Interpersonal EDGE: Discomfort is Birthplace of Success
Tuesday, February 1, 2011



By Dr. Daneen Skube

Tribune Media Services
Q. I've had a career for 20 years and believed it would get easier the longer I worked. Instead, I find the work is easier and the people issues harder. How can I stop wasting time feeling so uncomfortable and frustrated by people at work?
A. You can stop "wasting time" when you are uncomfortable and start using your discomfort to increase your efficiency, power and influence on the job.
Most of us have many emotional places where we react automatically without being able to see our most powerful behavioral option. One of my clients used to get angry and pout every time he felt mad. Another client used to get angry and blow up every time he was upset. A third client used to get angry and withdraw every time he was frustrated.
Not all of these reactions are always ineffective, but they certainly fall short when we can't consider whether pouting, blowing up or withdrawing give us the best chance of getting the outcome we prefer.
The reason many of us go on automatic is that we don't want to feel any discomfort. Any of my readers that work out at a gym know the old adage, "No pain, no gain!" The same wisdom applies to the workplace.
No sensible sports coach would suggest you purposely physically hurt yourself, but all coaches would make it clear you will have to feel some pain to get stronger, more flexible and healthier.
I do not suggest my clients purposely seek out emotional pain so they can gain strength, but I can guarantee my clients that situations will find them that are guaranteed to bring up emotional pain. The question is not, Can we avoid pain? The right question is, Can we use it to make ourselves fitter, stronger and more effective?
The longer we've been in our careers, the easier the technical part becomes and the more noticeable our difficulties with people become. The good news is that every day you go to work, you have a chance to start over with new tools to use your discomfort rather than just suffer.
Start by keeping a "Discomfort Journal." Every time you become aware that you are uncomfortable, write down what happened and how you reacted. At the end of each week examine your habitual reactions to different emotions. What do you always do when you are sad, mad or scared?
Now go through the situations again and consider what you might have said or done if you tolerated that feeling, identified the outcome you wanted, and reacted in a way that got you what you wanted.
When we feel uncomfortable, we will often do and say whatever we hope will make that awkward feeling go away! In our rush to run away from our discomfort, we do and say things that sabotage making money, having influence, getting promotions and being given opportunities. We move so quickly away from our feelings that we don't even realize we are being our own worst enemies.
Next time an uncomfortable moment opens up at work, take a deep breath, lean into the discomfort, and start reaping the rewards of working with your emotions, not against them.

Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. You can contact Dr. Skube at or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies. 

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