Brexit consumed our thoughts, then COVID-19 came along and raised the fear and uncertainty stakes. Last month I wrote the article “Leaning Into Uncertainty” and thought that was enough to get us thinking about what vulnerability meant. Then Vladimir Putin decided that Russia wasn’t big enough and has since, through his actions, raised the uncertainty and fear levels across most of the world.
During this latest period, as part of our plans to give back to the HR community, here at Calm People we started a series of complimentary workshops covering topics related to our core subject of Emotional Resilience. The second of the series, which happened only last week, was aptly named Dealing With Feeling.
The premise of that particular seminar was simple. We all have core feelings that we are hardwired to feel and express but which due to our experiences and upbringing we choose not to express fully. In fact many of us actively choose not to engage with our feelings because, in their core form they are too connected, too powerful and often too raw.
As we explained in the seminar, if we don’t make some room for these feelings in our busy lives, they do not just simply go away. In fact, much like a Russian bully boy who feels ignored and undervalued they return time and again until they have your full attention. This normally means they wait until a suitable time to overwhelm us.
As Vlad the Invader has started his campaign of “liberation” in Ukraine, this subject has suddenly come into focus. Even more so for a few of our clients who have teams spread across borders in Europe. What to do to support the Ukrainian teams? How to deal with the Russian Teams? What can we talk about and when?
As we have been having these conversations with our clients, the first place we have returned to is those core feelings. To recap, they are happiness, anger, fear, sadness, hurt and shame. We are all capable of feeling and expressing these but many of us choose to hide them away and try to ignore them. It is at times like these that they become stronger and more insistent. For many of us too much emotional energy can be spent just trying to wrestle these uncomfortable feelings and keep them away from our consciousness.
I would go as far as to say that many of us only experience happiness and anger. In doing so we are mostly using anger to cover up our other four feelings of vulnerability. Interestingly, by not allowing ourselves the full range of our feelings, when we say we feel happy, we may simply just feel relieved. Carl Gustav Jung put it so well when he said “Even a happy life cannot be without a measure of darkness, and the word happy would lose its meaning if it were not balanced by sadness.“
One of our biggest issues for emotional communication is that if we do not have a healthy relationship with our own vulnerability then we are not really able to support others in a healthy way when they are experiencing extreme vulnerability. Many of us are skilled at rescuing, diverting, squashing feelings and making it all about ourselves. Few of us are skilled at sitting with our vulnerability and allowing others to do the same. As a result many of us are also really challenged when we wish to try the emotional acrobatics of empathy. As Brene Brown says “empathy is a choice and it’s a vulnerable choice, because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.”
All of the above sets the context for the discussions we have been having with our clients with multi site, cross border european teams. For teammates to be able to connect and empathise they need to understand their own vulnerability. If they don’t they may display all those unhealthy behaviours mentioned above. Worse still they may ignore the elephant of vulnerability that is in the room when meeting with colleagues.
Most of Europe is aware of how scared Ukranians are and how angry they must be and is supporting them. What about their Russian colleagues? On one hand they may be locked in their own Vlad fed media bubble of Russian State Media and believe the propaganda that they are fed. On the other they may be in extreme disagreement with their President’s actions but be afraid to say it. They may also be very worried about how the rest of the world and especially their colleagues may be judging them.
If these feelings are not addressed they will get in the way of our mental and emotional health. They will stop us thinking efficiently and will stop teams being able to communicate effectively and work together.
So what to do?
We are advising our clients to meet this head on. We are running sessions where we talk about our vocabulary for feelings, our ability to connect and ways in which we can get better at this for the sake of our own emotional health. During these sessions we are also talking about applying our empathy to those around us so that we may better connect and communicate. If you talk about the elephant in the room then it leaves and makes space for the things we really want to talk about. That’s why it’s there, taking up space, to get us to talk.
When we work with leaders we also talk about how to communicate with their teams and how to raise the subject of how they are feeling. We also help them work out whether the circumstances in Ukraine are going to escalate into black and white conflict. In which case, maybe they need to be taken off the table as a subject of discussion that is too sensitive.
For those of us sitting in UK organisations dealing with UK only clients this is a subject that is interesting, absorbing and, when nuclear weapons are mentioned, is very scary. For the European teams and clients it is a subject that needs airing carefully and empathetically. Let’s start now before it becomes corrosive to the relationships we value and need.
If you would like to listen to a recording of that seminar Dealing With Feeling click here.
If you would like to talk to us about how we can help your team navigate the complex world of vulnerability and conflict email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk.