emotion as systemic
April 17, 2006
What happens when you have 80 people in a confined space over 8 days?
Emotions start running high, that’s what. And in some cases – very high and I include myself in that description. It’s interesting to find myself in an institutional setting experiencing much of what my clients experience when they invite me to work with them to “solve” the problem.
Many organisations fear emotion. There is an assumption that to be emotional = out of control and to be out of control = inevitable chaos. Often the point at which someone starts exhibiting emotional behaviour in an organisation the three Cs will be called for – the Coach, the Consultant of the Counsellor. Taking the “problem” out of the system is seen as a way of containing and controlling the situation.
Here in Paris there’s nowhere to go. The hotel is about 25KM from the centre of Paris, there’s little outside the hotel in terms of distraction, (in fact the location has all the charm of an industrial estate on the edge of nowhere) there are limited circulation spaces and many people are sharing rooms. From an outside perspective it looks like a recipe for disaster. But we’re being challenged to look at, experience and understand emotion as a systemic manifestation. Why is it that people get “set up” in organisations to be the carriers of emotion? In my own experience, many of the trouble makers in organisational life are expressing what the rest of the system is too afraid to say. Here in Paris there is a lot of emotion – frustration, anger, intimacy, sadness etc and we are exploring how the relationships in our temporary institution create carriers of emotional messages. Both how we accept the invitation to act on behalf of the group and how we assign that invitation and responsibility to others.
Increasingly I’m becoming more interested in keeping the learning about this kind of systemic interaction within the organisations with whom I work. If I can help the organisation understand why particular kinds of behaviour speak on behalf of the organisation then the intervention can be appreciative as distinct accusative. That’s not to suggest that people don’t have choice about how they behave in organisations either – not everything can be blamed “on the system”. Systems can generate emotion but individuals make the choice about how to express it. Coaching and consulting can work hand in hand to bridge the gap between the individual and the organisation and when I’ve been privileged to have access at both levels the results in terms of organisational learning are impressive. It takes bravery to contain rather than control emotion and then use the wisdom to advance the learning of the entire organisation.