Be an Owl

Do others’ feelings keep us from getting things done?  If we measure our success by the number of tasks we complete, but hurt others in the process, that’s not success – that’s pathology.  We may need professional help, but we CAN be as passionate about our relationships with one another as we are about “getting things done.”  Goals and relationships are not an either/or proposition; if we are to be truly successful, we have to do both.

I’ve often taken the “turtle” approach to dealing with confrontation:  avoid, withdraw, retreat.  When someone tells me to fight for my goals at the expense of others, my gut reaction is to punch them in the face.  This person doesn’t understand who I am – they want me to be someone other than myself.  For better or worse, I am a shy person – and for some reason, the people I am closest to don’t understand why I just don’t come out of my shell and be like them.  You never really know how alone you are until you realize how disconnected the world is from you, and you from it.

You can’t be anything other than who you are, no matter how much you may try.  I can only be who I am – to me, both thinking and feeling matter.  It’s not a matter of either/or – if you don’t have both, you’re doomed.  I’m not a turtle anymore – I will not avoid conflict.  But I’m not a lion, either – lions care only about getting things done and (when necessary) will hurt others.

I’m an owl.  Owls collaborate.  They place a high value on both their goals and their relationships.  They take a problem solving approach to conflicts and work to find a solution that achieves both their own goals and the goals of the other person in the conflict.  Owls recognize that when handled effectively, conflicts can improve relationships by reducing the tension between people.  They try to begin a discussion that identifies the issues that are creating the conflict.

Owls look for solutions that will satisfy both themselves and the other person, thereby preserving the integrity of the relationship.  They will work diligently and are not satisfied until a solution is found that achieves their own goals and those of the other person.  This also includes working at the conflict until all of the tension and negative feelings have been fully resolved.

Yes, we have to do this over and over and over again.  I still believe that collaboration is the best way of dealing with conflict and confrontation.  But lately all I see in this world are craploads of lions and turtles, and no owls.

Be who you are.  Care about your relationships with others as much as you are about what you want to accomplish.  Collaborate with others, and you’ll be amazed at what you will achieve.

Engagement, Connections, Emotions

I used to be an officer in a part-time faculty union.  Following the successful renegotiation of the union’s contract with the university, I proposed to the other union officers that now was the perfect time to ask our members how they felt about their adjunct faculty organization.  The idea met some resistance; the leadership’s usual take on membership surveys is to issue them before negotiations, to discover what members wanted to improve in their agreement with the administration.

To ask members what they thought about the union after negotiations seemed counterintuitive.  To which I replied, “I don’t want to find out what they think about the union; I want to find out how they feel about it.”

Crickets.  You could have heard a pin drop.  Sometimes I forget that every organization – from monoliths like Amazon and Walmart, to the lowliest lemonade stand entrepreneur – wants and needs results.  More often than not, feelings must be set aside to accomplish the tasks that will produce those results.

However, any organization that fails to recognize or chooses to ignore the feelings of the individuals who comprise it runs the risk of forgetting why they’re an organization in the first place.  No organization goes forward without understanding, fostering and promoting the well-being its members, as well as encouraging its members to do likewise for one another and for their collective voice.

All of us from time to time face challenges that, as much as we want to handle them by ourselves, are more than what any one of us can handle.  It is exactly challenges like these that brought that part-time faculty union into being nearly 20 years ago; and as long as these challenges continue to exist, the need for organizations like that adjunct faculty union will continue to exist with them.

I wanted our members to think about what it means to them to belong to the union.  The organization is valuable, strong, and committed to the goals of fair compensation and positive work conditions because ITS MEMBERS are valuable, strong, and committed to these same goals.

I was slow to realize that the other officers strongly disagreed.  One went so far as to say, “the survey is about engagement, but your article is all about feelings” – implying that engagement and feelings have nothing to do with one another.  I cannot describe how frustrating it was to try to get these folks to explain exactly what it was that they had against feelings.

If an organization’s sole goal is to get things done, feelings must be ignored and denied.  But if the goal is to accomplish those tasks AND work collaboratively together, feelings must be acknowledged and recognized.  Anything less is a recipe for discontent, resentment and, ultimately, dissolution.