What Is Good about Discomfort?
The Discomfort Zone is the moment of uncertainty when people are most open to learning.
On the day I resigned from my last corporate position, one of the vice presidents came into my office and said, “You can’t go. Who will I talk to?” I recalled our first heated encounter five years earlier when he was the head of quality and I was the touchy-feely new girl hired to make the employees feel better about the changes that were happening in the organization. We were aliens from two different worlds. Yet together, we created a program that seeded the cultural transformation that helped the organization become the top performing IPO (initial public offering) in the United States in 1993.
There were many conversations in which I challenged his beliefs about what motivates people, questioned his views on leadership, dug into the source of his emotions when he no longer wanted to put up with me, and helped him see that letting go of some of his habits and perspectives would help him achieve what he knew was possible for the company. At times, he didn’t like me, but he came to trust me, even when I was wrong. I learned a lot, too, about the business and what it takes to transform both one leader and an organization. We both became surprisingly comfortable with uncomfortable conversations.
His remorse over losing our regular conversations inspired me to be formally trained as a coach. I also pursued a degree in organizational psychology so I could codify and improve what I found works in coaching to shift someone’s viewpoint when the conversation feels difficult. I have been coached by masters when I had my defenses broken down with one statement and had to wait for my brain to reorganize and make sense of the new perspective. I have taught and mentored leaders around the world to use the skills for themselves to create breakthrough moments in their conversations. I found that leaders who master the skills of helping others think through their blind spots, attachments, and resistance are not only effective, but they are also the most remembered and revered.
In the book, Synchronicity, Joseph Jaworski said the most successful leaders are those who participate in helping others create new realities.1 The leader engages in conversations that bring to light a person’s filters and frames. When the factors that frame the meaning of a situation are revealed, the view of what is true changes and becomes clear.
A change in the view of what is true is needed for long-lasting and positive change. To do this, you have to be comfortable with disruption and tension in a conversation, creating a Discomfort Zone in which new ideas are birthed. A leader who uses the Discomfort Zone emphasizes potential rather than problems.