It seems humans are naturally poorly equipped to understand the basic nature of what drives them. Not because we are unable, but because it is easier to see issues and patterns for what is surface level, as what is deep is always more painful.
I’ll give the example of an IT executive I met with last week. He began the conversation obviously frustrated with a workplace issue and began to describe the issue. It was all about the content of what was going on. Much being asked of him, things happening without his approval, his plans not being approved. Letting this out is a necessary step as it helps begin to clear what is on the surface as these issues are currently blocking our view.
I then began to ask what was really bothering him. There was anger on the surface but where was there fear? What else was there? These questions often create resistance, for fear of being exposed. However we can see that it is only from exposure do we get to what can allow us to truly optimize the experience of this individual. Not only their experience but their performance and the experience of their colleagues.
So, what was underneath? There was a sense of not feeling trusted or supported, and fear of not being in control which triggered fears of not being safe. This lack of safety means safety in the job but also a more primal fear linked to survival. Whether or not we think these feelings are rational is irrelevant, this individual did not think these were rational.
Most would meet this situation with anger, which is the cover emotion for the ones previously mentioned because it creates a sense of action and something to be solved. But we must ask how this anger would affect the relationship with his peers? Which is clearly what he is trying to fix.
Our goal here is to see that he superpower in this process is understanding what lies at the surface and being ok with exposing that. Most people would cringe at the thought of doing this especially in a professional setting. But what if we saw it as the most effective way to move forward?
The key here is if we are going to utilize vulnerability as a performance tool we need to back it up with well thought out action. This shows that this person has taken the time to truly sit with what is going on for them, and come up with a thoughtful plan. It shows they have been able to clear out of the way the original emotional reaction and respond accordingly.
So what does this mean? It means that this IT executive should be meeting with his peers and telling them how the recent events have triggered feelings of not being trusted, supported, and out of control. Then he should present his plan for moving forward. Now his peers want to give him that support as it is the right thing to do, vs. arguing with anger.
He should then be able to feel, if he truly put it all out there and came up with what he believed was a solid plan, that no matter whether or not anything changes at the company, he can move on with a pure heart and mind knowing that he did everything in his power to change the situation and told the real truth of what was going on for him at the time.
It is only in this place that he is free to operate in a way that fosters the best performance and health in both his workplace and personal life.
So how do you do this process without a coach?
We cannot always rely on friends, coaches, therapists, mentors, etc to be there. The key to this game is being able to have the specific tools to deal with any situation at any time.
The most effective, pen and paper. Just write.
Start with what's on the surface, what do you think is bothering you. And keep asking yourself to go deeper. You will inevitably not want to go there and stop short. But like going for a run, if you want to get in better shape you have to push yourself…. Keep going…
Once you feel complete, write down the facts of the situation and then an action plan for tomorrow.
This is an incredible hack for not being able to fall asleep due to racing thoughts as well.
Write: Get it all out, go deep
Analyze: understand the facts with a clear head
Compose: Come up with your future action plan
Create: Visualize your next steps and feel them going perfectly
We all have the power to change our state. This is resilience, being able to return to baseline after being thrown off, in a quick enough timeline so it does not cause a relatively permanent personality change.
Solve for what sits underneath.
Good luck, it may be simple, but its not easy.