What Can I Learn About My Reactivity?
The positive, healthy kind that keeps us alive and flourishing and hyperreactivity that can do us in.
On the individual level, there are telltale signals of reactivity that can alert us that we are carrying around an unhealthy level of anxiety: a racing mind, tension in your neck and shoulders, a knot in the stomach, restless sleep, or inability to sleep, or difficulty staying focused. There are many other ways that escalating chronic anxiety makes itself known in every aspect of our lives. At the organizational level, similar signs of deficit or excess can alert a leader to the need to raise urgency or dial down anxiety.
Recognizing reactivity and how it works like— any other skill can be developed over time with practice. This includes being more aware of the emotional system in yourself, others, and an entire organization. A guide, mentor, or coach can help point out what to look for, but ultimately, it requires commitment and patience with the gradual progression of mastering this “New Way of SEEING” that is needed to develop proficiency in this key leadership competency.
What to do next?
Getting On the Balcony
One of the most powerful practices that can help us develop this skill is “getting on the balcony” (an image popularized by Ronald Heifetz in Leadership on the Line). The idea is that of a crowded ballroom full of dancers with a balcony at one end. As you are dancing with your partner, you picture yourself on the balcony and observe how you are interacting with him/her. From the balcony, you can observe yourself and how your partner and others in the room are dancing. From that same vantage point, you can simultaneously follow the overall movement and flow of all the dancers in the room as they sway and move to the rhythm and beat of the music.
In the context of the Resilient Leadership model, “get on the balcony” means observing the emotional system by observing the flow of reactive, instinctual, automatic functioning—in yourself, others, and the system at large. As you develop some level of proficiency in this skill, you will be able to observe with a more detached curiosity, which will immediately lower your reactivity and make you more thoughtful. A mindset of curiosity always makes a person more thoughtful and, consequently, less reactive. As a practice that can help you manage your chronic anxiety more skillfully, getting on the balcony is as good as it gets.
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