The other day, a colleague from the office shared about a recent fishing trip he had with his father on one of Oregon’s gems: the North Umpqua River. As a fisherman myself, I’d drop almost anything to talk fishing, and can easily become distracted by this passion of mine. But this story gave me pause, quite literally, and reminded me of a powerful tool.

His account described their lines, out behind the boat, patiently waiting for bites. In an instant, their two lines crossed. When my colleague reached out to grab his rod to give it a quick yank, in order to separate the crossed lines, the elder man yelled, “Hold it!” His dad knew that a quick move like that would only make matters worse, creating further entanglement, and would inevitably force them to reel completely in and spend a great deal of time cutting their lines (and their losses), before re-rigging. In wisdom, the father directed his son to standby; they needed to jointly lift and separate their lines together, in a choreographed, slow and methodical movement, and in opposite directions. This deliberate action would ultimately prevent wasted time and greater frustration for both men.

My colleague’s emphasis on the “slow” pace required for this process caught my attention. How many times have I been faced with a sudden curveball in leadership, or in life, where my initial reaction was to attack or “yank” on it, like his impulse had been while fishing? It is a desire for many to resolve conflict quickly – we attempt to do this with impulsive, habitual reactions. You could ask my wife about this tendency (who is also my business partner), and she’d smile, knowing me well. There were times when this impulsivity really hit the mark for us; but there were also times when it made matters worse, and brought conflict upon us in a fury. Grabbing the rod and giving it a strong “yank” to take back control rarely creates a win-win scenario when you’re in conflict with another person. The great and wise teacher, experience, reminds us to pause in these moments; when we “standby,” we are better able to listen and eventually understand the cause of the conflict, so that the lines get untangled and everyone can get back to fishing.

The pair hooked and landed a beautiful steelhead that day. The backdrop to this story, that I was privy to, was the fact that my colleague and his dad have done a lot of work over the years to rebuild their relationship, from a place of brokenness to a place of wholeness. What a powerful and symbolic moment they were given that day on the river – a reminder of what it takes to untangle challenges with those we care the most about, despite our initial impulse steering us differently. Here’s hoping you can keep your eye on the steelhead, and take the necessary steps to prevent entanglement.

Written by Jeff Mattson, MA ORGL; Co-Owner & Founder of Living Wholehearted, LLC