truth or consequences

truth-or-consequences-sign

I have long been curious about relationships and honesty in organisations.

We have many relationships in organisations.  Leaders and led, managers and managed, teams, colleagues, friends, co-workers… And it seems to me we are typically comfortable talking about ‘stuff’ in organisations. Comfortable having conversations about ‘stuff’ in these relationships. The target, the project, the objective, the goal, the job etc.  Oh sure, some are tricky conversations. The performance management one, the looming deadline one, the efficiency might mean redundancies one…

However, in organisations in particular, we find it hard to speak the truth about deeper thoughts and feelings. About emotions. Especially the truth to power. Or the truth to a colleague. Or the truth to a line manager. Or the truth to a team member.

It seems to me that largely this is because of consequences.

Consequences real or perceived.

I heard a story the other day of a senior leader seeking to speak the truth to power.  They were encouraged to do so by their most senior leaders, so at a conference they spoke up, to the MD.  Expressing a deeply felt concern. They were subsequently embarrassed and throughout the remainder of the conference they were made an example of.

Such bravery is to be admired, but there are normal everyday conversations in organisational relationships which fall foul of the perceived consequences from speaking up.  Not just about important organisational stuff,  but about deeply personal stuff. Admitting a vulnerability, or a personal emotional difficulty from life’s roller coaster ride, inside or outside work, seems to be a truth too far. Expressing a gut feel doubt, or exploring a sense of frustration, disappointment, confusion, anger in our organisational relationships seems a harder truth than ‘you’re fired’. Seeking to explore different thinking, or values, or drivers or beliefs seems somehow a luxury that might be frowned upon or considered not real work.  Activities to be judged in our organisational world of relationships. Activities with consequences.

I wonder if we need to be more overt about consequences, or the lack of them? So that truth, vulnerability, feelings, difference can be encouraged to flourish? These are important things in our organisational relationships and if they can be nurtured, cultivated, grow and blossom without fear of consequences hanging over them like a watering can full of weedkiller… I wonder what might be possible?

speaking guttish


When we think, we can tangibly understand and relate to our thoughts. They have a language. Our language. It’s like a conversation. We can hear or see our thoughts. We can reason with them. Disagree with them.

When we think, we can tangibly produce outputs. Pros and cons. Information and data. Benefits and implications. Decisions. Choices.

But when our gut feel is in use, it can be harder to understand and relate to. Often we don’t know what the feeling means. There is no language. In fact we often struggle to find a language for the feeling, let alone interpret its intent for us.

So what does that mean for a decision based largely or completely on gut feel?

The flipism normative decision theory suggests making a decision based on a coin toss. Not a decision based on the toss itself, but on the feeling associated with the outcome. The theory being, if your gut really wanted the ‘heads’ outcome, you will feel positive if that’s the result and disappointed if the toss comes down ‘tails’.

But how do we know a positive feeling from a disappointed one? And what if our feeling on the outcome isn’t ‘disappointed’, but is ‘sad’, or ‘let down’ or ‘futility’ or ‘shame’… How do we interpret a sensation in our body and know precisely what it means? If the outcome our gut seeks is ‘satisfied’, do we know if the feeling is that? What if it’s ‘kind’ or ‘justified’ or ‘rewarded’ or ‘acknowledged’…?

Yet we make gut feel decisions daily. Often these are among our best decisions. The ones we accept readily without a desire to revisit, unlike some of our thinking decisions.

It seems building our language in this area might be useful? Building a way to communicate with our own bodies, helpful?

time to turn around?

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There’s a lane near us that often closes due to flooding.  It’s a nuisance, but when it’s shut we have to drive around to get to our destination.  There are several alternatives, but each is a longer route.

We just do it though. We don’t go back home and say, “Oh well, no going to the shops today.” Nor do we drive down the lane and stop at the point where the water has risen to a foot deep, park up, and say, “We’ll wait for the floodwater to subside.”

We don’t even think about it. We turn around and try a different route.

Today in a meeting, we got stuck. We set out to achieve something as a group and every suggestion fell on stoney ground, or everything we tried seemed to move us no closer to our objective. Yet we persevered. The mood in the room became flat. Frustration emerged. Disagreements rose up like unwanted nettles in the garden. It took us nearly an hour for someone to ask, “Why are we finding this so difficult?” This gave someone else the opportunity to say, “Let’s try something different.” So we did. Completely different. And we made progress.

Strange that when our route is blocked physically, we instinctively and immediately detour. Yet when our thinking is blocked, we bash on, stubbornly persisting with our thinking. Getting further stuck as emotions then bind us up like creepers around our feet.

Turn around. Go another way.

 

when we are played with by our own emotions

Earlier this week I hopped on a bus in London.

As I found my seat, the bus pulled away and I noticed a taxi slowing next to the bus, as the gap ahead was too narrow.  He slotted in behind, but merely for a few moments, before accelerating alongside the bus.

There was an exchange of views through open windows. Thankfully mostly inaudible, but clearly both had a perspective on what had just occurred.  They drove together sharing their perspectives for a few moments before the taxi veered off.

The bus driver audibly muttered ‘stupid’, thumped his wheel twice and clearly, as he repeated the word at least five times over the next three or four minutes, his attention was directed inwardly to whatever emotions he was feeling after the exchange.  Certainly some anger, maybe some frustration, possibly some hurt?  Who knows?  Maybe not even the driver.

I reflected for a moment on the safety of his passengers, as evidently his mind was not fully on the busy London traffic.

There is a drought of compassion in our world, and a deluge of blame.

I wished for my bus driver to be able to step outside his emotion and notice what was happening for him.

His emotions and doubtless those of his fellow combatant, the taxi driver, trapped them in their blaming world.

Stepping into what he was feeling, and why, might allow him space to contemplate what the taxi driver might also be feeling; from that awareness comes the capacity for compassion, for self and for others.

Sometimes we are merely toys, played with by our own humanity.

don’t be disappointed but…

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I received an email today. I was one of a number of recipients. It started…

“Don’t be disappointed, frustrated or any other negative emotion please, but…”

Until I read that, I wasn’t.

Upon reading it though, I am well prepared to take on any number of negative emotions, even before I get to understand what I am going to have to get emotional about.

My state, my intent has been pre-programmed by the writer, if you will.

Ironic really.

 

emotional replenishment

emotions shopping

I need to shop for food today. Saturday isn’t a normal shopping day for us – too many people in the aisles. The aimless people.

Anyhow, it occurred to me, what if I could shop for emotions? What would be on my list? What do I want more of and what do I have enough of in the cupboard?

Do I want more joy? More caring? More trust? More serenity? Do I need a little more sadness? A big pot of empathy? Do I need to refill my anger? Maybe I would like to take some lonely back to the shop?

Am I baking a relationship cake and need some extra courage? Some more selfishness, a little daring, some strong, rather than medium, fun? A big box of compassion perhaps, a soupcon of adventurousness and a large tin of hurt? Plus a garnish of warmth?

Maybe I’m about to change role and I need to stock up on thrilled, thoughtful and excited, buy a refill pack of embarrassed, but also purchase some ashamed and not good enough seasoning?

Or maybe I’m being forced to change role and need some hope, a little vindictiveness and a splash of inadequate, to go with the large supply I have at home of feeling used?

What would be on your emotions shopping list?