March 14, 2019
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Sue Heilbronner
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Leadership Reflections

Internet Comments: A Great Petri Dish for Owning Your Issues

There’s a reason people suggest authors stay away from internet comments: I was flat-out triggered.

This blog post, like most of mine, was sparked by something that shocked me. I wasn’t shocked at the nature of the response but at the scale of it.

I’m starting this post “below the line,” and I also see the immense humor in this situation.

The other day I was introduced to a new company by a close contact. The CEO of the prospect company emailed me this in response to the intro email: “I'd love to connect. Do any of these times work for you?” The word “times” was linked to this CEO’s calendaring system.

I had an immediate internal reaction, and I had the following thoughts: “I hate clicking on those links and comparing those times with my calendar and then filling in a request form for a meeting. I wish she’d asked me for my available times so I could send her my calendar link.”

I wrote back: “Hi. See if anything on my calendar link works for you.” Four minutes later, the meeting was set.

Four minutes after that, I posted this on a large (thousands), private Facebook group for female startup founders.  

I’ve posted in this group a few times, and I’ve endeavored to post helpful tips for the many fundraising founders on the issue of fundraising from this investor’s perspective.

I was nervous about this post. I didn’t want to come across as an arrogant VC (at least I think I didn’t). Within a day, this post was on fire; it garnered 72 comments plus replies to those comments. Some were quick thank yous. Some were expressions of surprise at my reaction. And a few were commentaries (some neutral, some negative) on how I was articulating an issue around power dynamics.

There’s a reason people suggest authors stay away from internet comments: I was flat-out triggered.

I replied to many of the comments, reiterated that this was just my perspective, mentioned that when I ask for a meeting, I ask for the other person’s availability versus sending my link, etc, etc. Even as I type this, I can hear the defensiveness underneath these assurances.

This was a fantastic opportunity for owning my own issues. I played around a bit with some core tools of Conscious Leadership to learn as much as I could.

First, let’s try unarguable speech. As I read the critical comments (or the comments that merely mentioned that I was expressing a power dynamic):

  • Body sensation: I experienced a bubbling in my stomach and a heat rising up my spine.
  • Feelings: I felt anger, sadness, and fear.
  • Thoughts and stories: I had the thought that I was just trying to help. I had the thought that there was a lack of openness to feedback on the part of some members on this board. I had the further thought that resistance like that is something I look for in meetings with startup founders.

Second, I wanted to own my own projections. Remember, when something triggers us (I was triggered by the negative reactions to this post), it’s wise to look at how we are a party to the same behavior. More simply, “you spot it, you got it.” So here are a few of my projections:

  • I hate when people do power moves with me. I resist these with a heated ferocity.
  • I don’t much like it when people try to help me.
  • I have an inherent aversion to arrogance and a really discerning nose for it.

Third, I dove into the opposite of my stories. One story was that some people are resistant to feedback.

  • First, what are three ways commenters were open to feedback?
  • Well, they were reading the post and the comments and inviting me to respond.
  • Many of the commenters were in a learning mode.
  • The board is a place for open conversations about meaningful issues, and that’s exactly what was happening.
  • Second, what are three ways I am resistant to feedback?
  • Well, I was pretty resistant to what I felt were negative comments on my post. That was all feedback.
  • I stopped reading and responding at some point with a sense that it wasn’t worthwhile.
  • I made a decision that I might not post vulnerable things on this board in the future. How’s that for world-class resistance, friends?

Last, after doing some of this work, I wanted to sit with how the entire thing I feared -- coming across as an arrogant VC -- was true about me. This wasn’t complicated. I can be quick and officious about the numerous meeting requests I get. I’ve set up a lot of systems to make a ton of these meetings work (see MergeLane’s events page to learn how), and that makes me feel entitled to have the entire system work as efficiently as I want it to. I can really see the part of that -- captured in posts dating a long way back -- that is selfish and dismissive.

Just going through this process has helped me see my part of the episode. I feel much more empathy. People have no idea how many requests come in much less whatever else is going on in my life at any moment. Many offer their calendar with a motivation to save me time. This episode also helped me realize how my feelings on meeting requests prevent me from asking other people to meet with me (“I’d hate to be a burden.”). I see how this interferes with my creating the community I most want.

Applying a Conscious Leadership lens to this topic has helped me create some “space” around my convictions. I no longer feel “right” about it. Well, at least most of the time.  #authenticleadership

Sue Heilbronner

Co-founder MergeLane & Leadership Camp, coach, speaker, advisor, conscious leadership trainer.

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