Some time ago I received a short email with perhaps one of the most profound messages I had read in a while (spoiler – you’ll find at at the bottom of this article).
It came from one of my clients, an international accounts director in a large company, with whose team I had just spent a very special day. It was a day when a group of high performing sales people, bright, ambitious, successful, competitive and also very stressed in their jobs took off their corporate masks and allowed themselves to be just human – beautiful, sensitive, vulnerable, imperfect and amazingly authentic. It was a day when I used the psychometric instruments from Human Synergistics to measure the way these people interacted within the team and start a long discussion about the attitudes we can have towards one another – aggressive (red), passive (green) or constructive (blue). We talked about how aggressiveness and passivity, both consequences of fear, are two ways we humans have learnt, at a very young age, to protect ourselves. Constructivism, on the other hand, is rooted in trust and goodwill and is a drive we all had in our first years of life, but which we forgot once too many layers of negative experiences have polluted the innocence of our childhood.
The truth is, and there are over four decades of research to prove it, that teams whose members trust each other are more effective. They get better business results and their team members are more motivated, creative and fulfilled in their jobs. Amazingly, constructive companies (high on cooperation, mentoring, coaching, focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses, on developing people instead of fixing them) are not only more responsible and sustainable in the long term (also, there are case studies spanning two decades to prove this point) but they are also more profitable. To be more exact, up to 1000% more profitable!
Constructive teams and organisations simply work better, but building such a team or organisation is no easy feat, as people are driven in their work, as in the rest of their lives, by their inner psychological mechanisms which often operate under the radar of consciousness.
Every time I explain to a group the mechanisms of fear and trust I realise it’s hard to find the perfect words and metaphors which would give meaning to the message, particularly when the audience is hyper-rational.
I hear, in the business environment, all sorts of hard questions and dilemmas:
“Why would it be better for us to stop competing with each other- competition drives results, doesn’t it?”; “What’s in it for me if I decide to help another rather than act in my own best interest?”; “How can we still achieve great outcomes in a hyper-competitive world if we have other people’s best interest at heart?”; “Altruism and profit can really go hand in hand?” (the answer is YES – altruism and cooperation turn out to be much more profitable than competition); “Can I trust others and give up control without taking the risk of being disappointed or things going haywire?”.
How to explain that all these questions are really about Fear and Love? How to show that fear is the only reason why people get the obsessive urge to compete, control, criticise, become sticklers or avoiders, to say “yes” when they really want to say “no” or be unnaturally complacent and prone to disadvantageous compromises? How to convey to people that love (which is to be understood here not in its romantic sense, but in a wider, more generally human sense) is what fuels trust, what makes us care, help each other even when there’s no direct gain from it, bravely say our minds and have the courage to respectfully disagree, be authentic, allow ourselves to give and receive help, do more and try to prove less?
Can we afford to even begin to talk about “love” in a work context? Well, the question that has been on my mind lately is “Can we afford not to?”
“Love” and “Fear” turn out to be two primary forces that lead our lives, not only our personal lives, but our professional ones too. We are all born with an amazing capacity to connect with one another, equipped with the ability to love and trust and, as neuro-science proves, equally capable of learning fear very quickly. We are beings who have evolved for millions of years led by our basic survival instinct (fight or flight) and that this very instinct which saved our lives in the savannah is now making us destroy one another and the very world we live in. Despite this basic selfish human instinct, we still come into this world open, confident and full of creativity, as any parent can confirm simply looking at their children. When we are young, we all have this energy of unconditional love, altruism, collaboration, which we later seem to lose touch with, once we come into contact with the harshness of the world or simply take on the fears of the adults around us.
Looking at life through this perspective, there seems to be a battle going on inside each of us – a battle between these two forces – Love, the state of evolved consciousness – and Fear – the state of consciousness of an animal whose only priority is it’s own survival. We live in a world where fear literally creates monsters, where the narrow preoccupation with our own comfort and survival takes a toll on everyone around us and on the planet itself.
There is more and more evidence showing we have reached a moment in our history when we can no longer afford to let fear drive our decisions, our businesses, our lives – not if we want to continue to flourish sustainably as a species. We can no longer afford to be selfish, aggressive, wasteful, blind, always keeping our guard up, always on the lookout for threats and dangers, perpetually concerned with building a bubble for ourselves and those we care about, lest anything should harm us. In an ever more connected world, our fragile bubbles are bound to be burst by outside forces.
Building trust means building resilience, flexibility and well-being. It means being less vulnerable to the challenges the world throws at us and it also means having a positive impact on the world through the way we conduct our teams, businesses and, ultimately, ourselves.
I keep asking myself how to explain all of this in an intelligible way? How to express this message without it sounding like philosophical, idealistic babble? How to talk to people who are caught up in the daily grind and get this message to genuinely touch them and change the vision they have for their lives, jobs, families and the future?
Reading my client’s email I realised that perhaps I was approaching that magical moment when these ideas truly reach the pragmatic audience in front of me, or perhaps the time has come when people really are ready to receive and reflect upon them.
Speaking about the psychometric measurement exercise I had done with her team, she writes, simply and beautifully, better than I could ever express:
“Red and green behaviours are really fight (red) and flight (green) reactions. Those for which our brain has been programming itself for tens of thousands of years. Blue behaviours (constructive ones) are those rooted in love, those which the sages of the world have been talking about for a very long time as being the next stage in human evolution. Humanity has started, here and there, to get out of the dark ages of fear, when fight and flight were essential for the survival of the species. We are learning to be “blue” and we are clumsy at it because it feels awkward, unnatural almost – the programming for such positive behaviours is not yet as deep. But it is paramount to become “blue” because this is the only way we can survive the next stage in our history – by collaborating instead of fighting. This has been said in many ways by countless sages, saints or outstanding people, such as Viktor Frankl.”
Dear ones, my invitation to you is to reflect on the emotions that drive your lives at the moment. What lies behind your most important life decisions or behind your reactions to those closest to you? What fuels your ambitions at work and shapes your behaviours towards your clients or colleagues?
Discover if your actions and decisions, at work and beyond, are driven more by fear or by love and trust and start defining a vision for the your best, wisest self. What might be your first step in that direction?