Chris’ blog – May 2021

Putting Down The Pushers

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by Chris Waddle, Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life

May 2021 –If anyone asks me what I love most about being a part of the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center, “the people” is always at the top of that list. When I consider the employees at The Center as well as the external partners with whom I work, I feel so fortunate.

One person, with whom it has been a great joy to work, is Rev. Bill Selby from the Center for Pastoral Effectiveness of the Rockies. Bill has been a mentor to me and it has been great to partner with him for a seminar and three small groups devoted to leadership as an emotional process.

Bill offers a simple way to begin building emotional connection in any small group, including committee meetings. Invite each person to:

  • Share your name.
  • Tell a story about how you got your name.
  • Tell a story about how you got here today.

He encourages leaders to take the time to do this kind of safe emotional sharing even though some may feel it is a “waste of time.” I can tell you from personal experience, it is not. It changes the nature of the group. It helps build empathy and trust. However it is also important to remember that if any new person is added to the group, this process must start over again. Why? Because adding anyone makes you a new group!

Bill also teaches that one of the most important things leaders can do is create “emotional space” when interacting with others. Anxiety has a constricting effect. Even in small amounts, such as when we are trying to keep to a schedule, or when we are not sure where a conversation is going, or when we are not sure we are being taken seriously, anxiety works against emotional connection. We become less playful, less creative, less flexible, less curious, and more emotionally reactive.

Bill suggests we create this emotional space, not by paying more attention to other’s emotional state, but to our own. In order to open up emotional space. Pay attention to “the pushers”.

We all have them and most come in one of these four emotionally-suffocating varieties.

Hurry up!

Be perfect!

Please others!

Be strong!

After we notice the “pusher” that is compressing the emotional space we can begin to give ourselves and others grace or “permission” to put down the pusher. Here is what this might look like:

Hurry up!. . .   No, there is time for us to talk and we do not have to do everything in this one conversation. It is ok to ask curious, and clarifying questions. It is ok to just enjoy being together.

Be perfect!. . .  No, I do not have to be perfect. I can be unsure, I can change my mind. If I am not sure what I believe or feel I can say so or even say “my best guess is.”  So can others. I don’t have to say it “the right way.” It is even ok to have an awkward conversation.

Please others!. . .   No, It is ok to say what I need or even what I just prefer. It is ok if others do not agree with me. It is ok for me to say “no” or “I do not want to talk about that.” It is ok for others to do the same.

Be strong!. . . No, no one is ever always strong. it is ok to be vulnerable. It is ok to show emotion. This is actually how strong emotional bonds are formed. Others do not have to play pretend roles of ‘always strong’ for me either, even those whom I admire for their strength. It is ok and human not to always be strong.

Which one of these, or perhaps another, has a tendency to compress your emotional space? What is your “primary pusher?”

Think of some conversations or contexts when you feel the pusher the most. Perhaps a particular group or a person comes to mind.

How might you create more emotional space in yourself and “put down the pushers?”

If you would like to learn more about leadership as an emotional process or if you have resources you wish to share with others, please let me know. You may email me at

Your partner in hope and healing,



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