Jessica Soroky’s Guest Post #28: When Being Responsible Means Being Silent

being responsible as a teamSometimes The Most Responsible Response Is No Response

When facing a problem, it isn’t always pretty. Things can get heated, voices can rise, and fear rears its ugly head. This results in defensive responses.

I have observed this taking place both at home and at work. In writing those words it hit me that the common factor is me. I started to wonder how I contribute to these outcomes.

At home I used to justify the behavior. I’d think to myself my family only has one volume: loud. At work it isn’t loud, but it can definitely get heated. I’m driven by fear and the belief that I must do everything to keep this job to keep a paycheck coming in to keep a roof over my head.

Through my leadership studies I have become aware of fears I never knew existed and my intense desire to always be right. This combination leads to my responses coming from below the line, i.e., not being responsible. (Below the line is any of the mental states in The Responsibility Process™ that come prior to reaching Responsibility.)

I have strengthened my awareness muscle after the problem has happened by reflecting on the situation from the perspective of being responsible. Looking back, I can see that my ineffective responses happened because I wasn’t processing the real problem. Instead of being responsible I was stuck on an island.

Here’s an example.

I was in the office late one night finishing up some work when I noticed that two of my peers were talking in the next office. We have an agreement that if the door is open, anyone can join, so I walked in the midst of a conversation that happened to be about me.

They could see I had joined them and yet didn’t stop talking. I could feel my body get hot and panic set in. Why were they talking about me? Did I do something? Was I that person that gets talked about at the water cooler?

Looking back on the situation now, I owe them an apology for not trusting our relationships. Instead I fell back to my conditioned fear.

After those 30 seconds I started to listen to what they were saying. Let me explain first, that our company is very transparent. When we are discussing a problem, we don’t go to a conference room and hash it out. We process with whoever wants to process or even just observe.

The conversation was about an experience one of them had observing a co-worker and me process through a problem.

“She (Jess) wasn’t afraid to come right back at you, but at one point she fell silent. Was she conceding?”

The other co-worker had responded by explaining that when two people are arguing with sharp words and quick responses, then all processing has stopped on the problem.

It hit me. I learned very early in my journey that sometimes if I am stuck below the line of responsibility, no response at all is better than one based in blame, shame, justification, obligation, or denial. I wasn’t aware that I even did this still.

He went on to explain that continuing to respond from below the line was only helping everyone else stay below the line, too.

“Well, s**t”

When I am in a situation where things get heated, voices rise, and problem solving turns into arguing, I continue to respond from an irresponsible mindset while expecting the other parties involved to be more responsible than I am.

I repeat this behavior which almost always ends in an argument and yet I expect a different result. That’s not being responsible, it’s insanity.

Listening to this conversation about me was like getting the chance to step outside of myself and observe what my actions and words say about how I am processing something. As their conversation came to a close, I started to see connections I had never made before.

Silence not only prevented an irresponsible response but allowed me to check into myself and get present. It gives me the chance to stop waiting for my turn to respond and be “right,” and allows for me to hear them.

“Silence is a source of great strength.” – Lao Tzu

My stretch this week is to use the power of silence to increase personal awareness.

Jessica Soroky, CSM

Only 21 years old, Jessica is already a Certified Scrum Master with two years of practice in agile delivery and team leadership. She is also the youngest participant in The Leadership Gift™ Program and its growing worldwide community of leaders and coaches. After five years of non-profit development through Nellie’s Catwalk for Kids, Jessica continues her leadership journey in state government, not-for-profit, and private sector leadership studies.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

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5 Responses to Jessica Soroky’s Guest Post #28: When Being Responsible Means Being Silent

  1. This is my favorite so far. And In answer to your questions, I concur with Christopher….”Usually”

  2. Anthony A. says:

    Nice perspectives. However, this is not applicable in many situations. Silence is often misinterpreted as consent, which has done a whole lot more damage as some misguided leaders will and often prey on this. The Holocaust, Bosnia, Rwanda, CAR are good examples of why people should talk, act and prevent the problems associated with the Spiral of Silence. What happens in many organizations are not different from the above examples and appropriate structures must be in place to let people or employees voice their concerns without fear or recriminations.

    • Christopher says:

      Hi Anthony,
      Thank you. I’ve been wondering when someone would make this point. And you did.
      I don’t think Jessica means to remain silent. I think what she means is to NOT SPEAK UNTIL she can get to a mental/emotional position of ownership — or responsibility — where her voice will be meaningful and effective. For those of us who understand The Responsiblity Process, this is what we mean by “operating from Responsibility when things go wrong.” We catch ouselves having thoughts of Lay Blame, Justify, Shame, Obligation, or Quit, and we CHOOSE TO NOT ACT on those thoughts, instead internally confronting our own upset until we can take ownership — and THEN taking action. This is freeing, more powerful (as we have clear trust in self), and generates better choices.

  3. Anthony A. says:

    Hi Christopher,

    I like Jessica’s post and agree with the principles of The Responsibility Process. Organizations and the whole world needs to imbibe them.

    It is a pity that the larger world including most organizations, nations, people and leaders still operate on a different mindset which is less productive and negative, mostly based on ego, popularity and misconceptions.

    Thanks for the clarifications!



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