Dancing with a Bear

Stepping on Toes

The giant man rose to his feet displaying his 6’8”, 400-pound frame, reached for his coat as if ready to walk out, and asked me “Do you want to know what I think of that?” We had already danced around the room quite a bit, so I bit. “Yeah,” I said. “That’s good, that’s real good. You’re good,” he replied, and then he sat back down and settled in for the rest of the class. It wasn’t exactly music to my ears, but it was close.

As a trainer I had just allowed myself to travel too far down the path, dancing with this bear of a man about his issue with his boss. On several occasions the boss told him, “You are a big guy; that can be intimidating.” But what could he do about it? “I am big,” he told me, “I can’t change that. Do I have to act like a sissy? Why should I have to change? Do you expect me to change?”

Leading the Dance

“Yes, I do expect you to change.” I exclaimed, looking right into his eyes. Then I looked around the room to the other participants. “Yes! Yes, I expect all of you to change. That is why I am here. I am a trainer. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t expect you to change. I am offering you better ways of working and relating with people in your life. You don’t have to adopt them: that is your choice. But if you want better outcomes, then I suggest you consider trying them.” And when I said that, the dance was over. My bear, and the other participants, sat back and listened more intently and ready to learn. The dance was over and our work had finally begun in earnest.

The Magic of the Moment

My words weren’t magic. I certainly didn’t intimidate the man. I didn’t say anything that he, and the others, didn’t already know at some level. So what changed? I believe that it was the simple respect of talking straight and offering choice. He expected me to dance with him, somehow avoiding any intimation that he should change. That would somehow invade his “right to be me.” He challenged me to be truthful. He wouldn’t respect cowardice, nor tolerate an absurd denial that people must change. I spoke an obvious truth, which earned his respect and his ear. If only more people would make this choice.

The Teddy Bear

After the class, the dancing bear talked with me for awhile about his dilemma. He “got real,” and we talked through different conversations he could have with his boss about the real issue. He was a great guy—a teddy bear really (which I pretty much knew all along – despite his pretense). We parted friends, and I look forward to working with this bear of a man again.


4 thoughts on “Dancing with a Bear

  1. Jonathan Geard-Beney

    What a great story, thanks. We often hear the expression ‘authentic’ and it seems that that is what worked here.

    It also reminded me of a memorable moment in my past: delivering a Performance Management workshop to introduce the new company scheme (which I fully believed in, would work). A Regional Director and therefore key influence amongst the other delegates who were predominantly retail managers, spoke right at the start, saying he thought all such systems of PM were a waste of time (not his words) and he couldn’t see why the company (my client) were wasting all their time on it. A Bear in the room!

    I decided not to confront this and let the day run as it was designed to and let him take or leave it. At the end of the day, he once again stood (oh no I was thinking…) and he said: “This day has proved me wrong and I am going back into the business with renewed energy to ensure we do this system justice”. Once again he weilded great power over the room and I was left feeling much good would come from it. Free speech and the truth will out, or perhaps in echo of the lead story, sometimes it is best to let the bear dance alone. We make choices in the moment and tell the story of what we learn.

  2. Wink West

    Yes, I agree Mike, we all should look for ways to always change. When we think change is not necessary in life, we determine we are not willing to grow.

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