In a former life, as part of my writing business, I would occasionally submit work to a client and hear nothing for days, even weeks. On one occasion, I called my contact and asked about the status. "Oh, everything’s fine," he replied. "When you don’t hear from us, assume that the project’s done." Once I knew that, I was comfortable with the relationship. But what if I had never asked? The silence would have left me with gnawing questions. Were they delighted with the work, or was it merely "good enough"? Could I count on them for future business? Were there flaws in my writing—flaws I would never see without their input—that prevented me from developing in my ability to deliver to their needs?
The questions would have nibbled at me, sapping my energy, until I couldn’t do my best work.
I thought of this episode while reading Judith and Fred’s Be BIG: Step Up, Step Out, Be Bold. One line in particular jumped out at me: "You don’t have to Be BIG alone."
That comes as a welcome relief—and a challenge.
Stepping up with no input, day after day after day, is trying to Be BIG alone. And it is fraught with peril. Not only is it an emotionally vulnerable position—an unsafe place—but you never know whether your work has value, aligns with your organization’s mission, or even crosses a line that should never be crossed. Like me with my client, no one can do their best work with these questions on their mind.
For us to Be BIG, then, we must be able to trust that the input will come. If we know that people will speak up in response to what we do—alerting us when we veer off course, giving us guidance to increase the value of our work, linking our output to organizational goals—we can pursue our best work with confidence and energy. Even if the input consists of silence, as with my client, we can accept it and move forward once we understand the nature of that silence.
That’s the welcome relief. Here’s the challenge: Being BIG also calls us to express our need for input. Just as I couldn’t read the mind of my client to get his reaction to the work, he also couldn’t read my mind to know that I needed input. To paraphrase Be BIG, “If I want to Be BIG…I will tell you what I need.” By asking my client the question, I discovered the meaning of his silence and therefore could move forward free of concern for the future of the relationship.
Part of a strong working partnership is the ability to ask for and receive input. The more we can ask—the more we can trust that the input will be there when we need it, in whatever form—the more we can shake off the limits to showing up fully and doing our best work.