Accepting the Awkwardness: An Excerpt from Steffan's Book

Create space and cultivate an environment that inspires people to share their ideas and support ideas from others.

Steffan Surdek
March 11, 2024
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This blog post is an excerpt from my book, The Way of the Co-Creative Leader. Full of insights, knowledge and real-life stories from my years of organizational leadership coaching, the book is a deep dive into co-creative leadership and the five key skills it entails.

This excerpt is at the end of Chapter 7: Intro to Being a Voice Among Many, about how to value the contribution of others by creating space for them in group discussions. Here, I give a real-life example of how noticing your impact in conversations can bring your leadership to the next level.

Get your copy of the book, available for purchase on FriesenPress and

Accept the Awkwardness

I realize what I am asking of you here is both very easy to say and potentially hard to do in real life. You will find that it takes humility and courage to do some of these things.

When I started in the coaching world, I struggled to do a lot of these things myself. It took me a while to get comfortable with these ideas.

You may not find it easy to have your ideas challenged and need to measure the impact of your reactions. It might not be easy for you to invite your team to notice how they react to having their ideas challenged, as this would be asking them to be vulnerable with the group.

I often discuss these concepts with groups and teach them how to safely call each other out in meetings. You may feel uncomfortable doing this You may be afraid of the reaction of others. This is all part of the process.

With one of my clients, we used to have a half-day transformation meeting every week. People would take turns hosting the meeting, which helped everyone learn the challenges of running one. They saw it as a transformation meeting. I saw it as a safe playground for them to learn how to work together.

I wanted to try an experiment with the group without telling them. For two straight meetings, I would call out everything that I saw happening in the group dynamics during our session. My callouts sounded something like this:

"Andreah, how did what you just said contribute to the discussion?"

"John, what does it mean when you roll your eyes almost every time after Carla speaks?"

"Carla, you really look as though you have something you want to say right now."

"Fred, before you share more of your ideas, could you please tell me about the idea John just shared with the group?

It was a bit disruptive for them to say the least, but the idea was to help them see what I could see. These kinds of things were happening in their previous meetings. It was nothing new, but no one ever said anything.

In the meeting following those two sessions, I did the opposite. I said absolutely nothing unless I was answering a question. During the break, Carla came to see me and asked, "Did you see when Fred just trampled John's idea with his own?"

"Yes, I did."

"Why didn't you say anything, like last time?"

"I was just wondering about something similar. You saw it too, right? Why didn't you say anything?"

"Well... I thought you were going to call it out."

"It is funny you say that. I am pretty sure you would not have said anything. So, tell me, what is the real reason you did not say anything?"

"Hmm, good point." She laughed. "I guess I do not know how to do that, and I would be afraid of his reaction."

We spent some time during the break talking about it, and she then felt more comfortable with the idea of calling others out in a productive way.

Later in the same meeting, Fred happened to trample on someone else's idea once again. I looked at Carla, and she looked back to me and smiled.

"Carla, it feels like you may have something you want to say."

"Hmm... Fred... I am kind of uncomfortable telling you this right now, but it looks to me as though you just ignored an idea from someone to bring up your own."

"Thanks for telling me, Carla — I did not even notice. I sometimes get caught up in my thoughts and lose track of what was said. John, could you please repeat what you just said?"

The conversation kept going, and Carla was really happy that she had had the courage to step up. Fred went back to see her after the meeting and told her he really appreciated her comment and that he would work on this in the future.

Are there times that you are like Fred in a meeting? How would you react if someone gave you the kind of feedback Carla did in front of your team?

How you react in this context sets the bar for how it is acceptable for others to react. As a leader, all eyes are on you. Of course, there is a way to say these things—and people need the space to learn and practice how to do this.

Acknowledging the awkwardness means when these things happen with your team, you can talk openly about it.

It can also be about recognizing when the company or group culture is getting in the way. People may not always want to talk about the issues on their team for fear of judgment. People may not want to be vulnerable in any way because they fear they will look weak in front of their colleagues.

It can be a good thing to actually say things like, "Well, this is kind of weird right now but it is OK. How can we work through this in a constructive way?" or "This is part of the growing pains of learning to be a team. Let's keep going and help each other through this."

Acknowledging the awkwardness and calling things out to make them more explicit can help make a situation feel more normal. It can also inspire others in the group to try something new.

Are you ready to elevate your leadership to the next level?

If you're looking to transform your team's dynamics, enhance collaboration, or reduce conversational debt, I'm here to guide you. With over a decade of experience in leadership coaching, I've dedicated my career to helping executives and management teams unlock their full potential. My approach is centered around the concept of Co-Creative Leadership, focusing on fostering a culture of collaboration and action-oriented learning.

Contact me for a consultation, visit our Coaching page to learn more about my services, and check out my Speaking page to explore how I can inspire your audience with one of my talks.