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  • Writer's pictureStephen

Lean In to Learn

Sometimes it feels like different situations arise in my life that don't appear to be related, but they come together in a way that they remind me of deeper realities. That happened this past week.


First, I attended a conference over the weekend that was studying the dynamics of group relations in real time. Because it was an experiential conference, I was both a witness and a participant in a few very difficult conversations that had diverse outcomes. Second, this week we collectively honored and remembered the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was clearly a man that was willing to have difficult conversations with lots of different outcomes.

While you may think I want to reflect on difficult conversations, what I am actually interested in is the key ingredient to the way the various outcomes of those conversations unfolded. In each of those examples, it seems like the outcome is directly impacted by the posture of the participants. Specifically, we lean in to learn, or we lean out to avoid.

I will illustrate with a conversation I had at my conference. At one point I was both a witness and a participant in pointing out to a fellow attendee that their behavior was assuming a significant amount of authority to act and speak on behalf of others when they hadn't really asked for permission to do so. When this individual was confronted with their behavior, rather than lean in with some curiosity and vulnerability, they leaned out, and in fact, withdrew themselves from the situation. They avoided any attempt to learn about themselves, and instead just avoided any kind of growth opportunity. They doubled down on being right and everyone else not understanding them. However, I also had some difficult conversations with people where everyone was leaning in, which resulted in some really powerful learning and growth!

I think we can see very similar reactions to difficult conversations MLKJr attempted to have in our world. If people were willing to lean in and learn, change was possible. But many people weren't willing to do that, and eventually he was killed because people wanted to totally avoid it!

How and where might this apply to our lives? Are there difficult conversations we need to have with family members or colleagues? Are others engaging us in difficult conversations? If so, what kind of a posture are we going to adopt? Will we lean in with the possibility of learning and growth, recognizing that it will be hard but worth it? Or will we lean out and take the easier road of just avoiding the struggle altogether?

I hope that in the days to come we will all continue to lean in and discover the possibilities for learning and growth that might be present for us!


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