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The gift of discomfort

Posted in the following categories: Life Lessons, Personal Development

For much of my life, I viewed comfort as a gift and discomfort as a burden.

Consider an interaction I had a few years ago with someone I’ll call “Mike.”

I had hired Mike to help me on a project. After just two weeks of working with him, it was clear the partnership wasn’t going well. His work product was subpar, and his objectives didn’t align with mine.

Instead of honestly sharing what I thought, I bit my tongue. Instead of telling him his draft wasn’t good enough, I told him it was a “good start.” Instead of making sure his vision of the project was aligned with mine, I praised him when he hit the metrics that he thought were important (but were irrelevant to me).

In so doing, I spared him short-term discomfort. But I also lulled him into believing that he could continue business as usual. When I decided to finally end our partnership, it totally blindsided him.

Yes, my honest feedback would have been uncomfortable for both of us.

But it also would have been a gift for both of us. It would have given Mike the opportunity to improve for his next client. And by sharing what wasn’t working for me, I’d honor my own vision for the project.

This doesn’t mean causing people discomfort for the sake of it. It doesn’t mean acting like a jerk and humiliating people. But it does mean sharing how you really feel from a place of care and generosity—even when holding back seems like the “nice” thing to do.

This is often why people ghost. It’s easier to ignore that text than to cause discomfort by having a difficult conversation.

This is often why people don’t share dissenting views at work. It’s easier to say what others want to hear instead of muddying the waters with honest feedback.

This is often why many personal relationships grow sour. A friend doesn’t share what she really feels about constantly being on the receiving end of long, rambling monologues. A partner doesn’t share how he really feels about his partner’s avoidant behavior. The relationship eventually disintegrates because no one is willing to step into discomfort, as an act of love, to help the other person grow.

In each case, we perform this delicate dance, tiptoeing around the problem—treating it like the third rail, never to be touched—and assuming that the other person will eventually come to their senses on their own.

Here’s the thing: There’s no way for others to know how you feel unless you share it with them. And there’s no way for someone to see what they’re missing unless you show it to them.

By withholding generous feedback, you’re keeping the other person safely in their comfort zone. But if they remain there, they’ll keep doing what they did yesterday.

Looking back on my life, my most important moments of growth happened when someone shared inconvenient truths with me. And even though I felt uncomfortable, the short-term pain was followed by long-term gratitude to the person who decided to share feedback intended to improve my life and work.

So the next time you’re tempted to withhold generous feedback to avoid making someone uncomfortable, remember: Discomfort, from a place of care, is one of the biggest gifts you can give.

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