Something that is really striking me right now is how much personality plays a part in how we are experiencing the new normal, especially in relation to working from home.
There are all sorts of theory of personality but in my work with corporates in management development and coaching, I have consistently relied on the work of Roger Birkman and the profiling method that he devised for its depth, accuracy and relevance.
One of the most powerful aspects of his method is revealing our unconscious needs, the aspects of who we are that shape our perception of the world, our expectation of how the world should be and how we need/expect others to behave.
This is so important because when our unconscious needs go unmet, we feel stressed and unconsciously engage what Birkman calls, stress behaviour. Although we can feel stress behaviour quite acutely, we often don’t recognise it in ourselves, though others around us, particularly those we are in close relationship with, do.
We’re talking a lot at the moment about how we are social beings and we need contact, that’s true but to a greater or lesser extent depending on your unconscious needs. We are all somewhere on a spectrum of need, for those in the middle of the spectrum the need is balanced, say between needing lots of social interaction and needing time alone. As you move along the spectrum towards the opposite ends, the needs become more intense for one or the other. When a need is unmet then we are triggered into stress behaviour so in the context then of social distancing and working from home, some people are going to be more stressed by the situation than others. A deeper aspect of this in terms of our relating needs, is that the further we are on the social interaction need, this often tallies with a need to be validated by the social group rather than by one or two respected individuals. So being isolated from work groups will suddenly deprive people of getting this important need met.
Let’s look at another aspect of personality driven need. I’ll keep it at a simple level to illustrate this one and so will call it ‘structure’ to reflect the need for having things organised, predictable, scheduled, how much control we feel we have of our circumstances.
Here’s the spectrum again
Having to work from home, to suddenly be thrown into a world devoid of all the usual structure and routine, of a schedule, of feeling in control of your life, this will be felt far more acutely for those on the right hand side of the spectrum.
Remember these are unconscious needs and I’ve only scratched the surface and simplified to illustrate the point. There are numerous subtle and complex aspects of our unconscious needs that are driving our perceptions and causing us to feel stressed and to ‘act out’. Social interaction is a constant dynamic dance of negotiating competing needs and expectations and this is so often what lies beneath misunderstandings, stress and conflict.
I had my greatest revelation about this unconscious aspect of myself when I trained to become a Birkman certified coach. It gave me a profound insight into what I had repeatedly experienced in relationships as someone else being insensitive. I came to understand that how they saw me, my outer shell was exactly opposite to the inner me. With the inner me being invisible both to them and myself, it was in a constant state of neglect. It felt normal and natural for me to blame others for trespassing on my sensitivity. Now I experience people and how we relate very differently. I take ownership of and responsibility for my needs, you could say I’m in constant relationship with the inner me and don’t assume that others will know or have an obligation to meet my needs.
I’ve long been an advocate for corporates to recognise the depth and complexity of people, to broaden their understanding of stress, to see it as a far more complex and personal experience than it currently is. We are stuck in a really very linear and unimaginative paradigm about stress and mental health and I feel passionately that this is holding us back from what could be a great evolution in psychological wellbeing. I am also a great advocate of self-directed development and of accelerating and supporting that with enlightened methods and skills.
Many organisations are keen to support their staff through these challenging times and when this time passes there will be the transition into yet another new world, one that will very likely be changed from what is was before the pandemic.