The Hard work of Patience

I've written a lot about truth lately–maybe I should also write about "patience," because patience, like truth, it is one of those words that tends to have fairly complex meaning to people–yet everyone defines it differently. This was evidenced by the lengthy comment stream from Joe Rominiecki's post on Acronym where he offered up the two-word commencement speech of "be patient."

For some, such a commencement "speech" had positive connotations (patience is a virtue, don't jump to conclusions, etc.), but for others it highlighted negative things (missed opportunities, passivity, even tolerating injustice). My comment was brief (though more than two words):

There is a difference between waiting, and staying through the hard places. But it's often hard to tell the difference in the moment.

Simply waiting around does not constitute patience (in my understanding of the idea anyway). Being skilled at waiting is different than being skilled at patience. There is some overlap, of course. Both patience and waiting mean NOT doing something, even though you don't like the current situation. It means not acting, not moving forward, not leaving the current conversation, not ending the current relationship…even though what you've got right now isn't perfect.

But patience is actually more than not acting. It requires a deeper understanding of why you are not acting, and what work you need to be doing in the meantime. Patience requires that you NOT do what you really want to do (leave, move on, conclude, etc.), AND it requires you figure out what to do in the meantime that will be productive. That's hard work. In the conflict resolution world, we call this "staying through the hard places." 

I've facilitated a lot of conversations about organizational strategy. In nearly every one of them, the group hits the patience wall. At some point in the conversation about where they are headed, they give up. It's too hard to get consensus, so we just need to move on. I often get flack from participants who don't like how long I let the conversation go on (my favorite was when a board member actually complained about me on her Facebook status update–while I was facilitating!).

But I'm not letting the conversation drag on because I'm a lazy or inattentive facilitator. I am holding that conversation open, because it isn't finished yet. They haven't resolved conflicting directions, they haven't challenged all the right assumptions, or they haven't talked about key stakeholders…or whatever it is. The work is not complete, so we can't move on yet. Sometimes they feel like they are going in circles, but that perception changes when they emerge (a bit later) with some real strategic clarity.

So when you're in one of those situations where you are compelled to just move on, at least reflect on whether or not you need more (active) patience in that moment. Think about whether or not you could choose to stay in the uncomfortable place and continue the work. Sometimes the answer is no, of course, and you should move on. But you rarely get where you want to go without doing the hard work. 


  1. 16.06.2010 at 2:54 pm

    Really terrific post Jamie. Continuing a conversation can be uncomfortable but absolutely necessary. Sometimes very interesting things happen in the spaces in-between the words.

  2. 12.03.2014 at 4:52 am

    Hi Jamie
    Thank you for the post. Many of us are unable to wait and patience comes with maturity. What I have learned personally is that being patience deals with us always wanting our way. The journey of patience allows us to see clearly with possible ways that lead to growth. Change and patience cannot be separated , for any change to be implemented there must be patience to see it through.