In 1983 I graduated from university. I remember how proud I felt. Here I was with 6 years of post secondary education, two degrees and ready to take my rightful place in the work force. I had secured employment in my field and I was determined to be a highly effective family, group and individual counselor/therapist. You can imagine my surprise when on my first day of work I realized that all my years of study, all my theory and practicum did not prepare me for the harsh reality of the job I had just accepted.
I remember getting out of the car at the home of my first client. As I knocked on the door I was nervous yet excited. This was it, my transition from student to professional. As the door swung open I was greeted by an angry, aggressive male who proceeded to yell at me. He called me names, spoke about my incompetence and promptly slammed the door in my face. I was shocked, fighting back the tears while I felt myself shrinking with an overwhelming desire to run and hide.
In that instant I went from the competent adult to the young girl who was shy, lacking confidence and feeling powerless. As I walked back to the car a fear came over me. I realized that I would have to return to this home in a few days and face the same unpleasant greeting.
I returned to that home each week for about 2 years. Although the circumstances I face daily are not always this harsh, this one family assisted me in strengthening my communication skills. Most importantly working with this family had me develop mastery over my internal dialogue, those persistent private conversations that were fueled by my past experiences and my beliefs about self. You see every circumstance we face will most often trigger a past experience or belief. If the experience or belief is positive, chances are, our interaction or communication will reflect that positive experience or belief. However, if the past experience of belief is negative, our response will also reflect that which we believe.
As I stood at the door that morning the male’s behavior triggered past experiences and beliefs that left me paralyzed and unable to respond. You see my past experience of conflict equaled danger, aggression and fear. And my response was not “fight”, rather it was flight. I believed that to survive was to run and hide and wait for the storm to past. I had learned to take the responses of others personally and allow the reaction of others to determine my willingness to participate in a conversation, debate or conflict.
As I learned to master myself in communication, I actually learned to become the “eye of the storm.” In the book the “I of the Storm,” by Jane Simmons she reminds us that the eye of any storm is always calm. I learned to have an awareness of my emotions in most circumstances. In other words, I learned to be aware of the past emotions a given circumstance may bring about, to acknowledge the emotion and then powerfully respond rather than react. I learned to not personalize or be offended by the reactions of others. I now understood, their “storm” was most often caused by their past beliefs and experiences. As I learned to be the “eye of the storm,” I found my voice in most circumstances.
Empowered communication is a vital skill for all leaders. I invite you to develop the self awareness that enables you to be fully self expressed and be the eye of any storm.