Freddy Marschall on Unsplash

I have a confession to make: for more than the first half of my life, I saw yes or no as the only choices in life. I couldn’t see the value of other opinions because I was so busy trying to sort everything into only the two piles I could understand – right or wrong. My attitude blinded me to the interesting and worthwhile facets of any given opinion, project or event. I was openly judgmental and jumped to conclusions without proper consideration. I don’t think I was a jerk (most of the time), but I know I hurt some people and a lot of teams along the way with my all-or-nothing attitude. Then I became the victim of that kind of thinking. In a situation full of nuances, I was accused of being on the side of wrongdoing, injustice and unfair dealings. None of it was true, but I was devastated by the accusations, no matter how incorrect and unjust they were. My own view of life and way of thinking had been turned against me. Right then I began to teach myself to see more sides of every story. To dig deeper, check my gut reactions, slow down, and notice how the people around me were acting and reacting. I decided to learn new skills intentionally, to become a person who would ask careful questions, take a breath, think before speaking, and quit judging everybody. I’m digging deep into my soul to admit this to you because I want you to know that if I could do it, anyone can learn to see more sides of any story. Is it easy? No! It is actually difficult and time-consuming. There is no roadmap and no quick fix. It takes a lot of soul-searching and painfully coming to terms with yourself when you notice bad patterns and habits. Here’s the good news: the only thing you need to make this kind of change, to become somebody new, is a commitment to act on it. Your age, financial situation, education, and professional choices don’t matter one bit to this commitment. There are countless resources for learning new skills and behaviors (for a few suggestions of books to help you get started, see my post, “What Teams Should be Reading in 2018”). But nothing – not a personal mission statement, not a poster on your wall, not a declaration on your social media page – can take the place of a true commitment to taking action. I built Facilitator on Fire to help every person on a team have a voice – without judging one another. My clients agree that when I am facilitating a workshop or putting together a new project, I work extremely hard to create a safe environment where every person can and will speak up. I genuinely want to hear the thoughts of the teams I work with and I want to help them learn to listen. One of my greatest joys is helping team members hear one another clearly, and respond with compassion and understanding. I am not perfect now, no matter how much I have worked to become a better person over the years. Never in a million years would I claim to be and I don’t care to try. I still mess up. But I am so much more aware of, sensitive to, and appreciative of the different opinions and experiences of every person around me. I have dedicated my life to helping others find their voices. Through this, I have found my happiness and life’s work.

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  1. Teresa Trost

    Thank you Kay for your heartfelt (I know) story. I know from experience that you facilitate a team project with care and compassion around making sure that each voice is heard, and that it is truly a safe place. I credit you with leading our team to launch such a successful project that I truly believe will make a difference in how our community’s needs are better met by having our nonprofits better prepared to offer their programs and services.

    • Kay Coughlin

      Thank you, Teresa, I can’t tell you how much your comment means to me. Working with you has been one of the highlights of my career. You have a great gift in your ability to build talented and dedicated teams. Here’s to many more years of collaborating together!

  2. Gary Monti

    Most definitely agree that one of life’s joys is helping others see and hear each other…maybe for the first time.

    • Kay Coughlin

      Gary, I know this is one of the reasons you get up in the morning, too. I’m so grateful to have met you this year!

  3. Nancy McKinney

    Thank you for this post, Kay. Our new mantra is “assume good intentions.” It can be challenging because we are all working with reduced resources and more work, but it is the right philosophy to take into every conversation and it does require that you slow down and listen.