Taming the Inner Mule

The other night I was reminded how stubborn I can be at times. Yep. Really.

I was watching the evening news with my husband and he asked me to change the channel so he could watch the national, rather than the provincial, news.  I said, “This is the National News”.

He said, “No it isn’t. Lloyd Robertson is on the national news and I prefer listening to him over the other guy on channel three”

I said, “ Well, this is Lloyd Robertson’s program.

He said, “ No it isn’t but if you think so, you must be right”

Suffice it to say, after a  few more seconds of an “It is so! It is not!” kind of exchange, I discovered I was wrong, but not before I had dug in my heels and clung to my view of things until it sounded somewhat reminiscent of this:

Of course our “discussion” was not quite as strident as the one portrayed, but the point is, I believed I was right and clung to that belief as if it were a baby cub and I, a mother lion.  Luckily, this kind of intractability does not happen in our house too often, but when it does, everything seems to shut down until we discover where the error in thinking lies. And, until a correction, and an apology, is made.

Stubbornness is an insidious thing.  It can creep up on you and before you know it there is an enormous barrier between you and another person, or you and a bunch of other persons.  In leadership, it is also a destructive thing that closes the door on creativity and serves to frustrate and exclude people whose potential contribution is often ignored or discounted.

Let’s face it; we all like to be right.  If it were possible, we would all like to be right all of the time…but it’s not.

So, what to do?   Well, a good place to start is by looking in the mirror.  All of us are stubborn at some time or another.  It’s not that rare.  But, here’s the thing.  If we are leaders of people we cannot afford to luxuriate in the illusion that we are always right.  Getting married to our own ideas to the exclusion of others is an appalling waste of everyone’s time and talent.  And really,  failing to tame the inner mule comes with the high cost of lost opportunity and damaged relationships, which could be more than we are willing to pay.

So on those occasions when we notice ourselves digging in for a session of  “Yes, it is. No it’s not” Let’s do three things.  Stop…even if it is in mid-sentence.  Step Back…create some space in the dialogue long enough to take a breath. And Listen…focus on really understanding what is being said and pretend, for a moment that the other person actually might know what s/he is talking about.

By doing things as simple as that, our chances of discovering a plethora of useful and creative perspectives that will serve the collective purpose will be that much greater.

What do you think?  When was the last time you dug in your heels and started braying? What was the result? How can leaders keep their inner mules from getting in their way?



Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Self Knowledge, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Taming the Inner Mule

  1. Gwyn – loved this post! I defy anyone to say they haven’t been there. I just re-visited Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Effective Families today and there is something in there for all of us! Timely.

  2. Gwyn Teatro

    Thanks, Dorothy. Sometimes it’s fun, and healthy, to catch yourself doing something that really irritates you when you find it in others…kind of a levelling experience. 🙂

  3. Gwyn,
    I know I keep repeating myself, but another great post…I mean it, and don’t try to change my mind. Period.

    What’s the difference between being s stubborn mule of a leader, and standing up for what you think is right? Would you commend President Obama for the concessions he made to Republicans on the Bush-era tax reductions to get the extension of unemployment benefits, and other tax relief to businesses; or should he have been more stubborn (As the NY Times and liberal Democrats suggest)?

  4. Gwyn Teatro

    Hi Larry, As usual you have come up with a very interesting question.
    Having thought about it a bit, I think there is a very fine line between being stubborn and being determined/standing your ground. But, I think there *is* a line. To me, stubbornness includes a refusal to listen, despite good arguments…being so stuck in our own view of things that we dismiss, out of hand, thoughts or ideas that, given a chance, would have potential to change that view.
    Standing our ground is more about maintaining focus on something that is greater than our own selfish egoistic or narrow viewpoints. It’s about keeping our eye on a goal, usually one that most people are generally aligned with but one that creates discomfort because of the change it will take for them to get there. Those are times when leaders often have to stand alone in order to be of service. It may look like stubbornness but, to me, it looks more like a leader who is working toward fulfilling a commitment made.
    Thanks for coming by. It’s always a pleasure to see you here.

  5. Gwyn, you asked when was the last time I was stubborn? My rolling answer would be “About 5 minutes ago”. Ask my husband. Ask my kids. Wow. Thanks for the great question and the reminder that we’re all on this journey to recognizing our inner mule and becoming better leaders.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Mary Jo, Your comment made me smile. It’s somehow comforting to know that mules exist in even the most gracious of people. Thank you for owning up. Perhaps you and I should find a “mules anonymous” meeting somewhere. In the meantime just noticing when it raises it long ears is a good thing don’t you think?

  6. Stubborn? Me?
    Some years ago, before walking down the Bright Angel Trail into the Grand Canyon our guide told us, “If you encounter a mule move to the outside of the trail, because the mule won’t. I made up my mind at that moment. If the mule wouldn’t walk on the outside, I certainly wasn’t about to.
    What caused me to dig my heels in? Fear.
    Next time I mule up, I’ll wonder what I’m so afraid of. Is being wrong like falling off a cliff?

    Thanks Gwyn for a fresh perspective on the one I see in the mirror.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Anne, I have to say that in an encounter with a mule on a very narrow ledge, I too would stand my ground, or find a way to climb over the mule if only to stay close to the wall.
      And, you have a point. Fear will indeed incite the mule. It makes me think of what happens when we experience change. The denial and resistance that is a part of that process definitely carries with it a certain familiar and fearful braying sound.
      For me, this time at least, it was more about assumption than fear. I assumed I was right because my husband tells me I usually am. I just wanted to hang on to the title 🙂
      Thank you for adding to the post in your usual delightful way.

  7. I enjoyed this post, Gwyn, even though I am not ready to own up to being as stubborn as a mule. I won’t. I just won’t. You can’t make me. 🙂

    I see this played out every day in the life of my preschooler. She often refuses to do simple things like put on her shoes unless she can do them her way and in her time. Fighting with her doesn’t help. It just makes it worse. Sometimes, the best thing to do is give her time and space to realize how counterproductive her insistence is. I wonder how that would work with grown-ups. I might have to try it!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Becky, I’m thinking that the difference between your little girl and a grown up is that your pre-schooler is in the process of finding her independence while the grown up is “digging in” for a whole raft of other reasons. Either way, it can be frustrating. I agree that sometimes, in either instance, the best thing to do is to walk away. A person can get pretty bored arguing with him/herself. And the positive reward for being stubborn is, in my experience anyway, pretty insignificant.
      If you decide to try it. Let me know. I’d love to know how it played out for you.
      Thanks so much for coming by and sharing your story 🙂

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