I come from a background of advanced, over-socialised, super controlled politeness and professionalism. Under pressure this used to be my default mode of being. It has not entirely disappeared. On my ‘bad days’ I still succumb to the dead, robot, frozen position.
The question is, are you the same!?
I have watched many managers and leaders over the years talking to their teams, talking to their staff and what I notice most of all is how many of them become robotic under pressure, particularly when anxious.
Allied to this is one of the most critical issues in business today, the issue of employee disengagement. The stats show resoundingly how significant the problem of staff disengagement is.
The numbers vary, but mostly show that up to 45% of employees are not engaged at work!
The research also shows that a lack of respect for and from managers and for the company is critical in creating this dis-engagement.
Most of the time management looks for ways in which to get staff to become more engaged, they don’t ask themselves how their – the managers – robotic style, creates this disengagement.
I want to look at just this issue here.
Analysing the Problem.
I am a Self-Esteem specialist and what fascinates me about Self-Esteem is that when we are under pressure and anxious, our sense of value begins to drop and we contract mentally and emotionally. We freeze, dissociate and act like robots.
There is a great deal of research which illustrates how, under pressure, human beings tend to develop what is called tunnel vision. Our capacity to see the big picture – a critical leadership quality – disappears and our vision narrows and we stop seeing and hearing all of the points of view and issues involved in a problem.
A truly amazing Youtube video of Andre Agassi explaining how, “You can’t problem solve if you don’t have the ability or the empathy to perceive all that’s around you,” illustrates this point. Agassi explains how noticing the position of Boris Becker’s tongue, enabled him to move from losing his first 3 matches to him to then go on and win 9 of their next 11 games.
When we are in automatic, shut down, anxious, robotic mode, our empathy and ability to read our environment and to respond appropriately and creatively, approximates zero.
Have you ever watched what happens to the muscles in your face and to your tone of voice and to the way in which your body moves or doesn’t move and the kind of language you use when you’re under pressure? For most people this contraction and constriction and disconnection from their authentic, loose, spontaneity, from their heart, is monumental and its impact on the audience can be overwhelming.
I’d like you to think about a manager from your own work experience whom you felt disengaged from, who looked like a robot when they were addressing you or the team or the company, because they were so anxious about what they were saying and notice how disengaged you felt when this happened?
The point is that when your staff are disengaged, their passion, their inspiration their heart is absent and your job as a leader is to ignite and connect them with their passion and to wake up their hearts, but if you are in automatic, robot mode, you are promoting disengagement.
The Robot Manager
I remember a while back coaching an executive who was about to give a presentation to her staff and I asked her what she was going to say. Her first sentence was filled with “value adds, the way forward, ROI’s etc”
It was all learned, robotic jargon.
It was dead.
If she had delivered her address in this way it would have created disengagement in her listeners.
I asked her how she really felt about the issue – it was about relocating their premises – and she came alive as she discussed the new possibilities associated with the move.
I suggested that she share this feeling energy in her address – up front and then present the business case afterwards.
She did and the results, the engagement, was fabulous.
I have watched countless managers initiating retrenchment procedures in the most robotic, intellectual and disconnected way. They then initiate programs designed to assist the people who are stressed and traumatised by the process, when the initiation of the process has created part of the problem.
The challenge here is to learn to bring your humanness into your interactions as a manager which makes you more accessible, which engages subordinates at a more humane level.
In order to do this you need to bring feeling into your communication style, not overdoing this of course.
I have occasionally seen managers who bring an inappropriate degree of emotion into their management of their people and this simply creates disengagement from the other extreme.
The Origins of Being a Robot
Business originated in the Industrial Revolution in England and the English are certainly not well renowned for their ability to communicate from their hearts. And this is the problem.
If you look at the way in which letters were written in business before emails originated, “Dear Sir…regarding the aforementioned status of our contract, signed on the 4th inst… Yours sincerely,” you will see that one of the reasons that we are so robotic is that this is how we were trained.
I’m endlessly fascinated these days about all of the articles and videos around how Finland has become number one on all of the major ratings around school performance and yet the kids do no homework and don’t spend more than four or five hours a day at school. Most significantly they address their teachers by their first name.
Contrast this with the level of pressure and formality that you experienced at school!
The Dance of Disconnection
Of course one of the reasons why people remain in this robotic attitude and style is that this is the place they are most comfortable. Employees feel safe when they are distant and disconnected and disengaged and so do managers and so everybody’s dancing a dance of distance and disconnection and alienation which though immensely painful at a really deep level, is also very comfortable.
So you have to make a decision if you want to remain in a place that is comfortable and yet unproductive and painful, or deal want to become a real alive and awake human being who is engaged with people and engage with problem solving and hence much more creative?
Signs of Being a Robotic Manager
- Notice how your language becomes too formal, stiff and devoid of emotion.
- Notice how you over-use business jargon to hide how you really feel, or to try and look professional and competent, to cover up your anxiety.
- Notice how your face muscles and voice and body language become tight and stiff and over-controlled.
- Notice how you are not saying what you really think and feel.
Start to notice how when you become ‘robotic’, your audience stops listening, they get bored and disconnect from you. You are now invoking the ‘Agassi Awareness’ concept.
They have disconnected from you because you have disconnected from yourself and hence them!
Start to notice how when you drop the ‘robot’ your audience engagement ramps up.
When you connect with yourself, you potentially connect with them.
I say “potentially” because they may not like what you are saying and that’s great because if they keep disliking who and what you are when you are authentic, then you want them to leave! They’re not aligned with your values.
You want to be careful with this. I have seen many managers do the opposite of the robotic presentation. They are filled with inspiration and passion but this can be expressed too soon!
If there is a lack of trust in the relationship, which involves amongst other things, staff disengagement, then to speak too soon from your passionate heart, will create distance. They will just think you are blowing hot air.
They won’t believe you.
So you need to build the trust first, by listening from your heart and then, when the trust is there, they are more likely to listen to your passion.
The Disconnected Couple
I haven’t even touched on this robotics issue in your intimate relationship.
You know you come home from work and you greet your partner and there’s no intimacy, no connection, two stressed out robots, going through an automatic ritual of saying, “Hi, how was your day?” but nobody’s at home.
We live mostly in a virtual world of emails and texts, and intermittently connect with our partners, defaulting to the easier world of virtual relationships. Relationships without any skin on!
Perhaps another blog, for another time?
In Love & Power,