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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Other Articles About Anxiety and Reactivity
The level of anxiety we face worldwide is extreme and escalating due to a confluence of many complex issues. As a leader, you are the one people look to for clear direction, encouragement, and stability.
Communicating a Calm Presence Sometimes a simple change in how we communicate is all it takes to begin the process of calming an anxious system.
Reactivity, Which We Call the Public Face of Anxiety The resilient leader is one who has learned to watch for subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) signs
Fear is adaptive. It teaches us to be safe and avoid danger. Anxiety is maladaptive. It’s our brain being over active when we are short of actual facts.
Through Resilient Leadership certification I learned more about the Rational System and the Emotional System. I learned that we are generally unaware of chronic anxiety and so we tend to just react unconsciously to it in any Emotional System (think relationships.)
The amygdala triggers the fight, flight or freeze response, like slamming on your brakes to avoid a car accident. This anxiety response has passed down virtually unchanged from the earliest vertebrates on earth.
Leaders who act as step-down transformers understand this distinction and work to practice skillful inquiry rather than interrogation.
In these VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex Ambiguous) times, it is essential for a leader to embody a sense of urgency not anxiety in their presence. Here are some thoughts on what to do and what to avoid. Pick a few (maybe 3) from each list to work on right away. You will see and make a difference!