Executive coach Mollie Treverton talks about the real source of many work issues and shares her experience of how the Process goes to the heart of the conditioning that affects our ability to be effective colleagues and leaders.
Work takes up a huge amount of our time and energy. It affects our moods, our relationships and how we feel about ourselves. At its best, it can offer rewarding opportunities to develop our potential; yet many of us go through our working day on autopilot, stifling creative ideas, then wondering where the time went or finding it hard to distinguish one day from the next.
This is a tremendous loss, both to ourselves and those around us, because the less engaged we are, the more we lose touch with our inner intelligence and creative dynamism.
When we follow our inner intelligence in the direction of our true passion, work can be enormously fulfilling. However, when we ignore, or choose not to respond to our sense of what’s right for us, the signals tend to become increasingly insistent in an attempt to be noticed and acted on. These may be felt as tensions, bodily discomfort, anxiety or a lack of energy. All these things eventually eat away at our wellbeing and confuse us, to the point where we become numb to our feelings.
One of my clients was a perfect example of this. He was a company director desperate to set up aid convoys using his expertise as a successful haulier. He wanted to make a difference. Instead of acting on this, he’d dialled it down until he was left with an ongoing, all-pervasive sense of dissatisfaction. No matter what success he had in business, the feeling remained. Worse still, it blocked him from enjoying his young family, which saddened him even more.
Wherever you go, there you are
When we’re unhappy at work another coping strategy can be physically withdrawing rather than emotionally numbing out, so we walk away from a job or a manager without resolving why we’re having problems. Then we find the same issues crop up again in our new situation. For example I once coached a high-ranking police officer who took early retirement and moved to the country to escape the frustration she felt in the police force. When I met her she was living on an idyllic smallholding with horses and an active social life – all she thought she’d ever wanted. Yet the same frustration she’d felt in the police force was just as present and as easily-triggered as if she was still policing in the city because the source of that frustration wasn’t the job – it lay hidden in her past – and this is where we all need to look, if we’re to change the present.
Our past holds the key because behaviour patterns and the way we cope with challenges form when we’re very young and become deeply ingrained. We learn to perform from an early age to cover feelings of not being good enough, or not being loved enough, or not having enough. Our early conditioning says, ‘I have to be perfect to get love, and if I’m not perfect, I don’t get love’ and ‘If I’m my real self, no-one loves or wants me.’ From a child’s point of view, the need to live up to others’ expectations means that performing can become the default position that hides our true feelings.
In ‘performance’ mode, we learn to share only what we think is wanted, or what will get us approval or positive attention. We’re constantly moulding ourselves to fit other people’s perceptions of who we are or who we think we ‘should’ be. And nowhere is this pattern more obvious than at work, where financial reward is often determined by performance targets and reviews.
This self-censoring means that as adults we have a problem when we hit difficult places, the ‘sticky’ bits of ourselves where we feel the things we want to keep hidden. At work, this could show up in various ways, like feeling demotivated, ‘stale’, or that the culture doesn’t ‘fit’ us. But so often it’s because we’re masking our true feelings, even from ourselves. The mask becomes second nature to the point we forget we’re wearing it. We may experience our working life as a series of difficult relationships, frustrations and constant pressure … yet also feel that these things have to be tucked away out of sight.
We can waste a huge amount of energy avoiding our difficult places and keeping our ‘sticky’ bits hidden. To compound things, they’re often well-guarded by that loyal, devoted servant, our inner critic. Like a faithful but misguided sheepdog, this internalised voice will round us up and keep us ‘safe’ in ever-smaller pens. When it starts snapping at our heels, our defences are activated – we might be superficially busy, but we only progress very slowly, in constant danger of burning out.
Getting out of your comfort zone
When we seek safety in our comfort zone, we’re cramped. From this position we’re small, so naturally our problems appear bigger than us – and we can’t deal effectively with a problem that’s bigger than us. If we can find our adult self (who’s not regressed), we’re very capable of handling what life brings. So the most helpful approach allows people to come into a felt experience of their adult self. From the adult, we’re not trapped in the dream of who we used to be. At four years old we were scared and insecure; at forty we’re only scared when we’re triggered into going back to being four.
When we can disidentify from the story and learn to step into a witnessing adult place, we become larger than the problem, and therefore resourced to handle it. From this place we can create different future possibilities and outcomes. We find that the quantum universe starts to respond to us in new ways. We can trust enough to open into a new authenticity.
The truth of this really came home to me when I did Hoffman. The Process was like a heat-seeking missile for me, going directly to the source of my childhood conditioning, my desire to perform. I experienced how I cramped around certain triggers in day-to-day situations. I came away knowing the different aspects of myself so completely that this awareness and the ability to shift my state to a here-and-now adult has become my new normal.
Leading from a place of awareness
This awareness and presence are particularly key for leaders, who are in a very visible position. Everybody reads you and reacts to you. Not just your words but your body language, your approach to work and how you solve problems. People notice how their leader communicates, handles stress, uses their time, or sets their boundaries. All this goes in at a subtle level. It’s a case of ‘caught not taught’. It’s therefore vital for leaders to develop self-awareness and emotional intelligence, because it has a trickle-down effect on the whole organisation.
If we can create a more emotionally intelligent workforce, they will take those skills home to their families and communities. People will not only engage more at work, but in their life as a whole. And that can only be a good thing for all of us.
Self-awareness and the way the Hoffman tools enable us to shift position has particular significance at work because what we bring to that role is what’s inside us. If that’s whole and at peace, and has clear intention, we’ll be much more effective than someone who is full of unresolved emotional ‘noise’.
What’s your working life trying to tell you?
Some pointers to help you decide:
- Are work relationships a source of stress?
- Have you hit a career plateau?
- Have you stopped taking risks?
- Do you find yourself in repeating patterns of relating and reacting?
- Do you side-step healthy challenge and conflict?
- Do you hide in reports, statistics or support functions rather than taking a more dynamic and visible role?
- Do you spend your days in a ‘gilded cage’– well-rewarded but with a nagging sense of dissatisfaction?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of these, it’s time to take a fresh look at work.
To read more about Mollie’s business coaching, corporate services and work with the Conversational Intelligence method, visit: https://mollietreverton.me