"Each human being is like an elegant universe."
Bill Gates calls her “super high bandwidth.” Bill Clinton has thanked her for “fostering American entrepreneurship.” In this episode we are chatting with workplace agility expert, Christine Comaford, who has been helping leaders create predictable revenue, deeply engaged teams, and profitable growth for more than 30 years. She is the author of The New York Times bestseller, Power Your Tribe: Create Resilient Teams in Turbulent Times. To learn more about the work of Christine visit her website, SmartTribes Institute.
You can listen to the conversation on iTunes, Pocketcast and other podcasting apps. What follows here are excerpts from our conversation with Christine, edited for length and clarity.
Agnes: May I ask you Christine to tell listeners about yourself and about your journey? Also, can you share us what drives you?
Christine Comaford: I actually started my quest in trying to understand human behaviour when I was 15 years old. It has been 41 years that I have been studying human behaviour and creating and gathering tools, as well as helping people change their behaviour or get the behaviour they want from themselves and others. Each human being is like an elegant universe. And, as they start to understand how resilient they actually are by using some of the tools we are going to learn today, they start to see life in an entirely different way. So, that’s what drives me and gets me up in the morning.
People don’t realise how amazing they are. The number one challenge that we all have is just trying to get on each other's maps. So the tools that we are going to learn today, through this conversation, are going to help you step onto the map of somebody else to understand what their world is like and to communicate with them in their language. Also, it is to have more compassion for what their experience might be like. Because we are all in our little world and we often make meaning about somebody else's experience that is inaccurate.
Agnes: What was it that made you want to go and research this area even further into neuroscience and then translating that into organisations? There are already so many management disciplines. What was it that you thought: there is a missing piece here and I need to understand and I need to explain it to people so they also understand.
Christine Comaford: I know everybody who is listening had this experience. The world is moving faster than ever. Things are changing faster than ever. The only certainty that at all is changed. We are seeing natural disasters, random act of violence etc. We are just in a more stressful world than ever before. I started to notice this and started to see the world-changing about 10 years ago. I said we need some new tools, all the tools that people are using aren’t cutting them. After this, I started diving really deeply into neuroscience and neurolinguistics. Because language structures reality. So I felt we had to combine neurolinguistics with what we learn about the brain because neurolinguistics helps us then apply what we learn about the brain, use the right words, use the right language structures to help people shift reality.
I find blend is the secret sauce. We add neurolinguistics, neuroscience, and the third piece is having that business experience. We are not PhDs nor researchers in an ivory tower, everybody at our companies is an operational business builder. We need to hire people, we need to fire people, we have profit and loss responsibility, so we are all very grounded.
Agnes: One of your recent books on this area is Power Your Tribe. But, before we start discussing it, you have just mentioned the premise of constant change, which is the jumping-off point for the book as well. How do organisations typically react to change?
Christine Comaford: Seeing people stuck, and solving problems that don’t exist. Seeing them focus on problems that are low value, missing the priorities and having everything urgent, and when everything is urgent nothing is important. Avoiding conflict or blowing up. Using blame versus taking responsibility. So, when I see these things start to show up it is because people are struggling with navigating change. The first thing we usually do with change is to resist it. Resistance is futile - if you are a Star Trek fan.
But here is the problem with resistance: it takes a tremendous amount of energy. People often think that the opposite of resistance is acceptance. However the opposite of resistance is not acceptance. The opposite of resistance is consent. When there all those changes happening we can become super stressed. We grab our tool, the Emotion Wheel, and ask how am I feeling. “Well, I am really frustrated.” We then consent, meaning we get present with. We stop resisting what’s happening and acknowledge that we are frustrated, overwhelmed and angry. We are there for a second, trying to not take away from our emotions, then we use a tool, called the Outcome Frame. The tool should help us figure out the thing we would like. Then, we either go down the Outcome Frame path or if we are super triggered we use a tool called Manoeuvres of Consciousness.
Agnes: Before we discuss those two tools, may I just ask how do leaders, and men, feel discussing their emotions at work? How do you get people to talk about their emotions or even recognize what it is?
Christine Comaford: Firstly, only 36 percent (data from Travis Bradberry) of us at a given time actually know what we are feeling. “I am okay”, “I am fine” - those are not emotions. This is why we love the Emotion Wheel because it helps people name where they are. Second, it is really important to realise, that 90 percent of our decisions and behaviours are driven and dominated by our emotional brain. Even though we like to think that we are super-rational people, that is only 10 percent that is driving our decisions and our behaviour. So, once we get present to that we realize that maybe we should get to know our emotional brain. When we talk about emotional intelligence most people say they want to be emotionally intelligent, but they don’t know-how.
Step 1 is actually having that self awareness. Being able to name what emotions you are actually currently experiencing. This is the point where we suggest that you grab your Emotion Wheel, check-in and find out what is happening with you. Because your emotional state is determining the meaning that you are making about whatever is happening in your world, and that is determining your behaviour and your belief system. They are all connected. So, if we see somebody and he or she looks grumpy and we feel stressed, and then we decide that they are disappointed with us, we tend to tell ourselves: he or she is never happy with my work, and maybe I just do mediocre work and start looking for a new job. That is all stuff that you have just made up.
"We are meaning making machines."
We do this so often. We are meaning-making machines. We find that when we explain emotional intelligence, step one is actually to get present with yourself. We have to know this starting point before we can do a process like Maneuvers of Consciousness or Outcome Frame, before we can use these tools to become resilient we have to get the consent to get present to where we are.
Agnes: Is it the reference to neurolinguistics that you have mentioned in your introduction? That we can formulate in language what is going on inside?
Christine Comaford: We can use language to help a person make new meaning. The human being will always reach for the best feeling emotion available on the menu in a given context. Just think about performance reviews, in which a person often does not have a lot of emotional flexibility and resilience. In fact, they might have only a few choices. So their menu of choices in the context called performance review is relatively limited. As leaders, it is our opportunity, for the people that choose to become resilient, to help them use these tools so they can add more choices to their menu, so they can have more emotional agility and no matter what is happening outside they can choose how they want to feel inside.
Agnes: I was absolutely fascinated with this, because I, like many of the listeners of the WorkLife HUB podcast, have experienced toxic colleagues. These folks tend to come in and then they radiate something awful and really ruin everyone’s day. It is so difficult to believe and understand that they are choosing this emotion to be in this emotional state.
Christine Comaford: They are choosing that emotional state based on the meaning that they are making about their world. To cope with similar situations we apply the Maneuvers of Consciousness technique. This can be also done in a group setting. You can do it when there is a group frustration or group thing that you are resisting. This is one of the tools that I love, which everybody can find in my new book, Power Your Tribe, which we find really helpful for people.
Agnes: How does the Outcome Framework?
Christine Comaford: I like these tools together. Once we have completed the Maneuvers of Consciousness and we are feeling full of appreciation, it is a great time now to switch to questions like: “What would I like”, “What will have them do for you”, “How will you know when you have it” etc. So, we use the Outcome Frame, which is simply a series of questions. When we start to do this Outcome Frame, we then bring it into reality. I like to do it for 15 minutes, that could sound like a long time. But when we do 15 minutes we actually did enough visual, auditory, kinesthetic cues, where our subconscious mind realises we can actually have it. So as we are walking through that future, and get the picture, the feelings and words of having the desired outcome make it more real for us. Take it from fantasy and make it to a possible future that you can actually create.
Agnes: If I can ask you Christine one advice to a CEO who is just realizing that something needs to change in the organisation, where should they start?
Christine Comaford: I would say, become aware of what you are feeling, use the Emotion Wheel. Become able to shift your emotional state by using the Maneuvers of Consciousness. And, help others become aware of how they feel and choose their emotional state as well. When we do this we foster the experience of safety, belonging and mattering, which we all want in work and in life. Don’t resist the people that don’t want to grow. It is okay, not everybody is gonna grow. You can invite people, think of it as an invitation, and if they don’t match with your cultural values then it's time for them to leave your company.