Learning to express your feelings in a group is critical for helping your team to see reality. Honeybees know this and they do what’s called a waggle dance when they return to the hive for a meet up. Through their informative dance, they tell the exact location of a new source of food, flowers and new information critical for the other bees to know.
We can learn from our bees to be more present and focused at our own meetings. While we are not going to our next meeting to tell others where we can find a source for making honey, we can focus our energy on saying what needs to be said and heard by all present. You can always be a source for new and relevant information. Let’s use an example where you want to make an important intervention to the group process, say making a course correction, or stopping something that’s ineffective.
Your “waggle dance” is different from the bees, but there seems to be a sequence to making a difficult intervention into an ineffective group process. It goes something like this.
The Intervention Sequence
- First you need to see the issue. Not everyone does.
- Next you need to recognize your feelings about what you see – not everyone can do this.
- Then you need to make a decision about how to intervene. Fear often stops us.
- Finally you need to say it – crisply, plainly and with conviction.
Each of the above takes time. And often it takes too much time. Often, people don’t say what they need to say, and the group moves on. We call this “road kill.” It’s as if you just ran over a squirrel. You were going too fast and you reacted too late. You feel a twinge for a second or two, but you move on, dismissing it from your consciousness. Perhaps you say to yourself, “Couldn’t be helped.” One of the most dangerous actions a group can take is to remain silent about their own ineffective processes. No waggle, no new information, no progress.
The challenge is to move your ability to say what you feel closer in time to when you saw something that needs to be raised and discussed. It’s a complex skill that requires practice.
Often I am asked, “Where can I begin.” my team mates don’t express themselves freely and openly. In fact, saying what I see might be a career limiting event. However, not saying what needs to be said is devastating to high performance. Silence is often read by leaders as agreement and it can be a symptom of group think.
The way to make an intervention is to be curious. Saying “I am feeling uncomfortable with where we are going.” is a good way to begin. Follow it with, “Does anyone else feel this way?” This will stop the process. Becoming vulnerable and asking for help from your team mates is a good way to get your concern raised. Often one person speaking up is enough to kick start a vigorous inquiry. If your response is followed by an embarrassing silence, you can follow up with “What does this silence mean?”
A way to practice is to support your team mates when they have ideas that you consider good and worthwhile. Saying “Great idea Emma, while showing your enthusiasm and positive emotions is a great way to practice aligning your feelings with your statements. Practice positive waggling.
One reason that so many employees disdain meetings is that they are asked to attend meetings that are scripted and barren of real feelings. They are often rehearsed, predictable, lacking in real conversation in real time. They tend to be one way and focused on there and then as opposed to here and now. This is a difficult norm to change. Curiosity is one way to break through this. Take a risk today. Your team mates with appreciate your forthrightness. So learn to waggle and then waggle away freely. Tell them what they need to know.