There’s No Crying in Football

I had a really hard week.

I gave an executive presentation to the top leaders of an organization and they had critical feedback.

These executives became emotionally charged as the powerful members stated their positions, often cutting other’s views, and sidetracking my well-rehearsed presentation to express their voice of dissent. The content, although engaging, included presenting new ideas that did not sit well with some in the group.

I was “alpha’ed” at work. I left the experience feeling defeated, emotionally bludgeoned with a bruised ego.

This is NOT the first time I have gotten “my voice in the room” and the others in the room did not LOVE me!! And not the last, I am sure!!

I am an expert at change management – and I know better – what shows up as “resistance” in people is truly their brain working to figure out what they need to adopt that is different from the present.  I gave them something brand NEW. They reacted as they were processing how this “new” was going to fit in their changing work. It is the basis of my work in Emotional Intelligence – learning to listen and understand what is going on inside your own head and how to best communicate that – but sometimes what we are truly feeling gets all mixed up inside…and resistance happens without us realizing why.

And when we are in the state of resistance, our relationship navigation skills can go out of the window. These executives were not in collaboration mode – they were out for blood!!

And for the presenter who aspires to have high emotional resiliency – I want to be open to feedback, but any feedback, even for the good of the work, can sting. OUCH!!!

I am often asked in my career to come into organizations to create change, and then met with resistance that is less about me and my work and more about the brain’s ability to change course during uncertainty. In the change management world, you really want this to happen!! We call this Resistance Management, which often feels to the Change Target like the Borg Assimilation – “resistance is futile”.

Where I can take this personally is in the deep emotional psyche of just wanting to be LOVED. Don’t we all have this basic need to be loved and to belong?

Part of emotional intelligence is to really understand this basic need to feel connected, nurtured, and to belong into our herds – being rejected, shunned, and even unintentionally diminished, can have such an impact on our emotional health. I logically knew this is “just business” but my heart hurt. I could not feel the love.

After that presentation, I texted my male business colleague who asked me how it went and explained that it felt like I just played football and got tackled and had to somehow figure out how to get back onto the field the next day. I texted “please don’t make me come back.”

I remember Tom Hanks screaming at his team player in A League of Their Own there’s no crying in baseball.”

I felt a tinge of shame, as this feedback about my work was not met with glowing accolades like the female baseball character that was breaking down and crying after missing the ball in the 9th inning.

However, baseball is a much gentler sport than football. I have no idea how men make careers out of physically tackling one another to win a game. That career must really hurt.

As a kid, my older brother once taught me how to clothesline the opponent in touch football. Football was my favorite sport as a kid; I was pretty fast and could take a hit and get right back up. I had a boss who once called me a Weeble – you know, they wobble but they don’t fall down. I would get pummeled all over the organization and I came back every day for more, but eager to be better, faster.

My personal motto was always “success is the best revenge when it hurts.” I am a glutton for punishment, perhaps. I learned how to be scrappy, particularly with senior leaders who were better able to “blitz” a play. I just kept swimming as Dory advised in Finding Nemo and I used my anger and frustration to propel me forward. Emotional intelligence is the ability to notice and name your inner experience AND tolerate uncomfortable feelings in order to achieve your goals.

The great thing about playing sports as a kid is the emotional intelligence skill you learn when you LOSE. Neuroscientists now believe that the same part of the brain that governs physical pain, also governs emotional pain. Which is why the football analogy felt so real that day. Losing actually hurts the brain.

The emotional intelligence lesson is that when I get emotionally hurt, it is because deep down I want to be loved, when it’s not business, it’s personal. And the strategy of knowing this – is to persevere even through the pain.

My male peer texted back to me – “ya, when you get hurt, just rub some dirt on it, and get back in the game….” Rub some dirt on it!!– that really stuck with me.

That is like “suck it up, man-up, take one for the team, grow-some”…or the female phrase “if it’s too hot for you, get out of the kitchen.”

My father used to say at our weekly family dinner and Euchre card game tournaments “go big, or stay home” as his Ace would trump my powerful King. That saying alone is such a good metaphor for moving through fear.  I learned in childhood to just get out there even it if hurts!  I remember saying to my parents when I was teenager packing up my 1980 firebird to move across the country alone “you gotta do something, to do something.”

That experience was literally my going big and not staying home.

These self-regulating sayings are all great organizational sports metaphors we coach one another around that try to keep us in the game without bruising our egos.

So I got hurt!!! I am trying to teach women (and men) not to take these things personally!!

And so I did. The next day, I went back to my team’s “end-zone” to lick my emotional wounds, and used the football tackle experience for a great lesson to be MORE emotionally intelligent, and integrate difficult feedback. My team felt bad for me, but they got to see me bounce back like a Weeble.

We did use their feedback in the prototype we designed and it did make it better. My team was actually MORE excited about the innovative changes and emotionally fueled-forward in our consumer-centered design.

And I used the experience to increase my own emotional intelligence, even though on the inside it felt like I really blew it fumbling the ball for my team.

We can all play the game without crying. With a little spit, a little grit, a rub of dirt, we can get back on the field to win another day.

Tracey Adams

Tracey has been teaching emotional intelligence within corporations and academia for over thirteen years. The evolution of her own personal work has sharpened her purpose of guiding other powerful women on the journey of self-discovery, personal power, and well being.

Partnering with the Well-Being experts at Gallup – this curriculum is transformational both in content and design. Her doctorate research (also in partnership with Gallup) explored the correlations of emotional intelligence and leader effectiveness. Tracey can be found in Portland, Oregon where she is raising two amazing teenagers, and facilitates emotional intelligence retreats for women and corporate teams.