Don't Poke the Bear


In my youth, and early in my professional career, I was a real truth teller. I thought you needed to hear the truth and I was going to tell it to you. One day a colleague who came from a respectful business culture said to me, “You don’t need to poke a bear in the eye with a sharp stick to get its attention.”

Lean-in #6 of Grow Yourself, Don’t Poke the Bear, is all about saying what needs to be said with kindness and grace. Part of the reason I poked the bear was because I had no awareness that I was doing it or how to change it, but as I learned more and read more I was able to understand how to deliver messages without, “poking the bear.” There are a couple different parts to not poking the bear:

  • know the language you speak

  • ask questions

  • have a no retribution policy

  • complain to the right person

  • be courageous enough to circle back.

Know the language you speak

One of the most apt descriptions for the different languages we speak in life can be found in Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization. According to authors Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright, we speak one of five languages:

  • Stage One: Life sucks

  • Stage Two: My life sucks

  • Stage Three: I am great (and you’re not)

  • Stage Four: We’re great

  • Stage Five: Life is great

Stages One, Two, and Three, are where the bear poking happens. When we speak from Stages One, Two, and Three, we are stuck in a place where we are reacting to life’s events as opposed to creating our own lives.

Stage Four and Five is where the magic happens. We start to truly work with others and transcend our own worries and stories. To transcend to these stages you have to step into a community that can help you transcend to this level. My journey hear started with an epiphany about a bear and a stick. This book was very powerful and changed how I view the way I talk about life, and I highly recommend it to understand the languages you speak in the world.

Ask Questions

To change the language we speak, we need to start asking bigger and deeper questions. In Community: The Structure of Belonging, Peter Block says, “ questions are transformative and are the essential tools of engagement… if you want to change the context, find powerful questions.” Some of my favorite questions to generate new awareness are:

  • what am I pretending not to know?

  • what is the most important thing you and I should be talking about?

  • what topic are you hoping I won’t bring up?

  • what am I missing?

Asking great questions can drive you to consider new possibilities, and is an important part of understanding how to deliver messages with grace.

Have a no retribution policy

The saying goes, “don’t shoot the messenger,” but all too often we end up doing that. One way to solve this is by having a no retribution policy. The purpose of this policy is to create a safe space where you can share tough or upsetting news or updates and to allow for forgiveness.

If we fear retribution for sharing tough news, there is a good chance we will hide it and keep it from coming to the surface with others. The purpose of this policy to create a space where others feel comfortable expressing their true thoughts and feelings, so that it doesn’t become a bigger problem later on down the road.

Complain to the right person

We invest a great deal of time complaining to the wrong people. Oftentimes, when we are complaining, it isn’t really with any intention to solve any problems. Speaking a language of influence and peace involves having a meaningful conversation with the person you have the issue with. Oftentimes, the complaining can come from a violated value that we don’t want to hold someone else accountable for. To avoid creating more issues though, it is important to talk to the people who can actually do something about the issue.

Be courageous enough to circle back

We aren’t going to get it right everytime. There are going to be times where we end up poking the bear, but the important thing to remember is you can always have a second chance, you just have to be courageous enough to do it.

Circling back involves revisiting a previous conversation and asking for a do over, so you can get it right the second time. I have had plenty of practice in tough conversations, and I still mess up because emotions can run high. But the power of the circle back is that you can always circle back and make amends.

Once you have all of these down you will be ready to say what needs to be said with grace. If you do happen to poke the bear, the good news is you can always come back to the conversation a second time.

Your cape awaits!

Tomi Llama

P.S. Wow!!! You made it through Grow Yourself, I am so impressed. It took me a long time to get to this point, and I am still growing too. There are so many different ways to grow yourself beyond these things, but this is a great start to stepping into your superpowerful life! Now it’s time to Clear Yourself, to make sure that you address any blocks that might keep you from your highest success. Let’s get going together!

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