This post was written by Amy Fenollosa, Director of Learning at The Latimer Group.
Even if you’re not a tennis fan, you may have seen a clip of the US Open match between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka last weekend. Serena was issued a point penalty and a game penalty for violations on the court. Whether or not you agree with the umpire or his ruling, we can all acknowledge that Serena Williams has been a force for change on the tennis court during her 20 years of play as a professional.
From her physicality to her fashion, she is disrupting the sport, grabbing attention and acting as a role model for young players. Even her opponent in this year’s US Open considered her an idol.
When Serena disputed the penalties to the umpire—her rage was evident. You could see her seething in fury at the call she whole-heartedly believed was unfair.
At her post-match press conference, she said:
“But I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have (equality)….And I just feel like…this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves, and they want to be a strong woman.”
Male or female, professional athlete or weekend warrior, we all have emotions. And we all have moments when those emotions fuel our passion and make us even more powerful and authentic in what we do. And there are moments when the emotions can take over, and they can influence how we act or how we’re perceived.
In our work, we coach individuals to communicate authentically and to use passion to inspire action. If I had the opportunity to coach Serena, what would I advise her to do in that moment of rage? When the outcome of the game was at stake? I would say,
“Find your center. Remind yourself of your ultimate goal—you’re here today to win your 24th grand slam. And this judge is not going to change his mind. So, you have to have the power to change yours.
Don’t swallow your rage and don’t squelch your passion. Find that fury and channel it into something bigger, something greater than the call. Use every ounce of your power and your passion and your fury to win. And when the game is over, and you know you’ve played your best, open a dialogue. Start a conversation that will further the cause and advance your mission to help find equity in tennis. Do it with the passion and the energy that we all know you to have.”
How does this translate to communication? When you’re put on the spot, or feeling defensive in a meeting, find your center. Remind yourself what you’re there to do — sometimes it’s not about the individuals in the meeting, but about the greater purpose. If you can channel your passion and open the dialogue, you too can be a champion of change.