Friction Presents Opportunity
by Zovig Garboushian

n 2015, I became a yoga instructor, and I was trained to recognize when my students were getting uncomfortable. I’d see them with strained faces, fidgeting in the longer poses. Some suddenly needed an urgent sip of water; others simply sat down. Granted, I taught a rigorous style of vinyasa yoga in over 100-degree heat. Sometimes you just need a break.

But there’s a difference between pausing for replenishment and escaping for relief. Those moments when my students felt discomfort presented a choice: stick with it and get stronger or abandon the moment and stay the same.

Why is it that when something gets uncomfortable our first instinct is to run? Our ego interprets any discomfort, no matter how small, as pain and wants it to disappear as quickly as possible. This is a primal reaction that was useful before modern medicine, technology, and today’s luxuries.

In moments of discomfort, we gain resilience and learn about who we are and what we are made of, and define our capacity to grow. This is where transformation happens.
There is a difference between pain and discomfort. Pain means something is wrong and must be addressed immediately. Conversely, discomfort is a point of friction, not malfunction. It is in friction where we learn and grow. In moments of discomfort, we gain resilience and learn about who we are and what we are made of, and define our capacity to grow. This is where transformation happens.

Unfortunately, we turn on our primal responses automatically when we begin to feel the slightest twinge of mental or emotional discomfort, and we go into fight, flight, or freeze. I’ve seen all of these occur both in my clients’ experiences and in my own life. We talk a good game in the business world, so our fight-flight-freeze responses appear logical and rational. But at the heart of it, escaping moments of discomfort steals away the chance for lasting transformation within ourselves and in the work we do.

In my work as an executive coach and consultant, I have gotten very good at recognizing discomfort in clients. I see them wanting to rationalize and negotiate the discomfort, push through hard and fast, or simply ignore it’s happening. What I have witnessed time and again, both in myself and with my clients, is that when we try to skip over the friction—the learning—change won’t happen, and if it does, it won’t last.

What does escaping discomfort look like? Here’s what I mean.

When We Fight
I have worked with technology companies to help them through big transitions in people, processes, and technology. Understandably, leadership typically wants the change to be swift and painless, but it rarely happens that way. They have visions of hosting a town hall meeting or sending out a few emails with the information. They want to force the change onto people. But organizational change requires continuous conversation, listening, and navigating confusion and employee concerns. If leaders can avoid it, they will.

If it wasn’t obvious, forcing is a form of fight, like trying to bash something into submission.

It’s not that forcing isn’t effective; quite the opposite. Personally, I’ve forced change in my life, like when I dropped 40 pounds through a strict diet back in my 20s. Eventually it became too hard to sustain the loss and I slowly put weight back on over the course of several years. I was continuously in a mental battle to maintain my goal weight; I didn’t learn how to have a healthier relationship with food and my body. I tried to force the loss on myself, and while it worked for several years, ultimately it didn’t stick.

The same happens when organizations force change. While the change may take at first, it triggers a whole new chain of fight-flight-freeze responses from employees which sets the organization in a continuous loop of reaction, never learning, never truly evolving.

While it may take longer, the alternative is to lean into the discomfort of the change and acknowledge that with friction comes transformation.

When We Fly
I worked at a small cable channel for about five months as a sales development director. The company was chaotic, the chairman was known for frequent and blatant sexual harassment, and my job was undefined and clunky, which made it difficult to reach goals. I tried to make the best of it, but things got harder and more ambiguous, and the expectations grew.

It seemed the smart thing to do was leave, to fly. I was disappointed and embarrassed that this new job, my first big step up into an influential leader’s role, was a mess. I kicked my networking into gear and put a plan down to get the heck out ASAP. Finding another job was neither easy nor quick, so I had two choices: quit with no immediate replacement, or stay and make the best of it until I found something.

I chose to stay, which meant either be miserable or lean into the friction and take action. I chose the latter and took charge the only way I knew how. I began to question the unreasonable goals; I pushed for more clarity; I even confronted a manipulative bully, one of the hardest professional things I’ve done thus far.

Eventually, it was decided that my role was not necessary, and I was laid off. At that time, it came as a welcome gift. But what I gained from the experience was the chance to witness myself take a stand and speak my truth. I partnered with the friction instead of fleeing from it, something I am committed to now as I run a business that specializes in change.

When We Freeze
When I think of freezing, I picture a literal deer in the headlights. Freezing can be deceptive; it can look smart and thoughtful. Many of my clients are up against big decisions about their careers, finances, or their health. Some head straight into the fire and face the decision. They act, they see what works, they course-correct, they build resilience and deepen their wisdom along that journey.

Others freeze.

When we freeze, we’re in fear—fear of not knowing, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of poor results, fear of moments that leave us feeling vulnerable. Freezing shows up a couple of ways.

First, we overthink and hyper-analyze. (I can’t say I’m a stranger to this!) Overthinkers pull out their crystal ball of logic and practicality, which they believe will help them predict the future. From the outside, it looks like they’re taking their time and working toward a good solution, but the truth is, they’re in analysis paralysis. They’re frozen.

Overthinking is an easy trap. Many of us, myself included, are habitually analytical and we think about things from all angles, even ones that don’t exist. Thinking and analyzing make us feel like we’re doing something important and being productive.

But thinking and analyzing are subject to the law of diminishing returns. The more time spent thinking, the less clear our thoughts and choices become.

Freezing can also look like perfectionism. Generally, I tend to be a “done is better than perfect” person. I like to get my ideas out into the world and see what comes back so that I can make tweaks and try again. Mostly, I don’t have the patience to needlessly edit and revise. But there are people who toil over things—a proposal, a letter of resignation, a new project— before hitting send, which sets off a loop of endless corrections, freezing them in indecision and inaction. It’s a way of avoiding the discomfort of possible rejection. It makes sense to want to avoid rejection—rejection hurts! Unfortunately, avoiding rejection, while saving us some embarrassment, also takes away the opportunity to build resilience and gain knowledge.

Always Moving Forward
Ultimately, if the goal is to evolve and transform—whether in business or within ourselves—we need to be okay in the discomfort that comes with change. In those moments of friction, we always have a choice: rationalize the experience as pain and try to get rid of it, or take it on as a moment of powerful development that can offer limitless value.

What’s at play is the power of perception. One person’s stress is another’s everyday experience. I can perceive rejection as something to be avoided at all costs because in the past it’s brought me embarrassment or shame. Conversely, I can perceive rejection as pathway to strengthen my resolve, get a thicker skin, and learn how I can change to get better.

You might ask how one changes their perception. It’s not a linear path, but I would start with interrogating the feelings that come with our fight-flight-freeze response. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of and if that fear is real. Find out where the fear originated and if it’s a problem that still needs to be solved. You can always change your perception. In fact, it’s one of the few things we have control over, so exercising it for the benefit of our own transformation seems like a good use of the superpower.

Zovig Garboushian headshot
Zovig Garboushian is the founder and CEO of Boldness Ablaze Coaching. She is a coach, a speaker, and a trainer specializing in coaching to advance women in leadership. She began her career in New York City working in magazines and digital marketing and after 13 years shifted to focus on career development, organizational change, and building leaders. She has 20-plus years of multidisciplinary training and experience in coaching, communication, organizational change, and leadership development. Her vision is a world where women go after what they want boldly and unapologetically, and she is tireless in helping her clients embody their roles as leaders so they can make conscious, powerful choices that positively impact themselves and the organizations they serve. Garboushian has a BA in psychology from CSU Sacramento, is a certified professional coach (iPEC, ICF) and a Prosci Certified Change Manager, and is certified in the Narrative Big 5 Personality and Energy Leadership Index Assessments. She lives in Woodinville, WA with her husband and their two dogs.