and rewards. While any system will have outliers (both random winners and extraordinary success but both have the benefit of spurring other’s energy on to even greater effort/productivity) and inevitable failures and out and out fraud to be rooted out (No Doc Liar Loans that lead to the Great Recession, WeWork/ Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos and I personally think crypto currency); if you study human history (see ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ by Stephen Pinker), for all the challenges we face, we do live in a time of unique prosperity and the longest, healthiest human lifespan ever, little of which we seem to appreciate or be grateful for.
ONE key factor that really mattered in healthy relationships: psychological flexibility. That means that at least one person in the relationship chooses to bridge the gap of their differences, especially in moments of pressure and stress, by being flexible. A psychologically flexible person is someone who has both an attitude and a skillset that allows them to be curious about a wide range of experiences without feeling judgment, rejection, or discomfort. A psychologically flexible person may hear or witness something new and become curious about what they don’t know that they didn’t know. They choose to listen, ask questions, and explore new thinking instead of becoming suspicious, defensive, or stuck in their ways of thinking about something.
Are you able to hear new ideas and perspectives even when they don’t match yours? Are you able to suspend your criticism or doubts for people to be able to express something that you’ve never heard of, don’t believe in, or don’t understand?
McCleary, Katie; Edwards, Jennifer. Bridge the Gap: Breakthrough Communication Tools to Transform Work Relationships From Challenging to Collaborative (p. 26). McGraw Hill LLC. Kindle Edition.