Rebounding from values conversations gone wrong

You wanted to do the right thing. You went out on a limb. You floated a conversation about values, or it got sprung upon you. It flopped. Badly. Now all you want to do is take it back so you can hide back into your shell. Pretend nothing happened. Pretend you didn’t just hear and see what you heard and saw. It doesn’t quite work that way.
I have been bruised more times than I can count. Sometimes I learned things about time and place to have these conversations, and I fine-tuned my approach going forward (it takes two…). On some occasions, I cut people out of my life as a result (I don’t do this lightly. But just as a reminder, this is a valid move).
Sometimes a conversation flopped spectacularly in the here and now. And then a few years later I got feedback by either that person, or people from that orbit, how much of a difference it made, and how that was a massively powerful intervention (sometimes you influence an organization more by leaving than you could by staying). And sometimes the content was right but the form and delivery might have been off on my part, which, too, is a learning opportunity.
Holiday season is a prime opportunity to practice. Here are a few pointers to get yourself back together if needed.
Rebound qualities matter
On some occasions, your values in all their strength and delicate beauty will get crushed or people will start using this against you. If this happens, take the invitation to take a closer look, don’t ignore the pointers. This is where the stuff happens that truly matters. This can make you stronger in the long run.
Values matter, so when you get hurt, it will hurt more and deeper as it will matter on a whole different level. This work will lead you to bigger questions and decisions and they might be disruptive in the short-term. I have lost money and career opportunities over this and some emotional bruises took a long time to recover from. Looking back on 20+ years in the business world, the regrets I have are usually about not being radical enough and waiting too long, the regrets were NOT about speaking up (although arguably the form of speaking up could occasionally have done with an upgrade, I do have regrets around some of that). Try to look at this through a longer-term lens (values help with that, too).
Acknowledge the pain and use it as reinforcement that this matters.
So, remind yourself of your values, what they are and why they matter. And how they contribute to the kind of world you want to see. For yourself and for everyone else. This is the foundation. This is the anchor.
I still remember a few messy conversations down to where I stood and what I was wearing. One situation stood our in particular for how utterly bizarre it was. In my youthful zeal at 22, I had been pretty outspoken about values and pointing out intercultural biases and privilege, which earned me the reputation with my then boss to be a “friend of humanity” (he meant that as an insult ?!?!). Assignments and communication deteriorated rapidly as that moniker increased in usage and the delivery of the moniker got more and more acrimonious. If you are looking for pointers on cultural fit – that was one.
My slightly more grown up self would have handled this situation differently. I’m a lot more radical now and at the same time a bit more skilled in raising issues if there are any that need raising. I wear “friend of humanity” as the badge of honor it really is (in my books – and I hope, in yours). And hopefully I am getting slightly more attuned to what people call “cultural fit”. That place and I clearly weren’t, and I moved on soon after.
And sometimes you might have to heal first, it is OK to withdraw, lick your wounds and do whatever you need to do to get yourself back together. This is crucial stuff. This is, so to speak, open heart injury recovery. Look after yourself (and allow others to help you). Do what you need to do. Also, depending on what happened, this might require seeking professional help like counseling or a lawyer. Do whatever it takes. This too is self-care.
Find surroundings where you are welcome
In the long-run (reminder: this is your life, this is the long run) you will be better off in an environment that embraces you for who and how you are and where your values flourish. And where you can have the conversations you want and need. The deeper you get into this, the more the bar will shift for what good leadership and a helpful organizational culture looks like. For yourself as your own ongoing practice, and for the people you want to surround yourself with. That is a good thing. This will make you more outspoken where you are (this might or might not be welcome).
Your planning horizon becomes more long-term. You will no longer get lukewarm reactions as people will either gravitate towards you, or you will exit each other’s orbits. That is not a bad thing. You both become more humble/compassionate and more fierce/radical at the same time, and in this tension discover strength and radiance second to none. And you will find more places where you are truly welcome. You might transform where you are, or you might find new horizons and groups of people.
Preparation for next time can help

Some of the conversations can be anticipated, so you can prepare at least a bit. Ask yourself:

What is the quality I want to bring to this conversation?

Which one of my top 5 values needs to be particularly present to make this happen?

How does this value show up in a conversation? When it is there, what does the conversation feel, sound, look like? What words would I use? What sort of setting would that have to be? How would I set up the encounter?

How might this look like for the other person? What might they be bringing and what would that combination look like? What can you do to keep grounding and reminding yourself of the value you want to bring – regardless of how the conversation goes or how the other person is approaching you?

Paving the way for others

Wherever you are, don’t underestimate the amount of reach and radiance a person has with clear values, who stand up for them and for others when they get violated. That is what leaders do – regardless of your job title. Your wingspan is bigger than you think, and you will reach and inspire people even though you might never hear about it. Trust that.
Thanking those who did this for you
A note on that: When somebody does that for you, tell them what difference they made. This can be a tough fight and bring on some of the deepest moments of loneliness in the midst of it, as a lot of the crucial conversations are private or in small groups (and often rightfully so). Knowing something you did made a difference for someone else out there is so important to keep the strength to keep going. As a bonus, when you do reach out, these might well be some of the best apprenticeship/mentoring type of conversations you will ever have. Go for it!

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