Can You Get Better By Grace?

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The blood drained from my face.  I felt ashamed.

I thought she was texting.   I snarled, “Is that related to what we’re working on now?”   Michelle looked up.  Taken aback and off balance, she replied , “I’m taking notes on what you’re saying so I can remember later.  I didn’t want to take down the presentation I’m projecting to take notes.”   I apologized.

Michelle said, “It’s okay.”   “No, it’s not,” I replied.   I apologized again.   “It’s fine.”   Again, I said, “No, it’s not.”   I very intentionally made eye contact.   I apologized directly, “Michelle, I’m sorry.”  “It’s alright, really.  Let it go.  I probably should’ve said I was taking notes.”

Blameless post-mortems are meetings teams have after a failure of their product.  The key part is the blameless.  The logic is that we want to find out what really happened so we can keep it from happening again.  The entire meeting is supposed to be shrouded in grace.   The grace fosters trust by removing judgment.  The trust encourages honesty.  The honesty and good will held across the team helps the team to get better.  The feedback loop this creates leads the team to learn.  The more often we get graceful feedback, the faster we learn.  The faster we learn, the better the team and the product gets.

This is the type of stuff that my team does.  Here I am kicking myself in the ass, assuming my self-judgment will make be get better.

The words left my mouth before I realized it.   “I can’t let it go.   This is how I get better.”  The epiphany percolates.  This isn’t how I get better.  This is how I punish myself.

I get better by forgiving myself, letting the poison go, accepting grace.  There is no true self improvement without grace.  Judgment only leads us to stretch ourselves to external standards of others to avoid pain.   Whether we succeed or fail, the judgment based system hurts.

In one day, I have not undone decades of learned behaviors (or the neural pathways that produce them).  There’s a road to travel from epiphany to reality.  Hopefully, I found a path that could save many of the pains of a lifetime.

Can you get better by grace?

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