This article was initialy published on Forbes.com
Over the last five or six years, I played hockey in different garage leagues, usually very late at night. Hockey is a very fast-paced sport, and even if we were “just playing for fun,” there were nights when players behaved recklessly, causing frustration to ramp up and making the game less fun. I often wondered what the difference was between a good clean game and a really rough night.
The same can be said about the business world. I’m sure we could all agree that we’ve occasionally had meetings that looked a lot like those rough hockey games (minus slashing others with hockey sticks, of course). In those meetings, have you ever noticed how some people talk and argue their points to death while nobody seems to be listening? Some participants show up with a hidden agenda while others arrive wearing a “Teflon vest” so that no responsibilities will stick to them.
It’s time to become more aware of the baggage that we carry in our lives to help us generate something more productive for ourselves.
What Kind Of Baggage Do We Carry?
When I think back to my hockey experiences, my observation is that what players brought into the game usually reflected how they played their game. If they arrived tired and frustrated from their work week, odds were high they’d be more aggressive and less patient with others during the game. You could even say that the game we played together reflected the collective baggage that twenty of us players brought into the game.
But let’s bring this back to business meetings for a moment. Take a moment and think about the last difficult meeting you were a part of. Ask yourself the following questions and write down your answers:
- What baggage did you bring into that meeting?
- What assumptions or beliefs did you bring about each person who attended the meeting?
- Which non-negotiable ideas or beliefs did you have at the start of the meeting?
- Did you show up to the meeting open to new ideas or closed to changing your initial position?
- Did you have a different objective than other participants in the meeting?
Now take a moment and reflect on your answers. What was the impact of your baggage on the meeting overall? Did you contribute to making the meeting difficult? What could you have done differently?
The Impact Of Your Baggage On Your Leadership
We spoke about meetings, but what about your leadership? How does the baggage that you carry impact how you lead your team?
When you are having conversations with someone:
- What assumptions are you making about them or their reactions in certain situations?
- What is the impact of these assumptions in how you treat them?
- Do they feel you are truly listening to them?
- Are your assumptions on their abilities affecting your ability to listen to them and consider their opinions?
When you present a new idea to your team, is it so well thought out that there is no space for others to contribute and improve your idea? When trying to resolve a difficult situation, is your impatience or your frustration with the situation closing the door to them to tell you something you may not want to hear?
Developing a strong sense of awareness about ourselves in the moment allows us to see when our baggage kicks in and consciously choose a different way of doing things. As leaders, we must take responsibility for our impact on the people who surround us. Notice when you’re not leaving space for someone or when you’re shutting them down. Take responsibility for what is happening by calling yourself out on your behaviour in that moment, then doing something different.
An easy exercise that can help you with this is spreading some Post-It notes around your office or around your home with the word “Notice” written on them. Every time you look at one of them, take a moment to reflect on the baggage you brought to your most recent conversation. Write down what you notice and see what patterns emerge for you.
The Impact Of Your Baggage Outside Of Work
We also carry a lot of baggage in our everyday lives.
- What is the impact of your work day on the time you spend with your kids when you get back home?
- Are you happy to see them or are you angry at them because of something that happened during the day?
- What baggage lies behind your impatience with a friend or a loved one that is asking you for help?
- What baggage do you carry that may be preventing you from asking others for help?
Noticing your baggage is very easy; it starts by bringing more attention to the things you say and the things you do in everyday life. Have clear intentions in your mind on why you are doing what you are doing. For example, my daughter loves to come chat with me in the morning. Though she can be quite chatty at times, recognizing that she is looking for a connection with me makes it easier to push away what I am doing to take the time listen to her. Share and enjoy those moments.
When you become aware of how your baggage is affecting your words or your actions, a first step can be to simply laugh about it and apologize for your behaviour to the person you are speaking to. Make yourself vulnerable to others and you may find that it creates a very different kind of space that will allow you to consciously make a new set of choices. When I realize that I am not listening to my daughter very attentively, I let her know by telling her about it and maybe even asking for time to finish something so I can be more present for her.
What baggage is most present in your life? What impact is it having on your motivation, your happiness, your behaviours or your actions? What could be different in your life if you found a way to put some of this baggage away?