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Presence, Feedback, and Vulnerability: Lessons from LIT

When I started Chewse, I was a classic people-pleaser. I had been trained young to read the room and walk on eggshells to ensure other people would feel good. Often at my expense.

This carried over into my leadership. I would spend hours preparing negative feedback for someone. And when it came time to deliver it, I would blunt it so much that it barely came off as feedback. Because I was scared of hurting their feelings.

Which led to more than a few people being surprised when I fired them.

I spent a decade working on better feedback, and I found an unexpected program that advanced me lightyears. And it’s actively recruiting for the next cohort.  

I joined Leaders in Tech (LIT) in the first cohort almost 7 years ago. It was one of the few spaces where I was allowed to be my whole self in my leadership role. Where I didn’t have to leave my personal life at the door in order to portray a good model of leadership.

This aligned deeply with the culture at Chewse, where we valued the whole human at work. But LIT pushed me deeper into my own culture by deepening my ability to be vulnerable.

Levels of Vulnerability

One of the lessons that’s stuck with me was the levels of vulnerability. The first level is sharing how you feel about your external environment (which is why most conversations start with the weather). There’s a middle level around sharing how you feel about someone else. The highest echelon of vulnerability is sharing how you feel about the person you’re talking to.

No wonder feedback is so difficult! Proper feedback isn’t management training, it’s vulnerability training. 

How do you move past the edginess of sharing real feelings with someone in real time? How do you handle your own fears of vulnerability with their reactions — which are directly intertwined? 

This vulnerability doesn’t just apply to sharing constructive feedback. Positive feedback is also edgy. Have you ever cringed while receiving a compliment? Or felt a little embarrassed to truly tell someone how incredible they are? 

There is something that emerges in the space between people when authentic feelings are tapped into, and then truthful thoughts and words flow. I find truth to be a self-perpetuating cycle. But for those of us who struggle with access to our truth in the face of another person’s disappointment or hostility, kicking off this truth cycle feels near impossible. Here’s how we get to the heart of it. 

The Here and Now Practice

The fabulous Carole Robin is the mastermind behind the LIT curriculum. She’s notorious in Stanford circles for teaching the “Touchy Feely” class, but I remember her as the warm, energetic, and edgy facilitator of our LIT retreat. 

I’ve discussed Extreme Presencing before, and it’s profoundly inspired by the practice of “Here and Now.” In the facilitated LIT groups, one of the guidelines is to focus discussions on what is coming up here and now

It’s so much less vulnerable to talk about what’s happening outside the room. A fight with one of your executives. The annoying investor who has feedback on your homepage. That competitor breathing down your neck. 

The heart of authenticity is sharing what’s here inside the room. What’s coming up in this moment as a result of those situations.

I love playing with Here & Now approaches in my coaching. I allow founders to find healthy distance in relaying a story of what’s happening, and then I invite them nearer to the heart of the experience as it’s unfolding now. Which means to sit with emotions and body sensations that we would otherwise overlook in order to attack our problem with our Big Brain.

I’m not undermining our brain’s ability to cognitively address problems. Far from it. Sitting in the Here and Now does better justice to the hard things not just by attacking them with logic, but also softening into them with new scopes of information that include physical sensations and emotions. 

How do you get Here and Now?

✅Get aware with the question: “What’s here?” 

All truth cycles begin with self awareness. It could be as subtle as awareness that you aren’t being truthful, or that truth is cloudy. Awareness that there isn’t clarity (yet). Identifying the absence of truth is in itself a truth, and that’s the first domino to stand up. 

✅“What’s your reaction to what’s here?”

Feel into what comes up when you acknowledge the absence of truth or whatever is here. Usually, we have a painful reaction. It could be as complex as shame or as low-hanging as frustration. It could be as deep as helplessness. 

✅ “What’s alive now?”

This question is a reaction to the reaction, but you ask it in a different way. Because as you get more truthful, you also feel more alive. 

As you start to dance with your reactions in the contained Here and Now, you start to unfold the dodecahedron one panel at a time. It starts to lift the complex emotions and thoughts about a situation as you emerge towards a juicy center. 

I find that in a coaching session, there’s usually an aha moment once we get close to it. Usually someone’s voice starts to take on animation, their body takes on life, and there’s almost an audible sigh of relief as we unpack it: the truth. 

*This can be a partnered practice or a solo one, though I do find the partnered one easier. A solo practice could include self dialogue through journal or out loud. 

LIT taught me how to practice Here and Now with other founders. Intelligent, heartfelt, ambitious leaders they handpicked into a community that I’m still close with. People who have seen me in moments of deep truth, people who I’ve shared such candid truth with, who didn’t reject me. 

The program kicks off with a 4-day retreat, and I elected to continue with the 10-month program to deepen the methods and continue the practice (which I highly recommend).

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