Living With Grace: Don't Poke the Bear


In my youth, and early in my professional career, I thought of myself as a real truth teller. As in, I knew the truth and you needed to hear it.

One day, after a particularly harsh truth-telling session, a colleague 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.” Talk about a wake-up call! My truth-telling was not only not having the intended effect, but it was often getting others mad and damaging relationships in the process!

From that point on, I became focused on how to live and communicate with others in ways that didn’t poke the bear. The answer that I eventually came to was living with grace.

Living with grace means seeing the divine in others and treating them that way. It means honoring their presence and who they are, even if you may not necessarily agree with them or they go about their business.

As I continued to grow into best myself, I discovered there are a few keys to living and speaking with grace. The road to living with grace is a long one, but here are a few first steps to get you on your way.

living with grace- know the language you speak

1. Know the language you speak

Part of the reason I poked the bear was because I had no awareness that I was doing it or how to change it. I didn’t know the language I was speaking.

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.

Stages Four and Five are where the magic happens and where we can truly live with grace. Here we start to actually see and work with others and transcend our own worries and stories. Reaching these stages can come from stepping into a community that helps you reach this level, but it can also be reached by continually focusing on your own personal development efforts. My own journey started with an epiphany about a bear and a stick.


2. Ask Bigger 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 here?

Part of the reason we poke the bear sometimes is because we aren’t willing to face the truths of ourselves or the moment. Asking great questions can drive you to consider new possibilities and is an important part of living with grace.

3. Have a no retribution policy

The saying goes, “don’t shoot the messenger,” but all too often we end up doing that. Living with grace involves honoring both the message - and the messenger - even if we don’t like what they have to say.

One way to solve this is by having a no retribution policy. The purpose of this policy is to create a space where you or others can share tough or upsetting news without the fear of retribution.

If we fear 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. It can certainly be a challenge to hold this safe space, but living with grace requires it!

Find the right person to engage with, you never know what could happen!

Find the right person to engage with, you never know what could happen!

4. Engage with 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.

Living with grace and speaking a language of influence and peace involves having a meaningful conversation with the person or people you are having the issue with.

Oftentimes, the complaining can come from a violated value that we don’t want to hold someone else accountable for. This just creates more drama though, and living with grace means talking to the people who we actually have issue with, not stirring up more problems.

walk with grace

5. Be courageous enough to circle back

We aren’t going to get it right every time. 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 take advantage of it.

Living with grace means we know its okay to mess up, because we know it happens to everyone, but it also means we know that we should circle back when we do. 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 living with grace is that you can always circle back and make amends.

Living with grace is a challenge, but your life and your relationships will be much more fulfilling when you don’t poke the bear along the way.

Your cape awaits!

Tomi Llama

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