After a trip to London and a fascinating conversation with friend and expert coach Michael Moriarty, the relationship between anxiety and engagement finally clicked for me. Here’s a brief transcript of how Michael, who is studying systems psychodynamics at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, explained it. He said:
“Anxiety can be experienced consciously and unconsciously. When conscious of our anxiety, we can choose how we respond. However, when overwhelming anxiety is experienced unconsciously, we also react unconsciously. Finding this anxiety intolerable, we expel it by projecting it onto something else: a person, a group, an institution, or an idea. In doing so, we free ourselves of the discomfort by transferring it elsewhere. Because this happens, individuals and groups behave in ways that reflect the anxiety that is held in the wider system of which they are a part.
“In organizational life, this is commonly visible in the ‘troublesome individual’, who is constantly challenging leadership, colleagues, processes, and systems. It is visible in blame cultures, where reasons why and why not are always located elsewhere. And it is found in ‘scapegoating’, when an individual or department is made responsible for all ills.
“All these difficulties hinder people from engaging with each other and from getting on with the real work that needs to be done. For the difficulties to be seen for what they are requires perspective, the ability to look at the situation, as if with fresh eyes from the outside. However, it is one thing to see, and another to be able successfully to do something about what you see. Anxiety provokes powerful emotions and safe space is necessary to contain those emotions so that the cause and effect of the anxiety can be recognized, explored and resolved.”
We talked about how expert coaches can facilitate a safe space and help groups contain and process their anxiety in constructive ways. From my part, the Team Reality Reporting that Mirror Mirror delivers for Team Coaches allows them to open the door to these conversations with data that has been provided in advance by participants. Michael, a Mirror Mirror practitioner, added:
“I see that Mirror Mirror is a tool that surfaces the unconscious life of teams and organizations by revealing beliefs and behaviours and how they relate to roles and tasks. Based on this data, experienced facilitators can provide the containment necessary for teams to engage with the revelations safely, allowing recognition, acceptance and alignment, removing blocks to effective collaborative work.”
Fascinating stuff. Thank you, Michael.