Embrace the Suck: Leading Conflict Principle 3

Updated: Jun 17, 2019


This series of articles covers the central principles of leading conflict in the workplace. Also see:


Principle 1: Move Toward Fear

Principle 2: There’s No Nice Way to Poke Someone in the Eye


In 2010-11, I was a little overwhelmed. Things at work were as busy as ever. I was a year into my doctoral studies and heading toward my comprehensive exams. My wife was pregnant with our first son and my second child.


I was also processing the deaths of several family members over the previous five years – two of whom were cousins around my age. One died in a motorcycle accident. The other, took his own life while in the throes of grief over the death of his aforementioned brother.


To complete the country-western song, I had recently put down my aging dog, Seamus the pug.


So, there was good stuff happening. And there was hard stuff happening. But it was, to say the least, a lot.


The natural and healthy response to all of this was of course to decide that it would be a great time to start training for a marathon. Not just a marathon… How about a trail marathon? Wait a minute, how about a trail ultra-marathon?


My wife, knowing just how deeply disturbed I am, thankfully did not intervene. She let me deal with things in my usual odd and over-the-top way.


Surely, there was some avoidance going on here. Overwhelmed by events, my response in part was to pile on more activity.


However, I was also using a skill I was taught as a young man in military school. The therapeutic term is, “embrace the suck.”

Sometimes events overtake you. These are often events you can’t control, like the deaths in the family. But there are also circumstances you choose and need to own, like starting a Ph.D. program, having more children, and committing to a ludicrous running event.


About the running… When you run fifteen miles into the wilderness, feel broken, drained, and wracked with pain, you eventually realize that there is only one way out – the way you got in. You need to embrace the suck and keep running. Doing this on purpose, in a setting I chose, helped me cope with the circumstances I couldn’t control in my life at the time.


I learned the same lesson on long road marches/runs in military school. Regardless of how you feel, the only way to make it stop is to finish it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep moving forward. Eventually, it will be over.


Whether on a road march, in an ultra-marathon, processing grief, or leading conflict, success begins with accepting that the process includes suffering. The more you can accept that and embrace it, the better you will do.

Leading conflict with colleagues requires that you develop the habit of moving toward fear and get used to poking people in the eye.


These things do not feel good. You don’t do them because they are pleasurable. You do them because they need to be done. And being the rare person who can do these things is very satisfying. That’s what you are working toward.


The next time you need to confront someone, have a hard conversation, or make people uncomfortable by challenging existing practice – own the process. Wade in. Embrace the suck.


Check out the Leading Conflict store for practical and hard-hitting resources that will help you put these ideas into action.


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