Change coaching: Dont be afraid of feelings in the company!
Good intentions only become reality with difficulty and change processes of all kind in companies often turn out to be difficult. Why is that? The author and coach at the Mind Institute would like to approach this question from a psychodynamic point of view.
What changes can trigger
First of all, it can be said that changes trigger feelings. And even though most companies talk little or nothing about feelings, most people know that feelings can sometimes upset us. In our everyday life, most people experience them rather like a side effect. Like tiredness or an allergic reaction. Like most things that take place in our body, they belong to the realm of intimacy, the private sphere. And yet most changes and thereby also change processes in companies trigger feelings. Sometimes joy, for example about new possibilities, sometimes fear, sometimes feelings of powerlessness or anger, about decisions you would not have made in this way.
But what if these reactions occur in a corporate climate in which emotions, especially difficult emotions, cannot be communicated? What has not been communicated, in a way cannot be there. But where should we put the feelings then?
Feelings are not discussed here
The ability to ward off and repress emotions is something that Freud began to investigate back in 1900 and that remains highly topical to this day. He says we all learned during our childhood to put aside certain needs and affects. Children are always dependent on others, the love and recognition of their parents is existential. Depending on which family we grew up in, certain needs were more and others less accepted. Therefore we all learned early on to ward off unwanted needs and feelings, which means pushing them into the unconscious and not perceiving them as disturbing. Surely everyone has found his own strategies here and these collected strategies are until today, as adults, our way to go through the world. Our defence shapes our way of experiencing, of perceiving other people and our desire. Certain topics are easy for us, others are harder because our repressed and defended needs stand in our way. There would be a lot more to write on this subject, but I want to stick to the topic of change.
Changes in individuals – Some fears are deep.
Let’s take an example from coaching practice. An employee of a medium-sized company came to my practice for coaching. She had learned a while ago that she would be promoted, which she had been working towards for a long time. So at first the promotion was a source of joy and pride for her. At the same time, however, my client also perceived a rather dull unpleasant feeling, a feeling she did not understand and which made her uneasy. She asked herself, what if I lose the affection of my colleagues? What if they are jealous and reject me? What if I fail? Did I deserve that? Can I overtake the others professionally? These and other questions fester more beneath the surface than her being conscious of them. She worked in a company in which ambivalences and fears were not really accepted and in which the employees were exposed to enormous pressure of progression and efficiency. She did not admit to herself and others that she was afraid of change.
In the weeks following her promotion, she noticed a change in herself. The otherwise self-confident woman somehow experienced herself as being artificial, insecure, adapted in an irritating way. And she made mistakes she would not have made otherwise.
In order to understand the situation psychodynamically, it is necessary to say a few words about the client’s biographical background. As the fourth child of strict parents, she usually stood in the shadow of her siblings. She received little affection from her parents, even though as the youngest of the siblings she was still preferred in some places, much to the envy of the others. The promotion triggered the same topics and fears as in her childhood, on the one hand joy over a “preferred” treatment, on the other hand fears to lose the affection and belonging to the siblings, today the colleagues. Their insecurity and adaptability and also their increasing mistakes in work could be understood psychodynamically as attempts to preserve the love of the brothers and sisters. In psychodynamic thinking this is called “She is acting out her fears”.
Feeling instead of acting out
But what would have been the alternative? It’s obvious, but it’s heavier than it sounds. It is the ability to perceive, understand and hold feelings inward instead of acting out. The one who can experience and hold feelings within himself has a larger radius possibilities for action. He can check whether the fears were justified at all. And if there are still difficulties and open questions, then these can be communicated and clarified.
In psychoanalytical understanding feelings are clues. They point out needs and unconscious topics to us. One who has the ability to not acting out their feelings is free to decide, in which place they really deliver relevant reference to situations, which must be discussed and clarified. In other situations they perhaps concern more early, deeper lying fears, which maybe are no longer real in the current situation.
Thereby it was possible for my client in coaching on the one hand to free herself from biographical fears and to understand more deeply that she certainly wants a good contact to her team, but that she is no longer as dependent on the unconditional acceptance of the team as she was in her childhood to her siblings. But since every feeling, even if it touches biographical topics, also has relevance for the present, she was able to reflect on the strong rivalry within the team and, as a new leader, to contain and act upon it.
Change processes affect everyone
So anyone who sets change processes in motion in a company, especially if they affect all or many employees, cannot avoid the fact that the company’s system gets into a kind of emotional turmoil. Employees react differently, but they react. As different as they are, they have developed into a more or less functional system. Every company climate is shaped by its employees, but also by the management of the company. Teams have developed their own way of defending themselves against how fears in the team are dealt with. Change processes seem to shake these well-rehearsed routines, fears become stronger and so do the attempts of all participants to cope with them.
Only those who are able to trace these fears back to real needs, to understand them and to integrate them, will be able to implement stable changes in the company in the long term. This requires an open and non-judgmental corporate culture in which feelings can be communicated and are not perceived as weakness.
Dipl. Psych. Andrea Wurst
If you are further interested in Processes of Change, we recommend you our Training “Change”. Or come to an individual DynaMIND Coaching Session.