Avoiding difficult conversations or allowing bad behaviour to continue in the workplace, based on what we think upset, angry, fearful, stressed looks like in ourselves and others is based on internal cues that happen without thought. The danger in this, however, is that we are using historical events to guide and shape the future, our future – the one where we want to be living healthy happy lives. If your staffing team(or family members) haven’t updated their frames of references to their physiological responses for a while, it can be costing your workplace performance management strategy in more ways than one: avoidance culture, risk-adverse mindset, bullying allegations, high staff turnover…
Let me explain.
My son, who is now 10, trod on a wasp nest when he was 7; it was the most frightening experience.
Compounding the event, while he was being attacked, Alex was on the other side of a 5′ fence that I was unable to easily or quickly lift him over; he was repeatedly screaming ‘I don’t want to die…’.
Everyone was panicking, and for those few minutes, I too wondered if such an attack would kill my first born.
Surprisingly, he had no physical reaction to the 30+ stings to his upper torso and face. Mentally though, things were not so favorable for him. Until very recently, any time an actual wasp or bee appeared, or even a mention of the ‘W’ word in Alex’s presence, would result in a reaction that was nothing short of hysterical. And wasps even seem to enjoy taunting him; one spring morning, we were sitting inside when he suddenly became hysterical, screaming that a wasp was on his leg. Yep. There was. The poor dude lived in fear.
Here’s a twist to the story – did you know I am a beekeeper? I tend to two hives, and in full protective suiting, can spend hours with my ladies; encouraging my children to join me. Having a very fearful son, however, has made the hobby at times difficult and awkward.
To help him, I encouraged my three children to become members of a local junior bee keeping group – they get the opportunity to suit up and explore hives with master beekeepers. Having felt safe at these events, Alex was keen to join me in our hive recently and I embraced the moment; my intention was simple, a gentle day of time together, allowing me to give Alex my full attention.
After conducting the usual safety talks and checks, we suited up, which also included attaching his GoPro, as 10 year olds do…
Inside the hive, we discussed what we could see: there were baby bees, drones bees, brood and a little bit of honey on the side; he was doing so well. With fire in his eyes, Alex requested to hold a frame of bees. I remember vividly watching him and his gentle curiosity for a few minutes, ‘til he quietly handed the frame back to me with “I’m done, thanks, Mum”.
What happened next didn’t surprise me, though; Alex stepped back, and with a release of emotion, he broke down in tears, crying out “I’m scared, I’m scared…they’re going to hurt me”.
His breath was quick and shallow, I could see his body was tense; he wanted desperately to run but stood in his fear, unsure what to do.
At that moment, I dropped my Mum’s hat and I dropped my beekeeper’s hat, putting on the mindful practitioner facilitator hat: Alex didn’t need me to tell him that he was OK and had nothing to worry about, or for me to rush him away to a safe place. Instead, with the bees buzzing around us, I took this opportunity to guide Alex through exploration and acceptance of his emotions. I stood with him and held his hand, asking him to tell me what he was feeling. He said scared. I acknowledged that he may be feeling scared, but wondered out loud if scared was the best word to describe what he was experiencing. I encouraged him to describe what it felt like. And without pausing, I asked if the feeling was like the times he cantered his horse with no reins? – that feeling could be described as exhilaration, is now like that feeling of exhilaration? – Or was it like when Arkie (our pup) returned home from being missing for hours? That would be described as relief to many, I explained to him.
“I wonder if how you are feeling now is more like either of those two memories?”
Immediately Alex’s heightened reaction stopped as he gave thought to what else this sensation, this feeling inside him, could be; what did it compare to? At 10, I doubt many kids would have the ability to match rich, descriptive words with feelings such as exhilarating or relief – they may have experienced them, not having labelled them. I’m equally doubtful that many adults have recently either, and as adults, it is my belief we have forgotten them and how they have been represented in our lives.
Test for yourself – ask someone when they last felt exhilarated, invigorated, inspired or exuberant, I’ll wait here while you do…my guess, a blank look; the personal cataloguing hasn’t been done recently.
Here’s the twist, our bodily reactions to fear and excitement have the same physiological response; heart racing, quickening of breath, release of adrenalin, the sweats. It’s just how we consciously frame and label them that then have us act in a certain way that differs.
Perceived threats to life. Performance meetings. Public speaking. Red Hot Chili Peppers concerts. Extreme sports such as bungee jumping. Your wedding. Grand Final day and your team is playing…
It was after this reconciliation; Alex organically calmed down and smoothly walked away.
So how does this help you to have difficult conversations in the workplace? The ones we all fear because of our own physiological response, or those of others, that result in outbursts, tears, tantrums or, possibly worse, an avoidance culture within the workplace.
By having a staged mindful approach.
Ask yourself, or others, what is being experienced right now and what else could it be similar to? Excitement?– Anticipation? – Responsibility? – Relief? By considering a similar to
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By bringing attention to what you are feeling, by analysing the sensations, can allow you to react and to respond in a preferred manner, a manner of your choosing – you can change the way you respond, and you can help others do so, too.
By adopting a mindful approach to life, and encouraging others to explore the idea, what you will find is an increase in your wellbeing, your resilience and your ability to catch the curve balls life throws at you.
These lessons can be learned early in life and I am so grateful that I have ventured into the path of mindfulness practitioner and facilitation. Raising healthy, happy, vibrant children is really important to me, as is passing on these skills to them. My hope is, one day my children can prevent or help somebody who may be in a crisis situation. This desire is incredibly important to me…as I imagine, is important to you, too.
Penni Lamprey is an experienced business manager, internationally recognised lifestyle, food and wellness coach and
She is also the author of ‘How to encourage your staff to engage in their Health & Wellbeing’
Healthy Happy Staff delivers holistic health and wellbeing programs and coaching services direct to workplaces, resulting in reduced sick leave and wage costs, and a more supported, satisfied and productive team of staff.