Tolerant vs. Intolerant - Mutually Exclusive?

Tolerant vs. Intolerant - Mutually Exclusive?

I often ask my clients, “what are you tolerating?” and they get to really think about where boundaries are being muddied or expectations aren’t clear. That’s typically a great coaching question. But a recent epiphany about what I tolerate came at a great cost to my way of thinking; I realized that rather than just being right about not tolerating, I was also wrong about being intolerant.

Here is what happened: I heard a comment that I judged as being something less than exemplary, best-self behavior and I voiced my opinion on the comment. I was not going to tolerate someone else being something other than their best – no, I was going to help them! I mean, come on, when you see your child hitting their brother or sister, you should step in and say, “Stop that!” right? Because I felt pretty good about standing up for best-self behavior, I felt “right” about my intolerance. Do you hear the subtle, harsh judge in there?

The self-righteousness of my judgment far outweighed the benefit of calling out certain, admittedly un-admirable behavior. In any highly effective relationship, whether personal or at work, there is a fine balance between being able to call someone on their “stuff” and being a judge of good behavior. In this case, I crossed that line by mistaking intolerance for not tolerating. I was both right and wrong at the same time!

What I’m learning is that being in right relationship involves designing where that line is and how to stumble back and forth across it without damaging the relationship. (It’s rarely a black and white line.) Being both right and wrong demands a more conscious choice of words and a more thoughtful consideration of intolerances. If this situation happens again, I’d like to think that my comment would be replaced with a curious question.

By bumping into my own intolerances I realized that what was intended to be helpful actually became harmful. Now, perhaps I’ll add to my repertoire of great coaching questions, “What are you intolerating?” What comes up for you when you ask yourself that question?