I once heard someone say that one describing themselves as a "people person" is akin to a goose saying that they are a "geese goose". LOL! Ever since, I can't read the phrase without smirking. Every time I get a mental image of a bunch of geese squabbling amongst themselves... Despite my business existing solely for the service of (and hence to work closely with) people, it might seem strange to hear that I don't identify with that term at all. I get irritated by people like the rest and the best of us. If you're someone who also knows exactly where your irritation zone is when it comes to the behaviour and attitudes of others, then please, read on friend. We're gonna work some magic on that energy suck. When I was working in Big4 consulting back in the day, one of the development programmes we went through required taking a personality assessment. The tool used measured something called "versatility", which referred to one's ability to observe the preferences of another and adapt behaviour to make them feel comfortable. To my surprise (looking back, I'm not sure why), I ranked as high as one could rank on the versatility scale. Meaning, I'm really versatile. A lover of high-scores and achieving excellence, the facilitator quickly burst my bubble when they told me this is something I should consider addressing (i.e. it was not a "good" score).
Okay so maybe it was slightly less dramatic... What this insight drew my attention to was that even though it can be useful to be versatile and adapt to others sometimes, this quality can also express itself in a not-so-good way. Actually, at the time I was working about 80 hours in a "standard" week and I was busy racing around trying to make sure I was everything to everyone. Being who others needed me to be. And whacking on a smile for good measure. Especially in my professional life. The ones who missed out on this quality were my nearest and dearest, because they would still love me if I let my "stuff" hang out in front of them. So, unfortunately they got the worst of me and copped my resentment-filled outbursts whenever things got too much. *breathes deeply* I take no joy in telling you this. But I wanted to, because there is nothing like real life to make sense of a theoretical model, and today I'm sharing model that can be helpful for you in making sense of your pitfalls and irritation zones. There are many schools of thought where you will find support for the idea that every coin has two sides; every weakness a strength, every shadow a light side, and so on. Look to religion, psychology, philosophy or physics - you'll find it. A model I have been referring a number of clients to lately which I find extraordinarily useful to map this relationship in a clear, understandable and actionable way is the Core Quadrant model. It was created by Dutchman Daniel Ofman, published in his 1992 book and now embraced around the world as a tool for personal and leadership development. It's special in that it captures both personal and relational aspects in a succinct way. It looks like this:
Adapted from materials created by Okkernoot Beheer BV t/as Core Quality International
We all possess (core) qualities that, when expressed in a healthy way, are beneficial for ourselves and others. However, when this quality is over-expressed, it can become a pitfall. Ofman's model suggests that to remedy this condition of "too much of a good thing", we need to find our challenge and work on developing that too. The challenge might be thought of as the positive opposite of a core quality. Now, if that challenge quality is over-expressed, it generally manifests as the thing that sits in your irritation zone, or your allergy as Ofman calls it. This provides a natural resistance to learning the thing that can be most helpful to us. If you're someone who is very determined, an over-expression of this could be pushiness. The quality of patience might be an appropriate one to cultivate to counter-balance this. But too much patience and one might become passive. Generally a determined person will NOT have much patience for passivity! With that in mind, what is someone getting in our irritation zone if not a signpost that perhaps we're not putting enough energy into working on our challenge so that we can create a healthy expression of our core quality? Let's come back to my story of getting knocked off my versatility pedestal and taking a reality check on my own qualities and pitfalls... Here's one way I've considered mapping the territory:
Too much versatility became a state of disorderliness, or incongruence even. This feeling of being out of control, or not anchored to something that felt like it was truly me, was a contributing factor to my inability to hold it together in private. I was not connected to my own centre, because my focus was excessively making sure others were getting what they wanted/needed (side note: this is a relational coping strategy that could be the single focus of an entire book). The opposite of this, the challenge that I had an opportunity to develop, could be described as coherence. It speaks to being an integrated whole. As I reflect back over the years on the personal work I have done to get to know myself better, to understand my values, my needs, my preferences as well as boundaries (all core/Self work), this seems most fitting. But what if this quality goes too far? Hello pig-headedness. Obstinance, excessive conviction toward one's own ideas, beliefs or preferences, can show up. And that way of being sits pretty firmly in my irritation zone. But you know what? It's much less so since I've learned to navigate my own inner world. My ability to live and let live is much more developed, and now, I don't have to sacrifice myself and go along. Agreeing to disagree is also a good option. Well, I don't always manage. Sometimes I resort to reactivity, and sometimes subservience is the strategy of choice. Hey, I'm far from perfect. I didn't have this model in my hands all those years ago, but now I do, it makes a lot more sense. And retrospectively, I see so much value in using it as a tool to understand what's going on when we slip into our pitfalls or get thrown of course by others' behaviour presenting in our allergy zone. The work, the invitation, should you wish to accept it, is two fold: 1) Pitfalls - next time you find yourself in an unhealthy expression of a core quality, a pitfall, by way of feedback from others or your own conscience, map this into the box and fill in the quality that is being over-used as well as the healthy opposite, the challenge. This becomes your assignment. 2) Allergies - next time someone starts sounding some internal alarms in you, pause and imagine what would be the exact (positive) opposite of their annoying behaviour. That's probably your core quality. Now consider what (over-expressed) quality is behind their behaviour. This becomes your assignment. So tell me , are you up for the challenge? One last anecdote before I sign-off. Ofman suggests that we tend to attract romantic partners who possess exactly the quality that we have the opportunity to develop in the challenge quadrant and vice versa; a natural symbiosis. Given what you now know about what happens when a challenge is over-expressed, "too much of a good thing", does that reveal something for you...? Stay curious. Stay compassionate. Thank you for showing up. Keep showing up.
P.S. You can listen to Daniel Ofman explain (in English) his beautifully simple but powerful model here (runs 12:30). If you're interested to dive deeper, he's written a series of books you might like to seek out.
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