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Test Yourself: Responses to Discomfort

One aspect of difficult change is something we carry with us. The way we are wired to respond to discomfort. Neuroscience tools help us identify common responses to discomfort based on our deep emotional response patterns. How do you, your team, or your organization respond to discomfort and what can you do to better prepare?

Individuals, teams, and organizations have deep response patterns to discomfort. These deep emotional patterns are literally hard-wired into who we are as individuals, into team dynamics, and cultures. For reasons that have to do with which systems are more active when the brain is experiencing stress, whenever we experience discomfort, these deep emotional patterns tend to pop-up and influence which brush we use to paint our perception of the world around us, which decisions we make, how we act, and how we behave.

Ask yourself, how do you, your team, or your organization respond to discomfort at present? How do your main response patterns affect decisions when stress hits and how do they support or diminish your ability to adjust and change?

Top 5 Response Patterns to Discomfort

Neuroscience tools help us pinpoint a wide variety of response patterns to discomfort (KCI certified coaches and consultants learn to distinguish between over 40 specific skills). Here are the most common five responses to discomfort that affect how we think, act, and interact in general and in times of stress and change in particular:

  1. Receptiveness: Receptiveness is the capacity to deliberately and effectively use emotions instead of being controlled by emotions. High mastery of Receptiveness- related skills results in: Ability to be empathetic, ability to recognize and effectivity work through my own emotions, ability to contain other people's emotions. Insufficient mastery of skills related to Receptiveness can come up as: Avoidance, tendency to ignore problems, defensiveness, reactivity, sensitivity to feedback, insensitivity (being overly directive) in communication, tendency to ignore the feelings of others, irritability, lack of drive, seeming detached. Individuals or organizational cultures with low mastery of Receptiveness skills will often respond emotionally to threats and concerns. They may delay action in an attempt to dismiss worries or overact. Low mastery of these skills may lead to abrupt changes that are not thought out, or to a tendency to want to avoid change.

  2. "Seeing Reality": Reality, by its very nature, is highly complex and dynamic. It is shifting and often not something we can hold in our minds in its entirety. A high mastery of effective Seeing Reality skills means that we are able to accept that and respond from a place of recognizing and understanding our limitations. Insufficient mastery of skills related to Seeing Reality can come up as: making complex decisions too quickly and with insufficient input from different perspectives, being judgmental (or a judgmental culture), focusing more on communication what I know than being curious about what I don't know, low tolerance for mistakes and learning, cynicism, skepticism, and overall low acceptance to new ideas that were not mine. Individuals or organizational cultures with low mastery of Seeing Reality skills will tend to make decisions in response to a crisis without taking all perspectives and needed input into account, and will often chart changes without being able to hear critical perspectives they may disagree with but very desperately need to be aware of.

  3. "KindExcellence": Our ability to balance aspects like focus on outcomes, results, and control with caring for others is one of the foundations of effective leadership at any level. A high mastery of KindExcellence-related skills means that we can bring up uncomfortable or sensitive issues in a way that is caring and respectful and that we are comfortable setting healthy boundaries and expectations while fully understanding the needs of others around us. Insufficient mastery of skills related to KindExcellence can come up in two extremes. It is either a tendency to dislike conflict, being unassertive, being oversensitive to the needs of others, and being uncomfortable with making tough decisions. Or, at the other extreme, it can come up as a demanding, directive, and even harsh effort to remove obstacles related to things or people that are perceived as getting in the way of results. In stressful situations like a crisis or change, our deep emotional response patterns to discomfort are intensified and so it's worth adopting more effective responses in preparation. Individuals or organizational cultures with low mastery of KindExcellence skills will typically avoid sharing input in times of crisis that they suspect others may not want to hear and may delay changes that could inconvenience other people. Alternatively, they may speak insensitively and alarmingly in times of crisis and may lead change in ways that are overly focused on results and insensitive to what people may need or feel.

  4. Flexibility: We all have values, principles, and self-defining beliefs but cultures and individuals differ in the degree to which we stay absolutely loyal and unmovable when it comes to our "self-programing." High mastery of skills related to Flexibility allow us to use our internal rules as situational, in a way that serves us well both in the short term and the long terms and is constantly evaluating which of our values we should prioritize in each context. Low mastery of Flexibility-related skills may come up as: rigidity in general and around specific values in particular, trying to meet impossibly high often unrealistic standards, impatience, high levels of disappointment with others, less attentive, avoid delegating, and single-mindedness. Individuals or organizational cultures with low mastery of Flexibility skills may become very dogmatic and choose not to take necessary steps to keep with unrealistic or overly rigid self-imposed values or standards.

  5. Synthesis vs. Analysis: Analysis is the ability to follow a systematic, linear, efficient, well organized, sequence-like line of thought without jumping around from one topic to another. It allows people to solve problems and make decisions by methodically exploring the linear outline of problems. Synthesis is the ability to understand complex dynamic systems, comfortably contain ambiguity, and see dynamic effects in changing systems. High mastery of skills related to Synthesis vs. Analysis allows people to actively choose the right response based on the task and situation, rather than based on the type of thinking they naturally prefer to use. Like with KindExcellence, lower mastery of related skills can result in two extremes. On one hand it may come up as low attention to detail when it is needed, being overly optimistic in a way that isn't taking data into account, jumping too fast into action. At the other extreme it can present itself as risk avoidance, being extremely slow and cautious when making decisions, and high dependency on external input. Individuals or organizational cultures with low mastery of Synthesis vs. Analysis skills will either be very slow, overly methodical, and practice risk-avoidance in their approach to resolving a crisis or initiating a needed change, or overly quick to respond intuitively without sufficient information.

Responses to discomfort are deep, but they are behavioral patterns and as such, they can be adjusted. Individuals, teams, and entire organizations can learn to respond more effectively to support their ability to work through uncomfortable situations like conflicts, uncertainty, or stress AND adopt effective skill so they can best adjust when change is needed.

With the uncertain, stressful times we are working through as individuals and in the context of the organizations we work for or with: What are the most dominant response patterns you recognize for yourself and around you?

How can you use this knowledge to better prepare for future crisis and to respond better now under the circumstances?

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