As a leader, how comfortable are you having conversations at work that elicit emotion? It’s an issue that many grapple with – myself included. So, when I was invited to join a workshop designed to tackle this topic, I jumped at the chance.
Lou Banks, Director and Founder of culture consultants Rising Vibe led the two hour session. Her company’s goal is to help organisations create high-performing cultures that have wellbeing at their heart. Key to this is that leaders not only have business goal orientated conversations, but also check-in to see how their people are feeling, and be OK with emotion.
Soft skills for concrete results
People call this stuff pink and fluffy – it isn’t. It’s about holding people to account and having really constructive performance management conversations. If someone is delivering, you need to be able to tell them. If they aren’t delivering you also need to tell them.
Core to truly constructive performance management conversations is caring about people. First and foremost people need to know clearly what’s expected of them. But it’s not enough to have clear KPIs without checking-in on how people are feeling, and vice versa.
It’s not just about knowing the names of your team members’ kids. What’s important is creating a psychologically safe environment where people can talk about how confident they feel about meeting expectations. An environment where they can say if they don’t understand, aren’t coping or need recognition for their efforts – without fear of negative consequences.
Why are people afraid of emotion in business?
Lou explained that the concept of ‘social pain’ underpins all of Rising Vibe’s work. Social and physical pain activate the same brain circuitry. The anterior cingulate will light up if you cut your finger, have a break-up or don’t get the promotion you were expecting.
Humans have a need to feel part of a tribe. Social pain is caused when you have a sense of disconnection from the tribe. Examples include feelings of loss, rejection, exclusion, isolation, conflict, being undervalued, judged, misunderstood, lacking influence or not heard. Some feel it more intensely than others.
This is why people don’t have conversations that involve emotion. We are constantly evaluating for social threat and generally don’t want to create disconnection or make it worse. It’s also why conversations holding people to account don’t happen.
The good news is that a conversation framework can really help.
Finding the right words
Rising Vibe’s ‘vibrational scale’ framework refers to emotions as being ‘high vibe’ or ‘low vibe’ rather than positive or negative. Lou explains: “It’s important to recognise that all emotions are valid”. It sounds a bit New Age but the scale is not only for creative types. It’s something that even those who don’t connect to emotional intelligence can relate to.
This is because the scale provides an intuitive simple way to help people check in with and vocalise their emotions. A graphic clearly outlines 7 high and 15 low vibe emotions. Words describing emotions are grouped according to their intensity.
People can be in duality; both high and low vibe. The scale can be used to hone in on which emotional needs aren’t being met consistently that are causing a sense of low vibe. This can be done on both a macro (general work environment level) and also at a micro (task focused) level.
The art of listening to help someone help themselves
According to Lou, people need to be heard, not fixed.
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When they find themselves in an emotional conversation, leaders need to resist defending themselves (could this be something that you do when your team member tells you they don’t feel recognised)? They shouldn’t jump in to help either. The key is to help individuals understand their emotional needs and what is causing them to be in a low vibe state.
Managers can then help to guide their colleagues with questions like:
- What needs to change to increase your score by 0.5? – it’s important to encourage baby steps forward, not quantum leaps
- Is that within your control or influence?
- If not, what else might help?
This helps people to understand that we can’t rely on the external world to meet our needs.
But before being able to help others, leaders must first understand their own needs and get underneath those which are and which aren’t being met. Only then can they be in a position to help others.
Once they understand their own needs, leaders then have to go first and show that they aren’t afraid to vocalise these and be vulnerable. This gives others freedom to be open too.
Follow the leader
The course went on to divide attendees into breakout groups so that we could have a go at using the vibrational scale to understand how our own emotional needs are being met in the workplace.
Lou shared that behind the theory it is suggested that the needs we have in adulthood are those that weren’t met in childhood. It was clear that for me, acceptance, autonomy and consistency are all key emotional needs.
Once you understand how this applies to your general work environment, you can break your role down and apply it to individual work tasks. It works for home life too.
In essence, the theory is that it’s very hard to perform from a low vibe place. But if your emotional needs are being met, this will lead to high performance. I’m intrigued and will definitely be giving it a go.
If you keep checking in and a colleague still isn’t performing “Then”, says Lou “there’s a different conversation to be had”.
If you’d like to know more about the link between performance management and wellbeing, tune-in to the onstage conversation at the MAD World Summit between consultant Geoff McDonald and Unilever’s CHRO Leena Nair. You can find it on MADFlix – the video content library for all Make A Difference events.
Angela Lewis, Companies House’s Director of People Transformation also talks about how wellbeing has become an integral part of performance management in this interview for Make A Difference News.
About the author
Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times