I recently collaborated on a project with another woman whom I had just met.
Out of the gates, we sensed that we were very different people. Different backgrounds, different perspectives, and incredibly different styles. She immediately called me out as “one of those annoying Type A’s.” In turn, I sized her up as a disorganized mess.
So here we were, needing to find a meeting of the minds, work together to meet a tight deadline and create a well-designed, well-structured and well-executed project. Oh vey.
The launch of our collaboration was about as successful as the release of Kevin Costner’s movie Waterworld—a total and utter box office bomb.
I’d send over Google docs for her review, with follow up questions and specific dates/times to meet. She failed to respond. Period. Weeks went by and on the eve of our first meeting with the client, I received a late night call and three long, panicky texts, demanding that we speak immediately because she believed the project outline was all wrong.
I was pissed off, irritated and tired.
As I sat in my impatience and angst, stewing over what to do next, wanting to lash out at her for her lack of follow through and last minute fire drill, it reminded me of Pema Chodron’s talk about the “troublemakers” in our lives.
These are the individuals that come in and hook us, provoke us and force us to reckon with the parts of ourselves that we would rather not.
And just like a fish on a line, this woman had me hooked, wriggling wildly, as she steadily reeled me in. I could do nothing but flap and flail and fight like hell against it.
But, herein lies the juicy wisdom.
Beginning to notice where we are hook-able and where we get stuck, allows us to work with it. It allows us to ultimately find out way out of the boat, back into the ocean and swimming free.
Wriggling and writhing was getting me nowhere, except deeper into the depths of frustration. I no longer had passion around the project (one, at the onset, I was thrilled about undertaking) and I found myself angry, discouraged and just depressed.
As I began to work with it, I devised a process.
Five steps to getting unhooked—a psychological catch and release.
#1. Create some space.
Sit with anything that has triggered you for three days before taking any action.
When the situation permits, I have implemented this wisdom and it’s proved to be incredibly insightful and game-changing. But, let’s be real—often in our lives, especially when the conflict arises in a professional context, we don’t have three whole days to sit on a proverbial mountain top and mediate over something.
So let’s work with what we do have. Unless the building is burning or the forest is on fire, nothing ever necessitates an instantaneous response. It just seems that way because we now live in a world of split-second electronic communications.
Take a walk.
Make a cup of your favorite tea.
Get some fresh air.
Most importantly, breathe.
Connect to the breathe. Breathe deep. The deeper the better.
You have 10 minutes. You really do.
Give yourself some space. Create it, carve it out and allow it to become a habit.
#2. Feel the hook.
Once you’ve given yourself some breathing room and space, feel the hook.
Begin to explore what’s beneath all your anger and frustration.
Acknowledge that it’s super uncomfortable.
We’re a funny lot, we humans.
We like a happy ending.
We like rainbows and unicorns and bright, shiny things.
We don’t want to feel pain.
We don’t want to feel hurt.
And we hate conflict.
But the beauty of allowing oneself the space, away from distraction, to dig in and investigate it, is that it leads to more happiness and productivity going forward.
It allows us to locate the hook and carefully extract it from our bodies.
#3. Let go of ego.
Ours egos drive us on so many levels. They help us achieve our goals and press forward in the face of adversity. Our egos also tell us stories, especially when we get hooked. Our egos like to cast blame, plot and strategize against the enemy.
While this may feel satisfying in the moment, it doesn’t focus on the task at hand and ends up muddying the water.
You are still caught on the line.
You still aren’t free.
So, let go of your ego and get clear on what’s true for you. What really matters? What’s at the heart of what you want and need in order to break free from the frustration and move forward in a productive way?
#4. Set your intention.
Once you’ve weeded through the pain, frustration and ego-induced complications, get clear on what you need/want and set an intention around your actions going forward.
With this woman, I realized that I didn’t need to prove myself to her, nor did I need to disparage her communication style and lack of organization.
What I needed was a way to collaborate effectively to get the project done. I set my intention around that very task and took the next step by responding to her the next day.
#5. Take the right action.
In Buddhism “right action” means that we when we decide to act, we act without selfish attachment to our work.
We act mindfully, without causing discord with our speech.
My follow up communication with this woman was directly correlated to my intention, to find a way to collaborate effectively to get the project done and done well. While it still wasn’t easy to collaborate, I was able to free myself of all the ego driven frustration and let go of what I did not have control over.
The result? I found my way back to my original passion around the project and was able to bring my best work to the client.
It’s a practice.
But, once we begin to see the “troublemakers” in our lives as teachers, we begin to become hooked less and less and find a way to swim freely going forward.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock