A commonly used strategy in primary school classrooms is to present children with a selection of colours or facial expressions, to aid them in articulating their emotions or feelings about a task:
- Red, cross face = angry
- Blue face with a tear = upset
- Yellow, big smile = happy; or
- Red = I really need help with this task
- Yellow = I am feeling a bit unsure
- Green = I really understand this task and could even help others.
As teachers or parents, we use these strategies because children cannot always articulate their feelings or emotions in a given moment. Sometimes, but in my experience rarely, it is for this reason that children need visual cues, as opposed to having a fear of speaking their thoughts. They simply do not know the words to describe what is bubbling away inside of them.
A simple and useful definition of fear is: An anxious feeling, caused by our anticipation of some imagined event or experience.
Innate fears are known to be induced without any prior experience and thus naturally encoded in the brain. It is suggested that we are born with only two innate fears:
The fear of falling
The fear of loud sounds
Notice, neither are the fear of expressing our innermost thoughts, feelings or emotions.
Unlike primary school children, adults do have the language to express themselves and they can usually communicate how they are feeling, the emotions they are experiencing or the thoughts they are having. However, adults have also learned to be fearful of complete honesty, of exposing themselves or letting their guard down.
As adults, we were not born with those fears, we learned them. Karl Albrecht talks about The Feararchy, the five basic fears out of which lots of our other fears are manufactured. Two of those five are Separation and Ego-Death. Put simply, the fear of abandonment or rejection and the fear of humiliation or shame. These are the fears and anxieties that can stun adults into silence, out of fear that how we are feeling will not be understood or accepted by those around us. As Susan Jeffers said, “Fear seems to be epidemic in our society.”
Just as children may need visual cues to express their emotions, adults could benefit from similar strategies to remove the fear of speaking their truth.
With the theory explored, consider how this is relevant to you and your organisation. During the past 4 months, the relatively safe pattern of going to the workplace, doing our job, chatting to colleagues and going home has been stripped away. For lots, but not for everyone.
Here are some scenarios that you may encounter or may well be feeling yourself about returning to the workplace:
I have been furloughed: I am feeling unwanted/undervalued, I am now financially unstable and I am desperate to return to work because I need 100% of my pay. However, I do not feel comfortable about being in the workplace
I have been furloughed: I loved the time with my family, 80% pay was not that bad as I did not have as much expenditure each month, I am feeling energised and ready to return to work
I was not furloughed but working from home: I have had a stressful time trying to juggle work, home schooling and day-to-day family life. I am looking forward to returning to the robust workplace environment and I am not very worried about social distancing because my partner is a keyworker and our children have been playing with lots of friends
I was not furloughed, but working from home: I loved the flexibility and was more productive than I ever was in the workplace, I don’t want to return to work as I have achieved far more job satisfaction during lockdown and feel very safe in my home bubble. I hear that some of my colleagues have been to the pub, do not wear masks when outside their homes and even have members of their household who have had the coronavirus!
I was not furloughed and have been working full time, as normal, no changes: I am exhausted and have not enjoyed any of the perks some of my colleagues experienced during the last 4 months, such as achieving more work/home-life balance. I want a holiday. I am not feeling very sympathetic towards others because I am so burned out. Also, I have been quite isolated so feel relatively safe. I do not trust that my furloughed colleagues have abided by social distancing rules, meaning I feel more and more vulnerable as they return to the workplace
I was not furloughed and have been working full time, as normal, no changes: I can’t wait to have the full workforce back because I really miss some of my colleagues, I don’t begrudge anyone of the way they’ve spent their days during lockdown
Workplaces are likely to see a mixture of the above, as well as many other differing opinions in how people feel about new processes and expectations within organisations. Two probable outcomes are:
The workplace becomes a hostile melting pot, filled with tension and unspoken thoughts, until eventually it all boils over and someone is scolded
As people snipe at one another or very publicly air their raw, unfiltered views, a similar result to the former outcome occurs but at a faster pace
Nobody wants to be in an environment such as this. What can we do when people cannot or will not calmly and honestly explain their feelings? Give them an alternative to words. I refer to a recent LinkedIn post by Alison Lee, the Managing Director of Biscoes Solicitors.
Visual communication may just be the change we all need. Wearing a coloured band, or similar, illuminates to all with one glance how a person is feeling, without having to repeat oneself or delve into deeper explanation. This could be the difference between a bonded workforce and one that is headed for combustion. Part of this strategy will also involve having conversations and providing training around accepting each other’s opinions. People are entitled to be scared just as they are entitled to be content, or even confident.
It is ok to feel the fear, it is ok not be ok, it is ok to be ok…however you feel, whatever you think, go about your day with kindness and optimism. The world is a difficult, dark and scary place, perhaps more so now than usual. Being optimistic means that we are allowed good days and bad days; we are allowed setbacks. Trust that, even in the darkest tunnel, there is light at the end, and you will reach it if you focus on that light and keep moving towards it.
The tunnel out of this pandemic is gloomy and damp and cold. Giving up is not an option. Keep running, walking or even crawling towards the light.