This has been a subject on my mind this week. It came up when I was discussing with a group how I find it difficult talking to senior managers and members of the exec, something that happens more often now I have changed my role. It was also a subject I have been considering this morning for a chapter in my book. So what causes me to feel uncomfortable communicating with senior members of staff?
When we see someone new our limbic system (the chimp from the chimp paradox) is alerted to make a threat assessment. As we know the limbic system is not just concerned with life or limb, it is also concerned in preserving status in the group and the continuation of your species. So once the risk of physical threat has been assessed, then the chimp can move on to other matters, which is status in the group and potential mates (there is clearly a lot more nuance to this than I am describing, but you get the drift). Maintaining status quo or enhancing status in the group is a very strong driver. From a primitive perspective being rejected by the group was a potential life ending event. Remember our chimps is not very subtle so invokes the same feelings whether or not you are about to die.
So lets go back to my issue, when I am confronted by people I consider to have a high status, my chimp is activated as there is a potential threat to my status. My chimp then searches for more information to before acting or not. My chimp will search my memory banks for recalled memories that may help. Now I have some rather unhelpful memories of authority figures throughout my life and especially in my adult life (as a Charge Nurse), so the advice given by my chimp is always be careful, don’t say much and get away as soon as possible, the less they know about you the better. In fact if you have not met them yet, it would probably be better if you did not meet them at all.
Not great advice! I have to speak to them in my job. Thankfully I can improve this situation and train myself and my chimp to not have this unhelpful response. This response comes about from having little data/information about the people that currently hold these senior positions (they are not the same people that gave me those unhelpful memories). When we don’t have much information our mind makes stuff up based on previous experiences and memories to complete the story.
The answer is simple get to know people more, before you make decisions about how you will communicate with people. If these people are critical to your job or any other part of your life, increase the amount of information you have about them. Now with some of the senior managers this is starting to happen and my ability and desire to communicate effectively with them is increasing. I need to work on those people I know less about, I need to start changing the stories I have in my head about people that have more senior roles than me.
Start seeing people in the round if you want to communicate effectively with people. If your opinion on someone is based on assumptions, correct that but getting to know them better.