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Keeping Channels Open

A friend of mine made an interesting comment the other day, “We all need to keep our channels open in this world”.

It was referenced in his son’s athletic adventures in organized sports.  I was struck by the power of this sentence, and it got me thinking.

I like the idea of channels: I picture openings with different groups of people: friends, family, colleagues, networks, and so on. I see space created for each channel- a space to share, connect, create ideas, learn from, discover. I see us giving in these channels: time, effort, compassion, respect, love, and support.

But I also see an on/off valve. We choose who we keep open channels for, and who we close the channel on.  I see turning off the channel to those who have opposing views, who may have offended or hurt us, for those who don’t support us or fill our cups. And this feels unsettled.

The on/off switch certainly has its place: to those who threaten us, put us in danger, or cause harm.  But I wonder if we have gotten too comfortable hitting the off switch.

I have had experiences of hitting the off switch too fast.  One time, I had a close colleague who was critical to our business, and yet we disagreed often.  This person seemed to always push the boundaries, be argumentative for no reason, and pitch against the direction we were going in. After a long time of trying, I decided that enough was enough.  I severed open communication and non-work discussions.  I felt at the time that I was saving myself from emotional turmoil and protecting myself. 

That worked out fine for a while, but long term, I realized three things. 

  1. Part of the constant debating was actually healthy. It helped the organization achieve greater results. I was taking it personally when it wasn’t. 

  2. We actually had a good relationship when I could think differently about her perceived behaviors.  I found I was sad that I lost the comradery and joking that would show up during big projects or events. 

  3. By hitting the off switch, I was limiting my ability to “agree to disagree”, and in turn, not allowing myself to hear other opinions, perspectives or ideas.

So how do we keep the channels open, even when it seems hard or counterintuitive?  Here’s how I try to do it:

  • I use coaching questions to guide me: “How do I want to show up?”  “What can I learn from this person or group?”  “what’s the worst that could happen?”  “What could be a silver lining?”  “What do I risk losing from breaking the connection?”

  • I think of these channels as a way of improving my commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. Hearing different viewpoint, perspectives and even views I oppose can help me learn, accept and appreciate others

  • I use these channels as ways to teach my children about acceptance of different views, openness to learning outside our way of thinking, challenging our beliefs, and staying open to new ideas and thoughts.

  • It’s an important form of continuous learning. There is a saying, “Leaders and Readers and Readers and Learners”.  I love this and can apply it to my channels.  Often, when I hear a differing view, I read about it, and I inevitably learn something new.

  • I work on how I contribute to this connection with authenticity, conviction and openness. I want to show up confident, yet also open.  Striking the balance can be tricky!

  • Lastly, I try to come from a place of curiosity, support, and compassion. We never know what others are going through, and what may be driving behaviors, views or attitudes. 

How do you keep your channels open?  I’d love to hear your strategies and learn from you!

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