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If in doubt…talk about the weather

Reflections from a conversation on avoidance, anxiety, safety, and belonging in organisations and how we use the weather (and much more) to ease our discomfort

Oh, the weather, a classic British way to relieve social anxiety and inhibition. Recently, I did just this. My colleague Jo and I were hosting a public conversation that touched on topics of avoidance, anxiety, safety and belonging in organisations… and ironically, in a moment of doubt, I talked about the weather! To be fair, it was impressive thunder and lightning - but there was definitely a part of my sharing that was filling the space to avoid silence. We then had a good giggle that I had done what we had just been talking about - illustrating brilliantly/embarrassingly how easily it happens!

It’s not just the weather, there are so many things we do or say that help to ease our anxiety, or avoid the ‘real’ conversation - because sometimes addressing the actual ‘stuff’ feels too hard or risky. In fact, as someone on our call described, we can be experts in finding creative ways to avoid things; I see this in RISE and in our client organisations all the time (oh and of course, in my personal relationships).

Here are just some of the examples I’ve been around recently:

  • Filling the diary with social activities to avoid allowing space to address what is actually happening, and how I’m feeling about it
  • A company-wide announcement about upcoming business changes with a focus mainly on the positives, in the hope of easing anxiety in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity
  • A policy being created to address an issue to ensure it won’t happen again, without actually having a conversation about the initial issue with the people involved

These examples are all around us, all the time, and always will be.

I think what I am learning, is that doing all of these things isn’t wrong, there are often well-meaning intentions behind them; we want to ease, protect, please, comply, belong; and we often think that speaking our truth may result in harm, frustration, conflict or rejection. And yet, as I’ve been exploring more about this topic it seems that in the process of avoiding we are also often harming, frustrating, alienating, and creating conflict. So, one way or the other, the thing we are avoiding becomes unavoidable. So, what do we do differently?

First of all, I think getting better at noticing what we might be moving away from; a conversation, a task, a decision, and being curious about why this might be. What sits underneath this? What are we fearful of? What are we trying to protect?

Secondly, I think it’s being more courageous in stepping into the difficult conversations sooner, or making a decision clearer, knowing that inaction is often still causing pain that we are trying so hard to avoid. But, this is easier said than done. So…

Thirdly, I think it’s being kinder to ourselves and others that this stuff is tricky, and that it’s ok to feel stuck and unsure. I think learning to be more conscious about the things we are not doing or saying, and the reasons why can sometimes be enough (for now). The act of stepping in, or speaking openly and honestly, is sometimes just too much to ask of people, in an already stressed, and overwhelmed world.

  • Writing this reminded me of a useful framework for having feedback conversations (something we often avoid) called deconstructive feedback - I think it’s a great way of looking at the opportunity for learning that exists for everyone in difficult conversations with curiosity rather than in opposition with/to the person we’re talking to.
  • Making (some) sense - Jo and I will be holding our next conversation on this stuff on the 21st June - join us and I promise to avoid talking about the weather. We are hoping to get into the topic of ‘safety’ in organisations, and what we actually mean by this when organisatoins are inherently risk taking, competitive and conflictual in nature. Click here to sign up.
  • A funny, interesting article on why the British have a fascination with the weather