Culture is pervasive. Culture is something that holds people in place in order to bring order to a group of humans who have a tendency to change from day-to-day.
Culture is something we can shape. Though often times it gets created by the default practices set in place unconsciously by groups of people.
What is the culture in your office, home, business, country?
Culture can be changed, but first we have to be able to name and describe the culture we desire; bring consciousness to how our behaviors, actions and practices impact and have created the current culture; and create new behaviors, actions and practices that align with the culture we desire.
I once worked at a small non-profit. I was the volunteer manager and interacted with a wide variety of people on a day-to-day basis. One day a colleague of mine pulled me aside and with care said, “Tracy, have you ever noticed that if you are in a bad mood people walk on eggshells around you and it puts the whole office in a bad mood.” It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, but it was a profound moment for me. It was then I realized that I have impact, which was not necessarily the impact I wanted to have!
After that day, I took notice of how my behavior, actions and practices shifted the mood in the office. When I felt mad or disgusted, it appeared that others were not interested in talking with me and came around less, which made my customer service oriented job as a volunteer manager tough. But when I was happy, people were happier: we interacted and tasks were accomplished with ease. If I was sad, well people noticed that too.
When things go unsaid, a group of people begin to shape around the various moods and personalities in a place of work. This usually happens unconsciously and creates a culture that stands the test of time. It happens in families, work places, groups of friends, clubs, and any place where there are groups of humans.
As new people enter the culture, though they often have hopes of shifting the inconsistencies and to them obvious challenges, their efforts usually fail or they leave because unspoken culture allows us all to hide behind it so we don’t have to be accountable to change. This is happening globally and locally. It is not necessarily our intention, but it is our practice.
Back to my story, it had never occurred to me that my mood could have an impact on others, but it did. And it still does, not because there is anything that powerful or special about me, but because we are relational creatures and even without knowing it we are impacted by and can impact other people below our and their level of consciousness.
This is called resonance. We resonate with others via our limbic system. An area in our brain that takes most of its information from our body and makes subtle changes to our internal landscape so that we can attune to our environment, so we can belong.
As relational creatures, we desire three things: safety, belonging and respect. If these basic human relational needs are not satisfied, we become off-balance which can lead us to get triggered – also known to others as irrationally reactive. This can happen with or without our conscious knowledge.
This is where others, like my office colleague, can come in handy – if we trust them enough to listen.
Others attune to us. Basically, their body is a tuning fork. When we are internally disrupted, off-balance or triggered, it causes dissonance in our body, which signals our body/brain to fix the dissonance by reacting in the habitual ways we historically resolve disruptions. Others can sense this and then adjust their internal state in their habitually learned ways to stay in relationship with us. Usually this happens below our level of consciousness. See the problems!
We all have a way we respond when thrown off balance. People in our lives (siblings, chosen family, work colleagues, etc.) know our habitual response, they can often see it better than us, and can share with us if we ask.
These habitual patterns of behavior create a closed and reactive way of being in the world. And have a huge impact on interoffice relationships and subsequently ours and others productivity.
Think about the last time you were in a conversation with someone who was closed. Someone who was open. Did you change the way you were in each of these conversations? Did they make you feel open or closed?
When we can be present with ourselves – to know when we are off-balance or triggered – then we have a better chance of being able to choose our behavior, actions and practices that eventually create the interoffice culture we desire.
It is not on the shoulders of one to shift the culture, though they can be a leader in regularly encouraging practices that shape the desired actions and behaviors. Shaping a culture is the responsibility of the whole. A sustained commitment to a series of actions, behaviors and practices, that over time build trust and accountability and help people meet their needs for a safe place to belong and be respected for their gifts.
As we move through the end of summer, what office culture are you looking to create? What practices do you have in place to ensure that you get what you want? What happens to you (and how do you impact others) when you are in a reactive state? Not sure how to answer those questions – invite perspective! We can help you create the culture you hope for. Life is short – don’t wait another year.