BY MARYBETH GRONEK
I need to process in solitude.
Please remain on the line and a representative will be with you shortly.
I’ve come to treasure the comfy respite that is my own mind. It’s familiar. It’s welcome. It has equilibrium & alignment. It’s home. ❤
When a question of significance comes my way, it’s the equivalent of a knock at the door. The question can come from any source: a boss, a colleague, a friend, a significant other. If the question exceeds the banality threshold and requires any modicum of processing, I am reticent to open wide the door and let you in. I will most likely tell you I need to think about it and get back to you.
At which point I politely close the door and ‘take it back to the team’ so to speak. I must engage my mind and think through your question deeply. The main point, though, is that I won’t be answering you right away and I don’t know when I will be able to. I must consult the many characters that live within the house for alignment. Once that happens I will get back to you.
At the risk of belaboring this point, I’ll give them names.
Ben is the first responder. Any new information hits him first. He’s tasked with maintaining the status quo and, thus, when presented with anything novel that would disrupt current processes or plans (which is often), he’s vehemently dissatisfied. He raises his voice, melts down, throws things. It’s all very… Real Housewives. As in most conversations, the loudest person goes first. 😉
Tina is the operations manager. Once Ben has gotten everything out of his system, Tina begins to ask how can I make this work? Her main job is to make the person at the front door satisfied in a way that also keeps the lights on. So she will take the question, internalize it, and think of solutions and paths forward. She will float these ideas past the rest of the household. Lots of back and forth is needed to make everyone comfortable with the approach (especially Ben).
David is the communications director. Once a course of action/answer is decided upon, David steps in to position it just right. His job is to anticipate the sentiment & response of the porch dweller and craft his message in such a way to assuage concerns and mitigate swirl.
Once alignment is achieved, I happily return to the door and inform my colleague/boss/friend/partner of the answer (using David’s household-endorsed script, of course).
I’ve been doing this forever. Excluding other people from my internal processing & presenting them only the final response. Not because I dislike them. On the contrary, as a measure of respect. I return with my complete, robust analysis — a neatly-wrapped gift with a gigantic bow that I happily place at their feet. Giddy from a job well done; my glee exceeded only by my reverence. I have spared them the messy burden of meeting Ben and Tina and David. Instead I present a spokesperson. It’s all so… efficient.
Lately, though, I’ve been wondering: at what cost?
Pragmatically speaking, this ‘please remain on the line and a representative will be with you shortly’ approach has two main problems.
There’s something more, though. Something that can’t be quantified.
I return to my original question.
My modus operandi is efficient, but at what cost?
Lately, I’ve been asking myself questions like — what does it mean to let someone *dwell* with me in my life? Not just “share space” with me, but actually let their presence impact that space. To give them agency in my life. I don’t just want bodies inhabiting my geosphere; I want souls interfacing with my existence.
I want to “let people in” in the deepest sense of the word — giving them sight-line into my thoughts and emotions and letting them inform those thoughts and emotions. Otherwise “relationships” are just a fancy moniker for dress-up. I have constructed this beautiful answer for you and all you get to do is choose what sweater it wears. That seems…uneven. I’m doing all the work and you’re just a reactive spectator.
We were made for community. We were made for depth. We were made for the messy back and forth with each other.
We were made for more than dress-up.
I’ve been leaning into this conviction. More and more every day, I’m challenging myself in this space. Here are some examples.
I’m working on the craziest project at work right now with an aggressive timeline in one hand and expectation of excellence in the other. I lead a team in designing operational processes amidst a solution landscape that keeps changing. As soon as I tackle one problem, five more problems surface. I’m being tapped for thought leadership at such a rapid pace that I don’t have the luxury of retreating to my mental bunker and emerging with a PR-approved response. What I mean to say is — my colleagues are now meeting Ben, Tina, and David. They are seeing it all. And I hope they respect me more for it.
My boyfriend and I just hit our 8-month anniversary (all the lifers out there collectively awwwwed). I’m learning what it means to process things with him. To let him see Ben first. And respond to Ben. I’ve found that when that happens, the “operational” conversation with Tina goes much more smoothly. And we arrive upon better outcomes together. Sometimes, we don’t even need to pass things by David. ❤
And my appetite for this way of processing increases more and more each day. It was extremely uncomfortable at first (and still is). Embarrassing even, as I expose parts of myself that haven’t seen the light of day; the oxygen-deprived weaklings struggling to stand on their own two feet. I can do nothing but absorb the humanity of it all. Even so, I’m starting to sink in to this glorious feeling that for the first time in my life I am actually ‘letting people in.’
I used to think “letting people in” meant ensuring no room of my house was ‘hidden’ from them (aka no secrets). What I’m telling you today is that that concept is great, but elementary. What good is knowing all the rooms if you are not acquainted with the people inside? The people who have so artfully decorated the rooms that provide you so much refreshment and comfort?
Here’s a more mature understanding of ‘letting people in’: it’s about providing others sight-line into our cognitive processes and giving them the immense privilege of influencing the outcome.
I’ve found that when I do let people see and inform my thinking, we achieve a better result together (and usually get there quicker!). And later on, upon settling into my mind at the end of a long day, its a different sort of retreat. Not like I’m hiding or scrambling for an answer. Rather, a celebratory retreat, like I’m sharing a beer with some dear friends who just achieved something worthwhile.
I’m not saying that from now until eternity I’ll let people in as soon as they knock. I pick and choose my entry-points. And sometimes my introvert persona insists on having its own way. And I yield. That’s more than okay. My message here does not deal in absolutes.
But I will say this. Today, and yesterday, and the day before that — I let the porch dweller in. And we’re both better off because of it.
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