When Passion gets in the Way
It happened again. My passion for vision-driven-living ended a conversation and squashed an opportunity to connect and engage.
There were six of us sitting around the table at lunch. I said to the person opposite me, “If I asked you to pour your life into mine, what I would become?” They asked for clarification. So I said, “If you mentored me where would you take me?”
By the time my lunch partner finished talking, the entire table was quietly listening. Upon concluding, he looked across the table and extended the appropriate social courtesy by turning the question in my direction.
Opportunities to describe the energizing power and guiding value of vision-driven-living get me rolling.
I began well enough. However, before long, I was drawing imaginary targets and vigorously tracing invisible lines on the table. I unintentionally steam rolled my table mate and fellow eaves droppers with my passion.
Upon concluding my soliloquy we began eating silence for dessert. What could they say? My passion silenced them. Gradually, people turned to each other and started side conversations. Awkward! Worse, I missed an opportunity to connect and perhaps influence.
Bold passion works in large public gatherings, quiet confidence at lunch.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written on this topic. I wrote, “The Power of Calm” and “Creating Passion with Managed Emotion.” However, it’s one thing to know, it’s another to execute.
Pushing away or drawing in
I know you want positive influence with others. Relationship opens the door to influence. Furthermore, the closer the relationship the greater the potential influence.
While in relational contexts, one-sided passion may overwhelm and push people away. Quiet calm draws them in.
Leadership success, frequently, is based on stopping ineffective behaviors not developing new ones. I need to stop overwhelming small groups and individuals with my passion.
What other leader-behaviors hinder relationship building in one-on-ones and with small groups?
I know exactly what you mean. I’ve silenced a dinner table before. Oooops. It is really awkward. I didn’t realize what I was doing. I was too over the top. Time to tone it down a little bit in a small group.
Thanks, misery loves company! Shhhhh 🙂
I LOVE the question you asked Dan and it’s interesting to hear the path it took. I don’t think that question would always have the same result and it may empassion the speaker in some way.(Just a thought)
However, what it raises is the possibility that anything that could be construed as self centered on the leader’s part may have that effect. So to answer your question to-day, I think overtalking in any forum doesn’t serve the leader well, not asking questions or inquiring about what the individual/group has to say i.e. What is an idea you’d like to share?, challenging by asking something that starts with , ‘If you were leader (what would you change? etc.)…?’
As always, a stimulating blog.
Wonderful comment. I love a good question and your lead in, “If you were leader…” is great. I’ll be using that one.
Thanks for adding value,
Ouch. I know that’s uncomfortable – I’ve been there too! Here are some steps that I try to keep in mind when interacting in introductory small group social or business settings so my passion does not get in the way of my purpose.
1. Know your setting and context. Lunches or other social settings are for relationship and rapport building – not deep discussion or power closing. The goal of a social setting is to get to the more private focused discussion LATER.
2. In social settings, follow the formula of (group – 10%) If there are 4 people at the table, then mentally set aside 25% of conversation time for each person, then cut yours back by 10%. Use your time to ask questions or add valuable comments to the words of others. Make your points succinctly and engage others in the conversation. If they want to hear more they will ask.
3. Choose your questions carefully. Not everyone is comfortable in group discussions. Watch for verbal or non- verbal clues. Respect them.
By focusing on rapport and relationship building in that early discussion, you are much more likely to get invited to the one-on-one focused discussion you want in the future.
I love your 2nd point Joan. It is a simple exercise, and yet I imagine most people don’t do it. I know I have been in situations where one person monopolized the conversation. It can sometimes get awkward, and usually breaks the table dynamic resulting in side conversations.
Thanks Bobby. This is a personal point I always have to keep in mind or else the person monopolizing the conversation is ME!
I would argue that bold passion can have a place at lunch as well. That it’s not the size of the gathering, but the context and focus. Since more than one source was engaged in contribution, the outward passion expressed between the two should probably be balanced. Otherwise it’s easy for some to wonder if their contribution was valuable after all, before or after the fact.
I do agree that passion can give confidence a bum rap and should be measured. As I’ve mentioned before, “I’d rather calm down a geyser than have to jump-start a mud hole.” Passion is important, but once you have it, it’s all about the brush stroke.
Nicely put Julie, i really enjoy the ‘artistic eye’ you bring with your comments generally. Richard
Thanks Dan for sharing this story; did you read your post yesterday!?
I many of your readers will have fallen into this trap. I certainly do. The ungainly joy though is coming out of it and going – oh sh…Too much passion can become boorish, but give me a room full of passion over a room full of bores any day. Still i am surprised a little especially when your blog gives you a leading tenet: reaching higher in 300 words or less (written, or spoken, or gesticulated! Love your work. Richard
I just write this stuff, I don’t live it! 😉
Thanks for a creative comment. I’m with you, passion trumps boring every time!
Love the word “gesticulated.”
Yes you have to be careful how you spell that one!
In times past I have often made this mistake. Being a “type a” personality we easily can arouse our passion and without intention lose sight of the more important values. Recovery comes with a quick note of “forgive me” and allowing others to keep us accountable. With the right response, this is also a great opportunity to connect in a stronger way and show our willingness to be transparent. Great post!
Wonderful advise. Nothing like an apology to RE-open an opportunity for positive influence. Nice.
Wow, this is an interesting concept that I had never considered before (which probably means I’m guilty of doing it). Thanks for the insight.
I particularly like the sentence: “it’s one thing to know, it’s another to execute” – in my experience, this is one of the things that holds leaders back more than anything else. They think they know (and often do know) a lot about being a leader…trouble is, they don’t consistently DO it.
Oh Yeah… it’s funny knowing something in the head somehow translates into doing even when we aren’t…. 🙂
I’m thankful you joined the conversation.
One dynamic I find occurring when I am being uber-passionate about something (and I have a long list) is that I get a bit lost when a person asks a reasonable question (example – American Cancer Society Relay for Life – question “How much of the money goes directly to support patients currently fighting cancer?”). I tend to just want them to be as excited as I am – and some people need a bit of reason/evidence mixed in with the excitement in order to share your enthusiasm.
Takeaway? Be prepared to leaven your passion with reason.
Great post about a dynamic that many of us undoubtedly struggle with.
YOu left us an amazing insight. Those with passion already have their reasons. Those in the pre-passion stage need some reasons.
Best to you,
Paula is a featured contributor on Leadership Freak. Read her bio at: http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/paula-kiger
I think sometimes with a small group a passionate person or any leader will sometimes forget to read the audience. When working with a larger group or presentation setting many leaders will watch the audience for clues that the audience is not following or in agreement. I think those same skills are valuable in a small group as well but sometimes we don’t have our audience radar on and we miss clues that would allow us to slow down and bring our audience with us.
Exactly! In my own case, the message and the passion can cause me to look right through people. I just assume it all makes sense…they should just agree.
Thanks for adding value.
It’s been a while!
As a person whose natural style is “extraverting”, I understand. I work hard at disciplining myself to do more “introverting” in situations like you described. More than once I’ve “hosed people down with” my passion and exuberance. However, tightly closing the “release valve” on these qualities is not an option, for these qualities are a big part of who I am. They help define my unique ‘leader brand’ – my essence – my gift – my spirit. I think the same can be said of you.
So the question is: Do you water your garden with a fire hose or a sprinkler? 🙂
This weekend I rekindled my passion for learning about the massive paradigm shift taking place as a result of advances in “the new science” by revisiting Danah Zohar’s work, “Rewiring the Corporate Brain: Using the New Science to Rethink How we Structure and Lead Organizations”. The Newtonian to Quantum shift is huge, and, I believe, is directly related to your blog post. “Vision- driven-living” requires ‘quantum thinking and ways of BEING’ which is very threatening to those who take comfort in ‘Newtonian thinking and ways of DOING’ (e.g. your lunch guests).
I hope I haven’t “hosed down” your readers with my passion. If so, too bad! I’m just being me. 🙂
I agree that connectivity enhances relationship in a group. At the same time, one sided passion may be ineffective sometimes. So, what is connectivity. My take on this is connectivity is alignment of people, purpose, sentiments, interests, goals and feelings ect. It means mis alignment derails everythings. One sided passion is nothing but mis alignment of source and target. The other leadership behaviours that hinder relationship building is mis alignment of behaviours and expression. Here the focus is more on non verbal communication. Many a times, our body langugage and our behavours conflict. So, our expression, attitude and behaviour should be aligned to enhance relationship and connectivity.
To make passion more connect, one should either sensitize the audience with his passion or sense the passion of audience. In either case, one can establish connection. So, it is the sensivity, sensibility and maturity that align your passion with the passiona and purpose of target.
Dan, and others, thanks for your contributions on this topic. I was wincing right along with you, Dan, as I recalled similar situations. They all became lessons. Being myself, being engaged, being enthusiastic always has its place…BUT…when they are perceived as “I have THE right answer” then all of what you/we’ve had happen occurs and communication bridges don’t occur.
Over the years I have learned how to engage in these settings more effectively, but it’s no guarantee that just around the corner, when I am least prepared, I won’t behave in a less effective way.
One of my better teachers has been finding people who are more contemplative and quiet by nature. In observing HOW they share their enthusiasm I have gained some great insight in how to participate and invite participation when topics that stoke me show up. One guide for me is don’t always be the first to open my mouth.
In general, more questions, less answers works well for me in my coaching profession and when I’m out with friends or other gatherings.
Yes, that is one thing that you begin to notice when you really pay attention to how you communicate. You start to get half way into a conversation and realise you shouldn’t be there…
I believe it’s a matter of finding the right equilibrium between expressing passion on a topic and encouraging feedback on that. It’s not that common to overwhelm people with your passion, though.
Whether you’re passionate or not doesn’t have any bearing on communication skills!
It can be helpful to think of ‘communication’ as the EFFECT that your words and actions have upon your audience. Your thoughts, intentions, actions and words themselves are not what you should focus on – instead, have the sensory acuity to see how your words and actions impact the others around you.
Google is a world leader because they are awesome at understanding their customers’ experience. ‘User experience’ has become a big buzzword lately, but it’s just the natural extension, in this interactive world, of an older idea – understanding your audience!
Passion can be great or it can squelch as you noted above. Two concrete steps people-skills to making sure it’s the former not the latter:
Use your passion to focus the moment on others instead of yourself. In your story, some at the table may have mis-construed your question to be a quest to focus on yourself vs. focus on vision driven living. Alternative question: If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be? Once the discussion got underway, then you might ask “Where do you think my life should go?”
Make the topic fun. Take the same suggestion above and introduce it as a fun game: “Let’s play crystal ball. What do you see in my future?”
A sense of giving and lighthearted fun can temper the negative side of passion.