The Context for Relationships: The Emotional Force Field
Relationships do not occur in a vacuum. We’re not merely a collection of random people who happen to be in the same organization at the same time. Once we join a group (including our families!) we become part of an emotional unit. Whether we like it or not, we are connected to the other members through a sometimes very powerful emotional force field.
We’ve probably all heard the phrase, “when mom’s not happy, no one’s happy.” We could easily replace “mom” with “the boss.” The point is the same. Other members’ anxious behaviors and emotional reactions can quickly spread through the team. And in some cases it’s like wildfire.
Take the classic challenge of the deadline coming due with two different boss scenarios. The teams have 24 hours to get things done and there’s concern that they might not make it. In the one case, the leader’s anxious reaction is to bark sharp orders and raise his voice. People know that he’s nervous and ticked off. Instinctively most members of the team naturally cascade some version of these same anxious behaviors down the line…and without even thinking about it! It’s natural; it’s instinctive. The team is stressed and resentful.
In the second scenario they feel the same pressure. However, this leader makes a point to watch her emotional reactivity and its impact on the system. She very consciously works to keep her tone of voice calm while still issuing directives. She is purposeful and very clear about what needs to be done and explains what happens if the team does not meet their deadline. But she exhibits this behavior in a more calming manner and gives a few gestures of appreciation. This tone of leadership gets passed on down the line. Her behavior results in less stress and maybe even a positive charge for the team.
So which team met the deadline? Maybe both did. But what collateral damage was done? You do the math.
- Observe, watch the system that you’re part of.
- Do you see the emotional force field in play?
- What anxious reactive behaviors do you see?
- Can you see these spreading through the team or the organization?
- What especially do you see in yourself?
- Are there times or places where you could work to calm yourself down and stop the power of the force field?
- Where can you infuse a calming presence into the system?