Apart we are struggling – Together we can thrive
Relating to each other is hard wired into us as humans. We are programmed to relate, to live and work in groups, to be part of teams and families. In organisations we achieve outcomes through relationships with others and our sense of belonging and fun in a team helps calm our fears and enable us to function at our best and most productive selves.
Neuroscience suggests that when we build rapport and empathy with someone it has the potential to calm their fight/flight/freeze centre enabling them to reengage their prefrontal cortex and access clearer decision making and to be able to identify ways to manage the complexity.
However, we are often a long way from compassion, empathy and belonging in our organisations, and worse still it feels like this distance is increasing.
In a recent webinar on Pressure and Pace in Times of Change I asked the question ‘How much has the pressure and pace increased in your organisation in the last 18 months? 79% of attendees reported that it had increased ‘a lot’. This is in line with the stories I hear from my coaching clients. They talk about how much workload has increased and along with it a need to deliver things urgently. One key impact of this has been how we relate to each other and how often we take time to be with each other.
One client told me recently how his one-to-one meetings with his boss had gone from weekly, to fortnightly and now monthly due to his boss’s competing priorities. Another described how he was under so much pressure he was just focusing on getting things done and had little time for conversation with his team. Yet another talk about how she has noticed herself focusing on managing rather than leading. They all tell me that taking time to coach their team, to teach and even in some cases to find the time to delegate effectively has slipped away. Over dinner friends tell me how colleagues have become short tempered and their derailers are on full display.
There are multiple reasons for this shift. Organisations have become more lean, and maybe we have reached a tipping point where roles have become too big. There is stiff competition in most sectors, markets are volatile and leaders are trying to make sense of the impact of AI and many other reasons I am sure you can think of.
The challenge for us is that under pressure as humans we commonly retreat into ourselves and withdraw or we push back. Stress and fear mean we slip into flight/flight/freeze mode and we think about ourselves and focus less on others. Our focus can become more narrow, we become very task focused and we don’t take enough time to connect with colleagues and team members. We retreat to email, what’s app and instant message rather than picking up the phone and talking to each other. In the midst of this the opportunity for misunderstanding increases and it becomes harder to resolve disagreements.
I see this in myself even though I am committed to focusing on relationships in my working life. When I have a long ‘to do’ list with tight deadlines, completing these seem more important than reaching out to team members or taking the time to connect with colleagues or friends. My internal pressure to complete things pulls me inwards.
The pressure and pace appears to be pushing us away from each other exactly when we could be pulling together to jointly find ways to support each other. Without wanting to seem too dramatic this seems a tragedy. In times of pressure we need more human contact not less. Without human contact where is empathy and compassion and how are we going to resolve the issues arising from our huge workloads?
Call to Action
In this time of pressure I believe it is time to remind ourselves that connection and relationship are a fundamental part of leadership and working life and to take time to be with each other. Simple actions such as giving someone your full attention, demonstrating empathy and compassion for their situation or asking curious inquiring questions can be the difference between a person feeling connected and supported in their work and feeling alone and neglected.
Pick up the phone and ask someone how they are feeling, take someone for coffee, have a team lunch. We can check in to see what support people need, and if we can’t provide it we can be honest about this, and still support them emotionally. Have coaching conversations and help people to find ways to accept what they can’t change and identify areas they can change. Together we can be curious about ways we can ease the load and carry the load together.
I invite you to stop and reflect on your own relationships in the coming days.
About the Author
Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes (ACTP). Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.