Remember the days when every motivational seminar, strategy session and change management program, began with an iceberg model?
This visual was used to represent what we thought was the problem (tip of the iceberg) and of course the much bigger problem lurking beneath the surface (which we were all trying to avoid).
You could use this model for everything…
Car repair. “Well I can stop that funny banging noise but if you really want the car to run properly we need to strip the whole thing down and start again.”
Business repair. “I can help you reach your third quarter targets but if you really want a sustainable business, we need to drill down into what’s driving this culture of negativity.
People repair. “I can give you some tools and techniques to stop you hyper ventilating in the status meeting but… etc., etc.
At this point most people say, “I know all that, but just give me the quick fix, an MOT, some CBT, a spreadsheet that works, a green smoothie, a gin and tonic… I don’t have time for this other stuff.”
And so nothing changes.
People write books…
The books say that business has to change. Has to become more empathic. Has to listen more. Has to become aligned to a greater purpose. Has to care for its customers. Has to “lean in”. And now Arianna Huffington is telling us we all need much more SLEEP!
All the business people nod their heads, buy the books, put them straight onto the bookshelves and then carry on with their 18 hour work days.
Except now they’re angry, on top of tired.
Of course they can’t show they’re angry because that would just reveal the bit of the iceberg they’d rather not draw attention to. So they practice a frosty smile, while the small frigates of junior colleagues get smashed into smithereens and the sales targets plunge to the bottom of the graph.
This ‘civilized’ way we have of dealing with negative emotion was hard wired into us at a very early age. We would start to feel angry (a reasonable response given how bonkers the world is). A parent or a teacher would try to shut the anger down (usually with a threat that something REALLY BAD would happen, or a bribe that something REALLY GOOD would happen – IF WE STOP BEING ANGRY IMMEDIATELY!).
Neither method is better or worse. The outcome is the same – the anger gets short-circuited and the energy goes into a deep freeze silo, where it lurks waiting for an unsuspecting victim.
Emotion has a cycle – a beginning, a middle and an end. If we stop this cycle half way through, we may solve the short-term problem but we create huge, much bigger future ones.
This is why, years later, we end up with a business that needs fixing; a relationship that needs fixing; a psyche that needs fixing.
We pussy foot around other people but it’s only a matter of time before we bump into one of their trigger buttons, and all hell breaks loose.
Or worse! We become so good at avoiding the trigger buttons that we operate in ‘safe’ mode. There’s no drama, but there’s also no energy and everything feels a bit dead.
Switching off our anger, also switches off our passion – and that’s a very heavy price to pay for a bit of short-term peace.
Then, of course, we seek the services of an‘expert’.
The business consultant tells us we have a ‘people problem’ and suggests team building days where everyone can pretend to play nicely together.
The marriage counsellor tells us to rekindle the romance by spending more time in candle lit rooms doing nice things like foot massages and listening.
‘Nice’ is the biggest passion killer on the planet. Passion – whether that’s passion for a person or passion for a job – requires energy.
And that energy is probably stuck underneath one of those silos we’ve been sitting on all these years.
If we’re too scared to face the anger, we’re going to have a problem finding our passion.
Time for some deep sea diving…
A more enlightened response to dealing with anger would be to see it as a storm cloud, that arrives, stays a short while and moves on.
This means observing the anger in in our body, becoming accountable, containing it, seeking to understand it, then allowing it to release.
Unfortunately, our programmed response is to start feeling the anger, then immediately rush to our default position – either shouting, judgment and blame, or withdrawing, manipulating and sulking. In other words “get this damn energy out of my body NOW.”
Very few people got a chance to understand or process their emotions when growing up. We were too busy being crammed full of facts and information. Visionary teachers were thin on the ground. None of them foresaw the invention of Google.
But we have an imagination, and if we want to stop disasters happening, we must start imagining a world where emotional intelligence is a priority.
Not a token PR or HR gesture, to tick a compliance box.
That’s about as effective as having a few lifeboats on the Titanic.
We should have the humility to realise, that as a species, we are not unsinkable!
One of my favourite poets, Samantha Reynolds, also happens to be a parent. If there is such a thing as endless reincarnation then I believe everyone should have a turn being parented by her. She has two lucky children. Here’s a poem about one of them…
The morning you went crazy
We sit under a blanket on the couch
and you ask me again
to tell you about
how you went crazy this morning
so I start with the part
when your dad cut into the banana
forgetting that you wanted to do the banana part
and it was our last banana
so dad offered to tape it back together
and when that only made it worse
I tried making the sliced part
into a mouth so the banana
could plead with you himself
but you were like an avalanche
of fury at this point
desperate for futile things
like orange juice in a cup we don’t own
and for it not to be Saturday
I tell you about how you writhed and flung
as though the mad
was like a big dog inside you
wanting to get out
and I tell you about how it ended
with a trick about raisins
and how when you finally ate the porridge
the calm was thick and sudden
like pouring water on a fire
but your favourite part
is when I tell you about
the middle of the storm
when you marched over to me
“I want to kiss you”
and I said
“that’s sweet my goose
I would love a kiss”
and you said
“I said I want to kick you”
which pushed me
right past my own rage
into an unhinged defeat
(I know!! Isn’t she FAB.)
One of the most effective tools for dealing with anger is humour. But you can’t do the humour/anger thing from the side-lines. Lots of people try – they observe things to be angry about and come up with opinions. But that just translates into cynicism or sarcasm.
You have to be willing to walk into the eye of the storm… to feel the full force of the rage.
Only then can you discover the sheer joy of the passion underneath it.
And the truth underneath that.
Because in that truth is all the wisdom you’ll ever need…
To fix all those crazy icebergs.
The Madcap Laughs…