Whether or not you have any interest in studying organizational and behavioral theory most of us find ourselves in the midst of workplace situations that at times annoys us enough to spike our blood pressure, leads us to gossip, or in extreme cases – like the JetBlue flight attendant – might motivate us to cuss someone out, grab two beers, and pull the chute. In any case we are faced with a decision to ride it out, consult the HR department, or confront the “situation” (person) head on. None of those guarantee freedom from anxiety.
Jeffrey Miller begins his book The Anxious Organization with this simple premise, “If you work in any organization at all, you work in an anxious organization. How do I know for sure? There is no other kind. All organizations are anxious organizations.” Oh great! That’s encouraging! So I read further, “Anxiety is the instinctive response of any living organization to a perceived threat…Anxiety is simple a state of alert, of heightened readiness to respond.”
With all the external and internal forces slamming into organizations like an atomic reactor no wonder there’s anxiety. Many organizations learn how to deal with external forces like competition, revenue, customer demands, skilled workers, et cetera. However, most internal threats are not “named and openly discussed by leaders.” Depending on the leadership they are either ignored or legislated leaving people with real emotions with no clear outlets for dealing with their anxiety in a healthy way. Our rational mind says, “Get over it! Suck it up! Move on!” while our emotional system screams, “Unfair! This needs to be fixed! I can’t handle this any longer!” Miller suggests that individuals and organizations can function most effectively if we choose to notice our feelings and then, learn to think about the emotional system. Got it! A key to a healthy well-being both personally and organizationally is deal with emotions. What does that mean?
What if the malcontent who is causing us discomfort gets fired, would we be less anxious? No!
What if our boss suddenly hires a therapist, would we be less anxious? No!
What if we controlled everyone at work, would we be less anxious? Nice try…but no!
You know what’s coming. The real issue is US; the way we handle our own anxiety no matter what may be happening around us or to us. This is more than just taking care of ourselves, which is truly important. More than that, the decision we make to control our own anxiety will impact the organization. In fact, Miller goes this far, “Any member of an organization can change the system by changing their own behavior.”
The First Step (aka Establishing a Boundary)
If we want to be serious about facing our own anxiety and dealing with it in a healthy way the first step is to ask the right question. The wrong question is, “What can I do without making someone mad? Translated, “How can I control the reactions of people?” Ouch…that may sting but it’s the truth. We must grasp the reality that there is nothing we can do without incurring someone’s displeasure. There are no painless solutions to anxiety, whether our own or the organization’s.
Therefore, the first step is to take responsibility. Miller calls it “taking an I-Position: An I-Position states what you believe to be true and valid despite the emotional pressures of the situation.” Not only does this posture leave us taking ownership of our own emotions it let’s others know how we will respond going forward.
This does not give us a license to manipulate, bully, or cast away compassion. Rather, it is gives us freedom to look past the issues and bring our best healthy self to any situation, no matter how volatile it may be.
Is this easy? By no means, it may even raise our anxiety a bit as we try to sort out the issues. But if we choose to stick with it, the underlying issues that fuel the conflicts will become more evident because we chose to be responsible for our own anxiety. Our responsible decision will impact the organization in a positive way.
Are you willing to take the first step? What I-Position do you need to make?