If you want to have a real cutting edge and a serious competitive advantage, learn how to embrace discomfort and make it your friend. And if you have an organization, then teach your leaders to do the same.
As you read this you may be wondering, are you serious, how does that have anything do with my position in the market and the advantage I have over my competitors?
It has everything to do with it.
Your ability to embrace discomfort, and your attitude towards it, impacts how you respond to change. And change is everywhere. Change occurs both externally and internally, both in the market and within your organization. And how well you respond and adapt to change will determine your ability to be sustainable and grow.
So what do I mean when I talk about discomfort?
It’s that uneasy feeling you get when you know you have to talk to a direct report about an incompetency in their performance but you choose to put it off because you don’t want to hurt their feelings. It’s that pang in the pit of your stomach during a meeting when a decision has been made but you don’t agree with it, and choose not to speak up. It’s that feeling you have when you know a member of your team has toxic behaviours that affect the rest of your team but you choose not to deal with it in order to avoid the conflict. It’s that horrible feeling when your manager or boss pulls you aside and tells you about a behaviour you do that others don’t like and negatively impacts the team. And even worse for a leader, it’s that feeling after a 360 review when you learn the truth about what your direct reports think of you and their critiques of your performance. How about when one of your subordinates tells you that they completely disagree with your idea and how you’ve been handling the project and offers their own solution?
These examples are just at work and in your professional life. In your personal life the list goes on and that will be an article in itself!
So, back to work, it’s in these critical moments when you have two choices: embrace the discomfort or run from it. And your choice will determine whether you are contributing to the growth of your organization or its demise. Your choice will either inspire trust, healthy debate, collaboration, buy in, accountability and a focus on results or the exact opposite of all these.
The choice is yours.
So what’s it going to be? Embrace the discomfort? Yes, I was hoping you’d say that! Because the other choice leads you down the slippery road of an unhealthy organization that either finds a way to barely exist or eventually implodes.
So now what, how in the world do I embrace discomfort and make it my friend?
Here are some points that I’ve learned along the way, on my journey of overcoming tremendous adversity where the only choice to survive was to embrace discomfort and turn it into an opportunity to grow.
With discomfort comes a flood of various different emotions, some more extreme than others. And for some people, discomfort may take them back to a time in their past that may be more traumatic than for others, so some may feel it more intensely. You may feel anxious, angry, irritable, annoyed or withdrawn and quiet. As you read this, you know what it feels like for you and what comes up. And so as those feelings come up, just take a moment to acknowledge them and say ‘hey, ya, this is uncomfortable and I don’t like it so much’. Because the reality is that you’re not alone in not liking it, discomfort is not supposed to feel good. But the part you need to know is that discomfort serves a very important purpose, it means you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and stepping into your growth edges. And this is very positive. So just hang on and stay with your discomfort.
This feeling of discomfort I describe above is what I call the Courage Space. It’s that space of leaving the known and entering the unknown. It’s that space between leaving certainty and moving into uncertainty until you find certainty again. It’s that space between leaving the old and creating the new. It’s like being in the open ocean without a life raft, between an old familiar shore and a new one that you’re swimming towards. And it’s in this space when you need to draw upon your courage, the most powerful force you have. It’s the force you have within you that’s directly connected to your intuition that will propel you into action. And it’s in this place of discomfort when you need to be connected to your intuition because it will guide you like a compass, through the rough seas ahead.
Now that you’ve tapped into your courage, it’s like your fuel source, and you need to act from that place regardless of how you feel. There’s a famous saying that goes ‘Speak the truth even if your voice shakes’. So, you’ve accepted the discomfort and the feelings that come with it. Ask yourself are you still ok? Have you died? Have you lost a limb, an organ or have you been taken out by a giant mudslide that crashed through your office door? My guess is no, none of that happened and you’re still ok. So now that you’ve accepted that the unpleasantness of this whole thing is just a bunch of emotions and you’re physically still ok, it’s time to act. Your intuition will tell you what the right thing is to do. It knows. And you know it knows. The question is, do you listen to your intuition? Do you trust it? Do you give it the respect it deserves? So, now go and do that thing you need to do and watch what happens. Tell the truth while caring personally and being direct and accept the truth while putting your ego to the side and embracing humbleness, all for the greater good of your organization.
I know that at this point after taking action from a courageous place you’ll be standing back reflecting on the situation and most likely feeling relieved and, even though it was tough, you’re feeling pretty proud of yourself. It’s a massive thing you just did and you should be proud of yourself. You should be proud that you were brave, as corny as that sounds, and you should acknowledge yourself that you embraced the discomfort because it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not for the faint hearted and that’s why it’s rare. But it’s deeply important in so many ways and in so many aspects of your life. It’s really one of the critical elements in relationships, which ultimately affect the quality of your life. So give yourself a pat on the back because you deserve it.
So now that you know how to embrace discomfort, how do you make it your friend? Well, you look at discomfort the same way as you do that close and long term friend that has annoying habits but you manage to look past them and live with them because you deeply care about that friend and that friend deeply cares about you. Because all that discomfort is, is a signal or warning bell letting you know you’re stepping into your growth edges, you’re expanding yourself and you’re growing. And as you grow you connect more authentically with those around you and you inspire others to grow too.
Imagine an organization where individuals are encouraged to embrace the discomfort and there’s an opportunity to work through it. Imagine the authentic feedback, the truthful conversations, the healthy debates on important topics, the accountability within team members, the capacity for innovation, the buy-in on ideas, the commitment on projects, the focus on results, the possibility for rich collaboration – all stemming from a culture of embracing the discomfort. Imagine the competitive edge this organization would have. Imagine how resilient and adaptive to change this organization would be knowing it’s internal structure was healthy and robust.