Sources of Upset, Part II: Unfulfilled Expectations

January 12, 2010

In my last post, I proposed that all negative emotions, or upsets, could be attributed to three sources:

  1. Withheld communications
  2. Unfulfilled expectations
  3. Thwarted intentions

Part one of this series described withheld communications while focusing on family gatherings and workplace dynamics.  I will again relate this information to our personal and professional lives.

Unfulfilled expectations occur when we expect something to happen, and it doesn’t.  The term expectation refers to some action that originates from others.  This is in contrast to intention (as in thwarted intention), which refers to an action that originates from ourselves.

For those of you familiar with Temperament Theory, you will recognize the following four descriptions in the work of David Keirsey, Ph.D. and, more recently, Linda V. Berens, Ph.D. I have found that what constitutes an unfulfilled expectation to each of us depends upon our temperament.

Individuals favoring the Artisan (Keirsey) or Improviser (Berens) temperament are inclined to act quickly, often with only a brief contemplation of that action, and with an expectation that others will, eventually, agree with the plan they initiate.  They have a strategic intelligence.  The freedom to act and having an immediate or near-term impact are core psychological needs for this temperament, making them excellent in a crisis or emergency situation.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when they are blocked from taking action and having an impact (thus unfulfilled).

  • They become frustrated, then work to persuade others to agree with and follow their action; or
  • They proceed recklessly without consulting others in anticipation of disagreement, and deal with the consequences later; or
  • They become angry, sarcastic, and then withdrawn; or
  • They quickly shift to another plan in an effort to get agreement on a new course of action.

Unless folks of this temperament are tied down and boxed in, they are not sitting still long enough to dwell on the anger of being unfulfilled. Instead, they move quickly to their next idea. They are known to take risks, so strong is their need to act and have an impact.

During family gatherings, these folks can defy tradition, suggest wild alternatives to the status quo, and say things that “stir the pot”.  They can be the life of the party, and may act outrageously to ameliorate their boredom.  They are often perplexed as to why others don’t see the humor and excitement in their ideas. While they are perceptive of the moods of others and the dynamics of the group, they often choose to ignore such nuances as a distraction to their efforts to take action.  If the desires of the artisan/improviser temperament are repeatedly unmet, they will become depressed, despondent and/or withdrawn.

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Individuals favoring the Guardian/Stabilizer temperament are inclined to follow the rules, honor traditions, and seek affiliation with a group(s) they find meaningful.  Such groups could be familial, social or professional.  A sense of belonging and a belief in responsibility are core psychological needs for these individuals, making them the most consistent, loyal and reliable of the temperaments.  They have a logistical intelligence: bringing the right resources and personnel to bear on an issue.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when their values of loyalty and duty are not honored, and thus go unfulfilled.

  • They become angry with the person or group defying established norms and traditions, or
  • They use criticism in an attempt to change the behavior of others, or
  • They demonstrate resistance and become controlling of people, processes and things in order to get their intentions fulfilled, or
  • Simply withdraw, becoming stubborn and righteous about their anger and perspective.

The attachment these individuals have to the rules and traditions of a group they believe to be meaningful can prevent them from seeing the world through the eyes of others.  The impact this has on their relationships then serves to perpetuate the very frustration and unfulfilled expectation they so dislike.

During family gatherings, these folks find comfort and enjoyment in the predictability of family traditions.  They are happiest when serving the generations-old holiday meal and putting family heirlooms on display.  When others don’t respond with the same respect for rules and traditions, the guardian/stabilizer temperament can become angry, critical and/or forlorn.

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Individuals favoring the Rational/Theorist temperament value a clear goal, and a well-reasoned plan for getting there.  Competency and self-control are core psychological needs for these individuals.  They are often viewed as natural leaders because of their strategic intelligence and their ability to be articulate and persuasive.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when their preference for a well thought-out plan with clear objectives is resisted, therefore unfulfilled:

  • They can become angry and controlling, or
  • They can question the competency of others, or
  • They can be embarrassed by their own perceived lack of competency and/or control, or
  • They can become argumentative and push obsessively with more logic, or
  • They become uncharacteristically mindless.

Once a plan has been made, and a course of action is underway, these individuals can be persuaded to change that course if presented with the logic that supports a change.  Contrary to what you might think, this temperament does not always need to be in control, but they will be watching to make sure that someone with competence is in control!

During family gatherings, these folks will elevate the dinner conversation to a discussion of world affairs in search of a good argument.  They argue not to fight, but to hone their own knowledge and challenge their intellect.  This desire can upset the group dynamic, especially if old wounds or dysfunctional patterns surface.

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Individuals favoring the Idealist/Catalyst temperament value cooperative relationships and authenticity.  Meaning, significance, and recognition of the unique identity of both themselves and others are at the core of their psychological needs.  They possess a diplomatic intelligence. People of this temperament can react in several ways when others impede their desire for harmony and a purposeful life, leaving them feeling unfulfilled:

  • They can become worried or depressed if their life is chronically unfulfilling, or
  • They can become flustered and angry in a situation where disharmony evolves, then
  • They will work to rescue the victims of disharmony or unfair treatment, or conversely
  • They will remove themselves completely from the situation

Despite the conciliatory nature of these folks, they can become quite incensed when expectations go unfulfilled, or feelings are not taken into account.  It is the irony of this type: their strong reaction to an upsetting situation can make it worse.  However, they are usually quick to regain their focus and become the catalyst for reconciliation.

This is especially true during family gatherings, as these folks have their radar focused on the group dynamic.  Are people enjoying themselves?  Are any old and unpleasant dynamics emerging?  If so, they will use their diplomatic skills to avert this possibility, fearing the harmony of the group will unravel. If their efforts fail they may lose control and become angry, blame themselves for not being able to affect harmony, and/or take themselves away from the situation.  Yet, when all is well with these individuals, the kindness, compassion and coaching they display makes them a comfort to their friends, family and co-workers alike.

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In the situations described above, substitute “family gatherings” for “at the office,” add a little imagination, and perhaps you can see yourself in some all-too-familiar workplace dynamics.  There is truth in the aphorism, “Wherever I go, there I am!”  Well-adjusted adults are generally successful at modifying their behavior to the context of the moment, but under stress, we can all fall back on behaviors that are most familiar, and “familiar” does not necessarily mean “appropriate.”  Who we are as a result of growing up in our family of origin eventually seeps out into other aspects of our lives.

So what to do with this information?  I suggest that:

  • you first identify which of the Temperaments you most identify with.  This is often best determined by reflecting on how you react when under stress.
  • Next, focus on the individual or group you are interacting with.
    • Are there any clues as to their expectations?
    • What are their likely reactions to having these expectations unfulfilled?
    • How can you fulfill their expectations and your own?
    • Where are the opportunities for compromise, growth and change?

While this is a tall order for many of us, information and self-awareness provide a great place to start.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, thwarted intention!

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Sources of Upset Heightened by the Holiday Season

December 15, 2009

I was somewhat disbelieving when my friend and fellow organizational consultant, Ellie Byers, told me there are really only three sources of negative emotions, or upsets:

  1. Withheld communications
  2. Unfulfilled expectations
  3. Thwarted intentions

However, after thinking about this for a while, I came to agree with her.  Ellie was unsure of the source of this wisdom, so I would be glad to give attribution if someone knows the creator.

Most of us are familiar with the tensions and upsets that can accompany family gatherings at holiday time.  I will use such family occasions to explore each of these sources in separate writings, beginning with the first on the list.  I will also relate this information to the organizations we work in.

Withheld communications can occur in any form of communication, be it spoken, written, or implied with body language.  It does not necessarily mean that no communication has occurred.  Rather, it means that the communication that has occurred is not clear, direct, or complete.

  • Communication that is not clear occurs when we do not take into account how the person we are communicating with will hear what we have to say.  Correcting this involves learning to speak to the listening of our audience.  Not everyone thinks as we do, or knows what we know, so what we say is not always understood as we intend.  Not communicating clearly can lead to conflict through misunderstanding.
  • Communication that is not direct occurs when we fear there will be a consequence for speaking our truth. Direct communication may have brought criticism or anger upon us in the past, and therefore we learn to temper our honesty to prevent that from happening again.  Indirect communications often carry the label of being “passive-aggressive”, meaning the indirectness, which is a passive behavior, leaves the listener feeling badly, which is an aggressive outcome.  Negativity or disapproval conveyed through body language is often a type of passive-aggressive, indirect communication.  Not communicating in a direct fashion can lead to conflict and resentment.

  • Communication that is not complete combines both unclear and indirect communications.  The speaker makes assumptions that the listener will “fill in the blanks” either because they assume the listener thinks as they do or because the avoidance of all details protects the speaker from the judgment or anger of the listener.  In other situations, incomplete communications are designed to set up the listener for failure.  This style of communication can be confusing at best, and dangerous at worst.

Withheld communication is typically self-protecting, even when it seems to be just a case of laziness.  However, attempting to avoid conflict by withholding communication usually backfires and creates an even greater conflict.  Generally, the tendency to communicate this way has roots in our family of origin.  A punitive work place culture can also foster withheld communications as people strive to protect their position and ego within a team or organization.

A suggestion for good listening, particularly when there is the potential for upset: repeat in your own words, and without emotional weight, what the person has just said to you, then verify you have heard them correctly.  This will accomplish two things: The person will feel validated by the fact that you are sincerely listening to them, and you will be certain you heard them correctly.  You can reverse the process by politely requesting someone repeat back to you what he or she just heard you say.

As we enter the holiday season, return to our family of origin as an adult, and possibly add extended family to the mix, experiment with being direct and honest in all interactions.  Honesty does not equal rudeness, it means taking into account the listener, and being absolutely clear about the result you wish to create through your conversations.  When extended family comes together, there is usually a grace period when everyone is on his or her best behavior.  Eventually a button is pushed, a trigger is tripped, and the family falls back in to the communication patterns of yore.  Directness, tempered with a caring tone, can defuse this dynamic.

Speaking one’s truth is freeing and far less complicated, as one never needs to remember the nuance of previous interactions.  People often have a greater capacity for the truth than we give them credit for.  Training them that you are a clear communicator will elevate the respect you receive in the family, and in the work place.

Stay tuned for my next blog on the second source of upset: unfulfilled expectation.

Leader, Know Thy Self

November 23, 2009

As an executive coach, I enjoy reading what others have to say about leadership: leadership styles, what it take so to be a leader, the (insert #) most important leadership traits, etc.  If you were to try and take all the various musing on what a great leader should be as truth, it seems to me that the only thing you would come away with is a strong sense of inadequacy. Those that manage just a few people all the way up to CEOs of large enterprises ask themselves such questions as, “Did I show enough empathy in my conversation with Mary this morning?”  “Am I “visionary” enough?”  “Are they following me because they respect me, or because they fear me?”

I advise my clients to read all they can about leadership, but to not get caught up in emulation at any cost.  I believe that the single most critical thing about being a leader is to know thy self.  We are all different, and we all have our leadership strengths and our challenges.  We are different at our core, at the level of our genetic heritage, the way our brains are wired, our appearance, our nature.  We are also different in our experiences, our backgrounds, our family systems, our education, our nurture.

I could no sooner be a leader in the style of Winston Churchill than I could be an Olympic gold medalist.  However, if I posses self-awareness, I can be aware when a leadership situation plays to my strength, or if the situation will be a challenge for me.  If the circumstance requires a style that is powerful for me, I can take action with confidence.  If the style required will be a challenge to me, I have two choices.

The first is to focus on what is required in the situation to see if I can shift to the mode required.  The answers to two questions will tell me if I can make this shift: do I have the knowledge of what is needed, and do I have the energy and capacity to stretch to that less than familiar role?

If the answer to either of these two questions is “No”, then my remaining choice is to decide who does have the power to do what is necessary under the circumstances.  This can be a hard thing for a leader to do: recognize that someone else may need to take the lead on a particular initiative or crisis.  However, the best leaders are those that mentor others to be leaders themselves without requiring the acolyte to be a replica of the boss.

5-D Leadership is one of the best books on this subject.  Written by Scott Campbell and Ellen Samiec, the examples of leadership success and failure as a result of self-awareness, or the lack thereof, are fascinating.

One of my favorite aphorisms is, “You cannot be someone you are not until you know who you are.”  Truer words, in my opinion, were never spoken.  In future writings, I will explore a method to gain self-awareness.

Corporate Governance: A Word of Caution About “Affiliated” Directors

November 12, 2009

There has been a dramatic increase in the attention given to corporate governance issues subsequent to the spectacular failures of board oversight at such companies as Enron and Global Crossing.  The most noteworthy response to these acts of corporate fraud was the passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002.  While the bill only applies to publicly traded companies, privately held businesses quickly realized that this was the new de facto standard for them.

Specifically, the term independence has taken on increased significance.  Directors who are independent of the day-to-day operation of a firm are deemed better able to represent the interests of shareholders than “inside” directors.

Unfortunately, as the need for qualified independent directors has risen, the risk of personal liability for directors has grown, causing many qualified individuals to think twice before accepting board positions.  Additionally, otherwise qualified, independent, directors must undertake considerable education to fully understand the scope of their oversight and policy making responsibilities in an industry that they may be unfamiliar with.

When CEOs and current board members seek the expertise needed for their boards, they quickly realize that they have such experts right under their noses in the form of the firm’s attorney, CPA, financial advisor, etc. What an elegant solution to their need for informed, non-employee, directors!  Or is it?

Board members who are also professional advisors fall into a category know as affiliated directors.  They may not receive a W-2, like an employee, but they do receive a 1099.  Many board deliberations have direct or indirect impact on the use of professional advisors, thus how independent can these advisors be as board members?

Affiliation takes other forms.  Directors need to be independent of themselves, not just the company.  Golf buddies and old friends on a board are loath to break the “code of congeniality,” the killer of challenging discourse.  Directors with close ties to a specific group of shareholders are likely to be conflicted.  Directors cannot “represent” a particular constituency, they must act on behalf of all shareholders.

CEOs and current board members must have the courage to look for director candidates who have proven talents, principal among which should be the ability to both collaborate and disagree within the decision making process.  Add a lawyer or CPA to your board?  Sure, but not your lawyer or CPA.

As you consider director candidates who would be deemed affiliated, my advice is, “Don’t do that!”  Directors should provide a competitive advantage to the organization.  Make that goal a reality by creating a board of truly independent thinkers.  I leave you with a quote by William Bowen, author of The Board Book: “We don’t learn much when we are surrounded by the likes of ourselves.”