written by Kimberly Young, Executive Director of Continuing and Professional Studies at the University of Mary Washington
I remember walking into a room where we were delivering a training class for a major client and from my perspective, things looked chaotic. Tables were being moved around by the students, the faculty member wasn’t talking, my staff seemed discombobulated and all I could think about was how this scene was the opposite of the composed and professional educational experience that I had trained my staff to deliver. I began to get annoyed and almost immediately, a small voice inside of me said, “Stop.” So I stopped and then the words, “What’s going on here”, came to mind. I pondered the words until I had some answers and a peace came over me to replace my annoyance. As I observed the situation further, I realized that no one seemed unhappy with what was going on and that in some ways, all of the movement and chaos was a response to some request that must have been made before I entered the rom. It turns out that the instructor had decided to do an additional activity that required a different room configuration and the participants gladly moved tables and chairs around to accommodate the activity because it was in response to a question that one of their peers asked. Finally, the whole scene made sense, and although it looked like things were happening in an embarrassingly chaotic way, the chaos had reason and the values that I’d instilled in my staff were showing up exactly as I’d hoped, in responsiveness and keeping the situation as orderly as possible given the circumstances. So let’s play this back…If I had walked into the room and not been saved by that still small voice, I likely would have had a coaching moment with my staff at the earliest opportunity. They would have felt deflated as they explained what was happening and I would have felt frustrated. My frustration would have been replaced by guilt for not having taken the time and trusting them to execute in a way that honored our departmental value of professionalism.
Just recently as I sat at my desk, this lesson came to mind again as my own workspace was a bit disorderly and I was beginning to feel stressed about all that I had on my plate. My mind began to spin, highlighting the various tasks that were yet to be done (this blog being one of them) and the little time left in my day. Before I put my head down and took a stress nap at my desk, I heard that small voice again that said, “What’s going on here?” That made me reflect on the time I walked into the chaotic room and then I was able to focus on why I felt stressed. I was able to identify which of the items on my to-do list was causing me to feel stress. I realized that there were two tasks on my list that I was dreading and if I could complete those two items, the rest seemed very doable. But that wasn’t enough, I then wanted to understand why those tasks in particular were stressful. If I could figure that out, I might be able to avoid this stress-inducing moment in the future. What I learned through my reflection was that in one case, I was concerned about the outcome because I had put so much into the project and was worried that it wouldn’t go as I’d planned. In the other case, the project itself wasn’t terribly difficult, it just required several different steps so I spent some time writing down the steps for clarity. I was able to isolate the challenges and then complete the projects once I was clear about what was really going on.
Whether it’s your own mind or implementation of your vision through others, when you encounter what seems chaotic or stressful, listen for that small voice and stop. After you’ve taken a moment, ask yourself, “What’s going on here?” The answers will help you to move forward with more clarity and appreciation for what’s really happening around you.