Twelve people are sitting around a conference room littered with two days’ worth of empty coffee cups and water bottles, plus enough USB chargers to open an Apple Store. Our Mastermind is coming to an end. We’re busy tying up some loose ends and handing out assignments for our next meeting.
Most of the people in the room are exhausted and elated, excited and insightful. We’ve spent our time together talking about our successes and failures, and mapping our plans for when we go back to our regular lives.
Our system works something like this: we all introduce ourselves and talk about what we think our top three challenges are. Then we spend about 45 minutes listening to each of the other people around the room. They use their experience and knowledge to make suggestions for us to consider, helping us work through our problems. Finally, we agree to have someone in our group be our “accountability partner” and make sure we actually do what we say we are going to do.
The universal truth is that everyone in the group likes offering advice and talking about other people’s problems. But not everyone is quite as comfortable talking about themselves and their own concerns. It’s a matter of being vulnerable, yes, but there’s more to it. What I’ve discovered is that many of the people I’ve worked with in Mastermind groups — and many of the people I know in my life — are comfortable giving but not taking.
This seems to fly in the face of what you might naturally believe — that many people are self-centered and stingy and therefore prefer to take and not give. But that hasn’t been my experience. Instead, I find that people are generous to a fault with their expertise, skill sets, and contacts. But they’re not always as willing to be vulnerable enough to let people know what they need.
It’s also counterintuitive to something else you’d think is true – that the women in the group are more willing to be vulnerable than the male participants. I find there’s a pretty even split. The willingness to open up and share (and the unwillingness to do the same) seems to be the same for men and women. Generosity and desire to help others seems to be virtually universal. Willingness to ask for and to receive help?
Not so much.
The funny thing is that the people who happily offer help but don’t want to take help from others don’t even seem to know they’re holding back. And when the facilitator (that’s me) makes it clear that they’re not participating fully, they still don’t recognize their reluctance nor their reticence. Worse, they often push back, abnegating both the Mastermind group’s needs and its requirements.
Playground teeter totters and two-man saws do not operate properly unless there’s an equal contribution on either side. Newton’s third law of motion says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Effective Mastermind groups require balance, too. Like Dr. Doolittle’s Pushmepullyou, there’s no moving forward without cooperation. And in an effective Mastermind group, there’s no giving without taking.
What relationships of yours require two-sided participation? Where can you make things better by opening yourself up to input and recommendations? Where are you holding back — not by not contributing — but by not being vulnerable? Metaphorically speaking, balance is required in effective relationships.
Which of your relationships is out of balance because you are giving but not taking?