“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
These are the opening lines in M. Scott Peck’s book “The Road Less Traveled.”
Dr. Peck essentially spends the rest of his book explaining that:
“The attempt to avoid legitimate suffering lies at the root of all emotional illness.”
How many teams have you worked with a team that seems to exhibit emotional illness? No one ever quite speaks the whole truth. Taboo topics never seem to come out in the open except in those moments of complete frustration when someone just can’t take it anymore. No decisions seem to get made or if they do they certainly don’t seem to stick. One voice is always (or seems to think) they are the smartest voice in the room. Another is so conflict averse that even the hint of disagreement will be taken “off line” to be fixed behind closed doors.
These are all signs of emotional illness and they are just as real in teams (maybe more so) than in individuals. Note that Dr. Peck identifies the root cause as the attempt to avoid legitimate suffering. Pay attention to the word attempt. The effort really never does avoid the pain and suffering, it just attempts to avoid it. And in fact by doing so it actually makes things worse because the suffering is never dealt with openly or cleanly and simply leads to more misunderstanding, conflict and hurt feelings. The attempt to avoid the suffering simply causes more and deeper suffering.
Also note that he describes it as legitimate suffering. As the opening sentence of his book says, “Life is difficult.” Life is difficult. People are difficult. Teams are difficult. Organizations are difficult. The market place is difficult. Customers and clients are difficult.
Yes, it’s all difficult. Decisions are going to result in suffering. It’s a dilemma. It means a choice between equally unfavorable alternatives. You’ve heard of being on the ‘horns of a dilemma.’ It refers to the two horns on a bull. Both unfavorable alternatives. You must choose one horn or the other but you’re going to get gored either way. Life is difficult. Most tough corporate and team decisions are dilemma’s. Either alternative is equally unfavorable but you have to choose one and you’re going to get gored either way.
Trying to avoid the legitimate suffering from facing dilemma’s simply leads to emotional illness. Don’t avoid it, face it, be open about it and deal with it. Then take your medicine. You and your team will be much healthier.