This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

My client and I had a phone call the other day that started with considerable stress for us both and ended with a hearty laugh and a big lesson learned that I’m pretty sure can benefit us all.

The backstory: “Janeen” is a senior leader within a group with a reputation for being a tough and exacting customer. I had been on my toes for months, leading up to a pilot workshop that was potentially the start of a long and mutually profitable relationship. In the end, I thought the workshop went pretty well, and was cautiously optimistic about the upcoming debrief meeting with the design team, led by Janeen.

And then I got Janeen’s unexpected and unexplained calendar invitation for a “touch base,” just us two, to occur an hour before that team meeting.

“Uh oh,” I thought.

I spent the days leading up to this “touch base” imagining all the (bad) reasons she had asked for this special meeting. My repetitive internal monologues sparked a wide range of emotions—disappointment, frustration, sadness, and more—and each rumination session resulted in the only logical conclusion: the pilot was a flop and I was going to be fired.

On the day and time of the sentencing—err, I mean, the call—I took a deep breath and dialed her number. “It’ll be good to get this over with,” I thought to myself.

Janeen opened the call by expressing appreciation for the fine job I had done leading what was a challenging workshop. “She’s a nice person,” I concluded, “so of course she’s being gracious before wielding the hammer.”

Then Janeen went on to say she had gotten feedback—wait for it—about something she had done during the workshop, and was concerned about how that might have negatively impacted me. She wanted to be sure the air was clear between us before we joined the larger group.

You can imagine my relief, on the heels of my self-inflicted Worry Fest.

Janeen continued, sharing more about the feedback and her concerns. When it was my turn to talk, I said, “Janeen, three things: First, I thank you so much for checking in with me. Second, worry not, you did absolutely nothing from my perspective to negatively impact me. And lastly, I’m so relieved you didn’t fire me!” I elaborated on the last point, disclosing my neurotic obsession over her unanticipated request to talk.

Long story short, we had a great conversation and a really, really good laugh.

In the process, I got a great reminder about how important it is for us all to abort the self-imposed, self-oriented swirls when we find ourselves in them (and we all do, from time to time) by finding a way to say something when the swirling begins.

Now, it’s not like it didn’t occur to me to raise my concerns during the time leading up to the call, it’s just that I couldn’t figure out a way to do it that didn’t seem overly self-obsessed or whiny or wimpy, so I gave up. “Suck it up,” I kept telling myself, “You can handle whatever she has to tell you. Just deal with it on the call itself.”

In hindsight, humor would have helped me through my stuckness, which was precisely my lightbulb moment when Janeen and I busted out laughing about what had transpired. Ah, yes, my old friend, humor. For example, I might have sent an email in response to her invite saying, “Uh oh! Am I in trouble?!”

Janeen saw an opportunity for herself as well to have been clearer about her request. “Oh my goodness,” she said to me when I revealed my relief, “I should have let you know I wanted to touch base with you about something I did.” She was understandably so focused on her own supposed transgression that she didn’t think to do it.

It’s true, of course, that her heads up would have helped. It’s also true that all along I had all the power in the world available to reduce my own suffering.

Don’t we all.

Make It Real

This week, notice when you’re ruminating about something and experiment with what it might look and sound like to speak up about it instead.

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Read more about how it can help to get a kick out of your own insanity, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or do the worksheet called “Self-Knowledge is Power” in Chapter 10 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).