Finding the Third Door



  • Look to the left and the right (0:15)

  • How I found my Third Door (2:30)

  • How to recognize the Third Door (7:05)

  • Why is the Third Door so elusive? (8:20)

  • The Third Door in the workplace (12:20)

  • What might be your Third Door? (14:50)



Many years ago, I was wrestling with the question: How can I positively impact how people lead and do their work?

I was in my living room doing some physical stretching exercises while listening to a podcast by Sean McCabe of seanwes. Sean is a unique entrepreneur who started out doing hand-lettering for commercial clients. Over time, he turned that into an amazing online offer, teaching others to create their own hand-lettering businesses. I wasn’t sure what he had to offer me, but his podcast was recommended by a trusted colleague, so I was giving him a listen.

I was attempting to hold a significantly deeper and wider stretch when I heard Sean say something like—

“When you are trying to find your unique offering, do what I did – take whatever comes to mind first, the obvious thing that you are good at, and then look to the left and the right of it … just a few steps off the path.”

His obvious choices were to continue doing commercial hand-lettering for clients or to offer courses teaching others to do hand-lettering – and I think he did that for a while – but he realized the option to the left or the right of either of those was to teach others how to take their own skill or talent and turn it into an online business – regardless of that skill or talent.

This was his third door.


I knew in my heart that I wanted to create a training and coaching program that pulled from all my experiences: what it was like for me to be an employee, what I experienced working within the emotional complexities of a family business, what I learned about leading teams and entire organizations.

I also had a great deal of consulting experience with helping empower both employees and leaders to shift their organizational culture by modeling the behaviors they desired in others.

I also happen to be a junkie for exploring and understanding how the brain serves us – and how it doesn’t serve us – especially when emotions come into the mix and wreak havoc on communication and relationship building.

I knew that the leadership training and coaching world was already overflowing with offerings; I also knew that the same was true for communication and conflict resolution. So, simply offering a service that teaches more of the same wasn’t for me – I also knew that those things, most of the time, weren’t very effective.

I wanted to be a thought leader in what I knew was effective for work – the environment where humans spend most of their waking hours. I wanted to lead the way for work and life to be more easeful, more rewarding, and more effective, all while creating less drama and allowing both employees and leaders to feel less drained and burdened.

It was in that moment, while physically stretching and listening, that I realized that the majority of the leadership and communication training out there is focused on teaching leaders how to get what they want and to do things faster and better, how to have control over their team. I also realized that what challenged me most in my own success as a leader wasn’t the other people, it was myself.

My barriers to success weren’t solved by learning more tactics or tricks but by exploring:

  • My emotional reactions,

  • How I interpret employee behaviors and choices as being either for or against me,

  • The exhaustion that comes from micromanaging out of a fear of losing control,

  • How my lack of clarity often caused chaos and drama,

  • How my unspoken assumptions and expectations resulted in my feeling angry and resentful, and

  • Most of all, my fear of what would happen if people find out that I don’t always have all the answers.

These were the things that tripped me up and held my employees back, and there wasn’t a training, a workshop, or a book out there that asked me, as either an employee or a leader, to look at myself first before trying to change others.

As I listened to Sean continue to talk, I realized he was encouraging me (and all his other listeners, but it really felt like he was talking directly to me) to look for the Third Door.


“The Third Door” is my language, not Sean’s. In my mind, it is the magical place on the decision-making spectrum that is between Option A and Option B. It is in between the right choice and the wrong choice, in between Yes and No, in between all the most obvious answers.

The Third Door is the entryway to expansive possibility, but it is elusive and not always easily seen by our thinking mind – why?

Because the Third Door holds the options that aren’t most familiar to you – the pathways that are revealed may feel more uncomfortable to walk on, simply because you haven’t walked on them before. When exploring the Third Door options, you can’t always be certain of what the outcome will be, and sometimes that feels a little risky.

The leaders I work with who are the most successful and most charismatic are always asking their teams to explore the Third Door.


Why is the Third Door so elusive? There is a thing called heuristics or cognitive shortcuts. I teach about this in my Navigating Challenging Dialogue® Leadership Certification. It is incredibly important information for people, especially leaders, to understand.

Cognitive shortcuts are used by your brain for a very good reason – your brain is amazing but a tad lazy. It prefers not to be overburdened when it doesn’t need to be, especially in decision making. Left to its own devices, your brain often offers you solutions that it easily recognizes, that it feels comfortable with, or that don’t involve great risk.

This includes solutions or options that:

  • You selected in the past that worked out well,

  • Are familiar to you because you’ve seen or heard about them working well elsewhere, or

  • They cause you stay with a solution that’s already in place despite new evidence it might not still be the best choice; you stay with it simply because you’ve already invested considerable time, effort, money, or even your reputation.

In my situation, my brain kept trying to help me by continually presenting me with familiar options: traditional leadership training, communication training, and well-known conflict resolution training.

But, unknowingly, I was becoming aware there was a Third Door. How did I get there? How did I see the elusive Third Door?

  1. I temporarily detached from the struggle of how to make the obvious options work for me,

  2. I engaged my physical body in activity. It’s not lost on me that I was amidst a physical stretching activity and what my brain needed to do was stretch. It also needed oxygen to be able to think without feeling panicked or pressured, and

  3. I was listening to another person’s perspective on a similar challenge – a person with a very different view of the world and very different experiences than my own.

The combination of these actions brought me to where I could see and explore my Third Door.

What came to me was that, right there, between the three familiar solutions, was my unique and authentic offering. And that was the birth of Navigating Challenging Dialogue, a leadership, communication, and conflict resolution methodology that focuses on building positive and highly effective work cultures by increasing self-awareness and self-leadership.


Today, my executive coaching work frequently involves inviting clients to explore their Third Door intentionally.

Here is an example, which may seem familiar to you:

When an employee who holds a key position resigns, the tendency is to grab the old job posting and start recruiting to fill that slot as quickly as possible with someone who has similar skills, talent, and experiences to replace the person who is leaving.

But what is the Third Door option?

Perhaps it’s to take a day to look at all the functions and tasks necessary to achieve the goals of the team or the organization, compare them to what’s in that position, and see if, in the way the position is structured, it’s still currently relevant.

Another cognitive shortcut is to tap whoever is right in front of you to fill the position. I always support promoting from within, but I also always want my clients to check if they are choosing that option because it is their best choice or if the time, energy, and risk in looking at their alternatives feels way too uncomfortable.

So often I work with managers who are frustrated with a long-term employee, and they end up compensating for and taking on the burden of the employee’s shortcomings. When I ask why they don’t let them go and hire a new person, they say, “Because the devil I know is better than the devil I don’t know.”

Is that true? Or is that a thinking error that’s a result of the brain’s desire to take a cognitive shortcut?

In this situation, what might be a Third Door?


Don’t get me wrong, cognitive shortcuts are very valuable because they save us time and energy in all kinds of ways. For instance…

If you need a print project done fast, and you’ve had good experiences with a certain vendor over and over again, then that’s the solution your brain will pull up quickly. Go for it!

If you need to delegate something of high importance with a crushing deadline, head directly for the known expert.

But when you are seeking answers to challenging questions or problems, take a breath, stretch your mind – and perhaps your body – seek perspectives dramatically different from your own, and invite yourself to look behind the Third Door.

- Beth