What is the value of cultivating companionate love within your organisation?
Love evokes sensations and ideas that span multiple cultures and generations in ways that are very much connected to a common song, and also worlds apart: some love a little, some love a lot, some confuse love and lust, some equate love with romance, others with companionship and family connection, and some base love on conditions, while others love unconditionally.
When I address love in the corporate world, I speak of ‘companionate love’, which you may equate to the love of a good friend; a love fostered over time, characterized by feelings of affection, intimacy and commitment. This article outlines what companionate love looks like in an organisation and the value to the organisation of cultivating loving qualities.
The value of Love in the workplace:
When Mandy O’Neill, an assistant professor in the George Mason University School of Management, carried out research (‘What’s Love got to do with it: The Influence of a culture of companionate love in the long-term care setting') with the University of Pennsylvania management professor Sigal Barsade, they demonstrated that “companionate love” in the workplace boosts teamwork and job satisfaction and leads to less burnout and absenteeism.
The study surveyed 185 employees, 108 residents and 42 family members of the residents. The embedded researchers rated the culture of love each time they spent at least 20 minutes in a particular unit of the facility. Employees and administrators also rated the emotional culture in the various units. The researchers found that employees in the more compassionate units showed greater engagement and less withdrawal than their colleagues elsewhere in the facility.
Barsade and O’Neill also surveyed 3,201 employees from 17 organizations in seven industries, including financial services, real estate, engineering and higher education, and the results were the same; the people who worked in a culture where they felt free to express affection, tenderness, caring, and compassion for one another were more satisfied with their jobs, committed to the organization, and accountable for their performance.
In a 2016 study on preferences in leadership style, it was found that 70% would prefer a ‘collaborative & supportive’ working environment, while 26% would prefer a ‘task-focused and goal-oriented’ working environment.
The challenges to growing a loving corporate culture: More companies are beginning to understand the benefits of monitoring employees’ emotions and are concluding that a culture of love can generate a brand of loyalty and commitment that is good for business, however, the reality of fostering this culture can be a challenge.
The process of integration:
Love in the corporate world is long overdue, the time is now to facilitate the emergence of care, compassion and kindness, and the beauty of this process is that every single person has the power to make the choice and the personal changes to facilitate the emerge and growth of a beautiful new world.
Preston Williams (2014) ‘Companionate Love’ in the Workplace Heightens Happiness, Productivity’ George Mason University News
Sigal Barsade and Olivia A O'Neil (2014 )Employees Who Feel Love Perform Better. Harvard Business Review,
Fiona Beddoes-Jones, PhD (2017)Love Is The Answer: A New Model of Corporate Love in the Workplace. Occupational Psychology Division of The Bristish Psychological Society
Ryan L Nlelmec (2017) Love in the Workplace? Yes! Why and how love and other strengths are important at work. Psychology Today Magazine
Would you like to explore how to integrate a loving culture within your organisation?
Get in touch to arrange a complimentary call to explore what this could look like:
Antonia Behan - Coaching Psychologist BSc MSc MICF PCC MBPsS
0034 620 741 361 firstname.lastname@example.org www.antoniabehan.com
This articles address the importance of empathic listening in the workplace and provides skill development techniques.
To listen empathically Is to be present, with patience, acceptance, non-judgement, kindness and care.
How can we effectively support and help someone in the workplace who is suffering, when we may not know what to say or have any relevant advice or experience to offer?
When we know how to listen empathically, we do not necessarily need to have the answers, or give advice, rather, we help and support by being present, letting the person know that we care, they are heard and accepted. This alone can be immensely healing for people and provide huge relief.
Empathic listening skills allow anyone to step into the speaker’s story, to really hear and understand them, to sense what they may be feeling, and to be with them, in the present, with their pain, suffering, frustration or difficulty, without judgement or criticism, holding a space of psychological safety, acceptance and support.
Stephen R. Covey (2020, p. 277), author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, summarizes the heart of empathic listening: “Seek first to understand.” Carl Rogers, a humanistic psychologist, described empathic listening as “entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it” (Rogers, 1980, p. 142).
When we practice Empathic listening, we allow the other person to dominate the discussion, attentive to what is being said, mindful not to interrupt, and with sensitivity to the feelings and emotions that are being expressed. When we are listening empathically, we are letting the other person know that:
"I want to understand you and how you feel, I am interested in what you are saying, I am not judging you, and I want to help you to find a resolution’
The impact empathic listening has on the speaker is to let them feel acknowledged, valued, accepted and understood, which can help foster their self-esteem, reduce stress and tension, and increase trust and cooperation.
The Essence of Empathic Listening
Co-worker: “Stephen always says he will meet the deadline, but I am always chasing him, and never know where he is at or how long he will take to get things done’
Listener: “It sounds like you’re frustrated with Stephen and work right now?”
Here, the listener doesn’t negate or judge the speaker, rather, they let the speaker know they heard what was said and captured the emotion, while the open nature of the question invites them to elaborate and open up further.
What to Avoid
Phrases you can use when listening empathically
Before asking questions, it is wise to be sensitive to the other persons disposition and have a deep awareness of the context. Not all questions are appropriate in every situation, and in some context may trigger issues that they are not ready to face, or that are not appropriate to face in the current situation, such as deep psychological traumas in a work space or when there is little time to really hear and be present with a person.
The following examples can help the listener open up and clarify what is being said:
When you want the other person to know you are there for them, you can ask or say:
Develop your empathic listening skills: Would you and your team members like to practice empathic listening with a facilitator to feedback on your communication style and support your skill development? Please get in touch: email@example.com
Location: Groups of 2/3 people available online. Small group sessions, in-person in Sotogrande, Cadiz, and Ocean Village, Gibraltar.
Antonia Behan - Coaching Psychologist - BSc MSc MBPsS MICF PCC
0034 620 741 361
Oficina 10, Sotovilla 2, Pueblo Nuevo de Guadiaro, 11311, San Roque, Cadiz, Spain.
Who am I, why am I here and how do I make life better?
These were the questions I was forced to ask myself, when, during my early twenties, remaining in a state of depression and feeling lost and alone was no longer an option: it was change or die, previous excursions into the shadowlands had taught me this. Having recently completed an interior design diploma and been keen to launch my consultancy business, my hopes and dreams had remained in my mind sky, because I lacked the faith and confidence that I needed to act. I would constantly tell myself that I was doomed to fail, destined to be alone and lonely and that I would walk forever on the edge of the rat race reality, existing but not really living. These were the beliefs that my world had conditioned me to perceive, and so this was my truth, and my truth was killing me. I desperately needed there to be more to life, and so, with all the passion in my heart, and a small glimmer of hope in the possibility of a greater story, I called out to the heavens above, hoping something might hear my plea for guidance and grant me a reason to keep living.
What happened next initiated a journey of spiritual awakening, truth-seeking, deep healing, and an immersion onto a way of living and being that would eventually reveal to me the keys to outshining fear, breaking free from the shadows, moving into peace, freedom and happiness, and ultimately enabling me to understand how to co-create harmony in our world. It began with a vision of a dying world and of lost souls wandering the Earth, disconnected from their hearts and from each other, and a message of inspiration inviting me to heal my world from within, which led me to my next truth-seeking question:
Why do we suffer and how do we overcome suffering?
I reviewed my own story of suffering; a tale of innocence and a gradual descent into darkness; the result of many years of being bullied, rejected, and abandoned, in different places, at different times, and by different people, leading to a long battle with severe anxiety and depression. I learned that we are subjects of our genetic inheritance and the environment in which we are born and that we are mere reactions to life events based on this combination; we are like ships upon an ocean where only the sturdy and well-balanced are able to ride the most challenging waves. On reflection, it was clear that, fundamentally, I suffered because I lacked the management tools for coping with my world, and because I existed in a realm of too much fear, and not enough love. When I transferred this perception to address suffering on the world stage, I learned of a similar truth; the world needs more love.
How does life work; are we governed by freewill, fate or destiny, and what power does one person have to effect change?
In a world in need of love, and when there are so many people living in fear and fuelling destruction, I wondered what one lost soul could possibly do to help create harmony? I explored the nature of freewill, fate and destiny. I meditated on whether there may great plan overarching the story of our lives, that unbeknown to us, is carrying us on an unseen ocean towards harmony, and all we do is connect with this knowing and live with faith in the vision. I researched the power of intention and how the power of our own heart and mind may influence change in the collective and I considered the impact of one person living in alignment with the values of the heart.
I learnt that we are subjects to cause and effect, until we awaken, that freewill and fate may be siblings weaving the paths of our lives, that we can learn to claim our freedom and take the resigns on our lives, and that when the power of the mind is harnessed and the heart moves into peace, it may become possible to arise as a co-creator, influencing how we live, and how others live, and pro-actively being a conduit for love, and an ambassador for peace and harmony. I had a theory, and now I had to start living it to unveil the truth.
I set my intention and I crafted my vision of peace and harmony; a home in the sun, writing inspiring books, helping people to heal and grow, sharing my life with a partner, in love, with a happy family, good health, free of my own demons, an organic garden, cherished friends, abundance and success, and people around me living in peace and harmony.
What is love?
Over the next year, I battled through thoughts of faith and fear as I explored how to create harmony, and then life opened up, with an opportunity to move into my dreams; a new home in the sunshine, heralding new possibilities and potential. I continued in a battle of faith and fear as I tried to outshine my demons and make peace with my world because even when you change location, you cannot outrun your shadows. I initiated a course of therapy and one of the first things my therapist said to me was: ‘You need to learn to love yourself’, and I honestly had no idea what she meant! I knew that I was not happy, I recognised that I still spoke to myself with harsh judgment and criticism, and I continued to be haunted by depression, past traumas, and so many fears. ‘You need to get angry’ she would offer, but I did not want to get angry, I did not like the feeling of anger, I wanted peace.
Overtime, as I reviewed my past, and allowed myself to get angry about things that I had every right to feel angry about, I discovered that with anger, my fears transformed into a sense of inner power, because I was reclaiming my truth: I was angry with people, with life, and with myself, for many things done and said, and for those things that were not done or said, and needed to have been.
Therapy provided a space for anger to move into acceptance. This was hard work and it took a long time to really get what acceptance actually means. Through acceptance, as if by the very nature of accepting, a new sense of peace and freedom emerged, and in this new peace and freedom, I found myself moving into realms of forgiveness, and to choose to focus on appreciation and gratitude, while my self-talk evolved from those of criticism and judgment, into the realms of compassion and kindness; I was moving into a new kind of love; self-love, and through genuine self-love, by the very nature of being in love, my heart began to open to other people and my world.
What does it mean to Live in Harmony?
The emergence of love was a gradual process and is a dedication to maintain. It requires applying empowering tools to help manage fear, doubt, and the voices of negativity, and a commitment to the art of acceptance, the voice of love, compassion, empathy, kindness, appreciation, gratitude, forgiveness, and the ways of peace, It is through the emergence of my love that I have come to understand what living in harmony really means.
Living in harmony is about making time to understand ourselves and each other so that we can learn to better accept ourselves, and how people are, and why people are. It is about choosing to forgive ourselves and each other, not because it will make certain things okay; so many things were not and are not okay, but because we choose to bring peace into the present. It is about connecting with our truth; how we really feel, because only when we stand in our authenticity can we heal and grow, and only in our authenticity can we process our true sentiment, and so avoid, consciously or subconsciously, projecting our shadows onto other people and our world. It is about embracing our freedom, through this authentic way of being, and claiming the power that arises through connection with our true heart, and it is about radiating the true heart; living in compassion and kindness, choosing to focus on appreciation and gratitude, and making the choice to respond to life with love.
I began to embrace my new truth about who I am, how I am, how others are and the way the world is, and with all courage in my heart, to live in love, which meant making some big and important choices. If I wanted to be true to my heart, I would have to set some new boundaries, pursue greater and more exciting career goals, and with this risk greater failure, rejection, and abandonment, and perhaps the pain of judgment from choosing to expose my truth. But, to live any other way was no longer a choice; I had made my dedication to love.
I set my boundaries, I lost some friends and made some stronger friendships, I changed pathways, took career risks, and I developed myself as a coaching psychologist, creating continued and ongoing success, growing myself in a new and unexpected way, and always in alignment with the values of my heart, true to love and my vision of harmony. I formed a community support network in my home town and then I made the choice to be a mother, a single mother, through the process of in-vitro fertilisation. I knew that no matter what happened next, I was living the truth of my heart and I truly believed this would lead me to harmony and help me understand how to co-create harmony in the world.
It was during the 37th week of my pregnancy that my baby girl became distressed, she stopped moving, and she died. The suffering is immense and it does not end. I had a choice about how I responded to this tragedy and I had to respond with love. I grieved deeply, feeling every true and overwhelming emotion, and I continue to grieve; this pain is part of my world, I have to accept it, I have to live with it, there is no other truth. I choose to be thankful for what she has gifted me; the recognition of my ability to love greatly, to respond to the suffering in my life and my world with love, and to no longer merely survive, but manage to thrive.
Harmony is not about everything in the world being shiny and bright, where suffering is ended and there is only joy. Harmony is about accepting the suffering when it occurs, processing it, and then choosing to respond with love and never giving up on the truth of the heart. Being a mother mattered and so, while walking with fear, and still grieving, I summoned greater courage, and, in the name of love, I walked on, into a second pregnancy, and I gave birth, at home, to a very special, healthy, happy and joyful baby boy.
I believe that when I stand in love, I exist in my harmony and that when I open my heart to others and the world, and actively co-create with love, and when I connect with and respond to people and life with acceptance, compassion, empathy, kindness, strength, courage, faith, trust, peace, integrity, and truth' the values of the heart, then I am one person helping to co-create harmony in the world around me.
I believe that when you stand in love, when you exist in your harmony, true to the values of your heart, truth to your true feelings and emotions, and living with a mind full of love, and with the power to conqueror fear, you help to co-create harmony. You don’t have to wait until you can maintain this way of being to be able to make difference; we all rise and fall through the days of our lives, this is our nature. In those moments when we do rise and when we can maintain a vibration of love and peace, we are powerful, and when we fall and know that with faith and a loving response, we shall soon rise again, this deep and complete acceptance, enables us to maintain and grow harmony. I believe that when we stand in love, true to our unique vision of harmony, we shall meet each other in the dawn of a new harmony on Earth.
Many reading this will resonate with my words because you are in a similar space, you recognise you are setting foot on your path or already making brave footsteps, you may be revisiting the path, or you are smiling with a warm heart because you feel thankful that the ground your generation laid is bearing fruit and we are responding to the call to love.
Currently, this global pandemic has the potential to unite or divide our humanity. This is a call to stand in your love because this is what you can do, this is within your power and it will grow your power, and you will change the world. This pandemic can become the tragedy that we choose to use as a global shift towards living in greater love.
I invite you, from wherever you are, at whatever life stage you are at, to make a pledge to stand in love.
I, (name)…………………………….with pure intent and a heart open to giving and receiving love, dedicate myself to the path to love, with the understanding that in doing so, I am being true to myself and contributing to the emergence of greater acceptance, authenticity, connection, compassion, empathy, kindness, integrity, truth, and peace in my world, by actively and consciously living by these values.
Together, and only together, we are moving into a new harmony.
Harmony, with as many beautiful visions of its projection as there are people on the planet, can be our collective vision. There are no rules, there is no fixed path, there is just a choice; to love yourself and live from a loving heart.
What does it really mean to create an empathic organisational culture?
Empathy is more than having the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’ position, it is being able to interpret what they are feeling, and to mirror their emotions; growing empathy requires deep consideration about how the other person or group of people may be experiencing their world, and experiencing this, emotionally, as if you were actually living their experience. For those who are naturally empathic, this capacity for authentic human connection may be viewed as a blessing or a curse, depending on whether what is felt is absorbed into being, or simply noticed, experienced and then let go; being an empath can be draining if not managed well, while healthy empathy is a strong facilitator for emotional healing, healthy relationships and positive communication. For those who struggle to be empathic, learning about what it means to be empathic, how to grow an empathic organisational culture and the behaviours that can be adapted and developed to foster an empathic culture will serve to make a positive difference. However, for a person to experience true empathy, and exhibit this capacity, what is needed is to, first of all, be able to connect authentically with the self; with how you are, and what you are feeling and to accept whatever is present. Only when we can accept ourselves can we truly accept others and be with them in their emotional realm. In a world where people are increasingly disconnected from themselves and each other, the process of re-connection may be a challenge, but when the journey through the inner work is embraced, it is one of the most beautiful processes a person can go through, indeed it opens the door to greater love.
What does an empathic organisation look like? A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum looked across highly empathetic companies to identify common practices of high empathy organizations. They learnt that:
The Benefits: The value of growing an empathic workplace culture is that it allows for the feeling of trust and connection to develop, a valuable part of human social interaction, with diverse benefits ranging from enhancing cooperation (Rumble, Van Lange, & Parks, 2009) and increasing the likelihood of helping behaviour (Davis, 1996), to fostering desirable sales behaviours (Anaza, Inyand, & Saavedra, 2018), influencing more effective leadership (Rahman & Castelli, 2013), and driving productivity, retention and motivation (Business Solver, 2019); in their survey of 1,000 employees from a variety of businesses, the researchers (Business Solver, 2019) found that:
Growing an empathic workplace culture
The inner work: Choosing to learn to connect with who you are is fundamental in learning to become more empathic. Connection with your core self, where all that you are; your feelings and emotions and your deep inner world is recognised, accepted and embraced. Only with this connection and acceptance is it possible to develop true empathy; we need to be able to feel what we feel and accept it, to be able to sense what others may be feeling and accept it. Some have this natural ability, and for others, developing empathy is a process that needs to be learnt or re-learnt, if the challenges and traumas of life have led to a disconnect with who you are. This is not a one-time workshop process, and it is not something that happens quickly, it is a process of emergence and unfolding, and sometimes of emotional and psychological healing, that needs to be nurtured with time, practice, reflection, conscious motivation, and empathic focused action. It is perhaps one of the most beautiful, empowering and rewarding personal growth processes anyone can go through.
Initiating connection: The process begins with an invitation to connect with yourself, through the breath, through mindful awareness of how you are thinking and feeling, and to sit with what is, with whatever arises. Doing this requires making time to stop, move into stillness, let go of the day’s work and racing thoughts, and become present in the moment. This can be done alone or guided and supported by a therapist or well-being coach. It may require effort to initiate this process, and if you want to, and you choose to embrace it, the effort will soon move towards the desire for more time to be present and connected because, in this place, there is peace.
Creating psychological safety: For people to feel able to connect with who they are, and each other, to authentically be present and experience or express the true feeling and sentiment, the crucial factor is feeling safe, and being in a safe space. When people feel safe and able to connect with who they are and how they feel, they become capable of true empathy. For those who have experienced trauma, feeling safe with the self may not feel possible, and so it is important to be mindful of this and not force or guide people into places they are not ready to connect with until safety has been established. When I run corporate empathy workshops, I invite people to this process if they choose to, and I highlight that for anyone that does not feel comfortable with the process, without having to disclose anything and in a space of full acceptance from all participants in the room, (having initially created a space of acceptance and non-judgement at the start) they may leave the room for the exercise, or they may sit quietly and begin to address any behaviour changes that can be made to help foster empathy within an organisation.
Co-creating an empathic organisational culture requires a willingness to embrace change and often considerable change across the board. It needs key people to drive the change; those with the power to influence, model and facilitate behavioural change towards empathy and living in alignment with the values of the heart. I like to see these influencers as the ‘Ambassadors of peace and love’; people of strong hearts and minds striving to bring about a potentially revolutionary change in the way we live and work with each other. Who are your ambassadors, how are they already driving empathy and what would happen if co-creating an empathic organisation became their conscious mission and purpose?
Article by Antonia Behan
Coaching Psychologist BSc MSc MBPsS MICF PCC
Empowering adults and adolescents to live from the heart
Anaza, N. A., Inyang, A. E., & Saavedra, J. L. (2018). Empathy and affect in B2B salesperson performance. Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, 33(1), 29-41.
Business Solver (2019). State of workplace empathy. https://www.businessolver.com/resources/businessolver-empathy-monitor, accessed October 30, 2019.
Davis, M.H. (1996). Empathy: A social psychological approach. Routledge: New York.
Rahman, W. A., & Castelli, P. A. (2013). The impact of empathy on leadership effectiveness among business leaders in the United States and Malaysia, International Journal of Economics Business and Management Studies, 2(3), 83-97.
Rumble, A. C., Van Lange, P. A. and Parks, C. D. (2010), The benefits of empathy: When empathy may sustain cooperation in social dilemmas. Eur. J. Soc. Psychol., 40: 856-866. doi:10.1002/ejsp.659
Acceptance is a coaching and therapy process that when integrated facilitates healing, growth, and transformation. This may be getting to acceptance of what has been lost, acceptance of what happened and that was out of our control, acceptance of things that cannot be controlled, acceptance of those consequences of what happened that we live with today, acceptance of the way other people behave, the way things are, and the limitations of our possibility and potential. When we move into acceptance, we move past anger, resentment, and frustration, we end the suppression of feelings and emotions that we did not want to face, or the outward projection of those energies onto others, we let go of the past and sometimes of people, and we are enabled to move into the present and into ourselves, we become more grounded in our lives and more at peace with each other; in essence, a negative emotional charge is dissolved.
From a place of acceptance, the baggage of the past is released into history, healing is enabled, dramas are put to rest, and space and energy is formed to give light to new possibilities and potential; a person can learn to move on with their lives, become healthier and happier, and learn to thrive again.
What can acceptance coaching bring to a corporate environment?
Acceptance of what is possible: People have different expectations on performance outcomes. Sometimes the expectations are fair and realistic, sometimes they are unrealistic, and sometimes they do not challenge someone enough. As a consequence, there can be feelings of frustration and stress when people do not perform as expected, or when potential is not recognised, and people are not challenged enough. When nothing changes, this frustration and stress can foster and the working environment becomes toxic and inefficient.
When acceptance is brought into the coaching conversation, space is created to either facilitate a person in coming to acceptance of the state of expectations, so that they can then make a conscious choice to stay in the same position or to move on, for a manager to keep someone where they are because of other strengths, or move them to a more suitable position, or to integrate reality checks when setting expectations. In this way, people move on from feelings of powerlessness, restriction, limitation, frustration or helplessness and into a place of empowerment where open and honest communication occurs and conscious choices are made.
Once a person attains acceptance, they become less stressed and less likely to project their frustrations into the working environment. A person who accepts the limitations of their time and ability, can then set healthy boundaries on what they can and cannot do, assert what they can and cannot do, ask for updates on priorities and strive to improve efficiency on what matters most, instead of trying to be perfect and get everything done. This allows those in leadership and management roles to gain a clearer understanding of what can be expected, where progress is at, and how to effectively strategy plan to achieve the company objectives, key initiatives and results. Acceptance facilitates open communication, improved overall efficiency, less stress, positive work spaces, and helps prevent the burnout of your key and most valued people.
Let me be clear, acceptance is by no means about settling for something that is a poor standard, toxic or health risk and maintaining it as such, acceptance is about recognising that this issue, is what it is, and then identifying what can and cannot be done about the issue, releasing the emotional charge, and from a place of acceptance, with the conflict and negativity dissolved, allowing for the emergence of new ideas, possibilities, and solutions that benefit the person or the company. Acceptance is sometimes a necessary step for moving forward.
Acceptance of challenging personalities: When working with a colleague with a narcissistic, histrionic or obsessive-compulsive personality, there is feeling of a general lack of care and interest in the well-being of others, and instead a focus on what the individual wants to happen, control or attain, and there is a high level of emotional drama. To those working with challenging personalities, when acceptance of how people are is integrated, instead of wanting the person to change, or planning an exit strategy, people can move through fear or avoidance of that person, manage feelings of frustration, and learn how to prevent themselves from becoming entangled in emotional dramas, or being bullied. Awareness of the personality disorder is the first step, acceptance that we cannot change people, unless they choose to change, is the second step, and from acceptance of what is, and how people are, space is created to address management tactics; how to manage a challenging personality. When people understand this, they become empowered, stronger, less stressed, more productive, more focused, and they feel happier.
Acceptance of financial remuneration: It is fair to say that most people want to earn more money and that to do so will require upskilling, improving performance, owning greater autonomy, risk-taking, becoming stronger in the leadership and management of self or others, improving communication, activating assertiveness and often, communicating with compassion. In essence, it requires a change or growth of self, and this is usually a pain point that many do not want to embrace, and so they remain in frustration. However, once acceptance of areas of growth are identified, and acceptance of the investment required to make the changes is embraced, the inner frustration, resentment, negativity, or sense of entitlement, makes way for pro-active changes that benefit many.
Acceptance of resources: There is always space for more resources to make life easier, and often not enough people, time, money, high-level performers, expertise, or experience where it is needed. Acceptance of this reality moves the focus from frustration and into a solutions-focused mindset; what can we do with what we have, what is possible, how do I streamline better, prioritise more, get better at letting things go, delegating, and saying ‘no’!
Acceptance of risk: It requires bravery to step up, leap forward, and even more to lead others in a new and often unknown direction. Along the way, you may encounter failure, fear, loss, criticism, judgment, and new levels of pressure. When the risk is accepted, which means identifying and accepting the possible consequences; the great and the small, the positive and the negative, the outstanding success or the incredible failure, emotional freedom is created, setting a person free to soar.
Acceptance of cultural adaption: From staying in the same known steady and secure space to operating in a fast past place of constant change and motion, companies operate within their own cultural styles. Sometimes maintaining the status quo works, and new members adapt and integrate, and sometimes changes are required. Integrating new values, aligning the team with a greater vision and strategy, or improving gender equality, well-being, or mental health awareness, may now be on your horizon or knocking at your door. There will be resistance, however, when people are facilitated in accepting a new way of being with each other, then conflict, hesitation, frustration, anxiety, and feelings of uncertainty or insecurity make way for new understanding, compassion, solutions-focused thinking, excitement, and position action towards integrating and aligning with the new way.
Are you interested to learn more? Please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Antonia Behan is a coaching psychologist (BSc, MSc, MBPsS, MICF PCC) working with whole teams within Gibraltar-based companies, and online with global senior leaders.
Antonia is passionate about facilitating the integration of a culture of mental health and well-being, including improved communication, stress and anxiety management, and growing your people. I want you to attain your greatest business possibility with healthy and happy people.
Antonia Behan BSc MSc MBPsS MICF PCC
Corporate psychological well-being and performance development coaching
Adult and adolescent psychological wellbeing coaching and trauma therapy
Family coaching for harmony
Workshops and courses
The thought of seeing someone cry used to trigger anxiety, because I was afraid to feel my own sadness; I feared the enormity of what I held inside, and because revealing my true feeling meant allowing a certain vulnerability that I believed would make me weak and defenseless to anyone trying to hurt me; I had been bullied enough times, in enough places, to understand the importance of my defenses. I also felt like there was something wrong with me for not being able to be with sadness, and not knowing how to support others in their sadness; as a teenager, I felt inadequate as a friend and in conflict with myself because I wanted to be okay with feeling sad but my fear inhibited me.
To be able to overcome this fear I needed to learn that my sadness was acceptable and that I was strong enough to be with the tidal waves I felt certain I had suppressed. The difficulty is, you don’t get a 'taster session' on sadness, you just decide you are ready to feel, and when you decide, the challenge is allowing yourself to be with whatever arises, however big or overwhelming it is; it is a true act of surrender, and of letting go of control of yourself. The ability to overcome this fear is within your power, because self-acceptance is a choice we make for ourselves, and bravery is a choice we make when we want something enough.
It took me a long time to embrace my full emotional world, and when I did, I realised that yes it is as intense and overwhelming as I thought it might be, and, it is beautiful and rewarding because when we suppress the emotions that we do not want to experience, we also dampen and shut ourselves off from so much joy and happiness. However, I also learned that my fear element had been greatly misinformed because although my sadness was intense, and grieving aspects of my life where I needed to feel anger, loss and further sadness was painful, in reality, there was nothing about it to fear because emotion is just emotion, it flows like waves rising, falling and flowing into the shore to be absorbed by the body of the Earth. We are touched by our emotions, but we are not destroyed or broken by them, we just feel them and when we do, they move through us, and then we find ourselves on the other side of that motion, and there is a new calmness.
How to be with sadness:
How many of your employees understand your vision and strategy, and how many of them are on board?
Getting your people excited about and supportive of your vision means providing a clear picture of where your organisation wants to get to, and what it will look like when it gets there, it means sharing your passion, being transparent about the risks and challenges that may be involved and how you will support your people through this, and most importantly, it is explaining why you believe in your strategy and the successful realisation of your dream.
Communicate your vision: Do place the key vision statement in the office, boardroom, in emails, and within your social spaces, because this keeps the goal fresh in mind when the day-to-day business can too easily distract from what all the work is happening for, but know that getting people on board requires more than this. For people to really understand what you are striving for, and how you are going to achieve this, they need to what success actually looks like, what it means for them, and they need to understand the strategy and collaborate in working towards this objective with you.
Define what success looks like: how will you all know when success is attained, how will all your employees know, and how will it evidence as a success for everyone involved in the effort of creation?
Align individual successes with the global vision of success: When you align the meaning of success, at the company level, with the meaning of success for each individual, in relation to their own goals, you cultivate an environment of motivated and actively committed people, who are invested in your success.
Make your strategy simple: You want everyone to understand the key elements of your strategy. When the plan is simple, easy to understand, and leaves no room for interpretation, this allows everyone to clearly recognise how their role will contribute to implementing and supporting your strategy, fueling a sense of meaning and purpose in their role, and enabling them to make clear distinctions on what are the priorities for their department and where to ensure alignment with other departments.
Make it Measurable: a sound strategy has measurable goalposts so that advancement towards your objective can be monitored along the way. This gives everyone a clear feeling of progress when things are going well. When obstacles do occur and cause a detour from the strategy, or when putting out the daily fires of business-as-usual starts taking over, when the strategy is clear, people are able to quickly identify the detour, the need to let some things go, increase resources or make adaptions, and bring everyone back into alignment with the strategy quickly.
Get your people involved: when you invite input, you incorporate your people, so they are no longer just building your vision, they are building their vision, and as a result, they are more likely to have a stronger active interest in the collective success. When you invite input, your people are more likely to give time to brainstorming ideas to help identify how to align your strategy through the business levels, offering the potential for possibilities that you may not have considered, and sharing perspectives from angles you may not have access to because your company is just too large.
Facilitate Alignment: Too often departments are working to their own agenda, pursuing departmental ideas that they believe will contribute to the global vision, but due to misalignment with other departments, who are working on their own ideas to support the global vision, time is lost, conflicts occur, bottlenecks happen, and the system is simply not as efficient as it could be, and often a source of frustration for many team members, sometimes leading to loss of skilled and valuable employees. Making time to invite people to co-create the process of strategy alignment creates a platform for improved communication and collaboration, a positive working environment, increased feelings of possibility, and improved overall efficiency so that your company works like a polished Rolls Royce engine where all parts and in synch with each other.
How can a coaching psychologist facilitate this process for you?
Step One: Working with the CEO and senior leaders to identify how the vision is clearly communicated, facilitating the creation of a clear, simple, and measurable strategy, and identification who needs to be involved in co-creating and maintaining the alignment of the strategy throughout the company.
Step Two: Coaching your senior leaders and managers on solutions to align and integrate your strategy. This may involve, co-creating a strategy alignment team to work cross-departmentally, and improving management and leadership capabilities, including communicating clear expectations on performance, regularly updating on priorities and goals, inviting direct reports to demonstrate how what they do contributes to the strategy, coaching skills to drive a culture of individuals who take ownership of their role and responsibilities, active listening skills, effective delegation skills, and improvement of organisation and time management. In addition, psycho-education is offered to support psychological well-being, emotional regulation and work-life balance matters, to support the wellness of your people, and to ensure your valuable people stay with you, through the personal and business challenges, to share in realising your collective stories of success.
There are many ways to get through this, and each person has the right to choose their own path. I advocate for the loving path, which means that the way we get through this pandemic is with acceptance, compassion, and kindness.
Through my own social groups, I have experienced a division, a ‘them and us’ mentality that manifests its strongest force through the vaccination debate. I am not going to engage in a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ discussion here, what I am going to do is highlight that there are many ‘them and us’ debates occurring in our world right now; religious divides, race divides, gender divides, academic divides, financial divides, hierarchical divides, health divides, drinking and driving divides, and underlying all of these dividing factors is one common theme: fear.
When I accept my religious truth, when I accept my ethnicity, when I accept my gender, when I accept my level of academia, state of health, financial status and perceived positioning in my world, and when I accept and take ownership for my choices, then I have no fear of judgement because I am okay with me.
When I accept that I cannot control the choices other people make, that may or may not have consequences for me or my loved ones, then, although I may at times feel angry, I can choose to release my anger, because I cannot control others or what has been, and I cannot make a judgement on the choices made by each individual, because I do not their story; the reasons behind the choices made. Should understanding on individual choices be brought to light, I may develop a new perspective that alters my judgement and dissolves my anger, or not.
When I accept the beliefs of others, even when they contradict my own, then I am at peace with my soul. I cannot change the beliefs of others. I can offer inspiration and a positive influence to invite them to expand or change a point of view, but ultimately that choice, is theirs.
When I embrace my fears and work on myself to manage them, and seek to let go of that which I cannot control, while creating positive solutions, in alignment with my heart-centred values, on what I can control or influence, then I empower myself. From a place of personal power, fear diminishes and life moves on with new possibility and potential to co-create and grow in the areas of my life, my soul and my world, that I want to nurture and give life to.
People have a right to feel afraid; there are very real situations that impact health, life and quality of life. People have a right to feel angry: the lives of many have been turned upside down and thrown into uncertainty. Some have experienced great losses and for others that loss may be still to come. Some fear having a virus, some fear losing loved ones, some fear losing quality of life, some fear relationships crumbling, some fear losing their homes or jobs, some fear vaccines, some fear government agendas, and some fear the unknown. Some of these fears my manifest as truth and some may not. However, regardless of what happens, of what is truth, what is fear actually doing to effect change or influence the outcome? When we let go of what we cannot control and give energy to influencing a positive outcome in areas that matter to us, we may let fear walk beside us and along our path, because we acknowledge it is real and serving as a warning to pay attention, but we do allow it to consume us, limit, restrict or confine us, we keep walking on, living our lives.
The fear of our present climate has created fuel for more people to develop anxiety and depression, to turn against each other; to project anger, hate, and distrust, and to lose sight of hope, possibility, potential, opportunity and the blessing and gifts that can be born through tragedy, change and loss. I write this as a mother who lost a child and who knows the pain of tragedy and that blessings can follow when we choose bravery over fear. We cannot control life and death, but we can choose to live despite our fears and our differences. From this moment, we hold the power to decide that whatever we are going through, whatever we feel, however life has affected us, with whatever we fear, and from where we are at right now, that we have the power to choose to respond with love, or not to. I like to think that with a global tragedy affecting so many at the same time, that the best we can do is use this an opportunity to grow our love, and learn to live in our world with more understanding, acceptance, compassion, and kindness, for ourselves, and each other.
What does responding with love look like?
From a place of depression: If you can, responding with love means taking small gentle steps each day to do something that contributes to your health and happiness. This may be a creative activity, walking in nature, meeting a friend in person or online, cooking something you love, watching a comedy that has the potential to make you laugh, having a warm bath and playing feel good music and no matter what, ensuring you get enough good quality sleep, which is essential to healing and recovery. Once some positive feelings begin to emerge, you may be able to start seeing some hope. If you cannot help yourself, then asking for help is an act of love.
From a place of anger: If you are feeling angry about something that has happened, about what someone has done to you, about choices others have made or might make, about a loss, or because you feel afraid, uncertain or out of control, responding with loves means first deciding how you want to manage the feeling of anger that you are experiencing? A loving response is to go for a workout, sing, shout (but not at someone), or throw feathers fiercely. Once the intensity of the anger has passed, it is deciding, as a person choosing to live from love, how do you want to respond to the anger trigger? If someone has done something to hurt you or has betrayed you, you may want to assert how you feel, ask for an apology, ask for something you want or need? You might not get it, but asking is an act of love and empowerment that also gives the other person a chance to respond in a positive way. If you don’t get what you want, as a person choosing to live from love, how do you want to respond? You can stay angry, you can seek revenge, you can take legal action as an act of self-empowerment, you can move on, and you choose better quality people to be in your life, and you can choose to let your anger go, because holding on to anger only hurts you and affects people around you, and it changes nothing; we cannot change the past and we cannot force others to change. Releasing anger and choosing to move on sets you free and allows your life to move on in new and more peaceful waters.
From a place of uncertainty: it is recognising that this uncertainty is nothing new, because nothing is certain, it never was; some things only appeared that way, like a job contract. If you are triggered by current uncertainty, you were probably triggered by past uncertainty, and you got through that, so you have a track record of surviving feelings of fear about uncertainty.
From a place of being traumatised it is understanding that something outside of your control happened and it has created a response in your brain that has activated your threat response causing you to feel continued anxiety, tension or panic. A loving response is to first of all be gentle, do things to calm and relax your body, so that you body can start to get the message that it is safe now. Then, it is working through your thought processes, to dismantle false beliefs, fear beliefs and distorted beliefs, and start to form a way of thinking that helps you to reclaim your power and reclaim your life. This is described in how we can respond to fear and anxiety below.
From a place of fear or anxiety: It is asking yourself are you actually safe right now (Safe means that your life is not in immediate danger?) If you are not safe, do whatever you can to get to safety. If you feel unsafe but actually you are safe, recognise this and it may bring your anxiety down a level. The next step is to address where you feel insecure, and where you have fear, worry or doubt? Now place each item in a mental box, so that the overwhelm can begin to be managed, by addressing one issue at a time. From a place of wanting to respond with love (care, kindness, compassion, understanding, acceptance and healthy encouragement), consider one challenge at a time and ask: Is this a fact, a fear or a feeling? Is this actually happening or what might happen? If this happens, what positive things could I do for myself, another, or my world?
If we respond to how the pandemic has affected us, however it has, from wherever we are at, and with however we are feeling, with love, by accepting what is, accepting how we feel, and choosing to work on our thought processes and own emotional management responses in kind and positive ways, through self-help practices and or with professional support, our love will enable us to come through this time together. If we move through this pandemic with love, as our collective conscious response, we shall succeed in creating a new normal where the world we live in is a place of greater love. We have the power to create this and this pandemic has provided a perfect opportunity to really challenge us to raise our game; to raise our hearts. When trauma and tragedy enter our lives, we have the power to turn them into blessings that help create move love in the world. This is our power. This power belongs to you.
Written by Antonia Behan © Copyright September 2021
Antonia Behan BSc, MSc, MICF PCC, MBPsS.
Trauma informed adult and adolescent coaching and therapy
Based in Sotogrande, Spain.
The pandemic has left many thinking they can no longer plan for or control life, with feelings of being helpless or powerless to forces beyond our control. There has been a surge in fear and worry thoughts about health, mortality, loved ones and finances, and, as a consequence of the global trauma-inducing event, there has also been an increase in those suffering from anxiety and depression. In a world that has become even more uncertain, what can we do and how can we respond when so many fundamental aspects of our lives have been affected?
Establish Routine Joy and Happiness: Some things have changed, some remain the same, and some are the same, but different. When we returned from our different levels of confinement, to resume our daily routine, and it was the same as it was before, this helped to restore feelings of security and eased some anxiety; it was one step towards balance restoration. When we returned to our daily routine, but it was not all the same; if certain elements of joy and pleasure have still not yet been re-established, such as: returning to work, but not yet able to meet up on Friday as a group of twenty in the bar, or children returning to lessons in the classroom, but not yet able to mix with friends in break times, and parents dropping kids off at school, but not yet able to spark up conversations with other parents outside the school gates; these pleasure related losses that have not yet been re-established, can prevent a person from feeling that sense of balance begin to return. This is because re-establishing apparent routine alone is not enough to help restore balance, what is needed is those elements of pleasure within the routine. By recognising this and identifying the losses, it becomes possible to consider where pleasure can be included within the current reality, to enable new feelings of joy and happiness to grow.
Re-Vision: The pandemic has forced change upon many, and with this comes the opportunity, or necessity, to re-vision our personal and professional lives. This is not an act of giving in, it is a choice to adapt and change because, in reality, this is the only healthy option. When we open our minds to wonderment and ask: ‘what is possible?’, and indeed, ‘what could become something even better than I imagined in the pre-pandemic reality?’, it is possible to awaken new possibilities and potential. To help you reassess where you are heading and what you most want to focus on now, identifying your priority values is key.
FREE WORKSHEET: Please download your free values worksheet to help you identify what really matters to you the most right now in the different areas of your life.
Reclaim Your Power: Being forced into home confinement, understandably created feelings of being trapped, powerless, helpless, scared, worried, angry, and stressed, and for some, worrying it could happen again fuels the residual energies of that confinement. When things have happened to us that have caused harm, impacted fundamental human rights, basic needs, and the factors that help us maintain well-being, it can feel that power has been stripped from us.
We can reclaim our power by processing what has happened: acknowledging the feelings and emotions we have about what happened; getting angry, acknowledging anxiety, accepting loss, even the most painful loss, such as losing loved ones, and then, from a place of accepting what we feel, make a clear decision about what we are going to do next. When we make a choice about what we want, and take action in the name of what we want, we demonstrate that, although we may have been affected by the trauma we have been through, we have not been victimised, limited, restrained, or diminished. And, when we make these choices in alignment with our most important values, and those values are heart-centered, then we move forward with the power of love awakened from within, often with even greater ferocity than before, to keep growing our lives.
Ask yourself, ‘how do you want your love to move your world?’
When you affirm this, own this, and act upon it, with all the love in your heart, you reclaim your power to be and create as you choose in this world. Do this with love, and you emerge from the darkness, the trauma, and the tragedy with the power to affect great and positive change in your life and the lives of others.
This global pandemic has been and continues to be a challenge for most people; from travel restrictions and cancelled holidays, to loss of income, the tragic and devastating loss of loved ones and the development of new or pre-existing mental health related problems, including anxiety and depression. The initial shock felt at the start of the Covid 19 pandemic was a normal reaction to a global health scare; we didn’t know what was happening, what narrative to believe, and those in positions of authority, in most cases, reacted in a manner that served to evoke more fear and confusion. People felt afraid, out of control, restricted, trapped, and concerned or worried about loved ones, food supply, finances and general health and safety.
While the fears and worries prevail, some people have been able to adapt to what is happening by accepting the unknown, accepting what is out of our control, and implementing adaptive choices based on what is within our control, including: moving work online, creating wine and tapas meet ups in video chat rooms, deeply cleaning the house, enjoying time for baking, re-connecting with family members and making healthy choices in response to the information presented. Some of these people adapted by seeking meaning in suffering and chose to see the pandemic through a positive perspective; they were able to allow the pandemic to provide an opportunity to recognise or reassert what truly matters, and make quality of life adjustments accordingly.
However, not everyone has been able to adapt or cope in a healthy way with how they have been feeling, because they have not been aware of healthy coping strategies, because the pandemic forced them into terrifying situations where they were not safe and unable to escape, or because the pandemic has traumatised them. When the initial shock activated the central nervous system, causing a fight, flight or freeze response, instead of experiencing the natural rebalancing effects of the autonomic nervous system, which automatically kicks in to process fear and shock, restore stability to heart rate, breathing, and feeling safe, and enabling a return to rational thinking, which would allow a person to make healthy choices to support emotional wellness, if they wish to, some people have remained in a highly activated state, causing them feel that they are not safe, and to suffer intense and overwhelming emotional distress, intense anxiety and strong feelings of depression that they can no longer cope with.
This highly activated state was made worse by the minute-to-minute updates about the situation, portrayed through dramatic and fearmongering communication styles from the media, fuelling people’s fears of a highly contagious virus that may affect them or loved ones, fears of a conspiracy to remove human rights and freedoms, fears of forced untested vaccinations, or fears about being in a pandemic situation forever. Due to remaining in a highly activated state, some of these people have developed symptoms of acute stress or post-traumatic stress disorder. Due to feeling continually anxious and afraid, and without the ability to restore balance or calm, these people have needed to find external sources to help them cope with the intensity of their thoughts, feelings and emotions. Some turned to a glass or few of wine every evening to provide short term relief from anxiety or a low mood, others have chosen food, drugs, painkillers or addictive or obsessive behaviours to distract from how they are feeling. For many, even when the pandemic passes and COVID 19 becomes similar to an annual flu season, those who have been traumatised will continue to experience anxiety and depression until they learn how to heal and restore their inner calm.
This picture is nothing new; the pandemic has simply brought to our attention the very real suffering so many experience as a result of trauma inducing events. What we can take from this pandemic is that it has brought to the table an opportunity for long overdue conversations with those may be suffering. Having these conversations needs to happen in a safe place to ensure people are not re-traumatised or triggered into states they cannot control. The following points outline how to create a safe space to address mental health related matters at work:
Create a safe space: In the context of mental health, a safe space means an environment that allows a person to manage their emotional distress in an effective way. This may involve providing a physical space where people can go for a quiet moment to restore emotional balance and distract from negative and fear thoughts. It also means providing ‘safe people’ to hold a trauma informed space of compassion, empathy and kindness, where a person feels safe to open up, share their struggles and work on solutions.
Provide safe support people: A person who is safe is trauma-informed, which means they know how to create a safe place, foster trust, empower the person they are supporting, and are accepting, compassionate and able to support emotional regulation, which means the facilitator needs to be able to self-regulate and have a good level of emotional intelligence. You may have a mental health first aider or HR person with specialised training who would be suitable for this role, you may wish to bring in a trauma-informed therapist or psychologist to facilitate employee psychological well-being and mental health, or you may wish to form a mental health policy that provides the fees for an employee to attend a certain number or private and confidential therapy sessions outside of the office.
Establish psychological safety: Because trauma inducing events can activate the central nervous system to behave as if a real danger is present, even when the danger or perceived danger has passed, traumatised people continue to experience the sensations of being in danger, under attack, or in the fear scenario even when it is safe. By encouraging the development of positive coping skills, this solutions-focused attitude helps to activate the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for logic and reason, which can enable a person to begin to recognise that there is no actual real danger right now, in this moment, rather there is a ‘what if’ fear, which is an entirely different story. When a person can logically assert that they are safe right now, this can help reduce symptoms of emotional distress and sometimes help restore some sense of calm.
Know how to manage an emotional crisis: If someone is emotionally distressed or having an anxiety attack, the five senses exercise is one simple, non-invasive and effective technique that can be offered to help bring a person back into the present moment, where they can be reminded that they are safe right now. Ask the person to do the following five things, connecting with each sense in turn:
Be clear on what is suitable office based mental health support?
It is important to understand that as a manager or colleague you are not expected to be a psychologist or therapist, but there are some practices that you can provide that offer effective support and aid in the reduction of symptoms of anxiety, stress, fear and depression.
Help them to restore routine: Creating a sense of routine can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression because routines help to provide a sense of structure and security where you know what to expect, which can be useful for times of uncertainty or with feelings of being out of control. Creating a routine might include beginning with the same morning routine upon waking, taking set tea and lunch breaks through the day, scheduling time to be alone, putting a workout in the diary, finishing work at the same time and not taking work home, and making a note each day about what you feel grateful for.
Help reduce pressure: What can you do to reduce the pressure your employee is feeling? Is there a project someone else can do right now? What can be delegated or delayed for a short time? What part of their workload can you take on for a short-time? What low priority items can be let go? And what can you say to let this person know that their mental health challenges are not causing their job to be at risk, but that you will support them in healing and returning to wellness, as much as you can in your professional capacity.
Remind them of their accomplishments: When we experience intense emotions, it is common for the brain to turn to negative thinking, with feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness. However, these negative thoughts are often cognitive distortions and not actual facts or truth. By challenging negative and fear thoughts, a person can be helped in restoring balance. One way to do this in a work environment is to remind the person of their accomplishments, and it doesn’t matter if they are small, because many small ones collaborate to create a new feeling of positivity and competence.
Encourage them to seek professional support: Have a few contact numbers of psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists that they can choose to contact, and remind them that asking for help is an act of vulnerability that takes great strength, and it is a choice to self-love, because you care enough to want to feel better.