2016. It’s been emotional.
It's almost no wonder that Phil Willcox's evening seminar 'Emotion in Authenticity, Vulnerability, Deception and the Credibility Conundrum' sold out in a matter of days after posting on the CIPD North Yorkshire Branch events list.
Every day we wrestle with our emotions - which of them are OK to show and how can we be comfortable with them? We are told that being authentic and vulnerable are things to aspire to be, yet they are incredibly difficult things to get right.
Self-confessed 'emotion geek' Phil Willcox, Director of e3 consultancy, training and coaching ltd, explored why emotions are so hard to work with, and how we can begin to deal with the interactions between emotion, authenticity, vulnerability, deception and credibility. Phil is the founder of Emotion at Work (Europe's only event about workplace emotion) with a background in leadership, learning & development, as well as a Masters degree in emotion, credibility and deception.
Starting with a rendition of a popular 90s TV theme tune, Phil told us a story all about how his life was flipped, and turned upside down, when he was asked to step into a leadership role. For him this was about identity - walking into work triggered a change in who he was. Stepping into a management role meant that he was expected to put a professional gap between himself and the team: "you cannot be who you were anymore." But his team called him out on his new behaviour- they knew there was a mismatch between who he was, compared to how he was with them.
His story brought us on to the subject of deception. Phil invited the group to share what types of deception we experience at work, and the examples ranged from "falsifying expense claims" to "little white lies", to "beautifying disasters".
Earlier in the evening, Phil asked to complete a short online poll, asking when we last deceived at work, and who we thought it was OK to deceive at work. Over 70% of responders reporting deception either in the last month, the last week or that very day:
How about who it is OK to deceive?
At least we were an honest group of deceivers!
Back to context, then. Context lets us know whether deception is a good or bad thing. If we have explicit or implicit permission to lie through our social norms - is it still deception? Probably not, says Phil - if everyone else is doing it and there's an expectation that you should be too, that is part of the culture that defines what reality means for those who are part of it.
There's also the case of self-deception, which might be a protective thing ("This is going to work out for the best") rather than a delusion. There are various spectrums that can help us offer clarity about what our deception might really mean:
· Who benefits? The liar or the recipient?
· Who loses? The liar or the recipient?
· What's the intention? To protect or enrich?
Phil moved on to talk about credibility - making the point that "It is never exclusively yours to own - others always have a stake in your credibility."
Trust, experience and believability are all elements that can impact upon each other to raise someone's perceived credibility. And these in turn, might be effected by micro-factors such as dress/clothing, accent, use of language, age, and self confidence.
Authenticity on the other hand, is something Phil argues that you can own. Acting in line with your values/beliefs, and something that can be assessed by others. However - whilst it is possible to maintain our credibility with different groups- this might mean that we need to adapt our style in order to remain authentic when interacting with them. The complex interaction between our authenticity and credibility means that there are sometimes no clear boundaries between where one starts and another ends.
Citing Brené Brown as a key expert on the subject, Phil invited us to embrace our vulnerability, sharing examples of when we were last vulnerable at work, before moving on to explore the overlap between all three: "You can be credible but not authentic. You can be vulnerable but not credible."
This intricate overlap will be become evident in our actions and interactions, as well as our feelings and thoughts. Together, they shape our identity, as perceived by ourselves as well as others. For example, a personal conflict between credibility and authenticity might be managed by using ambiguity ("There's something really tough going on right now that I can't talk about").
The modern workplace is laden with emotions. They can be at times overwhelming and difficult to navigate. Phil shared some of his thoughts on how we can actively manage our emotions at work:
4 strategies to help manage our emotions
1. Situation selection/modification - consciously deciding not to put yourself in a situation that you know will elicit emotions that you are not prepared to disclose/experience.
2. Attentional deployment - bringing our attention to focus on something specific, to distract or displace an unwanted emotion
3. Cognitive change/reframe - intentionally deciding that "I will think this, feel that, and do this."
4. Response modulation - being aware of our natural response (e.g. over-optimism) and choosing to temper or boost it according to the situation
Phil closed in full 'emotion geek' mode, drawing together the areas of personality, emotion, and identity:
"Each of these areas is worthy of scholarly research just on its own. The challenge is that they interact and overlap, and that is where the richness comes - in knowing and understanding how they are interacting, and how to place them together. Some of them are about us, some of them are about others, and it always happens in context."
This blog is reposted from my write-up of Phil's event, which originally appeared in the CIPD North Yorkshire Branch newsletter. Found out more about the branch here.