At some point in my early married life, around the time we upgraded our couch from the one loaned to us from my parents’ basement, my husband and I started hosting friends for dinner every once in a while. We stuck to the ones who would not pass too much judgement on our dirty floors, dogs lounging on the couch, or the lack of mature landscaping in the front yard.
On one particular occasion, I was committed to making everything from scratch, including the iced tea. I boiled water on the stove, steeped the tea bags and fresh mint in the water, poured it into a pitcher, and put it in the fridge to cool before our guests arrived.
Once everyone was ready to eat, I got the pitcher from the fridge and began pouring tea into the ice-filled glasses I had prepared. Something was wrong. Instead of a beautiful, transparent amber color, the tea was a cloudy, cruddy brown.
My friend knew immediately what I had done wrong.
“You put it in the fridge to cool, didn’t you?”
“Yes…” I said, confused.
“You have to let it sit at room temperature first. You can’t force it to cool too quickly or it’ll become cloudy. If you want clear tea, you have to give it time.”
The cloudy tea tasted fine, and we drank it, but her words stuck with me. I wondered about other times we experience heat and we try to turn the temperature down too quickly: When my kids are mad and I push them to calm down. When someone is apologizing after hurting us and we say “it’s OK” when it really wasn’t. When we’re in a conflict with a colleague and we concede early or walk away just to end the tension.
The biggest time I feel the heat? When I’m leading others through change and that change requires loss. As a colleague has taught me, leadership is distributing loss at a pace others can bear – and that always brings heat. Our job as leaders is to hold it.
Why are we tempted to turn the heat down so quickly? Perhaps we’ve told ourselves we cannot withstand it, or that the people we lead will be burned by it. Perhaps we prefer short-term comfort to lasting clarity and change.
We have choices in high-intensity moments and decisions. If it’s clarity we seek, a sense of direction about what matters to us and where we should go next, then we might venture to see heat as a temporary condition we are built to experience, rather than a problem to be solved, and resist the temptation to intervene in our own discomfort.
We also might see that heat as a teacher: The things that make us hot have something important to tell us about what we value and what matters to us. But we won’t be able to hear the message if we abandon the messenger.
My advice? Pay attention to what triggers fear, hurt, or anger in you. Accept that the decisions you make cause heat in others, especially when you’re a catalyst for change. Then, stay with it. Resist the temptation to artificially cool the experience. Observe it without judgement and use the data to inform your next steps. Quit forcing the process. Clarity will come when you endure and listen.
Some coaching questions to consider:
What patterns do you see in the things that trigger your fear, anxiety, anger, and hurt?
What’s your usual response to intensity? Do you artificially cool it by leaving or over-intervening? Do you tend to stay?
What beliefs are behind that?