I say to myself, “I shouldn’t feel bad about our move; we’re on a grand new adventure.”  A patient’s sister says, “I shouldn’t feel sad, since I’m not the one going through this.”  A parent of a middle school student says, “I know I shouldn’t be frustrated – my son just needs time to adjust.” An entrepreneur who didn’t get the sale says, “I shouldn’t be disappointed. I’m lucky I get the chance to be in business for myself.”  Listen for a while and you will probably hear people talking about how they should or shouldn’t feel.

What if, instead, we made room for whatever feelings we had, treating them like the weather —  something that comes and goes, rather than something we control.  We don’t control what feelings come up in us any more than we control the clouds that race across the sky, or a sudden wind that kicks up dust across the road, or a bright ray of sunshine that bursts through the clouds.

When we’re young, there isn’t much of a gap between feeling and response, so as part of our socialization, children are often told that we should or shouldn’t feel a certain way.  “Don’t be frustrated, it’s only a game,” says the wary father hoping to stave off a tantrum.  Or “Don’t be sad. We’ll see Grandma again soon,” says the mother who is holding back tears of her own. Because the gap between feeling and response is small in children – and their emotional expressions can be LOUD and ENERGETIC — parents discount the feelings, in hopes of avoiding the unwanted behavior.  Unfortunately, the unintended consequence is that as children we get the message that some feelings are bad and others are good. We internalize the “shoulds,” giving bad press to our natural human responses.

As adults, we can learn to widen the gap between having our feelings and responding to them, creating room to have our full authentic experiences internally, even as we choose what parts to bring out into the world.  For example, we can feel frustrated without yelling, and instead can choose to use the energy and information in the frustration for problem-solving.

As we build the space between feeling and response, we find that there is room in us (individually and in the world) for all of the feelings we have. There’s room for feeling sad for ourselves when our loved ones are sick, at the same time that we also feel brave and strong on their behalf and a deep want to support and care for them. There’s room for feeling frustrated with our child’s performance or attitude at the same time that we also feel compassion for them in the face of so many changes.  We can feel disappointed when a client turns down our proposal at the same time we also feel lucky to be a business owner, and proud of taking the risk to be out on our own. We can feel sad about moving and excited about all the new adventures that await. These things are not mutually exclusive.

How does this relate to collaboration?

Sometimes when we’re working with others (teammates, business partners), we find ourselves with a “should” not about our own feelings, but about someone else’s. We’re excited about a change, so someone else’s sadness or frustration is too different. We think they “should” be more excited. This changes how we behave toward them, as we try to influence their experience.  It can also change our experience, as we move away from the “bad” feelings. Sometimes we end up in a sort of emotional tug-of-war, with each of us holding one end of the rope (e.g., the excited end or the sad end). The cost is a loss of connection in the relationship, and a loss of energy for the change.

Learning to see these patterns when they are at play is the first step toward changing them. The next time you find yourself facing a change, listen to your internal dialogue, and gently hush the “should” voice, whether it’s directed toward yourself or someone else. See if you can get curious about what you will discover as you watch the clouds roll by.

As we build the space between feeling and response, we find that there is room for all of the feelings we have. Click To Tweet

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