An organization’s ability to create new solutions is directly related to the health of their Anxiety Management System. Unfortunately, most organizations don’t know they have such a system and can’t diagnose how to change it.
The other day, a friend asked me “What does Hello People Consulting (HPC) do for an organization?” Without thinking, I responded: “Transformation.” I inferred from his quizzical look that I needed to explain further. “We help organizations identify and alter the Anxiety Management System that holds them back.” As he waited patiently for me to continue, I realized I needed to further dissect HPC’s purpose.
So, I started at the beginning.
Organizations Have One Purpose: Find Creative Solutions to a Problem.
The only reason people put energy into starting an organization is the desire to find a solution to a problem. This occurs in all arenas including: manufacturing, social services, education, consulting, B2B, military, government, family owned orgs., plus every other group.
Organizational Development is Predictable.
While it is easy to think of an organization as a large self-sustaining entity, the reality is all organizations are made up of individuals and each person has an individual method of managing anxiety called emotional reactivity. (This will be discussed in detail later.)
The start of an organization typically occurs because two or three people have formulated a solution to a problem. This initial core of people combine their emotional reactivity to establish an Anxiety Management System. This is a naturally occurring process and the founders are probably not even aware of the subconscious system they created.
Think of the Anxiety Management System as a skyscraper’s foundation that reaches down to rest on bedrock. Foundations provide skyscrapers a method of remaining structurally sound. An organization, regardless of size, cannot be structurally sound without a healthy Anxiety Management System.
Unbeknownst to the organization, adding more people encourages dual growth. First the organization grows numerically and can theoretically develop a greater impact on the problem. Generally, a positive occurrence. Second, all new people contribute their emotional reactivity to the Anxiety Management System. Usually this enhancing of the Anxiety Management System alters how people relate to each other within the organization. A new person shows up in the group and all of a sudden people are reacting differently.
Anxiety Reduces the Ability to be Creative.
The term “creative” does not indicate a person will all of a sudden become a great painter or writer. Instead, a person will be able to recognize Third Way Thinking. Rigid, dichotomous choices are reduced and other options are formulated. A pathway never thought of before becomes possible. Sound risks are taken and prove successful. This all occurs because the person manages anxiety in a healthy way.
When an organization or individual does not have healthy methods of managing anxiety, the creative capability is reduced. Understanding how the brain works helps to understand this problem.
A human brain can only do one thing at a time. The popular myth of “multi-tasking” doesn’t hold up to reality. Picture Grand Central Station in New York City with its 67 tracks. The brain may have 67 tasks, but there is only one engine. So, the engine has to jump from track to track to push each track’s train. Yes, all tasks may move forward, but it is rarely done effectively or efficiently.
This concept of the brain only doing one thing influences both thinking and emotions. A person can be angry or happy. Fearful or relaxed. Ridged or curious. Anxious or creative. You will never find a fearfully-relaxed or an anxiously-creative person.
Extrapolating this out, all organizations are made up of people. At any given moment, people can be either anxious or creative. When the anxiety becomes too high within a group, the creativity decreases. When multiple groups are highly anxious the overall creativity of the organization decreases. As the creativity decreases, the groups become even more anxious about the lack of creativity thereby reducing the ability to become creative. When an organization’s creativity is substantially reduced, they say there is a “communication” problem. Instead it is an anxiety problem. The difficulties are a manifestation of the Anxiety Management System
Many organizations then try to fix the problem by implementing new leadership development protocols or the latest method of organizational systems. Unfortunately, without understanding how the Anxiety Management System influences the organization, the new, hot, better development plan will eventually fail and another new, better, superior idea needs to be implemented.
To reach the organization’s full potential, the Anxiety Management System must be understood. There are times when a person or team can pull out of the anxiety and find creativity, but this is hard to sustain when the rest of the organization is beset with anxiety.
Identifying the Anxiety Management System
Emotional reactions are the basis for the Anxiety Management System. After these reactions are recognized, the Anxiety Management System become obvious. The following team meetings is a great opportunity to see how individuals quell their anxieties.
The meeting has been called to decide on a new idea. Jubal immediately loves the idea and volunteers to do as much as possible to ensure its success. Gloria figures that if Jubal is doing so much, she won’t need to step up at all. Sven doesn’t like the idea, so he starts arguing about the validity of going in that direction. Sue knows more arguing will occur if she supports the idea, so she stays quiet. Jorge loudly takes over the conversation and refuses to allow anyone else the opportunity to present ideas on how to move forward.
After the meeting, Jesse immediately goes to a person not involved in the situation and tells the uninvolved person all about this “terrible” decision. Kemper keeps his cool during the meeting, but afterwards he overreacts in frustration towards a co-worker. Mi Lin hates the emotional reactivity of the team and doesn’t even bother showing up for the meeting
Recognizing the Emotional Reactivity
In the above example, each person used a different emotional reaction. All of the reactions do the same thing, they lower the person’s anxiety about what is occurring or what may occur.
Overfunctioning– Jubal takes on a disproportionate amount of responsibility. People who use this method tend to say “If you want it done right, do it yourself,” “It won’t get done if I don’t do it.”
Underfunctioning- Gloria doesn’t take on enough responsibility. People who use this method tend to say “I can’t do it as well as that person.” “When I try, it is never right.”
Conflict- Sven rejects the new idea because it will change the status quo. People who use this method tend to say “I don’t like change.” “I like the way things are and won’t participate in the change.”
Fusion– Sue makes a decision based on the emotional reactivity of other people. People who use this method tend to say “I know that person will get angry if I say this.” “I need to make sure everyone stays calm.”
Lowest Common Denominator – Jorge hijacks the discussion. People who use this method tend to say “How dare you refuse to allow my voice to be heard.” “You are the problem not me.”
Triangles– Joe finds a confidant to off load the stress of the meeting. People who use this method tend to say “I need to talk the problem through with someone I trust.” “I’m looking for a neutral opinion.”
Disregarding the Discomfort– Kemper compartmentalizes the anxiety and releases it later. People who use this method tend to say “It wasn’t my fault, they made me so mad.” “I was triggered by what they said.”
Distancing– Mi Lin completely separates herself from the conversation. People who use this method tend to say “Everyone gets so heated I can’t get a word in edgewise.” “I don’t want to participate, because it doesn’t matter what I say.”
Next time you are working with another person, a team, or even when you find yourself reacting, start identifying the anxiety methods being used by those involved. You may discover many people use different methods, even during the same conversation or meeting.
We at HPC help organizations, teams, or individuals identify the Anxiety Management System in which they work. We provide coaching, group training, and keynote speaking. In the past, this happened in person at the organization’s location. In the current environment, this is taking place via virtual methods. In the future, we expect both styles of exploration to be available depending on the organization’s interest.
Our interaction with your organization starts with an evaluation of the Anxiety Management System already in place. This can happen through conversations with key leadership to discover problem areas, we spend time witnessing team meetings, and/or interview select team members. The purpose is to develop an understanding of how the process currently in use.
At HPC we never tell you what is wrong and how to fix it, we train you so you can recognize the process. With new insight, we support you as you rebuild the Anxiety Management System with the goal of having it become a solid foundation for your organization instead of getting in your way.
Julie Swanberg Hjelm, Ph.D.
Julie is an expert on anxiety and differentiation of self. She helps organizations and individuals recognize how they are responding to anxiety and how to create new patterns of response. When the Anxiety Management System is identified and altered, transformation can happen.