by Achim Nowak

Talk About It. Period.

January 10, 2021

Had a coaching call last Wednesday afternoon. 3 pm ET. 10 minutes before the call I heard about the invasion of the Capitol by a mob of insurrectionists.

Are you aware of what’s going on? I ask Marcia, my client.

You mean the reaction to the Georgia election? Marcia asks.

No, I say. There is an invasion of the Capitol going on right now.

Marcia clicks on one of her news apps. Oh my God, she says.

This reminds me of the morning of 9/11, I continue. I was in the middle of a coaching call when my client said to me ‘I have the tv on. Are you aware of what just happened at the World Trade Center? We stopped our call.’ And I propose the following:

We don’t need to have our conversation right now, Marcia, I volunteer. People may be trying to reach you. They may want to speak with you. We can reschedule if that would be more helpful.

We agree to keep our eyes on messages that might be coming in and hold our conversation as planned. Marcia tells me the very moving story of how she experienced the morning of 9/11. We end up having a rich, deep, substantive exploration of the stuff we’re working on in our coaching work.

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away"

Philip K. Dick

This will be a historic week in the United States. Most of us will conduct business at work – but there will be no such thing as business as usual. We will be stirred, roused, angered, excited, exhausted, outraged, relieved by what is transpiring in our political world. We will be tempted to follow the news. Text friends. We will not be able to neatly compartmentalize. Don’t try.

Circumstances call on us to show up as fully integrated humans.

When the invasion of the Capitol happened, Diane, the Corporate Counsel of a large global manufacturing enterprise, tells me at the end of last week, I told my team to stop and watch television and pay attention to what was going on. I knew we were witnessing history, and I wanted them to see it.

Integration. That’s a little of what it looks like. Instead of avoiding reality, walk into it. Instead of suppressing it, accept it. Welcome it (which is wholly separate from liking it). Integrate it. It’s happening, after all.

Here are a few guidelines about what integration at work, moment by moment, might look like this week:


Don’t resist reality.

When the towers tumble, when a government is under siege, when the forest is on fire, don’t look away. It’s futile. Avoidance takes more effort than facing what is going on. Give yourself a break. Look it in the eyes.

You will have feelings. Own them.

Being an integrated human means I don’t avoid my feelings. I allow them to bubble up. I don’t stuff them. Don’t judge them. Don’t “save them for later” when I’m not at work. I pay attention to myself. Feel the feelings and drop the story, American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron and author of the classic “When Things Fall Apart” suggests. This is a very fine week to follow that motto.

Talk with others. Be real.

If you have a 1-1 conversation with a colleague, acknowledge how you’re impacted by what’s going on in the outside world. I feel exhausted. I feel very frustrated. I feel hopeful. I feel distracted. Whatever it is, claim it. And yes, drop the story. When you claim it, you give me permission to claim it, too. In case of doubt, ask me: How are you affected by everything that is going on? If you’re the leader of a team, pose this question to the entire group. Open the space.

Why claim it? It’s a cliché but oh so true. When we have permission to speak, we begin to move through. When the world beyond our walls is in disarray, talk. Move through. You will feel better. Your colleagues will feel better. And you will actually get some work done.

Don’t fret about discussing politics at work.

Disregard the old dictum about not talking politics at work. It’s based on a fear of things getting messy and uncomfortable. Guess what – the world IS messy right now. I don’t propose you adjudicate at work whether it should be the 25th amendment, impeachment, a resignation or just riding things out until the 20th of January. That’s likely not the conversation anyone wants to have.

Consider this, instead: I held one of my Mastermind meetings last Friday. This is a highly verbal group of individuals. I had a hunch we needed to delve into what we had experienced this week. We probably don’t want to have a political debate right now, I said to the group, but please feel free to tell us how you have been impacted by events this week. A frame, but not an overly tight one. We had an illuminating chat in which a wide-ranging set of experiences was shared.

Trust that your team members will self-regulate. Trust that should it get a little messy, you all can handle messy.

"You do make me feel uncomfortable and lonesome, Strider!" Sam said.  

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The outside world is wildly uncomfortable right now. No need to feel lonesome at work to boot, is there?

Talk. Please talk. I feel immense relief when I don’t have to “act perfect” while the world is a mess.

Relief when I don’t have to pretend that this stuff doesn’t affect me.

Relief when I can acknowledge that I’m just a bit distracted.

Relief when I can tell you that I worry about the future of our country.

Relief when I am allowed to speak and nobody tries to silence me.

Relief. Plain, wonderful relief.

When I fell relieved, work is one of the most healing things I can do.

What a gift.

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