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Out of the Shallows

Updated: Dec 2, 2023

Breaking wave
Wave breaking in golden light

I've found that the roughest surf is often in the shallow waters. The same holds true in our relationships. When the water is shallow, the incoming waves create the most white-caps and rough waters. When my understanding of a situation is shallow, I experience most conflict and the most hurtful relationships. This is where I (and most of us) tend to "react emotionally", rather than "respond strategically", as my friend Bob Beaudine, CEO of Eastman/Beaudine has said. The more shallow my understanding is of the other person's thoughts and feelings, the more I tend to react to them based on how their words and actions make me feel. What is needed is a deeper understanding. The more deeply I understand what is deep below the surface of their words and actions, the more insight I have into where they are truly coming from and what are the factors informing their words and actions, and the more wisely I can address the real issues, rather than react merely to the visible factors. Years ago I heard it said that "the heart of every issue is a heart issue". Every issue is being informed by some dynamic playing on the heart. The better I understand what is happening at the heart level, the better I can respond strategically to the other person. Now this may seem like a dynamic that shouldn't exist in the workplace, but I've found that is where it often plays out in symphonic proportions! One harsh or impatient word from a boss creates an unmotivated employee, who secretly doesn't mind if the boss fails, just to get back at them. It's a little passive/aggressive, but it often feels safer than an outright attack on the boss! One unkind word to a client is a word that the client may likely spread to other potential clients and will harm your business in ways beyond what can be imagined. One devaluing word or action from a colleague may create uneasiness between the co-workers and even their departments, which may decrease their collaborative efforts and minimize the quality of your product or service. The remedy for this is the get out of the shallows of reacting emotionally and to get into the depths of concern and understanding where you can respond strategically. - If you sense things are getting ramped up in an unhealthy way, "step out of the tornado" as a good friend of mine says. Take a step back. Do some deep breathing, go outside, and come back to the issue at a later time, after you've had time to think and explore what the real issue may be. - Ask questions. Explore what may be happening with the other person that is not readily obvious by asking good questions, so that you can have an appropriate and helpful response to the situation at hand.

Good questions
Ask good questions!

- "Lose yourself and find them", as Mark Cole, CEO of John Maxwell Leadership, has said. The heart of leadership is to get out of your own way by finding where the other person, or your team is, and bring the appropriate words and actions to the situation, which can help stabilize them and help them take action toward a better place and result. - And as always, have empathy for them. I don't mean simply sympathy which feels sorry for them, but empathy which places yourself in their shoes to see what they see and feel what they feel. Once you understand their situation with empathy, you are much more likely to have a helpful response, which will yield better results with employees, colleagues, clients, family and really everyone! Brave the deep waters, touch a heart and change a situation, while you make the world a better, more empathetic place! For further discussion or training on these issues and best results, I can be reached at, or on this site.

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