Time to address the alien in the room……….?

31st October 2016

There are times when we can’t run away from our emotions. We have to express how we feel. When there’s just one of us getting the job done, we can suck it up and get on with it. But when we’re in a group, things can be very different. Successful groups are much better at communicating emotions, but they need help to do that well.

No more Elephants

We used to talk about the Elephant in the room, but time, culture and metaphors have all moved on in the last couple of decades.  For most businesses, emotions are still a taboo subject. Unless we are celebrating success we don’t really want to know; all the difficult stuff gets swept under the carpet.

The reasons for are simple and obvious. Negative emotions, such as fear, anxiety, frustration, boredom, anger and feelings of incompetence, at all levels of the business, are unpredictable. They feel toxic. They are hard to deal with. It can feel like you’re opening Pandora’s Box. There’s nothing in the First Aid box for if someone has a breakdown in the office. And what if we get sued? Are we even allowed to ask if people are feeling OK, or are we somehow in breach of Employment Laws?

Facing up to the Alien

There are some businesses that embrace emotion, good and bad, openly and honestly. These businesses often find that morale, productivity and staff satisfaction increase. And that increase tends to last a hell of lot longer that the effects of a boozy celebration following a client win.

These increases in productivity might be because people aren’t wasting energy bottling up undesirable emotions. It might be that, once expressed, most negative emotions dissipate pretty quickly. It might just be that people feel that they are finally being treated like grownups. They have a voice. They are heard. By contrast, no voice = no power.

What facilitation is about

Facilitating groups in expressing emotions, whether in workshops, or awaydays, or part of a bigger coaching programme, requires some very sophisticated skills to prevent things getting out of hand. The truth is you can’t facilitate effectively unless you’ve had proper Group Dynamics training.

It’s all too easy to observe a group of people and respond to them individually. When you look at them as a group you begin to see how individuals are selected to hold and express difficult emotions, or take opposing views on contentious issues, or just stay silent. All of these are prime examples of the unconscious processes at work in groups. All groups. All the time.

A necessary skill set

What’s more, the skills required to be a good facilitator are some of the same skills that apply to;

  • Leadership
  • Management
  • Negotiation
  • Relationship building
  • Business development

Regardless of the group task, facilitation, as well as leadership, management and the rest, means dealing with emotions. By facing up to them – especially the negative ones – accepting them, and harnessing them, you can genuinely create and retain long term competitive advantage. You can also get rapid cultural change. And you can certainly improve productivity.

The payoff

We are constantly surprised by how cleansed, happy, motivated and energised people feel when they’ve had the chance to express, openly and honestly, how they feel. It sounds simple, but it really works. Of course it can only work effectively if you create a safe space where people trust that their emotional expression will not be judged, or remembered and used against them later.

But that’s what you pay a good facilitator for.

Isn’t it?


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