Developing Organizations, Part 2 – Below the surface
Feelings help us make sense of the world …
Very often the toughest tasks when developing an organization lies in handling intangibles like conflicting interests, different values, personal conflicts, and attitudes. These are situations characterized of substantial social challenge. They evoke emotional reactions and behaviors that are often intimidating to people and therefore difficult to handle in a good way.
Socially threatening situations
Human beings are extremely sensitive to situations where we experience a potential threat to our sense of inclusion and worthiness. Such events and processes evoke fear within us and the basic function of fear is to warn and protect us from something we experience as dangerous in some way.
From neuroscience we have now learned that social threat is just as real and powerful to our organism as physical threat. So the reaction is very “logical” in its own way. It is quick and automatic and a vital part of our neurology. Most of the time we are not fully aware of these reactions and how they also might lead to unwanted consequences.
Why do we have feelings?
However, fear is only one of our basic feelings. There are also others like e.g. anger, sadness, joy, surprise, interest, disgust and shame as well as a lot of nuances (e.g. pride, disappointment, frustration).
Feelings are very much involved in how we interact with other people. From the early moments of our lives we learn about the conditions for love, acceptance and inclusion and as a part of that we learn how to manage our feelings. What we learn this way is of course closely connected to the context we grew up in – our closest caregivers and the surrounding cultural system.
This very early learning will affect and guide us even as adults. It will play an important part in how we come to interpret and behave in social situations. Our experiences will teach us how other´s react and respond to our feelings. Some of us have learnt to become more controlled and withdrawn, while others are more spontaneous and extrovert. Whichever pattern we learn is for “better or worse”. The way we manage feelings and emotions will be functional in some situations and more inhibitive in others.
Feelings and emotions constitute information, energy and motivation.
In general, people´s knowledge and attitude towards feelings vary greatly. Our understanding and skills in this area play an undisputable role the way we handle social interaction, personal health and wellbeing.
We are constantly affected by our feelings. In every meeting and every process. Without the aid of feelings and emotions we would not really be able to make choices and decisions. We would not be able to tune into the moods of other people and adjust to situations. We would not be able to tune into ourselves and understand what we need.
But feelings need to be processed in some way. Not just “at home” but also within an organization. Sometimes an inner personal process will be enough but often they need to be recognized and handled in a meeting with another person.
People often believe that some of their feelings are wrong, even forbidden and should not be expressed or shown in the workplace. But feelings will not disappear from the system because we try to forget about or neglect them. When we push them under the surface and pretend they do not exist we might cope in the moment but there will often be long-term implications like e.g. loss of energy and motivation, resistance, emotional outbursts, lack of creativity, and stress.
People who are not so aware about their own way of functioning within this area risk being myopic in relation to consequences of their own reactions and actions. Without a more solid awareness it is much harder to take in and process one´s own way of influencing others.
Nowadays, science has shown that human beings have the capacity to keep learning well into high age. This is also valid for how we deal with our feelings. Learning more, also about these parts of one´s own being, is therefore important to be able to grow and become a wiser and more authentic person.
To be able to talk about this and gain some understanding is often a relief. Sharing with others can build common understanding and respect as well as a platform for new ways of working together.
The attitude that leaders and other authorities show towards the feelings of others as well as in relation to their own feelings is a very strong normative factor. It is a verbal and nonverbal guide (behavior, body-language etc.) for people´s interpretation of what type of behaviors that will be possible and accepted with you as a leader.
So-called emotional competence is about skills in sensing, understanding and regulating one´s feelings and emotions in a helpful way. In times of uncertainty and complexity it is easy to realize the importance of this capacity.