Several years ago, I wrote a book called “Handling Critical Moments with Grace”. When you think about how a person handles important moments, think of their choices as elegant, beautiful, supple, agile, smooth, flowing, etc. Unfortunately, because developing Grace takes practice, few of our most intense moments end gracefully.
To define critical moment for this article, think of your reaction to everything that is happening as a potential critical moment. If you are having an intense emotional reaction to an event, circumstance, or events, you can personally define it as a critical moment for you. Groups of people can also have critical moments.
If we think about the year 2020 as a series of critical moments that have affected many of us at an emotional level, we can then ask ourselves how we are doing as cultures, countries, societies or humans in handling a time that seems filled with critical moments? In the United States, we have George Floyd, the pandemic, the elections of 2020, and the aftermath of those elections, “peaceful protests”, financial uncertainty and other related events that are shaking our realities.
There are consistencies to great (graceful) responses that deserve our consideration for our individual and collective reactions to intense times.
The BEST responses to critical moments always have three overlapping components. Those three fundamentals are Trust, Confidence, and Clarity. Think of a Venn diagram where each of those is represented as a circle and the ONLY time the reaction to the critical moment can be considered graceful is when all three are present. Only when all three fundamentals overlap do you achieve the optimal outcomes.
Determining the meanings of those three fundamentals and their antecedents is particularly important to creating consistently powerful outcomes.
Clarity is reflected by a person or group who have diligently done their homework. The antecedent is CURIOSITY. There is no clarity without curiosity. Blindly following others, no matter how intelligent they profess themselves to be, is never graceful. Be careful who you follow and do your homework. The higher the stakes, the more embarrassed you will be when things go south if you have relied on the wrong people. Include the word RESPECT in your journey for clarity. When you treat others as if they are unintelligent because you disagree, it is likely that you are heading for a fall.
Confidence is that quality that a person or group has when they know who they are and exactly why they are taking a stand. The antecedent for Confidence is Flexibility. People who are flexible and willing to listen and explore, will more than likely be perceived by others as Confident. Interestingly, those who express arrogance or rigidity will often see themselves as smarter or superior to others. They generally do not realize that others often perceive them as insecure.
The third ingredient in the mix of creating Grace as an outcome is Trust. This offers an interesting dilemma for most of us because we automatically assume Trust means an assessment of a person or group’s character and whether we feel that we can trust that person or group. That is definitely part of it.
How do we determine who to trust? And how do we determine whether those we put our faith in continue to deserve our trust? The real strength exhibited in a person who masters Trust is Detachment. The ability to detach from an outcome and stay objective allows a person the flexibility and curiosity to make the BEST decisions in tough circumstances.
Remember that all three fundamentals must be present for a powerful, graceful response. Clarity demands that if we are going to trust someone to lead us through a critical moment, we do an ongoing analysis of their worthiness. If they are not exhibiting all three characteristics of Grace (confidence, clarity, and trust), we should probably be cautious of our own response to them. They may be messing with our ability to avoid falling on our collective butts. If the stakes are high, stay open to changing your mind about who and what to trust. That means, be prepared to shift your assessments, as necessary.
It is also important to add another dimension to Trust. Being confident enough to determine clarity about who you trust is the starting place. The next evolution of trust is to detach from any one outcome being bad or good, and instead, if you are not in control, trust that what is happening is exactly perfect. It may be that reality is not ready for what you see so clearly. Others may need to catch up.
Remember, Grace only happens when all three fundamentals are present simultaneously. As you react to any situation, if Clarity (achieved through intense curiosity) is missing, the flexibility you exhibit might represent weakness, rather than Confidence.
Without Clarity, going along and being flexible is not real strength. Grace takes strength and conditioning and without listening and reading and watching things that express other points of view, you are simply not powerful. You might be surprised by what you learn when you abandon your arrogance. If you learn that others are not worthy of Trust, find a Trust in something greater than fragile humans and keep moving. That might be Science, Logic, God, etc, but try to get out of your own head.
You’ve done your homework to attain Clarity (you did not blindly follow someone else but expressed curiosity until you were satisfied that you had arrived at a truth), and you’ve been Confident enough to entertain other points of view than your own, and now you have to find a kind of Trust that indicates a comfort level even when events are not within your control.
As an executive coach, I have watched many graceful and ungraceful reactions to critical moments. We may be in one of the most critical moments of the history of our country as I write this. I find little Grace in our responses to these most intense times. People react without checking the facts, they throw solutions at complex problems without listening to other points of view, and they are determined to win as opposed to finding Trust in solutions that meet more needs than their own. Often, they put their Trust in people who do not deserve it and mistrust those who do. We have too much to lose to keep going without an intervention.
The most important thing we can do now is to hold ourselves accountable to curiosity, flexibility, and detachment. Without those ingredients, we increase the probability of awkward or damaging responses, individually and collectively.
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