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Squelched Ideas
Diana Robinson, Ph.D.

Sometimes we feel as if others are in opposition to us when in fact, though they might never admit it, they feel threatened by us. This can lead to a great deal of misunderstanding and bad feeling.

One of the paradoxes of life is that, even though most people know that what they feel inside may be quite different from the persona that they project outwardly to others, they yet believe that most of the personas that other project are in fact genuine. Because of this, we fail to see the weakness, the uncertainty and insecurities that are hidden inside other people. Hence, we do not take them into account, and we are bewildered when they lash out in apparent fury (actually fueled by fear) at something we have done or said.

I was reminded of this recently in correspondence with a client who is rapidly growing into his power. He is having brilliant ideas that could eventually transform his field, but the reaction of some of his more senior colleagues is less than welcoming, and not always logical. He was bewildered that the rather negative reception his ideas had received.

There is another story, in very different context, that probably springs from a similar source. A young woman who had sought always to please her parents yet found it impossible to gain praise from them. Over the years she told them of one achievement after another, with little or no acknowledgment. Then, in the midst of an argument that had, perhaps, stripped away some defenses, her mother burst out angrily, "Why do you always make me feel so inferior?" The woman was stunned as she realized the ongoing misunderstanding. She had seen her mother as the powerful one, as had been the case when she was much younger. So she sought praise by depositing her triumphs at her mother's feet. The mother, seeing her daughter grow in ways that she had never been able to, saw herself in comparison not as powerful but as lacking, and every achievement of the daughter drove that point home more intensely.

In the case of my client, I would suspect that those senior colleagues who react negatively to his ideas may be similarly threatened.

Such things happen to most of us in one way or another. When they do, it is important to remember that change agents are often perceived as threatening. Of late, business literature gives huge lip-service to the need for change agents, to the need for encouraging and developing them. Yet they are still frequently brushed aside, not because their ideas for change are necessarily bad ideas, but because their ideas are threatening to the status quo of people more senior to them. Because folks in the upper echelon are seen as more senior, and therefore powerful, it does not occur to others that they may still be insecure, but such may be the case.

There follows from this, as my client and I discussed, the need to be aware of the impact on others of a new idea, or a new achievement. Perhaps, in fact, it is not exactly a need, but if you are to attain maximum cooperation and support, it is certainly a very good idea. How can you buffer your presentation so that it does not come over as a threat, or as something that will make the other person feel inadequate?

Similarly, if YOU are the one responding to a new idea that might, perhaps, require major changes in the way you operate, can you step back from that initial surge of insecurity and look at the idea objectively? Can you get outside your own personal realm and form an opinion, and a reaction, based on its overall merits, separate from its immediate impact on you?

This is not to say that all new ideas are good... some are just plain hare-brained. Nor is it to say that all criticism of new ideas is based on someone's insecurities. The point is not that we need indiscriminate acceptance (both of ideas and of the criticism of others), but that, whichever side we may be on, we keep in mind the fact that, in one way or another, insecurities are a part of all of us. They may be involved in our reactions, or in the reactions of others.

Awareness sheds light on dark corners and finds insight in the midst of confusion.

Copyright Diana Robinson, Ph.D. 2001
Choices Success Strategies Coaching