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Is it Time to Shove Someone Else Outside Their Comfort Zone?

If you’re like me, your default setting is to move through the world trying not to make other people uncomfortable. There are topics you don’t talk about and issues you don’t raise because you don’t want others to “feel bad.” You avoid certain things until our back is against the wall and You don’t have a choice. If you are like me, you simultaneously envy and loath those people who never got this memo and have no problem saying whatever is on their mind regardless of who it affects others.

For those of us who are inclined to be people-pleasers and accommodaters, it might seem impossible to speak up. It’s never the “right time.” You’re not sure how to say it without hurting their feelings. Or my personal favorite, you feel like you shouldn’t have to tell them. They should just know.

Is this ringing any bells for anyone?

The result is you absorb all the discomfort in order to save others from the inconvenience, and when it gets to be too much, you bitch and moan to everyone and anyone except the person you need to confront. (Guilty!)

And then there are those of us who bottle it for so long it comes busting out in ways that are impulsive and not reflective of how we really feel. This can really backfire for women because they are often categorized as “hysterical” or “emotional” when this happens.

In the last 6 months, I have been trying to be braver and speak up more often and push people outside their comfort zone. And it’s going much better than I anticipated. I haven’t had any major wins, but I haven’t been shamed out of society yet, so I’m going to keep going.

The topic that has been preoccupying me most is the real estate boom on the island where I live that is bringing in an abundance of investors and “seasonal” people and crowding out year-rounders. Some residents are reaching their breaking point. Either they have lost their housing all together or they have decided they just don’t feel welcome here anymore and are leaving voluntarily.

The reason this is a touchy subject is that the “powers that be” have determined our highest priority should be attracting summer dollars, and you don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Therefore, you don’t challenge or question businesses and individuals responsible for driving the real estate boom because it makes them uncomfortable.

I’ve had ideas about sending weekly emails to my friends that work in real estate with a list of all my peers looking for housing. It would be a constant reminder of how many year-round residents are looking for housing and which jobs and community roles will go unfilled when these people leave.

In my more extreme fantasies, I imagine gathering a group of 20 people looking for housing and paying a visit to all the real estate offices in town to tell them that we are all looking to buy a house. Do they haven’t anything in our price range?

I’m not ready to do that, nor do I think it would serve me or my peers that are looking for housing, but I have taken baby steps. I spoke up at a Rotary Club meeting a few months ago. There were several second homeowners in the meeting airing their fears and grievances over a proposal that would limit short-term rentals. I listened to story after story of how this was their retirement plan, they can’t possibly afford to keep the house if they can’t rent it all summer, and how much it costs to maintain a second home. At the very end of the discussion, I requested a chance to speak. I share the follow perspective with them.

While you might think of Nantucket as “home” in your heart, for me it isn't metaphorical or poetic. This is my home. I have no other at the moment. And while it would be unfortunate if you could no longer afford a second home, there are many people like me who are trying to buy a first home and that is becoming more and more impossible. As you have these discussions going forward, please be mindful of your privilege.

Their silence spoke volumes.

About a month ago, I spoke up again in a letter to the editor that talked about my friends that have already left the island and the friends that may be forced to leave and the friends that might just make a voluntarily exodus because housing has become so challenging.

The editor referenced my letter in her weekly column, and I received feedback and support from many people who appreciated my candidness. I was stopped on the street, a few friends sent emails, and another person passed by me in church and whispered, “Great letter to the editor.”

I don’t know that I’ve inspired change, but I think I’ve managed to make a few people squirm a bit, and I’ve validated what many are thinking but not willing to say for fear of making certain people uncomfortable.

If you are thinking of nudging people outside their comfort zone by speaking your truth, here are a few things I’ve figured out along the way that might be helpful for you:

Check your anger:

If you are so worked up about the situation that you are short of breath and can’t talk about it without losing your cool, find an outlet to process your emotions and ground yourself. Personally, I talk to a therapist every other week. You could reach out to a life coach (like me!) or even just debrief the situation with a friend. If you choose to talk to a friend, try to find a friend that is outside the immediate situation because they will offer a more objective perspective and is less likely to jump in “the box” with you.

Stick to observations and facts that are indisputable:

Once you exaggerate or use hyperbole, you lose the high ground. By arguing personal experience and evidence that can be backed up and corroborated, you create a solid foundation you can plant your feet on if a debate arises and tension builds. When the person you are confronting tries to steer the conversation away from the point, you have a non-negotiable playbook in hand.

Be vulnerable and tell them how you feel.

It’s scary to be vulnerable in front of people, who may use it against you or won’t empathize. But if you aren’t willing to be vulnerable you can’t connect with the people that are inclined to see you and hear you. The willingness to go first, the ability to be brave and be honest, draws out your tribe from the crowd, and you might be surprised at how big your tribe is. Often you will find people, who identify with your authenticity even if they don’t agree with your message.

In other words, sometimes you have to go outside your comfort zone yourself in order to get the leverage to drag someone else outside theirs.

Hold space for their discomfort, but don’t “rescue” them from it.

If you are using your powers for good, making someone squirm is not going to traumatize them, and you certainly aren’t putting them in any physical danger. You are just giving them a chance to feel something they haven’t experienced before. They might not like it, but it’s not going to kill them.

Don’t expect results.

We never know how someone will act when they are pushed outside their comfort zone, so it is best to suspend any specific expectations or results. Trust that whatever happens is supposed to happen. You might be disappointed, or you may be pleasantly surprised. There have been so many occasions where I dreaded confronting someone and they rose to the occasion. And other times....they didn’t. Either way, you get the answer you need even if it isn’t the answer you wanted.

I’m still stumbling through this, and it’s not easy. Fortunately, the universe is gracious to keep sending me "opportunities” to make people uncomfortable. A couple weeks ago, I was at a board meeting with six other people, and someone made an off-handed remark that I considered ignorant and insensitive. Three other people chuckled and rolled their eyes in agreement with the comment. We had just had a long brainstorming session on how to attract new people into the organization, and if any of our potential recruits had been in the room, they might have thought twice about joining.

In the moment, I caved to social graces and said nothing, but the comment ate at me all the way home, and I decided to sit down and write an email to everyone present expressing my disagreement with what was said. I argued that this behavior could impact our ability to attract new members.

Following my own rules, I set aside my anger over the comment and the person who said it. I checked my ego and made my argument about my concerns for the organization. Instead of expecting a desired response, I welcome push back and defensiveness, which I got. And instead of getting into a fight, I took it as a sign that I had pushed everyone a bit outside their comfort zone, and I hoped they would find an insight or two. (Still waiting.)

Next time life presents you with a chance to make someone a little uncomfortable in the interest of growth (yours or theirs), be brave and give them a little shove. As always, use your powers for good.


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