Desperate times call for desperate measures – and many organizations today are facing desperate times. In today’s knowledge-based economy, traditional work structures are falling by the wayside and being replaced by models that are more interactive, fluid, and decentralized. The rules of the game are changing and many employees and managers are struggling to adapt to the changing dynamics resulting in rising feelings of fear, vulnerability and insecurity.
These feelings are not “bad” in and of themselves, however it is the potentially damaging expression of these feelings that can contaminate the organizational culture and negatively influence the future of the individual as well as the organization. As Seth Godin so bluntly states, “Whining and fear are largely self-fulfilling prophecies in organizations (and people) under stress.” Sometimes fear is expressed outwardly as negativity, criticism, cynicism, defiance, self-righteousness, or arrogance and the resulting damage to the reputation of the individual, the organization and key relationships can be irreversible. Obviously this is not a good thing.
Over the years I have attempted to gain a deeper understanding as to why some people react from a place of fear, rigidity, or negativity during times of change or adversity while others in the same situation have the ability to move quickly to a place of optimism, adaptability and creativity. Fortunately, recent advancements in the field of affective neuroscience are beginning to shed greater light onto the mysteries of the human psyche. In his newly released book, The Emotional Life of Your Brain (Hudson Street Press, 2012), neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson shares a new model of emotions that has emerged through his years of research and has been complemented and strengthened by the discoveries of other scientists and researchers around the world. According to Davidson, Emotional Style is a consistent way of responding to the experiences of our lives. It is governed by specific, identifiable brain circuits and can be measured using objective laboratory methods. Emotional Style influences the likelihood we will experience certain emotional states, traits, and moods.
Davidson has identified of six dimensions or patterns of brain function that comprise our Emotional Style:
- Resilience: how slowly or quickly you recover from adversity
- Outlook: how long you are able to sustain positive emotion
- Social Intuition: how adept you are at picking up social signals from the people around you
- Self-Awareness: how well you perceive bodily feelings that reflect emotions
- Sensitivity to Context: how good you are at regulating your emotional responses to take into account the context you find yourself in
- Attention: how sharp and clear your focus is
These patterns are shaped through a combination of genetic predisposition and personal experiences. Each of these dimensions represents a continuum and the combination of our placement upon each continuum forms our own unique “emotional fingerprint.” Davidson states, “If your Emotional Style interferes with your daily life and constrains your happiness, if it prevents you from reaching your goals or causes you distress, you should consider making an effort to change it.” The ability to change our Emotional Style across these dimensions is well-supported. It is possible to become more resilient, more positive, etc. Research related to neuroplasticity and brain function have confirmed that higher-order reasoning sites in the brain hold the key to altering patterns of brain activity and mental training has been shown to strengthen feelings of empathy, compassion, optimism, and our sense of well-being.
Author and business blogger Seth Godin also reinforces the value of many of these dimensions of Emotional Style in his book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? He writes: “Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow. Optimism is for artists, change agents, linchpins, and winners.” Godin describes linchpins as those individuals who can lead us, connect us, and make a difference. People who can walk into chaos and create order; who can invent, connect, create, and make things happen. Godin goes on to say, “(Linchpins) bring their whole self to work, engaging in tasks that require maturity, soul, and personal strength and doing it for the right reasons. They are geniuses, artists, and givers of gifts. The hard work isn’t lifting or shoveling or sharpening, the hard work is being brave enough to make a difference.” Organizations are in desperate need of linchpins – positive people who are brave enough to make a difference. Does that describe you?