“Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Reframed from Viktor Frankl: Man’s Search for Meaning.
Viktor Frankl was a man who endured horrific hardships during the second world war within a number of Nazi camps including Auschwitz. Frankl lost his mother, brother and wife at concentration camps; the only survivors from his family (other than himself) was his sister.
Hopefully we will never experience this horror in our lifetime, but the message within this quote has huge implications for our lives and leadership today. It speaks deeply about a mindset of choice. A mindset where we are able to create space between stimulus and response, then utlise that space to make a considered choice as to how we wish to respond. Unlike animals, we have a pre-frontal cortex which enables us to move beyond a stimulus-response mode of operating. It enables us to place logic and thought into the stimulus we encounter. This ability can vary between people and stimulus, depending on elements such as our past experiences, the severity of the stimulus and our level of emotional intelligence. Emotional Intelligence guru, Daniel Goleman states that providing there are no neurological impairments, we can develop our emotional intelligence and so too the power of choice over our responses, resulting in growth and freedom.
So how might this play-out in work situations? Let me share a story…
Jo had been at their workplace for three years. Over that time, they had made huge in-roads and achieved positive results within the organisation. Recently however, Jo had been feeling upset with the direction the organisation was taking. They were starting to feel that the more they gave, the more was asked of them with little acknowledgement. Another person came to work alongside Jo. This person brought different strengths, but in Jo’s eyes was getting all the kudos and was starting to achieve things Jo had been trying to instigate over the past three years, as well as taking the accolades for it. Jo was feeling sidelined, as though all their hard work stood for nothing and that this person was the next-best-thing and their thoughts stood for nothing.
Jo has a choice in this situation. Do they retreat into their shell and just do their job and no more? Do they have-it-out with the other person or their boss? Do they speak ill of the person behind their back? Do they start looking for other jobs? Do they have a conversation with the person and/or their boss?
At this point there is a choice; a choice to hide, undermine, blow-up, run or have a conversation. Which of these choices move beyond stimulus-response? Which of these choices require emotional intelligence? Which of these choices provide an opportunity for growth?
As Jo’s leader, what would you have done? Would you have noticed a change in dynamics? What was ‘at-play’ in the situation? How would you have dealt with it… would you have dealt with it? What is the impact if Jo left; both for the organisation and Jo?
Part of the process of emotional agility is being able to show up to those feelings, thoughts, and emotions, but to also create a distance that is healthy and to then make choices that are productive and effective.
One of the core messages of all the work I do with people is to help them notice the choice point in their behaviour. Most often, our behaviour is an automatic reaction to a trigger or a scenario. We are creatures of habit, and we need predictability as it provides a level of safety. Understanding the impact of your thinking on your behaviour and those you lead is vital. Deliberate leadership starts with you.